A Classic Reborn
because everyone should own a turbo XT
I received zero compensation for any of the products mentioned or linked in this article. I merely enjoy them immensely and wanted to share.
In February of 2020, I purchased components for a machine that would make using my favorite software, playing my favorite games (as well as some I couldn’t play in my youth), and recovering some older files far easier than I had hitherto believed possible. I purchased the first edition of the Monotech NuXT v2.0. The NuXT, as the name would imply, is an XT clone that had it been made in the 80s would have been advertised as a turbo XT.
The original IBM XT shipped with an 8088 clocked at 4.77 MHz. Clone makers quickly started releasing XT clone machines that used the 8086 or faster 8088s. They then called these “turbo XT.” The turbo switch on later computers were present to slow the machine down to match these speeds and thereby ameliorate issues with timing in software. The NuXT uses a faster chip in that same spirit. It comes standard with an NEC V20. The V20 is an 8088 (and somewhat 80186) compatible chip that can operate at 4.77 MHz, 7.16 MHz, or 9.55 MHz. The speed can be configured to be set at boot, or it can be changed on the fly. The NuXT uses Ctl, Alt, -/*/+ to set the speed during operation.
The NuXT is a truly marvelous system. It has 4x 8bit ISA expansion slots. It has integrated PS/2 ports, serial, parallel, and (optionally) VGA. The VGA is a Trident TVGA9000i which supports not just VGA, but also SVGA, MDA, CGA, EGA, and Hercules! The system also has an integrated CF slot attached to an integrated IDE controller, and the board sports an integrated floppy controller. My particular NuXT came with 1MB of RAM, and 512K video RAM. I have added both an AdLib card (reproduction) and an NE2000 compatible NIC (reproduction). I use a combination 3.5” and 5 1/4” floppy disk drive. While the board has a piezoelectric speaker on it, I prefer the truly loud and terrible PC speaker. As for power, the NuXT has standard ATX connectors on it, and I use an off-the-shelf PSU. Compared to any authentic 80s XT, this a seriously powerful and amazingly convenient machine.
Until this passed weekend, this machine was housed in a standard mATX case intended for modern computers. This was clearly NOT OKAY. Such a glorious machine deserves a far better home. It needs something a little more… appropriate yet new. Accordingly, I present to you today my turbo XT.
I had to search high and low for a PC case that was reminiscent of those of the correct era while still accommodating a micro ATX form factor board, long PC cards, ATX PSUs, a PC speaker, and 5 1/4” drives. Sadly, I found nothing of the sort that was purchasable off-the-shelf.
This naturally meant that I would need either to have something custom made or to make something myself. While I am not unhandy, this particular project was one that I wanted to be flawless, and my personal abilities with this would have been quite novice level. I looked at the work of many different companies, and then chose one that was both extremely high quality and geographically close to me. This was TOMA Fabrications.
The process started with an email. The TOMA site shows many cases made with acrylic either clear or frosted. There are some mixed on there as well. These were all standard configurations that you can purchase from them directly. The alternative option is to request something custom made. I emailed asking if it would be possible to build something that was similar in spirit to an IBM PC, XT, or AT. The reply was fairly quick and was in the positive. ALREADY OFF TO A GOOD START.
The next step was to clarify. I was clearly a novice because I neither had any idea of what questions I should ask, nor any idea of what details would be involved. No worries at all though, because TOMA knew exactly what to ask. After a few more emails, I met with the owner of the company for coffee to hand over the components so that I could be assured of precise and proper fitment. We then spent too long chatting about nerdy things and sipping delicious french press coffee, and my wife informed me that we needed to do other things. That’s how I know that we were enjoying our nerdiness a little too much. There were a few more emails, and then production started. I was far too excited the entire time. I was like a little kid again: constantly dreaming of games I would play, software I would use and test, parts I would test with the machine… on and on and on in my mind.
I met up again for the hand off of the completed machine, and well… LOOK AGAIN BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME.
The speaker is held in it’s own stand by friction, and those are functional grills on the front. The two switches are for power and reset. They also have LED light rings around them. The power button has the power indicator light, and the reset button has the IDE activity light.
The NuXT does come with a user manual. This manual is short, but it is extensively detailed in what it covers. Every dip switch, jumper, chip, keybinding, BIOS setting, and so on is explained.
I know that the machine is not “of the era,” but it is actual hardware. It’s a real NEC V20, a real 8087, real static RAM, a real Trident VGA chip, and so on. While I make an exception for HDD storage, the floppy disk drive is also authentic. There’s no emulation involved. This is truly my favorite computer. I can use MS-DOS and all of the software I so fondly remember, and I get a few modern conveniences.
This machine will be used extensively in future articles, and in some upcoming videos as well.