VOGONS


First post, by Captain Catnip

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Hello everyone,

this is a question or topic so many have already asked themselves and I've read as much as I can about it - here and in other places. But it's a subjective question, since everybody has different connections and memories to certain time frames, hardware or games. So in hope that it's still okay for another one to post this kind of thing and hopefully also picked the right section, here we go:

I started with building old hardware just some months ago but still had some stuff laying around anyways. The '90s stuff is mostly gone though. I currently have the following:

A build and in case, working Pentium 1 Socket 7 ASUS TX4P with a variety of stuff to put in. Currently configured as a 233 MMX with 64MB, S3 Virge and a 12MB Voodoo 2. I also have a pentium 75, 133 and 200 MMX available.

A build and in case, working AMD Turion with somewhere beyond the 2.5 GHz mark and a board for AMDs Athlon XP. Aditionally to that, there's all kinds of RAM from the '80s until now available for building and two modern computers in form of an i5 and a R5 3600.

Other than these older parts it's a big jump after some PCI cards like S3 Virge, S3 Trio64, Voodoo2, Rage II, Mach64. I have some AGP cards at hand (the TX4P is PCI and ISA only) like an Elsa Gladiac 32MB, TNT2, Matrox G55 and Millenium G450, Geforce 7300GS, GeForce MX440SE-V64, Radeon 9550, 9600 and a weird R92LE 128MB.

CPUs at hand are the mentioned ones but also Pentium 60 SX835, a Dual Core, a couple P4s, Athlon 64, 486DX2, a bunch of AMD Athlon XP, i486 SX419, K5 100 and a ST6x86P166+.

So why did I just give you a long, boring list of hardware that everybody has seen a billion times?
I wanted to show what I have at hand and now what I want to actually do and how useful all these things are for that.

My main enjoyment from retro computers comes from a few things: building and fiddling, learning and improving. Playing games of my childhood, a bit of collecting and comparing.

I mainly want to build for the following period and games:

Early to late '90s, not really much into the early 2000s. Stuff like Dark Sun, Duke Nukem 3D, Heroes of Might and Magic III, World of Xeen, Warcraft I & II, C&C when it was still good, Sim Farm, Tyrian, Raptor, Ultima VII, Unreal, Half Life, Shadow Warrior, Sim City 2000, GTA 1, Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, Lands of Lore, Lucas Arts Point and Click adventures, Realms of Arkania 1-3 (Das Schwarze Auge), Heretic, Hexen I & II, NFS 2SE & 3 and most likely stuff I forgot now.

From what I gathered, these fall into three categories:

Early '90s DOS in 2D: 386 to 486, maybe slow Pentiums? Pentiums are already too fast for this
Mid '90s to 97ish 2D to software 3D: Pentium (kind of what I have)
Late '90s to early 2000 3D accelerated: ?

My problem here is, that I find the Pentium, that I have, a bit overpowered for early '90s and too weak for real 3D stuff like Half Life or Unreal, it also feels sluggish in Heroes III for some reason. My test run with an Athlon XP shows that the Mid to late '90s and onwards also work on that rig, so why even have the Pentium? Wouldn't a 486 board with good Turbo function (mhhh, Turbo button and display) and a variety of Socket 3 CPUs paired with a more powerful Pentium 3 or 4 with an ISA slot and Voodoo and something powerful make for a better choice?

I like the Pentium and it's fun fiddling with it. It's an all '90s build complete with the right CRT, speakers, keyboard and mouse. My thought is just that a good, late 486 board with PCI gives more room with the early '90s to maybe 95 96 with the turbo and variety of CPUs than the Pentium, so it's more compatible, not too fast and it has the Turbo button. It was also my first step into building, as before I only had a C64.

Can a Pentium 3 or 4 with ISA handle anything from the mid '90s to early 2000s if it's not too overpowered or are there speed and compatibility issues? I'm thinking of using Win 98SE for everything, maybe pure DOS on a 486.

I hope my thoughts make somewhat sense and that you fine people can give me food for thoughts and some insights, reports of experiences, example builds or stuff you decided on.

Thank you!

Pentium 233 MMX / ASUS TX4P / 64MB / S3 Virge 4MB | Diamond Monster 3D II 12MB / SB16 CT2290
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 / MSI MPG X570 Gaming Pro Carbon Wifi / 32GB DDR4-3200 / Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 5700 XT 8GB / 1TB NVMe4 PCIe 4.0 M.2

Reply 1 of 13, by dionb

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You wrote Ultima 7. That's the kind of game to build a system around, both because it is epic and because it really needs a specific speed to work properly, and that's a late 386 or early 486, specifically a 486DX-33 with about 4MB of RAM, with 386DX-40 being second choice. It also is incompatible with memory managers AND needs a lot of free conventional memory, so hardware that needs big TSR drivers that you would normally load high is out, even SoftMPU is pushing it. So it needs a simple sound card that works purely from hw, or better two (SB(Pro) for digital audio, and an MPU-401 compatible MIDI interface (which the early SB didn't have) plus MT-32). Finally it is very demanding on I/O, so you need 32b VLB IDE or SCSI - or go crazy and max out RAM on your board, make a huge 32MB ramdisk, copy the game into there and play that (only good option if you don't have VLB or PCI I/O) 😜

Apart from that, pretty much everything else you mention would run on a Coppermine P3 system with one or two ISA slots, a nice DOS-compatible but DirectX-powerful nVidia card like a Gf2 -4 and one or two sound cards (SBPro2-compatible and OPL3 for older stuff, SBLive or Aureal Vortex for Windows, with potentially a late SB16/AWE32/64 as well for late DOS SB16 and AWE stuff).

Reply 2 of 13, by derSammler

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Oh, Ultima 7. Love that game. Bought the German first release by Mindscape lately, boxed with all goodies, which is rare as hell.

I played it back then in 1993 on a DX2-80 with 8 megs and it was still not smooth. Smartdrive with 2 megs cache helped a bit, but it really won't ever stop loading data from the hard disk while you move, so you better have lots of RAM and a huge cache.

dionb wrote on 2020-02-14, 09:31:

It also is incompatible with memory managers AND needs a lot of free conventional memory, so hardware that needs big TSR drivers that you would normally load high is out, even SoftMPU is pushing it.

SoftMPU is out anyway, as it needs a memory manager, which will make U7 no longer work.

http://retro-net.de/blog.html

Reply 3 of 13, by Captain Catnip

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Thank you a lot for your detailed reply and all the information about Ultima 7. I knew it's a tricky game to run and my DosBox runs were not were pleasant, I also wasn't into the alternatives and the real thing, as in having a running machine for it, would be amazing! I only have basic knowledge about the VLB world but it was very interesting to read and I'm very willing to go into that world.

I have an ISA SB16 CT2290 and it's treated me well so far. Is a SBPro2 that much of a difference?

Do you mention the Coppermine P3 for any specific reasons? I've seen the Coppermine pop up a bunch for builds but I still can't figure out why. There are other boards with powerful (beyond P1 and P2) CPUs that have ISA available, what's so special about the Coppermine P3?

Pentium 233 MMX / ASUS TX4P / 64MB / S3 Virge 4MB | Diamond Monster 3D II 12MB / SB16 CT2290
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 / MSI MPG X570 Gaming Pro Carbon Wifi / 32GB DDR4-3200 / Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 5700 XT 8GB / 1TB NVMe4 PCIe 4.0 M.2

Reply 4 of 13, by amadeus777999

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You're pretty much set with a socket5/7 board for older stuff unless you want a really slow machine in which case you can turn off the chaches and see if this yields the "performance" you want. Concerning the more modern 2D cards - always go for the one with the best picture quality.
For me personally nothing beats a 486 for the 90ies era, where I would go two ways - one highly clocked 486(x133) with a modern board(SiS486 / UM888x) and one slow machine(DX50 for example) from a big systems vendor. I got one Compaq with a DX2/66 which I "enhanced" with an AWE64 value and it's a total treat.

Reply 5 of 13, by Captain Catnip

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I'm looking around for a 486. Sooner or later I guess I have to build one, just because I need to fill a case that has a Turbo button 😉
So far I only had a bit trouble with a flickering cursor in World of Xeen and I didn't even get Ultima 7 to run (memory), but I read that that's the case with anything faster than a 486 40 with World of Xeen and Ultima 7 is explained before.

All the issues I saw in the http://www.vogonswiki.com/index.php/List_of_C … sensitive_games was with stuff that's already affected by Pentium 1, or even a fast 486, but not really by P2-3 specifically. The Windows games troubles are not that well documented and don't seem to be as severe. So why is the Socket 7 "better" for DOS gaming than a P3 or even faster system?

A 2.0GHz Athlon runs Duke Nukem 3D, Dark Sun or other stuff well, even runs Unreal, Half Life or Quake a lot better than a Pentium 1. I got the Pentium 1 with the idea that it's the "best" for playing a broad range of games. Is it because of slowing it down with setmul and other ways?

Pentium 233 MMX / ASUS TX4P / 64MB / S3 Virge 4MB | Diamond Monster 3D II 12MB / SB16 CT2290
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 / MSI MPG X570 Gaming Pro Carbon Wifi / 32GB DDR4-3200 / Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 5700 XT 8GB / 1TB NVMe4 PCIe 4.0 M.2

Reply 6 of 13, by brostenen

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I would aim at a 486dx33 with pure ISA. Some good VGA card, 8mb Ram and a nice sound card. Add CF-IDE or SD-IDE and a good and reliable DVD-Rom drive.

Don't eat stuff off a 15 year old never cleaned cpu cooler.
Those cakes make you sick....

My blog: http://to9xct.blogspot.dk

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Jah ich will trynen... Die Leute wie macht scheisse in dem Grünen.

Reply 7 of 13, by SirNickity

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My opinion, if I were building a couple old PCs for best game compatibility, I would do this:

1) 386DX/40, in an old AT case with turbo button to slow it down for the occasional game targeted more toward the 8088/286/386SX. Video is who-cares-what because ISA is slow anyway. A Trident 8900 is fine. For sound, an SB Pro.

2) Pentium 233MMX, and old PCI video card -- maybe S3 or ATI Rage -- and a Voodoo 2, SB AWE32. Great for DOS games that aren't speed sensitive, on up through the late DOS 3D FPS games. I would also use it for Windows 95, for some really early Windows games.

3) Pentium 4 with a Radeon or GF, SB Live! or Audigy, Windows XP. This will cover the stuff that doesn't work quite as well anymore on modern systems, like DirectDraw games (e.g., StarCraft).

4) Modern PC that will run anything back to Win98 era, except the stuff that didn't cope well with the transition to Vista, 7, 8, and 10.

That's probably close to ideal. Maybe 1) can move down to a 386SX, and/or 2) can move up to a Pentium II, but then you are leaving a bit of a gap through the 486 era where some games needed a bit more performance, but choked at really high bus/CPU clock speeds. Even the MMX 233 can be a little too fast sometimes, but you can always throttle the bus speed down if you really need to.

If you don't want 4 PCs, the 386 would be the first one I would nix. You can often handicap a Pentium enough to get by. The P4 would be the second one to axe, since most post-95 stuff will still run on modern hardware. If you catch the bug and don't mind a little extra hardware, I feel like 486s are a real joy to play with, they're just not as technically essential. A DX2/66 would cover 286/386 stuff pretty well if you have a turbo button.

Reply 8 of 13, by Baoran

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I built a 486 33Mhz for ultima 7 and other speed sensitive dos stuff like wing commander and warcraft and a Pentium 3 with voodoo 2 SLI for other dos stuff and Win9x stuff.
Both of them can be slowed down well. 486 33Mhz is perfect for wing commander when L1 cache is disabled and perfect for ultima 7 at normal speed. My pentium 3 system speed can be fine tuned with throttle software thanks to the via chipset to run warcraft 2 well for example.
I don't think there are too many games from before 2000 that I can't play with these 2 systems except the really old dos games that basically require 4.77mhz system. At least I have not come across games like that.

Reply 9 of 13, by dionb

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Captain Catnip wrote on 2020-02-14, 09:46:

Thank you a lot for your detailed reply and all the information about Ultima 7. I knew it's a tricky game to run and my DosBox runs were not were pleasant, I also wasn't into the alternatives and the real thing, as in having a running machine for it, would be amazing! I only have basic knowledge about the VLB world but it was very interesting to read and I'm very willing to go into that world.

I have an ISA SB16 CT2290 and it's treated me well so far. Is a SBPro2 that much of a difference?

For Ultima 7: nope. Music is either AdLib or MT-32, and the CT2290 has a real OPL3, just like the SBPro2 and close enough to AdLib's OPL2 to sound as intended. For digital audio Ultima 7 only uses mono SB1.x, and the SB16 is fully backwards compatible with that. The CT2290 is one of the nicer SB16 cards - all the usual bugs, but nice and quiet and real OPL3.

It's with later games that do support SBPro(2) that things get mixed up. Literally. The SB16 isn't fully backwards compatible with the SBPro2, it doesn't support its stereo mode, so unless a game uses some tricks it comes out mono. Also, most SB16 (including the CT2290) click with single-cycle DMA, which older games use a lot.

Do you mention the Coppermine P3 for any specific reasons? I've seen the Coppermine pop up a bunch for builds but I still can't figure out why. There are other boards with powerful (beyond P1 and P2) CPUs that have ISA available, what's so special about the Coppermine P3?

It's faster than Katmai, both clock-for-clock and in clocking itself. Given your list of games, the fastest Katmai CPUs (550-600MHz) would probably struggle, but a Coppermine 800-1000MHz would breeze through.

Reply 10 of 13, by Captain Catnip

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Those arguments towards a versatile 486 play right into my need of one 😜

And I'll have a look into the Coppermine P3s. Prices are not too inflated. Is it absolutely neccesary to have a Socket 370 board with ISA or is a PCI card compatible enough for the games a P3 would run (the ones that are too demanding for a 486)?

Pentium 233 MMX / ASUS TX4P / 64MB / S3 Virge 4MB | Diamond Monster 3D II 12MB / SB16 CT2290
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 / MSI MPG X570 Gaming Pro Carbon Wifi / 32GB DDR4-3200 / Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 5700 XT 8GB / 1TB NVMe4 PCIe 4.0 M.2

Reply 11 of 13, by Baoran

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Captain Catnip wrote on Yesterday, 18:46:

Those arguments towards a versatile 486 play right into my need of one 😜

And I'll have a look into the Coppermine P3s. Prices are not too inflated. Is it absolutely neccesary to have a Socket 370 board with ISA or is a PCI card compatible enough for the games a P3 would run (the ones that are too demanding for a 486)?

My P3 is socket 370, but slot 1 would work as well and cpu depends on how new win9x games you want to play. If you want to be able to use throttle to slow it down just make sure throttle supports the chipset that the motherboard you get has.

Reply 12 of 13, by j^aws

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Captain Catnip wrote on Yesterday, 18:46:

Those arguments towards a versatile 486 play right into my need of one 😜

And I'll have a look into the Coppermine P3s. Prices are not too inflated. Is it absolutely neccesary to have a Socket 370 board with ISA or is a PCI card compatible enough for the games a P3 would run (the ones that are too demanding for a 486)?

If you just want a reason to build a 486, go right ahead, you don't really need one.

If you haven't used Setmul with your Pentium yet, then why do you need a 486? The Pentium with Setmul already covers its speed range.

If you want a 486 speed range and a Coppermine, you can just make one build with a Slot 1 BX board and change the CPU cartridge with a VIA C3 EZRA or PIII Coppermine, depending on your speed needs.

Reply 13 of 13, by dionb

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Captain Catnip wrote on Yesterday, 18:46:

Those arguments towards a versatile 486 play right into my need of one 😜

And I'll have a look into the Coppermine P3s. Prices are not too inflated. Is it absolutely neccesary to have a Socket 370 board with ISA or is a PCI card compatible enough for the games a P3 would run (the ones that are too demanding for a 486)?

If you want to run DOS, you want ISA IRQ & DMA. That means either an ISA slot or PC/PCI (SBLink). The latter is basically a few IRQ and DMA pins to allow a PCI card to be addressed as ISA. Sounds great, but few cards support it and more problematically, almost all the motherboard that have it have ISA slots too.

If you go for Slot 1 instead of So370 you tend to find more ISA slots. "The ideal system" doesn't exist, but you don't need major compromises. I'd say a late revision (1.12 or later) Asus P2B (not -F or otherwise) would come close, with lots of ISA slots and full Coppermine support. Only drawback is that the i440BX only officially supports 100MHz FSB, but a) 7.5x100MHz or so should be fine for most stuff and b) later i440BX chipsets almost always overclock to 133MHz FSB, with PCI in-spec due to 1/4 divider (ISA too as it's derived from PCI clock). Only AGP is overclocked to 88MHz, but that rarely causes problems. Gigabyte's GA-BX2000 is similar. Alternative if you want native 133MHz FSB is something like the Asus P3V4X or P3C-E , with Via ApolloPro133a or i820 chipsets and at least one ISA slot.