First post, by badmojo
I've been playing Ultima 7 on a 386DX-40 and really enjoying it. I came to RPG's much later and am amazed at the vibrant world crammed into this handful of megabytes. Anyway, the 386 handles it pretty well but disk access - which the game does a lot of - is kinda slow, and all that jerking while the HDD grinds is getting me down.
I like to play my games on period correct hardware and Ultima 7 was released in '92; a 486 is still appropriate for the job, so I decided to put together a 33Mhz rocket based on the VLB architecture to see if that made a noticeable difference to game-play.
The case: A cool little recycle centre rescue that had a nicely put together 486DX-33 ISA setup in it - it even had a heat sink and fan on the CPU! It's quite a stylish little number for 1993.
Motherboard: I have 2 of these; OPTI 495SLC chipset which can take anything from a 386-25 up to a 486DX4! They like them over at the redhill guide, which is good enough for me. The turbo switch had me confused for quite a while because switching it has no effect once the CPU has been put into protected mode (by EMM386). I don't know the details but I assume that the motherboard is actually under-clocking the CPU (as apposed to introducing wait states, etc), which means it can't be changed in protected mode. Speedsys reports the CPU as 19Mhz with turbo off, which - despite having to re-boot the PC to change turbo mode - I like.
I added an extra 4meg of RAM to make a total of 8, and switched the CPU to an SX-33 for nostalgia reasons.
Various other bits: A 270meg HDD which would have been massive in 1992. A nice IO controller with a secondary IDE port for a CD rom drive, and a Tseng ET4000AX VLB VGA card. In my opinion the ET4000AX chipset is the best looking VGA chipset around; the colours are just amazing. So I was very upset to find that this card doesn't play well with this motherboard - a couple of games (including Ultima 7 of course) were messed up. I have a couple of ISA ET4000AX's but I wouldn't be able to sleep at night with that VLB slot being empty, so for now I've put a Cirrus Logic GD5428 in there. It's a great card too, but I won't rest until I have a VLB ET4000AX that works in there!
Danger: These 240v power switches always make me nervous, but not nervous enough apparently. This one is particularly exposed AND blocks the screw holes in the drive bay, so while I was fiddling around with the 5 /14 drive it zapped me. Note to self: always unplug the power supply.
All finished: Very cramped in there. I re-used the CPU heat sink because I could, and those 486's actually get pretty hot!
Up and running: Despite the 486SX-33 only scoring about 3 speedsys points over the 386 (12.3 and 9.2 respectively), it's a much snappier system all told. The difference in Wolf3d for example, is pronounced. The SX33 seems like a good choice for Ultima 7 - no speed issues, unlike the DX2-66. General loading is quicker thanks to the VLB IO controller, and I guess the HDD is a year or 2 more modern in the 486 too, which might help. Note that I'm using smartdrv on both systems, and that makes a big difference to this particular game. General game-play is much less jerky, which was the point of this whole thing.
CD-ROM drives ruin the aesthetic of these old machines IMO, but they're so handy that I decided to put one in. This is a quad speed NEC with a flip-open door, so at least it's kinda period correct. Although I didn't get a quad speed until about '95.
For sound I'm using a SB pro 2.0 and an MT-32. The roland is a first revision which I understand is missing a few instruments that Ultima 7, but generally sounds pretty cool.
So any suggestions? What would make my Ultima 7 machine more ultimate?