PS/2 FAQ, Section 1

S) 1.0 Introduction 


   I am taking over. Resistance is futile. Please do NOT assume I sat down and typed up my vast experience in one day. I have a fair degree of familiarity with the 85 / 90 / 95 / 95A series of servers, but this in no way implies that I know it all. 

   This FAQ is for now (5.5a) merely an extension of 5.5, the last version released by Chris Feeny. 

  The previous guardians of the Holy Grail were Lewis Getschel (original creator), then revised by Carl Benker ( and Gerry Morgan (, with a further updating by David Smudski ( PC Helpcenter) and Jeff Holleman (PCCBBS). I'd like to thank Chris Feeny ( for the ressurection of the PS/2 FAQ. 

   If you think the PS/2 was odd or rare, think again. The PS/2 experience covered a mere ten or so years. In Tom Watson's IBM, they sold  17,000,000 machines, 13,000,000 of them Micro Channel.  The PS/2 division was IBM's biggest money maker for three years running in the early 90s, and  IBM said then that PS/2 was the most popular model of computer in the world. (Thanks, Joe!) 

   Many people do not understand the reason for a PS/2. IBM built them to run 24/7. They sold reliability. Those annoying extensive self tests and the cryptic error codes all support that goal. Why power up a server if the POST misses a (at the time) non-fatal error that a few hours later brings down a major corporation's network? 
   Eventually, I hope to restore more of these Ardent Tools of Captitalism to gainful employment through a better public understanding of the machine. 

  Finally, the PS/2 FAQ is released as HTML. What a bug hunt... Please send all derision, comments, and snide comments to me and: I will do my best to ignore it. 

Q) 1.1  What does this FAQ cover and how do I use this FAQ?

This FAQ is for the PS/2's and most other MCA machines.  There may be some information that is inaccurate for non-IBM machines and this information should be gathered from the appropriate manufacturer. If there are deficiencies, errors, and/or missing information you would like to see email me at: 

Q) 1.2  What are the different PS/2s and their features?
     Note: a very good reference can be found at, 
     in /.3/simtelnet/msdos/info/ (#25,30,50,55,60,70,73,80). 

                                             | Bus  | # of  | Drive |Intro
Model    |     Model     | CPU    | Wait |L2 | Type | Slots | Bays  |Date --------------------------------------------------------------------------
25       |8525-001/G01/+ | 8086-8     |0W  |  0  | ISA8 |  2  |  2  |08/87
25-286   |8525-G06/H06   | 286-10     |1W  |  0  | ISA16|  2  |  2  |10/90
25LS     |8525           | 286-10     |    |  0  | ISA  |     |     | 
30       |8530-001/2/21  | 8086-8     |0W  |  0  | ISA8 |  3  |  2  |04/87
30-286   |8530-E01/E21   | 286-10     |1W  |  0  | ISA16|  3  |  2  |09/88
35SX     |8535-040/43/24X| 386SX-20   |0-2W|  0  | ISA16|  3  |  2  |06/91
35SLC    |8535-050/55    | 386SLC-20  |0W  |  0  | ISA16|  3  |  2  |04/92
35LS     |8535-14X/24X   | 386SX-20   |    |  0  | ISA  |     |     |01/91
40SX     |8540-040/43/45 | 386SX-20   |0-2W|  0  | ISA16|  5  |  4  |06/91
40SLC    |8540-050/55    | 386SLC-20  |0W  |  0  | ISA16|  5  |  4  |04/92
50       |8550-021       | 286-10     |1W  |  0  | MCA16|  4  |  3  |04/87
50Z      |8550-031/61    | 286-10     |0W  |  0  | MCA16|  4  |  3  |08/88
53SLC2   |9553-0BB       | 486SLC2-50 |    |     | MCA  |     |     | 
53LS     |9553-1BX/2BX   | 486SLC2-50 |    |     | MCA  |     |     | 
55SX     |8555-031/61/L?#| 386SX-16   |0-2W|  0  | MCA16|  3  |  2  |05/89
55LS     |8555           | 386SX-16   |0-2W|  0  | MCA16|  3  |  2  |10/90
56SX/LS  |8556-043/5/9/+ | 386SX-20   |    |  0  | MCA16|  3  |  2  |10/91
56SLC    |8556-055/9/+   | 386SLC-20  |    |  0  | MCA16|  3  |  2  |02/92
56SLC2   |9556-DB6/A     | 486SLC2-50 |    |  0  | MCA16|  3  |  2  |10/92
57SX     |8557-045/9     | 386SX-20   |    |  0  | MCA16|  5  |  4  |06/91
57SLC    |8557-055/9/05F | 386SLC-20  |    |  0  | MCA16|  5  |  4  |02/92
57SLC2   |9557-DB6/A     | 486SLC2-50 |    |     | MCA16|  5  |  4  | 
57SLC3   |9557-          | 486SLC3    |    |     | MCA16|  5  |  4  | 
57 Ult.  |9557-1BA/2BA   | 486SLC2-50 |    |     | MCA  |     |     | 
60       |8560-041/71    | 286-10     | 1W |  0  | MCA16|  8  |  4  |04/87
65SX     |8565-061/121   | 386SX16    |    |  0  | MCA16|  8  |  4  |06/90
70-Exx   |8570-E61       | 386DX-16   |    |  0  | MCA32|  3  |  3  |06/88
70-xxx   |8570-061/121   | 386DX-20   |    |  0  | MCA32|  3  |  3  |06/88
70-Axx   |8570-A21/61    | 386DX-25   |    |  64 | MCA32|  3  |  3  | 
70-Bxx   |8570-B21/61    | 486DX-25   |    |  0  | MCA32|  3  |  3  |01/90
70       |modification   | 486DX2  | 16|20/33| 0 | MCA32|  3  |  3  |10/93
P70-386  |8570           | 386DX-20  |     |     | MCA  |     |     | 
P75-486  |8570           | 486DX-33  |     |     | MCA  |     |     | 
76       |9576-DU6/DUA   | 486SX-33  |     |  0  | MCA32|  3  |  3  |10/92
76       |9576-OPTION    | 486DX2-66 |     |  0  | MCA32|  3  |  3  |10/92
77 0Ux   |9577-0UF/UA    | 486SX-33  |     |  0  | MCA32|  5  |  4  |10/92
77 0Nx   |9577-0NA/0NF   | 486DX2-66 |     |  0  | MCA32|  5  |  4  |10/92
77 Ult.  |9577-1UA/1NA   | 486DX2-66 |     |  0  | MCA32|  5  |  4  |10/92
80-0xx   |8580-041/071   | 386DX-16  |     |  0  | MCA32|  8  | 5/6 |04/87
80-xxx   |8580-111/21/321| 386DX-20  |     |  0  | MCA32|  8  | 5/6 |04/87
80-Axx   |8580-A16/21/31 | 386DX-25  |     |  64 | MCA32|  8  | 5/6 |06/90
80       |modification   | 486DX-25  |     |     | MCA32|  8  | 5/6 | 
80       |modification   | 486DX2  | 16|20/33|   | MCA32|  8  | 5/6 |10/93
85-0Xx   |9585-0X6/A/G/T | 486SX-33  |     |  0  | MCA32|  8  |  7  |10/92
85-0Kx   |9585-0KG/T     | 486DX-33  |     | 128 | MCA32|  8  |  7  |10/92
85-xNx   |9585-0NT/G/NNT | 486DX2-66 |     | 256 | MCA32|  8  |  7  |10/92
90 XP 486|8590-0G5/H5/+  | 486SX-20/25 |   |  0  | MCA32|  4  |  4  |10/90
90 XP 486|8590-OPTION    | 486DX-33  |     |  0  | MCA32|  4  |  4  |10/90
90 XP 486|9590-DLA/LG/+  | 486DX2-50 |     |  0  | MCA32|  4  |  4  |03/93
95 XP 486|8595-0G9/F     | 486SX-20  |     |  0  | MCA32|  8  |  7  |10/90
95 XP 486|8595-0H9/F     | 486SX-25  |     |  0  | MCA32|  8  |  7  |10/90
95 XP 486|8595-0J9/D/F   | 486DX-25  |     |  0  | MCA32|  8  |  7  |10/90
95 XP 486|8595-0KD/F     | 486DX-33  |     |256op| MCA32|  8  |  7  |10/90
95 XP 486|8595-0LF       | 486DX2-50 |     |  0  | MCA32|  8  |  7  |10/90
95 XP 486|8595-0MG/T     | 486DX-50  |     | 256 | MCA32|  8  |  7  |10/90
95 XP 486|9595-0LF/G     | 486DX2-50 |     |  0  | MCA32|  8  |  7  |10/92
95 XP 486|9595-0MF/G/T   | 486DX-50  |     | 256 | MCA32|  8  |  7  |06/91
95 Server|9595-1NG/T/V   | 486DX2-66 |     | 128 | MCA32|  8  |  7  |08/92
95 Server|9595-0PT/V/0PTF| P-60      |     | 256 | MCA32|  8  |  7  |08/93
95 Server|9595-0QG/V/+   | P-66      |     | 256 | MCA32|  8  |  7  |09/93
95 Array |9595-3NG/T     | 486DX2-66 |     | 128 | MCA32|  8  |  9  |08/92
95 Array |9595-3PG/T     | P-60      |     | 256 | MCA32|  8  |  9  |08/93
95 Array |9595-3QG/T     | P-66      |     | 256 | MCA32|  8  |  9  |09/93

The -xxx suffix can usually be broken down to -ABC where, 

A=number of hard drives usually, if A, B, or E rules below don't apply 
A=386DX-25     Q=586-66
B=486SLC2-50   U/X=486SX-33
G=486SX-20     Y=586/90
H=486SX-25     0=<286-10  
J=486DX-25     2=286-10
K=486DX-33     4=386DX-20 
L=486DX2-50    5=386SLC20
C=hard drive type:  

Fourth letter is county/language identifier, F=Canadian French 
85xx models are XGA or VGA, 95xx models are XGA-2 or SVGA. 
LS models are usually identical to the SX counterparts but are diskless. 

Q) 1.2a  What are the Processor Complexes and their features?

Model 90/95 special info follows below: 
(Thanks Louis Ohland <>) 

Stumbled across a reference document with a good overall description of the four different complex types and their capabilities. Some errata seemed to have snuck in- the DMA speed goes from 20 to 25MHz then back again to 20MHz.. 

Original compiled by Roger Dodson, IBM. May 1996 

  The IBM Model 90, and Model 95, and PC Server 500 are unique in providing a Processor Complex that integrates the processor, memory cache controller and L2 cache, memory controller, DMA controller, and  I/O bus controller. This provides the capability to upgrade to new technology by only replacing the Processor Complex. 
   Upgrading a processor along with the memory and I/O controller have a significant effect on performance via a balanced, tuned system. There are four types of Processor Complexes for these systems: Base or Type 1, 2, 3, and 4. 
   Any existing Model 90, Model 95, or PC Server 500 can be upgraded to a new Processor Complex. For example, Base 1 to Base 2 or Base 3 or Base 4; Base 2 to Base 4, etc. 
NOTE: A -xNx, -xPx, or -xQx system CANNOT support a Type 1, 2, or 3 complex. You will get a 174 error. 

Type 1       "G"  486SX 20 MHz    (ann Oct 1990)  92F0049 
             "J"  486DX 25 MHz    (ann Oct 1990)  64F0201 
             "K"  486DX 33 MHz    (ann Oct 1990)  64F0198 
             Upgrade 486DX-50     (ann Jun 1991)  92F0048 
             Upgrade 486DX2-66    (ann Aug 1992)  64F0198 
             Cache Option All Base/Type 1  17nS   64F0199  
                           Upgrade 486DX-50 15nS  64F0050  
* 64MB Parity supported. 
* Level 2 cache socket for optional 256K write-through memory cache 
* No math coprocessor socket. 
* 24 bit DMA; 10-12 MHz. 
* Dual path memory design (Dual Bus Interleave). Allows both the processor 
  and busmasters to access memory concurrently though two paths. 
* 20 MB per second data transfer support (for MCA bus). 

Type 2          "H" / Upgrade 486SX 25 MHz      (ann Oct 1991)  92F0079 
                    "L" / Upgrade 486DX2 50/25      (ann Apr 1992)  92F0161 
* No Level 2 cache socket on complex. 
* 64MB Parity supported. 
* Math coprocessor socket on "H" model only to add 80487 math coprocessor  or to add a 486DX2 50/25 MHz upgrade chip which has an integrated math coprocessor. 
* High speed 25 MHz DMA now synchronous with the 486; 24 bit DMA. 
* Faster bus arbitration (than Base 1) for busmasters to increase performance. 
* Memory controller to support both interleaved (higher performance -pairs of SIMMs) and non-interleaved memory (allows single SIMMs). 
* 20 MB per second data transfer support (for MCA bus). 

Type 3     "M"/ Upgrade 486DX-50 MHz        (ann April 1992) 57F1579 

* 40 MB per second streaming data transfer support. This is an advanced Micro Channel I/O controller that provides faster data transfer rates to increase performance. 
* Error Checking and Correcting (ECC) memory controller 
* 64MB Parity or 64MB ECC supported. Matched pairs only. 
* 256KB Level 2 memory cache (write-through) is standard. 
* High speed 20 MHz DMA; 32 bit DMA so it can use DMA to directly address all memory; DMA supports Subsystem Control Block. 
* Faster bus arbitration (than Base 1) for busmaster performance. 
* Enhanced dual path memory design (Dual Bus Interleave). 
* Subsystem Control Block enabled (see definition). 
* Vital Product Data support. 
* Synchronous Channel Check support (see definition). 
* Data bus parity support (see definition). 
* A logging facility is provided (for ECC or system errors). 

Type 4   "N" / Upgrade 486DX2 66/33 MHz     (ann Sept 1993) 61G2343 $772.00! 
              "P" / Upgrade Pentium 60 MHz       (ann Aug 1993)  52G9362 
             "Q" / Upgrade Pentium 66 MHz       (ann Sept 1993) 92F0120 
             "Y" / Upgrade Pentium 90/60 MHz    (ann Oct 1994)  06H3739 / 19H1027 

Although a Type 4 will work in all downlevel systems (8590/8595/9590/9595) trying to run a Type 1 through a Type 3 complex on a 95A planar will fail with a 174 error. The complex and planar will be OK, it just wont do anything. 

* SynchroStream(TM)controller (Not on DX2-66 complexes!) 
* 40 MB per second streaming data transfer support. 
* Error Checking and Correcting (ECC) memory controller 
* 64MB Parity or 256MB ECC supported. Matched pairs only. 
* 256 KB L2 cache (WB) on Pentium models, 128 KB L2 cache (WB) on 486DX2 models. 
* High speed 20 MHz DMA; 32 bit DMA can directly address all memory; DMA supports Subsystem Control Block. 
* Faster bus arbitration (than Base 1) for busmaster performance. 
* Enhanced dual path memory design (Dual Bus Interleave). 
* Subsystem Control Block enabled (see definition) 
* Enhanced Vital Product Data support. 
* Synchronous Channel Check support (see definition). 
* Data bus parity support (definition below). 
* A logging facility is provided (for ECC or system errors). 


  SynchroStream(TM)controller which uses IBM's most advanced technology packaging to integrate 5 major chips (memory, I/O, DMA controllers, FIFO buffers, ECC logic) into one chip. This technology allows the high-speed interconnects and large streaming pipes that form the SynchroStream engine to provide state-of-the-art performance. The SynchroSteam controller 
synchronizes data traveling between major subsystems and allows it to stream in parallel, at full bandwidth, to each subsystem concurrently. 

  Error Checking and Correcting (ECC) memory controller which will automatically correct any single bit errors on the fly (98% of memory errors are single bit); all 2 bit errors are found which halt system; some 3 and 4 bit errors are found which halt system; single bit errors are logged with optional software (NetFinity?) and multiple bit errors are logged in NVRAM. 

Subsystem Control Block provides for the enhanced transfer of command, data, and status information between busmasters (and between busmasters and the system processor) to give increased performance. Capabilities such as command chaining, data chaining, and block data moves frees the processor from waiting for command completion before issuing the next command and frees the processor for other tasks while a busmaster operates in parallel. Adapters and device drivers must support this feature (many do today). 

Synchronous Channel Check support provides for the signaling of errors synchronously with the transfer in progress. Adapters and device drivers must be designed to support this feature (none do today). 

Data bus parity support provides for the verification of correct data as it is transferred between the processor and memory and over the Micro Channel. All data moved between individual components on the Processor Complex use this feature (processor, memory controller DMA, Micro Channel controller). IBM's Token-Ring LANStreamer MC 32, Auto LANStreamer MC 32, Dual LANStreamer MC 32, EtherStreamer MC 32, Dual EtherStreamer MC 32, SCSI-2 Fast/Wide Adapter/A, SCSI-2 RAID Controller, SCSI-2 RAID Adapter/A, and TURBOWAYS 100 ATM Adapter support this feature. 

 Enhanced dual path memory design (Dual Bus Interleave). Although Base 1 allows both the processor and busmasters to access memory concurrently through two paths, the Base 3 and 4 has buffers at both paths to provide better performance. Also the buffer on the adapter side (I/O buffer) uses packet data transfers for writes. This means 16 bytes are collected and this packet is written in one cycle to memory as opposed to writing for every 4 bytes received (as with unbuffered systems). 

  Enhanced Vital Product Data support. Allows software (LAN Network Manager, LAN Mgmt Utilities/2) to obtain a unique serial number (identifier) on the processor complex which is in ROM (like Base 3). Also provides unique ID (model/submodel), type/model/ serial number, manufacturing ID, planar FRU number, and planar part number. 

IBM 32 bit MCA busmasters that support 40 MB/sec streaming: 
+Token-Ring LANStreamer MC 32, Auto LANStreamer MC 32, Dual LANStreamer MC 32 
+EtherStreamer MC 32, Dual EtherStreamer MC 32 
+SCSI-2 Fast/Wide Adapter/A 
+SCSI-2 RAID Controller (in 95 A), SCSI-2 F/W Strm RAID Adapter/A 
+All FDDI Micro Channel adapters 
+3515 Adapter/A (actually supports 80 MB/sec if bus supports it) 
+3514 Array Adapter (for external 3514 RAID 5 Array) 
+ARTIC960 Co-processor Adapter (actually supports 80 MB/sec) 
+TURBOWAYS 100 ATM Adapter 
+Ethernet Quad PeerMaster Server Adapters (80 MB/sec) 

Q) 1.3  What are the IBM brand MCA cards?

These are usually denoted with a /A suffix.  Here is a list of what is current. 

See Appendix A for full list. 

Q) 1.4  Where do I get a Reference Disk for my PS/2?
[Rewrite by Aron Eisenpress <>] 

Reference Disks can be downloaded from two IBM sources, via ftp to or by dialing the IBM PC Co. BBS at 1-919-517-0001. links to the reference, diagnostics, and starter disks. 

After the files are obtained: 

For .EXE files: 
o Put a blank, formatted 1.44MB floppy in A: (old systems like 8525 may need 
720K) then run the self creating disk image file (ex rf90954a.exe). 

Do NOT use "DIR" under W95 to look at the newly created reference disk. This overwrites the special bytes needed to access the system partition. I have created MANY refisks with NT and W95 using Win Exploiter, er, Explorer. They all worked. You can look at them with File Eplorer all day long. Just do NOT go to MS-DOS mode and do a "DIR". 

For .DSK files: 
o Run LDF.COM so that the files LOADDSKF.EXE and PRODAID.TXT are extracted.  LOADDSKF.EXE is what you need, PRODAID.TXT is the IBM agreement. 
o Insert a blank disk and type LOADDSKF filename.DSK A: (or B:) [/F to format 
  and /C to convert a 720KB image to a 1.44MB disk.] 
o Ensure the proper disk is inserted and answer: "Y". 
o Your reference disk is ready to go. 

For .TG0 files: 
o Run TGSFX.COM so that the files TELEGET.EXE and TGCONFIG.EXE are  extracted. 
o Run TGCONFIG and follow the prompts. 

Also check 

Also QBMCA on  Wendt's page can tell you what ADF you need. 

Q) 1.4a Where can I get a Reference Disk for my non-IBM MCA System?

ALR (what's left) is HERE
Apricot (now Mitsubishi) is HERE (anyone got a Panther for swap?) Messy. Help? 
Tandy (suprise) had the Tandy 5000 (250-6000/1/2) Ops, they want to sell the refdisks. Wait. 
                   RS, your site sucks! 
Olivetti? Someone had the link... Send it to ME

Q) 1.5  Which file is my Reference Disk?  They are all cryptically written.

See Appendix B. 

Q) 1.6  What does the Reference Disk do?

The Reference Disk is your access to the internals of the PS/2, much like accessing CMOS on other computers.  From the Reference Disk you can add options, change the time and date, set up a configuration, check SCSI device, change the settings of the options you added and test your system for problems.  Once you have the Reference Disk running go to the Main Menu and 
Backup the Reference Disk and take one copy BEFORE you add options to it and put it in a safe place. 

Q) 1.7  How can I run the Advanced Diagnostics?

This little known command allows one to test the system one test at a time. This is useful if the system hangs or gets an error early in the full-test. To access the Advanced Diagnostics press <CTRL>-A from the Reference Disk Main Menu and it will allow you to select which test to perform after verifying the present configuration.  Also these are more through tests and also offer hard drive formatting options and some wrap plug port tests (see Q6.6 for details). 

Q) 1.8  Why can't I copy my Reference Disk, I want to make a backup?

You can by selecting the option to backup the Reference Disk from the Reference Disk Main Menu.  The files are written in a special way to the diskand only the Reference Disk and LOADDSKF can create new/backup Reference Disks unless a total disk copy program is used to copy the hidden files, DISKCOPY works. 

Q) 1.9  I need an Option Diskette.What are they and Where do I get them?

Option Diskettes are the .ADF files that allow the PS/2 to communicate properly with installed options and the 165 error code is also saying that the proper .ADF file was not used to configure the system.  The BBS and both have all the IBM option diskettes and some common third party ones.  A file index of all the files on the ftp site can be obtained by getting the FILES.TXT file which has 100k of disk name and descriptions of every disk IBM included with option, computers, and devices as well as some third party software.  When you get the right one go to Copy an Option Diskette in the Reference Disk Main Menu and it should do the work for you. Now just configure the system and you should be set. 

Q) 1.10  I got the Option Diskette, but the Reference Diskette is telling me no option files can be found, What am I doing wrong?

Nothing usually.  Sometimes the Reference Disk can not copy the proper files, so look in the manual for the device and see what file(s) must be copied manually over to the Reference Disk.  As always use a backup copy of the Ref  Disk. 

Q) 1.10a  I copied the option's ADF to the refdisk, but Setup cannot find it!

You must use "Copy an Option Diskette" under Setup to correctly copy a new or updated ADF to the Reference Disk or to the System Partition. 

Q) 1.11  I bought my PS/2 second hand who can I get technical support from?

IBM.  The 800-772-2227 (1-800-PS2-2227) is open 24 hours a day for warrantied systems; however; there is no PS/2 models still under warranty so you will have to use the 1-900-555-2582 number.  They bill at $1.99 per minute the last time I called (10/27/98).  Usually the staff is dead accurate and only rarely is misinformation handed out.  However, the chances of misinformation is greatly increased when calling during non-standard EST business hours as I 
have experienced at 3am calls from the East Coast. 

It seems lately I have been getting emails for people who have called the 900 number, but could not get there questions answered.  This is not to fault IBM, it simply is not practical to train your people on every machine released, but do I get to collect the 900 charges you the questions I answer? :). 

Q) 1.12  IBM tech. support says they do not know my answer now what?

Well if they didn't connect you to the premium support section ask to be connected there.  The Premium (I think that is what they call it) support techs are usually a lot more adept at in-depth tech help, but sometimes the normal tech does not connect you to them when you have a more advanced problem so ask for them if you feel the person helping you is lost (usually symbolized by a lot of being put on hold 'while I find out the answer' type responses).  Also it is a good idea to always call back later to double check on things that you are not totally comfortable with the given answer. Since these calls are no longer free it may not be practical to call back.   Also I am not sure the still have normal and Premium support since the phone  support has changed to the 900 number system, but of course, you can always  email me. 

Q) 1.13  Where can I find support on the internet?

9595 The Ardent Tool of Capitalism
NCR Adapter Description Files (ADFs)
IBM Canada Ltd - Vintage PCs
IBM PCs Tech Library 
IBM Link (last time I was there I could not find the PS/2 Info) 
NeoInteractive MotherBoard Upgrades    No Reply boards left! 
PS/2 Page
FCC ID# Search Engine 

Q) 1.14  I got an IBM MCA card with no labeling, How do I tell what it is?

This is a big problem with IBM cards.  Most card manufacturers get label crazy silk-screening their name and the card's name all over the card's breadboard,yet IBM being the marketing giant doesn't need the extra production step and goes with bare breadboards. 

The first thing to do is to ground yourself (by touching the power supply of a turned OFF computer is a good way) and try to set the card on an anti-static bag or surface and try not to move around to much because one static charge to a key area and it won't matter what the card is for.  Then try and find out what IBM part numbers (IBMPN) and FRU (Field Replacement Unit)(IBMFRU) are listed on the front and back of the card.  Contrary to popular belief you 
cannot tell what the card does by these numbers as a class, i.e. not all 87Xxxxx cards are disk controllers and made in 1987.  With all the numbers written down place the card in a anti-static bag and store it carefully.  Call IBM at 1-800-772-2227 (or 900-555-2582 at $1.99/min) and ask them first.  Chances are if the card is over two years old it is going to be a gamble at 
best.  If they could not help, it is time to post your problem to for answers.  Try to render an ASCII image of the card to give people an idea of what it is and this might also help someone identify it on the spot. 

Also the FCC# could be used as it almost never changes and is unique for each card.  The FCC website is Lately these have proven excellent resorts though sometimes the descriptions given are vague you at least will know the manufacturer and purpose of the card. 

Another method though I believe you need to have it installed and configured is a program on PC-DOS 6.3 which takes the 'electronic name' (POSID, a four digit number) of the MCA card and gives the description. 

And of course, QBMCA  . 

Another utility that reports on the POSID from MS-DOS is Snooper

9595 Main Page