Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Discussion about old sound cards, MIDI devices and sound related accessories.

Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby crash. » 2008-5-24 @ 09:29

Greetings,

I'm trying to put together an old system for playing DOS games, and I'm having a lot of trouble finding an appropriate sound card.

I purchased a Sound Blaster 16 PCI, which uses wavetables in place of FM, which sounds terrible since the games in question were not scored for wavetable synthesis.

I would like a PCI card that is Sound Blaster compatible and retains actual OPL type FM synthesis. It is also important that the DOS drivers have a minimal memory footprint. A few of the others that I have tried, such as an Aureal Vortex2, simply use too much memory for many games to be able to run.

Several of these games are DOS only, so I need something that does not need Windows for any reason.

Is there anything you can recommend?
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby eL_PuSHeR » 2008-5-24 @ 10:03

Get a motherboard with ISA slots. The last (and first) pseudo-MS-DOS-compatible PCI card was the SB PCI64 (which was really a ensoniq card).
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby crash. » 2008-5-24 @ 10:14

I was actually hoping to use a slightly faster system, and I'm not sure how fast I can go with ISA still on board. Does the SB PCI 64 still do FM?
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby eL_PuSHeR » 2008-5-24 @ 10:19

I have got an Athlon 800Mhz with ISA slots that performs quite well for ms-dos games.
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby Dominus » 2008-5-24 @ 11:12

I'm not sure if that shoe fits every PCI soundcard but I think it does: For the PCI soundcards to work under Dos you have to load a couple of drivers. That means you can forget about the small memory footprint but more importantly and much worse, the drivers require EMS and that means that a couple of games just won't work anymore (for example Ultima 7 Part 1+2). So for true Dos playing an ISA card is the way to go.
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby Zup » 2008-5-24 @ 12:43

PCI soundcards are not the best choice for a pure DOS system. The drivers are always not 100% compatible (SB AudioPCI and Live! lock the computer often in DOS mode).

There were some motherboards with a SB-link (a wire to connect to early SB PCI) which might improve compatibility slightly, and also my first Athlon Motherboard (it was a Kudoz 7) had a SB compatible sound chip (it was hardware compatible, no drivers needed).
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby crash. » 2008-5-24 @ 14:36

It looks like an Ensoniq AudioPCI may be worth a look as it has the 1370 chipset with OPL emulation (instead of the 1371 which has wavetable). Can anyone confirm? Also, it looks like the driver for the 1370 is 4k, which is much better than the 38k currently eaten by the Aureal Vortex2.

I don't know what I'm going to do about games like Ultima7, although perhaps that will run acceptably in DOSBOX. The DOS 3D games are the ones that I'm most concerned about running in DOS. Some of these include Ultima Underworld 1&2, and the 3DFX DOS only games like Whiplash, Archemedian Dynasty, Redguard, etc...and of course Carmageddon ;)

I don't currently have any ISA sound cards, or a reasonably fast system with ISA slots :/

I'll have to look into motherboards that have onboard sound blaster compatible sound. The ones that I've got access to have onboard video, which completely interferes with most of these games.
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby Dominus » 2008-5-24 @ 14:55

If you are looking for current motherboards with onboard sound, don't bother. These won't be a good solution for Dos gaming anymore. If at all, look for semi current MB with ISA and get a cheap ISA sound card. There has been a thread here on such a motherboard.
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby gerwin » 2008-5-24 @ 18:03

This is what I can say about PCI soundcards for use in pure DOS, I'll do it from start to finish:

Most DOS programs/games are designed to only access ISA soundcards, by using typical ISA channels for sound data: IRQ, I/O, DMA. A PCI card's DOS driver must setup routings to intercept the ISA-style orders for playing sound and music and pass them through to the PCI hardware. There are two emulation methods to do this in pure DOS:
1) DDMA (Distributed DMA) (EDIT: combined with an IRQ related method.)
2) PC/PCI using a Physical SB-LINK connection.
Such a method must be supported by both soundcard and motherboard for the method to work. DDMA support is more common than PC/PCI support. You should only expect to find such support on PCI soundcards sold new up until about 2001. Roughly the same seems to go for DDMA support on motherboards, not really sure here.

DDMA (Distributed DMA):
Ensoniq AudioPCI was the first with a pure-dos DDMA emulation. The related software was bought by creative and adjusted for their AudioPCI-clones, SB-Live!'s and Audigy-1's. AFAIK it is all roughly the same program, just that creative replaced the soundscape emulation with SB16 emulation. It requires EMM386 loaded. It supports OPL-3 and General Midi music with a software driver. (I only used SB-PCI 128 and SB-Live!)

Aureal Vortex-2 does SB-Pro DDMA emulation. OPL-3 music in software. It is one of the few to have a functional wavetable daughterboard header in DOS. Otherwise no software General-Midi available. You can use the command "LH AU30DOS.COM" to load the emulator, in this case it only takes 1k of your base memory.

I also tried a more recent Turtle Beach Santa Cruz (Crystal chipset) in DOS once. It worked, doing the usual SB-Pro emulation and software OPL-3 music. General Midi in DOS can possibly be achieved when utilizing an external Midi device, but I could not try this because I don't have one of those. The wavetable daughterboard header is windows only. The driver program (TBCDOS.exe) had very few options and was hardly documented.

PC/PCI using a Physical SB-LINK connection:
I have seen it supported on the AWE-64 and ESS Solo-1 soundcards. I have only used it with a Yamaha YMF724 based soundcard on a BX440 motherboard. It emulates a SB-Pro too. This setup failed with only one game so far (Quarantine). As a bonus this particular card has an integrated hardware OPL-3 for music. General Midi in DOS can only be achieved when utilizing an external Midi device.

Here is an additional read on this topic, aimed at Ultima 7 players:
PCI Soundcards for Ultima 7

ISA Cards are probably a fine, if not better, approach. I happended to mess around with PCI cards for no particular reason. ;)
Last edited by gerwin on 2008-5-24 @ 22:36, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby StickByDos » 2008-5-24 @ 20:28

On ESS Solo's datasheet, there is some explanation for dos compatibility with pci sound cards (TDMA, DDMA, PCPCI)

Where come from the need of EMM386 ? IO trapping using PMODE IO permission ?

When I get in 2000 a new 1GHz Athlon which didn't have any ISA slot, I spend too much time to understand that I wouldn't be able to make serious dos gaming with this computer. It had VIA chipset but dos sound was disabled in the oem bios and I didn't have so much knowledge, my first attempt was to install a crappy pci sound card which had dos compatibility accord to what was written on its box but it was too much unstable and some games were only playable with adlib instead of SB for sfx
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby gerwin » 2008-5-24 @ 20:41

StickByDos: Where come from the need of EMM386 ? IO trapping using PMODE IO permission ?

Only the Ensoniq/Creative emulation drivers need EMM386. I suspect they use this memory manager to reserve the system memory to contain a complete General-Midi soundbank. Such a soundbank takes around 2 to 8MB.
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby wd » 2008-5-24 @ 20:50

Usually as StickByDos said the emm386 requirement comes from port trapping
(i remember some explicit functions for qemm, can't find ones for emm386
at the moment).
Just for large-memory requirements they could use xms/pmode switching, too.
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby gerwin » 2008-5-24 @ 21:27

Right...I again remember the Nonmaskable Interrupt (NMI) requirement of these Ensoniq/Creative drivers. I am not very familiar with that, but might that be what is being trapped with EMM386? In my above writing I omitted the interrupt part of the story. and any extra dependensies that may bring.

So on one hand we have 2) PC/PCI and S-IRQ throught the sideband SB-LINK cable.
And without this cable we have: 1) DDMA... combined with an interrupt related method with one of the following abbreviations "ISA" "INTA" "NMI"... (this last bit I haven't got sorted yet)
ENSONIQ AudioPCI. ES1370 Preliminary Specification
1.2.LEGACY
The Legacy subsystem is the circuitry required to perform SoundBlaster, OPL-FM and MPU-401 emulation. Functionally AudioPCI traps on access of the SoundBlaster registers and then issues the appropriate IRQ or SERR command on the PCI bus. AudioPCI handles the Legacy DMA func tion in a similar fashion. The exact functionality of the block cannot be fully disclosed at this time due to pending patent protection for the application of this technique.

Distributed-DMA techniques allow easy migration from the ISA bus to the PCI bus
To sum up, some common devices on the ISA bus need distributed DMA or ISA IRQ signals; most devices require both. PCMCIA, super-I/O chips, and audio systems need solutions to both problems to be able to move from the ISA bus to the PCI bus. To enable PCI docking without a gaggle of ISA sideband signals and to enable the creation of legacy-compatible systems without an ISA bus requires solutions to both problems.
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby crash. » 2008-5-24 @ 23:55

Okay, I have some Vortex2 cards, and managed to get one working (memory conflict previously) so I think I'm taken care of with regard to Ultima7 and several of these other games. I'll still keep my eye out for a faster system with ISA along with an ISA Sound Blaster.

Thanks!
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby valnar » 2008-5-25 @ 19:51

The best compatibility I've achieved with PCI is a Aureal SQ2500 with my Roland SCD-15 daughterboard. With either umbpci.sys or emm386.exe, I can load it high. I've got some perfectly tweaked DOS machines that run it fine.

Crash, how fast do you need the system? There are some good PIII era motherboards that has ISA slots and should handle any DOS game made.

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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby crash. » 2008-5-26 @ 02:25

Right now I have a couple 450mhz boards running. an 800 (no ISA) that seems defective, and a few 1ghz systems with on-board video seem unuseable since the optiion rom seems to use way too much memory.

I am building a DOS system to play some very stubborn titles like Dungeon Master 2, Ultima Underworld I&II, Eye of the Beholder I,II,&III, and Voodoo DOS titles like Archimedian Dynasty, Whiplash, Extreme Assault, etc... I would also be happy to play Future Shock and Skynet at 640x480 with better performance than was possible the first time around.

I went ahead and ordered a few Sound Blaster Pro 2 ISA cards, and hopefully these will do what is needed on the 450's. I couldn't find detailed information on the SB Pro 2, but hope it still has OPL/FM rather than wavetable. I've tried three different wavetable cards with some of these games, and they just don't sound right. The Vortex2 is running for now, but I understand the Sound Blaster will have better sounding FM synthesis.

Of course, I would like the fastest system possible, so how fast can I go and still retain ISA slots?
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby valnar » 2008-5-26 @ 02:56

You can use an ASUS P2B with a powerleap or slotket adapter, but that may be more money than you want to spend. If only *one* ISA slot is important, there were several socket 370 boards with a single ISA slot perfect for a SB16.

I used to own this many years ago:
http://www.gigabyte.com.tw/Products/Motherboard/Products_Spec.aspx?ProductID=1471

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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby crash. » 2008-6-04 @ 10:14

Cool, I'll have to start putting together a faster system with the all important ISA slot.

I did scrounge up some Intel SE440BX2 boards that have onboard Yamaha YMF740 audio. This behaves like an ISA Sound Blaster card, as it requires no drivers, but has 16-bit audio and good sounding Yamaha FM synthesis. The boards may be limited to a 450mhz CPU, but will keep me busy for now.

Thanks!
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby Nil » 2008-6-10 @ 20:00

I use the Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold PnP(4$ ) and Yamaha YMF 724(7$ ) for Dos Computer.
And SB X-Fi Gamer(125$) for Normal Computer.
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Re: Recommend a PCI Sound Card for DOS

Postby crash. » 2008-6-11 @ 01:40

The Yamaha YMF724 seems to be an ideal option, since it is a PCI card that claims to have a legacy audio block that provides hardware compatibility for PC games on DOS without any software driver.

Thanks!
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