Soyo PW-9800, NOT A PW9801!


PCB Pictures
What am I doing "to" a Soyo Pw-9800? It's a long story!
I found two units on sale, or shoudl I say on their way to the garbage can, and I was nuts enough to actually buy them. It's been fun, but it's been hell!
The first one was in decent shape electronically, but the body was really beat up. The other one was worse, but the plastic was in decent shape. Moral of the story, let's make one out of two.
Drama number one. There is no floppy and no CDrom that can be attached easily. At least, I don't have either. Although there are 2 USB ports in the back, there is no way to attach a USB floppy and boot from it. The Bios just won't do it. Windows will, but not the Bios.
The only way I had to get the machine started was to take the HDD out and partition it and format it elsewhere. I got a 2.5" to 3.5" ide connector adapter (about 5$ at Fry's), and hooked the HDD up as Secondary Master (since it is also hell to set a 2.5" HDD to slave) on my desktop. I Partition the 2.5Gb HDD in 3 parts, formatted, and put a copy of the installation directory of win98se onto partition 3. Got partition 1 loaded with the basic boot files and put the HDD back into the SOYO.
After all of this, it started working just fine, I struggled to find all the drivers but it worked. The main board is a Cyrix P180 with a CX5520 chipset and a TI PCI chip. It hosts 2 banks of notebook style dimms, and I loaded it with 64Mb altogether. All the drivers I got from here
If they disappear from that site, I have copies, at least for win98.
Trouble started when I decided to try the Bios upgrade (11.bin) to see if they had implemented booting from a USB floppy.
You see, not having any manual or even the faintest idea of what this was, after seeing a picture on the internet, I originally assumed this was a PW9801 because that was the only model that I found that resembled what I had. Only later, when I had to open it for good, I could read a tiny little ID on the PCB that mentioned being a PW9800. Now I know that the bios version was actually: 9800.14d 1998-11-9
Tragedy struck right there. DO NOT FLASH THE 11.bin bios to a PW9800. It will lock your machine FOREVER and there's no way to get it back. Luckily (or not), I still had the other mother board.
Taking all out and puttting it all back merging pieces, I finally got one unit that seemed to work. SEEMED is the right word.
But even after a clean installation of win98se and drivers, the computer was very, very, very unstable. It rejected the video drivers very easily, and I mean, it literally decided to go back to its previous basic drivers every time, (both the Neomagic and the GxMedia),then it would reboot into Safe mode, to eventually restart and then lock up in standard mode. I must have rebooted at least 100 times, every possible way, trying every possible variable. So I did what any INSANE person would do. I thought that perhaps Windows ME would have all the updated drivers already built in and the computer would start working. HA HA HA. What an Idiot with a capital I I was! Thinking that a later version of Windows would SOLVE any problem. In spite of the fact that I believed there might be something wrong with the main board itself, the upgrade to Millenium only made things worse. Back to win98se. I swear, I would go back to win95 if it wasn't for the 2 USB ports in the back...
So, going back to the first motherboard, the one where the BIOS chip was now loaded with the 11.bin file, I took the chip off. I mean, I de-soldered it! It's an SGS 29F020, but it's in one of those funny smt packages I don't even know the name. It's awfully small, and the pins are so close together it hurts.
The nice thing is that the PCB allows the friendlier PLCC package too. I have a ton of 29F020 in plcc, and I made myself and adapter to mount them into my standard DIL Eprom programmer. So, I could program a 29F020 with the old bios (which I was careful enough to save before flashing), and try to solder a PLCC socket onto the MB.
Believe it or not, it actually worked. The socket mounted on the PCB allowed me to replace the old and nasty EEProm with the one that I programmed, and the computer came back to life, loaded win98 from the hdd that was prepared for the other MB, and seemed to work better than the other. SEEMED is once again the word, since I only booted twice.
But my joy was abruptly cut off when I realized WHERE the EEPROM is located... right under the PCMCIA slots, meaning... I now have to remove the socket and mount the Flash chip direcltly onto the PCB. Otherwise, the lowest PCMCIA slot is blocked. RATS!
I will leave you here for the moment. I'll post more about it when I'm through and I have the whole thing tested. In the mean time, I hope you have enjoyed the details of this nightmare.

OK, I did it! A few hours later...
Now that I knew this Firmware would work, I took the socket off and soldered the flash chip directly onto the MB. The PC Cards actually brush against the chip, but don't really cause any problem.Will it now start?
Yes, there is life. It boots, it boots!!!
So, I put it all back together and...
The system powers up and boots into Windows, but just like the other motherboard did, IT FREEZES UP after a short while.
So, I'm starting to suspect here must be something fishy between motherboard, drivers and chipset. I did install whatever I found on the internet as for GxMedia drivers that supposedly interface the Cyrix brain with Microshit Winblows 98, but that didn't solve anything.
Since the machine boots up in win98 and works, if even for a very unstable short period of time, I managed to transer the installation files for Win95 OSR2 to a partition of the HDD through the Ethernet.
Results: Win95OSR2 works just fine. Even the USB interface seems to work well after putting on the necessary upgrade.
Now, I cannot find all the drivers for USB devices for win95, but the system seems to perform just well.
Final considerations:
DO NOT BIOS FLASH THIS SYSTEM with bios 11.bin - no matter what, unless you have a death wish and want to go through what I had to.
Win95 works Fine, it's slimmer, doesn't include crappy not uninstallable InternetExplorer 4. Downside, I doubt I'll find USB HID drivers for win95 useful to attach keyb/mouse and so to the USB.
Several months later:
I now had "the beast" on for quite some time, I even take it with me on trains and planes to get some work (Work? what's that?) and it seems to perform very well with Win95 OSR-2. Even the GxMedia drivers appear to work fine. The NEOMagic chip supports DirectX 7.0 (although it's still pretty slow at it)
I still had a few problems with programs trying to access the External Midi port (Encore locks up mercylessly), so I had to go to the Control Panel, Multimedia, MIDI DEVICES and tell windows NOT to use the external 401 Midi port (which is not accessible anyway). After that even Encore works just fine.
Since I have not found a way to use the USB port with HID such as keyboard and mouse I'm going to try the WIN98SE route again.
Just for reference, I have scanned the PCB of the "other" still homeless machine, and I have them posted here in case anybody wants to take a closer look at it.
Success??? Still early to speak, but it looks promising
Well, here we are again. I now seem to have Win98se working and stable (well, as stable as Win98 can be).
Using Win95 and it's network connectivity, I loaded the Cabs for win98se to the D: partition. Removed the old windows from C: and RUN Setup.
Win98 took about 1 hour to load and at the end I had only a couple of unknown devices:
Express Audio system
Video identified as Standard PCI @ 16 colors (but working)
Monitor identified as unknown
PCMCIA Network card. Well of course, I would not expect windows to recognize that.
This time I started from the network. Loaded NETBEUI, Sharing, Dial-up and all that goes with it. Setup Workgroup and ID. Rebooted. I have access to the network
Then I went for the basic utilities and system configuration. Winzip, ACDsee, Winamp... All seems to work fine.
So, I made a GHOST image of the C: partition to D: If I need to get back to this point, it will only take 5 minutes.
Next I installed the audio drivers. I choose release - it's a 54Kb file that I got from the MicroFlextech website. All went well. I got music, I got rhytm!!!
So, now a little bit of testing. Encore plays well, winamp does too. Time to move on.
Now the real test. Let's go with the video drivers. is a 252Kb file also from the same site. Although it's marked for win95, it works in 98. I have found other drivers more specific for 98 that crashed. Others made for the NM2097A did not work. So this time I stick with these. I got it setup for 640x480 at 24bit and all works well.
Now I have full support for the USB ports. I got my external keyboard and mouse attached. I even had the :CueCat scanner plugged into it.
I think the possibly mistakes I made were to try to install the MediaGX patch and drivers that I found somewhere. Also the NEOMagic driver for win9x with all its wistles and bells looked very alluring. That one worked just greatly with win95, but apparently it conflicts with 98. Makes sense to you? Not me, but I'm easy.
When it usually froze in about 20 seconds, it's now been running all day without a glitch (yet!)
I will now load all my regular software and eventually I will make another GHOST image of the C: partition as I like it. Possibly I will move it over to my desktop and burn a CDrom to keep just in case I ever want to replace the 2.5" HDD.
Well, now I'm tempted...
to build a wooden cabinet to host the other poor bag of parts that actually work. I had the entire system connected and running on my desk. Maybe just to run MAME or such.
I have to admit it looked very morbid. It reminded me of Patricia Cornwell and her descriptions of dismembered bodies.
More Pictures
I've scanned a little more closely the CDrom connector area. I have also tried to understand what kind of an interface that is.
Considering there's no other dedicated chip to manage that port, I go for a common IDE channel from the secondary port of the CX5520 MediaGX companion.
I noticed the power lines are quite obvious. Some data lines go through 330ohm resistors to a 16245 (16 lines bidirectional line driver).
It would be nice to interface any external IDE HDD or CDrom to it, but first I would have to find a suitable male connector, and I doubt that's gonna happen anytime soon.