/ Retro Computing

Motherboards and Sound Cards with PC/PCI

Back when the Sound Blaster AWE64 was a big deal and Creative was making the move from the ISA bus to the PCI bus, a compatibility mechanism was needed to bridge the gap.

The ISA bus contained signals that were very important to the communication between the sound card and the rest of the system. Some of these signals were no longer available on the PCI bus. In order to get around this limitation, many PCI sound card manufacturers employed virtualization, which required a TSR: a program to be loaded into memory and stay running there to relay the signals.

Creative went further and developed a hardware solution: take the signals that are normally fed to ISA cards and send them via a special cable to the PCI card. This is called by one of two names: PC/PCI or SB-LINK. The connector itself isn't proprietary. It's a standard 3x2 pin array.

3x2 IDC ribbon cables should be available online. Just be sure to get cables that are female on both ends.

PCI Sound Card Support

Despite developing a solution for the ISA signal problem, Creative only used it on one type of card: the Sound Blaster AWE64D. However, many Yamaha YMF724/744/754 based cards include the header as well. Some cards have pads for the PC/PCI connector, but lack the header. These cards may be capable of being modified to work with an added header.

ManufacturerModelChipsetPC/PCI
AOpenAW724YMF724Pads
AOpenAW744YMF744Pads
CreativeCT4650AWE64DHeader
LabwayLWHA301J8, XWave 6000, A301-J8YMF754Header
LabwayLWHA411G7, A411-G7YMF724Header
TerratecSolo-1ESS Solo-1Pads

Motherboard Support

A few motherboard manufacturers provided these connectors on their products. Many of the entries in this list are added courtesy of a Vogons forum post on the subject.

They are most often found on motherboards with the VIA MVP3 and 440BX chipsets. It can be found on some motherboards with 845 chipsets, but this is far less common. Below, I've included some guidelines for particular companies.

Asus

It appears that Asus stopped putting these on their motherboards after the P3 product line. Only the P2 and P3 lines appear to have these connectors, and even then it's no guarantee. Definitely check photos.

QDI

QDI is one company that frequently used the PC/PCI connector, even through their first Pentium 4 boards. The BrillianX and PlatiniX product lines are two to look out for.

The QDI PlatiniX series of motherboards, which is entirely Intel 845 based, tends to have this connector. However, there are a few caveats. Here are some of the PlatiniX line that do not have the connector:

  • Any of the motherboards that support 800 mHz FSB
  • 7LI/C (the non-C variant appears to have it)

It's far more likely to find the connector on ATX boards and less likely on Micro ATX boards. Almost all variants of the 2 and 8 line will have it, except for those with 800 mHz FSB support. These boards will be easy to discern: they all have 800 in the name (e.g. PlatiniX 8GE/800.)

Additionally, QDI manufactured a number of motherboards with at least one ISA slot. These boards have "I" after the base model name (e.g. PlatiniX 2DI-AL/C.) ISA slots are not particularly important for the scope of this article, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Master List

ManufacturerModelChipsetPC/PCI
AbitBE6-IIIntel 440BXHeader
AbitBP6Intel 440BXHeader
AbitBX-6Intel 440BXHeader
AOpenAX6BIntel 440BXHeader
AsusP2BIntel 440BXHeader
AsusP2B-BIntel 440BXHeader
AsusP2B-DIntel 440BXHeader
AsusP2B-DSIntel 440BXHeader
AsusP2B-SIntel 440BXHeader
AsusP3B-FIntel 440BXHeader
AzzaPT-6IBTIntel 440BXHeader
AzzaPT-6IZTIntel 440ZXHeader
DFIPA61VIA VT82C596BHeader
ECSP6BAT-A+VIA VT82C596BHeader
ECSP6BAT-Me Rev:1.1VIA VT82C596AHeader
EnmicNMC-5VM5EVIA MVP3Header
EnmicNMC-5VMEVIA MVP3Header
EnmicNMC-5VMXVIA MVP3Header
EnmicNMC-5VX-2VIA MVP3Header
EpoxEP-MVP3CVIA MVP3Header
EpoxEP-MVP3C2VIA MVP3Header
EpoxEP-MVP3G-MVIA MVP3Header
EpoxEP-MVP3G2VIA MVP3Header
EpoxEP-MVP3G5VIA MVP3Header
GigabyteGA-686BXIntel 440BXHeader
GigabyteGA-6BXUIntel 440BXHeader
GigabyteGA-6BXCIntel 440BXHeader
GigabyteGA-6EAIntel 440EXHeader
IntelAL440LXIntel 440LXPads
IntelVC820Intel 820Header
Legend QDIP6I440BXIntel 440BXHeader
Legend QDIP6V693A/A9VIA VT82C693Pads
Legend QDIPlatiniX 2AIntel 845Header
Legend QDIPlatiniX 2DI-AL/CIntel 845GLHeader
Legend QDIPlatiniX 2E/333Intel 845PEHeader
Legend QDIPlatiniX 2SIntel 845Header
Legend QDIPlatiniX 7LI-AIntel 845GLHeader
MSIMS6117Intel 440LXHeader
MSIMS6156Intel 440BXPads
NMC6BAX+ Rev:0.5Intel 440BXHeader
NMC6BCX+ Rev:0.3Intel 440BXHeader
SoyoSY-6BA+ IVIntel 440BXHeader
TekramP6Pro-A5VIA VT82C596BHeader
TrigemDelhi-IIIVIA MVP3Header

Supplemental Words

It's a real shame that this connector only began to appear just as the ISA bus was (finally) being phased out. Sound devices were the last major holdout for the transition to PCI, and for good reason: PCI just didn't have the signals needed in order to properly support DOS gaming. Windows slowly pushed DOS gaming out of the spotlight over time. At the turn of the millennium, most people had already moved to Windows, and sound support was provided through more sophisticated virtualization than was ever available through DOS. Most games moved to utilizing DirectX or WinMM.

While this connector was very short lived, it does provide a very useful bridge for gamers who are looking to build the most "modern" retro gaming machine possible while retaining hardware compatibility for the sound devices they love so much.

Many thanks to the active Vogons users who make gathering this information possible.