First post, by Namrok
So about a month ago I got permission from the wife to build a retro pc that's been rattling around in my brain for a long time. In 1997, 14 year old Namrok got the parts for a PC from his father, and kindled a lifelong love of computers and technology. Before setting out on this build, I didn't remember much except the Diamond Viper V330 (PCI) it had. And I definitely did not have a Pentium MMX of any sort.
Still, I began picking out parts with a Riva 128 card as the center piece, attempting to keep it all as 1997 as I could. Found an ASUS TX97-E, picked up a 32 MB PC66 DIMM, and even found a PSU with a -5V rail. The only Riva 128 PCI version I could find that wasn't shipping from Europe was an STB Velocity 128, which was fine by me.
Frankly, the motherboard and the specific graphics card I wanted were more expensive than I anticipated, and I relaxed my hard 1997 requirements afterwards to make budget. For the sound card I went with an anachronistic Sound Blaster Live Value. And then I threw all pretense of period correctness to the wind with the cheapest IDE CD drive I could find, an 80 GB IDE HDD, a $5 case off Facebook Marketplace, and a free 1280x1024@75hz CRT I found on Craigslist. And while it was certainly not the CPU I had back in the day, I went for a bit of wish fulfillment on a Pentium 233 MMX.
Well, first thing that happens is the PSU explodes and fries the TX97-E. Sent both back and found a Shuttle HOT 591P. Dates a bit later than I was aiming for, but it was coming new in the box, with all the cds, manuals and cords. Hard to pass that up, right? Also found a new PSU on Ebay with a local pickup option. Then it turns out the floppy drive I ordered doesn't reliably read disks, so I can't boot off it to get Win95 installed. Figured out I can boot off a Win98SE OEM cd, and then fdisk, format, swap CDs, and install Win95 off that.
Except before I could get that to work, I discovered the motherboard can't recognize HDDs greater than 32GB. But it can be flashed! Except I don't have a working floppy drive. Eventually I work out that InfraRecorder can take floppy images and make bootable CDs out of them. Get all the flash files I need put on a bootable CD, flash the bios, and we're back in business.
It's also around this time I decided that while I'm trying to keep things period appropriate, I have no interest in hearing the click of death from an ancient HDD that was old even when I bought it. I learn about SD Card to IDE adapters and get one of those, returning the HDD I bought without even plugging it in. End up going with a 64GB SD Card. Also now that I know how, in the future I may make a bootable Win95 cd, should the need to start over from scratch ever rear it's ugly head. Although now is probably also a good time to make a backup image of the SD Card.
Also turned out the CD-ROM wouldn't open unless I applied just the right amount of pressure to the top of it. Pushed through that, got Win95 installed, but sourced a $10 replacement locally off Craigslist, and returned the slightly busted one.
Got all the drivers installed, GLQuake, Dark Forces II, things were humming along. Or so I thought.
The Riva 128 drivers just refused to work. Kept saying the device wasn't functioning. Turned out the default setting in my BIOS was for the VGA adapter to not have an IRQ. Weird, but once I changed it, the Riva 128 was humming along.
Next up the Sound Blaster Live produced no audio what so ever. Looked like it was. The volume mixer showed sounds being produced. But nothing ever emitted. Turns out I had a Dell OEM version. CT4780. The drivers off Creative's website just did nothing for it. Found some drivers on a random reddit thread, leading to another forum, which Chrome flagged as an unsafe file. Whatever, this PC is airgapped.
Link for posterity if anyone else has this issue.
https://msfn.org/board/topic/115903-compilati … for-windows-9x/
Although checking now, that may be the same driver package as this one from the Vogon's library?
http://www.vogonsdrivers.com/getfile.php?file … menustate=43,36
It's only obvious to me now, knowing the filesize to look for, and the fact the filename in the details is literally CT4780.zip.
Anyways, removed the old device drivers, installed the new ones from there, and bingo, we have proper audio.
Next up, GLQuake is stuttering, badly. Found a few threads here that mostly blame Sound Blaster Live cards, which seemed plausible. But even running with no audio, or pulling the card completely, didn't fix it. I was growing to suspect some sort of memory issue, as where it stuttered was just too repeatable. Messing with GLQuake's heapsize helped to a point. Dropped the resolution to 518x384 or whatever it is helped a little too. But the issue was still so severe GLQuake was borderline unplayable. Turned out I was close, thinking it was memory related. For whatever reason, the PCI Max Texture Heap was set to 2MB for OpenGL. Looking up an old archived version of rivazone's tweaking guides appeared to indicate the default for this should have been 5MB. Fixing that in the registry cured my stuttering issues. No clue why or how mine was set at 2MB.
Oddly enough, this setting is accessible from assorted settings in the Riva128 driver display panel. But that specific part of the panel refused to open for me. Until I fixed that setting in the registry, and then it opened perfectly fine. Unclear what that was about. But it's fixed now. May have also been related to assorted bios tweaks I'd been experimenting with during this time as well. Hard to say.
Eventually a USB and a PS/2 bracket I ordered showed up. Had to get out the needle nose pliers and rearrange all the wires on their pin headers to match my motherboard. It had especially wonky USB pins, and I had to take a red hot safety pin and poke an extra hole in the filled in space of the bracket's pin header. But once done everything works great. Replaced the Microsoft serial mouse with an old Compaq branded Logitech S48 with a mousewheel. Finding an old Logitech Mouseware CD on archive.org even got the mousewheel working properly.
So nearly a month later, after much shipping, returning, more shipping, lots of troubleshooting and research, I got to enjoy a few nights this weekend playing GLQuake on one of the best gaming rigs 1997 had to offer. Checking old issues of Computer Gaming World, a PC of approximately these specs would have run around $2500, or $4000 in 2020 dollars. I got lucky on a few deals, unlucky on a few, and found myself having to spend a lot of money on brackets, cables, mounting hardware, etc, and probably $100+ in shipping alone. So my total bill came out to around $500.
Over the course of research, and browsing parts, more memories of exactly what I had that Christmas morning came back to me. Pretty sure it was a Shuttle HOT 555 motherboard, 16 MB PC66 SIMMs, A Pentium 90, and a generic Sound Blaster 16 sound card. So I clearly overshot. But what a fun project this has been.