"Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

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"Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

Postby doogie » 2019-2-05 @ 20:40

The Mission: put together a quiet, compact, extremely capable system with the widest range of software and operating system support possible.

Before someone dismisses this as yet another attempt at a be-all-end-all retro box, here are some of the specific use cases I had in mind:
  • Optical and floppy archival
  • no-limits Windows 9x gaming
  • Steam downloads/preservation
  • Infrastructure Admin (network/server stuff to support my retro VLAN)
  • Dev/test/sandbox - validating software and tools before deployment
  • Hardware testing
  • (perhaps most importantly) semi-permanent availability, that is, the machine doesn't spend most of its time in storage

Reliability
Another goal with this build was to maximize "turn-on-and-game" reliability, that is, to some degree I know that I can hit the power button and the machine will be fully functional without having to debug or troubleshoot something (hardware or software). 20+ year old hardware can present a challenge in that regard as this forum knows very well, so more modern components were chosen where possible in the spirit of both longevity and convenience. For me personally, young kids present another challenge where I just have a lot less time to enjoy games, so maximizing that time is important to say the least.

And hey - isn't this Very Old Games on New* Systems?
*newish, in this instance, anyway.

The Recipe
  • ASRock 775i65G-R3.0: I picked this up new just a couple of months before Phil's review - after that, stock seemed to dry up pretty quickly (damn, Phil, way to go :cool:). Great board - tough to complain given the availability at the time, but if there are big downsides here it'd be that I'm not using many of the onboard devices (graphics, audio, network). Thankfully they can be disabled in the BIOS. SATA compatibility is perfect thanks to IDE emulation. Plenty of other threads on this forum about this motherboard so I'll leave it to what's been written already, however, my advice is not to try and push it to the absolute limits; in other words, stick with 800MHz FSB and don't try to push the memory as much as the board might allow.
  • Pentium E5800: two Wolfdale cores at 3.20GHz. Respectable (within certain limits) in more modern operating systems, but a total rocket ship in Windows 98. Plenty of grunt to run DOSBox and multiple tasks. Cheap, too!
  • 2GB total, Corsair XMS 400MHz CL2: a little tougher to find, but there's plenty of alternatives. I use the rloew VMM patch for Windows 98 (and stick to VxD drivers).
  • NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra: fastest officially supported card I know of for Windows 98 - again lots of alternatives here; the motherboard supports later AGP cards, so even just hunting down a 6800GT would be cheaper and easier.
  • Sound Blaster Live! SB0100: one of the later Live! variants. I use kX drivers in newer Windows versions. Digital Out is a great feature and we have full MIDI/Gameport capability. DOS compatibility is good of course too.
  • Intel PRO/1000 GT: the onboard NIC is 100mbps, and I use iPXE extensively so this NIC goes in most of my builds.
  • Storage: 128GB SSD (to stay under the 137GB limit), Plextor PX-716A (or use your drive of choice), floppy.
  • Chassis, power, cooling: Silverstone TJ08-E, Corsair RM550x, Noctua NH-L9x65 (with NM-i3 mounting kit), Noctua 120mm fan at the rear. This chassis has a massive 180mm fan at the front keeping all of the components cooled. I used a USB3-to-2 internal adapter to make the front ports work; I have yet to pin out from the Live! to the headset/mic jack, but that should be possible as well.

Software
Dual booting Windows 98 SE and Windows 8.1. Nope, I'm not kidding! I feel I don't have to justify 98SE, but 8.1 I like because of its reasonable hardware requirements (vs 7 and Vista), and the fact that it's currently fully supported (OS, browsers, the whole nine). Add a proper Start Menu via something like StartIsBack, and it's actually quite nice in my opinion. XP is totally possible too, and may eventually be what I shift to after I'm confident that I have a good process for backing up and playing my Steam games.

Dual boot is accomplished via use of a program called EasyBCD, which then allows Win8 to natively show a nice graphical boot menu.

Bottom Line
Although it's about as retro a computer as the NES Classic is to the OG NES-001, if someone asked me to help build a retro PC gaming machine, I think this would be it. Game compatibility is great starting with late DOS games (my last full playthru of Wing Commander III took place on this machine) all the way to where you start running the GPU or CPU out of breath (~2005, or thereabouts). For earlier software, DOSBox is a pretty easy choice - with Soundfont and external MIDI support via the Live! it's pretty easy to get audio sounding the way you expect it to.

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Re: "Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

Postby badmojo » 2019-2-05 @ 23:31

Me likes. As fun as messing around with period correct hardware is I find that the machine I leave sitting on my desk is the one that I can just fire up and play whatever I want on. And once you've seen late DOS SVGA games running lag free you can't unsee it.

Excellent work.
If it's broke, then fix it!
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Re: "Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

Postby Wolven » 2019-2-06 @ 11:33

Great project.

I like builds like this. To me it's not important to make builds period correct. I choose function and convenience over historical correctness and I've never really liked the beige look. Back in the day I wanted black cases, so mine got spray painted. I was so pleased when black cases, optical- and floppy drives became a thing. Not to mention the old computers made terrible noise with their small and whiny coolers and fans.

This looks like a fun and practical machine. Good stuff.
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Re: "Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

Postby oeuvre » 2019-2-06 @ 13:47

The requirements for Windows 8.1, 7, and 10 are all almost identical...
Retro PC Intel i5 2500, 8GB RAM, AMD HD7770 1GB, SSD + HD, XP/7
Main Desktop Intel i7 6700K, 32GB, AMD RX580 8GB, NVMe SSD + HD, 10
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Re: "Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

Postby Baoran » 2019-2-06 @ 14:27

oeuvre wrote:The requirements for Windows 8.1, 7, and 10 are all almost identical...


They might have similar requirements on paper, but when my father upgraded his old windows 7 laptop os to windows 10, it became much much slower.
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Re: "Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

Postby oeuvre » 2019-2-06 @ 15:03

I wouldn't use 8/10 on anything core 2 duo or older with less than 8GB RAM and SSD
Retro PC Intel i5 2500, 8GB RAM, AMD HD7770 1GB, SSD + HD, XP/7
Main Desktop Intel i7 6700K, 32GB, AMD RX580 8GB, NVMe SSD + HD, 10
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Re: "Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

Postby doogie » 2019-2-06 @ 16:03

oeuvre wrote:I wouldn't use 8/10 on anything core 2 duo or older with less than 8GB RAM and SSD


I agree with you on Windows 10 - there's a lot more going on there that you'd want more grunt for. Or, you'd have to do some real tuning in Group Policy/etc to shed background tasks and try to optimize. Then it would upgrade itself twice a year and this poor machine would just get gut punched.

As for 8.1, the performance is pretty good in this case, so long as you do not burden it with lots of tasks. The Wolfdale E5800 is potent and can stand next to a Core 2 Duo, but will run out of steam if you ask it to juggle lots of processes or browser tabs or what-have-you.

https://www.cpubenchmark.net/compare/In ... 00/1102vs5

8GB RAM: although we had Netbooks and tablets and such far prior to Win8, remember this was the first time it really ran on ARM phones and tablets with far less RAM than a typical x86 PC; there had to be a ton of work put into optimization and I think it shows through even just booting it and looking at RAM usage..significantly less on 8/8.1 versus 7. No need to mention Vista. Would it run better on 4GB or 8GB or more? Yep, but that's part of the sacrifice in this particular build to get the wide breadth of supported OS versions.

SSD: no question, definitely.

All that said, I see XP in the future for this box just to really maximize hardware and game compatibility, but I want to finish building out my RIS image for XP and get the Steam games playable.

Thanks all for the comments on the build.
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Re: "Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

Postby keenmaster486 » 2019-2-06 @ 20:07

Wow, this machine looks very, very nice. Good work!

I like machines that max out OS's that weren't really meant to go quite that far... it feels like back in the day when I would try to put Windows 98 or XP on every new computer just because I didn't like MS shoving new operating systems down everyone's throats. I eventually gave up on putting Windows 98 on anything post-2004-ish :lol:
I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

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Vintage desktops: Pentium/MMX 200 (Win95), 286-12 (MS-DOS 5.0)
Vintage laptops: IBM Thinkpad A20m, IBM Thinkpad 560X, IBM Thinkpad 365CD
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Re: "Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

Postby Jo22 » 2019-2-07 @ 11:09

oeuvre wrote:The requirements for Windows 8.1, 7, and 10 are all almost identical...

I agree with that on the 32-Bit versions. The 64-Bit versions of 8.1 added the requirement of the CMPXCHG16B instruction,
which some early x64-CPUs didn't support yet. :sad:
https://www.pcworld.com/article/2058683/new-windows-8-1-requirements-strand-some-users-on-windows-8.html
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Re: "Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

Postby candle_86 » 2019-2-08 @ 22:57

badmojo wrote:Me likes. As fun as messing around with period correct hardware is I find that the machine I leave sitting on my desk is the one that I can just fire up and play whatever I want on. And once you've seen late DOS SVGA games running lag free you can't unsee it.

Excellent work.


Agreed I love my period correct but my two main rigs are my main desktop and my Opty with 7900gtx
Ryzen 5 1600 - Gigabyte B350 Gaming - 16gb DDR4 3200 - 240GB M.2 - Windows 10 Pro
Core i3 3470 - Dell B75 Mobo - 4gb DDR3 1333 - 500gb HDD - Windows XP
Opteron 180 - Epox EP-9NPA+SL - 2gb DDR500 - 320GB HDD - Windows XP
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Re: "Lone Wolf" Retro/Daily Driver

Postby doogie » 2019-2-10 @ 00:12

I knew I'd get some great feedback from this forum. I started down the path of making a viable, updated XP Pro image for gaming as well as server admin, disk archival and so on. This will replace the Win8.1 partition.

Loosely, I followed https://ryanvm.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=10609, which results in a slipstreamed XP uSP4 image with whatever options you want, and the install will trigger a series of batch files after it is done. This allows us to do any additional customization we might want.

I prefer to install OS images (and everything else I can) from my network, which for my retro machines, there's a dedicated/isolated VLAN and a Server 2003 R2 VM running the show.
OS deployment for 2000 and XP is of course done via RIS, but in general the process works just fine if you wanted to install via optical media (or USB - I've seen some tricks to getting XP installed from USB, but I haven't tried it).

In my case, nLite was there only to slipstream the service pack. USP4 also seems to handle at least the various C runtimes as well as .NET Framework, so be advised that you'll see some "extras" come along for the ride.
I re-spun much of my Windows 2000's ristndrd.sif answer file to handle setup all the way through, and did some heavy customization of the batch files (runNn.bat) included with the package. Rather than living on the CD/DVD, we'll call them from the storage server.

I've got an OS install process that, outside of the disk layout in text mode setup, asks zero questions. Beautiful.
The next couple of things I'm experimenting with:


My hope is that by installing these in the automation routine that follows the setup process, we'll have a totally updated XP install out of the box. Boot from the network, grab coffee, come back to a ready-to-roll machine.

..once I get this as well-oiled as my Win2k process, I can pile on DosFreak's findings for playing Steam games offline (I'm very grateful for this..thanks)
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