VOGONS


First post, by Kordanor

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Hey there!

I was trying to find some soundcard which will run on my PC which has ISA as well as PCI slots. Using the same board as shown here: PC100 BXcel board - is it worth it?
I wanted to set it up that I can boot straight into dos on one SD Card and into Windows on another, but pure DOS is my priority.
I am looking for a card which just sounds like I experienced it back in the 90s, without too many bells and whistles, so no external sound deck or anything similar required. It should be as interference-free as posible though.

So I have been looking around. Apparently newer sound blaster cards have a hanging note problem, while old sound blaster cards are super expensive.
I was looking into Sound Blaster Compatible options and found phils video about the YAMAHA YMF744
However as others they seem to mainly run the card in DOS Mode of Windows. I am not sure if that means that in pure DOS there are any issues.
Furthermore I found on Phils website over here: https://www.philscomputerlab.com/yamaha-ymf74 … sound-card.html
The following sentence:
Under pure DOS, there is no wavetable, however an external MIDI device can be connected to the gameport.
To be honest, I have no idea what that means. What implications does a missing wavetable have? Does it just miss additional instruments which you can add on top on other cards? Or does it generally have issues when playing MIDI sounds in DOS? So let's say I'd play a game like Battle Island 2 or Ultima 8, would it have issues with playing the music?
Also I saw that it can have issues with certain southbridges (no idea if thats an issue with the board I have) and that you should use SB-Link (no idea if that board actually has an option for that, haven't been able to find a manual)

Are there any other recommendations for SB compatible cards which don't break the bank, sound like the "old original ones" and don't come with many additional problems/restrictions? Oh, and soldering it together myself is not really an option. ^^

Reply 1 of 17, by Wolfus

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Yamaha YMF 724/744 are great cards, but they are PCI and therefore not very DOS friendly. As far as I can recommend, ESS 1869F (my favorite is Labway made) + Dreamblaster S2 is very good sounding and cheap combo. It has nice OPL, ESFM, great SB Pro 2 compatibility and with wavetable daughterboard (DB S2) it has also good general MIDI.

Another good choice is Yamaha YMF 719 + S2. It only lacks ESFM but it is still very good.

Now your question about YMF744. Without wavetable it will play all the music, but with lower quality. But I am still not sure about compatibility.

Last edited by Wolfus on 2020-06-18, 09:50. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 2 of 17, by appiah4

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An ISA card with the following chipsets will cover you well:

Yamaha YMF718/719
ESS ES1688/1868
Crystal CS4236/4237
C-Media CMI8330

Alternatively just go for a Creative Sound Blaster AWE64 Value

Last edited by appiah4 on 2020-06-18, 09:07. Edited 1 time in total.

Retronautics: A digital gallery of my retro computers, hardware and projects.

Reply 3 of 17, by Wolfus

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Yeah Crystal cards are also pretty good.
AWE64 has one downside - it has no wavetable header so you have to use gameport adapter if you want daughterboard. You can also use soundfonts but RAM expansions for AWE64 are IMO too expensive...

Reply 4 of 17, by Oetker

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The hanging note bug is only relevant if you want to connect a separate MIDI device (daughterboard or external).
So a random Sound Blaster 16 will work fine for you, however not all of them have authentic OPL (adlib) sound.

"Under pure DOS, there is no wavetable, however an external MIDI device can be connected to the gameport. " No wave table means that MIDI is generally played back using the OPL chip, which will sound worse. However, not all wave tables sound good, and it was generally understood that many/most people would be using the OPL for playback.

As for quality, that really depends on the board. An Awe32 or Awe64 might be good in that regard, however it'll lack a genuine OPL.

My personal favorite is an Aztech Azt2316 or Azt2320 card: geniune OPL and easy to find.

Reply 5 of 17, by Wolfus

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Oetker wrote on 2020-06-17, 21:10:

"Under pure DOS, there is no wavetable, however an external MIDI device can be connected to the gameport. " No wave table means that MIDI is generally played back using the OPL chip, which will sound worse. However, not all wave tables sound good, and it was generally understood that many/most people would be using the OPL for playback.

In this case the unsupported WT is Yamaha XG, which is brilliant 🙁 I have YMF724 under W98 and it works pretty good under W98's DOSBOX.

Last edited by Stiletto on 2020-06-18, 17:52. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 7 of 17, by Jo22

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Kordanor wrote on 2020-06-17, 19:18:

Under pure DOS, there is no wavetable, however an external MIDI device can be connected to the gameport.
To be honest, I have no idea what that means. What implications does a missing wavetable have? Does it just miss additional instruments which you can add on top on other cards? Or does it generally have issues when playing MIDI sounds in DOS? So let's say I'd play a game like Battle Island 2 or Ultima 8, would it have issues with playing the music?

Wavetable refers to the ability of uploading sound fonts into the RAM of the soundcard, so that the soundcard's synthesizer can play them.
In essence, wavetable technology is based on small snippets of real world sounds.
The Super Nintendo also uses that technology in the SPC700. Also the Amiga in some way or another.
The MOD format is using small snippets of sounds that can be altered in speed, frequency and so on.
In other words, a wavetable soundcard can be described as a "RAMpler" (akin to a ROMpler, but with exchangeable sounds).

So with a sound font loaded, the soundcard can do MIDI on its own - without requiring a separate MIDI board installed.
The type of interface varies, thouh. Some wavetable soundcards connect their synth via an on-board MPU-401 interface,
some require a DOS program that enables compatibility for DOS games.
The old Sound Blaster AWE32/64 cards required a driver (TSR) that enabled MPU-401 compatibility for DOS games.
That's because their EMU8000 synthesizer chip was not connected to an MPU-401.
It only worked for so-called Real-Mode games, though. For games using DOS Extenders (say DOS4GW), special support was required in the games.

Soundcards without wavetable require a MIDI daughtercard in "Waveblaster" format (see Waveblaster Header) in order to play MIDI.
Or they require an external MIDI module (aka MIDI expander), such as SC-55. Or for MT-32 games, MT-32/CM32L etc.

AdLib or FM is handled by the OPL3 chip, which is not related to wavetable or MIDI.
However, some games based on MIDI files may or may not support the OPL3 for MIDI playback.
OPL4 is a hybrid chip. It contains a wavetable engine and an OPL3 chip for FM.
Most OPL4-based cards do not offer MIDI playback via MPU-401, though.

Kordanor wrote on 2020-06-17, 19:18:

Also I saw that it can have issues with certain southbridges (no idea if thats an issue with the board I have) and that you should use SB-Link (no idea if that board actually has an option for that, haven't been able to find a manual)[*]

If you can use SB-Link, it's worth a try for sure. 😀
Long story short: SB-Link provides the DMA and IRQ signals present in the ISA bus, but not on the PCI bus.
It's the "hardware solution" to tricks like DDMA and so on. If connected via SB-Link, the PCI soundcard should behave like an ISA soundcard.

Kordanor wrote on 2020-06-17, 19:18:

Are there any other recommendations for SB compatible cards which don't break the bank
sound like the "old original ones" and don't come with many additional problems/restrictions?
Oh, and soldering it together myself is not really an option. ^^

ALS-100/ALS-100+ and CMI CMI8738/9739 are also worth a try, if you can find them cheap (say 5€ to 10€).
They don't do any wavetable, but have okay-ish FM support and some have Waveblaster headers so they can be
connected to affordable MIDI daughtercards like the Dreamblasters.

ALS120, ALS100 Plus audio fix ?
Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

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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 8 of 17, by appiah4

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Jo22 wrote on 2020-06-18, 03:21:

ALS-100/ALS-100+ and CMI CMI8738/9739 are also worth a try, if you can find them cheap (say 5€ to 10€).
They don't do any wavetable, but have okay-ish FM support and some have Waveblaster headers so they can be
connected to affordable MIDI daughtercards like the Dreamblasters.

Bolded by me: These are PCI cards and AFAIK do not have wavetable headers on any card I know of. I think you meant to say CMI CMI8328/8330?

Retronautics: A digital gallery of my retro computers, hardware and projects.

Reply 9 of 17, by Jo22

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appiah4 wrote on 2020-06-18, 09:08:
Jo22 wrote on 2020-06-18, 03:21:

ALS-100/ALS-100+ and CMI CMI8738/9739 are also worth a try, if you can find them cheap (say 5€ to 10€).
They don't do any wavetable, but have okay-ish FM support and some have Waveblaster headers so they can be
connected to affordable MIDI daughtercards like the Dreamblasters.

Bolded by me: These are PCI cards and AFAIK do not have wavetable headers on any card I know of. I think you meant to say CMI CMI8328/8330?

Thanks for pointing that out! 😀 I must have been tinking of the ALS100 series (100/100+/120 and so on) when I wrote that.
It's really been 10 years now since I tested these CMI8738 cards.. And I had no MIDI devices at the time. 😊

Anyway.. Another card, the Terratec TT Solo-1 also isn't bad.. It can be detected by Windows XP even and has an enhanced OPL3 core (ESFM) and SB-Link (some are missing the header).
Though in case of XP, the OPL3 drivers aren't sounding the best, I admit. On DOS or Windows 98, the card sounds fine, though.
https://www.philscomputerlab.com/ess-es1938s-solo-1.html

"Time, it seems, doesn't flow. For some it's fast, for some it's slow.
In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

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Reply 10 of 17, by BoraxMan

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I second the ESS Audiodrive series. I have an Audiodrive ESS 688, and it is SB Pro compatible. It is capable of 16bit, 44.1Khz, Stereo, and some games support the ESS specifically. Sound is quite good.

Reply 11 of 17, by dionb

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Kordanor wrote on 2020-06-17, 19:18:

Hey there!

I was trying to find some soundcard which will run on my PC which has ISA as well as PCI slots. Using the same board as shown here: PC100 BXcel board - is it worth it?

That PC Chips M726 is a slug of a board, but it has one redeeming feature: that sound chip marked "SoundPro PCI" is in fact a C-Media CMI-8330 ISA chip, so one of the chips already mentioned in this topic several times. It's not perfect, but I'd say it's one of the better clone chips, with both SBPro2 and SB16 compatibility (no Creative card offers both) and a decent if not perfect FM synthesis. Above all it's trouble-free with a simple init program and good compatibility. Only thing you really can't do is ADPCM, which is moaned about a lot but unless you want to play Duke Nukem 2 specifically, you're not missing much.

So my advice would be: start with what you already have. Good chance that it will be more than sufficient for your purposes, if not you'll know better what it is that you do want.

Reply 13 of 17, by gdjacobs

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appiah4 wrote on 2020-06-17, 20:52:
An ISA card with the following chipsets will cover you well: […]
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An ISA card with the following chipsets will cover you well:

Yamaha YMF718/719
ESS ES1688/1868
Crystal CS4236/4237
C-Media CMI8330

Alternatively just go for a Creative Sound Blaster AWE64 Value

Also, Aztech cards (different generations have different features and are compatible with different SB card generations), ES688 with real OPL3 or illegal 100% clone, and Crystal CS4232 with real OPL3 (these are rare and sought after) are top notch DOS Creative compatible sound cards. Opti cards and ALS100 cards with real OPL3 or illegal 100% clones are also interesting. Opti cards are decently SB Pro compatible with good sound quality. ALS100 cards usually have lesser sound quality but have SB16 compatibility.

All hail the Great Capacitor Brand Finder

Reply 14 of 17, by appiah4

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I neglected CS4232 because they can be paired with different chips to different results. ES688 is non-pnp so not a great pair for the system in question (also a tad difficult to set up with jumpers on undocumented cards, and the MPU401 is a bit of a hassle). OPTi and ALS cards vary too wildly in terms of output quality for me to recommend them safely.. All of my ALS cards have terrible noise floors and all of my OPTi cards pick up a huge amount of ISA Bus interference, for example, no idea why.

I have no Aztech cards or experience with them, hence why I can't vouch for them. They are well loved for sure, but there are more Aztech Sound Pro models than Sound Blaster 16 models, almost. 😀 I wish I had some Aztech cards..

Retronautics: A digital gallery of my retro computers, hardware and projects.

Reply 15 of 17, by dionb

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appiah4 wrote on 2020-07-01, 21:24:

[...]

I have no Aztech cards or experience with them, hence why I can't vouch for them. They are well loved for sure, but there are more Aztech Sound Pro models than Sound Blaster 16 models, almost. 😀 I wish I had some Aztech cards..

They're nice stuff. Here's a good - if not exhaustive - writeup on them.

1st gen is primitive, unshielded (can be noisy in noisy systems) but have Covox + DSS as a gimmick. Some even combine that with WSS (MMSM810). Great for early 1990s stuff.
2ng gen is weird, lost Covox but still only original SB compatibility and a reputation for bugginess. I avoid.
3rd gen (AZT2316-based) is the best (later) DOS setup. Very quiet, refined cards. Full SBPro2 hw compatibility, WSS for 16b and OPL3 (or 1:1 clone) for FM. Plus bug-free MPU-401.
4th gen (AZT2320-based) is a cost-reduced remake of 3rd gen, with shrunk die, integrated (licensed) OPL3, integrated codec and PnP. Can work as well under DOS as 3rd gen, but PnP makes them ideal early Win9x cards.

In general, only go for cards with I38-MMSNxxx FCC ID, as others tend to be more obscure OEM versions that have driver/init tool recognition issues. Exception: I38-SGNXPRO is the commonest 1st gen card and very easy to work with.

Reply 16 of 17, by gdjacobs

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appiah4 wrote on 2020-07-01, 21:24:

I neglected CS4232 because they can be paired with different chips to different results. ES688 is non-pnp so not a great pair for the system in question (also a tad difficult to set up with jumpers on undocumented cards, and the MPU401 is a bit of a hassle). OPTi and ALS cards vary too wildly in terms of output quality for me to recommend them safely.. All of my ALS cards have terrible noise floors and all of my OPTi cards pick up a huge amount of ISA Bus interference, for example, no idea why.

The ES1688 is non-pnp as well, although I don't consider it to be a negative on a DOS system. Prior to UNISOUND, non PnP was a definite plus for Aztech. Not sure if it came across clearly, but my thoughts on Opti and ALS were not without reservation. They're lesser tier clone chips, so you're going to get a mix of well built and utter dreck. I knew about the noise issue with ALS cards (probably a bad reference design), but not about Opti (which is cheap, but only has decent and not great compatibility IMO).

appiah4 wrote on 2020-07-01, 21:24:

I have no Aztech cards or experience with them, hence why I can't vouch for them. They are well loved for sure, but there are more Aztech Sound Pro models than Sound Blaster 16 models, almost. 😀 I wish I had some Aztech cards..

Absolutely. Especially with sound cards, the devil is in the details. In the case of Aztech, for instance, you've got earlier cards that don't support SB Pro but do support DSS and Covox. Pluses and minuses to be measured, for sure.

That's why it's never wrong to either a) buy things extremely cheap or b) ask around if you're not sure about a card.

All hail the Great Capacitor Brand Finder

Reply 17 of 17, by Kordanor

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Heyho!

Just wanted to give a little update here. Why did it take so long? My Old PC is stored at my parents who live a few 100 km away and due to corona, visits added a few more delays.

So I tested the sound card on PC100 BXcel board. Downloaded the drivers, used win 98 SE with inofficial service pack and dos mode via Phils super easy dos thing.

The results were rather underwhelming, games tested:
Wolfenstein 3D: Sound Volume is High, Music volume is super low in game. No sound volume adjustments possible in the game
Doom: Same story. Music is supe silent. Luckily in Doom you can increase Music volume to max and decrease sound volume, then its ok
Quake: Same sound volume issue
Duke 3D: Same sound volume issue
Kingom o Magic: In DOS Mode nothing worked, in Win 98, sound test worked. But not the actual game sound
Lands of Lore: Sound effects worked, but sounded very shallow (the horse running over the bridge in the intro does not have a satisfying sound at all) and the speech isn't working at all.

So I guess next up will be testing some alternative noname soundcards we have flying around. Unfortunately next time I have the possibility to test anything will be in december earliest.