VOGONS


First post, by PhilsComputerLab

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Several years back, when most were busy building high performance 386 and 486 machines, I started promoting and showing people the benefits of building a time-machine, using a more modern machine, which brings advantages, and simulating 386 and 486 machines by slowing down caches for example.

Well the time has come to build a new time-machine!

I can see a shift towards more and more people building high performance Super Scoket 7, Slot 1 and Socket 370 retro gaming machines, mostly using Windows 98 SE, as well as MS-DOS mode. Parts are getting somewhat harder to find and prices are definitely on the rise.

There is one system that the majority is avoiding, and this, together with the vast amount of systems around means prices are low and easy to find. I'm talking about the Pentium 4 of course 😀

I've produced a little video, and while I'm putting together a Pentium 4 system on my test bench, I explain 10 good reasons for using a Pentium 4 as a Windows 98, and DOS, Retro Gaming PC:

Video: 10 Reasons for Pentium 4 Windows 98 DOS Retro Gaming PC

The system I build consists of:

Asrock P4i65G motherboard
Intel P4 2.0 GHz
StarTech Pentium 4 cooler
512 MB DDR
2 TB Samsung HDD capacity limited to 120 GB using SeaTools
IDE DVD-RW
GOTEK Floppy emulator
Aureal Vortex 2 PCI sound card
DreamBlaster S1 wavetable module

The games I benchmarked and tested include:

Windows 98:

Incoming
Expendable
Descent 3
QLQuake
Quake II
Quake III Arena

DOS:

Doom II (320 x 200)
Duke Nukem 3D (1024 x 768)
System Shock CD (320 x 200, then I change it to 640 x 480)

Special note regarding DOS compatibility

We are limited to PCI sound cards, I and I recommend using the Aureal Vortex 2 together with a General MIDI wavetable module, such as the Dream Blaster S1. This provides excellent DOS sound and music, compatible with pretty much any late era DOS game. Note that old, 386 era DOS games, are not going to run well on this machine, I just want to make this clear. There are better machines for this, but you can run DOSBox easily on a Pentium 4.

10 Reasons for a Pentium 4 Windows 98 DOS Retro Gaming PC

The video explains them in more detail...

1. Cheap
2. Easy to find
3. Wide range of processors from 1.4 GHz to 3.4 GHz
4. USB 2.0
5. More USB ports as well as headers for case USB connector
6. SATA, IDE and FDD connectors
7. Insane SATA HDD performance
8. Intel 865 chipset is extremely stable, reliable and compatible
9. Wide range of graphics cards
10. Great for DOS Gaming: Sound Blaster, General MIDI, High resolution gaming

More reasons:
- Lots of uATX choices for compact builds
- Modern BIOS with support for large hard drives
- Easy to find documentation, drivers, BIOS updates
- Onboard devices such as LAN, sound save PCI slots
- With faster graphics cards you can enable image enhancing features such as AA and AF

Benchmark results

Here some benchmark results from a wide range of graphics cards, all measured with a 2.0 GHz Pentium 4.

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USB performance:

USB 1:

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USB 2:

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SATA HDD performance:

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Additions / Findings

The following drivers were used to obtain these benchmarks results:

Nvidia 45.23
Nvidia 56.64 (FX 5700LE)
Matrox 6.83
ATI 6.2

I used the VGA output on all cards and on a few cards I noticed the following:

Matrox had an amazing image, easy to auto centre at 1600 x 1200. To disable V-Sync I used PowerStrip.
ATI had issues with VGA output at 1600 x 1200 across all cards. This could be an issue with the monitor, but not sure. What happened was that you had to scroll around to see the entire 1600 x 1200 desktop. In games the image was cut off and you had to press return a few times to scroll down in the console and read the result. ATI was the only vendor with built-in working V-sync setting across all cards.
3dfx Voodoo had auto-sync issues at 1600 x 1200. The signal seemed out of spec.
Nvidia was also easy to auto-sync at 1600 x 1200. Had to use PowerStrip to disable V-sync.

Last edited by PhilsComputerLab on 2015-08-21, 03:51. Edited 3 times in total.

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Reply 1 of 151, by ynari

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SATA is limited to a subset of pentium 4 motherboards, it's only SATA 1 and it frequently has limitations. The motherboards are also usually limited to one ISA slot, which may or may not be enough.

My retro PC build is going to be a PII 300. I could use a pentium 4 3GHz, but anything that runs at that speed is likely to run well on modern systems.

Reply 2 of 151, by PhilsComputerLab

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ynari wrote:

SATA is limited to a subset of pentium 4 motherboards, it's only SATA 1 and it frequently has limitations. The motherboards are also usually limited to one ISA slot, which may or may not be enough.

My retro PC build is going to be a PII 300. I could use a pentium 4 3GHz, but anything that runs at that speed is likely to run well on modern systems.

The chipset I recommend in the video is the 865. The SATA controller is SATA 1 speed, however it is highly compatible. In the video I'm using a modern SATA III drive and it works great. Intel reliability as usual.

What limitations have you encountered?

Lack of ISA slots are not a concern, as I'm using PCI card that is highly DOS compatible. For anything else, well build an ISA machine 😀

Pentium II is not really the target of this machine. It's more aimed at an alternative to 1 GHz to 1.4 GHz Pentium III and AMD Athlon machines.

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Reply 3 of 151, by oerk

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Another excellent idea and write-up, Phil!

I've never tested PCI sound cards in pure DOS. The Vortex 2 obviously works, but have you tested others?

I'm toying with the idea of a Socket A build of a similar era for 98SE, GLide and late DOS games, but that would mean recapping my Abit board. Pentium 4 would be something I could build NOW, though... but the Socket A system would have an ISA slot... hmmmm.

Reply 4 of 151, by PhilsComputerLab

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oerk wrote:

Another excellent idea and write-up, Phil!

I've never tested PCI sound cards in pure DOS. The Vortex 2 obviously works, but have you tested others?

I'm toying with the idea of a Socket A build of a similar era for 98SE, GLide and late DOS games, but that would mean recapping my Abit board. Pentium 4 would be something I could build NOW, though... but the Socket A system would have an ISA slot... hmmmm.

Thanks!

The benchmarks took me quite some time, and then I got sick and had some issues with the camera. But I was able to put it all together today 😊

I swear by the Vortex 2, it has never let me down. And Windows 98 and A3D is something one should really experience. The excellent DOS compatibility and wavetable header, or external MPU, are a nice bonus.

I haven't experimented much with other PCI cards, I simple had no reason. For a proper DOS machine, meaning older games that won't run on a Pentium 4, I would always pick an ISA machine. But for late era DOS games, PCI sound works extremely well.

Socket A should perform similarly, just watch out for VIA SATA controllers, they are pretty bad. The awesome Intel 865 chipset is one of the reasons I went with a Pentium 4. It just works.

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Reply 5 of 151, by ynari

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philscomputerlab wrote:
The chipset I recommend in the video is the 865. The SATA controller is SATA 1 speed, however it is highly compatible. In the vi […]
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The chipset I recommend in the video is the 865. The SATA controller is SATA 1 speed, however it is highly compatible. In the video I'm using a modern SATA III drive and it works great. Intel reliability as usual.

What limitations have you encountered?

Lack of ISA slots are not a concern, as I'm using PCI card that is highly DOS compatible. For anything else, well build an ISA machine 😀

Pentium II is not really the target of this machine. It's more aimed at an alternative to 1 GHz to 1.4 GHz Pentium III and AMD Athlon machines.

The pentium 4 board I have at home is a P4PE, an 845 motherboard. To run it in SATA mode, it uses a Marvell controller if I remember correctly, which must be configured as RAID with one drive! This does work, but FreeBSD needs a bit of care and attention if running in that configuration.

For retro (read : DOS) stuff, I tend to favour ISA soundcards, as that's what most games support. Otherwise it's into the realm of TSRs etc. I haven't actually touched the Vortex 2, though - is it truly pain free?

I suppose I see the 'late DOS' era as being rather niche. At that stage, the majority of DOS games run well on substantially less than a pentium 4, and most other games run under Windows/other operating systems using abstracted drivers etc, so you might as well run a modern system with an EAX capable soundcard.

Reply 6 of 151, by oerk

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philscomputerlab wrote:

I swear by the Vortex 2, it has never let me down. And Windows 98 and A3D is something one should really experience. The excellent DOS compatibility and wavetable header, or external MPU, are a nice bonus.

I haven't experimented much with other PCI cards, I simple had no reason. For a proper DOS machine, meaning older games that won't run on a Pentium 4, I would always pick an ISA machine. But for late era DOS games, PCI sound works extremely well.

Don't have a Vortex 2, but I do have a Yamaha 724 based card which I adore, and several Audigy 2's and PCI64's. Hrrrmmm.

EDIT: Running DOS games from a window would be fine on this machine. Don't necessarily need native DOS since this would be for later DOS games only, anyway. And I know that this works with the Yamaha card.

philscomputerlab wrote:

Socket A should perform similarly, just watch out for VIA SATA controllers, they are pretty bad. The awesome Intel 865 chipset is one of the reasons I went with a Pentium 4. It just works.

This would be early Socket A, Abit KT7-RAID to be exact. No SATA.

I know what you mean. Had an overclocked Celeron 600 with a PCI SATA card with a VIA controller once. PCI was overclocked to 37 MHz I think. Corrupted the hard drive instantly.

Reply 7 of 151, by PhilsComputerLab

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ynari wrote:

The pentium 4 board I have at home is a P4PE, an 845 motherboard. To run it in SATA mode, it uses a Marvell controller if I remember correctly, which must be configured as RAID with one drive! This does work, but FreeBSD needs a bit of care and attention if running in that configuration.

For retro (read : DOS) stuff, I tend to favour ISA soundcards, as that's what most games support. Otherwise it's into the realm of TSRs etc. I haven't actually touched the Vortex 2, though - is it truly pain free?

I suppose I see the 'late DOS' era as being rather niche. At that stage, the majority of DOS games run well on substantially less than a pentium 4, and most other games run under Windows/other operating systems using abstracted drivers etc, so you might as well run a modern system with an EAX capable soundcard.

Yes that's why I recommend 865. It's very mature, reliable, compatible and stable.

As for the other comment, I always get them for my projects. I hoped that I made it clear what this projects is for, and what it's not for. You don't need to tell me that Wing Commander is better played on something else, it clearly is 😀

oerk wrote:

EDIT: Running DOS games from a window would be fine on this machine. Don't necessarily need native DOS since this would be for later DOS games only, anyway. And I know that this works with the Yamaha card.

Of course you can also run DOS games from a window! That Yamana card should work well, including Yamaha SoftSynth for General MIDI.

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Reply 8 of 151, by boxpressed

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Nice job once again, Phil. I'll try to put up some framerates from my KT133A build a little later. It uses an Athlon XP 2400+, which runs at 2.0GHz, so the frequency will be the same as your P4. Used the Quadro Pro 2 and Vortex 2 on some benches too.

Reply 9 of 151, by PhilsComputerLab

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boxpressed wrote:

Nice job once again, Phil. I'll try to put up some framerates from my KT133A build a little later. It uses an Athlon XP 2400+, which runs at 2.0GHz, so the frequency will be the same as your P4. Used the Quadro Pro 2 and Vortex 2 on some benches too.

That could be interesting!

I thought about testing a 3.2 GHz, but when I saw the FPS that the faster cards delivered, I don't see any point. For Windows 98 games, I don't see the need for something faster to be honest.

I did make a few findings regarding the graphics cards, and some comments, will add them tomorrow. Just didn't get around it yet.

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Reply 10 of 151, by alexanrs

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Nice vídeo as Always =). IMHO the P4 doesn't get a lot of Win9x love because they hold little nostalgia value for Windows 98 gaming, as they are XP-era hardware, and XP runs better on LGA775 anyway. By the way, with native USB support, no need to use this machine in bare DOS, and remembering that such a modern BIOS can easily boot from CD-ROM and USB devices, is the Gotek even useful? Oh, and you probably don't need an IDE CD/DVD drive if you stick to running things from Windows 98. You can enable digital CD audio on PCI sound cards and be good to go.

Ah, and I wouldn't recommend a 1.4/1.6 MHz P4 to match a higher end Tualatin system. P3 had better IPC and I wouldn't be surprised it it manages to stand up even to a 2GHz P4 on non-SSE2 aware software. On the other hand a P4 is probably better for web browsing thanks to SSE2. Put XP in there, a 3GHz P4 with HT and an HD4xxx card and someone could probably survive using one of those as a main machine for a while, even watching youtube.

Reply 11 of 151, by boxpressed

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OK, just had a peek at my spreadsheet. The only game we bench in common is Quake II. I used a Quadro2 Pro and AU8830 Vortex 2. I was using the 56.64 drivers for some reason, so I'm sure that 45.23 would yield higher rates.

Soyo K7VTA Pro. 256MB SDRAM.

1024x768 : 275.8 FPS
1600x1200: 148.6 FPS

Also, I never used the 3DNow!-optimized Q2 with this build (seemed like overkill), but I don't know if it would make much of a difference.

Just noticed that you used an FX5700 LE. I used one too, except I overclocked it to 425/500. Also tested with an AWE64 and not the Vortex 2. 56.64 drivers.

1024x768 : 283.7 FPS
1600x1200 : 155.4 FPS

UPDATE: I just benched the 5700LE with the Vortex 2. Used the stock settings of 275/400. Used the 71.84 drivers, though, unlike the results above.

1024x768 : 246.8
1600x1200 : 114.0

Last edited by boxpressed on 2015-08-20, 21:46. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 12 of 151, by PhilsComputerLab

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I did use a 40 something driver for all Nvidia cards, but for the FX I used a 50 something driver. I will write it down tomorrow. The Quadro2 Pro does very well.

Incoming is the demo version. But parameters are needed to change resolution and run a benchmark. Same goes for Expendable and Descent 3.

Interesting regarding the CD Audio over PCI, I totally forgot about that. I'll see if I can enable it tomorrow and test it out.

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Reply 13 of 151, by keropi

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IMHO a p4 build is really nice for 98SE gaming and the occasional SVGA DOS 3D game played through 98SE .
I wouldn't use a p4 for DOS because it lacks ISA slots and there are no ustils that I know of that can enable/disable caches on the fly.
I think a PII/440BX is all that you need for a high-end DOS build and a p1 if you want to also play older titles without messing too much.

I do have a p4 build for 98SE gaming, it's just great 😁 ... though I rarely use it 😐

🎵 🎧 PCMIDI MPU , Orpheus , Action Rewind , Megacard , MK8330 and 🎶GoldLib soundcard website

Reply 14 of 151, by Darkman

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You are certainly right about Pentium 4 machines/boards/CPUs still being plentiful and relatively cheap. Although on a personal level I would go for an Athlon XP machine for the prime reason that youre much more likely to get a 3DFX card working with one ,at least with some of the earlier boards , which will lack SATA ports but should work fine with even a Barton .

The other reason I suppose would be that its generally faster clock for clock , but I guess past 2Ghz its not going to make a huge difference for any Win98 era game

Reply 16 of 151, by Tertz

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Optimum Win98 machine should have excellent DOS support - both OS are from one time. ISA sound card is obligate. So I'd try to find P4 MB with ISA support. Or used P3 machine with ISA, as for Win98 games without official XP support P3 were enough.

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Reply 17 of 151, by oerk

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Things I've learned so far:
- Stupid Packard Bell case looks standard, has proprietary front panel connectors and USB. Yes, USB.
- The Intel standard CPU fan is loud on startup and gets unbearable after about five minutes.

Reply 18 of 151, by PhilsComputerLab

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oerk wrote:

Things I've learned so far:
- Stupid Packard Bell case looks standard, has proprietary front panel connectors and USB. Yes, USB.
- The Intel standard CPU fan is loud on startup and gets unbearable after about five minutes.

Proprietary USB? Wow, that's almost cool, but still really annoying.

EDIT: I've updated the first post with comments about drivers and other findings that I made while doing all these benchmarks.

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Reply 19 of 151, by alexanrs

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About the autosync issues, the Voodoo probably uses nonstandard timings for 1600x1200, just like it does for 1920x1080. If you can find the correct timings (can something like PowerStrip get them while a Matrox or GeForce is installed?) just change them in the INF file. This is probably not needed for CRTs though.