VOGONS


First post, by Joseph_Joestar

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System specs

  • AthlonXP 1700+
  • Abit KT7A-RAID (revision 1.0)
  • AOpen 350W PSU
  • 512 MB Kingston PC133 SDRAM (2x256)
  • MSI GeForce4 Ti4200 128 MB
  • Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 (SB0100)
  • Avance Logic ALS100
  • Sony 3.5" floppy drive
  • Western Digital 80 GB HDD (Windows 98SE, FAT32)
  • Western Digital 160 GB HDD (Windows 2000 + SP4, NTFS)
  • Lite-On 16x DVD-ROM
  • LG Flatron L1753HR 17" LCD monitor

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, the PSU and the case, everything else has been upgraded over the years. The intended purpose of this system is to play late-era Win98 games at maximum settings. However, due to the ISA slot on the motherboard, this rig can also serve as a surprisingly decent DOS machine.

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. 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" and can run it at 1250 MHz (12.5x100) tops. On the plus side, this allows me to use more aggressive memory timings, which does help with performance. That said, even at 1250 MHz, this AthlonXP is more than fast enough for Win9x games. 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.

Graphics card

The GeForce4 Ti4200 is a very capable card, and it allows me to run the vast majority of Win9x games in 1280x1024 at 60+ FPS. It's also very fast in DOS providing superb performance in late-era, hi-res games like Quake and Tomb Raider. When I want to play those games in software mode I run FASTVID beforehand to further improve the frame rate. I was a bit worried that this card would be too power hungry for the 350W PSU, but it turned out ok, and I haven't experienced any issues even after several hours of heavy load.

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) which is why I'm also using an ISA card - the Avance Logic ALS100. Basically, as far as DOS games are concerned, the SBLive provides General MIDI on port 330, while the ALS100 takes care of everything else.

Avance Logic ALS100

The ALS100 is basically a SB16 without any of the bugs that plague Creative's SB16 cards. I should note that this is the original ALS100, not the plus version, which means that it has proper support for High DMA and works perfectly in all Build engine games. It also supports ADPCM, so games like Duke Nukem 2 will work fine. On the model that I'm using, FM synth is provided by a 1:1 copy of the Yamaha YMF262-M and sounds identical to the real thing (see music samples below). Lastly, the ALS100 also has proper SBPro stereo compatibility, which matters for games like Aladdin. As far as resources are concerned, the ALS100 is set up to use A220 I7 D1 H5 T6. In terms of compatibility, from 30+ DOS games that I've tried, not a single one had any problems with it.

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 effortlessly. When I play DOS games, I usually do it from the Win98 DOS prompt, due to the aforementioned General MIDI functionality which the SBLive provides. For those few DOS games which refuse to work under Windows (e.g. Lemmings) I use the "Restart in MS-DOS mode" option. This is also useful in case I need to run slowdown utilities as they sometimes cause issues when used under Win98.

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. I could probably run some games from the early 2000s on it, if I really wanted to, but I prefer to let my dedicated WinXP rig handle that.

Conclusion

I had originally intended for this build to focus on late Win9x games, with DOS compatibility being somewhat of an afterthought. However, I was pleasantly surprised with what the slowdown utilities are capable of on this setup. The ability to switch between 386, 486 and Pentium speeds with just a few, simple commands is amazing. In the end, this turned out to be a great all-around retro rig.

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Last edited by Joseph_Joestar on 2021-04-03, 19:14. Edited 1 time in total.

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 1 of 30, by Joseph_Joestar

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A couple of benchmarks:

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Game versions used:

  • Quake v1.08 (software rendering + FASTVID)
  • GL Quake v1.09
  • Quake2 v3.20 (with AMD 3DNow! 3.20 patch)
  • Unreal Tournament 99 GOTY (D3D renderer)

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 3 of 30, 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 30, 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.

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 6 of 30, 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.

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 8 of 30, 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.

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 9 of 30, 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 30, 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 30, 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!

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 13 of 30, 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.

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 14 of 30, 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 30, 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 😀

1992 - i486DX2-66 // 1997 - P1-233 MMX // 1998 - P2-350 // 2000 - P3-650 // 2001 - Athlon 1400 // 2003 - Athlon XP 3200+ // 2008 - Xeon E5450 // 2015 - Xeon E3-1240v5

Reply 16 of 30, 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.

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 17 of 30, 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 30, 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.

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 19 of 30, 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