VOGONS


Reply 20 of 52, by jakethompson1

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If you've never built an old system before I'd do a Socket 7, Slot 1, or Socket 370 first. Because they have PCI, onboard IDE, likely ATX power, and perhaps even ATX form factor, you bypass a lot of the issues. It really depends on how much 90s hardware background you have. If "FPM vs. EDO," "IRQ conflict," and "black next to black" don't all mean something to you, I'd definitely do a later machine first.

I don't know much about the games you posted but hope someone would mention if any have any speed problems with later machines like a Pentium being too fast.

If you want to plow ahead with building a 486 anyway, I just did one recently. It can be both interesting and frustrating.

I got everything from eBay, Digi-Key or from old parts I still had.

I got a VLB motherboard that can only handle 5-volt cpus. It came with 256 kilobytes of L2 cache already on board. It came with the NiCd battery already removed so there was no corrosion. It came with a manual, and had a ready-to-use external battery connector where I could connect a 3xAA battery holder I got from Digi-Key. So I didn't have to do any soldering or hacking of Dallas chips that you read about.

I put in a Cyrix 486DX2-80 CPU. I was careful to get one that can handle 5 volts as once you get beyond 486DX2-66, most can't. I had to read the manual to know how to set everything up for 40 MHz.

I put in two, 72-pin, 60 nanosecond, FPM 16MB SIMMs. You would simplify your RAM decisions by going with Socket 7 or later.

I got an I/O card with a UMC chipset. This provides serial, parallel, game (disabled), floppy, and IDE. It has special drivers you load in order to make the IDE actually take advantage of VLB or otherwise it runs at ISA speeds. Getting a PCI 486 motherboard ($$$ from what I see) or just doing a Socket 7 or later build avoids IO cards.

I got a Trident 9440 VLB VGA card, which was a cheap budget card at the time. You can get a fancier ones but in my observation VLB automatically makes cards more expensive.

I'm using a serial mouse as that's all I have without resorting to converters. Many AT socket 7 boards have PS/2 mouse connectors, and ATX boards all do.

I put in a NE2000-compatible, non-PnP ISA ethernet card that I had to manually set to IO 300h and IRQ 10, knowing what I could and couldn't set it to and why. If you haven't dealt with manual ISA resource assignment perhaps build a PCI retro machine first.

I put in a Yamaha OPL3-SAx sound card, which gets its IRQ and other settings from a DOS configuration utility that runs on every boot.

Finally, I had to decide whether to find an AT form factor case (expensive and yellowed plastic) that the board was designed to fit, or adapt an ATX case to fit my AT motherboard. I did the latter as I've done it before. There are adapters to convert ATX power supply to AT. The only complication is converting the power switch from momentary (circuit opens when you let go) to latching (toggles on and off). I used an E-Switch power switch from Digi-Key that came with no wires attached, so I had to solder wires to two of the contacts to make my new power switch. You could also forego this, and just use the switch on the back of the powersupply.

Reply 21 of 52, by Horun

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jakethompson1 wrote on 2020-08-09, 02:05:

If you've never built an old system before I'd do a Socket 7, Slot 1, or Socket 370 first. Because they have PCI, onboard IDE, likely ATX power, and perhaps even ATX form factor, you bypass a lot of the issues. It really depends on how much 90s hardware background you have.

Finally, I had to decide whether to find an AT form factor case (expensive and yellowed plastic) that the board was designed to fit, or adapt an ATX case to fit my AT motherboard. I did the latter as I've done it before.

The full read is a good one !

Hate posting a reply and have to edit it because it made no sense 😁 First computer was an IBM 3270 workstation with CGA monitor. 🤣 Second computer a 286 12Mhz with real IDE drive ! After that came 386, 486, Pentium, P.Pro and everything after....

Reply 22 of 52, by kepstin

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utahraptor wrote on 2020-08-08, 21:56:

One more important question... For games that support AWE32 MIDI, does the AWE 64 provide compatibility or do I actually need the 32 for that version of MIDI?

AWE64 is completely compatible with software designed for the AWE32. (The "64" actually refers to the fact that the windows drivers include a software synth which added another 32 voices.) Differences between the AWE32 and 64 are that all AWE64 cards are PNP, the 64 drops the CD-ROM connectors, requires proprietary expansion memory instead of standard SIMMs, and may have better audio quality (YMMV).

With an AWE32/64 for DOS games, there's very few games that actually make use of AWE32 features. If you have an AWE64 Gold (comes with 4MB ram) or you have expansion RAM, you're better off running DOS games within Windows 9x when possible - that way you can load a good quality sf2 soundfont in Windows, and the card will be usable as a General MIDI (MPU-401) device in DOS.

Otherwise you're stuck with the 1MB ROM soundfont builtin to the card 😒

Reply 24 of 52, by waterbeesje

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Socket3 wrote on 2020-08-09, 07:30:

TotalA will stutter even on a 333mhz pentium when there are lots of units and explosions on screen...

My lil brother used to play this game when we got a brand new P4 1,7GHz system and Geforce 2 mx... And also managed to make it stutter.
Also red alert 2 could crawl on it with 150 conscripts moving at once.

So here you come to the point you already need two or three different machines to cover your needs :p
The 386 or 486 that does the slower stuff, including XT games by slowing it down to almost nothing and the socket 370 / A system to cover mere demanding stuff. And maybe a (super) socket 7 in between, with at least a MMX CPU or go for a K6-2/3.

Socket 7 with MMX CPU and S3 trio graphics is generally a better performer for DOS, running everything that is not low-speed-dependant.

"Let the hoarding begin!"

Stuck at 10MHz...

Reply 25 of 52, by The Serpent Rider

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chublord wrote on 2020-08-08, 22:14:

The original Warcraft 2 only required a 486/33 processor

More like DX2/66. DX4/100 if you want more or less smooth gameplay with lots of units on screen.

waterbeesje wrote on 2020-08-09, 09:57:

Socket 7 with MMX CPU and S3 trio graphics is generally a better performer for DOS, running everything that is not low-speed-dependant.

Socket 7 is better for everything, including games with CPU speed dependancy.

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Reply 26 of 52, by creepingnet

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As a 486 Enthusiast myself..... I find the least painful and best running combinations of parts tend to be....

CPU: Chips based off the 33MHz Bus, ie the DX-33, DX2-66, DX4-100, or Am5x86 133 - the faster you go the more you start to get into a Pentium-level performance bracket (well, almost). If going DX4 I'd be careful of AMD because they have some 8K Cache models. While it does not make a big difference, it does make one and I find a DX4-75 by Intel with 16KB has a tiny edge over a DX4-100 with 8K and writeback.

Motherboards: Like another poster said, a ton of different busses. I'd stick with VLB or PCI though, as those are the easiest to get parts for without paying too terribly much for them these days. Some good ones include the FIC 486 series for VLB, Biostar MB8433UUD is a great PCI board of the time, I also like DTK's motherboards, as well as ASUS, I had a GX4 for awhile. I'd stypically try to stick with something with Socket 3 and equipped with the Cache RAM chips already, around 256K was the average.

RAM: Most 486 came with 4MB to 16MB of RAM stock, in 72 pin or 30 pin varieties. You'll probably want 72 pin because it does not need matched pairs/quartets to work in most boards, is easier to find, and in some boards EDO and 60ns SIMMs work just fine widening your parts selection quite a bit, they also are easier to get in higher capacities in 72 pin variety.

An AWE32 or AWE64 can be costly, I hear someone on here is working on a clone of the 64. I use an AWE64 on my 486 DX4-100 desktop myself, I love it, and mine is a weirdo (it runs occasionally as a 486-Based Digital Audio Workstation usting that card for recording). The AWE32 on some boards can be tricked to get 5 total IDE devices working in the machine if it has the IDE port - I did that once on a previous 486 I had to get 4 HDD + an Optical Drive.

As for what cards should be VLB on a Vesa Local bus System - I would pick the graphics card and hard disk I/O. These two things are the biggest bottleneck. In my own system I have a PTI-255W "Super I/O" Controller for the hard disk, floppy disk, and serial/parellel I/O, and a S3 805 2MB SVGA card for graphics. Running modern drives, including SATA with an adapter, I get the full PIO Mode 4 out of it. Boot time off a modern Sata Drive for Windows 95 on that thing is about 34 Seconds. Just to show you the ceiling. Starting off you'd be fine even with a basic single IDE Multi I/O VLB card and a 512K or 1MB SVGA card - since most DOS and Windows stuff does not need more than that on 486 hardware, but I'm one of those people obsessed with maxxing stuff out.

Most of my parts come from E-bay and the Vintage Computer Forum Marketplace these days, though before COVID-19 I was having some luck in finding parts at local computer recycling places. When I still lived in Seattle I was using RE-PC quite a bit as they started catering to us at their Tukwila store around that time.

486's can be fun little machines with a very wide usability level - the oldest ones are like insane fast 386es, while the newer ones are pretty much in "Tweener" territory (as close as you'll ever get on a Pre-Pentium platform). Mine tend fall into the latter category, but I'm still using 486s for productivity sometimes so there ya' go.

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Reply 27 of 52, by The Serpent Rider

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VLB boards should be avoided, unless you want to benchmark something on them.

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Reply 29 of 52, by Anonymous Coward

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VLB cards tend to more expensive because they were produced in smaller numbers and there is demand for them. There is nothing wrong with a VLB 486 (some of us prefer them). If you can get a VLB setup cheaply then go for it.

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Reply 30 of 52, by Sedrosken

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Well, in the case of War2 BNE (and tangentially Diablo, as I believe its requirements are the same for the same reasons) I believe the transition to using DirectX for video (specifically DirectDraw) is a bit less efficient than relying on addressing the video hardware directly. That and it makes good use of both ALU pipelines of the Pentium -- My DX4 100 struggles very much to maintain a playable framerate in Diablo, despite running War2 for DOS beautifully, even with a decent VLB video card -- the TGUI9440AGi is quite possibly one of the best in DOS (according to some of the benchmarks I've seen for it here) albeit mediocre in Windows, and definitely is the best for what I paid for it.

If Diablo had originally been a DOS game (as War2 was) I believe it would have performed a lot better...

Reply 31 of 52, by JudgeMonroe

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Anonymous Coward wrote on 2020-08-11, 02:57:

VLB cards tend to more expensive because they were produced in smaller numbers and there is demand for them. There is nothing wrong with a VLB 486 (some of us prefer them). If you can get a VLB setup cheaply then go for it.

That’s not really a compelling reason to avoid VLB boards. You’re not obligated to put VLB cards in your 486 if you can’t afford them — and they don’t seem to be particularly expensive.

I know you’re not the original commenter, but comments that are both prescriptive and vague are not useful.

Reply 32 of 52, by The Serpent Rider

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Why?

More problems with setting everything up (jumpers, cache policy, memory chipset limitations, etc).
Usually HDD size is limited more.
Very picky with system bus speed and also can be unstable with 3 VLB cards installed.
Can't install USB / decent network card for quick file management.
Hard to find decent VLB video card or any other VLB stuff, outside of the most basic IO cards.
Might not have support for 3.3v CPUs.

If you just want "486 feel", PCI board is much easier solution to scratch that itch.

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Reply 33 of 52, by JudgeMonroe

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The Serpent Rider wrote on 2020-08-11, 09:38:
More problems with setting everything up (jumpers, cache policy, memory chipset limitations, etc). Usually HDD size is limited m […]
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Why?

More problems with setting everything up (jumpers, cache policy, memory chipset limitations, etc).
Usually HDD size is limited more.
Very picky with system bus speed and also can be unstable with 3 VLB cards installed.
Can't install USB / decent network card for quick file management.
Hard to find decent VLB video card or any other VLB stuff, outside of the most basic IO cards.
Might not have support for 3.3v CPUs.

If you just want "486 feel", PCI board is much easier solution to scratch that itch.

This is good food for thought for OP, but there is a counterpoint to all of these admonitions.

Understanding jumper, cache, BIOS settings is par for the course: your "486 feel" is exactly that kind of understanding. I don't know if a 486-kind-of-itch is really scratched by "it's like a Pentium, but slower". If you're building a 486 in the modern age it should be understood that there's a hardware and vocabulary learning curve. Anyone buying a motherboard or expansion cards should try not to get boxed in by a lack of documentation, that's for sure.

HDD size, IMO, doesn't matter in 2020. CF cards are cheap, fast, and a stack of 512MB "hard disks" is an eBay away. Software through 1995 doesn't take up much room anyway, and I think most of us are doing our hoarding on other platforms now. The only time this is actually an issue is when the system literally doesn't work with your gear; I have a Plato board that won't boot with anything larger than 2GB attached, which is irritating but it's not the end of the world. We all have different use cases but so far I'm nowhere near filling up a single 512MB card on my 486.

USB is a non-argument. "Decent" network card is a non-argument. You can use any 16bit ISA network card you want, if you want one. You're not going to feel the pinch. Most builds won't need one. The CF sneakernet has more bandwidth than any ethernet or USB solution for "file management". A 486 is a poor platform for Windows 95 and the USB era anyway.

"Hard to find" cards depends on the day of the week. If you're in a hurry, everything's expensive and rare. If you can watch the auctions, you don't need to spend much. That "Basic I/O" card with PIO mode 2 is plenty fast for the things most of us are going to use a 486 for. The Secret of Monkey Island doesn't care. "Unstable" with 3 VLB cards installed? So install 2. After IO and VGA, what's the third one going to be anyway? SCSI would just be a hassle at this point.

The 3.3v CPU thing might be an issue for some. A prototypical 486DX2-66 is perfectly suited for a 5V VLB system. Honestly, beyond those specs -- if you want DX4, you want PCI, you want all 32bit cards, you want all kinds of RAM, you want onboard IO, you want one maybe two jumpers to worry about, you want big disks and SVGA and Windows 95 and etc. -- build a pentium instead. Otherwise, the 486 is the only platform where you really even have a chance to play with some of this esoteric transitional stuff. It's not as scary as people make it out to be. Well, EISA might be, but VLB is basically just kind of cool.

When I ran a 486 "in the wild" I was doing a lot of AutoDesk stuff; 3DStudio mostly. I always tried to optimize and get a little bit faster at every turn. Now? I mean, optimization is like golf. It's nice to save a stroke here and there but it's not going to ruin your weekend.

Reply 34 of 52, by The Serpent Rider

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"Hard to find" cards depends on the day of the week.

There are practically no issues with PCI controllers and video cards on any day of the week. They are readily available.

Understanding jumper, cache, BIOS settings is par for the course: your "486 feel" is exactly that kind of understanding.

Only if you want to tinker with hardware stuff instead of playing something.

Get up, come on get down with the sickness
Open up your hate, and let it flow into me

Reply 35 of 52, by cyclone3d

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I would not recommend playing SimCity 2000 on any 486. Once the city gets to be a decent size, the game will be an absolute frustration to try and do anything. The faster the system the better on pretty much any of the SimCity games.

386 25Mhz as the requirement... HA. Sure it will run it, but ewwwwwwwwwww.

The SimCity franchise used to be some of my favorite games. I cannot fathom trying to play them on a 486.

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Reply 36 of 52, by JudgeMonroe

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Only if you want to tinker with hardware stuff instead of playing something.

Sure, but only once, then the system is set up forever. If you really dislike tinkering with hardware, there's always DosBox.

Reply 37 of 52, by utahraptor

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After reading the concerns regarding Total Annihilation & Sim City 2000 performance on a 486 platform I am also considering an alternate socket 7 MMX build. I have a few concerns:

Will Dos still be fully functional and considered authentic?

Does this platform fully support the windows 3.1?

Will the motherboard be fully supported or will various pieces have no drivers or be unsupported?

Will I still be able to make full use of the AWE 32/64 or other external MIDI devices both in DOS and Win 3.1?

Thanks...

Reply 38 of 52, by Nvm1

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I still play Total Annihilation and if you limit yourself to 500 units per player in the original game without extra units/other AI etc even a pentium 4 3.2 will come to a crawl at moments.
My modern with a 3930k even slows down with the 5k limit with another AI and some other improvements incorporated.. and I still like it 😀
The possibilities of that game where way more then any pc at the time could handle

But don't limit yourself over this game, for other games of your list you can play well with a good 486 or an easy socket 7 build.

Reply 39 of 52, by waterbeesje

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Windows 3.11 and DOS 6.22 will be fully working on the MMX system. Just care for selecting the right hardware.

- hard disk: partition size support is just 2GB on DOS 6.22, with a maximum of 8GB total hard disk space.
- Ram: 16MB will do fine. 64MB is there maximum usable for DOS himem. Make sure you've got enough cache memory to support your ram.
- graphics: Matrox Millennium is my favourite in Windows 3.1x. drivers are fully working as they should. Next is the famous S3 trio or S3 Virge, also very fast and reliable both in Windows 3.1x and DOS.
-Sound: anything ISA that had half decent Windows 3.1x drivers will do. There AWE you are looking into will definately work unless the soundcard is broken.
- mouse, keyboard... Nothing to worry about. Although I ran into a driver conflict between cutemouse and Windows once... Just took a little workaround to choose whether to load the DOS driver or not.

With an MMX you may consider dual boot with Windows 98. Then you could find yourself a PCI Nvidia TNT or TNT2. Those do have Windows 3.1x drivers, will need fast enough for early Windows 9x games and have good vesa support in DOS.

Will DOS be authentic? Yes and no. Most people were getting Windows 95 by then, often pre installed. DOS was already considered old, but still available for people who refused to go to win 95. Also some critical / industrial systems may have ran DOS, maybe with w3.1x, for compatibility with older equipment.

Stuck at 10MHz...