Classic gaming is better.

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Classic gaming is better.

Postby Holograph » 2003-9-21 @ 23:02

Specs for my retrogaming machine:

. Pentium 166 (non-MMX)
. AOpen AP5T mobo (430TX, 2xDIMM+4xSIMM, 512kb o/b L2, 3 PCI and 4 ISA)
. Currently 64mb 50ns EDO RAM installed, 256mb SDRAM upcoming
. 3.5" floppy drive installed, 5.25" to be installed when I actually need it
. 4gb Seagate drive to be replaced with 13gb Maxtor
. x50 unbranded CD-ROM (probably Cyberdrive)

So far those are the basics. Now for the cool stuff:

. PCI ATI Rage II+ video card with 4gb memory (BIOS supports VBE2.0 out of the box) -- Tseng Labs E6000, Diamond Stealth 64 VRAM on standby for problematic games. Voodoo 2 to be added as soon as I get it back
. Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold
. Gravis Ultrasound classic w/1mb mem.
. Roland MT-32 connected to game port
. Logitech optical mouse connected to a USB->PS/2 convertor straight to computer's PS/2 port (USB upcoming, not sure if properly supported under DOS)
. Microsoft Natural Elite PS/2 keyboard

Installed OS include Windows 2000 (for occasional internet browsing or testing my software on older machines), Windows 98 (useful for certain games, plus what's mentioned above) and of course DOS 6.22. DOS configurations include clean boot, HIMEM only (useful for demos and various games), EMM386 (for games that don't get along with QEMM) and QEMM386. All relevant configurations with or without SmartDrive.

Everything is hooked up to a CTX VL950SL monitor, and to my stereo which consists of an Akai AA-R30 analogue receiver and JMR Twin Mk2 speakers.

This machine runs pretty much anything, though I'm still working out the kinks in certain games; I've got an IBM PC, 286, 386 and 486 on standby if necessary. Other machines include Amiga 500+ and 1000, a yet dysfunctional C64, fully functional Apple III. It was a lot of hassle getting most of this hardware, as esoteric hardware (anything other than run-of-the-mill PCs and Sound Blasters) is almost impossible to come by in Israel; the AWE64 Gold, MT-32, GUS and Amigas had to be bought off eBay over the course of several years (dreadful shipping costs). Plus I had to make a lot of hardware hacks and patches (RTC on the A1000, MIDI cable for the MT-32) because you just can't get that stuff here.

I'd welcome any suggestions as to hardware, software and other stuff I may find useful (scan doubler for the Amiga, for example, seems a must).
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Postby Snover » 2003-9-21 @ 23:33

*blink* You run Windows 2000 on a P166?!!
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Yes.

Postby Holograph » 2003-9-21 @ 23:47

Indeed, and believe it or not - it runs just as fast as Windows 98. Could use a little more memory though.

It's amazing those machines were actually USEFUL; I couldn't be bothered to do even the most rudimentary things on this machine anymore, even MP3 playback takes up 20-30% CPU time. Argh.
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Postby [vEX] » 2003-9-22 @ 12:09

We ran Windows 2000 Server on P200's in school.
Imagine running AD on it (YIKES!), took like 20-30 mins too boot that machine!
Antec P182B | Asus P8Z77-V PRO | Intel i5 3570k | 16GB DDR3 | 4TB HDD | Pioneer BDR-207D | Asus Xonar DX | Altec Lansing CS21 | Eizo EV2736W-BK | Arch Linux (64-bit/x86_64)
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Postby t-rex » 2003-9-23 @ 23:34

Impressive collection of hardware you've got there, Holograph! It's always nice to see someone so passionate about old computers and their peripherals. Being a collector myself, I think I can appreciate your efforts for finding such a perfect solutions to run old software!

Since I'm also a new member of this forum, it might be polite to write some background information about my gaming-related interests:

I've collected classic PC games for several years, and in some point I became very frustrated trying to get all that old software to run on hardware it wasn't even supposed to work. Too fast processors, too fancy sound cards and too modern operating systems ensured that most of my gaming attempts ended in tears. Since then, I've been constantly browsing through auction-sites and flea markets, collecting that same hardware game developers intended their software to be used on. During this time I've collected quite a large selection of old PC-hardware, and for some reason most of them seem to be manufactured by Creative, Gravis or Roland...

Currently I'm using Toshiba T3200SXC notebook with Roland SCC-1, Roland MT-32 and MediaVision Pro AudioSpectrum 16. The computer has been upgraded with a 486/40 processor, 12MB memory and a 2GB hard drive. It has taken a lot of time (and even some money) to get all the parts I wanted, but in the end it's been a rewarding experience!

...back to your question about hardware-recommendations: for your Pentium I'd suggest a Roland SCC-1 sound card. The General MIDI sounds you'll get from it can't be compared to any other device. After all, that's the sound module most composers used for game soundtracks back in the nineties! SCC-1 works also as a MPU-401 compatible MIDI interface for MT-32. (If you're satisfied with your current General MIDI sounds, I'd still suggest acquiring an original Roland MPU-401. You really need a proper interface for your MT-32 - it just doesn't work correctly with SB/GUS.)

Other than that, your retrogame-setup seems like a dream come true. Especially those DOS configurations are something to be very proud of :)
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Impressive!

Postby Holograph » 2003-9-25 @ 16:38

I did not realize notebooks (of ANY variety) made for valid retrogaming machines, let alone accept ISA peripherals. What made you go for a notebook of all things?

I am not absolutely certain about the SCC-1 - as far as I know most composers in the early nineties were aiming for the MT-32. I would like one, however these are nigh impossible to get; I only saw a couple on eBay and they sold for over $40 each. Add anywhere from $5-$20 for shipping, 18% VAT and you've got yourself a >$70 expenditure for just a classic sound card. Given that my entire monthly salary (being in the army) is about that much, it's difficult to justify.

I realize that there are some defficiencies in the Sound Blaster MPU-401 implementation, though seemingly they only manifest in games that use esoteric sound programming techniques (Laser Squad and Dune II come to mind). Can you elaborate further on the differences?
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Postby Holograph » 2003-9-25 @ 16:40

vex: OUCH. Our two DL360-based AD servers can barely cope with the load, I can hardly imagine how a P200 would work...
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Postby t-rex » 2003-9-26 @ 08:39

I'm using a notebook simply because I currently have no space for a normal desktop machine... used only in retrogaming, the T3200SXC has great features in a compact size. Still, weighting nearly 8 kilograms, this model can't be compared to modern notebooks :)

The only thing I'm curretly missing from my setup is a CD-ROM drive, but that hasn't really bothered me by far. The games I play are pretty much floppy versions anyway!

I checked some facts about the SCC-1 for you: Roland introduced Sound Canvas and General MIDI standards sometime around 1991, and I think game musicians started supporting GM pretty fast. Games from Sierra On-Line, for example, contained gorgeous GM soundtracks in 1992 - King's Quest 6 and Quest for Glory 1 VGA might be good examples. (MobyGames has a quite comprehensive list of games that support General MIDI - see for yourself!)

For more interesting facts about Roland SCC-1, here's an old topic from the Quest Studios Message Board: http://www.queststudios.com/qsmb/Forum2/HTML/000091.html. I know the SCC-1 is somewhat expensive, considering it's age, and if it costs your monthly salary, it's definetly not worth it!

Roland MPU-401, on the other hand, is a fairly cheap interface card, which enables programs to reconfigure MT-32's default patch bank through SysEx messages. Sound cards that emulate the MPU-401 (like Sound Blasters) don't transmit the SysEx data correctly, resulting MT-32 to play it's default sounds. Besides the forum, Quest Studios has also a great Technical FAQ - you'll find most of the MPU-401 related facts (including MP3 examples) from there.
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Postby Holograph » 2003-9-26 @ 22:05

Hmm. It seems that as far as I go into MIDI, I can only go further... I mean, there's the SCC-1, SCC-1B. Then there's the Yamaha XG boards, the "bigger and better" Sound Canvas modules... might as well go with a $5,000 Kurzweil synth, eh? :-)

Seriously though, one has got to draw the line somewhere. I would gladly buy an SCC-1 if I could check it out, but that is practically impossible (I doubt there's even ONE in Israel). Regardless, couldn't I just bump a great MIDI sound bank into my AWE/GUS/whatever and get as good sounds? I suppose getting a proper bank is hard, but not impossible.
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