Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

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Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby 0kool » 2018-5-16 @ 09:58

For now I've no plans to go beyond 80486 and all the newer Win9x+ stuff is covered with practically finished 233MMX+Voodoo1 (Win95 only), P3 800+ti200/ti4200 (98/ME?) and hopefully soon to be reborn PII 450+TNT2/Voodoo3 (98).

While I understand that a few games are too speed sensitive, for the most part it doesn't bother me, especially since I'll probably get both DX 33 (25?) and DX2 66.

Currently I'm using HP Vectra VL5 downgraded to P133 (lower clock and heat comparing to stock MMX) as a dedicated DOS/3.11 machine and for the most part (some sound issues) enjoying the ride quite a lot. So I'm pretty sure that the DX build will be the crown jewel of my little collection! Who would have thought, it started just a year ago with DOSfreakingBox..

Mostly I have it all lined up (in my mind, at least):
- good VLB board with CR2032, zero insertion force socket, SiS/U(S :evil:)MC/OPTi chipsets and AMI BIOS
- some average Cirrus Logic graphics card or ATI mach (probably can live without TSENG), ideally VLB one
- Sound Blaster PRO2 (got lucky recently - local pickup just under $10) and I've already been offered GUS Classic for about $130 (locally as well)

If you see that this configuration could use some adjustments or have anything to add at all, like your personal experience with a similar machine - I'll be more than happy to absorb it all.

But the main question here is this - is it the best all-around dedicated DOS/3.11 machine or early Pentium/DX4 could still do better?
Last edited by 0kool on 2018-5-16 @ 14:58, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby squiggly » 2018-5-16 @ 10:21

Define "better".
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby 0kool » 2018-5-16 @ 10:30

squiggly wrote:Define "better".

Here: as the only DOS machine to handle anything DOS/16-bit related, it should be able to run most if not all games with good FPS.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby clueless1 » 2018-5-16 @ 10:46

Even a fast 486 is not enough horsepower to play some of the most recent DOS games, especially in high resolutions (think System Shock, US Navy Fighters, Quake, Duke3D, Blood, Shadow Warrior, Redneck Rampage, Cybermage, Screamer, Screamer 2). If your game library doesn't include any of these games, then the 486 will be ultimate for you. :)

I use a P200MMX Overdrive processor, and with setmul it can be slowed down to 386 and 486 speeds, so it's able to handle all the DOS games that interest me. I also have a 486, and I found its main advantage (between turbo button and disabling caches) is that it can slow down to some in-between speeds compared to the P200 as well as to 286 speeds for the occasional speed sensitive game that needs that speed (Lode Runner, Ultimas I-V). But, for example, I even moved my MT-32 to the P200 system and have no problems using it because I can slow the system down when speed causes sound or gameplay issues. It's just more convenient for me to have one system that can do it all, then to switch back and forth between systems.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby badmojo » 2018-5-16 @ 11:18

A DX2 66 is bare minimum for DOOM in my opinion, and once you push into the DX4 100 range you might as well get yourself a Pentium. So no I think 486's are great fun but they're not the ultimate anything - too fast for some stuff, too slow for other stuff.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby amadeus777999 » 2018-5-16 @ 13:53

Agree with the sentiment towards the DX2/66 - a weak machine when it comes to Doom. Albeit I would prefer to take the "high clocked 486-route" instead of the Pentium highway.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby vetz » 2018-5-16 @ 14:00

I agree with the previous posters. The 486 is great as a retro machine with VLB, but don't expect to play everything on it. If you want a machine that does more, then it is better to go with a Pentium or K6 system. If you want a period correct and a build challenge, then go full 486 (those parts mentioned in the top post are great for that!). I personally think that having a pseudo 486 (Pentium Overdrive or higher clocked AMD Am5x86, PCI motherboard, mixing new and old parts) is a waste compared to what you get out of it.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby firage » 2018-5-16 @ 14:50

There are a few different things you can focus on for the ultimate machine.

If you're covering everything DOS all the way up to c. 1997, you obviously need more power. (There's even hardware accelerated 3D to worry about towards the end.)

For the earlier era, your ultimate build would have to have e.g. a SB Pro + intelligent MPU pairing, GUS (maybe even some more exotic stuff, like CMS, PAS, Disney, Covox, etc), and all that is harder to put in a Pentium build alongside newer stuff.

Your planned build will be a really nice one; great components for quintessential DOS.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby appiah4 » 2018-5-16 @ 15:57

486DX33 is a very good machine to cover games between 89-93 but 93-94 really require DX2/DX4 and 95 onwards is not comfortable on anything short of a Pentium, so no it's not 'ultimate' but it is still the most memorable configuration to me. My first gaming PC was a 486 DX33 with 4MB ram, 213MB Quantum hard drive, a Cirrus Logic GD542X VLB SVGA card and an SB Pro 2.0. I look forward to rebuilding that PC fairly soon, although I sincerely doubt I can find that MicroStar medium towar case with a front door anywhere.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby 0kool » 2018-5-16 @ 16:01

Thank you very much for making things clear to me, guys!

Generally I'm against any pseudos and 3-in-1 systems. True, I do have 233MMX+Voodoo1 PC, but I don't feel like turning it into the latter.
While it didn't changed my plans towards building DX a bit, now I have to decide on this proverbial top dog DOS machine.

Pimping the Vectra could work, don't you think?
Once the 486 is up and running I'll try to readjust the current Vectra's configuration.
1. Would you say that swapping the CPU back to 166MMX will do it?
2. Any reasons in upgrading integrated S3 Trio64V2 2MB to something better?
3. I have a free noname Voodoo2 12MB, shall I plug it in?
4. Is 16 megabytes of RAM enough?

I would still prefer to keep the machine as underpowered as possible compared to my main MMX build, while killing late DOS games.

Also, the other approach seems reasonable, if I can persuade myself to do so. And it's quite simple. I could just run anything too heavy for DX2 from Windows 95 on 233MMX - sure, it's not true DOS and all, but it's hard to argue against some convenience.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby BeginnerGuy » 2018-5-16 @ 16:25

Top dog DOS machine can result in a 500 page thread of arguments fast here :p. Primarily because it's easy to forget DOS continued after win9x with mainstream titles. 9x era processors are faster in dos, though nobody really ran straight DOS on them in the mainstream for very long when browsers took off. An example you can test, Duke Nukem 3D (build engine) in svga (800x600) and see which processor it takes to run buttery smooth. I havent tried it on my MMX 233 but a coppermine pentium 3 800 gets the job done. So in actual fact a tualatin based system with isa sound is my "ultimate dos machine". You can stretch that even further with Pentium 4 rigs or possibly beyond but that's extreme.

Now on the other hand, during the pure DOS era, a 486 DX2 66 was a dream. Only DOOM engine games can really slow it down, but doom is still very playable (esp with vlb video - video memory bottlenecks were a huge blight in those days). We're spoiled by frame rates today, I originally played Doom (and lots of it) on a dx33 with no vlb. if you really care to get 35fps in doom, aim for a dx4 or better. in my experience the game improves up until about 120mhz @ 40mhz bus on my socket 3 system. But that said by this point it wouldn't hurt to just use one of your socket 7 machines for DOOM.

Then of course on the low end a dx2 66 is too fast for some games and youll be pushed towards a 386, then a 286, and so forth, because no dos system is the best.

Personally I'd say build the dx2 as your "cental" dos station. Jump on a pentium when you want to play doom or 9x era titles. Call it the top dog dos computer lab :cool:. Your last option is the one most of us settle on.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby Tiido » 2018-5-16 @ 17:49

Doom games run at full rate for the most part on my 486DX2 with VLB ET4000, only when there's bazillion enemies it loses frame rate. Pentium won't have any problems and for Duke3D you absolutely need a Pentium. That same 486 runs very poorly with that game and Quake you can completely forget about even with smallest image size. Blood and Shadow Warrior are also unplayable on 486DX2.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby Katmai500 » 2018-5-16 @ 18:37

An expensive, but period-correct powerful DOS build could be a Socket 4 board with a Pentium 133 Overdrive. :lol:
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby brostenen » 2018-5-16 @ 20:09

486dx (33 and 66) are in my opinion, well suited for 1992 and down. Dx2-66 are just a tad too slow for Doom. For that I recommend minimum Dx2-80. A good Doom and Duke3D machine is a Pentium-133.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby brostenen » 2018-5-16 @ 20:17

BeginnerGuy wrote:Now on the other hand, during the pure DOS era, a 486 DX2 66 was a dream. Only DOOM engine games can really slow it down, but doom is still very playable (esp with vlb video - video memory bottlenecks were a huge blight in those days). We're spoiled by frame rates today, I originally played Doom (and lots of it) on a dx33 with no vlb. if you really care to get 35fps in doom, aim for a dx4 or better. in my experience the game improves up until about 120mhz @ 40mhz bus on my socket 3 system. But that said by this point it wouldn't hurt to just use one of your socket 7 machines for DOOM.


AMD 486dx4-120 CPU's are awesome 486's. That is for shure. I just love 40mhz fsb 486 systems. Especially a dx2-80 with VLB Controller and VLB Videocard.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby Errius » 2018-5-16 @ 20:18

what's the Doom map with the most enemies?
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby lvader » 2018-5-16 @ 21:03

486’s offer poor speed flexibility, a Pentium MMX can be set via setmul to offer a full range of speeds from 386 upwards.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby Jo22 » 2018-5-16 @ 21:13

Nah, 386SX is best. It's cacheless (usually), doesn't get headaches caused by self-modifying code. :lol:
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby Gered » 2018-5-16 @ 22:29

486 DX (DX2-66 especially) is a great nostalgia machine. I know that's exactly why I built mine and I love it. Personally I've no interest in upgrading it to a DX4 or anything like that, as I feel at that point it's just a wanna-be Pentium and you might as well just look at a Socket 7 machine.

But the ultimate DOS machine? No, definitely not. I feel like a Socket 7 machine which you can slow down to 386/486 speeds by tinkering with cache is probably better for that (assuming you wanted just a single machine). But the best experience will always be multiple machines for each of the major periods of DOS games.
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Re: Is 486 DX the ultimate DOS machine?

Postby firage » 2018-5-16 @ 22:31

In the OP's (pretty nice) situation, I would just fix up the P233MMX to also support Doom and Build engine games, Wing Commander 3-4 and the rest of the hi-res DOS stuff, and focus the 486 on all the rest you want to play on something more classic. Looks like that was the plan with the 486 build anyway, and we just need to find the proper nomenclature. :)

The only real purpose for another build in between would be a DOS game that's speed sensitive on a P233 but still benefits from a Pentium, and I don't think that's a major obstacle. Magic Carpet comes to mind as a possible case(?).
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