Amptron....

kohl

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amptron.jpg


Does anyone remember these motherboards from back in the day? A friend and I were talking about hardware we dealt with decades ago. We both worked from this 'hole in the wall' distributer and the only thing he would stock would be Amptron boards, usually paired with those awful Cyrix processors. I remember some of them coming with these cache modules you would plug into the motherboard as well.
 

GiGaBiTe

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Oh yeah, I remember their cheap junk knockoff boards, with their fake cache chips and proprietary cache modules. If you used the real cache module, you had to flash a special BIOS on some of their boards because the boards with fake cache were hacked to always show some predetermined amount of cache was installed.

These boards were favorites of sleazy computer shops back in the day because the shop owner could get them super cheap and heavily mark them up for a good profit. It often came back to bite them in the ass with high failure rates from too many corners being cut causing the board to be unstable or die, or having worse performance than a good brand name board due to the fake cache. Cyrix CPUs exacerbated the problem with their love for weird bus speeds like 75 and 83 MHz that caused instability from parts running out of spec, as well as being power hungry and the board couldn't supply the necessary power so it would get more unstable.

Amptron, PC-Chips, ECS - they were all in bed with each other making garbage.
 

kohl

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Haha yeah I am glad someone else remembers them. I tried building a system with one of their motherboards using a Cyrix PR166 CPU and could never get it to be stable. I ended up just going to one of our local computer shows (remember those???) and buying a name brand motherboard and Intel P200.
 

FrgMstr

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Yes, flaming chunks of cow dung remembered, but not fondly.
 

OFaceSIG

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I had one from a super generic brand once, Eurone. If you didn't have a cache stick installed it said "W/B Cache On" instead of reporting any cache. It was a total scam.
 

auntjemima

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Oh yeah, I remember their cheap junk knockoff boards, with their fake cache chips and proprietary cache modules. If you used the real cache module, you had to flash a special BIOS on some of their boards because the boards with fake cache were hacked to always show some predetermined amount of cache was installed.

These boards were favorites of sleazy computer shops back in the day because the shop owner could get them super cheap and heavily mark them up for a good profit. It often came back to bite them in the ass with high failure rates from too many corners being cut causing the board to be unstable or die, or having worse performance than a good brand name board due to the fake cache. Cyrix CPUs exacerbated the problem with their love for weird bus speeds like 75 and 83 MHz that caused instability from parts running out of spec, as well as being power hungry and the board couldn't supply the necessary power so it would get more unstable.

Amptron, PC-Chips, ECS - they were all in bed with each other making garbage.
I always see people lump ECS into the group of crap, but I had one of those K7S5A (bad) boards for my 1.4ghz tbird and I loved it. Overclocked well, allowed overclocking within windows as well. Never had an issue.

I guess a single case doesn't make for a good board.
 

Dan_D

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View attachment 346104

Does anyone remember these motherboards from back in the day? A friend and I were talking about hardware we dealt with decades ago. We both worked from this 'hole in the wall' distributer and the only thing he would stock would be Amptron boards, usually paired with those awful Cyrix processors. I remember some of them coming with these cache modules you would plug into the motherboard as well.

Those were called COAST modules or "Cache on a stick." (Yes, that's what it really stands for.) It was standard on all motherboards of the type that were compatible with P54c Pentium CPU's and other chips like the AMD K5 (trash) and the Cyrix/IBM 6x86 CPU's. The Cyrix CPU's weren't as bad as the K5's and they were fine so long as you didn't want to play Quake or a few other titles that made heavy use of the Pentium's FPU. Beyond that, Amptron was junk.
 

magnetik

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Didn't some of those cache modules have fake chips? I always had some weird issues with Amptron boards. We had a saying back then to never buy boards that rhyme with Voltron.
 

GiGaBiTe

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I always see people lump ECS into the group of crap, but I had one of those K7S5A (bad) boards for my 1.4ghz tbird and I loved it. Overclocked well, allowed overclocking within windows as well. Never had an issue.

I guess a single case doesn't make for a good board.

ECS did have a few boards that were *ok*, but they had far more crap than actual good products. Stability and BIOS issues were always a big problem with them.

Those were called COAST modules or "Cache on a stick." (Yes, that's what it really stands for.) It was standard on all motherboards of the type that were compatible with P54c Pentium CPU's and other chips like the AMD K5 (trash) and the Cyrix/IBM 6x86 CPU's. The Cyrix CPU's weren't as bad as the K5's and they were fine so long as you didn't want to play Quake or a few other titles that made heavy use of the Pentium's FPU. Beyond that, Amptron was junk.

No, they weren't COAST modules. While the Amptron M919 had the exact same cache slot that the COAST module used, it was not pin compatible. If you install a COAST module in the slot, the board won't boot and likely will damage the COAST module. Amptron made their own proprietary module that looked like a COAST module, but only worked in their motherboards. I wouldn't recommend plugging one into a normal COAST slot for the same reason, damage to the module or motherboard may result. Not that it's a very likely scenario, these modules are exceedingly rare.

Didn't some of those cache modules have fake chips? I always had some weird issues with Amptron boards. We had a saying back then to never buy boards that rhyme with Voltron.

While the motherboard usually had fake cache chips, I don't think the cache modules ever did. I've only seen 2-3 of those special cache modules and they used legit memory on them.
 

kohl

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I actually still have one of the Amptron cache modules. I had it stashed away in some memorabilia; I think I was going to maybe make it into a keychain at one point.
 

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cpufrost

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I remember them for sure.
Back in the 90s before the internet came to life for the mainstream folk, they had things like computer shopper magazine and "computer shows" which were like swap meets. I'm on the east coast and one such thing was Market Pro. They hosted these events in ballrooms, convention centers, fairgrounds, et al. It was quite big back then and if you knew what you were looking for you could get some decent deals. Amptron was a name that kept coming up in premade boxes with that race to the bottom nomenclature. ;-) I do remember building a few and they weren't anywhere near the caliber (performance and stability) of the Intel parts (TX/VX/HX socket 7 chipsets) of the time. I also had a fair share of Pentium Pro systems and multiple socket systems too!
 

kohl

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I remember them for sure.
Back in the 90s before the internet came to life for the mainstream folk, they had things like computer shopper magazine and "computer shows" which were like swap meets. I'm on the east coast and one such thing was Market Pro. They hosted these events in ballrooms, convention centers, fairgrounds, et al. It was quite big back then and if you knew what you were looking for you could get some decent deals. Amptron was a name that kept coming up in premade boxes with that race to the bottom nomenclature. ;-) I do remember building a few and they weren't anywhere near the caliber (performance and stability) of the Intel parts (TX/VX/HX socket 7 chipsets) of the time. I also had a fair share of Pentium Pro systems and multiple socket systems too!

Just curious; what did you use your Pentium Pro for? I remember when the CPU was released, it seemed like a very niche market. I seem to recall the main use case was if you ran NT or other 32bit OS, as performance in DOS games and such was lackluster compared to a Pentium. I vividly remember the shop I worked for, we had a customer who wanted us to build them a Pentium Pro system and I couldn't get over how gigantic the CPU was.
 

toast0

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Back in the 90s before the internet came to life for the mainstream folk, they had things like computer shopper magazine and "computer shows" which were like swap meets.
There was one by my place (Orange County, CA) that was huge. Found all sorts of weird stuff there. I think they were still going before COVID, not sure if they're still there; I moved away years ago.

Just curious; what did you use your Pentium Pro for?
An ISP, I worked for got a PPro for web and email serving. I seem to recall it was pretty speedy, not 100% sure if it was SMP or not though, it's been a _long_ time. We were barely an ISP though, I think a T1 for internet and a T1 for modems; used MegaPath for out of area dial-up became MegaPath for everyone when our dial-up T1 stopped working, we tried to sell some DSL, but it was a hard sell because there would be at least three companies between us and the user.
 

kohl

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There was one by my place (Orange County, CA) that was huge. Found all sorts of weird stuff there. I think they were still going before COVID, not sure if they're still there; I moved away years ago.


An ISP, I worked for got a PPro for web and email serving. I seem to recall it was pretty speedy, not 100% sure if it was SMP or not though, it's been a _long_ time. We were barely an ISP though, I think a T1 for internet and a T1 for modems; used MegaPath for out of area dial-up became MegaPath for everyone when our dial-up T1 stopped working, we tried to sell some DSL, but it was a hard sell because there would be at least three companies between us and the user.

Haha yeah I remember that time well. You used to go to a mall or computer store and it was mostly Mom & Pop ISPs all over the place... like some guy running a rack of modems with a few hundred customers. The first ISP I signed up for was while living off campus at college. The guy included a disk that had TCP/IP on it since it wasn't included in the earlier versions of Windows. Then came the consolidation. I often wondered if any of these small ISPs made out well selling their business to larger ISPs.
 

GiGaBiTe

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Haha yeah I remember that time well. You used to go to a mall or computer store and it was mostly Mom & Pop ISPs all over the place... like some guy running a rack of modems with a few hundred customers. The first ISP I signed up for was while living off campus at college. The guy included a disk that had TCP/IP on it since it wasn't included in the earlier versions of Windows. Then came the consolidation. I often wondered if any of these small ISPs made out well selling their business to larger ISPs.

I knew the owner of the ISP I used in the late 90s. He sold out to Grande in the early 2000s for a "comfortable" amount of money as he told me. He had several thousand customers, which is probably why he got a bigger payout. I'm sure it varied by region and who was buying who as to how much money independent ISPs got.
 

cpufrost

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Just curious; what did you use your Pentium Pro for? I remember when the CPU was released, it seemed like a very niche market. I seem to recall the main use case was if you ran NT or other 32bit OS, as performance in DOS games and such was lackluster compared to a Pentium. I vividly remember the shop I worked for, we had a customer who wanted us to build them a Pentium Pro system and I couldn't get over how gigantic the CPU was.
We were on NT 4.0 and it was used for a workstation running Autodesk Studio. It was an experiment to see if it was viable replacement for the SGI MIPS R10000 workstations that cost a small fortune at the time. The chips were quite large indeed! When we did migrate to all Wintel the Dell Precision workstations had the slot Xeons and were the absolute biggest CPUs ever. I still have one somewhere around here. I also saved the Pentium Pro chips and understand they have decent salvage value due to gold content.
 

toast0

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We were on NT 4.0 and it was used for a workstation running Autodesk Studio. It was an experiment to see if it was viable replacement for the SGI MIPS R10000 workstations that cost a small fortune at the time. The chips were quite large indeed! When we did migrate to all Wintel the Dell Precision workstations had the slot Xeons and were the absolute biggest CPUs ever. I still have one somewhere around here. I also saved the Pentium Pro chips and understand they have decent salvage value due to gold content.
Oh man, the slot 2 Xeons were enormous. Compaq put a heatsink with heatpipes coming out the top so they were that much longer.
 

JSHamlet234

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We were on NT 4.0 and it was used for a workstation running Autodesk Studio. It was an experiment to see if it was viable replacement for the SGI MIPS R10000 workstations that cost a small fortune at the time. The chips were quite large indeed! When we did migrate to all Wintel the Dell Precision workstations had the slot Xeons and were the absolute biggest CPUs ever. I still have one somewhere around here. I also saved the Pentium Pro chips and understand they have decent salvage value due to gold content.

I wish I still I had mine. I got mine from a customer who upgraded to a Pentium II/300. It came with an Intel brand motherboard and I ran NT 4.0 on it. It was probably the most brick-shit-house stable Windows machine I ever owned.
 

GiGaBiTe

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I also saved the Pentium Pro chips and understand they have decent salvage value due to gold content.

Assuming you can recover almost all of the gold from a Pentium Pro, you'd only get about $17 in gold. Doesn't make much sense when they still sell for between $100-200, depending on the version. The black top 200 MHz 1 mb cache versions are the most expensive and have the least amount of gold because they don't have the iconic gold lid the slower versions have.

I have four PPro chips myself. All four are the 200 MHz versions, but two are the 1mb cache versions with black tops. These things run smokin hot, the two 512k cache modules pull a lot of additional power. I think the TDP is close to 60W vs 20 something for the 256k version.

ryOQfgD.jpg
 

man114

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Ahh good old Amptron... PcChips...

So back in the day I got a super good price on one of those PcChips M590 boards Because they had a fake 100mhz FSB (was some SIS chipset if I recall overclocked from an 83MHz fsb). This was after their shady dealing got exposed.

So anyway I loaded it up with cheap RAM, cheap hard drives (quantum Bigfoot, those nearly free Maxtors from CompUSA), all the stuff I could scrounge out of the bargain bins at computer shows (I believe one of the many $10 AWE32 soundblasters I bought is in there), one of the first CD burners which someone special ordered to Sears and it got marked down, slapped it in a cheap case with a built in PSU (if I recall that board could run AT or ATX so I used an AT desktop case). I think I started it with a Cyrix MII 233 (6x86mx 233 or whatever). Well I ended up getting a cheap K6-2 500 down the road. Well as it turns out I used to use these wide socket 7 heatsinks from some sleazy table that always showed up at the computer show. They were larger but they cooled well and were cheap. A normal socket 7 one was maybe half an inch narrower with a smaller fan. They cooled well, and looking back they were all of like $5 and had ball bearing fans.

Well couple the fake 100 FSB which was really 90mhz with the 6x multiplier... rock solid 540mhz. Fast and served me well for years. In fact I still have it in my basement stowed away in all its glory.

As far as Amptron well they were the follow up. The m599lmr Amptron PcChips board. My first build for my bedroom. Using a Packard Bell case I managed to get from a Circuit City. Built a heck of a K6-3 system in there. Had what was a ton of ram at the time think 768mb. Cute little case with a voodoo card. Those were the days.
 

GiGaBiTe

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I think I started it with a Cyrix MII 233 (6x86mx 233 or whatever).

The MII was the direct descendent of the 6x86MX, being refined to run at higher clock speeds, and a name change to try and better position itself to compete with the newly released Pentium II. It miserably failed at both. While the Cyrix integer unit was faster than Intel's and AMD's at the same clock, its floating point unit was still the same anemic relatively unchanged Cx486 FPU. They also invited unwanted attention by continuing to use the "GP" suffix, which was a PR scheme designed to show a part at a lower clock speed was equivalent in performance to a higher clocked Intel/AMD part. This came back to bite them because the GP rating was confused for a real clock speed (which Cyrix arguably invited), and Cyrix's fairy dusting of numbers didn't pan out in real world testing.

The MII-233GP for example only ran at 200 MHz, the 333GP ran at 250 MHz and the fastest 400GP only ran at 285 MHz. The weird 75, 83, 90 and 95 MHz bus speeds they used caused compatibility headaches and instability. Like the 83 MHz bus on boards with only a 1/2 PCI divider (as was common at the time) would overclock PC-66 SDRAM, run the PCI bus at 41.5 MHz and the ISA bus at either 13.83 or 10.37 MHz.
 

grumperfish

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I was cleaning out the server room at a client yesterday and found a pristine socket A board in one of these boxes. Had no idea about the manufacturer as I never built anything in PC-Chips/ECS tier boards. No idea why the client bought it, when, or why it was never used.
 

GiGaBiTe

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I was cleaning out the server room at a client yesterday and found a pristine socket A board in one of these boxes. Had no idea about the manufacturer as I never built anything in PC-Chips/ECS tier boards. No idea why the client bought it, when, or why it was never used.

I had a similar experience a couple of years ago. One of my customers was cleaning out their junk pile and gave me a pile of PCs, one of which was an old Socket A board with an Athlon 1000 in it.

The motherboard had a very bad time at one point in its life, someone plugged the floppy berg power connector into what I think was the CD-ROM audio header (or what was left of it) and powered the machine on. Literally had a crater blown halfway through the motherboard and sooty skidmarks on all of the cards installed in it. After cleaning up the soot, cleaning out the crater and entirely recapping the motherboard, it miraculously was still in working condition. I didn't bother testing the audio because I'm very sure it's dead.
 

grumperfish

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The really weird thing about finding that board is that to my knowledge this client has only ever used Intel components, at least going by the old P4 systems we needed to rip drives out of before disposal. Unfortunately I don't have any socket A CPUs to test it to see if it works, although it's not like I'd really have a use for it.
 

GiGaBiTe

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The really weird thing about finding that board is that to my knowledge this client has only ever used Intel components, at least going by the old P4 systems we needed to rip drives out of before disposal. Unfortunately I don't have any socket A CPUs to test it to see if it works, although it's not like I'd really have a use for it.

I have a few Socket 462 processors if you want to send it away to see if it works lol. Else, they're pretty cheap on ebay if you don't go for the highly sought after variants.

Without knowing what the motherboard model is, I can only recommend one of the more universally compatible Socket 462 parts like the Athlon XP 2000. It has a 266 MHz FSB and is compatible with virtually every 462 motherboard, except the very earliest models that only were compatible with the "Thunderbird" core Athlons. Some very late 462 boards also dropped support for 266 MHz parts.
 

grumperfish

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Thanks but I recycled out any parts older than Sandybridge awhile back and without any remaining DDR it's not really worth it to me to see if a bottom-tier board from years ago still functions.
 

UniCN800

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I think I had an Amptron relabeled M577 (which uses relabeled VIA MVP3 chipset) at one point.
That thing was literally rock solid in every aspect, and I don't think I've seen any other MVP3 board even come close to it.
Those were usually sold here with Cyrix MII CPUs, but mine must've been some "golden" machine of sorts because it came with a K6-2 450MHz if my mind serves me right. That, and some pretty slick unbranded SDRAM sticks that run just awesome on any board you throw them at - even one of my Slot 1 boards (a Soyo 6BA+IV) runs them like a champ. The only thing I know is that they're manufactured by TMC (I think).
A shame I stupidly killed it at one point by corrupting the BIOS, and because I wasn't savvy in reflashing BIOS chips using hotflash, I threw it away.
 

cpufrost

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Soyo, haven't hear that one in a while...
So many brands have come and gone over the decades.
Off the top of my head: FIC, Iwill, Epoch, Soyo, Abit, DFI.
And so many nobrand ones of the early mid 90s, like the socket3 486 boards that had fake L2 cache chips!
I remember a Pentium 166 system I built back in '96 on an Amptron board. Pass all tests with flying colors, decent speed, etc.
System came back due to random woman scream noises [sic] in 16/44.1 audio recordings. Customer was using some higher end recording board (Event Gina IIRC) and sure enough all the recordings had random noises that sounded like screaming out of a horror movie in a hotel and a mic was picking up a woman in severe distress. Laughed about it but had to replace the board with an Asus HX board which fixed the issue. Built another Cyrix 166PR system off that (Amptron) board with a S3 Virge "accelerator" for playing games of the time. No screams heard aside from the players perishing. ;-) Those were the days!

Which reminds me anyone on the east coast remember Market Pro computer shows? So much crap pushed at the equivalent of a nerd's fleamarket. From AMD K5 CPUs to JTS hard drives! Oh the horror! ;-)
 

ShuttleLuv

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ECS redeemed themselves in the mid 00's but only a bit. K7S5A was functional and useable if setup right, but not great. A good cheap board paired with a Duron for sure. Amptron was one of the worst. Soyo's were ok, mainly the Dragons, but not anywhere near great. Cyrix was pushing that mediaGX 20 years ago...ahead of it's time, just functionally terrible for gaming.

https://www.cpu-world.com/CPUs/MediaGX/index.html
 

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GiGaBiTe

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Cyrix was pushing that mediaGX 20 years ago...ahead of it's time, just functionally terrible for gaming.

It lived on for well over a decade. NSC bought them, and then AMD bought them from NSC. The last CPU I know based on the Cyrix 586 is the AMD Geode GX, released in the mid 2000s. It was essentially a super fast 486, running between 266-500 MHz
 
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