VOGONS


First post, by Joseph_Joestar

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System specs

  • AthlonXP 1700+
  • Abit KT7A-RAID (revision 1.0)
  • 512 MB NCP PC133 SDRAM (2x256)
  • Voodoo 3 2000 AGP
  • Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 (SB0100)
  • Turtle Beach Montego II (Aureal Vortex 2)
  • Maxtor 80 GB HDD (Windows 98SE, FAT32)
  • Western Digital 120 GB HDD (Windows 2000 + SP4, NTFS)
  • Sony 3.5" floppy drive
  • NEC ND-3550A DVD-RW
  • LC Power 550W PSU
  • Samsung SyncMaster 795MB CRT monitor
  • Cambridge SoundWorks Digital Speakers

Introduction

This is basically a beefed up version of the computer that I had bought way back in 2001. Truthfully, the only remaining original components are the motherboard and the case, everything else has been upgraded over the years. The intended purpose of this system is to play A3D 2.0 games and later Glide titles like Diablo 2.

CPU

This AthlonXP 1700+ CPU has enough power to not be a bottleneck for most Win98 games. However, it is also fairly good for DOS gaming. With the L1 cache disabled, the NSSI CPU benchmark ranks this processor around a 386DX-40. On the other hand, if I need something more along the lines of an early Pentium or a late 486, I use Throttle instead. As an example, with the slowdown rate at 81%, NSSI ranks this CPU around a PentiumMMX-166. Throttle seems to especially like the VIA 686B southbridge and offers a huge range of slowdown options on it. For DOS games which crash due to too much RAM, I use XMSDSK & EMSDSK which lowers the available memory to 32 MB and that solves the issue.

Motherboard

The Abit KT7A-RAID is one of those rare Socket A motherboards which have an ISA slot. It's based on the VIA KT133A chipset which is pretty solid overall, but it was known to cause issues with SBLive cards back in the day. Miraculously, I never had these problems, possibly because I'm using the latest official BIOS (A9) and the v4.43 VIA 4-in-1 drivers.

Unfortunately, the AthlonXP 1700+ CPU that I'm currently using is a bit too new for my revision 1.0 motheboard, even with the latest official BIOS installed. The board sees it as an "Unknown CPU". I'm currently running it at 1250 MHz (12.5x100) which shouldn't make much of a difference as the system will be limited by the Voodoo3 graphics card. On the plus side, this allows me to use run the memory at CL2 and use better timing values. Interestingly, the CPU multiplier is completely unlocked. This allows me to downclock the processor to 500 MHz (5x100) through Abit's SoftMenu BIOS section. Combined with Throttle and SetMul, this gives the system even more range when it comes to slowing things down for DOS gaming.

Lastly, probably the most intriguing aspect of the KT7A is its inclusion of an ISA slot. From personal experience, I can attest that DOS compatibility is excellent when this board is paired with something like an AWE64 or an ESS AudioDrive 1868F. I have since then repurposed this build and no longer use the ISA slot, but I thought this information might be interesting for someone else.

Graphics card

I mainly use the Voodoo 3 to play Glide games of course, but it's also handy for other early Win9x games that rely on palletized textures and table fog. This card might be slightly bottlenecked by the CPU on this system, but I won't be playing in resolutions higher than 800x600 thanks to the CRT monitor, so that's not much of a problem. Under DOS, the Voodoo 3 offers a crisp 2D image and can even run some (but not all) early DOS Glide games. It also has fully functional drivers for Windows 3.1 for people who want to use that. When playing hi-res 3D DOS games in software mode (e.g. Quake and Tomb Raider) it's best to run FASTVID beforehand to further improve the frame rate. Lastly, the VBEHz tool can be used to force DOS games that use the 640x480 resolution (and higher) to utilize refresh rates greater than 60 Hz on a compatible CRT monitor. My Samsung SyncMaster 795MB can deliver 120Hz at 640x480 and 800x600, which makes games like Transport Tycoon and WarCraft 2 look very crisp.

Sound card 1: Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 (SB0100)

On this system, the Live is mostly used for its hardware EAX capabilities, since many late Win9x games support that. The front panel that the card is connected to provides optical in/out which is great if you need crystal clear recordings of gameplay audio. Although this particular front panel is intended for an Audigy1 card, it works just fine with the SBLive 5.1.

Under Windows 98, the SBLive can also serve as a capable soundfont loader, especially if you force it to use Audigy drivers. This way, you can load your favorite soundfont (size only restricted by system RAM) and use it for General MIDI music in DOS games, as long as they are running from within Windows. And while the SB16 emulation of the Live is decent, it still causes issues in certain games (e.g. Quake and WarCraft 2) so don't expect perfect SB16 compatibility all the time.

Sound card 2: Turtle Beach Montego II (Aureal Vortex 2)

Of course, the Vortex 2 will be primarily used when playing games which support A3D 2.0. Games based on the Unreal engine make great use of positional audio on this card. Of particular note is how well A3D 2.0 handles elevation i.e. sounds coming from above and below the player. The manual of this card states that it's better to use headphones than speakers for this purpose, and I wholeheartedly agree. Sound positioning is simply more precise that way. As far as DOS gaming is concerned, the Montego II is relatively solid. SBPro compatibility is pretty good for a PCI card. General MIDI sounds ok for the most part, but its FM synth implementation is not really to my liking.

Operating Systems

On this machine, I use two hard disks and two operating systems, and select which one to run from the BIOS boot menu. The two systems are fully independent, so if I need to reinstall Win98 for some reason, Win2K will be completely unaffected.

Windows 98SE is my primary operating system. The only updates that I use are Windows Installer and DirectX 9.0c. Nothing else, and no third-party patches either. As expected, I mostly play Win9x games on this machine, since it runs them quite well, at least the ones released before the year 2000. Anything newer than that will likely struggle on the Voodoo3 unless it supports Glide.

Windows 2000 Professional (with SP4) is my other operating system, which resides on the larger, secondary hard disk. At this time, it's only used for maintenance and file storage. That said, Win2K is very lightweight and feels super snappy on this machine.

Conclusion

This rig is serves its main purpose of playing Glide and A3D 2.0 games quite well. Due to the relatively powerful CPU, it can even tackle certain late-era Win9x Glide titles such as Diablo II and Deus Ex. The only thing that slightly bothers me is the noise that the fans and mechanical hard drives produce. However, I mostly play games using headphones on this system, so its not a huge issue.

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Last edited by Joseph_Joestar on 2022-05-27, 18:15. Edited 8 times in total.

PC#1: Pentium MMX 166 / Soyo SY-5BT / S3 Trio64V+ / Voodoo1 / OPTi 82C930 / AWE64 Gold / SC-155
PC#2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / Voodoo3 / SBLive / Vortex2
PC#3: Athlon64 3000+ / Asus K8V-MX / GeForce4 / Audigy1
PC#4: i5-3550P / MSI Z77A-G43 / GTX 650Ti / X-Fi

Reply 1 of 46, by Joseph_Joestar

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A couple of benchmarks. For the 3DMark entries, the standard benchmarks were utilized, in whatever color depth each one uses by default.

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All game benchmarks were carried out using 16-bit color depth. Game versions used:

  • Quake2 v3.20 (with AMD 3DNow! 3.20 patch and 3DFX miniGL v1.49)
  • Unreal Tournament 99 GOTY (Glide renderer)
  • Drakan v445 (Direct3D renderer)

OS and drivers used

  • Windows 98SE retail (no unofficial service packs or third-party patches)
  • DirectX 9.0c
  • VIA 4-in-1 Chipset Driver 4.43
  • 3DFX Voodoo3 1.07 reference driver
Last edited by Joseph_Joestar on 2022-05-10, 19:51. Edited 11 times in total.

PC#1: Pentium MMX 166 / Soyo SY-5BT / S3 Trio64V+ / Voodoo1 / OPTi 82C930 / AWE64 Gold / SC-155
PC#2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / Voodoo3 / SBLive / Vortex2
PC#3: Athlon64 3000+ / Asus K8V-MX / GeForce4 / Audigy1
PC#4: i5-3550P / MSI Z77A-G43 / GTX 650Ti / X-Fi

Reply 3 of 46, by darry

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wirerogue wrote on 2020-07-17, 18:07:

does the headphone jack work on the audigy drive with soundblaster live?
i thought i tried that and it didn't work.

Panels for Audigy 1 and SB Live are interchangeable, AFAIK .

Panels for Audigy 2 and legacy PCI X-FI are interchangeable (have been doing that for years).

Reply 4 of 46, by Joseph_Joestar

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wirerogue wrote on 2020-07-17, 18:07:

does the headphone jack work on the audigy drive with soundblaster live?

Yes, I'm using it all the time.

My HyperX Cloud headphones are connected there using one of these adapters. Having a physical volume knob at the ready is super convenient.

PC#1: Pentium MMX 166 / Soyo SY-5BT / S3 Trio64V+ / Voodoo1 / OPTi 82C930 / AWE64 Gold / SC-155
PC#2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / Voodoo3 / SBLive / Vortex2
PC#3: Athlon64 3000+ / Asus K8V-MX / GeForce4 / Audigy1
PC#4: i5-3550P / MSI Z77A-G43 / GTX 650Ti / X-Fi

Reply 6 of 46, by Joseph_Joestar

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Agreed on the stability, especially since this is a VIA board. I've had it for years, and never experienced any problems. Also, even contemporary reviews state that the board has excellent stability.

The only thing that worried me was when I recently added the Sound Blaster Live to it, since those are known to cause issues with VIA chipsets. Remarkably, I had no problems whatsoever. Maybe it's because I'm using an up-to-date BIOS (release notes do mention this being addressed) along with the 4.43 VIA drivers, but the SBLive never made any trouble for me on this setup.

PC#1: Pentium MMX 166 / Soyo SY-5BT / S3 Trio64V+ / Voodoo1 / OPTi 82C930 / AWE64 Gold / SC-155
PC#2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / Voodoo3 / SBLive / Vortex2
PC#3: Athlon64 3000+ / Asus K8V-MX / GeForce4 / Audigy1
PC#4: i5-3550P / MSI Z77A-G43 / GTX 650Ti / X-Fi

Reply 8 of 46, by Joseph_Joestar

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kolderman wrote on 2020-07-18, 05:58:

Lucky, Via always gave me trouble with SBLive!. So I use a very period incorrect audigy2zs instead.

I used to have a ZS in this machine as well, but I swapped it out for the Live because they have equivalent functionality in terms of DOS gaming when you force the Live to use Audigy drivers. No more size limits on soundfonts and you get proper, soundfont-based General MIDI in DOS games.

Also, the ZS used an extra IRQ for its FireWire port which always ended up being shared with some other device, regardless of PCI slot placement. Experience has taught me to avoid IRQ sharing whenever possible under Win98.

PC#1: Pentium MMX 166 / Soyo SY-5BT / S3 Trio64V+ / Voodoo1 / OPTi 82C930 / AWE64 Gold / SC-155
PC#2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / Voodoo3 / SBLive / Vortex2
PC#3: Athlon64 3000+ / Asus K8V-MX / GeForce4 / Audigy1
PC#4: i5-3550P / MSI Z77A-G43 / GTX 650Ti / X-Fi

Reply 9 of 46, by chrismeyer6

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I'm running XP Pro with mine and even maxing the ram out 1.5 gigs it's been perfect for the 3 years it's been back together. I'm also using a fatality X-FI card with it. My son's 5 and he loves playing all my old educational and regular games on it. He helped me build it as well he just loves it

Reply 11 of 46, by kolderman

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SPBHM wrote on 2020-07-18, 09:07:

very nice system, finding a board with ISA slot and socket A has become pretty difficult.

I've got one but it's missing agp. I suppose it would be good with a pci v5 or something.

Reply 12 of 46, by Joseph_Joestar

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chrismeyer6 wrote on 2020-07-18, 09:01:

I'm running XP Pro with mine and even maxing the ram out 1.5 gigs it's been perfect for the 3 years it's been back together.

I used to run XP on it back in the day, and I remember it performing reasonably well. That was before SP3 came along though. That seemed to slow things down to a crawl even on much more powerful systems.

My son's 5 and he loves playing all my old educational and regular games on it. He helped me build it as well he just loves it

I find it great that you're passing down your knowledge and love of games from that era to your son. Kudos!

PC#1: Pentium MMX 166 / Soyo SY-5BT / S3 Trio64V+ / Voodoo1 / OPTi 82C930 / AWE64 Gold / SC-155
PC#2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / Voodoo3 / SBLive / Vortex2
PC#3: Athlon64 3000+ / Asus K8V-MX / GeForce4 / Audigy1
PC#4: i5-3550P / MSI Z77A-G43 / GTX 650Ti / X-Fi

Reply 13 of 46, by Joseph_Joestar

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SPBHM wrote on 2020-07-18, 09:07:

very nice system, finding a board with ISA slot and socket A has become pretty difficult.

Yeah, it has become the proverbial unicorn nowadays.

I was lucky enough to have kept mine all these years, not sure I'd be able to find one like that locally anymore.

PC#1: Pentium MMX 166 / Soyo SY-5BT / S3 Trio64V+ / Voodoo1 / OPTi 82C930 / AWE64 Gold / SC-155
PC#2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / Voodoo3 / SBLive / Vortex2
PC#3: Athlon64 3000+ / Asus K8V-MX / GeForce4 / Audigy1
PC#4: i5-3550P / MSI Z77A-G43 / GTX 650Ti / X-Fi

Reply 14 of 46, by chrismeyer6

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I do have sp3 installed but it performs the way it should. I'm glad he's enjoying it as well. He also likes helping me build and maintain our computers as well it's fun working with him

Reply 15 of 46, by gex85

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Nice writeup, thank you!
I also still have the Socket A rig I bought in 2001 which is based on the Epox EP-8KTA3+. It also has the Via chipset and an ISA slot and I have a spare ALS100 in storage that I have never used, so it might be a good idea to throw it in and give it a try 😀

My retro computers

Reply 16 of 46, by Joseph_Joestar

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gex85 wrote on 2020-07-18, 20:03:

I also still have the Socket A rig I bought in 2001 which is based on the Epox EP-8KTA3+

That's a great board. As I recall, Epox and Abit were very close in terms of performance back in the day.

I have a spare ALS100 in storage that I have never used, so it might be a good idea to throw it in and give it a try 😀

Nice! The ALS100 is one of the few non-Creative cards with proper SB16 compatibility. Be sure to try it out with some DOS games which use 16-bit sound (e.g. Crusader: No Remorse) for maximum effect.

PC#1: Pentium MMX 166 / Soyo SY-5BT / S3 Trio64V+ / Voodoo1 / OPTi 82C930 / AWE64 Gold / SC-155
PC#2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / Voodoo3 / SBLive / Vortex2
PC#3: Athlon64 3000+ / Asus K8V-MX / GeForce4 / Audigy1
PC#4: i5-3550P / MSI Z77A-G43 / GTX 650Ti / X-Fi

Reply 17 of 46, by Tali

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Indeed, aside from sounding somewhat lackluster, which is probably a very subjective thing, there is nothing else wrong with the ALS100 (100+ is a different, noisy beast altogether). Then again, "lackluster sound" in my books is when compared to better quality examples of YMF744 and ESS cards, which, alas, have no SB16 (though generally they do sound fuller). Come to think of it, if I ever get around building a 6x86, this is the card I'll be pairing with a GUS, just to have fuss free sound. For the record, the one I'm using is Diamond MF-009, which may be different sounding from yours (EDIT: Diamond seems to be quite confusing in that it has more than one card labeled as MF-009, and they are entirely different chipsets!).

Another option would be C-Media, notably the 8330, but that one has some weird hiss when playing FM (something that never bothered me back in the 90s, but seems to be quite obnoxious now). Some folks here have toyed with digital out on this one, but that requires another card with digital in or a receiver of some sort.

Reply 18 of 46, by Joseph_Joestar

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Tali wrote on 2020-07-20, 10:21:

For the record, the one I'm using is Diamond MF-009, which may be different sounding from yours

There does seem to be a lot of variety between ALS100 cards. I've seen some with a Crystal chip, others with an on-board wavetable ROM and then there are the generic ones like mine with an 1:1 OPL3 copy and nothing else.

I do have a YMF724 too and I can say that the ALS100 is a bit noisier, but muting all unused inputs seems to help a lot, at least in my case.

PC#1: Pentium MMX 166 / Soyo SY-5BT / S3 Trio64V+ / Voodoo1 / OPTi 82C930 / AWE64 Gold / SC-155
PC#2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / Voodoo3 / SBLive / Vortex2
PC#3: Athlon64 3000+ / Asus K8V-MX / GeForce4 / Audigy1
PC#4: i5-3550P / MSI Z77A-G43 / GTX 650Ti / X-Fi

Reply 19 of 46, by Tali

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Joseph_Joestar wrote on 2020-07-20, 10:37:
Tali wrote on 2020-07-20, 10:21:

For the record, the one I'm using is Diamond MF-009, which may be different sounding from yours

There does seem to be a lot of variety between ALS100 cards. I've seen some with a Crystal chip, others with an on-board wavetable ROM and then there are the generic ones like mine with an 1:1 OPL3 copy and nothing else.

I do have a YMF724 too and I can say that the ALS100 is a bit noisier, but muting all unused inputs seems to help a lot, at least in my case.

I'm not sure it's the noise I'm so against. I was using line out -> mixer setup, and every non-essential input was turned off, so it sounded pretty clean. Since I'm no true audiophile (if there is such a thing), I'm not entirely sure I can explain in correct terms what I mean, but it sounds simply "dead" to me (as in opposite of "alive"). Much like driving a German car would feel after an Italian one, I guess. Not that it doesn't work or doesn't sound right, it just doesn't, for the lack of a better word, sparkle with excitement.

The one I have fits into the "generic ones like mine with an 1:1 OPL3 copy", only yellow and re-labeled by Diamond. I think a very similar one is mentioned here: Re: Sound Blaster 16 Clones