First post, by badmojo
One of my PIII's (A Pentium III Windows 98 build to complete the gang.) important duties is to run late DOS era SVGA games at a decent framerate. To allow this I use a dual boot (DOS 7 / Win98 SE) setup and have been using a Sound Blaster 16 (CT2290) + DB50XG in the single available ISA slot for sound duties in DOS. It's been a great setup, but Build engine games (and some others) stutter when used with a Creative card for FX and MIDI OUT simultaneously, and this bothered me. I wants my Duke3D.
I dug through my box of sound cards looking for a replacement and tried an:
- Audio Excel 3D (CMI8330 chipset) (discussed here Sound Blaster 16 Clones). I do like this card; the SB16 compatibility is nice and the DOS software is pretty good, but you can’t turn off the WSS support and the sound quality is not great. You can turn the amp off so noise is not an issue, but FX sound “tinnie”. There is also an issue with the game port on this card, detailed in the linked thread above.
- Aztech Sound Galaxy Pro 16. The version I have seems to be a little different to the other SG Pro 16 cards I’ve seen on the interwebs, in that it doesn’t have a real OPL3 and uses an Analog Devices chipset instead of the apparently more common Crystal chipset. Setup was easy enough and the Sound Blaster Pro compatibility seemed to be good, but it sounded like my speakers had been immersed in water. Also the wavetable header could not be configured to a useable port number (this is done via jumpers), the lowest available was port 530! Total fail.
I was about to give up and put the SB16 back in when I noticed this humble looking card, pulled from a junked Socket 7 machine at some time in the past and kept because it had a wavetable header:
This card does several things right. The DOS software – which can be found on Vogon Drivers – is bare bones but is easy to use and powerful. ESSCFG.EXE allows you to initialise the card and then exit (not a TSR), and the default values make sense. I was able to turn the game port and CD-ROM connector off easily and configure the wavetable header to port 330. ESSVOL.EXE is likewise easy to use, and allowed me to set the MIDI and CD volumes (both muted by default), and the volume levels were perfect first time which is a rare thing in my experience. No messing around trying to get FM and MIDI outputs right.
This card is SB Pro compatible and sounds fantastic, very clean and crisp. The on board amp can be turned off easily via jumpers. I’m not interested in FM for this machine - it’s GM or red-book all the way - but out of interest I tried FM in DOOM (the FM music of which I’m very familiar with) and it too sounded great. The ES1868 datasheet (http://alsa.cybermirror.org/manuals/ess/pb1868c.pdf) claims that the included “ESFM” synthesiser is “register compatible to OPL3”. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds impressive.
It’s a small card so I had to use an extension cable to connect the DB50XG, but that’s no big deal. It’s also PnP which I frown upon in an ISA card, but it was easy enough to tell Windows 98 to ignore it (I use a Live! when booting to Windows). And as others have noted here there is a nasty pop when starting the PC, but these are minor complaints in my opinion.
It doesn’t look like much but I’m very impressed with the AudioDrive. There’s no such thing as the holy grail of ISA sound cards, but this card ticks more boxes than most, and given these things are ubiquitous and cost a few bucks, I think it’s worth considering.
If it's broke, then fix it!