back to article We regret to inform you there are severe delays on the token ring due to IT nerds blasting each other to bloody chunks

Welcome to Monday. As the weekend recedes and workstations are fired up, pause a moment to travel with us to a time when an ill-judged bit of gaming took down an entire network and a Reg reader uttered "Who, Me?" Our story takes us back a quarter of a century, and that wonderful moment in computer history when a certain …

  1. bazza Silver badge

    Ah, if only Token Bus (not Ring) had taken off instead. Fully deterministic, guaranteed throughput, perfect for hiding game traffic in amongst business traffic.

    The closest surviving relative is the network type found on large airliners (Arinc something or other), but I hope no one is playing Doom on those..:

    1. sad_loser

      obligatory link to Dilbert 'token ring'

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: obligatory link to Dilbert

        1. el_oscuro

          Re: obligatory link to Dilbert

          Please see icon

      2. DJV Silver badge

        Re: obligatory link to Dilbert 'token ring'

        Is it sad that I knew EXACTLY which strip that was going to be!

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: obligatory link to Dilbert 'token ring'

          No, we all knew. Nothing sad about knowing the classics.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Token Bus suffers the same issues as token ring with chatty protocols. It isn't the bandwidth that is being exhausted, its a combination of fairness for token usage and effective throughput once this fairness is enforced.

      Alternatively, think of Ethernet in a switched environment as a token bus with a single station per segment - Ethernet is already a bus and the use of full duplex with just a switch and a single end-station means the token isn't required. Any intelligent features such as guaranteed throughput or deterministic .being handled by the switching logic.

      As soon as the combined price of ethernet adapters/ethernet switches was less than token bus, token bus becomes pointless.

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Ah, well that was the good thing about Token Bus, the maths underlying its protocol guaranteed throughput for all nodes even for the chattiest of protocols. Two nodes playing Doom wouldn't impact on the throughput seen by other nodes, and indeed other nodes had equal access to the Doom playing nodes. The same wasn't true of Ethernet or Token Ring - the way they dealt with collisions or contentions relied on some randomness, which worked up to a point before throughput dropped off a cliff. Token Bus was the slowest of the three, but you always got that speed no matter what.

        Coax Ethernet was cheaper from the very beginning. Token Ring gear I remember being quite pricey, and Token Bus wasn't seen outside of industrial applications. Ethernet was technologically the worst of the three, but was good enough for most purposes and so that's what people bought. By the time everyone realised that star topologies were the way of the future it had become funamentally necessary to retain the Ethernet frame structure, which we pretty much still have today.

        I'm afraid I don't agree - a switched Ethernet like we have today still isn't a deterministic thing like Token Bus was.

        1. P. Lee

          Thinnet was superior.

          Unplug the techies from the company network, pop a Terminator on the end of each strand and game-on!

          Always have a spare couple of Terminators.

          1. jake Silver badge

            "Always have a spare couple of Terminators."

            There are a couple spares plugged into the BNC "T" on the PHB's ethernet card. Safer that way :-)

          2. paulf

            I still have a load of 10Base2 auto-terminating T-pieces in my drawer of many things. Just in case they come in useful one day (20 years and still waiting).

            Icon -> (Terminators)

        2. jelabarre59

          Coax Ethernet was cheaper from the very beginning. Token Ring gear I remember being quite pricey, and Token Bus wasn't seen outside of industrial applications.

          And ARCnet was the cheapest of all, slow as it may have been. As I remember it was another token-passing system, and woe unto you if any workstation on the line lost it's physical connection.

    3. Zarno

      "I hope no one is playing Doom on those"

      Just wait, Boeing will try to cheap out on infotainment screen networking in their spaceliners next...

      1. Olivier2553

        Re: "I hope no one is playing Doom on those"

        I think that the decision to install such or such technology is on the airline companies, not on the plane manufacturers.

        I have just seen one airline company advising to install the company's app if you are flying on certain types of airplanes. You will have access to an onboard streaming server, but apparently they won't provide screens.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    We were doing that at the lab at uni

    The university had, of course, Ethernet, although I have no idea of what the bandwidth was at that time. We'd look up when the lab was unoccupied, sneak in at that time and then use our specially-crafted boot floppies to hook onto the network and blast away. I remember looking at the boot.ini file and there was, to me at the time, arcane instructions with parameters that meant nothing to me.

    Good times.

    Edit : what's with the Captcha nonsense now ? I'm already logged in !

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. NJS

      Re: We were doing that at the lab at uni

      So were we but with a null modem cable - enter lab, find quiet corner right up the back, disconnect two PCs from network, gibb away. Good times (slightly misty eyed for some reason) ;)

      1. Kubla Cant

        Re: We were doing that at the lab at uni

        Ethernet crossover cable is better than null modem.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We were doing that at the lab at uni

      "what's with the Captcha nonsense now ? I'm already logged in !"

      Cloudflare I guess. Are you on a VPN?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: We were doing that at the lab at uni

        VPN, TOR, anything you try to maintain some privacy and Cloudflair will demand you jump the hoops. And most times the hoops won’t work without some for of scripting being allowed in your browser.

        Be safe, be secure, don’t read El Reg.


        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: We were doing that at the lab at uni

          "VPN, TOR, anything you try to maintain some privacy and Cloudflair will demand you jump the hoops."

          Cloudflare likely sees traffic from the VPN/TOR exit node that is causing issues, so makes you verify you're a person rather than an automated script.

          Yes it's annoying, but its one of the risks of sharing these services with others - who knows what the others might be doing?

    4. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

      Re: We were doing that at the lab at uni

      I recall playing Doom via a 25-pin null modem cable... only two-way, but at least it avoided upsetting the 'serious' network users. Some time after that, for several years I ran an Unreal Tournament server on an ancient frankenmachine running Red Hat inside $university's firewall, sneaking through the firewall on port 3389 (which they helpfully left open for RDP). Don't think they ever noticed the traffic, which by then was pennies compared to their big backbone pipe. I still play UT occasionally - believe it or not, there's still something of a community of regulars online, 20 years after it was released...

      1. John 104

        Re: We were doing that at the lab at uni

        @ UT

        It's because it has good game play.

        My daughter and I just played a deathmatch of original Half Life. STILL plays well.

        At the risk of sounding, well, aged, (not well aged), like movies, modern games aren't always better due to better graphics/effects. Good game play is good game play and nothing beats the sound of that voice in your headphones saying "HEAD SHOT"

        1. ArrZarr Silver badge

          Re: We were doing that at the lab at uni

          M-M-M-M-MONSTER KILL!




    5. Pascal Monett Silver badge


      I don't understand what happened. For the first time ever, when I went to submit my post, I got a Captcha request. The post was not submitted until I validated it.

      I came to El Reg as I usually do, with Firefox using NoScript and Ublock Origin. No, I'm not on a VPN, nor do I use Tor.

      Edit : it didn't happen for this post. I'm guessing it won't happen again today. Weird.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Captcha

        I've seen that once in a while over the last maybe 6 or 7 years. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to when or why it happens, at least I have never been able to detect a pattern. ElReg muttered something about Cloudflair at one point, and then wandered off into a corner muttering to it's beaky self, seemingly unconcerned ... It doesn't seem to cause any trouble, so I've ignored it.

      2. Marco Fontani

        Re: Captcha

        The content of a post can/could trigger the web application firewall, which in turn can/could require a reCAPTCHA to be completed for it to go through; other times (depending on the actual content), it can/could be denied outright - without offering the possibility to complete a reCAPTCHA for it to go through.

        If it happens again, and assuming you're eager to help troubleshooting this... could you please follow and send us an email at webmaster@ ? That'd help a lot, thanks!

    6. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: We were doing that at the lab at uni

      10 megabit "yellow cable" Classic Ethernet had a loaded bandwidth of about 3 megabits, IIRC.

      And it was xnetrek that brought it to its knees at Data General.

    7. swm

      Re: We were doing that at the lab at uni

      At the college where I taught we had 100MBit ethernet and the game playing was fantastic!

  3. Chloe Cresswell

    We had 10base2 so no issues with that kind of packet. But we also had the original release of doom. Everything was ok till someone found the chaingun. IIRC the first version sent a packet for every bullet fired...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "We had 10base2"

      Yup. '95 sounds a bit late for a recently installed Token Ring. By then we were on our third Ethernet set-up although luckily enough the stiff hose-pipe variant was somebody else's problem. Maybe the installer wanted to unload some old stock.

      1. mdubash

        It was late: the battle agaionst VG-AnyLAN and Token Ring was well and truly over by then. Sadly...

      2. bazza Silver badge

        Stiff hose - 10Base5 - those were the days. Some places ran cable TV through the same cable (this worked perfectly well). Ok, strictly speaking it wasn't streaming live TV, but it was still delivered through the network cable in real time, albeit to a dedicated console called a "TV"...

        It's taken a long time for modern networks to deliver the same end-user experience.

        Reminds me of another story of yore. There was once a conference for networking experts, to discuss the possibility of streaming video over networks (yes younger readers, it was once very difficult!). The conference reached into its third day before someone realised that the hotel apparently had a highly effective video on demand system. So off the conference attendees tromped, got hold of the hotel manager and demanded to see what gear he'd got that they'd not heard off.

        The manager laughed, and lead them to the basement. Whereupon the small army of students on roller skates could be seen whizzing between shelves of video cassettes and a bank of video machines, one machine for each room in the building. It was all hand driven, fast enough and organised to the point that it felt like modern day video on demand. "Buffering" was simply waiting for a student to skate to and fro and for tape to load up.

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          That "Ethernet over CATV" was aka GM-MAP (General Motors Manufacturing Automation Protocol).

          My memory is fuzzy on the details, but Data General played around with it very briefly, and Chipcom spent more time developing it as a product. The advantage of cheap infrastructure was perhaps offset by the fact that it wasn't Ethernet, it was, I think a token-passing bus, 802.4, because the nodes couldn't see each other's transmissions so collision detection was problematic. One set of frequencies for nodes sending data up to the headend, then a frequency translation and a second set of frequencies for sending data down from the headend.

          The cable companies actually used it when they started to morph into ISPs. It's all fiber now, or should be.

          Funny story: I've had internet over cable as soon as it became available. Though a series of companies have owned the physical plant. First a local company named "Cablevision" (aren't they all?) which got bought by AT&T, then sold, then sold again to Comcast.

          A few years ago, Comcast sent me a letter telling me I had to exchange my modem because they were upgrading and the one I had would no longer work. I pulled it out and noticed the ownership sticker had AT&T's name on it. Comcast sent me a new modem, told me they did not need me to return the old one, and then, three months later, sent me a bill for not returning it. I grabbed the AT&T modem, hustled down to the Comcast storefront, handed them the AT&T modem and demanded a receipt for it...which I copied and attached to the letter they sent, and returned THAT! Nothing more was heard. Except that a month later, they jacked up the monthly modem rental fee another buck, and I bought my own off Amazon, returning the one they'd just provided. No difference in my service.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "Funny story: I've had internet over cable as soon as it became available. Though a series of companies have owned the physical plant."

            Yup. I've had the same thing with DSL - Sprint, Embarq, CenturyLink. My ISP-provided email address is still an embarqmail address, despite Embarq merging with CenturyTel to become CenturyLink over 10 years ago.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We all got a severe telling off for flat-lining the office mainframe by playing Star Trek in 1982, we graduated to Worm on the DRS CP/M Office System in the late 80's and the early 90's installation of laptops was followed almost instantly by the set of floppies with Woflenstein 3D on 'em.

    The of course some bright spark set up a proxy server in about 1992 and the corporate 64K line intended for external email traffic got hammered to death by people "surfing the web".

    In '93 or '94 they had to start blocking the HTTP traffic for a couple of hours every lunch time to give the emails a fighting chance...

    Happy days.

    1. Unoriginal Handle

      In my first IT job (WH Pitt / Signal Limited) in the early/mid 09s I worked on ICL DRS300 running CCPMs. Never realised there were games for it !

    2. big_D Silver badge

      One of our devs managed to take the network and the VAX down in one go!

      He was the first to receive a DEC VT1000 X-Windows terminal. He was working away and people would crowd around his desk to look at all those terminal windows. And those X-eyes in the corner, following the mouse around.

      He then tried experimenting, making the eyes bigger. Then, we had a "fun" idea... Open up dozens of X-eyes windows. Gesagt, getan, as they say in Germany. The whole screen was carefully filled with dozens upon dozens of x-eyes at the smallest windows size possible. A bit jolty as he moved the mouse around, setting them up...

      Then wooosh, wooosh, wooosh, he moved the mouse around as fast as he could. The VT1000 stuttered, the other terminals stopped responding, the VAX stopped responding. All those hundreds of eyes following the mouse were sending packets back to the VAX with each small mouse movement.

  5. bartsmit

    Multi-monitor Doom

    Network Doom was even better when I worked for a computer hardware manufacturer in the early 90's. With kit all neatly assembled for a trade show, it was fairly trivial to equip each player with three blade PC's and set their side screens to show left and right views in Doom slave mode to augment the main view forward.

    Icon to mimic gibbing effects. Glorious!

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Multi-monitor Doom

      I am soo jealous.

  6. chivo243 Silver badge

    It wasn't me

    you can't prove anything! Famous last words as the group of students fled the lab when the network was on it's knees!

  7. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

    Wrong lesson

    Surely they could've set up their own ring for when playing games - switch it in/out of the the main company network as required?

    Obviously not enough blue sky thinking in those days.

    1. Giovani Tapini

      Re: Wrong lesson

      Probably a lot of people at college testing their own rings...

  8. Colintd

    The best things were the MAU relay testers. A large connector with a 9v battery, that when inserted into a port powered the related relay and opened the ring to the new device. You knew the relay had operated when there was a clunk, and you knew it had worked right when the network kept going (as the tester had loopback wires). Except we had one where the tester had been damaged inserting a new battery, and it didn't correctly loop. Use the tester, open the ring, wait for people to start shouting!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      You mean a well placed thump or kick of a wall wasn't enough to resolve your stuck relay issues? Or cause them in the first place...

  9. Korev Silver badge

    The harmless game of shooty-bang-bang in IT "was flooding the network with Doom packets. It was only a 4MB network

    25 years ago a 32Mb network would have been quite a tasty bit of kit...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sure it's 25 years ago?

      Kalpana released ethernet switches in 1990 - Cisco brought them in 1994 and 10/100Mbps switches were being routinely used for micro-segmentation by 1995.

      We restructured our core network with a 15 port Kalpana in 1993 and moved to 50-port 100Mbps switch for server/backbone communications in late 1995 as it was a fraction of the price of a FDDI solution another reseller was trying to get us to buy....

      And we had gigabit switches by the turn of the century.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        True, however from memory in the mid 1990s most, or at least many, small-medium operations were using 10BASE2 networking using cheapernet (coax) cables, usually using one of the many NE2000 compatible cards that existed at the time.

        Being a bit of a hoarder, I probably still have some terminators and t-pieces laying around somewhere. Then there were all the sculptures that could be made from the t-pieces...

        1. Montreal Sean

          @Nick Ryan

          It's worse than you think.

          When I was starting my IT career in 1999 I ran into an IBM tech while on a break-fix call out.

          I noticed that he had a token ring pcmcia adapter in his ThinkPad, and asked him about it.

          He said at client sites he'd use ethernet, but anytime he was back at the IBM office he had to use the token ring adapter as they were still using 16Meg Token Ring.

          Poor guy.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I started with NE2000's but the 3Com 10BaseT cards quickly replaced them and running larger (more than 20 PCs) networks meant that you have to either put in repeaters and figure out how to segment your network or more to UTP and hubs.

          For us, the 3Com cards won on price and performance over the NE2000's and we were re-wiring buildings to UTP almost as quickly as we were rolling out PC's to the desktops to replace VT terminals on serial connections using Cat3. When we replaced the Cat3, any coax in the area was replaced too.

          then came Windows 95 and made it all happen faster.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We called it Network Stress Testing and stopped it quickly if mentioned, no-one asked why we where stressing the network.

    We where dedicated souls who stress tested the network occasionally to justify expenditure on the network, sometimes even working through the night with Pizza's in our search for answers on how to optimize bandwidth for the company.

    God i loved Doom, and Quake.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward

      Simon? Is that you?

    2. skeogh

      re: Network stress testing

      Oh yes, network stress testing. BTDT. I also had a weekend LAN party once, where I borrowed three PCs (486/33s I seem to recall) from the office (with official chit from the manager so that I could get them out past security. I told him I wanted to test some network scripts without any danger of affecting the main lan). Got them home, set up with my 486DX2/66 as the fourth, on my own ethernet hub (no switches then, not that I could afford anyway), Music from my machine, with a midi sound module, each player with headphones on for their own sound. And what sound...we played co-op rather than deathmatch, but even as a group, the sound of a distant door opening, followed by the racket as a chainsaw started up....always chilling. Followed by Pizza and many beers, followed by doing all the maps again, in Nightmare mode. I think we finished about 4 in the morning, then the living room floor was covered in bodies until about mid-day :-) Simpler times, simpler pleasures...

      1. Aussie Doc

        Re: re: Network stress testing

        Sounds like my first home network - me, son, daughter, four 486DX/66s, Doom or Half-life screaming and sound effects coming from each bedroom via 'huuuge' clip-on-to-the-monitor speakers.

        Mum usually off with her girlfriends whilst I corrupt the kids.

        Happy days. Have a decent Aussie brew on the house --->

    3. ridley

      Nothing better than sneaking up on someone and firing up the chainsaw

  11. big_D Silver badge


    We had multi-player Pacman. That was fun. Invisible Pac with a rocket launcher for the win.

  12. Jonathon Green

    Tanks for the memory...

    Back in the early-to-mid ‘80s the product development wing of the electronic instrument manufacturing company I worked for was an Apollo/Domain shop.

    Apollo had its own version of Token Ring networking which actually worked very well, remaining reasonably responsive even at very high traffic levels and we regularly used to stress test it with a multiplayer version of the old “Battlezone” vector graphic tank battle game. Happy days...

  13. MiguelC Silver badge

    This really made me feel old

    Seeing that the author felt the need to explain for what Doom was...

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I feel your pain. To think that there is now two generations that have never even seen Doom, let alone played it.

      Where's my cane ?

      1. Baldrickk

        If someone is unaware of DOOM, then they are unaware of gaming in general - A new DOOM game came out in 2016 (and is GREAT - The RPG should cover it) and the sequel is coming out (checks watch) imminently.

        Actually, for more Classic gaming, there is also a new Half-Life coming out this month! Not quite as vintage as DOOM, but still one from the history books.

        1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

          There's a "Classic DOOM" apt-get install for the Raspberry Pi. I hadn't played it for years. Had forgotten what fun it was.

        2. Paul Shirley

          In case anyone missed it, all the earlier Half-Life games are free to play on Steam until the new one launches. I'd recommend installing "Half Life 2 Update" instead of just the base game.

      2. Steve K

        Werther's Originals

        Would you like a Werther's Original, Pascal....

        1. 's water music

          Re: Werther's Originals

          Oi, keep your 1990s rebranded sweets off my lawn please. I expect you think you are too good for mint humbugs or something.

          Increasingly how I look --->

          1. Steve K

            Re: Werther's Originals

            Spangles then...?

            1. 's water music

              Re: Werther's Originals

              I am now happy to view any puppies you may have upstairs

  14. jake Silver badge

    Token Ring in the early '90s?

    That wiring contractor sure had that company's number ... Even IBM was recommending Ethernet by the late 80s. They'd sell you Token Ring if you asked for it, to be sure, but if you asked the field circus guys and gals what they would recommend, it was almost always Ethernet. Sales always recommended Token Ring because it was quite a bit more expensive, but who with a brain ever listened to Sales ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

      It kept me busy for many years.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

        I'm sure it did. I still make money supporting it in a few places. My point was that almost nobody needed it's benefits enough to pay the additional cost. There is a reason that Ethernet won the networking wars.

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

        Yeah...when I was laid off in the 90s, my TR experience got me a job with 3Com, doing...TR. Not quite what I was hoping, but it paid the bills.

        I learned to hate TR when I was trying to get a 16 megabit twisted pair switch through radiated emissions testing. Wasn't gonna happen. The combination of sharp edges, tightly synchronised clocks and unshielded twisted pair was a ticket to frustration-ville.

        Once TR fell by the wayside, there were plenty of other fun projects. When I changed jobs again, I ended up fixing a faulty optical ring design which looked strangely familiar, but wasn't TR...the previous engineer had "rolled his own" MAC...

    2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

      And to cap it all, 4Mb/s Token Ring! 16Mb/s was available in the '80s.

      Token Ring had a traffic protocol whereby the packet would be sent by the sender, and received by the target, which would then set a flag and re-transmit the packet, still full. It would then flow around the ring until it arrived at the sending station, which would then 'empty' it and re-transmit the empty token to the next station on the ring. The sender of the original packet, which had just emptied it, was not allowed to fill it. In this way, it was made impossible for a small number of systems to monopolize the ring. All stations would get a crack at sending, as eventually the token would arrive 'empty' at every station.

      Unfortunately, I believe that some of the non-IBM network drivers for Token Ring would not honor the rule about not immediately re-filling the token, and this allowed other stations on the ring to get 'locked out'.

      Ethernet, both 10base5 and 10base2 would also seriously suffer under conditions of high congestion (because of CSMA/CD), and it was not until the advent of the 10baseT switches (as opposed to a hub, which acted much more like a cable than a slotted bus), that congestion problems began to go away.

      It was always said, when I learned about networks, that Token Ring had higher overhead than Ethernet when the network was less busy, but coped better with high network loads.

      I believe that the very last incarnation of Token Ring, using Madge intelligent CAUs and RJ45 Structured Cabling rather than MAUs, actually allowed more than one token to be passing around the network at any time (the number depended on the number of stations on the network), with some form of buffering to copy with stations with different speeds. This made it more like the 'token bus' that an earlier poster mentioned. But by that time, 100baseT and faster was becoming faster and cheaper.

      I ran an IBM Call Center using Token Ring for a number of years, and I have a number of tales I could tell about how easy it was to break a Token Ring network!

      1. jfollows

        Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

        Early Token Release, I think, is what you're referring to (more than one frame circulating on the ring at the same time).

        I appear to have written something on Token Ring at more than 20 years ago (I think I wrote it in 1999 although it appears to have been published in 2000), but it might provide something interesting to reminisce over.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

      Not really, there were still many large companies in the early 90s using token ring.

      Thin Ethernet was being used widely in SMEs at least and were transitioning to normal ethernet. Even then if was often using hubs and repeaters. Therefore, as these only had a very limited scalability unless you started creating departmental networks and routers, then token ring was seem as a scalable platform when you had above x number of users.

      It was the advent of affordable switches with decent backplanes that that saw the ability to run larger multilevel star networks that we get today. This however wasn't a thing in the 80s.

      1. Giovani Tapini

        Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

        Company I was working for in that era was largely token ring. This was driven by the glacial pace of getting mainframe people to believe there were other technologies in the organisation other than their own, along with a substantial remainder of dumb terminals.

        Eventually the critical mass changed and Ethernet was installed once enough PC's and desktop emulators were rolled out. Cue big bag of Baluns to confuse the position further and trying to run both at once...

    4. jfollows

      Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

      I worked for IBM as a networking specialist 1994-2000 in a variety of roles, including in UK branch offices where we had a good number of token ring customers. Using mainframes, of course, with duplicate MAC addresses for resilience in access, and better performance over shared media than Ethernet could deliver - despite the misleading impression in the article about waiting for tube trains meaning that token ring was slow, in fact it performed very well up to close to its theoretical bandwidth whereas shared Ethernet performance deteriorates significantly under heavy load because of all the collisions when two stations attempt to transmit simultaneously.

      LAN switching removed the Ethernet performance problem (when done properly) and came in at a lower price. Mainframe access moved to IP protocols, even for 3270 users, and the duplicate MAC address benefit went away. Also the market for very profitable (to IBM) token ring gateways such as the 3746-900 went away too. The world moved on.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

      In the early 1990s was not so uncommon to find deployments of token ring networks, especially at IBM customers. Thin Ethernet wasn't a great choice for larger deployments, and the price of Ethernet switches was high - while hubs didn't deliver great performance with many stations attached.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

        Uhhh...price of Ethernet switches was high? Compared to Token Ring?

        Now, I'll give you the "we have TR and don't want to rip it all out and buy a new network" argument, but a 10/100BASE-T card was around 1/3 the cost of a 4/16 TR card, IIRC. And faster by quite a bit. And didn't require a licensed MAC binary which needed to be loaded into the TR card before it would do anything. By the early 90s, everyone was on CAT3 or CAT5. The original IBM style cables and MAUs were just way too bulky. I left DG in 1993, and started at 3Com doing twisted pair 4/16 TR switches. The MACs themselves (TI parts) were 3x the cost of an Ethernet MAC. And needed that licensed binary before they would do anything. What a PITA!

        I don't think Ethernet ever lost to TR on cost. Or performance. The only argument I ever heard was "it's deterministic". 100BASE-T really killed TR except for banks, of course, who didn't want to switch. I wouldn't be surprised to find a TR interface card option available on ATM (Auto Teller Machine, not Asynch Transfer Mode) hardware

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

          Switches were higher than TR in the early 90s. Remember the switch was only invented in 1990 - early adopter paid through the nose for it. Early switches also had slow backplanes so they weren't a massive leap over hubs at the time as the buffers would cause delays and lost packets.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

            "Kalpana's first EtherSwitch debuted for $10,500, or $1,500 per switched port."


            It was also a time when large networks often used FDDI for LAN backbones.

            When 100Mb Ethernet arrived in 1995 and switches became affordable, which one was the real winner

            became evident.

            BTW: token ring cards could use CAT4 cables as well, in their 1990s implementation.

    6. Giles C Silver badge

      Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

      I joined a company in 97 IBM AS400 token ring bridges CAUs and LAMs all over the site using type 1 cabling.

      I remember upgrading the network to token ring switches (IBM8272) to improve performance and then we moved over to Ethernet about 2005. Btw an old 3550 series switch can be brought down if you have a cat 5 to type 1 token ring wired cable connected. If it is wired for Ethernet then it will be fine but wired for token ring it shorts out the Tx and Rx lines.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

        Sure it was token ring? I worked on an AS/400 from that era, and it used Twinax cabling. First day on the job my boss was pulling some old twinax out from above a suspended ceiling, the connector wizzed by my left ear and I began to wonder just how dangerous this IT stuff was going to be.

    7. sillyoldme

      Re: Token Ring in the early '90s?

      i think my last token ring experience was a company move in the early to mid 80's to a new building in central glasgow - complete with raised flooring for power and services conduits... including about a billion token ring baluns feeding into the network closets on each floor.

      It was a huge step up from the star-based network (nestar?) that our old building had...

      but problems with broken baluns almost every day. (we called them IBM razor blades... they seemed to be on a continuous replacement cycle)

  15. analyzer


    Ah Doom, well named, slaughterer of many a lunchtime network

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Like taking a knife to a gunfight.

    Should've bought a 16MB circuit.

  17. katrinab Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    IT nerds?

    Surely any self-respecting IT geek would get two lengths of cable, one to bypass their computers from the company network, and another to close the loop on their own isolated network; then they could blast away without getting in the way of the accounts dept.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: IT nerds?

      On a multi-site location that would have been a very long cable.

    2. Paul Shirley

      Re: IT nerds?

      The advantage of working for an IT company is everyone knows when the gaming hour or hours are ;)

      Only complaints about game performance matter. And get fixed.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That takes me back...

    To the joys of college and RM networks managers. The IT admin never did figure out how we got back onto the network after getting banned again for crippling the network (we occasionally forgot the 'no chain gun' rule which usually resulted in the admin trying to figure which machines we were playing on this time..).

    All these years later and I probably should confess that they should have changed the 3 extra reserved 'admin' accounts' default passwords (elevating our own accounts was a tad too obvious).

  19. Alistair Dabbs

    Space Invaders on every terminal in Bradford

    When I was a nipper in the late 70s, my school had a remote terminal connected to a mainframe in town, supposedly to allow us to... well, I don't know really since all our programming lessons made use of Commodore PETs in another classroom. I never got the chance to see what this terminal did because we were banned after some bright 6th former loaded Space Invaders onto it for a bit of mid-morning playtime. The story goes that businesses around Bradford sharing the same MF were bemused to see Space Invaders on-screen instead of their management accounts and warehouse stock reports, apparently playing by itself. To this day I have no idea how that was possible.

    1. CAPS LOCK

      "To this day I have no idea how that was possible"...My guess?...

      ... wall...

      The man page for the Gnu/Linux version is here, but I imagine comedy shenanigans

      are no longer possible:

  20. Chris Miller

    Early 90s was very late to be putting in a new 4Mb Token Ring network. The 16Mb (yes, children, this was once considered high-speed) version was launched in 1988, and by then most new networks outside IBM shops were Ethernet.

    I remember the shock on moving from a large company with Ethernet LANs to one using Token Ring. Patch panels that would easily fit in a standard rack needed an entire room - IBM Type 1 cabling and connectors were solid and reliable, but perhaps a tad over-engineered for those used to RJ45 and UTP.

  21. Jay 2

    I recall the very first verions of network (friendly) Doom ran over IPX which pretty much swamped the network. Once a more refined IPv4 version arrived then the networks got slightly less of a battering. I recall at work deliberately still having a FAT32 boot partition on an NT box so I could boot into DOS, throw on some parallel port to ethernet network adapter I've long forgotten the name of and frag away (or be fragged in my case more often than not).

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      We managed to take down the school network by flooding it with IPX packets from Doom (and later Quake). Fortunately the network pretty much only covered the single computer room, so we only pissed off the IT teacher (sorry Mr Leigh!)

  22. aregross

    Haha, Duke Nukem 3D and IPX. The Boss would come stormin around the office yelling that the Database App was crawling and he knew what was causing it!

  23. jmch Silver badge


    It used to be the case that IT departments had moments of 'down time' and quiet periods. Nowadays it's cost-cutting galore, and every dev team I ever worked with has a months-long backlog to make sure there isn't ever an unproductive second.

    In the long-term of course I find that productivity decreases if you keep your teams under constant pressure. I guess Google ARE on to something with their 'some playing allowed' policy.

  24. GrumpenKraut

    Descent anyone?

    That game (around 1994 IIRC) could connect over phone and it ran smoothly.

    You did fly through some 3D underground mine shafts. Joystick was essential for good playing experience (Flightstick Pro was what I had). Gave me some interesting dreams after playing late into the night. No network congestion, just a bit telephone bill congestion.

    1. Microchip

      Re: Descent anyone?

      Used to play with a Logitech Wingman Extreme. Brilliant game!

  25. HammerOn1024

    IT Stands for...

    And thus was born my interpretation of "IT": Idiots in Transition. To date, more than 25 years on, I've not been proven wrong.

  26. heyrick Silver badge

    This hack fondly remembers crafting Doom .wad files to create simulacrums of the office environment and replacing the creatures from hell with images scraped from the special place on the network that HR thought no one knew about.

    Ah, so this is the Who Me? / BOFH crossover episode...

    1. GrumpenKraut

      I still sometimes when entering a building / structure think "wow, this would make for a fine DOOM map". Funny how old farts understand while young people usually do not.

      1. Jonathon Green

        I’m now getting a little tickle of recollection about a hack which turned the output of the unix “ps” command into monsters in a first person shooter game environment and let you (literally) kill processes by shooting them...

        Anybody else or is this something my over active and under utilised imagination has conjured out of thin air?

        1. GrumpenKraut
          Thumb Up

          It exists and I've played it. The strongest enemy in a map tended to be the DOOM-process itself, killing it ended the game.

          The name is psDooM.

      2. Muscleguy

        The library in my old work and the outside of the building was used as Arkham Asylum in whatever Batman film had it in. It was just after I left and I left end of '98. They used drop sheets to hide the books.

        The library had a mezzanine floor which they made into a prison/asylum landing.

        The library was in the middle of the building and our lab was out at one end of the wings but you could get turned around in the library and come out of the wrong end and wonder why everything was 'wrong'.

        The place was Etherneted when I arrived in '93 and of course we had a JANET pipe to the outside world. To have a JANET pipe when only a few were on dialup with Demon Internet was luxury indeed. The email servers didn't blink if you sent a 5Mb file (I know but that was big back then).

        Didn't have internet at home so would download stuff at work for home. Even when we got home internet it was 56k dialup so it was almost always faster to download stuff at work via JANET.

        It wasn't until all you could eat cable modems that home internet caught up to any extent.

  27. Huw D

    Been there. Doom and ROTT after work sessions.

  28. Seanie Ryan

    10-base Nothing

    I remember being called to a company to setup a network on Windows for Workgroups, was told they had their own guy to do the Co-Ax wiring and just wanted the cards installed and shares setup.

    Arrived to find that the guy had wired each co-ax to each PC individually, and all back to a central point, Cat 5 style. I both laughed and groaned at the same time.

    Luckily the cards I had were both Co-ax and RJ45, so I gave them the bad news and told them to get the place re-wired in a loop or replace the cables with cat5 and get a hub. Installed the cards and got paid. Not sure what happened after that, didnt get to go back, but I'd love to have been a fly on the wall for the conversation with the wiring guy.

  29. Dal90


    There are 72 comments here, and according to a quick search for the word "star", I'm the first marginally qualified junior level Grey Beard to comment on this???

    "It consisted of a long cable, configured as a ring, to which PCs would be hooked up via clunky connectors."

    Token Ring was a physical star with logical ring. Individual cables ran from the wiring closet where the MAU was located to each desktop individually.

    Kept a MAU around in my garage until about 6 years ago when I purged it during a cleanup.

    We're not talking that Thicknet Ethernet with vampire taps or Thinnet Ethernet with BNC connectors!

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: WTF...

      The trick, of course, was *getting* those cables from the MAU to the desktop.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: WTF...

      I was just going to post the same thing, but thought to search for "star" first.

  30. WolfFan Silver badge


    You and your Doom and Quake and Token Ring... Real gamers played Marathon. Cheap gamers with lots of time on their hands played Marathon using an AppleTalk network. 230 kb/s... Serious gamers used big, fast, powerful Quadras with AUIs which could handle 10Base5, 10Base2, and, yes, 10BaseT, for _superior_ gaming performance. At one point we had all three of the Marathon Trilogy installed on various machines on the network; management hated it, and we also had Retrospect backup software which could be set to ‘archive’, that is back up and delete, specific software every time it ran, and it ran every night, so Marathon had to be hidden or installed on machines which didn’t get backed up.

    I have re-releases of the Trilogy on this iPad. My last (prolonged) visit to the DMV was spent playing Marathon and Cv 6. Certain people won’t play Civ 6 with me anymore as I always take out Gandhi and Curtin because they’re sanctimonious pricks and Gilgamesh and Genghis Khan before they can attack me and Victoria because if left alone she gradually becomes extremely dangerous.

  31. Neal L

    A have a couple of recollections of Doom. When it initially came out I was in secondary school. A good friend of mine created a map of our school in IT and we'd have fun with that, annoyingly he couldn't model the four floor tower block since you couldn't have levels above each other in Doom. No such issues with Quake though.

    My second memory is at college a couple of years later and out came the Doom floppies. We'd boot it up and spend the afternoon shooting each other rather than programming in Pascal or whatever rubbish we were expected to do.

  32. SteveCoops

    Err do I know this person? Did exactly the same on an IBM 4Mbps Token Ring (TOKENLINK III 16/4 3C619B cards if my memory serves me correct). In Novell Netware you could run a command to view local PCs (like net show in Windows) and after a while it'd come back and you'd only see the PCs that were playing DOOM :)

  33. BenDwire Silver badge

    I'm feeling very old now

    One of my fondest recollections of a previous company was seeing the IT manager staring at his bit of networking kit in total bewilderment. It was mounted high up in a darkened corridor, so the blinkenlights bathed him in a glow reminiscent of the ending of 2001 A Space Odyssey. I was a newcomer to the business, and wanted to bring in CAD packages & general office kit to the design department. He was the COBOL guy, and had a token ring running across the entire manufacturing site. He wanted no part in my department, so left me to get on with it. All was fine until somebody wanted access to the MRP system which required him to link my LAN with his token ring. So far, so good.

    This was 1993/4, and I had decided to use Artisoft Lantastic cards and software running on Win3.11. I remember the day that someone brought Doom into the office and asked if we could play across a few of the machines. The quick answer was no as I hadn't a clue what IPX was or did, but these were the days when technical support was much easier. I had a fax from the guys at Artisoft, telling me what drivers I needed and which bulletin board to get them from. Each machine got its own multi-boot menu and at the stroke of lunchtime there would be a dozen beeping machines and several concurrent games of Doom would spring into life.

    Of course what we didn't realise was the bridge that had been installed for our MRP access happily passed everything onto to the token ring, hence the Dave Bowman moment. To his credit, he bought in another bit of kit to solve the problem, after initially just unplugging us and walking off.

    We eventually progressed onto Doom2, Duke Nukem and Quake, the multiboot menus growing ever larger each time. We even got the resident softie to write our own WAD of the factory, which made it even more fun (except only he knew where he'd put the BFGs that day).

    The then MD thought this was an excellent bit of team building and insisted on scheduling his important factory tours to conclude in my department at lunchtime, as if it was all his idea. Tosser.

    Good times ...

  34. Kubla Cant

    Six o'clock in the evening...

    ...and we'd reboot into DOS and start playing network Doom. Three hours later, on the way out, if the lift doors opened to reveal an occupant, everyone would flinch.

    1. jmch Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Six o'clock in the evening...

      "if the lift doors opened to reveal an occupant, everyone would flinch."

      I still get this sometimes, but more Aliens than Doom

  35. JulieM Silver badge

    Token Ring

    Isn't Token Ring similar to "Nobody may speak unless they are holding the conch" whereas Ethernet is more like "If two people happen to be talking over one another, both shut up for a random amount of time before trying to speak again" and switched Ethernet is a special case where groups of people who are just talking to each other can huddle together and whisper so as not to disturb anyone other group?

    Ethernet is much closer to how people behave in real life (mostly because there is less overhead in waiting for someone to take a breath between sentences than there is in waiting for a conch to come around), but I can clearly see why "some people" might prefer the Token Ring concept.

  36. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Some years back I had to deal with an 'industrial' version of this (optical ring). About 200 yards long cardboard box machine with something like 40 stations on the ring and no overall built-in diagnostics, just a pair of LEDs on each station for the network and a 2 line LCD with cryptic codes for local status.

    P.S. It was a pretty amazing machine though (when it worked). Rolls of brown paper in one end. Bundles of creased, stapled, flatpacked corrugated cardboard boxes out the other end.

  37. Chris King

    The internet is not a toy...

    Some postgrad had developed a distributed search engine, and set it loose spidering various internet sites.

    All was fine until I got a SOS message to the abuse@ mailbox - this thing had malfunctioned, and all the nodes were spidering the web site of a small Italian dialup ISP. Repeatedly and constantly.

    It was pounding them so hard, they had to sign up for an account at another dialup ISP to get a message to us. (We had more bandwidth than them)

    I checked out the researcher's web site - "If you don't want to be spidered by my bot, set up your robots.txt accordingly".

    Bollocks to that son, the internet is not your pet project's chew-toy...

    I tried to contact the guy, but he screamed "My work cannot be interrupted !" and slammed the phone down on me.

    Okay, you had one warning and that was it... I disabled his network ports and waited for the screaming to start.

    It wasn't long before his supervisor rang up to complain, but once I told him why I had taken action, he made the postgrad apologise to the Italians, and asked me to keep the systems off-line until the code could be reviewed.

    MORAL: If you don't implement rate-limiting, I will. And you get NOTHING.

  38. FozzyBear

    Ivor's lesson to avoid further calls from distressed customers? "Don't play computer games at work until after 5:30pm!"

    Nope. 3pm start friday afternoon. A couple of beers and wholesale network slaugther. The rest of the company were either already powering down for the weekend or took the slow network as a queue to power down for the weekend.

  39. Aussie Doc

    Proof at last...

    Ivor/Igor is Simon and I claim my $5.

    Honestly, if this isn't a BOFH episode what is?

    Custom .wad of Vulture Central, each of the bad guys/gals complete with appropriate face and, no doubt, all equipped with chain/rail guns.

    What's not to like.

    Can't wait until beer O' clock.

  40. gr00001000

    University taught courses

    I was at University in those cusp years of x.25, Toekn ring, TCP/IP, Ethernet. They were teaching us both at once how confusing.

    Since then I mastered TCP/IP networking via Cisco CCNA and glad I did.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    God this story made me feel old

    A story which has to explain to the whippersnappers what Token Ring was is bad enough,

    but one that has to explain what Doom is/was ...

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    first on gets to be the Ring Master

    The first machine on the ring got to be the Ring Master which was the one responsible for creating the tokens etc - this invariably ended up being the slowest godforsaken bit of tin in the dept - and caused no end of probs.

    Although Doom supported IPX/SPX it did also support TCP/IP so those who could master NDIS drivers were blessed at multiprotocol loveliness and were the wizards of protocol.ini editing

    wipes tear of nostalgia from eye

  43. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Around 30 years ago, I worked on a government contract supporting Data General MV/Eclipses used for office automation. It turned out that some gifted person had written a terminal-based version of Space Invaders that ran on these machines. Now, they were good-enough minicomputers, and would support a lot of people writing documents and sending email, but they were not made for the sort of computing to support descending and exploding aliens.

    One day, one of our operators decided to fire up Space Invaders in the middle of working hours, and brought that machine to its knees. A quick run of the equivalent of "ps -ef" quickly identified the problem, we killed the process, and talked to the operator.

    What? You're right, no network was involved.

    1. Mark Honman

      Also in the minicomputer, era - HP1000s in this case - we had somehow acquired space invaders and pac-man for the HP 2645 terminals used on these system (the terminals had an Intel 4004 CPU, if I remember right!).

      Friday afternoons were when the system was taken down for its backup to tape, so the last thing we'd was download these "diagnostics" to the terminal and then blast away while the backup was in progress.

  44. Trbonja

    feeling old....err Experienced!

    I hate TWINAX cables and connectors so much and I swear those connectors and pins were cursed. Glad that died long time ago.

    In the late 90's and early 2000's, I had a really good gig; replacing overpriced Cisco Pix firewalls with IPCop boxes running off of the SFF Compaq desktop. Beside moderate payment for my services I insisted on 2-3 months of "burn-in" time.

    So from 12000 to 1300 and after 1700 hours cron job would happily start quake 3 server with 20 slots and space maps only. Interestingly enough, a lot of Brits were connected and moaning about my ping time (I was playing on the LAN where the firewall is ;-). Nothing like DM17 and 20 ppl fragging each other!!

    Mind you, this was done on clients sites were Cable or at very list ISDN line were used...we wouldn't want to impact email flow which was another fun activity back then: Checking email filter: back then as there was so much stuff in the emails and very few places were filtering Pro0n and other nasties.

  45. Gordon 11

    Imagine a single tube carriage going round and round London's circle line forever.

    That might have been true in the 1990's (well, not "might have", rather "was"), but not a good analogy for the younger members of the audience, for whom the "Circle Line" is now more @ shaped.

    As for Token Ring speeds, Pr1me had one that was definitely faster then the 10Mb/s Ethernet that came along later.

  46. Somone Unimportant

    Ahh - the joys of token ring.

    Used 4Mbits/sec on the wonderful clunky old IBM connectors to genuine IBM concentrators right through to 100 Mbits/sec on Cat5 just before Madge Networks disappeared for good.

    warning - Gratuitous TR joke coming up.

    "We have a token ring network because we can't afford a real ring network".

  47. Jeffrey Nonken

    Happened to us, too

    We had a 10base2 network at the time. One day one of the main IT guys was asking me if I knew something that would start flooding the whole network starting at about 12:15 every day and would end around 1:00 or so. I didn't make the connection, but one of my fellow Doomers caught on right away. "That sounds like us, playing Doom." Uh... oh, yeah. That.

    Apparently the first iteration of Doom I used broadcast packets, so it was flooding the local network and pretty much shutting down our connection to our offsite offices, which ran at a considerably slower data rate.

    Once we 'fessed up, Weldon simply told us to try not playing it. Problem went away. We got around it by stringing our own wires around the cubie farm and switching over during lunch; we'd avoid tanking the main network by the simple expedient of using our own.

    iD software actually patched the problem away reasonably quickly, but nobody but a few of us peons were interested in getting Doom running, and we had a solution of sorts; so we used our ad-hoc solution for a few months before we got permission to test on the main network again. Weldon watched the network stats while we played and declared it good, so we were free to pursue our mayhem on the main network after that.

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