VOGONS


First post, by Joseph_Joestar

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System specs

  • Intel Celeron 466 MHz
  • Abit ZM6
  • 256 MB SDRAM
  • Voodoo 3 2000 AGP
  • Sound Blaster AWE64 Value CT4520
  • Yamaha YMF724F-V
  • NEC 3.5" floppy drive
  • Quantum Fireball LCT20 hard disk
  • Hitachi 24x CD-ROM drive
  • Samsung SyncMaster 795MB CRT monitor

Introduction

This build is very similar to the computer that I had back in '99, but with some added extra features. Basically, I wanted a retro rig that can comfortably run DOS games from 1993 onward, while also offering solid performance in Win9x games up until the year 2000. A CRT monitor rounds up the build, providing a crisp image at lower resolutions. This matters since I'll be gaming mostly at 640x480 or 800x600 on this system, like I used to back in the day.

CPU

This Celeron 466 is a bit on the low end, but it still does a fairly decent job for Win98 gaming. Disabling the L1 and L2 cache via Setmul can slow it down to 386 levels which is nice for older speed sensitive games. With both caches disabled, the NSSI CPU benchmark ranks this processor around a 386DX at 25 MHz. On the other hand, if I need something more along the lines of an early Pentium, I use Throttle instead, and set the slowdown rate to 75%. NSSI ranks this slightly below a Pentium at 100 MHz, which is superb for games from the mid 90s. There are also some DOS games that crash due to too much ram, so I use XMSDSK & EMSDSK to lower the available memory to 32 MB which solves the issue.

Motherboard

The Abit ZM6 is a socket 370 board which can take Celerons up to 600 MHz with the latest BIOS update. It comes with 2 ISA slots which is very nice for experimenting with retro sound cards. Interestingly, this motherboard also has a SB-Link header which can improve the DOS compatibility of PCI sound cards that support it, including the Yamaha YMF724 that I used in this build. According to contemporary reviews, the Intel 440ZX chipset is a derivative of the ultra reliable 440BX, and seems to do equally well in the stability and compatibility department. It also comes with USB which allows me to connect a modern USB mouse and keyboard under Windows, and also use flash sticks for file transfers thanks to nusb.

Graphics card

I mainly use the Voodoo 3 to play Glide games of course, but it's also handy for other early Win9x games that rely on palletized textures and table fog. This card might be slightly bottlenecked by the CPU on this system, but I won't be playing in resolutions higher than 800x600 thanks to the CRT monitor, so that's not much of a problem. Under DOS, the Voodoo 3 offers a crisp 2D image and can even run some (but not all) early DOS Glide games. It also has fully functional drivers for Windows 3.1 for people who want to use that. When playing hi-res 3D DOS games in software mode (e.g. Quake and Tomb Raider) it's best to run FASTVID beforehand to further improve the frame rate. Lastly, the Vbehz tool can be used for making hi-res games use refresh rates greater than 60 Hz, which means a lot on a CRT monitor.

Sound card 1: Sound Blaster AWE64 Value (CT4520)

The AWE64 is the primary DOS card on this system, and is mainly used for its AWE32 mode and SB16 capabilities. Its MT-32 emulation is also pretty decent for games that don't use custom instruments (e.g. Monkey Island 1). Most DOS games made in the later half of the 90s support the AWE32 mode directly and the earlier ones can be made to use it through General MIDI emulation, but only if they don't run in protected mode. Under Win98, the emulation is much better, and any game can access the wavetable through General MIDI. The card is set up at A220 I5 D1 H5 P330 E620 T6 as that seems to provide the best compatibility. For FM synthesis, CQM is used since disabling it causes some games not to detect the card properly. However, if I want genuine OPL3 music, it's just a single click away thanks to the Yamaha card.

Sound card 2: Yamaha YMF724F-V

This is a very interesting sound card. Its Sensaura functionality is superb for A3D 1.0 games (e.g. Thief 1 and System Shock 2) where it offers positional audio on pair with an Aureal Vortex card. Sensaura also offers software emulated EAX 1.0 and 2.0 but that doesn't sound as good as hardware accelerated EAX.

The YMF724 also has one of the nicest sounding software wavetables under Win9x (see music samples linked below). In addition, it has a genuine OPL3 core for FM synth music. In my build, the YMF724 is connected through SB-Link, so it has extremely good compatibility with DOS games, despite being a PCI card. Its SBPro compatibility complements the AWE64 nicely for those few games that can't produce stereo sound on a SB16 (e.g. Aladdin). It also tends to work without a hitch with very old games that don't detect the AWE64 as a sound blaster (e.g. Space Quest V).

Under Windows, the YMF724 resides under A240 I7 D3 P300. However, as per the instructions in this excellent video by Phil I made a PIF file called Yamaha on my desktop which starts a special MS-DOS mode session by loading custom AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files. Those have been configured to not use any of the AWE64 drivers. Therefore, the AWE64 remains uninitialized in this environment, while the Yamaha card acts as the primary sound blaster, now residing at A220 I7 D1 T4. This ensures maximum compatibility with older DOS games that expect the sound blaster to use IRQ 7 (e.g. Gods) while also providing proper SBPro compatibility and genuine OPL3 for FM synth.

Music samples:

Conclusion

I had a lot of fun making this build, carefully picking and choosing components to bring out its strengths and work around its limitations. In particular, I'm the very pleased with how I ended up using SB-Link and Sensaura to bring out the best qualities of the YMF724. All in all, I'm very happy with the end result and will be using this rig for retro gaming on a regular basis. This system does cover a lot of bases but it lacks EAX support, loading soundfonts and 32-bit color rendering in 3D games. Those tasks will be handled by my AthlonXP rig which is slightly more powerful. More on that build in the coming weeks.

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Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 2 of 27, by Joseph_Joestar

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chrismeyer6 wrote on 2020-07-09, 13:28:

That's a very nice system you build there.

Thanks! I plan on eventually upgrading a few things. Definitively a bigger and better hard drive, since those Quantum oldies are not exactly known for their reliability.

I'm also considering a Simmconn for the AWE64. Not so much for loading soundfonts to use for General MIDI, as I can do that just fine with a SBLive. More so for those special games which use custom soundfonts to enhance music on AWE64 cards. Notable examples include Final Fantasy VII and Magic Carpet 2. More details can be found in this thread: AWEstruck...

But that's all low priority stuff. The rig works great in its current state and I plan on replaying a few of my childhood favorites on it over the next few weeks. As a kid, I always dreamed about having an AWE32 for DOS game music (didn't know what a Roland SC-55 was back then) so I think I'll treat myself to some AWE synth for old times' sake.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 4 of 27, by chinny22

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Looks like a well thought out build, I'd almost call it "don't believe the marketing hype" build as the parts are not top shelf but the reality is they are pretty damn good.
My thinking:

Celeron rather then Pentium
OK, as you say this is a bit low end, but offers you more flexibility in speed and if you have AthlonXP in reserve then what's it matter?

ZX rather then BX
Had a P2B-ZS back in the day. Like you say fine board. the 66Mhz FSB doesn't matter with the Celeron and the lack of 3rd RAM slot isn't even a limit these days.
SB Link is MUCH more useful.

Voodoo 3 2000 rater then 3000 or 3500
Yeh sure faster cards are nice but I'm not made of money either

AWE64 Value rather then Gold
Even if I was given a Gold I'd sell it and get a value and something else with the extra cash.
Upgrade the memory and only difference is marginally better snr which is still pretty bad. Must be one of the most overpriced sound cards ever.

Yamaha YMF724F-V rather then Live!
Even back then this was a budget option, Vortex and Live! were the headline acts. It's only now when we are older and wiser that Yamaha had quite a decent card with damn fine midi support.

I Like it, its a little different but well suited with no real drawbacks.

Edit
I don't think any games that had custom sound fonts went above the default 512kb. I could be wrong about that though.

Reply 5 of 27, by Joseph_Joestar

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chinny22 wrote on 2020-07-09, 15:13:

Looks like a well thought out build, I'd almost call it "don't believe the marketing hype" build as the parts are not top shelf but the reality is they are pretty damn good.

Heh yeah, I had a Chantech 6BTM and a Slot 1 Celeron 333 back in '99 along with some craptastic Trident Blade 3D card. And I still played the hell out of Quake 2 on that rig. This build is a bit more powerful, while still mostly period correct and it wouldn't have been overly expensive back then.

SB Link is MUCH more useful.

It's a seriously underrated feature, too bad that it's so rare. I have yet to see a DOS game fail on the YMF724 using SB-Link. For all intents and purposes, it's practically a noise-free ISA card.

I don't think any games that had custom sound fonts went above the default 512kb. I could be wrong about that though.

Final Fantasy VII may have, but I'm not sure either. I need to test that game on this rig sometime. I also read that a couple of games had separate 512k .sf2 files for the value cards and also larger .sf2s for the gold versions, but I have yet to come across them.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 6 of 27, by Joseph_Joestar

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A couple of quick benchmarks:

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Game versions used:

  • Quake v1.08 (software rendering + FASTVID)
  • GL Quake v1.09 (with 3DFX miniGL driver v1.49)
  • Quake2 v3.20 (with 3DFX miniGL driver v1.49)
  • Unreal Tournament 99 GOTY (Glide renderer)

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 8 of 27, by Joseph_Joestar

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Yeah, performance is solid, especially when considering the 66 MHz FSB that all Celerons run on.

In fact, according to this review my Celeron 466 seems comparable to a Pentium II 400 which, although slightly slower clocked, uses a 100 MHz FSB. Not bad at all.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 9 of 27, by dr.zeissler

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I use a FSC C6 for that purpose. It's a slim-desktop with onboard gfx+snd.
Very small, very silent and very flexible.

Retro-Gamer 😀PowerMac 6100-66/Houdini 486/66 - G4 Cube 450/Rage128pro OS9.0.1 - Macintosh LC/Apple IIe Card OS6.0.8 - Acorn A4000 Archimedes - Unisys CWD 486/66 + Aztech Washington

Reply 10 of 27, by Tetrium

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I like your build a lot! 😀
I've enjoyed building most of my own rigs with parts that others considered not as interesting or not worthy. My most used retro rig was my old Celeron 400 on an LX chipsetted board. No 3DFX as I ended up picking a PCI TNT2 M64 16MB along with a Solo1 PCI sound card. Don't remember the HDD I picked but it was an old fashioned 3.5in platter drive with limited storage capacity. It was quite similar to what you build yourself here except I think your rig is a bit better 😀
Good picks of your parts. A Voodoo3 2000 is fine and so is the ZX chipset and the Celeron not only looks but also feels more like a PPGA Pentium MMX on steroids (lots of steriods! 🤣 😜 ).
I even like your choice of using a 24x speed CDROM drive as I personally found those to be amongst the fastest ones that didn't sound like they were about to vibrate all of your windows out of their sockets 🤣
What case did you pick btw?

If I see it correctly, you did forget to mention the PSU you picked though 😜

Whats missing in your collections?
My retro rigs (old topic)
Interesting Vogons threads (links to Vogonswiki)
Report spammers here!

Reply 11 of 27, by Joseph_Joestar

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Tetrium wrote on 2020-07-10, 14:10:

Good picks of your parts. A Voodoo3 2000 is fine and so is the ZX chipset and the Celeron not only looks but also feels more like a PPGA Pentium MMX on steroids (lots of steriods! 🤣 😜 ).

Thanks! I have a soft spot for Celerons since I had good times with my old one back in the day. The slowdown utilities make it very versatile for DOS gaming, and my other AthlonXP rig will be there to pick up the slack in some of the more demanding Win98 games.

I even like your choice of using a 24x speed CDROM drive as I personally found those to be amongst the fastest ones that didn't sound like they were about to vibrate all of your windows out of their sockets 🤣

So true. I have a bunch of newer DVD drives and they sound like a jet engine is about to take off when reading CDs. This is particularly annoying in DOS games which load cinematics and music from the disc. On the other hand, the 24x drive is fairly quiet and I don't really need more speed than that on this setup.

What case did you pick btw?

Right now, everything is sitting in a generic 90s beige case that has a bunch of scratches and yellowing plastic parts. I intend to re-paint it and maybe do some retrobrighting on the plastic some day.

If I see it correctly, you did forget to mention the PSU you picked though 😜

Oh right, I'm using a Mercury 300W PSU. It's old, but the caps are holding up nicely and I haven't had any issues with it so far.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 12 of 27, by Joseph_Joestar

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Upgraded the hard disk to a Western Digital Caviar WD800. It's both faster and quieter than the craptastic Quantum LCT. I was a bit worried about the 80GB size, but the Abit ZM6 motherboard happily supports it with the latest official BIOS.

Also, I managed to snag an AWE64 Gold (CT4390) for a very reasonable price, but it won't be shipped until sometime next week. Should be interesting to see how it stacks up against the CT4520 value model in terms of sound quality.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 13 of 27, by Paadam

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Abit ZM6 supports 100MHz FSB so you can run any coppermine CPU there (even 133 MHz versions albeit at overclocked AGP which is no problem to V3).

Many 3Dfx and Pentium III-S stuff.
My amibay FS thread: www.amibay.com/showthread.php?88030-Man ... -370-dual)

Reply 14 of 27, by Joseph_Joestar

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Paadam wrote on 2020-12-12, 22:12:

Abit ZM6 supports 100MHz FSB so you can run any coppermine CPU there (even 133 MHz versions albeit at overclocked AGP which is no problem to V3).

Interesting, I wasn't aware that this was possible.

Would that require a modified BIOS of some sort or does it run fine using the latest official version? I'm mainly wondering because the release notes only mention Celerons.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 15 of 27, by Joseph_Joestar

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file.php?id=98106&mode=view

The AWE64 Gold (CT4390) arrived early so I wrote a mini review on how it compares to my old AWE64 Value (CT4520). Just a quick note before we get into that, the CT4520 is much more heavily integrated than the earlier AWE64 Value models. I suspect that many of its shortcomings come from extreme cost saving measures and may not apply to previous Value models such as the CT4500 and the CT4380.

  • As expected, the CT4390 is almost entirely noise-free with the default mixer settings. After muting all unused inputs and moving the volume sliders down a notch, even that last tiny bit of noise goes away. In comparison, the CT4520 is fairly noisy by default, and you need to tweak it much more to achieve acceptable levels.
  • The CT4390 has a good low-pass filter and resamples 11 kHz audio from old DOS games very nicely. On the other hand, that filter is not so great on the CT4520, so speech and sound effects from older titles often sound too harsh and tinny on it.
  • The Vibra distortion bug does not appear to be present on the CT4390. In contrast, that issue was quite prominent on my CT4520 and I had to lower the in-game volume below 50% to negate it. Note that adjusting the volume is not possible in many older DOS games, and playing around with the Creative mixer settings appears to have no effect on this bug.
  • Both the CT4390 and the CT4520 provide very clean sound under Windows 98. In fact, they are the only ISA soundcards that I own which don't exhibit any crackling or popping when playing Win9x games. I realize that most people will use a PCI sound card for Windows gaming, but I still thought it was worth mentioning.
  • The built-in wavetable sounds exactly the same on both cards. So if you're buying an AWE64 mostly for that, then the Value model will do just fine.
  • The 4MB soundfont that the CT4390 loads by default (under Win9x) sounds pretty decent, much nicer than the built-in ROM for sure. Granted, I have a SBLive in another rig which I prefer to use for soundfont shenanigans, but if the AWE64 Gold was my only sound card, I wouldn't mind letting it handle General MIDI music.

All in all, I'm very happy with the AWE64 Gold. I wouldn't recommend spending a huge amount of money on it, but if you can find a good deal, it's a very nice card to have. The Value models can be found for much less, and with some tweaks, they can be made to sound pretty decent as well. Lastly, it's worth mentioning that there are a couple of games which have special music/audio enhancements that only work on AWE cards.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 16 of 27, by Paadam

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You can even modify the board for Tualatin: https://www.oocities.org/_lunchbox/tualeron_zm6_mod.html

Many 3Dfx and Pentium III-S stuff.
My amibay FS thread: www.amibay.com/showthread.php?88030-Man ... -370-dual)

Reply 17 of 27, by Joseph_Joestar

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Thanks! I'll be on the lookout for some Socket 370 Pentium 3s then.

I do have an AthlonXP rig that I use for more demanding Win9x games, but it would still be nice to have a CPU from Intel that can push the ZM6 to its limits.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 18 of 27, by Joseph_Joestar

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Just tried Final Fantasy VII on the AWE64 Gold. Can confirm that you get PlayStation style music including the vocals in Sephiroth's theme (see attached clip below). However, the process isn't as straightforward as it should be.

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In order to achieve this, I had to do a clean install of Win98SE, then browse to the FF7 Install CD and from there install the Creative driver update (D:\drivers\Audio Drivers\Creative Labs\UPDDRV95.EXE) and the SoundFont Manager for AWE32/64 (D:\SFMan\setup.exe). Without doing both of those things I would get the "error opening device" message in the FF7 Configuration tool.

In any case, with the drivers from the FF7 CD, everything works fine and the message "Loading 4MB soundfont" appears in the configuration tool. After the soundfont is loaded, the test music plays correctly and the game works fine (see attached screenshot).

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FF7 Configuration tool
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In my view, the music played in this manner is more faithful to the PlayStation original than the Yamaha XG version. It's an edge case for sure, but this game does sound the best on an AWE card.

EDIT - after some further testing, it seems that the applying the official patch 1.02 reduces the chance of getting the "error opening device" message regardless of the driver version used. I have updated the AWE64 drivers to the latest version from Creative's website and they work fine now.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 19 of 27, by Joseph_Joestar

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While doing some testing, I was pleasantly surprised with how good the stock GM35REVC.SF2 soundfont of the AWE64 Gold sounds in DOS games. For reference, that soundfont is installed and loaded by default when using the official driver CD for the card. I made some recordings while keeping all the settings at their default values, including reverb and chorus.

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Personally, I find GM35REVC.SF2 even better than 4GMGSMT.SF2 which is slightly larger in size. Not sure what the difference between them is, but the smaller one sounds crisper to my ears.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review