Marines upgrade 386s to Pentiums, save money

Just as the famous Parris Island S.C. Marine boot camp instills guts in its recruits the base's computer division installed more powerful guts in the base's computers.

The Depot Computer and Telecommunications Division (DCTD) at the Marine Corps' Recruit Depot Parris Island recently installed high-powered Pentium guts into 386-based PCs which will give those machines another three years of active duty.

Chief Warrant Officer David Stevens director of DCTD's Computer Systems Service Facility (CSSF) said tight budgets pushed the move to upgrade the old PCs. "We do more with less here " he said.

The Parris Island Marines use 11 different 386 PC models including 112 Everex Systems Inc. 386s. Under a project code-named "Genesis " the Marines upgraded 50 Everex machines to Pentium 100s "because we figured out that rather than buying new machines we could upgrade them and save about $1 000 per box " Stevens said.

CSSF retained the PC shell - or pie box - as well as the monitor and installed a new motherboard a 1.2G hard drive and 16M of RAM. The upgrade "increased the speed of the old machines by a minimum of 200 times " said Gunnery Sgt. Robert Rodgers CSSF's installation chief. "It's kind of like putting a bored-out 452 engine into a Volkswagen."

The CSSF crew has developed tentative plans to upgrade the base's 500 486-based PCs manufactured by Zenith Data Systems Corp. - a project Stevens estimated could generate savings of $500 000. "Some of these PCs are still very good " he said. "I just can't envision turning all this stuff over to the [Defense Resale Management Office] and gaining nothing."

But Will They Work?

Saving money is one thing making the PCs work is another said Chip Mather a former small-computer programmer for the Air Force and now vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. "Gutting and upgrading is a smart approach if you want to save money " he said. "But you also have to be careful that your power supply BIOS and cooling fan can handle the new parts."

Despite the overhaul of older computers the recruit depot is still willing to embrace new technology Stevens said. For example the depot recently upgraded its wide-area network with Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switches from Bay Networks Inc. The explosive growth of client/server systems at Parris Island - which went from five to 25 servers and 800 clients over four years - put heavy demands on the existing token-ring network.

Besides supporting e-mail and terminal emulation the network also served as the data highway for the automated recruit management system a home-grown program written in Ada the programming language widely used in weapons systems and mission-critical programs. The system "provides personnel all over the base with a single information system to track and manage the recruits " Stevens said.

The new ATM-powered network runs 10 times faster than the previous system with the ATM switches handling data at 155 megabit/sec vs. the sluggish 16 megabit/sec of the former network. ATM technology also allowed easy segmentation of the network Stevens said.

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