The Xircom PE3 series adapters are Ethernet adapters from the early 1990s designed for notebook computers that needed Ethernet but did not have any internal expansion slots. They worked by using the the parallel port as an expansion bus, which is not as fast as having a real Ethernet adapter on a card but it is fast enough for most uses. While designed for notebook computers they will work on any machine with a parallel port, which is great for machines that have limited (or no) expansion slots available. It also makes it useful for machines where you want an Ethernet connection but you don't want to go through the hassle of opening the case and installing a card.
There are three models in the PE3 series:
From a software point of view they all look the same. The only
difference is in how they connect to your Ethernet. Most people will
prefer the 10BT or 10BC versions as they connect easily to a
modern home network using a CAT 5 patch cable. The 10B2 or the 10BC
version using Thin Ethernet can use an older style of Ethernet called
"ThinNet" which some older hubs support, but it is not as common
The included software supported Novell NetWare (ODI), Artisoft LANtastic/AI 4.1, DECnet-DOS, DEC PCSA and PATHWORKS, NDIS, ODI, AT&T StarLAN 10, and the DOS packet driver specification. (I discuss the DOS packet driver parameters on this page - for the others you have to refer to the user manual.) The software used to be available from Intel but they have not been terribly helpful about keeping old drivers posted. As an alternative obtain it from here (xircom_pe3_10bt_353.exe, md5sum: 29c9303fb47cc7e85599b06d98f8ec8b) instead.
Within the device was an Ethernet chipset and a 32KB buffer area. 32KB was generous for the time and helped make up for the slowness of the parallel port by providing extra buffering. Speed is limited to 10Mb/sec which was the fastest speed at the time, but it works well in mixed 10/100 Ethernet LANs.
The parallel port does not provide enough power to operate the device so an additional source of power is needed. There were two methods for powering the device:
The choice of parallel port makes a difference on
standard parallel port like the kind found on the original IBM PC, XT,
PCjr, and AT is capable of sending a byte of data out of the port at a
time, but is
only capable of reading 5 bits at a time. This is due to the original
design of the parallel port which was supposed to support a printer,
not general purpose I/O devices. The design shows up in the performance
of the Xircom - on a slower machine you will find that the Xircom can
send data twice as fast as it can read it. Later parallel ports
improved by allowing the parallel port to read a full byte at a time,
thus making reading from attached device the same speed as writing. And
even later parallel ports introduced an "EPP" (Enhanced Parallel Port)
mode which make the handshaking between the parallel port and the
device more efficient, boosting the transfer rate.
The Xircom can support any parallel port, but at a minimum you
should try to use a bi-directional parallel port. Standard
work, but they are half as slow when receiving data as compared to
The Xircom does not provide a pass-thru for a printer or other parallel
port device. I recommend plugging it directly into the parallel port,
and not in a daisy chain behind other devices like a Zip drive, SCSI
adapter, or any other parallel port device with a pass-thru connection.
Do not connect the Xircom to a parallel port while the computer is
turned on. Parallel ports are not designed for that and you can damage
them if you add and remove devices while the power is on.
The packet driver for this adapter is called PE3PD.COM. According to the documention it is supposed to be able to find the Xircom adapter and configure itself automatically. Below is a list of command line parameters:
|Keyword||Default||Range of settings||Description|
|NON||AUTO||Force the driver to treat the parallel port as standard (non-bidirectional)|
|SINT=||60||60 to 80||What software interrupt to install at|
|LPT=||AUTO||1 to 3||Which LPT port to use|
|INT=||AUTO||0 or 3 to 15||What hardware IRQ to use. If you use zero the adapter works in a polling mode. (See below)|
|IOADDRESS=||AUTO||240 to 380||The IO address of your parallel port adapter in hexadecimal notation|
|LINKDISABLE||Enabled||Disables link integrity for use with non-10BASE-T networks.|
|NOEPP||Disable EPP mode even if supported by the BIOS|
Parallel ports have hardware interrupt wiring but often they are not
enabled. Most DOS software using the parallel port writes to the port;
if a read needs to be done polling is usually faster. Not using the
parallel port hardware interrupt also allows you to use multiple
parallel ports at the same time without having to worry about which one
needs to be serviced when the shared interrupt line goes off. (If each
port had its own hardware interrupt line there would be no problem, but
interrupt lines are limited in number so that is unusual.)
An Ethernet adapter on a parallel port presents an interesting
challenge - one can not predict when a packet is going to arrive.
Instead of actively polling the port looking for data from the Ethernet
adapter a hardware interrupt would be preferred.
|pe3pd SINT=60||Search for the adapter and install at software interrupt 0x60 when found|
|pe3pd SINT=60 INT=0||Same as above, but do not use a hardware interrupt (use polling mode)|
|pe3pd SINT=62 LPT=2 INT=5 NON||Install on software interrupt 0x62 using an adapter on a standard parallel port at LPT2, hardware interrupt 5|
All variants of the PE3 have two diagnostic lights on them. The meaning of the lights can be found in the table below:
|Model||Light 1 (Closest to Ethernet Connector)||Light 2 (Closer to middle of the adapter)|
|PE3-10B2||Transmission activity (flashing green)||Power on (green)/Collision (flashing red)/Cable fault (solid red)|
|PE3-10BT||Transmission activity (flashing green)||Power on (orange)/Link Integrity Enabled (green)/Link Integrity Disabled (orange)|
|PE3-10BC||Transmission activity (flashing green)||Link Integrity Enabled (green)/Link Integrity Disabled (off)/Collision (flashing red)/Cable Fault (solid red)|
Note: The PE3-10BC has a different power on indicator than the others do. Look for the triangle above the letter "i" in the Xircom logo to turn red when the power is on.
The power indicator only lights when power is applied to the Xircom, the Xircom is attached to a parallel port, and the computer is turned on.
Besides the packet driver there are two utility programs you should know about:
Probably any machine you can find with a parallel port will work. I have tested the following machines:
In addition to these machines, here are some more that others have reported work:
There is at least one machine that does not work - the Olivette Prodest
PC-1. Apparently it has a slightly non-standard parallel port.
The Xircom manual does not specify a required version of DOS. Given the
nature of the packet driver and the lack of dependencies on DOS
features just about any version of DOS should work. I have used
everything from DOS 2.1 upwards.