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Pentium Or 486. Can't Decide

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First post, by Yuuker

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Hey!

So i decided to take-a second look at my retro build plans and now i seem to be stuck between sticking with a 486DX-33 / DX2 or moving to a Pentium (around 100mhz at most. Don't want to go too crazy.)

Stuck because i love the extra retro-factor of the 486 and compatibility with more speed sensitive or older games and peripherals. But I like the Pentium since it feels more like a "one-and-done" solution that would just run most things i'd throw at it acceptably.

I suppose i should base it on games, but i figured i might as well get some second opinions before i drop cash.
Here are some games I'm interested in running:

Silpheed, Thexder, Sim Games, FMV(7th Guest, etc), A-Train , Transport Tycoon, Theme Hospital, Epic Pinball, Duke Nukem 1-2, Alien Carnage, Hugo's House Of Horrors \ text or graphical adventures, Wolf3D\Doom\Rott, Windows 3.1, Inertia Player..

Don't plan on running anything like Quake, nor Windows 95 / 98. Duke Nukem 3D at playable full screen frame rates would be quite nice, but isn't necessary? I get conflicted with this one 🤣

Thought's I'd just gather some outside thoughts!

Reply 3 of 34, by BeginnerGuy

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When in doubt, go with a Pentium IMO. Even if you just go with a lower end P133-166 in a baby AT setup (which can commonly be found whole and working online) it's going to do everything the 486 can and better, and it'll open up the ability to play Quake and Duke3d (AM5x86 fares well in Duke but not Quake, unless you do a PCI board with a voodoo or something nutty) should you decide to play those. There are very few instances of games post 1990 I can think of that will have problems on a pentium (cough *wing commander*), but there are ways around that, see below.

Here's a good one to shoot for from Phil's computer lab if you want a one and done machine.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcAqRbFFQPU

486 is fun but I would build something else first and slowly part a 486 together when you find great deals on parts, otherwise you'll end up spending hundreds of dollars for a good VLB setup in an AT case with a turbo display and all that fun.

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Reply 4 of 34, by clueless1

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None of the games you listed, except for Doom and ROTT, would struggle on the 486. On the other hand, the Pentium can be slowed down via cache manipulation.

To be honest, I have a Pentium and 486 and I spend much more time on the 486. It's got the MT-32, and the games I play tend to run great on it. There are a few games that when I play, I need to play on the Pentium, but those are few and far between.

Just giving you a counterpoint. 😀

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Reply 5 of 34, by BeginnerGuy

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clueless1 wrote:

None of the games you listed, except for Doom and ROTT, would struggle on the 486. On the other hand, the Pentium can be slowed down via cache manipulation.

To be honest, I have a Pentium and 486 and I spend much more time on the 486. It's got the MT-32, and the games I play tend to run great on it. There are a few games that when I play, I need to play on the Pentium, but those are few and far between.

Just giving you a counterpoint. 😀

A fine point indeed. Though the MT-32 or any sound canvas could easily be swapped to the Pentium though and you would get the same experience for the most part 🤣 .. I think the biggest factor here is just how much one wants to pay. 486 prices are a bit inflated these days, a fully working S7 pentium in a case can be had regularly from ebay for ~$75 if you haggle with the seller a bit (at least that's how it is in the US). That's my primary motivation for saying go with a pentium, because if you're in a rush for a 486 you'll end up paying the insane $250+ asking prices for a DX2-66 machine many sellers are asking.

Ultimately, get both! Mwahahah

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Reply 6 of 34, by clueless1

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BeginnerGuy wrote:

A fine point indeed. Though the MT-32 or any sound canvas could easily be swapped to the Pentium though and you would get the same experience for the most part 🤣 .. I think the biggest factor here is just how much one wants to pay. 486 prices are a bit inflated these days, a fully working S7 pentium in a case can be had regularly from ebay for ~$75 if you haggle with the seller a bit (at least that's how it is in the US). That's my primary motivation for saying go with a pentium, because if you're in a rush for a 486 you'll end up paying the insane $250+ asking prices for a DX2-66 machine many sellers are asking.

Yeah, for those prices, I'd go for the Pentium any day. I must've gotten lucky. I got my 486 VLB board with DX2/66 and 4MB for $39, then got another 4MB RAM and ISA control card for $25. I already had the VLB graphics card (the only 486-era component I saved from my youth). I guess I spent a few more bucks on the ATX to AT adapter, but the rest was my own labor.

A lot of games that you'd play with the MT-32 are speed sensitive, so I prefer to use it on a 386 or 486 class system. Besides, it just feels right. In my mind, Pentium=General MIDI, 386/486=MT-32. 😀

The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.
OPL3 FM vs. Roland MT-32 vs. General MIDI DOS Game Comparison
Let's benchmark our systems with cache disabled
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Reply 7 of 34, by amadeus777999

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486 is the most fun and has a special feel about it.
I first thought the people from vogons who played with those ancient "clunkies" were mental, but after having bought one myself I'm positively tainted.
From a practical standpoint, a Pentium + Socket 5/7 is, literally, the no-brainer/safety option... which too can be pricey.
I used to have a SuperSocket7 board(GA-5ax?) with which I played around but after buying my first 486 it was forgotten FAST. Only systems I like even better are the socket4 ones. Choose wisely as if you go with a 486 a good quality board makes all the difference.
Since you do not seem to be a performance junky though maybe an old DX2-66, or even 80, may be had by luck for a small sum.

Reply 8 of 34, by BitWrangler

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Yes on the 486 the megahertz are richer, with hints of oak and berry fruit notes.

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Reply 9 of 34, by leileilol

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The 486 has that cute loveitorhateit AMI WinBIOS late in their years 😀

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Reply 11 of 34, by kanecvr

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clueless1 wrote:

None of the games you listed, except for Doom and ROTT, would struggle on the 486. On the other hand, the Pentium can be slowed down via cache manipulation.

Doom runs great on a 66MHz 486. It's playable on a 33MHz DX as well.

Reply 12 of 34, by firage

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Yes, but a DX4 or Pentium does still improve the experience over the DX2-66, let alone the DX-33. Doom, RotT and Duke3D are titles that you might want the extra power for.

The DX-33 might be a little too weak for Theme Hospital, even.

If you're only planning one 90's PC, a 90-166 MHz Pentium is going to cover a wider section than most 486's. Sometimes you just can't beat that 386/486 flavor, though.

Personally, I needed two projects to cover everything, a fast 486 and a fast Pentium III.

My big-red-switch 486

Reply 13 of 34, by psychz

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If you want just one box, get a Pentium ~100MHz. I own several 486 boxes as well, but this Pentium is my go-to computer for DOS gaming, and almost trouble-free from day one. Setup is easier generally (less jumpers-more information available), parts are cheaper, iirc early PCI graphic cards like S3s and Cirrus Logics are way less expensive than their VLB counterparts, you don't need I/O adapters, and basically you have the extra power when you might need it. As clueless1 said, they can be slowed down too.

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Reply 14 of 34, by CkRtech

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Based on your list, I would say to go for the most notable system of all time - the 486DX2-66.

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Reply 15 of 34, by .legaCy

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I started with a socket 7 pentium 133 on ASUS SP97-XV, and if you go with a sound card that don't require -5v like the good old AWE64 and you have plenty of options for games and for hardware.
The hardware pros of this is:
-cheap atx case
-modern atx psu
-bigger hdd support
-you dont need multi i/o cards because everythings is onboard.
-support dimms so its easier to find.
Cons
-lack of -5v on modern atx psu
-no turbo button
-no cool ami winbios.

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Reply 16 of 34, by BitWrangler

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.legaCy wrote:

-no cool ami winbios.

I've seen it on a socket 7 system, 96ish, I think it was 7 and not 5, system had a Cyrix 686.

However, I don't know if you can get it with a DIMM SDRAM system, and if you go to DIMM you may as well get an ATX board over an AT one for convenience in giving it a home. So, to get that, you'd be on an EDO SIMM system on AT board probably.

Ohhh, that's a point, going for a DIMM board you could get stuck in the hole where it wants EDO DIMMs not SDRAM and not sure if those are easy to find at all.

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Reply 17 of 34, by feipoa

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I think the best thing to do is play out various outcomes in your mind. If you go with a less costly early Pentium build, try to image yourself using it for a month or two. Do you think you'd have the longing for a 486, or that you'd be permanently content with the Pentium? I think I speak for most people when I say that the slow, lusty longing for the four eight six will prevail, and you will ultimately spend more money once you give in to your temptation.

I would suggest getting yourself a quality 486 from the onset. Decide on VLB or PCI, keeping in mind that mentally gratifying VLB graphics cards are becoming disgustingly rare. If you go with VLB, be prepared for that second mortgage and a lot of patience. I, personally, would avoid motherboards with VLB and PCI. As was demonstrated in another post, the VLB+PCI motherboard tends to have slower throughput on both buses compared to VLB/ISA-only or PCI/ISA-only. If the performance drop doesn't bother you, and you don't see yourself ever being bothered by it (hard to predict), then I suppose you could consider a mixed VLB/PCI board.

In your situation, as you were considering a Pentium board, which are almost always PCI/ISA, then a 486 with PCI/ISA should suffice. There are some really nice PCI/ISA 486 boards. Best are those sporting the UMC 8881/8886 or SiS 496/496 chipset. Also, due to your indecision of Pentium vs. 486, I would suggest a fast 486 configuration, possibly one with an Am5x86 running at 160 MHz or a Cyrix 5x86-120. I highly recommend a motherboard which has two cache banks (9 sockets as opposed to 5 sockets).

Now if you go with the fast 486 setup and think you might be feeling like you wanted that Pentium instead, you can also plop a Pentium Overdrive (POD) into your 486 motherboard. Perform the relatively simple Pentium Overdrive VRM mod and let her fly at 100 MHz. The caveat is that not all 486 motherboards work well with the POD. The most common case is that the POD only works with write-through L1 cache. The worst case is that it doesn't work at all. The best case is that it works flawlessly. We should really construct a list of motherboards which work well with the POD in WB mode, in WT mode, and not at all.

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Reply 18 of 34, by BeginnerGuy

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Vlb graphics only get really bad if you're looking for something high end (which would be nice). Cirrus logic boards will do swell in ms-dos and are usually always on ebay for $25-30US. They are so common because most 486 machines came with them, cheaper systems with low end trident cardss. It's the higher end accelerated cards that can do high res and take 2mb vram that get difficult to come by because they hit the shelves during the transition to PCI,they were generally seen as expensive upgrades to a dead platform.

Forget about finding a mach32 vlb right away for a fair price. A good high end accelerated vlb card for a fair price is about as easy as finding unicorns these days :p. Fortunately I don't think its a big deal until you want to run 9x on your machine or take an interest in mid 90s demos.

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Reply 19 of 34, by Yuuker

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Hey all, thanks for the opinions so far!

I would absolutely love a DX4-100! Best of both worlds in terms of classic feel and speed.

But the problem is finding a good socket-3 board at a reasonable price with good features. At the same price as one of those boards alone, iv seen bundle deals that include a older mobo, dx-33/dx2-66 cpu, cache and 4-8mb of ram (but then i'm capped out at a dx2 or expensive Pentium overdrive). Searching around also shows socket 7 boards going for less too, including the price of a Pentium chip sometimes.

Most of the time the cheaper socket-3 boards out there also seem to be missing things like cache slots 😒

I guess i wouldn't be too picky over it if i wasn't as fixated on weather or not running something like Duke3D at a decent framerate is important. Otherwise i'd guess a DX2 system?