Restoration of the week: Remy’s Datamini PA40

Today I have permission to share a few pictures from Remy, who has restored an ancient Datamini PA40 and needs suggestions on software for a 286-based machine.


Remy says the insides include a 12Mhz processor, an EGA color display, 655,360 bytes of memory (that’s 640K, if you’ve forgotten the conversion), with no extended memory and a 44Mb hard drive using some sort of compression. DOS 5 is apparently on board, and uses only 88 bytes while running. ( 😯 Now that’s lightweight.)

The photos show Hack (not NetHack — Hack) for DOS running, and Remy said he also found Adventure, Tetris, Rogue and a Boulder Dash game, but the last one didn’t seem to recognize the arrow key input. 😐 An editing program called (not surprisingly) EDIT is apparently also available.

I love projects like this. The best part is this photo diary showing the disassembly, scrubbing (literally) and reassembly. It might be amusing to think of scouring circuit boards and casings in your bathtub, but trust me on that point: It’s usually the easiest way. If you have a machine and you’re wondering how to rehab it, this is a fairly good tutorial on ripping one apart and putting it back together, too. πŸ˜‰

Remy said Slackware 3.3 boots from floppy but hangs at LILO, FreeDOS/Balder hangs at start too, and Minix 2 also fails. PocketLinux prints a message asking for a 386 or higher CPU, and a few other generally-recognized-as-low-end distros seem to draw the line at the 386. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I am sure Remy would be thankful, and I would be curious too.

In the mean time I’ll be kicking myself for turning down a leftover 286 machine about a year ago, mostly because I wasn’t sure I could get anything done with it. I don’t know why, but apparently I forgot that the point isn’t always to get something done. Sometimes it’s just, as Remy said, that “a modern core2duo does not have the charm of my 286. :P”


29 thoughts on “Restoration of the week: Remy’s Datamini PA40

  1. mulenmar

    It is IMPOSSIBLE to run Linux or BSD on a 286 processor — they both require the protected-mode memory management introduced in the 386.

    ELKS is a theoretical possibility, but I have zero experience with it.

    From my experience with 286’s, the best bet is DOS 6.22 with Windows 3.1. With a 44MB hard drive, however, that will fill up much of the drive.

    (Yes, I just recommended Windows — three things Windows is good for: 286s, the Poulsbo chipset, and keeping out the weather.)

  2. Bill Palone

    I agree with DOS 6.22, then find some old apps like WordPerfect for DOS, or Wordstar, or Lotus or System 7. Those are some of the ones I can remember and even have some of them. I will google and see if any can be had anywhere.

    A great restoration.

  3. heyoka

    I think he should stick with DOS… he’s already got a perfectly good function key template for WordPerfect. Maybe also hunt down a copy of Lotus 1-2-3. (Or you can download Visicalc from Dan Bricklin’s site.)

    I think DOS 5 came with QBasic, so if he needs anything else he can just write it himself. πŸ™‚

  4. MK

    Charms are nice, but sometimes, too old is just too old, and it’s time to let it go.

  5. Remy

    Found the sealed windows 3.1 floppy’s, 7 original disks. Won’t install, says it needs extended memory, the XMS driver cannot be loaded. To bad… And freedos also does not boot, I’ve tried the Balder install disk.

    However, what I also found were Wordperfect 5.1, dBASE, Lotus 123 and Harvard Graphics 2.3. Installing them a.t.m.

    And it is a perfect game console. Who needs a PS3 when you have a 286 with Pacman, Tetris, Rogue, hack, pong and space invaders? And a nice fish aquarium screensaver :P.

    Also I found a CD-ROM with very early versions of slackware 1 and SLS. Go leech it here:

    And I am amazed by the size of the programs for dos, most games are not larger then 1MiB. I don’t get why we need blu ray for games :P.

    1. Duncan Snowden

      A megabyte? That’s huge! Check this out: 1K Chess. And no, it’s not a ‘shop; I had a copy. It was a bit limited (didn’t support castling, as I recall), but it worked.

      You’re right, though: data grows to fit the space available.

  6. Youri

    What did you restore from it i recall you getting it in a perfect state, and pushing over everything on my desk while placing it on, and falling asleep @ my bed…….. your so weird and now the whole wourld knows it

  7. mividaendigital

    why not gut it and install some modern components. it will have the charm of the 286 and the advantage of a modern os

    1. MK

      You don’t understand, installing even older components would be cool, but anything newer then 10 years old is just boring.

  8. Peter

    I read his with a certain amount of envy as the hard-drive has recently failed on my 286 laptop. Ebay has so far turned up nothing in the form of suitably authentic working laptop hard-drives.

  9. Anonymous

    This is classic. They don’t build them like they used to. 48 MB hard drive, Wow this give me goose bumps again. She is a beauty.


  10. truzicic

    OMG… Just OMG… Remy is one lucky bast…, ummm, guy πŸ™‚
    I don’t know for what that hardware is capable of, but for old DOS games you should check, they have a bunch of DOS games there…

  11. mulenmar

    I just remembered some other software I used on the old Toshiba with a 40MB hard drive and a 286 processor. It had some extended memory too, though. Enjoy Scroogling for these.

    — PC Tools 9. I actually used this much more than I did Windows, since it was a bit lighter. (Understatement, even then.) It was proprietary software, came on five 1.44MB floppies. If you can find it, I heartily recommend it.

    — EGATrek. The last versions of it changed a lot of names to avoid copyright infringements, and there are some bugs that can be taken advantage of as cheats, but it’s a fun Star Trek game.

    — Red Baron. This was, apparantly, THE most realistic flight game in existence back in its day. It’s a WWI game, in which you join one side’s air force (the Allies or the Central Powers) and complete various missions throughout your career. Supposedly this game had a VGA graphics mode that looked much better, but I could never get it to work in the freeware version that was released.

    For other games, and links to a few utilites, check out and There SHOULD be a few that can run on a 286. πŸ™‚

    And remember children, abandonware is illegal. πŸ˜› πŸ˜† Which is a shame, there are many “ancient” games that really need to be opensourced.

  12. Remy

    My lvl 12 Rogue lost from this stupid Orc 😦 πŸ˜›

    I’ve been trying to find a good version of pong, no luck yet. Some older people I know still remember Wordperfect and Lotus 123. Wordperfect works quite well, today I’ve written some work papers on the thing, and transferred them via floppy. That sure brings up memory’s :D. And I know why I’ve stopped using them, they crash a lot :P. A: needs to be formatted xD.

    When I find some more games I’m going to make some photo’s and put them online…

  13. kokakoda

    Ahh, reminds me of my first IBM compatible. 80286 processor, 640K RAM, 20MB HDD, Hercules monitor. LOL, what a speed demon that was. πŸ˜€

    Although you won’t get Windows 3.1 running, it will run Windows 3.0. There’s a selection of old freeware/shareware games still available on the old FTP sites –; garbo; winsite etc. Been a year or two since I checked if they’re still up mind you… :/

    Like your rogue-likes? Give Castle of the Winds a try. That works on Win3.0 IIRC.

    Shame it’s not a 386 though, there would’ve been so many more possibilities. Would’ve loved to see Calmira running on this thing. πŸ™‚

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  18. Anon-e-mouse

    Before Windows 3.0 there was Windows 286. . .

    Norton Commander might be interesting too.

    Too bad all those old dial up BBS systems are a thing of the past, they were full of software from the 286 era.

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