Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

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Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby Intel486dx33 » 2019-8-13 @ 17:44

What are the limitations to building a year 1993 computer ?
486dx-33 with 4mb ram.
2x CDROM, Sound blaster 16, ISA motherboard, 3400 rpm hard-drive, ET4000 ISA graphics,
3com 3c509 Network card.
DOS 6.22 / Win3.11 FWG ?

What are the limitations for playing DOS games ?
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby JudgeMonroe » 2019-8-13 @ 18:23

This depends heavily on what you want to play.

Keep in mind that games aren't keyed to the hardware available when they are released; they tend to support a long tail of hardware and there wasn't the sliding scale of performance you see in games today. For the most part, they were either playable at full capabilities or they were not.

Besides all the games released before 1993, a 1993 computer should be able to play games released though 1995, though the "minimum" requirement started being a DX66 by the time Windows 95 was launching. In terms of specific limitations, you can expect things like:

* CPU: DX33 seems weak for 1993 and won't push as far into the future as a DX66.
* Hard drive size limitations. A 1993 486 is probably limited to a 528MB hard drive and may not work well or at all with any IDE device larger than this without using cheat codes or drive overlay software.
* CD-ROM Speed. The early CD-ROM multimedia titles tended to want at least a 4X cdrom for improved transfer and seek performance.
* RAM: 4MB is plenty for a lot of games, but games of the era were all over the place in terms of what kind of RAM they wanted. Some expanded, some extended, some none at all. Be prepared to support multiple boot configurations for your different game requirements. By 1995 games wanted 8MB.
* Network: Largely unnecessary for DOS gaming of this era. You might keep a boot config for WFW if you plan on doing networking for some reason.
* Windows: Besides Myst, I'm not sure what Windows game you would even attempt on a DX33. Myst will probably work if you can do 640x480x256 on that card.
* Video: Video RAM is the largest factor contributing to gameplay, but later games may be shackled by the ISA bus. Early 3D games like Descent were software-rendered so it's really mostly about pushing data into the VRAM.

Generally, once you get into the games that use the CD for more than just running an installer, you'll starting hitting a wall. You probably won't be able to run Command & Conquer on a DX33. You can probably play most anything released on diskette through 1995.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby Intel486dx33 » 2019-8-13 @ 18:49

Yes, That 2x CDROM drive was not very good for playing Multimedia CD’s.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby kixs » 2019-8-13 @ 19:25

Will you only play games released in 1993 and earlier or also newer. For period correct the cpu is fast enough. But for "newer" games it will be too slow. Also ISA only VGA will limit the cpu.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2019-8-14 @ 00:05

In 1993, nobody had a 4X CD-ROM drive. Those didn't become affordable until 1995. 1994 was the year of the 2X CD-ROM drive. In 1993, almost nobody had one, and if they did it would have likely been a 1X model. That was enough to play Sierra games with voice tracks.

DX-33 was at least a mid-range CPU in 1993, definitely not budget, and almost nothing released that year would have stressed it.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby Intel486dx33 » 2019-8-14 @ 00:27

I am pretty sure my first CDROM was a Sony 2x in 1993 with a 486dx-33 and 4mb of ram.
And yes that CDROM was really slow for playing multimedia CDROM’s.
It was always seeking.
But it might have been a 1x, not sure.
A year or so later I put a 4x CDROM in it and performance greatly improved for playing Multimedia CDROM’s.
I also upgraded the ram to 8mb.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby JudgeMonroe » 2019-8-14 @ 02:02

Anonymous Coward wrote:In 1993, nobody had a 4X CD-ROM drive. Those didn't become affordable until 1995. 1994 was the year of the 2X CD-ROM drive. In 1993, almost nobody had one, and if they did it would have likely been a 1X model. That was enough to play Sierra games with voice tracks.

DX-33 was at least a mid-range CPU in 1993, definitely not budget, and almost nothing released that year would have stressed it.


Depends what you mean by "mid-range." If you look at ads from June 1993 (which probably hit newsstands in April) you'll find the SX33 already in the budget builds and the DX33 just a hair above that. Doom came out in December and wanted a DX66. Of course, the "computer year" was a lot shorter then than it is now. By the December ads (newsstands in October), you couldn't even find DX33 in a lot of lineups, just SX33 in the budget boxes and DX2s in everything else.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby JudgeMonroe » 2019-8-14 @ 02:21

If you really want the 1993 experience, build an EISA system.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby creepingnet » 2019-8-14 @ 05:54

A 1993 era 486 DX-33 would have likely been an upper mid-level machine with the Pentium being cutting edge, 486 DX2-66 being the leading edge, and 386 being bargain basement model.

Probably this...

CASE: mini or mid-tower case, or AT desktop, or LPX. Beige, maybe a digital readout. Steelcase, Kingspao, Magitronic, and Aopen seemed popular.

PSU: 150-250 Watt baby AT style, still hard on/off

MOBO: all ISA or early socket 2/3 VLB boards with a 9 chip L2 cache and reliance on external cards for even basic functions unless an OEM LPX system

RAM: eight 30 pin SIMMS, four 30 pin and two 72 pin, or four 72 pin SIMMS max. Memory ceiling ranges 32-64MB for the period with 4MB being the low end of RAM and 16 being Top Shelf material.

CPU: Intel 80486 DX-33 of course. The SX was somewhat common on lower end OEM boxes, and DX2 was high end.

FDD: 1X 1.44MB 3.5" floppy was the standard, though a lot of clones came with a 1.2MB 5.25" as well.

HDD:. 80MB to 528MB, with the majority hovering around 200-250 MB by this time. IDE of course, VLB controller on a higher end VLB motherboard.

CD-ROM:. Sony, Matsushita, or SCSI. 1x and 2x being common speeds, but these were only.on higher end $2000+ "multimedia" boxes usually, often using a soundcard provided controller.

GFX: VGA was the bare minimum, with the WD PVGA1a chipset being common ISA option. SVGA was usually WD, Cirrus Logic, with the notable ones on the high end being Number 9, Mediavision ProGraphics, TSENG labs ET series, and S3 for SVGA. SVGA vram ran from 512K to 1MB on the average, and the usual Windows desktop was 640x480 at 16 colors or 256 colors.

AUDIO:. Most systems still shipped internal speaker only it seems. The SoundBlaster Pro2 seems to be the most popular SoundBlaster of the era with the AWE42 being super high end and the SD16 being the ubiqutious upper mid-range cars. Pro Audio Spectrum and Covox soyndmaster were also options though not as popular.

NET: most people had 14.4k dial-up via an internal or external modem at the time, if they even had internet at all. Networking was mostly IBM token ring Or Novell Netware IPX/SPX type stuff. Most people did not have networking or internet though back then, and internet was just newsgroups, bulletin boards, and online services to most people, like AOL, CompuServe, Mindspring, or Knowlogy.

O/S: MS-DOS 6.21 was the latest, with some still using 6.0 or 5.0. seems to me 6.22 and 5.00 were the most popular 486 era DOS versions. Windows 3.1 was growing in popularity, 3.11 turning up later in the year. Only businesses and schools used "For Workgroups" due to LAN support. OS/2 2.x was also an option. I actually have IBM OS/2 2.1 with Win OS/2 which let you run Windows apps from inside OS/2...it's from 1993 but never caught on.

However, there are 2 caveats here.....

First is getting 100% 1993 kosher hardware can be tricky as it's at the tail end of the dying breed of 486 based PCs.....it's that period right was we went from calling them "IBM compatible" to calling them "(Wintel) PCs". The lower end stuff was dismissed as slow junk and the cutying edge is buggy, so the mid-market tends to be best.

Also, as a hardcore retro user myself, I do find the historically accurate machines annoying at times, usually due to slow CD drives, Hard Disk bottlenecks, graphics RAM that's not maxxed out, or low Memory Capacity. Typically I do go out of the era for the following for a better experience....

- use a modern DVD drive, they are plentiful, work in DOS just fine, and make it feel more like a HDD when running games that require a CD.

- USE an 8GB EIDE, DOM, CF Card, or even a modern SSD with a SATA converter. Running inPIO 4 on a 486 DOS box on a VLB or PCI or EIDA controller is pure joy, almost no wait unless it's something bordering out of scope for the generation...like Quake.

Beef up the VRAM if possible. I learned this when playing a LAN match of Doom with my wife last weekend. She was on the NEC Ready Pentium with 1MB Alliance PCI graphics, I was on the 486 DX4 with an S3 805 VLB with 2MB....side by side, that 486 was eating the Pentium for breakfast in the video Dept (way better frame rate....though unnoticeable unless side by side). Just goes to show how much RAM helps in any case.

Also, having LAN and Internet helps as well since getting data on and off these old things is tedious and time consuming even with a fast DVD-ROM drive. For my 486s I either xfer data via USB HDD adapter or LAN it over overnight using Windows For Workgroups. .....ie...486 pulling 1GB of DOS games to a 2.1 GB FAT-16 partition while I sleep. Plus with multiple partitions, reformat and reinstall is a breeze with all the drivers, Windows files, add-ons, and only having to rebuild what was on C: if things go badly awry.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2019-8-14 @ 06:55

First, DOOM came out December 10, 1993. I didn't see it until 94. It's basically a 94 game. Second, a DX/2-66 is NOT required to play DOOM. This is from the original readme:

"DOOM(TM) requires an IBM compatible 386 or better with 4 megs of RAM, a VGA graphics card, and a hard disk drive. A 486 or better, a Sound Blaster Pro(TM) or 100% compatible sound card is recommended."

The DX/2-66 was pretty much king of the hill for all of 1993. The Pentium was out, but was expensive, ran hot and largely ignored by computer buyers (the majority of which were still professionals, not Joe Schmoes),
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby alvaro84 » 2019-8-14 @ 07:32

Also, Doom doesn't care about the amount of VRAM. It uses at most the 256k a standard VGA provides. It's very sensitive to the speed it's connected to the rest of the PC, though (and the way it deals with its tricky 8-bit byteplane access). It's a correct observation that a faster VGA in a slower computer can beat a fast CPU bogged down by slow video performance - it's just that it has nothing to do with the amount of VGA RAM.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby Intel486dx33 » 2019-8-14 @ 09:16

creepingnet wrote:A 1993 era 486 DX-33 would have likely been an upper mid-level machine with the Pentium being cutting edge, 486 DX2-66 being the leading edge, and 386 being bargain basement model.

Probably this...

CASE: mini or mid-tower case, or AT desktop, or LPX. Beige, maybe a digital readout. Steelcase, Kingspao, Magitronic, and Aopen seemed popular.

PSU: 150-250 Watt baby AT style, still hard on/off

MOBO: all ISA or early socket 2/3 VLB boards with a 9 chip L2 cache and reliance on external cards for even basic functions unless an OEM LPX system

RAM: eight 30 pin SIMMS, four 30 pin and two 72 pin, or four 72 pin SIMMS max. Memory ceiling ranges 32-64MB for the period with 4MB being the low end of RAM and 16 being Top Shelf material.

CPU: Intel 80486 DX-33 of course. The SX was somewhat common on lower end OEM boxes, and DX2 was high end.

FDD: 1X 1.44MB 3.5" floppy was the standard, though a lot of clones came with a 1.2MB 5.25" as well.

HDD:. 80MB to 528MB, with the majority hovering around 200-250 MB by this time. IDE of course, VLB controller on a higher end VLB motherboard.

CD-ROM:. Sony, Matsushita, or SCSI. 1x and 2x being common speeds, but these were only.on higher end $2000+ "multimedia" boxes usually, often using a soundcard provided controller.

GFX: VGA was the bare minimum, with the WD PVGA1a chipset being common ISA option. SVGA was usually WD, Cirrus Logic, with the notable ones on the high end being Number 9, Mediavision ProGraphics, TSENG labs ET series, and S3 for SVGA. SVGA vram ran from 512K to 1MB on the average, and the usual Windows desktop was 640x480 at 16 colors or 256 colors.

AUDIO:. Most systems still shipped internal speaker only it seems. The SoundBlaster Pro2 seems to be the most popular SoundBlaster of the era with the AWE42 being super high end and the SD16 being the ubiqutious upper mid-range cars. Pro Audio Spectrum and Covox soyndmaster were also options though not as popular.

NET: most people had 14.4k dial-up via an internal or external modem at the time, if they even had internet at all. Networking was mostly IBM token ring Or Novell Netware IPX/SPX type stuff. Most people did not have networking or internet though back then, and internet was just newsgroups, bulletin boards, and online services to most people, like AOL, CompuServe, Mindspring, or Knowlogy.

O/S: MS-DOS 6.21 was the latest, with some still using 6.0 or 5.0. seems to me 6.22 and 5.00 were the most popular 486 era DOS versions. Windows 3.1 was growing in popularity, 3.11 turning up later in the year. Only businesses and schools used "For Workgroups" due to LAN support. OS/2 2.x was also an option. I actually have IBM OS/2 2.1 with Win OS/2 which let you run Windows apps from inside OS/2...it's from 1993 but never caught on.

However, there are 2 caveats here.....

First is getting 100% 1993 kosher hardware can be tricky as it's at the tail end of the dying breed of 486 based PCs.....it's that period right was we went from calling them "IBM compatible" to calling them "(Wintel) PCs". The lower end stuff was dismissed as slow junk and the cutying edge is buggy, so the mid-market tends to be best.

Also, as a hardcore retro user myself, I do find the historically accurate machines annoying at times, usually due to slow CD drives, Hard Disk bottlenecks, graphics RAM that's not maxxed out, or low Memory Capacity. Typically I do go out of the era for the following for a better experience....

- use a modern DVD drive, they are plentiful, work in DOS just fine, and make it feel more like a HDD when running games that require a CD.

- USE an 8GB EIDE, DOM, CF Card, or even a modern SSD with a SATA converter. Running inPIO 4 on a 486 DOS box on a VLB or PCI or EIDA controller is pure joy, almost no wait unless it's something bordering out of scope for the generation...like Quake.

Beef up the VRAM if possible. I learned this when playing a LAN match of Doom with my wife last weekend. She was on the NEC Ready Pentium with 1MB Alliance PCI graphics, I was on the 486 DX4 with an S3 805 VLB with 2MB....side by side, that 486 was eating the Pentium for breakfast in the video Dept (way better frame rate....though unnoticeable unless side by side). Just goes to show how much RAM helps in any case.

Also, having LAN and Internet helps as well since getting data on and off these old things is tedious and time consuming even with a fast DVD-ROM drive. For my 486s I either xfer data via USB HDD adapter or LAN it over overnight using Windows For Workgroups. .....ie...486 pulling 1GB of DOS games to a 2.1 GB FAT-16 partition while I sleep. Plus with multiple partitions, reformat and reinstall is a breeze with all the drivers, Windows files, add-ons, and only having to rebuild what was on C: if things go badly awry.


In 1993
Memory was $100 per megabyte
Hard-drive space was about $8 per megabyte.
Sound Blaster with CDROM kit was about $300
A 486dx-33 with 4mb ram, 120mb hard-drive, Sound card with CDROM computer with 14" SVGA monitor would have costs $2500
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby Intel486dx33 » 2019-8-14 @ 09:17

JudgeMonroe wrote:If you really want the 1993 experience, build an EISA system.


Yeah, but hard to find good EISA cards. Same goes for MCA.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2019-8-14 @ 12:48

Hard to find good graphics cards (they don't really exist). Finding good network cards and SCSI cards isn't that difficult.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby HanJammer » 2019-8-14 @ 13:38

Intel486dx33 wrote:What are the limitations to building a year 1993 computer ?
486dx-33 with 4mb ram.
2x CDROM, Sound blaster 16, ISA motherboard, 3400 rpm hard-drive, ET4000 ISA graphics,
3com 3c509 Network card.
DOS 6.22 / Win3.11 FWG ?

What are the limitations for playing DOS games ?


I don't quite understand your question - do you have such PC and ask what kind of software limitations you will stumble upon or are you trying to build ultimate 1993 gaming PC?
If the latter then proposed build is hardly representative for 1993.
- DOS 6.22 was released in mid 1994.
- Typical high end gaming PC would have 486DX2 which was introduced in 1992 although MPC2 introduced in 1993 still called for 486SX
- VLB was widely used on 1993 486 machines (it was standarized in 1992) judging from the amounts of 486 motherboards going through my hands lately - it was rather rare for 486 motherboard to have ISA slots only.
- Early SB16 among with the dual speed CD-ROM will be ideal as it's what MPC2 called upon.
- Memory - 4MB will be fine, although why force upon yourself strict limitations? It's not like you need to worry about 1MB of RAM costing 100 USD or something. 8 or more RAM was technically possible back then just not really justified from the economic point of view. So be a man and fill up those slots! :D Even if games are not going to use it - use it for ramdrive (in conjunction with something like 4DOS) for a nice performance boost!

As for the software most titles from 1993 will run perfectly fine on 386DX40 with 4MB RAM (maybe with exception of Doom which is a bit slow) so they will run fine on the machine you mentioned as well.

JudgeMonroe wrote:If you really want the 1993 experience, build an EISA system.


Do not.
EISA was never really adopted in desktop PCs - it lived for a while in servers. Most desktop 486 motherboards with EISA slots don't even fully comply to EISA standard having only SISA or PEISA instead (as is the case with most motherboards with HiNT chipset). Not to mention that extension cards are sparse and expensive...
VLB is a way to go for 486, 1993 build. My 1993/94 486 MSI motherboard already has both the VLB and the PCI BTW.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby JudgeMonroe » 2019-8-14 @ 13:57

HanJammer wrote:
Intel486dx33 wrote:EISA was never really adopted in desktop PCs - it lived for a while in servers.


I don't know what you mean by "really adopted" but they were sold to consumers by at least one Big Brand. I had to support them. I didn't like it. But no, I don't really suggest someone try and build one.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby sf78 » 2019-8-15 @ 10:14

I'm all for the VLB build, with a 486/66 to support it. I know there are some demanding games from the 92-93 era (Comanche, Strike Commander) that would benefit from it.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby Anonymous Coward » 2019-8-15 @ 13:10

HiNT wasn't THAT common. I'd say real EISA systems were far more popular, because it was supported by the gang of 8. If you bought an OEM 486 before 1993, there was a good chance it had EISA slots, used or not.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby Intel486dx33 » 2019-8-15 @ 18:37

Yes, the transition to multimedia CDROM was quite confusing.
Which way to go?
IDE or SCSI ?
16bit or 32bit controller ?
Sound Blaster, Media Vision, or Gravis ultra sound ?
Sony or Creative CDROM drive ?
What speed CDROM do I need ?
How much ram do I need ?
How much disk space do I need ?

It was a confusing time from what I remember unless you where very technical.
But for the novice it was confusing.
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Re: Limitations to building a year 1993 , 486dx-33 ?

Postby red_avatar » 2019-8-15 @ 19:22

Anonymous Coward wrote:In 1993, nobody had a 4X CD-ROM drive. Those didn't become affordable until 1995. 1994 was the year of the 2X CD-ROM drive. In 1993, almost nobody had one, and if they did it would have likely been a 1X model. That was enough to play Sierra games with voice tracks.

DX-33 was at least a mid-range CPU in 1993, definitely not budget, and almost nothing released that year would have stressed it.


No kidding. We bought our first PC in 1993 and it was a 386 ... SX. A DX33 was pretty medium to high end at the time in 1994 (the first half at least) with the DX2/66 being the "dream machine". Pentiums were only spoken off in hushed tones even by the end of 1994 when Pentium PCs started appearing slowly but surely on the consumer markets.

And I did some "work" last week: I went through 4 years of PC Gamer (UK) magazines (I own all issues from issue 0 up to issue 130) and made an Excel file with each game and its minimum and recommended specs and then attributed them to one of my PCs. This way I got a pretty darn clear picture of what the most demanding games were at the time and these were:

- racing games
- flight simulators and space simulators
- golf games (rendering those backdrops took quite some CPU power)
- first person shooters
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