First post, by draetheus
This build was not borne of joy or nostalgia. No....this build was borne of the frustration of a lack of ubiquitous ways of getting Windows 9x games running well on modern hardware/OS. In fact I tried everything I could to avoid building this computer:
- Emulation: I got nowhere with DOSBOX-X. I had much better results with PCem, but even my i7 6700k couldn't keep up with 100% emulation speed of a Pentium MMX during intensive parts of games. I didn't try boxedwine...maybe I should have, but I also felt like I would get trapped in a time paradox for running windows on linux on windows.
- Compatibility Layers: I got quite far with dgVoodoo2 + built in windows compatibility, but something would always be slightly broken. Most frequently FMV playback.
After a few weeks of mucking around with the above solutions, I bit the bullet and started planning my build. As someone who obviously isn't a purist, my goal was to find the latest era components that had full chipset/driver support for Windows 98 SE. I'll give the component play by play in the order I received them.
I had hopes that this might be the one thing I could pick up locally at a thrift store. I was gunning for a 1600x1200 and what luck, I found a NEC Multisync 2190UXp for $10! I hooked up this bad boy to start testing and.....no signal from my desktop. I managed to get my raspberry pi working with it, but ONLY terminal white on black text. It would flicker, glitch, and eventually lose signal when actual graphics were displayed. Some kind of signal processing chip issue? Oh well, into the dump with you.
Next I ordered a Dell Ultrasharp 2007FPB since this is a more widely used retro gaming monitor. It has 3 dead pixels, which is unfortunate, but they are unnoticeable during gameplay. It otherwise has excellent color, contrast, and brightness. I might play the panel lottery again in the future, but it's good enough for now.
I managed to score a great deal on a reportedly unused FX 5900XT that had just sat in someone's attic. No drama here, it works great! OCs to near 5950 speeds, but I keep it at 5900 speeds for stabililty.
I was able to get one of the last NOS AOpen YMF744 cards before they went out of stock. Since my goal was Win9x gaming onboard sound would have been fine, but I decided to splurge for extra DOS compatibility. I'm glad I did, compatibility with the DSDMA TSR is excellent! I've tested a dozen DOS games, it has worked with almost everything I've thrown at it.
MB + CPU + RAM:
I had been debating between an Intel 775 build and an AMD 754/939 build for a while. My primary rig was a 478 P4 between the years of 2003 and 2009, so I wasn't terribly excited about the prospect of building another P4. I learned that a scant few 775 boards supported C2Ds while also maintaining chipset compatibility with Win 98! As you can guess by the title, my C2D build didn't work out, but here were the specs:
- CPU: C2D E6700
- MB: ECS P4M800PRO-M V2.0
- RAM: 512MB DDR2 533
The motherboard arrived and....caps around the CPU VRM were bulging. Apparently not uncommon for Taiwanese boards of the era. I have soldered some really basic electronics years ago, but looking into it, I did not have the skill or equipment to solder a later era motherboard. Into the dump with you, again.
I watched ebay like a hawk for replacement motherboards, but given my requirements (C2D support, Win 98 chipset support) nothing was coming up in my country. At this point I started looking into 754/939 motherboards, and soon landed a good deal on a combo set:
- CPU: Athlon 64 FX-53
- MB: Asus A8V Deluxe
- RAM: 512MB DDR 400
No bad caps (they appear to be higher quality), booted up on first try without clearing CMOS! I did run into a few minor issues that are almost solved pending parts arrival:
- The onboard marvell NIC appears to be physically busted, as no port lights come on no matter what cable/switch/drivers I use. Waiting on a replacement Intel NIC to arrive.
- The CPU HSF that came mounted was absolute garbage. Previously it ran at 45C idle, ouch! As it turns out, the AMD Wraith Prism stock cooler for high end Ryzens is fully compatible with 754/939. I have received and mounted one, and in addition to a little undervolting (1.5V -> 1.3V), the CPU now runs at a cool 30C at full 2.4Ghz. At 1Ghz and 0.85V, it runs at room temperature.
I had a few SATA SSDs lying around. The first one was a 120GB WD Green, which I had gotten free with another order. Performance was ok, but erratic at times. Occasionally the promise SATA controller wouldn't pick it up during boot. ATTO showed abysmal performance for files under the 4k sector size (despite alignment), and just generally slow write performance. Time to try a 500GB Samsung Evo 850, which is faring much better. I had ordered some X-25Es which I am still waiting on, but I am thinking I may not need them at this point since the Evo performs well, and I don't mind taking the drive out every now and then to TRIM it ( have a 2.5" removable bay ).
Other things I reused:
- Case: Lian Li PC-A05NB
- PSU: Rosewill Capstone 550W 80+ Gold
- DVD: Some Liteon SATA drive via SATA -> IDE adapter (EDIT: got burned by my ignorance of how many games of the era use CD audio, ordered a Pioneer IDE DVD with analog and digital audio out)
Benchmarks and pictures forthcoming. I started out frustrated at the world, and I have to say, I'm quite happy now. I'm really amazed with the compatibility, as it has run every Win 9x or DOS game I've thrown at it so far (thanks to DSDMA and CPUSPD). As an emulation heathen, even I can admit the genuine OPL3 sounds damn nice playing back MIDI.
I received and mounted the NV Silencer onto my 5900XT but it didn't seem like a perfect fit. Turns out I was right and I ran into instability when running benchmarks. It seems there are a few versions of die/IHS on 5900XT, and the NV Silencer is really only suitable for ones with a flat IHS, not rounded. I put the stock HSF back on, but at least I replaced the default thermal compound with arctic silver.
I also received a mouse (Kensington Pro Fit Full Size) on recommendation that it supports PS/2, but I could not get it to work via PS/2 in 98 or XP. I'm guessing they removed PS/2 support in later revisions...ugh.
At least my new keyboard (Filco Majestouch 2 TKL) is nice!
So the Pioneer IDE drive came and it had pin headers for digital and analog CD audio. But....they don't work. Apparently this is common with very late era IDE drives that reused parts in manufacturing, so the pin headers are present but non-functional. Argh! I didn't want to wait another week for a fleabay order to troubleshoot, so I checked out a few local thrift stores and found a very cheap Dell P4 circa 2003. I was able to scavenge a Toshiba DVD ROM drive that works just fine. No RW support, but I can burn CDs/DVDs from my Windows 10 box so no issue there.
Side note: The Dell had a few other goodies things including a Matrox G400 MAX. Apparently a respectable performing 3D card for its time, but has issues with smooth scrolling/screen tearing in DOS so no use for me.
I had also ordered an Audigy 1 as I thought it would be nice to have better quality EAX support as well as a proper PC speaker header (something the YMF744 lacks). I spent 2 frustrating days trying to get that damn thing working and stable with my YMF744 and Intel NIC with absolutely no luck. Even with every onboard device (except the promise SATA controller) disabled and all PCI devices recognized and drivers installed, I experienced frequent stability and lock-up issues. I suspect this could be due to my newer motherboard which utilizes IRQ sharing. I definitely see why people recommend an ISA board for DOS gaming around here, but given this is the only system I've got, compatibility trumps fancy EAX and the Audigy is going back on fleabay.
As always, one good thing happened amid a series of bad things: I found a like new MX518 for very cheap, and after setting the PS/2 rate to 200hz, its absolutely butter smooth.
Quite frankly I'm running out of time and energy to endlessly tinker with hardware, I just wanna play some damn games! Almost every type of DOS game scenario works except CD audio in real DOS mode, and this seems to be a limitation of the YMF744 from looking at other people's posts. Hell, that doesn't work on a MiSTer AO486 either! If some ISA hardware happens to fall into my lap, I won't turn it down, but I'm done chasing perfection with this build and consider it done.
- CPU: Athlon 64 FX-53
- MB: Asus A8V Deluxe
- RAM: Samsung 512MB DDR 400
- GPU: Sparkle GeForce FX 5900XT
- SND: AOpen AW744 II (YMF744)
- NIC: Intel PRO/1000 GT
- SSD1: Intel X25-E 64GB
- SSD2: Samsung 850 EVO 500GB
- ODD: Toshiba SD-M1712 DVD-ROM
- PSU: Rosewill Capstone 550W
- Case: Lian-Li PC-A05N
- MON: Dell Ultrasharp 2007FPB
- SPK: Dayton Audio MK402BTX
- KB: Filco Majestouch 2 TKL
- MS: Logitech MX518