First post, by Joseph_Joestar
- 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
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.
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. 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.
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 Blaster Live! 5.1 music samples (FM Synth emulation)
- Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 music samples (General MIDI using Patch93's SC-55 soundfont)
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.
- Turtle Beach Montego II music samples (FM Synthesis)
- Turtle Beach Montego II music samples (General MIDI)
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.
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.