Pentium MMX Retro-PC

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Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby beniwtv » 2018-8-11 @ 18:27

Hello fellow vogoners!

I have been reading this awesome forum for quite some time now; and inspired by all this talk and the great retro content on YouTube from the likes of LGR, Nostalgia Nerd, Metal Jesus Rocks, 8-bit guy, .... I decided to get a retro PC build of my own going. I had been emulating old PCs with the software I got, but it just didn't feel nostalgic enough. :-P

I originally envisioned getting my first PC ever, an IBM PS/1 2121 (or I think at least that was the number), but it's very hard to get one in the configuration I want without paying an arm and a leg for it :lol:, so i settled on something more generic, and also more hackable and upgradeable. This is when I saw a lovely small (midi?) tower on Ebay which didn't have much information attached with it, but from the photos had some nice hardware in it. The seller sold it as broken because of the CMOS warning it displayed when booting, so it was a nice deal as well.

These are the specs it arrived at my home with:

    - Pentium 150 MHX MMX
    - Abit AB-PX5 motherboard
    - 10 whopping MB of RAM (8+2)
    - HIPRO power supply (never heard of them)
    - A broken 2 GB HDD
    - Some kind of TEAC CDROM (NSSI estimates it at 52x)
    - ATI 3D RAGE 2+DVD
    - An ISDN fax modem card
    - A 3Com Etherlink 3 with no RJ45...
    - Sound Blaster Vibra 16 XV

Apparently, this PC was once used at one of my countries' TV stations, as I found an inventory sticker with their logo on it. :lol: The company that put this system together was called SicOs, and there's not much info about them other than their website at the way back machine:
https://web.archive.org/web/19980702020 ... cos.de:80/

I have since added / upgraded some parts:

    - Replaced old and non-working CMOS battery
    - Replaced RAM with two 128 MB sticks (motherboard supports 256 MB max)
    - Took out the ISDN card, this is of no use anymore now since ISDN is gone
    - Replaced the 3Com with another 3Com Etherlink 3, but which has the RJ45 port :lol:
    - Added my old Voodoo 2 card I had back in the days and saved 20 years though multiple house movings, since I was curious if it still worked
    - Added an IDE-to-CF adapter + 2GB Transcend CF card

So far I'm pretty happy, and have documented my journey on my Twitch channel.

1st video isn't strictly about the PC, as it was before it arrived. It shows some of the software and games I got, which I wanted to emulate:
https://www.twitch.tv/beniwtv/video/285005644

2nd video is getting some more games, a cable to convert VGA to HDMI for capturing the retro PC, and the retro PC itself:
https://www.twitch.tv/beniwtv/video/295199324

And a live stream with more retro-PC hardware upgrades/swaps and installing DOS + WIN3.1 and trying to play a game:
https://www.twitch.tv/beniwtv/video/295913561

Things still TODO:
    - Replace IDE cable for the CF adapter, since I just noticed the one it cam with has one wire exposed (luckily I have a bunch of cables, as I never throw ANY cables away :lol:)
    - Test MIDI under DOS
    - Enhance/free some DOS conventional memory
    - Figure out why MIDI doesn't work under 3.11; and while at it, figure out why the Creative installer only installed a mixer for 3.11 that doesn't even work
    - Get more CF cards so I can install W95, more games, Linux distros, exotic OSes...
    - Get a nice mouse (or fix the one it came with)
    - Get networking to work at least under WIN 3.11/WIN 95

That's about everything for now, I'll make sure to post here with more progress soon. :wink:

Take care and have a great day!
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Last edited by beniwtv on 2018-8-12 @ 13:21, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby SW-SSG » 2018-8-11 @ 19:11

P150 with 1/4 GB of RAM... I don't want to know what that would have cost at the time :lol:

I also hope you'll upload photos for those of us who prefer eyeballing still images.
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby beniwtv » 2018-8-11 @ 19:36

SW-SSG wrote:I also hope you'll upload photos for those of us who prefer eyeballing still images.


I'll shot some tomorrow, though the camera on my mobile isn't the greatest.
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby beniwtv » 2018-8-12 @ 13:16

Here are some photos now:

IMG_20180812_135643.jpg

IMG_20180812_135731.jpg

IMG_20180812_140607.jpg
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby beniwtv » 2018-8-12 @ 13:18

And the inside:

IMG_20180812_140807.jpg

IMG_20180812_141221.jpg

IMG_20180812_145620.jpg

IMG_20180812_145636.jpg
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby RetroBoogie » 2018-8-12 @ 15:52

Well, you're not going to get far with MIDI in DOS with that CT4170 unless you have an external module as it has no onboard synthesizer. I would get a real/better ISA card for that. Also I'd be on the lookout for a replacement for that Rage card for something that's a bit more DOS compatible depending on the games you wish to play. Otherwise nice rig!
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby chinny22 » 2018-8-14 @ 12:12

Haven't watched the videos yet (at work) but looks like your off to a good start.
As you say your been watching the reto channels on you tube I'm guessing you already have things like external midi devices, different sound and video cards and OS's already planned.
Sounds like your using the wrong drivers for your sound card or the ones you have are corrupt. Every SB16 should have working Midi and mixer from within Windows.
You can find lots of drivers here
http://www.vogonsdrivers.com/index.php?catid=7
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby beniwtv » 2018-8-14 @ 20:37

RetroBoogie wrote:Well, you're not going to get far with MIDI in DOS with that CT4170 unless you have an external module as it has no onboard synthesizer. I would get a real/better ISA card for that. Also I'd be on the lookout for a replacement for that Rage card for something that's a bit more DOS compatible depending on the games you wish to play. Otherwise nice rig!


That would explain a lot, though I am not sure yet I need MIDI in DOS games, and hey maybe I get some external stuff later (assuming that even works with this card...).
I quite like having an ATI Rage, for now it's been working fine, so I'm holding off replacing that until I need it.

chinny22 wrote:As you say your been watching the reto channels on you tube I'm guessing you already have things like external midi devices, different sound and video cards and OS's already planned.
Sounds like your using the wrong drivers for your sound card or the ones you have are corrupt. Every SB16 should have working Midi and mixer from within Windows.


Indeed, I have some things planned, but I'm gonna go light on purchases for now and enjoy what I have now first. :lol:
That is with the exception of a VGA splitter and a HDMI 4x2 Matrix (splitter/switch) which I need for recording videos / streaming.

I'll probably try to reinstall/fix the Windows drivers, as I've seen elsewhere too that MIDI works under Windows with that model. Hmm...
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby meljor » 2018-8-16 @ 08:48

That board has the Intel 430TX chipset. You do know it can only cache up to 64mb ram?
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby Tetrium » 2018-8-17 @ 10:38

beniwtv wrote:Here are some photos now:

IMG_20180812_135643.jpg

IMG_20180812_135731.jpg

IMG_20180812_140607.jpg

That looks like a (very) late AT case. The front of the case is very reminiscing of early ATX cases, perhaps even early P3/Athlon era.
Does the case have any mention as to when it was assembled by any chance? Like stickers on the bottom or something :P
I think it's nice your case has 3 5.25in external bays instead of the usual 2 5.25in ones that the vast majority of the AT towers seemed to have :)

It should be quite sturdy. Could probably derail a train with it lol

As others have mentioned, 430TX can cache a max of 64MB. Use any more and it will probably slow down your system provided your system doesn't require an extensive amount of memory. 64MB should be fine :)

I haven't watched the videos yet, so I can't comment on those.
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby beniwtv » 2018-8-17 @ 21:17

meljor wrote:That board has the Intel 430TX chipset. You do know it can only cache up to 64mb ram?

Tetrium wrote:As others have mentioned, 430TX can cache a max of 64MB. Use any more and it will probably slow down your system provided your system doesn't require an extensive amount of memory. 64MB should be fine :)


No I did not know, cause I didn't check :lol:

However, while I get what you guys mean, the board is not going to cache even 64 MB of RAM. There's not enough cache on the processor and chipset to do that. Instead, it will only cache a relatively tiny amount 32 KB (processor) + 512KB (chipset) of that 64 MB. What will happen is that only the most used parts of the RAM (usually code related to communicating with the hardware, or parts of programs, like parts of game render loops etc...) are cached in that tiny space. What's more, as game/programs code progresses, parts are moved in and out from main memory frequently.

Sure. for a lot of DOS games this probably will still be a performance improvement, since the executables containing the program are often rather small compared to this amount of cache (specially early days DOS games), and often large parts can fit in those caches. But for the types of games that I want to run which require lots of code, the improvement is not so dramatic - and I'm not trying to win any speed competition anyway.

Here's a nice LGR video on the topic:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4rw3d7mu28

And while he got quite the improvement on the synthetic benchmark - which probably fit in those 256 KB of cache he added - on Doom the improvement, while noticeable wasn't really that dramatic. On games that are even bigger code-wise, you're going to swap memory in and out even more, all the time.

So while there certainly will be some performance impact, I'm not worried about it - and for now, things run great.

Tetrium wrote:That looks like a (very) late AT case. The front of the case is very reminiscing of early ATX cases, perhaps even early P3/Athlon era.
Does the case have any mention as to when it was assembled by any chance? Like stickers on the bottom or something :P


Indeed, that's what it feels to me too, I wouldn't rule out that there could have been an ATX version of it as well. The board itself does have an ATX version as far as I could tell from the manual. Unfortunately, no stickers with a date that I could find.

Tetrium wrote:It should be quite sturdy. Could probably derail a train with it


Yes, first thing I remembered when getting this how heavy these things were :lol:
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby KCompRoom2000 » 2018-8-17 @ 22:50

beniwtv wrote:
Tetrium wrote:That looks like a (very) late AT case. The front of the case is very reminiscing of early ATX cases, perhaps even early P3/Athlon era.
Does the case have any mention as to when it was assembled by any chance? Like stickers on the bottom or something :P


Indeed, that's what it feels to me too, I wouldn't rule out that there could have been an ATX version of it as well. The board itself does have an ATX version as far as I could tell from the manual. Unfortunately, no stickers with a date that I could find.

That case looks like an InWin case from the mid-90s to early-2000s. There are definitely ATX cases that look like it (I remember seeing pictures of them all over this site).
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby canthearu » 2018-8-18 @ 07:52

beniwtv wrote:
meljor wrote:That board has the Intel 430TX chipset. You do know it can only cache up to 64mb ram?

Tetrium wrote:As others have mentioned, 430TX can cache a max of 64MB. Use any more and it will probably slow down your system provided your system doesn't require an extensive amount of memory. 64MB should be fine :)


No I did not know, cause I didn't check :lol:

However, while I get what you guys mean, the board is not going to cache even 64 MB of RAM. There's not enough cache on the processor and chipset to do that. Instead, it will only cache a relatively tiny amount 32 KB (processor) + 512KB (chipset) of that 64 MB. What will happen is that only the most used parts of the RAM (usually code related to communicating with the hardware, or parts of programs, like parts of game render loops etc...) are cached in that tiny space. What's more, as game/programs code progresses, parts are moved in and out from main memory frequently.


No, what we mean is that the L2 cache does not work at all with memory addresses above 64meg on the 430TX chipset.

That means that only programs and data loaded into the first 64meg of memory will receive the benefit of the L2 cache. So if you are using windows or other complex operating system, you will often get significantly degraded performance whenever windows loads software/data outside of the first 64meg. This will often happen even if windows does not have more than 64meg of data/code loaded.

For the TX chipset, best to install only 64meg ram.
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby beniwtv » 2018-8-18 @ 08:09

canthearu wrote:No, what we mean is that the L2 cache does not work at all with memory addresses above 64meg on the 430TX chipset.


Yep, I got that. Which is why I explained what I did. Still, I don't think it will matter much. Sure, it will matter if large parts of the program can be cached into the cache - which might be the case sometimes on older DOS games or Windows 3.11. But those won't have a problem with a P150 MMX - cache or not.

And for larger OSes, like Windows 95+ you just can't cache a lot of the OS there, so you'll have to swap cache constantly anyway.

Yes, a little bit of cache is better than no cache; but it's not a ground-breaking loss, the LGR video shows what I mean quite nicely.
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby derSammler » 2018-8-18 @ 08:53

No, that's not how cache works. Whenever data is loaded from RAM, it will end up in the cache. Next time that data is needed, the CPU can access it much faster. Or simply put: memory throughput is much higher with cache. The size of a program has nothing to do with that.

The problem with more RAM than what can be cached is that performance differs depending on which memory location is accessed. This is a very bad thing as a game may then constantly alternate between good and bad frame rates, because the game data is randomly placed in cached and non-cached RAM locations. Stick with 64 MB, as that is plenty for Win95 (and DOS anyway) and the L2 cache can handle that amount.
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby beniwtv » 2018-8-18 @ 08:59

derSammler wrote:No, that's not how cache works. Whenever data is loaded from RAM, it will end up in the cache. Next time that data is needed, the CPU can access it much faster. Or simply put: memory throughput is much higher when cached. The size of a program has nothing to do with that.

The problem with more RAM than what can be cached is that performance differs depending on which memory location is accessed. This is a very bad thing as a game may then constantly alternate between good and bad frame rates, as the game data is randomly placed in cached and non-cached RAM locations.


No, that is not how it works. There is no 64 MB of cache on this board. The CPU has 32 KB (which still will work even with more than 64 MB btw), and the chipset has 512 KB. Combined, you can only cache 544 KB of that 64 MB. You can not cache all 64 MB of RAM. You can only cache the amount of cache you have, which means that if your program's code is 2 MB, it won't fit entirely into cache. Only some code parts that are frequently used would be cached.
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby derSammler » 2018-8-18 @ 09:08

The CPU has 32 KB (which still will work even with more than 64 MB btw), and the chipset has 512 KB. Combined, you can only cache 544 KB of that 64 MB.

Dude, read some info on how L2 cache works, really! You are completely misinformed.

The size of the code is irrelevant, as it's about RAM blocks that are accessed often (either code or data, doesn't matter). That's also where the 64 MB limit is coming from. There's a TAG RAM chip which can hold entries for a certain amount of blocks with a certain size. The size of the TAG RAM defines the max. amount of RAM that can be cached, since for more, it has not enough entries. Anyway, the cache is not there to store a whole program. Even if it would fit into the cache, it would not end up there, since - again - it caches blocks of memory. If a program of whatever size executes a loop 10.000 times, it makes a huge difference whether that loop runs from cache or from memory. L2 cache is at least 3 times faster than RAM on a Pentium 1.

Whatever, I'm out. When reading this:
There is no 64 MB of cache on this board.

you are apparently confusing memory cache (what L1/L2 is) with disk cache (what L1/L2 is *not*). Are you aware that even modern CPUs normaly only come with 1 or 2 MB of L2 cache per core..?
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby beniwtv » 2018-8-18 @ 10:12

derSammler wrote:Dude, read some info on how L2 cache works, really! You are completely misinformed. The size of the code is irrelevant, as it's about RAM blocks that are accessed often (either code or data, doesn't matter). That's also where the 64 MB limit is coming from. There's a TAG RAM chip which can hold entries for a certain amount of blocks with a certain size. The size of the TAG RAM defines the max. amount of RAM that can be cached, since for more, it has not enough entries. Anyway, the cache is not there to store a whole program. Even if it would fit into the cache, it would not end up there, since - again - it caches blocks of memory. If a program of whatever size executes a loop 10.000 times, it makes a huge difference whether that loop runs from cache or from memory. L2 cache is at least 3 times faster than RAM on a Pentium 1.


All what you say here is true, and I agree fully. And we're probably saying the same thing, just differently.

Still, my point remains valid: not all of the 64 MB of the memory can be cached. If there was a possibility of caching 64 MB we would not need RAM at all we could just hold 64 MB in cache :)
What we can cache is often used parts of programs (I'm using a gross over-simplification here, ignoring data other than program code as well, since programs go to memory which then can be cached if the processor / chipset decide to, which is a complex topic because of prediction and stuff...), and those parts will be faster.

I never said more cache won't be faster (up to a certain point where the returns will diminish) - or that it won't have a performance impact - it certainly will, but not to the extend I worry about with the workloads I do.

Maybe I did not express myself correctly previously; in that case I apologize (English isn't my native language for sure).
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby canthearu » 2018-8-18 @ 10:24

beniwtv wrote:Still, my point remains valid: not all of the 64 MB of the memory can be cached. If there was a possibility of caching 64 MB we would not need RAM at all we could just hold 64 MB in cache :)
What we can cache is often used parts of programs (I'm using a gross over-simplification here, ignoring data other than program code as well, since programs go to memory which then can be cached if the processor / chipset decide to, which is a complex topic because of prediction and stuff...), and those parts will be faster.

I never said more cache won't be faster (up to a certain point where the returns will diminish) - or that it won't have a performance impact - it certainly will, but not to the extend I worry about with the workloads I do.

Maybe I did not express myself correctly previously; in that case I apologize (English isn't my native language for sure).


You do realize that cache hit rates for most software are typically at least in the 90% region. That means that 90% of the time the CPU wants to read or write memory, it will find the memory it wants to access in it's cache or the L2 cache. The The video you linked from LGR showed that adding the L2 cache to the 486 increased performance in the region of at least 50%. Yet you speak as if the difference is a few percent and cache hit rates are negligible.The real reality is that the cache system in computers is hugely important for performance.
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Re: Pentium MMX Retro-PC

Postby beniwtv » 2018-8-18 @ 10:24

That all being said, let's get back on topic.

The PC is now in it's final position just left of the other PCs:

IMG_20180816_082620.jpg


So what I managed to do in the meanwhile:

    - Got a new-ish Microsoft PS/2 mouse, which solves all the problems the old COM-port mouse had with it freezing in Windows 3.11 (I suspect hw or possibly cable failure on that mouse)
    - Got a 32GB CF card (same make and model as the 2GB one) to test if the BIOS likes it
    - Re-installed Soundblaster drivers in Windows 3.11, lo and behold the mixer and MIDI now work!
    - Installed some ATI Mach64 drivers in Windows 3.11 and now got a decent resolution and color depth
    - Put the PC into it's final position and hooked up all cables to the appropriate places (see diagram below)

Wiring.png


Still debating what to do about the display - the 1080p panel while it has VGA and works for the PC, does have an... abysmal scaler (no surprise really).
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