"Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

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"Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby BitWrangler » 2017-11-22 @ 18:10

Hey Folks,

I know you can see cray, cray BIN prices on eBay and arsy versy, get steals, but what's the 486 system specs that is most averagely expensive to put together now? Also not really intending to include shrinkwrapped NOS/NIB here, since after you use it to assemble this system it isn't. So good and working part standard.

I put (Gameable) in the title to try to focus discussion on parts that are supported in games, some "pro" midi cards and maybe $4000 workstation graphics that needed a particular fixed res monitor aren't what I'm going for here. I guess really the parts that are "too" popular that the price has go a little out of hand on, or maybe those aspirational, rare, yet still reasonably usable parts.

This is for fun really, though it might eventually come about that enough parts coalesce together out of my own stash to be a reasonable representation of "most expensive 486" and we can all have a giggle about how it's benchmarks compare to "fastest 486" or others in 486 ultimate benchmark thread.

So my rough ideas so far, based on what I've heard is expensive...

CPU: Cyrix 5x86 120GP.... or possibly AMD or Intel DX4s???? (The AMD 5x86 seems half price of those)
VGA: VLB Mach 32
Mobo: Late VLB board I guess, suggestions?
RAM: eh you can go to the moon on amount I guess, but keeping it down to something that we can be reasonably sure will work with rest and is era approp, then 4x 16MB 60ns, gold plated or something?
i/O: Something VLB by Promise with LBA BIOS and maybe raid functions???
Drives: IDK what was the era appropriate performance desktop drive that ppl will spend money for, I'm thinking maybe quantum fireball, but not sure. 5.25 High density floppy, 2.88Mb 3.5 or LS 240 ??? Optical drives are a bit of a fuzzy target, think you could get 16X ROM and 4x4x8 CDRW before 486 era was really done. However on price, is something like a 4x Soundblaster/mitsumi/sony non IDE interface one the spendy unicorn or what?
Sound: This might be a "most expensive soundblaster" question really, unless you can prove that someone would actually buy X card and have a hope in hell of using it on a good number of games.
Case: Full tower AT???
PSU: was there really an archetypal PSU people will spend $$$ for? Should we just go with common sense and say this should be the NIB startech or other NIB AT psu you can buy today.
Keyboard: Model M compact???
Mouse: I do not have a clue about what might be classic meeces, won't be surprised if something logitech or microsoft fits in here.
Other: USR V Everything ? What NIC? Any other cards you can make a case for?

Did we spend $1000 yet? I'm kind of spitballing around $800 so far...


Let the arguing commence! LOL
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby gdjacobs » 2017-11-22 @ 18:32

I remember seeing 128mb equipped DX2 systems advertised for big money back in the day. Top end I/O should be SCSI as should storage. As well as floppies you should have a zip drive. Lots of options for sound cards, but GUS would definitely be included on a top end gaming rig, as would Roland (either an SCC-1A or MPU-401AT).
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby jheronimus » 2017-11-23 @ 10:19

Honestly I've never bothered to look at original retail prices, but I imagine that AMD or Cyrix 5x86-based systems never were "high-end". Both CPUs were released in 1995, so Pentium and Socket 5 were already out there, and 5x86 was more of an upgrade part for budget-conscious buyers. So yeah — they are the fastest 486 chips, but were never premium products.

Intel DX4 might be a different story. On one hand, it's probably faster than a Pentium 60/66 in most games, even though that 486 systems probably didn't have PCI until 1995 or so (and that would also be a budget upgrade motherboard akin to a Super Socket 7 board). So an original Pentium-based system was more expensive, but DX4 had better gaming performance because of a higher frequency and probably was the top choice for home users.

So I imagine that a safe bet for a "high-end" 486 would be Intel DX4.

Sound: This might be a "most expensive soundblaster" question really, unless you can prove that someone would actually buy X card and have a hope in hell of using it on a good number of games.


The May'95 issue of Computer Gaming World has an article on the virtues of MIDI and lists Roland SC-55, Turtle Beach Maui and AWE32 as viable options. So I imagine that getting an external unit or a dedicated MIDI card would probably be overkill, but an "all-in-one" card or a Roland/Yamaha/Creative Waveblaster daughterboard probably were okay for high-end rigs. However, if you're aiming for a period-correct DX4 build then GUS would probably be your best option.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby firage » 2017-11-23 @ 10:33

You can probably start with one of those rare VLB + EISA motherboards. EISA is better than VLB for storage IO. Would be nice if the board interleaves the SIMM modules as well as the cache.

The Mach32 doesn't seem all that high-end to me. I'd rather pick a Number Nine S3 board, maybe the 4-meg Vision968.
Creative's 3D Blaster VLB is a cool, pricy oddity for the bus, if there's a second slot.
Last edited by firage on 2017-11-23 @ 10:37, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby jheronimus » 2017-11-23 @ 10:36

Re storage, I think the actual top choice would be having two separate hard drives. One for your system, the other for your games — that would actually give you a performance boost on VLB.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby Scali » 2017-11-23 @ 11:00

I would think the server-oriented 486 machines would be the most expensive.
Perhaps those IBM PS/2 towers with MCA bus, SCSI drives etc?
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby Scali » 2017-11-23 @ 11:25

jheronimus wrote:So an original Pentium-based system was more expensive, but DX4 had better gaming performance because of a higher frequency and probably was the top choice for home users.


In my experience, the 486DX4 has always been a niche product.
Reason is that it was late to the party (introduced after the Pentium).
A lot of people already had a 486 (the DX2-66 seemed to be the most popular), so the upgrade path to a DX4 wasn't that compelling.
In my case I went from a 486DX2-66 to a Pentium 133.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby firage » 2017-11-23 @ 11:40

Until SCSI-3 and UDMA, the bottleneck is in the adapter's drive interface rather than the choice of 32-bit bus. EIDE can do 16.7 MB/s officially (although you can get more outside of the specs), Fast Wide SCSI-2's 20 MB/s is probably the number to beat. You really want CPU offloading to work properly at those speeds, and VLB stuff doesn't seem to be fantastic at this.

Yeah, the DX2 was the 486 at its mightiest relative to the market, and a fantastic Amiga killer in the computer gaming space. The DX4, and then Am5x86 (DX5) and other socket compatibles were a largely unnecessary upgrade path below the Pentium line in 1994-95, and an utterly sad option by 1996 when the Pentium itself had dropped below the Pentium Pro in Intel's hierarchy.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby jheronimus » 2017-11-23 @ 14:04

Scali wrote:In my experience, the 486DX4 has always been a niche product.
Reason is that it was late to the party (introduced after the Pentium).
A lot of people already had a 486 (the DX2-66 seemed to be the most popular), so the upgrade path to a DX4 wasn't that compelling.
In my case I went from a 486DX2-66 to a Pentium 133.


Yeah, I'm reading PC Magazine now, and realise things were even more complicated. In April'94 issue DX4 systems review is just a small piece in the "First looks" section where it's already regarded as a mid-range solution between a DX2 and Pentium-60. Socket 4 systems make a cover story in this issue, though.

By December'94 Pentium 90 is already the top-end choice, while P-60 and DX4 are a mid-range solution.

So yeah, seems like DX2 really was the last 486 chip to be considered a "top performer" at the time of its release.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby Azarien » 2017-11-23 @ 16:00

Scali wrote:In my experience, the 486DX4 has always been a niche product.
Reason is that it was late to the party (introduced after the Pentium).
A lot of people already had a 486 (the DX2-66 seemed to be the most popular), so the upgrade path to a DX4 wasn't that compelling.
In my case I went from a 486DX2-66 to a Pentium 133.


My first PC was a 486DX4 100 MHz. Pentiums were already around but were more expensive.
So perhaps DX4 was not a good upgrade path, but not a bad choice for a new machine.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby BeginnerGuy » 2017-11-23 @ 18:01

Are we looking for expensive based on current prices or time period?



Intel dx4 100 was very expensive at its launch in 1994 ($699 easily). 500+ for 75mhz. Pentiums were still extremely expensive at that time, most people were waiting for a dx2 80 as a cheaper alternative. Mere mortals didnt have pentiums in 1994 without spending $5000, but its true the 486 was dethroned in 1993.

All of the 5x86 chips were budget processors by launch time really except for the NX586. You could walk out of the store with an am5x86 133 for $100US in 1995, $50 by christmas in some deals.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby BitWrangler » 2017-11-24 @ 00:32

BeginnerGuy wrote:Are we looking for expensive based on current prices or time period?



Intel dx4 100 was very expensive at its launch in 1994 ($699 easily). 500+ for 75mhz. Pentiums were still extremely expensive at that time, most people were waiting for a dx2 80 as a cheaper alternative. Mere mortals didnt have pentiums in 1994 without spending $5000, but its true the 486 was dethroned in 1993.

All of the 5x86 chips were budget processors by launch time really except for the NX586. You could walk out of the store with an am5x86 133 for $100US in 1995, $50 by christmas in some deals.


Yes I was aiming for current pricing, not what it was when it came out, otherwise we'd be at the discrete chipset ISA DX33 end, for thousands just for a mobo RAM CPU combo just after release of 486.

Probably need to say 1996 and prior.... yeah those AMD 5x86-133s were getting sold as low end systems into 1999 even.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2017-11-24 @ 14:33

The most expensive CPU is the Cyrix 5x86 133, with the AMD 5x86 150/160 a close second. None of these chips went into production in volume. I would guess a UMC U5D DX6-66 would also fetch a small fortune, as well as a TI 5x86-133 prototype.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby bjwil1991 » 2017-11-24 @ 15:27

My first machine was an AMD AM486DX4-120 from 1994 until 2012, then an AM5x86-P75 from mid 2012 until late 2012 (board the AM486DX4-120 had died), and the other 5x86 board the processor sat on died as well. My third 486 is a Packard Bell Pack-Mate 28 Plus, and I upgraded to a DX2-66 from the SX2-50 for $40 (not cheap, but better than the SX2-50 for better game support), and I'm planning on upgrading to a DX4-100 OverDrive.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby NJRoadfan » 2017-11-25 @ 02:24

firage wrote:You can probably start with one of those rare VLB + EISA motherboards. EISA is better than VLB for storage IO. Would be nice if the board interleaves the SIMM modules as well as the cache.


A handful of those were sold as workstation class boards. They usually support 512-1024KB of L2 cache and 128-256MB of RAM, very high end for 1993. EISA, despite being a slower bus, tended to have more mature SCSI cards compared to VLB, hence better disk I/O.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby dirkmirk » 2017-12-06 @ 10:37

IF you want a VLB board I would pair it with an AM5x86-133 and overclock to 160mhz
If you choose PCI I would go the Cyrix 5x86-120, keep in mind the "IBM5x86-100" will run fine at 120mhz, no need to spend a fortune on the real cyrix 5x86-120

Good chipset for VLB is the SIS 471, UMC, SIS or ALI for PCI.


Graphics card I would settle for 2meg on the VLB motherboard, they're just too rare and expensive to find a good 4meg card, S3 made goods like the S3 Trio32/64 or Vision 868.

Heaps of options with PCI sky is the limit, I would go at least 4meg because nothing holding you back

Ram, 32meg is plenty and cached correctly with 256kb.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby vetz » 2017-12-06 @ 12:13

Most expensive CPU: Cyrix 5x86 133
Most expensive motherboard (VLB): ASUS vl/i-486sv2gx4
Most expensive motherboard (PCI): Biostar MB-8433UUD
Expensive VLB graphic cards: Any S3 Trio64 (Diamond Stealth64) or ATI Mach 64 (4MB version)
Most expensive VLB addon card: Creative 3D Blaster VLB

There are so many soundcards options that its hard to say what would be correct in a build like this. A Gravis Ultrasound combined with a Soundblaster AWE32 with OPL3 and a MPU-401AT card + SCB-55 daugtherboard isn't a cheap route.

SCSI and IDE controllers aren't that expensive
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2017-12-06 @ 12:14

In my opinion, finding a good S3 868 or Trio64 based VLB card will be almost as impossible as finding a good 4MB card. Might depend on the location though. Europe seemed to get more of the 868 based cards. The Trio64 used to be super common for VLB but I hardly see them anymore.
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby Kubik » 2017-12-06 @ 12:30

I would go for EISA board and EISA IDE or SCSI controller with cache :) Those must be damn rare...
For the rich bitches, I wonder - was there ever an EISA ESDI controller? :lol:
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Re: "Expensive" 486 system?? (Gameable)

Postby harddrivespin » 2017-12-20 @ 21:29

Go for a Cx5x86-133; Those are far more expensive then the Cx5x86-120, which is almost common. cj_reha and myself played a similar game of trying to design the most expensive Socket 3 DOS PC- I think we got to around $5,400 as the final price. Still, fun stuff.
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