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(Posted this on HW Rec but got no responses.)

Would like to use an ISA expansion card in a modern PC. There are

  • Expensive PCI - ISA adapters (but I cannot find any actually for sale now)
  • USB-ISA adapters, which may not work
  • New motherboards with ISA slots, rare and expensive
  • Old motherboards for sale on Ebay
  • PCI to ISA bridge chips (eg IT8888G), but no products using them?

Are there no practical solutions to this problem? I cannot be the first person to want to do this.

Edit: when I say "modern" I didn't really mean the very latest. Am not sure what CPU I have exactly but it is around ten years old.

More: The card is an SCM Swapbox.

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    ARS Technologies still show the usb2isa-r USB 2.0 to ISA card as available. I used something similar (if not identical) in a legacy application around a decade ago. I hesitate to post this as an answer as some driver code will need to be written and your specific card may not work. The hardware is beginning to get into legacy/mission critical status, so solutions that work reliably tend to be expensive. These target industry, not hobbyists
    – scruss
    May 13, 2019 at 14:09
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    It would be helpful to know the details, if you have a specific project in mind. People here familiar with retro hardware and software could potentially offer numerous solutions to the problem of an obsolete peripheral controller / ISA card, other than making the card work directly in a modern PC with no ISA bus.
    – Brian H
    May 13, 2019 at 14:41
  • I was about to write the same as Brian above. There are hobbyist boards which can be used to rebuild XT-level PCs from scratch, with support for ISA cards, or you could use an ISA backplane with an S-100 converter and build a 486-based system... (But obviously that’s nothing like running a current CPU and being able to connect an ISA board. PCI is somewhat uncommon nowadays, let alone ISA, although PCI-capable motherboards are still easy enough to find, including new.) May 13, 2019 at 14:44
  • It is also possible to buy new PCs with ISA slots, e.g. here (with published prices), with 4th gen Core CPUs. May 13, 2019 at 14:50
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    We need to know what the card is. You may not be able to get drivers for it even if you can connect it. Many modern machines can't run DOS, and systems like DOSBox and QEMU can't access ISA hardware directly either.
    – user
    May 13, 2019 at 15:26

5 Answers 5

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There's basically two possibilities you may find:

  1. The ISA card is a fairly trivial piece of hardware, using I/O ports or memory-mapping only. In this case, it is pretty likely an USB-to-ISA or PCI-to-ISA adapter will work. It is, however, also pretty likely a modern PCI-express or USB replacement is cheaper, thus rendering the adapter useless.
  2. The ISA card is not-so-trivial, might use DMA or even take over the bus completely, as many of the more complicated co-processor cards do. I happen to have a Motorola 68040 card on an ISA slot that does take over the bus completely and talks to the graphics card and disk controllers directly - something like that would be worthy of spending quite some of money for an adapter card - I don't, however, know of any adapter card that would support such a setup.

The above, either too simple to justify the cost of an adapter card, or too complicated that it is really working, is probably the main reason such ISA adapters are no longer available in the market.

Your best possible options are either buying a relatively modern used PC that still has ISA slots (they're still available on eBay, if you're lucky, you'll find a very small and relatively recent Pentium board like they were used for PoS systems, that's what I did), or investing in a more modern setup, you can still buy new ISA-PC setups targetted at the embedded market (at a price, however).

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    The problem with a lot of relatively recent (in the last 10 years or so) PC motherboards with ISA support don't support ISA DMA, since it can't be implemented using a PCI to ISA bridge without additional connections that PC chipsets don't support anymore. ISA DMA can be supported with LPC to ISA bridges though. I'm not sure how well bus mastering works with either kind of bridge.
    – user722
    May 15, 2019 at 18:09
  • This. We still buy these for some legacy devices that just won't die. LGA1155 Sandy Bridge with one ISA slot and some legacy PCI also on the board.
    – J...
    May 14, 2020 at 13:23
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As mentioned is a comment above by @scruss, some manufacturers (such as ARS Technologies) have created a USB device that provides an USB-ISA bridge and an ISA slot.

ARS tech usb2isa card

It is an expensive option, as it's a niche product, and most people needing this kind of item will be in a position where they have to support some old mission-critical peripheral that can't easily be replaced.

This approach deals with the hardware issue, but you may also have issues finding drivers to support your old ISA card in a modern OS. One person has recorded their experience of getting an old ISA network card working here.

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I found 2 boards for socket 1150/1151:

cost about 270$ us:

http://aicsys.com/Industrial-Motherboards-MBC-6605.html

cost about 140$ us:

https://ipc.msi.com/product_detail/Industrial-Motherboard/ATX/MS-98L9-V2.0

Motherboards-MBC-6605 - this is the best option because this motherboard uses Intel chipset 8-series that supports drivers under Windows XP 32, which supports almost all ISA cards.

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    Welcome on the RC SE! I think the OP wants to build his card into an existing PC, not into a new one.
    – peterh
    Apr 3, 2020 at 11:16
  • Unfortunately, this is not possible, I even bought an ARS USB-ISA bridge for 150$ dollars, but the ISA sound card over this bridge did not work. Therefore, buying a motherboard for a modern platform is the best option.
    – Hellraiser
    Apr 3, 2020 at 20:09
  • ISA has problematic autoconfiguration (ISA-PnP, but not all devices support it), maybe that was the problem? As I can remember, all the irq, dma and io settings need to be configured manually by jumpers, and by software (by driver parameters). Could this ARS USB-ISA bridge do this? It should have emulated irq, dma and also io.
    – peterh
    Apr 4, 2020 at 1:39
  • Sound card 100% PnP - Sound Blaster 16 WavEffects (CT4170). I'm tired of suffering so ARS USB-ISA bridge already resold
    – Hellraiser
    Apr 6, 2020 at 8:54
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Our custom ISA test cards are working in a more modern PC. The system uses a PICMG 1.0 single board computer with a Intel gen. 4 I5 processor and a PICMG 1.0 backplane

Full-size PICMG 1.0 with LGA1150 Intel® CPU https://www.icpamerica.com/wsb-h810/ https://www.ieiworld.com/en/product/model.php?II=209

14 slot backplane to fit in existing chassis https://www.icpamerica.com/pci-14s3-rs/

Note: ipcamerica is a US distributor ieiworld is the manufacture

This got our ISA cards working with windows 10 but now am looking for a windows 11 solution. This has many more challenges due to the Microsoft's Windows 11 minimum requirements of only offering the OS as 64 bits, needing TPM 2.0 module, minimum generation 8 processor, minimum graphics level, etc... https://www.ieiworld.com/en/news/con_show.php?op=showone&cid=1266

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  • In the datasheet they list a bunch of other backplanes with different slot configurations. Mar 29 at 21:44
  • When you say "our" cards, can you confirm you are involved in the manufacture or distribution? Promotion of relevant products is permitted here with full disclosure, that would avoid accusations of spamming.
    – Chenmunka
    Mar 30 at 8:16
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Easy. PC-104 is an industrial interface used today. ISA is part of this interface, You just need and adapter or soldering cables. It works.

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    You couldn't possible expand a little on this? A link to an adapter? It's been a while now, but I googled pretty thoroughly without finding anything reasonable-looking. Note that it is a PCMCIA reader I need it for.
    – Tomas By
    Feb 24, 2020 at 23:11

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