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The quest for the perfect retro laptop: a saga

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Reply 100 of 112, by ragefury32

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Alright, so, I bought a machine (or 2) for playing the old DOS games. Not planning to go too detailed on it here (I am doing a dedicated article about it later), but here's my pair of Thinkpad 560Es - Ono-Sendai and Hosaka. Ono-Sendai came from Canada and Hosaka was an import from Japan with a regional keyboard.

Hosaka+and+Ono-Sendai.png

They are both Pentium 166MMX with at least 32MB of RAM, a 2MB Trident Providia 9682, ESS1688 sound (it's register compatible with OPL3 and sounds fairly decent) , one is using a 4GB CF-IDE and the other is on 4GB SDHC-IDE. Carry weight is about 4 lbs - it was the Thinkpad X1 Carbon of its day and assigned to executives/sales folks, so they tend to have fairly tough lives. As shipped, Ono-Sendai lacks a power switch, a top case bezel and a small piece of the LCD bottom case, while Hosaka is mostly complete...except for the LCD latch. The parts have been swapped multiple times.

How does the machines perform? Just fine in Novalogic's Comanche...
Comanche+Demo.png

Since it's a 2D performer Maxis' SimCity 2000 had no issues with it...
SC2000.png

The Darth Vader's lunchbox aestetic goes well with Lucasart's TIE Fighter...
TIE+Fighter.jpg

EA/Jane's ATF (US Navy Fighters but with that buggy-non-effective memory manager replaced) works just fine on it...
Janes+ATF.jpg

Unfortunately, Rowan's Airpower does not seem to play nice with the Trident Providia, despite the fact that there are 3 drivers for it...
No+Go+in+Airpower.png

Weirdly enough, Navy Strike (Rowan's later iteration of the same game engine) works just fine on it via the generic VESA driver...
Navy+Strike.png

Anyways, I need to hunt down a battery rebuilder as all 3 battery units have dead cells - something I expected out of a 24 year old machine.

Reply 101 of 112, by keenmaster486

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Oh wow! I didn't know the 560E had a Trident video card; much better than Neomagic!

Amazingly, my 560X still has a 100% working original battery.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

Reply 102 of 112, by ragefury32

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keenmaster486 wrote on 2020-02-17, 17:38:

Oh wow! I didn't know the 560E had a Trident video card; much better than Neomagic!

Amazingly, my 560X still has a 100% working original battery.

Eh, not really "much better" - The Trident Providia did not carry over VESA compatibility from the TGUI8900 series, wouldn't do HV expansion for the LCD (so 640x480+ games don't fill up the screen), and doesn't seem all that fast versus, say, an ET4000 or an S3. For the oldschool stuff you are (in a way) better served by an S3 Aurora/Trio/Virge MX. The Providia does run oldschool VGA stuff like Commander Keen just fine, and setmul on Pentium MMX has multiple options that will allow it to emulate the performance of a 486DX33 or a DX2-66 (so titles like Wing Commander will work well on it), but it's still not quite the "magic bullet" for portable DOS emulation - the BIOS options are limited, and there are no built-in midi/gameport options for it.

I need to do something about the battery - there's something hilarious and sad about unwrapping a never-used IBM 560 series battery and finding it deader than a rusty coffin nail.

Reply 103 of 112, by vorob

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There is generally no AC97 support for pure DOS (well, there is and there isn't. There were AC97 drivers in development for DOS, but it turned into payware...and development ceased), and as for Win98, there are probably generic WDM drivers for the Realtek/Sigmatel 9750, but whether it works well will depend on many factors.

You right. I could enable sound under Windows 98 on Dell Latitude D800, it was okay. But was unable to do the same under pure dos...

As for aspect ratios...I don't think HV expansion in laptops has the option to compensate for different aspect ratios. If you want to play games at the correct aspect ratio...well, use an external 4:3 monitor and output there.

Ye, the external screen solves the problem, but it won't be a portable solution anymore...

That being said, every 3D chipset from that era (even the Geforce 4Tis) will be soundly trounced by an Intel integrated graphics MHD4500 GPU in the Core2 era. Unless you want a WinXP only laptop for DX8/9 specific games (and is willing to pay dearly for it, as the silicon on those old machines tend to die as they age thanks to some poor backfills and solder materials), you are probably better off skipping that entire era and gunning for a Core2 Duo machine (like an old Alienware M11x). The CULVs were great little gems.

I would argue here. I've got laptop with 4200 GeForce and it kills intel 4500 if we speak about smth newer like GTA SA, NOLF 2. But I must admit that while ATI and NVIDIA lost support for many stuff over the years (like dithering) intel kept them working until Windows 10 came out. I had a proper image in Thief II even on i7 with HD4000 in 2012, with dithering.
And what are you talking about silicon issues? I only know deadly bad NVIDIA chips from 7XXX - 9XXX series and ATI from 4XXX - 6XXX and that's it.
P.S. I do have Alienware M11x, with C2d, intel 4500 and gf335. Nice thing but absolutely trashy screen 🙁

Reply 104 of 112, by ragefury32

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vorob wrote on 2020-02-28, 13:15:
You right. I could enable sound under Windows 98 on Dell Latitude D800, it was okay. But was unable to do the same under pure do […]
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There is generally no AC97 support for pure DOS (well, there is and there isn't. There were AC97 drivers in development for DOS, but it turned into payware...and development ceased), and as for Win98, there are probably generic WDM drivers for the Realtek/Sigmatel 9750, but whether it works well will depend on many factors.

You right. I could enable sound under Windows 98 on Dell Latitude D800, it was okay. But was unable to do the same under pure dos...

As for aspect ratios...I don't think HV expansion in laptops has the option to compensate for different aspect ratios. If you want to play games at the correct aspect ratio...well, use an external 4:3 monitor and output there.

Ye, the external screen solves the problem, but it won't be a portable solution anymore...

That being said, every 3D chipset from that era (even the Geforce 4Tis) will be soundly trounced by an Intel integrated graphics MHD4500 GPU in the Core2 era. Unless you want a WinXP only laptop for DX8/9 specific games (and is willing to pay dearly for it, as the silicon on those old machines tend to die as they age thanks to some poor backfills and solder materials), you are probably better off skipping that entire era and gunning for a Core2 Duo machine (like an old Alienware M11x). The CULVs were great little gems.

I would argue here. I've got laptop with 4200 GeForce and it kills intel 4500 if we speak about smth newer like GTA SA, NOLF 2. But I must admit that while ATI and NVIDIA lost support for many stuff over the years (like dithering) intel kept them working until Windows 10 came out. I had a proper image in Thief II even on i7 with HD4000 in 2012, with dithering.
And what are you talking about silicon issues? I only know deadly bad NVIDIA chips from 7XXX - 9XXX series and ATI from 4XXX - 6XXX and that's it.
P.S. I do have Alienware M11x, with C2d, intel 4500 and gf335. Nice thing but absolutely trashy screen 🙁

As a whole, a well ventilated Core 2 Duo with a GS45/GM45 and adequate RAM will beat a period correct machine with a Geforce 4 Ti4200 Go, assuming resolutions commonly used in mainstream laptops, similar DirectX features being used, and similar patch levels (i.e. no HD patches applied to the GS45 machines to improve image quality, for example). And yes, even with GTA:SA, Lithtech games or the original Halo. On higher resolutions the Geforce4 Ti (fed by a Pentium-M) might win certain benchmarks, or it might turn into its own slideshow. It's not a fair comparison, obviously, since the CPU is much more performant (being at least 2 generations younger), the RAM is much faster, the FSB Is much faster, Intel does improve their GPUs (no matter how crappy it seems) and the whole thing is probably using less energy doing it, but that's kinda the point I am making.

The Silicon problem isn't about just the GPU - it's solder, materials and electrolyte issues as a whole across the entire industry around that time. The mid-2000s were infamous for the introduction of poor lead-free RoHS solder formulations which leads to connections in machines failing over time (like failing RAM slots or solder balls failing under chips...), electrolytes failing in capacitors (read the article on Wikipedia about the capacitor plague), or ceremics/backfills not reacting well to hot spots and allowing dies to expand beyond spec, breaking electrical connections (the primary reason why the nVidia G84/86 series GPUs fail). I generally avoid buying machines made from 2004-2008 unless I have a specific interest in one, and that interest for me is nostalgic in nature (I have a Thinkpad X31, and despite me getting the motherboard replaced three times due to failing solder joints, I kept it around because it served me from early 2005-late 2008 when I was going through a particularly interesting period in my career). A 300 dollar gamer laptop from 2005 with a Geforce 7600 Go might sound great for UT2004 or Halo...until you realize that a 225 dollar 2010 MacBook Pro 11 (with the nVidia Geforce 320M) will match or better it. So yeah, unless it's for a really specific reason (like needing built-in 4:3 support while playing games from the mid-2000s), I would not recommend buying one.

Reply 105 of 112, by keenmaster486

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UPDATE

I have received an IBM Thinkpad 365X.

This may be much closer to what I have been looking for.

Specs:

  • Intel Pentium 120 MHz
  • 24 MB RAM (8 onboard, 16 in an EDO stick... have 64MB EDO stick in the mail to upgrade to 72MB)
  • 720 MB HDD (upgraded to 2 GB CF card)
  • Trident Cyber9320 1MB video card (DOS compatibility = good)
  • ESS1688 sound card (DOS compatibility = good)
  • 800x600 TFT screen (scaling is ugly to some, but OK for me)
  • Floppy drive (internal)
  • Great keyboard and Trackpoint
  • 2 PCMCIA slots (works with Orinoco WiFi)
  • VGA, serial, parallel, PS/2 ports

This comes darn close to fitting my criteria for the "perfect" DOS/Win31 and maybe Win95 laptop, as I had outlined in the original post, here:

keenmaster486 wrote:
The DOS/Win31/Win95 laptop This will be capable of the following: […]
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The DOS/Win31/Win95 laptop
This will be capable of the following:

  • Perfect or near-perfect DOS video/sound compatibility
  • Not too large or too thick, of course this is all by 90's standards. The 365CD for example was fine. The 385XD was too large for me due to being 3-spindle.
  • Minimum of original Pentium speeds, for everything up to mid-late DOS era, think Duke3D or DOOM as a maximum.
  • Great keyboard touch
  • Can run DOS but also Windows 95 for writing, internet browsing, etc.
  • Ability to connect to Internet, and run browsers like Netscape

Once I upgrade to 72MB RAM and maybe a 16 GB CF card, I can do my usual DOS/Win31 and Win95 dual boot setup, and get the maximum utility out of this unit.

It also, conveniently, takes the same battery type as my 365CD. So I was able to swap out the battery with no issues. And it doesn't have any of the problems that my 365CD had (various incompatibilities, inexplicably slow in certain games, doesn't work with Orinoco WiFi, etc.)

This seems promising.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

Reply 106 of 112, by matze79

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This is Ascentia P,

it also can get internal cd-rom but i only have the floppy drive.

Its the perfect Retro Notebook, as it features Soundblaster 16 Chipset and ! Gameport.
The Breakout Board is from Dreamblaster, its Dreamblasters Dual MIDI Gameport Expander.

Only Downside Floppy or CD-ROM, not both at same time.

Attachments

https://dosreloaded.de - The German Retro DOS PC Community
https://www.retroianer.de - under constructing since ever

Co2 - for a endless Summer

Reply 110 of 112, by bjwil1991

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I know the feeling. Got a few good retro laptops myself. My Compaq Armada M700 is my Dial-up server (Windows 98SE) for computers that have no room for PCMCIA or CardBus NICs or have dial-up cards only (ISA systems, or if I remove the 10Base-T card out of my Packard Bell), ThinkPad 380D is my DOS/early Windows gaming laptop (not good sound chip, but is good enough for me), and my Satellite Pro 410C(D)T that has an ES688 integrated and is spot on.

Anything with TFT Active, a better VGA video card, and sound card, along with PS/2 ports for connecting a keyboard and mouse externally, along with other ports (serial, parallel, etc) is always a good asset along with ease of battery replacements (some are easy, some are not and require a full disassembly to replace the RTC battery).

Discord: https://discord.gg/U5dJw7x
Systems from C64 to FX-6300.

Reply 111 of 112, by vorob

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I've stopped looking after Compaq Evo N400c appeared in my hands. ESS Allegro/Maestro2 sound that works in native dos and 4:3 screen. See no reason to look further. Only Commander Keen games are jerky because of ATI M1 card, wonder what other games can suffer from it...

Also i've got IBM R60 which is much newer then Compaq but I also treat it as good old-games machine because of 4:3 screen, processor that is capable of good DOSBOX emulation and videocard capable of emulating 3dfx via nglide. I may buy PCMCIA sound card one day and will have native dos sound.

Reply 112 of 112, by keenmaster486

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vorob wrote on 2020-03-27, 18:41:

I've stopped looking after Compaq Evo N400c appeared in my hands. ESS Allegro/Maestro2 sound that works in native dos and 4:3 screen. See no reason to look further. Only Commander Keen games are jerky because of ATI M1 card, wonder what other games can suffer from it...

There is a patch to fix the ATI incompatibility: https://pckf.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=6192

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.