First post, by Wilczek_h
A dream came true - my ultimate Pentium 1 build covering the 90's
As my first post please allow me to share some details and pictures of my latest retro build. I say retro, however to me retro would be an XT PC build or something from that era; these P1 kind of builds still feel quite modern to me.
I started using PCs when XTs were king, the first PC I owned was an Olivetti branded 286 AT machine with a 20MHz Harris CPU. It had a whopping 1 MB of RAM, a huge 40MB HDD(!) and a 256kB Trident VGA card. It was a fantastic machine of its time.
Time went on and I built and owned all kind of PCs with all sort of CPUs, but the CPU that always fascinated me was the Pentium I CPU. It had - almost - perfect backward compatibility with the old world (DOS, 16-bit programs), could run software of the new wave (95/98) and if needed it could show its real power by running purely 32-bit OSs like NT. Therefore, whenever I build a retro machine I try to put together one that is powered by a P1 CPU.
My dream was to build one of the fanciest/most powerful P1 machine of early 98 and I came up with the following configuration:
- With my brother we saved a Daewoo CB54X-TX motherboard that sports the Intel 430TX chipset. We found it dumped in a barn. Despite how and where it was stored we saw no rust, no bad caps and no defect on the board. This motherboard is awesome, its BIOS gives a lot of options, you can really tweak and change every single bit of the board.
With this build I did not want to be authentic though, so I used memory cards as storage media of size that was not available at the time. But I guess, that is OK, my other P1 machine has a spinning rust (aka old HDD) in it (which I am always afraid to switch on as I worry about the HDD 😀).
- since the aim was to build one of the most powerful P1 machine I went for a P1-233MHz MMX CPU.
- the RAM: well, I know, I know, the TX chipset allows caching RAM up to 64MB, but still, I installed the maximum amount of RAM supported by the board, which is 256MB. I used brand new Kingston 128MB SDRAM modules. Some workloads really need a lot of RAM, like NT 4.0 + Quake 3 or Windows 2000 with Visual Studio 2005 when building a simple program (requiring around 224MB of RAM). I think uncached RAM is still a better option than swapping memory pages in and out.
- video card: I wanted to use a 2D video card that can be used under DOS+Windows for Workgroups 3.11, NT 3.51, NT 4.0, 98SE and under Windows 2000. I went for an ELSA Winner-3000-L 6MB(!) video card with a Virge VX chip. While it is not a top performer, it provides a decent enough 2D performance, works under all the above mentioned systems and supports extremely high resolutions with 24-bit color depth. Resolutions that I could not imagine in 1997-1998 😀.
- the 3D card: I guess it is not a surprise that I went for a Voodoo2 12MB card (Procomp). The thing that might surprise you is that I actually went for an SLI configuration, so I installed 2 Procomp Voodoo2 12MB cards. The SLI does not provide a lot of performance increase, but it allows me to run some games in 1024x768. And anyway, having an SLI configuration is awesome. The cards work fine under NT 4.0, 98SE and Windows 2000 using the latest reference drivers.
- storage: the primary IDE drive is a 16GB compact flash card allowing me to boot DOS 6.22, Windows NT 3.51 SP5 and Windows NT 4.0 SP6a. The secondary IDE drive is a Sandisk 32GB SD card allowing me to boot 98SE and Windows 2000 SP4+SRP. The BIOS lets me choose the IDE channel to boot from, which is really great.
- sound: I never had a card like this, but I always heard a lot about it, so I went for a Creative Labs AWE64 card. It is not the gold version though, but it is good enough and works under DOS, WfW 3.11, NT 3.51 (! with the stock NT SB16 drivers, but I had to change the "Plug n Play OS" to "NO" in the BIOS to get it working), NT 4.0 and under Windows 2000.
- as for the NIC, I chose a Realtek 8029AS PCI network adapter. It also works under all the systems just fine.
- mice and keyboard: nothing fancy here, just standard PS/2 stuff.
- floppy drives: a Panasonic 3.5" and a Teac 5.25" floppy drive. In the photos you might notice that for a while I had a Panasonic 5.25" drive, but I swapped it later on with a Teac.
- optical media: an LG 16x DVD-ROM with CD-R/W functionality, not at all authentic of the time, but I wanted no compromise when reading optical media. While under DOS, NT 3.51 and NT 4.0 I can only read CDs, 98SE and Windows 2000 support reading DVDs natively, which came in handy occasionally.
- PSU: whenever I build a retro ATX machine the first thing I do is that I install a brand new Chieftec PSU. This one got a 500W Chieftec GPS-500A8 PSU, a massive overkill, but I would not like to risk all the goodies using an old or unreliable PSU. This new Chieftec provides nice voltages to the components and can drive the computer easily.
- computer case: it is a random, noname case, according to the label it originally enclosed a P4 celeron build. When we found it it was already empty. It is not the best case, some bolt holes are misaligned, so the PSU is only held by 3 bolts, not 4. However, the backplate(?) is not bent, so it was easy to install the motherboard and the cards could be installed with ease too. All in all I am OK with it.
Software: I wanted to cover the 90s. I knew I wanted to run 16-bit, 16/32-bit and pure 32-bit OSs. As mentioned above, the CF card allows me to boot DOS 6.22 with Windows for Workgroups 3.11, NT 3.51 SP5 and NT 4.0 SP6a. NT 3.51 is a really interesting operating system. It is undoubtedly NT, it feels NT, yet it has a 3.11-like UI. However, it is easier to handle its UI than the UI of WfW 3.11. A lot of built-in programs already sport the newer controls, like the file manager. A lot of dialogs and windows also use the newer controls introduced in Win95. And the funny thing is that for productivity purposes it is still quite a capable system. I can run programs like IrfanView, Office 97, WinAmp and a very simple FTP server (it comes as an optional component with NT 3.51) on it. I think the computer feels the fastest under NT 4.0, I can play low resolution mpeg-2 videos fullscreen on it, under NT 4.0 everything starts instantly. While 98SE is fast, it does not feel as responsive as NT 4.0.
From the SD card I can start 98SE and Windows 2000. 98SE, well, I was never a fan of the 9x line, but 9x provides good DOS backward compatibility and also runs glide and OpenGL games fine. Windows 2000 is my favorite OS from the Windows line of that era (I never liked XP, but Windows Server 2003 SP1 was awesome). It boots fast and runs fine, disk access is definitely the fastest under Windows 2000, however, it puts a "little bit" more pressure on the components. I cannot play mpeg-2 videos on it in fullscreen (most probably it is only a driver issue) and I loose a couple of FPS in games like Q2. However, it is still the go to system next to NT 4.0 if no DOS games need to run. Under 2000 I can run Office 2003 with the Office 2007 compatibility pack, read DVDs, run more modern software, I can even use Visual Studio 2005 😀. Well, the SP installation of Visual Studio took around 10 hours, but the computer did it.
You might ask, what the purpose of this computer is: one thing is that me and my kids really enjoyed putting it together. I could experience top performing HW I could not even think about back in the days. Installation of the 5 systems with software was hard, but fun. I loved the computing of the 90s and this computer can take me back to any era of the 90s (DOS, new wave, pure 32-bit OSs). Another important factor is: preservation! Last, but not least, it is a great machine for young kids, my son loves Commander Keen, SimCity Classic, The Incredible Machine, SimEarth, Street Rod, Stunts and Railroad Tycoon, just to mention a few. These programs can also help my kids to learn some English. (As you might have noticed - just like my kids - I am not a native English speaker either, but computers helped me back in the days to get familiar with the language.) We can run Encarta, Encarta Atlas and the Encarta English dictionary. They can learn basic Office stuff and I do not have to worry that they mess up a system that we use daily. And well, they also learn some history, they love handling floppy disks too 😀. They know that a floppy is not just an icon for "save" in programs.
Finally, the pictures (hopefully the links will work):
1. the CPU is in the board 😀:
2. heat sink added (with paste):
3. fan added, not really meant for the given heatsink, but it does the job:
4: ahh, I hate this part so much 😀:
5. components waiting for resurrection:
6. a closer look at some components:
7. a closer look at some other components:
8. the PSU is installed:
9. my living room the way I like it 😀:
10. trying out the CF card:
12. the CF card takes its place as well as the first Voodoo2 card:
13. AWE64 and the network adapter are added too:
14. the first set of systems are installed: DOS 6.22 + WfW 3.11, NT 3.51 and NT 4.0:
15. NT 3.51 in action: do not let the UI fool you, it is driven by a pure 32-bit OS:
16. stock FTP server with an active connection:
17. a kind of magic indeed: mpeg-2 video under NT 4.0:
18. Q3A under NT 4.0, it works on this build 😀:
19. ready to install another card on the secondary IDE channel, this time an SD card:
20. so far so good:
21. it works!:
22. second set of systems installed on the SD card: 98SE and Windows 2000 Professional SP4+SRP:
23. fun with the kids, we put together a little DOS program to practice addition and subtraction:
24. getting ready for the SLI experience:
25. the second Voodoo2 is in place:
26. the inside of the final build:
27. the second Voodoo2 is installed under 98SE:
28. SLI detected under 98SE:
29. the second Voodoo2 is installed under 2000: note: the 3Dfx panel is not installed with the reference driver for Windows 2000, therefore I had to manually add the SSTV2_SLIDETECT "1" string value to the registry under 2 keys to enable SLI. It works as the 1024x768 resolution is available in games:
30. SLI is detected under NT 4.0:
31. Q2 in the mighty 1024x768 resolution 😀:
32. extra: before installation, picking the right Windows versions for the machine 😀 (I have more Windows boxes and other versions + editions, but the bed was full of boxes already 😀):
33. extra: picking the right "3D applications" 😀 for the new build:
34. extra: last but not least, a picture of my 166MMX build with the initial set of software to be installed:
Thank you for reading and checking out the pictures. I hope you enjoyed the story and the pictures as much as I enjoyed putting the build together.
Take care and best regards,