First post, by Joseph_Joestar
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.