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First post, by RetroGamer4Ever

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We now live in a time of retro consoles and such, where customized hardware is used to replicate (and improve) upon old gaming systems and the experience of playing old games. On the PC side, we really don't seem to have anything for classic x86, despite other architectures and systems having "new and improved" versions of old hardware and software. That being said, what if we did? And if we did, what if we also incorporated specific hardware advances, to offer a superior experience and better performance. Since we can now get custom x86 hardware, is this an option people would like to explore?

To give an idea of what I'm talking about, here's a hypothetical example....

A mini-tower design, with the following:

A custom, low-speed 32-bit Intel SOC, based on the older CPUs that powered Windows 9x and XP, but incorporating modern advancements in chip design such as multiple cores, with an integrated GPU and 4GB of on-chip system memory. This could also run Windows 3.1 in "Enhanced Mode" to allow for 4GB memory access. Intel is capable of making a chip like this, through their custom chip business division.

The mobo would have SATA and IDE ports for drives/flash storage, multiple PCI and ISA slots for vintage and neo-vintage retro cards, and use only HQ electrical components, because it should be hardware that lasts a long time.

Software would consist of FreeDOS and Windows 3.1-XP, with customized drivers and add-on software like dgVoodoo, to allow the broadest range of vintage software to be enjoyed.

Just spit-balling here. Any thoughts?

Reply 1 of 37, by cyclone3d

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FreeDOS has major issues that affect it's usefulness for retro gaming.... Some sound cards won't even work properly with it.

Yamaha YMF modified setupds and drivers
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Reply 2 of 37, by zyzzle

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Yes, a SOC with modern sound, onboard video, and of course on a board with USB 3 support, high-capacity SATA (hell, perhaps even NVMe drive support), large amounts of memory while still maintaining full DOS sound and video-register compatibility (VESA 1.2, 2.0, and 3.0, with all fancy sub 640x480 modes intact, including 8bpp, 15bpp, and 16bpp) and high-resolution video mode support up to and beyond 1600x1200, and 1920x1080. With your choice of a period-correct 4:3 PAR or a bastardized 16:9, 16:10, or 3:2 aspect ratio, with proper 4:3 windowboxing of 4:3 PAR content.

Reply 3 of 37, by canthearu

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Why not ask for a pony too?

Why would you want a multi-core CPU to run DOS or Windows 3.1 on? Neither type of software supports that the multiple cores, huge amounts of memory or hard drives you are proposing.

Full DOS sound: so what sound card do you emulate ... will it be the SB 1.0/1.5, SB 2.0, SB PRO 1.0, SB PRO 2.0, SB 16, PAS16, GUS, or one of the many clones that existed?

Anyone who is going to be making such a retro device is going to have to really narrow down exactly what they are going to do to a very large degree, most of this wishlist is going to have to be discarded in the process just so what is being focused on actually turns out OK.

And that is ignoring the biggest problem ... that there is still literal tons of retro gear out there going for relatively inexpensive prices that new, limited run, hardware simply isn't going to be able to match, especially with the degree of custom engineering people are asking for.

All this reminds me of the simpsons episode where Homer designs a car.

Reply 4 of 37, by Caluser2000

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canthearu wrote on 2021-09-20, 00:14:
Why not ask for a pony too? […]
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Why not ask for a pony too?

Why would you want a multi-core CPU to run DOS or Windows 3.1 on? Neither type of software supports that the multiple cores, huge amounts of memory or hard drives you are proposing.

Full DOS sound: so what sound card do you emulate ... will it be the SB 1.0/1.5, SB 2.0, SB PRO 1.0, SB PRO 2.0, SB 16, PAS16, GUS, or one of the many clones that existed?

Anyone who is going to be making such a retro device is going to have to really narrow down exactly what they are going to do to a very large degree, most of this wishlist is going to have to be discarded in the process just so what is being focused on actually turns out OK.

And that is ignoring the biggest problem ... that there is still literal tons of retro gear out there going for relatively inexpensive prices that new, limited run, hardware simply isn't going to be able to match, especially with the degree of custom engineering people are asking for.

All this reminds me of the simpsons episode where Homer designs a car.

^^^^What he posted^^^

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Apparently 32-bit is dead and nobody likes P4s.
Of course, as always, I'm open to correction...😉

Reply 5 of 37, by SScorpio

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Someone attempting something like this. But IMO the end result still has the fast chip running at wrong frequency messing up games. viewtopic.php?f=25&t=80651
Anything that ran on DOS, Win 3.x and 9.x won't utilize 4GB of RAM and generally won't support multiple cores. And while you have a sweet new motherboard that can run PCI and ISA cards, the number of these cards continues to decline.

Consoles have gotten mods that improve them such as grabbing the digital video and bypass the analog circuitry and then scaling that and outputting HDMI. But computers are also getting mods, look at the XT IDE, the Amiga Vampire mods, etc.

The "new" retro consoles fall into one of three camps. The official ones are normally emulated on lower-powered ARM hardware with a fancy case. Some 3rd party ones are on custom SOCs that almost all universally suck (Jeri Ellsworth's C64 is an exception to this). And finally, FPGA-based systems which attempt to simulate the system at a hardware level.

Of these FPGA is seen as the most accurate, though they are still created by humans and may not be 100%. Then again original hardware had different revisions and sometimes there were incompatibilities, the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive switch Yamaha sound chips, and some early games don't sound right on new systems, and vice versa with some later games written for the newer chip. The SNES changed graphics chips consolidating them and some games have visual errors on the later hardware. Then going down to two consoles of the same revision sitting on a shelf, components in them are made within a range with some being accurate to within 1-5%. So you and a friend could each buy one but one of you has a clock chip that runs ever so slightly faster, so what is accurate to an original console.

The FPGA cores can improve on the original consoles, the Genesis/Mega Drive core in a menu lets you switch the Yamaha sound chip. Old console limits to how many sprites could be displayed on a line and then would flicker if there were too many. You can keep this behavior or enable an option to increase the limit. You can overclock just a part of the system like the SNES's addon SuperFX chip where some games ran at 15fps or fewer, the overlock improves performance. Some cores add save states which helped with old games that didn't have a way to save.

Old computers have also gotten this treatment from the Amiga, Apple 2, Atari ST, C64, MSX, etc. And yes even the IBM PC. There is an FPGA core named ao486 which can simulate a 486SX at around 33-40ishMhz. It has an ET4000 video card, a SB Pro that has real stereo OPL 2/3, CMS, and an MPU-401 that can interface to a Raspberry Pi to get MT32 support, as well as accessing Fluidsynth. It can run DOS, Win3.X, and Win 95/98.

There's always the possibility of small runs of new cards like the Orpheus, the Ultimate SB64, and even a custom real Voodoo 5 6000. But original chips are a finite resource that will be eventually exhausted. The time is now to start figuring out how everything works and creating accurate simulations. The FPGAs are a programmatic design of just how a system worked, they are portable between multiple vendors, and if you have the resources you can take the design and creating your own IO systems create an SOC that does the same thing.

Reply 6 of 37, by RetroGamer4Ever

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The point is to run DOS, Windows 3.1-XP on a single machine that outperforms original hardware and be able to use some vintage sound cards with superior performance, which you can certainly do. People have installed Windows 3.1 on "modern hardware" with no issues, thanks to the knowledge we now have available. To the guy saying "There's plenty of old gear around for reasonable prices...", I can only say that you are absolutely wrong. There is no massive stockpile of old gear in the market anymore going for couch change like there was in 2008, cause people rightfully chucked that stuff not soon after, and what's left out there doesn't work very well, as evidenced by the constant posts about trying to get some junk heap laptop working and the "I can't get a beige case for less than both of my kidneys!" posts. Some things you can find easily, like RAM and soundcards, but pretty much everything else is scrap parts that you have to piece together and pray for functionality or cast-off garbage that requires significant repair work.

Reply 7 of 37, by canthearu

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RetroGamer4Ever wrote on 2021-09-20, 00:54:

The point is to run DOS, Windows 3.1-XP on a single machine that outperforms original hardware and be able to use some vintage sound cards with superior performance, which you can certainly do. People have installed Windows 3.1 on "modern hardware" with no issues, thanks to the knowledge we now have available. To the guy saying "There's plenty of old gear around for reasonable prices...", I can only say that you are absolutely wrong. There is no massive stockpile of old gear in the market anymore going for couch change like there was in 2008, cause people rightfully chucked that stuff not soon after, and what's left out there doesn't work very well, as evidenced by the constant posts about trying to get some junk heap laptop working and the "I can't get a beige case for less than both of my kidneys!" posts. Some things you can find easily, like RAM and soundcards, but pretty much everything else is scrap parts that you have to piece together and pray for functionality or cast-off garbage that requires significant repair work.

Would you pay $400-$500 US or more for such a board? This is what I mean by this custom design is not going to be cheap. What you are asking for is not a $35 Raspberry Pi level project.

As an example, for only a tiny portion of the work you are asking for, being a redesigned circuit board, with scavenged parts, already costs $340 US.

https://monotech.fwscart.com/NuXT_v20_-_Micro … 4_19777986.aspx

People in these forums often lose perspective about what is cheap/expensive. Sure, a $100 Pentium Motherboard CPU/RAM/Video combination from ebay is expensive compared to prices 10 years ago, but still far cheaper than trying to recreate all that on a new circuit.

Another thing is you can't have new hardware outperform the original hardware while not creating a lot of issues. Largely, it has to operate at around the same speed, otherwise a significant amount of the software you want to run will start showing issues!

Reply 8 of 37, by Namrok

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Man, it's such an existential question. Basically comes down to playing Ship of Theseus with our nostalgia. What happens when you take a 1997 era, P 233 MMX, 32 MB, Riva 128/Voodoo 1 rig, and replace the 350 nm pentium with a brand spanking new, lets say 14 nm chip? The capabilities aren't enhanced in any way, but it sips power, generates almost no heat, and will likely last for fucking ever. How would it feel plopping that into a Socket 7 motherboard without any heatsink at all?

But in my own searching, P 233 MMX chips are plentiful and cheap. It's the motherboards that are the problem. The most prone to failure, the most essential, almost the most expensive outside of some prestige graphics cards, and the most finnicky in terms of compatibility and capability. I would kill for just a modern crack at a motherboard supporting older sockets and expansion slots. I could care less if the northbridge/southbride is just an FPGA or ARM processor, so long as it gives me IDE, ISA, PCI and AGP in a reliable package.

Taking it further, by the time you get to an SoC with baked in SB16/AWE and DX7/OGL1.3/Glide capabilities, it starts to feel like you may as well just emulate the thing if that's more viable from a production and design standpoint. A big draw for me is actually building and tinkering with these systems, and an SoC defeats that purpose. What do I care if it's running true x86 bare metal or not?

I suspect the way preservation will go is just emulation. But if a man can dream, I dream of an open source super socket 7 motherboard. For the time being there are tons of cheap socket 7 CPUs, PCI and ISA sound cards of all manner, and cheap PCI and AGP graphics cards if you aren't picky. I haven't seen a single cheap socket 7 motherboard in the 3 years I've been on the market.

Reply 9 of 37, by canthearu

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Namrok wrote on 2021-09-20, 01:36:

I haven't seen a single cheap socket 7 motherboard in the 3 years I've been on the market.

Can anyone make a new socket 7 motherboard of half decent quality for less than what they go for on ebay?

You might feel that Socket 7 motherboards on ebay are expensive, but a new one would probably be exactly like the NuXT system I linked .... somewhere around the $300 US mark.

Besides, I have more than enough socket 5 and socket 7 boards in my life. They can't be that rare or fragile.

Edit: Here we go:

https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/254755223869?hash … ukAAOSwELRfkBWX

Cheapish socket 7 board.

Reply 10 of 37, by Caluser2000

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I must say my last 486 cost a huge amount-3onz pasos came with monitor, speakers, kb, mouse and original OEM software. And OI had to make a round trip of 100kms to get it. Man I was ripped off.

There's a glitch in the matrix.
A founding member of the 286 appreciation society.
Apparently 32-bit is dead and nobody likes P4s.
Of course, as always, I'm open to correction...😉

Reply 11 of 37, by Namrok

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canthearu wrote on 2021-09-20, 01:46:
Can anyone make a new socket 7 motherboard of half decent quality for less than what they go for on ebay? […]
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Namrok wrote on 2021-09-20, 01:36:

I haven't seen a single cheap socket 7 motherboard in the 3 years I've been on the market.

Can anyone make a new socket 7 motherboard of half decent quality for less than what they go for on ebay?

You might feel that Socket 7 motherboards on ebay are expensive, but a new one would probably be exactly like the NuXT system I linked .... somewhere around the $300 US mark.

Besides, I have more than enough socket 5 and socket 7 boards in my life. They can't be that rare or fragile.

Edit: Here we go:

https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/254755223869?hash … ukAAOSwELRfkBWX

Cheapish socket 7 board.

You know, checking out the NuXT product page, and watching LGRs video, I would absolutely support a brand new, small batch $400 Super Socket 7 board with new components and modern conveniences over a $50-$150 ebay auction of unknown provenance and longevity.

Sure, I could roll the dice on ebay auctions 3 or 4 times for the cost of that one small batch board. But for whatever reason, I value the known quantity of a brand new small batch project over the unknown unknowns of Xth hand pseudo anonymous auctions. Plus, as demand continues to increase and supply continues to dwindle, I expect the price situation to continue to degrade. Maybe that $400 small batch boutique motherboard looks like a bad deal now. Maybe it looks a lot better in 5 years, and you'll be glad someone put the work in. Especially if, as I desired, it was open source.

Reply 12 of 37, by cyclone3d

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Good luck finding a new SS7 chipset in any quantity. There may be some tray of them floating around but a SS7 board is a whole lot more complicated than an XT motherboard and thus a small run would most likely end up being a whole lot more expensive than a NuXT.

And what about CPUs? Why even use a Socket 7 CPU? Prices on eBay are getting quite crazy for the better ones and it will only get worse.

By the time SS7 was out, there weren't really any speed sensitive games so you can really have whatever speed you want. AGP and fully functional ISA is really the only limiting factor as far as how far you can go if you want those slots.

PCI/ISA is pretty easy as there are some SOC designs that would be easy to implement. AGP is a whole other beast and you are looking at S478 and maybe early LGA775 IF you can find a specific PIAGP board that I have still not come across in at least 4 years of looking.

S478 is probably the highest that is feasible and is already available, even if only used for around $300 or so with AGP and full ISA support.

A new design small run would end up being much more expensive.

In the end, I am pretty sure we are going to be looking at pretty much pure emulation of everything as it is not really going to be worth it to try to keep running old hardware or coming up with new designs of old hardware as we are pretty much limited to NOS parts for new designs unless you are talking FPGA.

Yamaha YMF modified setupds and drivers
Yamaha XG resource repository - updated November 27, 2018
Yamaha YMF7x4 Guide
AW744L II - YMF744 - AOpen Cobra Sound Card - Install SB-Link Header

Reply 13 of 37, by canthearu

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Namrok wrote on 2021-09-20, 02:03:

You know, checking out the NuXT product page, and watching LGRs video, I would absolutely support a brand new, small batch $400 Super Socket 7 board with new components and modern conveniences over a $50-$150 ebay auction of unknown provenance and longevity.

The biggest hurdle I reckon would be developing a chipset FPGA ... should certainly be possible, with the chipset only needing to operate at 66mhz nominal.

Maybe have the cache work internally to the FPGA (256KB equivalent ) or attach 256meg of high performance DDR to the chipset and just slow the timings down for L2 cache misses vs L2 cache hits. RAM could be handled by modern memory modules compatible with the FPGA, and either implement the PCI/ISA buses in the FPGA or interface some other PCI bridge chip to do it for you.

Still a hugely ambitious project, but probably possible, rather than a vague "build everything PC into a modern board".

Reply 14 of 37, by Jo22

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RetroGamer4Ever wrote on 2021-09-19, 18:39:

Just spit-balling here. Any thoughts?

Yes. Your ideas aren't so far-fetched as it may sound, considering that the 90s were a quarter century ago (which some still haven't realized, imho).

The technology itself isn't too hard to replicate, if we concentrate on both ends - rather than the middle.
- In radio terms, this would be called the skip zone (or dead zone, in some languages). A zone that's not within reach.

Thing is, on the lower end, 386/486 (+586 in a broader sense) were still second-sourced and many companies made compatibles/clones of their architecture. Now, there's effectively only AMD/Intel remaining.
In addition, they found their ways in many niches, like in the automotive/industrial business. And they can be made using lower end technology that slowly comes into the reach of hobbyists.
Like through the use of FPGAs, as an interim solution, until hobbyists can "print" physically real, native CPU cores on plastic or something along these lines.

Second, on the higher end, CPUs that we consider "low-end" are still being manufactured; sometimes with not so outdated manufacturing technology still available.
VIA with its Nano series was very active last time I checked, for example. Maybe there are others. Also, there are Thin Clients.. They do focus on low-power rather than performance.

canthearu wrote on 2021-09-20, 00:14:

Full DOS sound: so what sound card do you emulate ... will it be the SB 1.0/1.5, SB 2.0, SB PRO 1.0, SB PRO 2.0, SB 16, PAS16, GUS, or one of the many clones that existed?

My vote goes for the PAS16, definitely. 👍 It's the most underrated and neglected one of them all.
None of the emulator writers in the past ~28 years even bothered thinking about it, despite it's comparatively hasslefree design and stability (vs SB)..

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In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

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Reply 15 of 37, by Gmlb256

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Jo22 wrote on 2021-09-22, 19:28:

My vote goes for the PAS16, definitely. 👍 It's the most underrated and neglected one of them all.
None of the emulator writers in the past ~28 years even bothered thinking about it, despite it's comparatively hasslefree design and stability (vs SB)..

I think that no one really bothered with PAS16 emulation due every software that supported it also supports the SB16. The only ones I have seen being emulated with varying accuracy are the entire ISA SB line except AWE cards (I think the EMU8K is more capable than just MIDI and only PCem emulates it), WSS and GUS.

Another thing that is very easy to forget is that the ESS AudioDrive sound cards aren't 100% compatible with WSS as many people claim on this forum.

Anyway, it would be interesting to emulate these for retro software development. 😀

Last edited by Gmlb256 on 2021-09-22, 20:54. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 16 of 37, by Jasin Natael

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Cool idea....but I don't think it is practical.
I also don't think there is much of a market for such a device.
Anyone who would want one badly enough is likely already emulating or have long since built a few retro machines for their fix, and anyone who doesn't want one badly enough or doesn't understand the technical limitations/advantages is most likely a console peasant already.

No offense I just don't think it is feasible. The closet off the shelf build would be a mini ITX build with some kind of very compatible APU, later Ryzen or Intel Xe based system. But then it is only compatible with newer OS's and there is no real DOS or EAX sound support......anything old enough that does support those standards is too slow or uses far to much power.....

Reply 17 of 37, by leileilol

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Gmlb256 wrote on 2021-09-22, 19:56:
Jo22 wrote on 2021-09-22, 19:28:

My vote goes for the PAS16, definitely. 👍 It's the most underrated and neglected one of them all.
None of the emulator writers in the past ~28 years even bothered thinking about it, despite it's comparatively hasslefree design and stability (vs SB)..

I think that no one really bothered with PAS16 emulation due every software that supported it also supports the SB16. The only ones I have seen being emulated with varying accuracy are the entire ISA SB line except AWE cards (I think the EMU8K is more capable than just MIDI and only PCem emulates it), WSS and GUS.

PCem does have unfinished PAS16 emulation code in there FYI BTW etc. 👀

apsosig.png
long live PCem

Reply 18 of 37, by Gmlb256

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leileilol wrote on 2021-09-22, 20:57:

PCem does have unfinished PAS16 emulation code in there FYI BTW etc. 👀

Cool! It would be great that someone could continue this one day, it's a great emulator supporting things that others don't.

Reply 19 of 37, by HangarAte2nds!

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A PMMX SOC would be nice, with broadly variable CPU and bus timing so you could have it run like a 286 through PII levels of performance. It would have multiple graphics and sound chipsets provided and everything would be BIOS configurable. It would have every I/O option from that era available as well as modern I/O options. It would have FPGA memory because I think that is where they get you as far as a universal solution goes. Cache can be critical for tuning a PC to run older software, just as much as CPU and bus speeds.
A highly tunable SBC to cover most software which does not run well on modern hardware without emulation. I would expect it to cost about $1000-1500 as a small production run product. In fact, even at that price, you would have to assemble it yourself, which is probably actually a selling point for the tiny, niche market. To seal the deal, I would probably have a second, modern SBC to allow the machine to be run through virtualization. It is more like something where you might be able to rent out these machines remotely for CS students to play with.
The main problem with emulators is there is no hardware to play with.