Compaq Deskpro XL 590

InfoWorld, December 1994

The Deskpro XL series was released in the summer of 1994 as a replacement for Compaq's high-end Deskpro/M lineup, updating it with Intel Pentium microprocessors, and Compaq's first implementation of the new PCI expansion bus. XLs also included the "Vocalyst" keyboard, which featured an integrated speaker and microphone that plugged into a proprietary connector on the back of the machine.

The 590 is a later iteration of the XL family, introduced in late 1994. While Compaq was one of the last major companies to release a 90 MHz Pentium system, it was still a respectable flagship, with a Pentium 90, 16 MB of RAM, PCI graphics, and a spacious 1.05 GB SCSI hard disk. Those specifications, along with a price tag at or exceeding $4,000, made this machine more suited for the corner office than the cubicle.

The Guide's XL 590:
  • Intel Pentium 90 on proprietary CPU card
  • 16 MB of RAM soldered to CPU card
  • 1.05 GB IBM Deskstar XP SCSI hard drive
  • Compaq QVision 1280/P PCI Graphics Card (Motorola XC02 + 1 MB VRAM)
  • NEC MultiSpin 6X SCSI CD-ROM
  • AMD PCNet SCSI/Ethernet controller
  • Analog Devices SoundPort AD1847JP (audio controller)
  • MS-DOS 6.22 + Windows for Workgroups 3.11

Setting up the system


     Two years of disuse drained the soldered CMOS battery on the mainboard, requiring the machine to be re-configured. While the system will boot without being configured, the 590's default settings will only read 720k floppy disks. If you find yourself unable to read from 1.44 MB disks on an XL, this is likely your problem. The CMOS battery on the motherboard is non-replaceable, and an external battery pack is required to return function to the system. Compaq's setup utility is a set of three bootable floppy disks that will automatically configure your system for you after you enter the date and time, and then reboot with little fuss. With the system completely configured, the real challenge began.

     The XL 590's proprietary hardware, particularly its SCSI controller, made installing MS-DOS on this system more of a chore thanks to driver requirements. Luckily, HP still hosts drivers for XL lineup. The AMD PCNet SCSI drivers are a necessity to allow your DOS boot disk to interact with the drive.

   For anyone planning to install Windows 3.11, the QVision 1280/P drivers are a necessity to raise the quality level above 640x480 in 16 colors. It's also recommended to download the VESA driver (and add it to your AUTOEXEC.BAT) if you plan on running any games. The video drivers allow for a maximum resolution of 1024x768, with 256 colors, while 800x600, offering 65K colors, is the best choice for overall quality, though some may find a lack of screen real estate disheartening.

800x600, 65K Colors

     As of yet, I have been unable to find functional drivers for the AD1847JP audio controller in this machine.


     The CMOS battery problems have rendered the daily use of this machine rather difficult, but it performs decently in both Windows and DOS, able to easily multitask and play most DOS games. The lack of sound drivers means this is an impractical machine for DOS gaming, although as a machine for testing and running older software, the 590 is still perfectly functional.


The non-replaceable CMOS battery is a seemingly pointless engineering blunder, and the case is quite cramped. The proprietary floppy drive form factor means drive failure can be fatal to the utility of your machine, and the use of mounting brackets for the 5.25'' drives may make adding a second drive difficult. These issues aside, Compaq's build quality is superb, and the features of this system are compelling for a high-end DOS workstation. The XL 590 is, overall, very worthy of consideration for any task that doesn't require some form of sound output better than the PC speaker.


  1. Do you know where i can get the mounting brackets for 5.25 drives?

  2. Ι have a Deskpro XL560/60 from 1994 and it has a floppy that reads 1.44 disks with no problem at all. Also the inside compartment is cramped but only if you try to work without removing some parts. i.e. the processor board, the fan, etc. This should be a no brainer, plus the CMOS battery also. It is indeed soldered-in but it is indeed replaceable if you are not afraid and know how to use a solder iron. actually, While at it, you can replace the original battery holder with a modern socket, again if you are competent enough with soldering. Finally, never had an issue with the sound drivers, just use the standard settings in your autoexec.bat and config.sys, plus check the HP website they do host (still) documentation and drivers/utilities for this PC. Actually, with the Vocalyst keyboard attached this machine is quite impressive for its age (20+yrs). I have run up to Windows 2000 server on it and it does do the job without complaining. Contact me if you want more detailed info on this museum piece, I know it inside-out!

  3. Hi Χωρίς Όνομα, could you share the sound drivers please?

  4. I just bought a similar Deskpro XL 466 and your blog post keeps coming up when I do various searches, so I thought I'd finally leave a comment :) I love this machine - obviously there are more powerful computers out there but if you're trying to model the late DOS/early Windows era, it doesn't get much better than my Deskpro. One perk of these machines is that you can fully upgrade the processor since it's on a daughter card, and I have the P100 card as well as my 486 (these cards only cost about 50 bucks today). It's a plug and play swap; takes 60 seconds. I've also replaced the battery in mine with a common battery holder so now it can be swapped easily with a common CR2032 (or BR2032 if you want to retain the extreme temperature tolerances). Everything on these machines is just such a step up in quality vs. the Packard Bell I used to own at the time that it's not even funny. Wish I could have afforded one back in the day!

    Oh, and Windows 95 has drivers for the sound card, and it's PnP. I'm not sure about DOS drivers. I did put a SB16 in mine to add a game port, and of course that works fine in DOS.