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My P3 Retro DOS PC

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First post, by enaiel

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Hi, long time lurker here.

I decided to use my quarantine-time to build my first retro DOS PC with parts I had accumulated over the years. I first installed my applications and games on DOSBox and was pretty impressed that most worked quite well. I then started building my PC with the following specs:

Compaq Deskpro EXD P866:
- CPU: Intel Pentium III 866 MHz (Coppermine)
- Chipset: Intel 815
- RAM: SDRAM 133 MHz 512 MB (256 MB x2)
- GPU: ATI Radeon 9600 XT (128 MB) (RV350 AR)
- Audio: Sound Blaster Audigy 1 [SB0090]
- FDD: 3.5" 1.44 MB
- HDD: WDC WD100BA 10 GB
- HDD: Maxtor 32049H2 20 GB
- DVD-RW: LITE-ON LDW-811S 8x
- NIC: Linksys ADMtek NC100 Network Everywhere Fast Ethernet 10/100
- Keyboard: Logitech Y-BE22
- Mouse: Logitech M-BE58
- Zip: Iomega SCSI Zip 100
- Joy: Gravis PC Gamepad

The only part I purchased was the gamepad for $8 USD shipped from eBay, as I never had a DOS gamepad before. I liked the Deskpro because it was a P3 in a pretty small form factor and hoped it would make a powerful DOS workstation. I knew I would face some incompatibilities from using a P3 PCI system for DOS, but was surprised at how much worse it was than I imagined.

The best part of this retro DOS PC was playing games. With the use of throttle.exe and the gamepad, I enjoyed the tactile and low-latency retro DOS gaming experience, with pictures much crisper than what I got from DOSBox.

Unfortunately, with DOS applications it was much worse. Many crashed when started, or crashed when running, or they crashed when quitting. The few applications that worked flawlessly were sea.exe, mpxplay.exe, and dosmid.exe. The good news was that I got FM working through the Audigy's SB16 emulation, but for some reason every MOD player like glx.exe and opencp.exe had tons of noise and distortion.

I am using Win98SE DOS instead of MS-DOS 6.22, so I'm not sure if the crashes are because of that, or because of using a P3 PCI system. And the noise and distortion from the MOD players is surprising since I have no such issues in games, or with mpxplay.exe. Any help or suggestions on how to fix these two issues would be most welcome.

I had to get this itch of building this retro DOS PC out of my system. And now that it's done, I feel that if it's just for playing games, DOSBox does a good enough job. It would be worth keeping around only if I could run more applications, or I could get the MODs playing without distortion. So for now at least, it's sadly, most probably, going to go back in it's shelf.

Last edited by enaiel on 2020-06-04, 19:19. Edited 1 time in total.

DOS PC: Socket 370 / VIA C3 1.0 GHz / Voodoo2 + Trident Blade3D / SBPro + YMF744 + AWE64 + SC-7
Best DOS Games: CGW 150, PC Gamer 50, Worthwhile 100

Reply 1 of 102, by enaiel

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I guess some pics are in order:

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DOS PC: Socket 370 / VIA C3 1.0 GHz / Voodoo2 + Trident Blade3D / SBPro + YMF744 + AWE64 + SC-7
Best DOS Games: CGW 150, PC Gamer 50, Worthwhile 100

Reply 2 of 102, by keenmaster486

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Your incompatibilities are common with later PIII machines such as this one. Probably most of them are due to memory management though, or the CPU being too fast for certain games, or the sound card not being ISA.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.
World's foremost 486 enjoyer.

Reply 3 of 102, by enaiel

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Thanks for your quick response. The funny part is that with throttle.exe I have less problems with games than with applications. You may be right about the memory management being the cause for that, in which case there is nothing much I can do. What really kills it for me is the noise/distortion when playing MODs with every MOD player I have tried. It's surprising considering I have no such issue with game sound effects and mpxplayer.exe, which also play PCM audio. I expected to have more problems with FM emulation, but that's working flawlessly.

If I can get the MOD players to work, then I would keep it around as a multimedia and gaming DOS PC. But if it is just for games, then DOSBox is good enough for me.

DOS PC: Socket 370 / VIA C3 1.0 GHz / Voodoo2 + Trident Blade3D / SBPro + YMF744 + AWE64 + SC-7
Best DOS Games: CGW 150, PC Gamer 50, Worthwhile 100

Reply 4 of 102, by keenmaster486

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If your motherboard has an ISA slot, then definitely use an ISA sound card. You won't lose anything in Windows 98, and DOS will work much better. Look for Sound Blaster 16, Yamaha YMF, ESS, etc.

For the CPU being too fast, some games can be patched to fix this (e.g. Jazz Jackrabbit).

For memory management, you can control that. It's not really a PC-specific thing. The best thing is to run pure DOS and fine-tune your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT, for example you could use something like JEMMEX from FreeDOS instead of HIMEM+EMM386.

What you have is a great machine for Windows 98 things, which you can also use for DOS stuff if you set it up right and your sound and video cards are compatible enough.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.
World's foremost 486 enjoyer.

Reply 5 of 102, by enaiel

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Unfortunately, my motherboard does not have an ISA slot. For the CPU being too fast, I have had great success using throttle.exe by setting different levels for each game.

It is a great machine otherwise, too bad I don't care much for Win98 - I personally consider it to be a downgrade from DOS. I have long moved to Linux and only keep a Win10 desktop around for gaming on Steam.

Is JEMMEX really more compatible than HIMEM+EMM386? I will get my autoexec.bat and config.sys files and paste them here. I don't mind giving it one more shot to try and get it to work.

DOS PC: Socket 370 / VIA C3 1.0 GHz / Voodoo2 + Trident Blade3D / SBPro + YMF744 + AWE64 + SC-7
Best DOS Games: CGW 150, PC Gamer 50, Worthwhile 100

Reply 6 of 102, by enaiel

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I should add that I'm not using Win98SE - just Win98SE DOS for the 32GB FAT32 filesystem.

DOS PC: Socket 370 / VIA C3 1.0 GHz / Voodoo2 + Trident Blade3D / SBPro + YMF744 + AWE64 + SC-7
Best DOS Games: CGW 150, PC Gamer 50, Worthwhile 100

Reply 7 of 102, by dr_st

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It's extremely unlikely that anything crashes because of Win98 SE DOS , but I have heard that some DOS applications may have issues running of FAT32 partitions. Haven't tested it personally, since my Win98 SE system has FAT16 partitions for the DOS stuff, and only Windows stuff is on FAT32 partitions.

Even though you don't have ISA slots, I think there may be more DOS-friendly PCI cards out there than the Audigy. I remember some Yamahas were suggested.

Memory management does not usually lead to crashes (unless you explicitly used EMM386 to claim ROM regions for RAM in an incompatible way, but then the games are still more likely to crash than some programs). Personally I've never had any problem with HIMEM+EMM386, but I don't do weird things on my system (and apparently, neither do you).

https://cloakedthargoid.wordpress.com/ - Random content on hardware, software, games and toys

Reply 8 of 102, by enaiel

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Yes, I definitely don't do weird things on my system . Here are my autoexec.bat and config.sys files:

autoexec.bat:

@ECHO OFF
LH C:\DOS\DOSKEY
LH C:\DRV\CTMOUSE
LH C:\DRV\SHSUCDX /S /D:IDE-CD /L:F
SET DIRCMD=/OGN /4
SET PROMPT=$P$G
PATH C:\DOS
LH C:\DOS\DOSLFN /C- /Z:C:\DOS\CP437UNI.TBL
LFNFOR ON
call C:\DRV\SBLIVE\LIVEINIT.BAT
C:\DOS\SMARTDRV

config.sys:

DEVICE=C:\DOS\HIMEM.SYS
DEVICE=C:\DOS\EMM386.EXE NOEMS
DEVICEHIGH=C:\DRV\VIDE-CDD.SYS /D:IDE-CD
SHELL=C:\DOS\COMMAND.COM /P /E:640
SET TMP=C:\TEMP
SET TEMP=C:\TEMP
DOS=HIGH,UMB,AUTO
NUMLOCK=OFF
FCBSHIGH=4,0
FILESHIGH=30
BUFFERSHIGH=20,0
LASTDRIVEHIGH=32
STACKSHIGH=9,256

And this is my mem output:

Memory Type Total = Used + Free
---------------- -------- -------- --------
Conventional 640K 38K 602K
Upper 69K 66K 4K
Reserved 315K 315K 0K
Extended (XMS) 523,264K 5,729K 517,535K
---------------- -------- -------- --------
Total memory 524,288K 6,147K 518,141K

Total under 1Mb 709K 104K 606K

Total Extended (XMS) 523,264K (535,822,336 bytes)
Free Extended (XMS) 517,535K (529,955,840 bytes)

Largest executable program size 602K (616,272 bytes)
Largest free upper memory block 3K (3,360 bytes)
Available space in High Memory Area 5K (5,408 bytes)
MS-DOS is resident in the high memory area.

There is not much in there because I tried to keep it as simple as possible. If anyone can tell me what in these files is causing my applications to crash, I would be most grateful.

DOS PC: Socket 370 / VIA C3 1.0 GHz / Voodoo2 + Trident Blade3D / SBPro + YMF744 + AWE64 + SC-7
Best DOS Games: CGW 150, PC Gamer 50, Worthwhile 100

Reply 9 of 102, by keenmaster486

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I would suggest getting rid of DOSLFN unless you really need it.

Plus, put the CD drivers under a menu option so you only use them if you need them.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.
World's foremost 486 enjoyer.

Reply 10 of 102, by enaiel

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I need DOSLFN for DJGPP, but I could put it and the CD driver in a menu option. But that's all I have in there besides the Audigy stuff, isn't it? Speaking of Audigy, here are my config files:

liveinit.bat:

@echo off
SET BLASTER=A220 I5 D1 H5 P330 T6
SET CTSYN=c:\drv\sblive
c:\drv\sblive\sbeinit.com

ctsyn.ini

[ctsyn.drv]
SBEnable=true
JoyEnable=true
Waveset=C:\drv\sblive\default.ecw
PCIPort=e800
PCIIRQ=9
OPLPort=388
MPUPort=330
SBPort=220
SBIRQ=5
SBDMALO=1
SBDMAHI=5
JoyPort=200

[SBEINIT]
CONFIG=SBESET.CFG

[SBESET.CFG]
SBPORT=220
MPUPORT=330
SBIRQ=5
SBDMALO=1
SBDMAHI=5
OPLPORT=388
SBENABLE=TRUE
JOYPORT=200
JOYENABLE=true
WAVESET=C:\drv\sblive\DEFAULT.ECW
PCIPORT=e800
PCIIRQ=9

[SBEMIXER]
MasterVolL=125
MasterVolR=125
WaveVolL=125
WaveVolR=125
CDVolL=125
CDVolR=125
SynthVolL=125
SynthVolR=125
MT32=-

If anyone can tell me why FM, mpxplay.exe and games sound fine, but every single MOD player like glx.exe and opencp.exe have terrible noise/distortion, I would be most grateful.

DOS PC: Socket 370 / VIA C3 1.0 GHz / Voodoo2 + Trident Blade3D / SBPro + YMF744 + AWE64 + SC-7
Best DOS Games: CGW 150, PC Gamer 50, Worthwhile 100

Reply 11 of 102, by keenmaster486

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Your mod players sound bad because not many PCI sound cards work well with DOS. You have to have drivers to provide emulation of an ISA sound card, which causes problems.

What you need is a real ISA sound card, but your motherboard doesn't have an ISA slot.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.
World's foremost 486 enjoyer.

Reply 12 of 102, by enaiel

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I tried commenting out the CD driver, DOSLFN, and SMARTDRV, but the applications like display.exe and gsplay.exe that crashed before continued to crash. Seems like only option left is to format disk as FAT16, create a bunch of 2GB partitions, and boot DOS 6.22.

Regarding Audigy, if that's true, then it's a real shame. What would be a more compatible PCI card? I wasn't planning on buying anything more, but I will keep a watch on eBay to see if anything pops up at a decent price.

DOS PC: Socket 370 / VIA C3 1.0 GHz / Voodoo2 + Trident Blade3D / SBPro + YMF744 + AWE64 + SC-7
Best DOS Games: CGW 150, PC Gamer 50, Worthwhile 100

Reply 13 of 102, by keenmaster486

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I have heard that maybe some Yamaha PCI cards have good compatibility, but I have no personal experience with them.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.
World's foremost 486 enjoyer.

Reply 14 of 102, by kalohimal

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Yamaha YMF744 is a great PCI sound card that has very good DOS compatibility, and it has genuine OPL3 to boost. I've tested it to run on all sorts of CPU/chipset/motherboard combinations including P3, P4, Core 2, AthlonXP, Athlon64, VIA/Intel/Nforce chipsets. Out of the about 30 motherboards I tested, only about 3 is incompatible, so the success rate is around 90%. The only draw backs are: the driver (setupds) needs to be patched for more modern chipsets, and it's SFX driver (dsdma) requires EMS and hence EMM386/JEMMEX to be loaded, and dsdma takes up a big chunk of upper memory too. Other than that, it works and sounds great.

Slow down your CPU with CPUSPD for DOS retro gaming.

Reply 15 of 102, by enaiel

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I found a new AOPEN AW744L II - Yamaha XG YMF744 on eBay for $26.50 USD. Is the AOPEN a good YM744 card? And is that a good price?

DOS PC: Socket 370 / VIA C3 1.0 GHz / Voodoo2 + Trident Blade3D / SBPro + YMF744 + AWE64 + SC-7
Best DOS Games: CGW 150, PC Gamer 50, Worthwhile 100

Reply 16 of 102, by kalohimal

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I think this AOpen AW744L card was the one Philscomputerlab reviewed previously. It was selling for USD25 then. You can check out his video here.

Slow down your CPU with CPUSPD for DOS retro gaming.

Reply 17 of 102, by dr_st

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keenmaster486 wrote on 2020-06-04, 19:17:

Plus, put the CD drivers under a menu option so you only use them if you need them.

No, why? What's the purpose other than to waste your time? Is there a single documented case of a CD driver interfering with anything?

enaiel wrote on 2020-06-04, 20:55:

Seems like only option left is to format disk as FAT16, create a bunch of 2GB partitions, and boot DOS 6.22.

You can make a FAT16 partition, but you surely don't need DOS 6.22.

keenmaster486 wrote on 2020-06-04, 19:17:

I need DOSLFN for DJGPP, but I could put it and the CD driver in a menu option.

If it's just for DJGPP, you can remove DOSLFN from AUTOEXEC, and load it on-demand.

https://cloakedthargoid.wordpress.com/ - Random content on hardware, software, games and toys

Reply 18 of 102, by appiah4

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enaiel wrote on 2020-06-05, 02:59:

I found a new AOPEN AW744L II - Yamaha XG YMF744 on eBay for $26.50 USD. Is the AOPEN a good YM744 card? And is that a good price?

It is one of the best PCI cards you can have if you also want to do DOS gaming. However you will not get proper DOS sound with it unless your i815 motherboard has an SB-Link header. I've had much better luck with ForteMedia FM801 cards with i810/815 motherboards without SB-Link.

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

Reply 19 of 102, by kalohimal

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appiah4 wrote on 2020-06-05, 07:58:

It is one of the best PCI cards you can have if you also want to do DOS gaming. However you will not get proper DOS sound with it unless your i815 motherboard has an SB-Link header. I've had much better luck with ForteMedia FM801 cards with i810/815 motherboards without SB-Link.

I've tested the YMF744 on many motherboards/chipsets without SB-Link. FM will play regardless, but for SFX to work it needs 2 things: (1) setupds patched for the particular south bridge so that when it runs, DMA is set other than "none", and (2) dsdma needs to be loaded.

Slow down your CPU with CPUSPD for DOS retro gaming.