VOGONS


First post, by leonardo

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As the result of a recent salvage, I'm left with the question in the topic for a few computers that were headed to the dumpster.

In today's post I'm dealing mostly with a philosophical dilemma, as the computer is - in a way - perfect as it is:

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CPU internals post fix-up
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- BTC 200W AT power supply
- MSI MS-4132G motherboard
- Intel 80486DX 33 MHz CPU
- ~4 MB of RAM
- multi-I/O-board with serial- and parallel-ports + IDE and floppy interface
- Trident TVGA8900D-R 1MB ISA video card
- 1.44 MB 3.5" floppy disk drive
- ~520 MB 3.5" IDE hard disk
- 16x IDE CD-ROM-drive

When the computer came to me it had been stripped of all storage devices, but I was lucky enough to have come into those without having to invest. The CD-ROM drive is perhaps newer than what one might expect, but it passes as it's not too over-the-top. The case is also fairly tidy so I only ended up having to fix the front-case LED (which incorrectly reported the CPU speed as 25 MHz / 50 MHz when toggled):

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LED display post fix-up - part 1
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LED display post fix-up - part 2
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I also removed the barrel battery from the motherboard, as everyone knows should be done:

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CMOS battery removed
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For the time being, booting up the system requires entering the date and time settings, as well as the hard disk parameters if unplugged from the wall outlet.

It's a nice clean early 486-system, but now I'm tempted to fix it up some more... Obvious possible upgrades include the following:

  • A faster 80486DX2 or AMD clone, 50 or 66 MHz perhaps - I'm not clear exactly if the motherboard will support going over 50 MHz
  • Increase RAM to 8 or 16 megabytes (I don't see much point going above this, even if supported).
  • A sound card of some sort!
  • An external CMOS-battery enclosure to keep the settings stored
  • Ethernet adapter for easier file transfers or playing local area network games

I'm contemplating if I should do specific upgrades or go all out... or leave it as it is.
I'm concerned that if I go too far with the upgrades, the system will start to look more like an inferior version of what I've already got, rather than the timepiece it is now. Some upgrades clearly only make sense with others... for example I could do the sound card thing without other upgrades, but upgrading the CPU would just beg the memory and sound card upgrades as well...

I'm also not the kind of person to spend a hundred $ just to end up with a system that won't sell for the money I put in if I decide to let it go...

What would you do - or not do?

[Install Win95 like you were born in 1985!] on systems like this or this.

Reply 1 of 41, by leonardo

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I also have some follow-up questions for the theoretical upgrades, as my memory is starting to be hazy for systems preceding Pentiums and Socket 7...

  • If I upgrade the CPU, are there variants of the 80486 chip that are not compatible as per the voltage or pin-layout?
  • When exactly did a HSF become recommended? I recall seeing even early Pentiums with just a heatsink, but the 33 MHz chip seems happy without anything.
  • I have different length SIMM-slots on the board with the current set up being four of these shorter memory modules. On a Socket 7 board, using the SIMM- and DIMM slots together is a big no-no. Does the same apply here, aka. if I get more memory for the lengthier SIMM-slots, do I have to clear the shorter ones?
  • On Pentium- and later motherboards, certain expansion slots always map to specific IRQs (or share IRQs with specific other slots on the board). Is there something similar going on with these ISA-slots where I have to pay special attention to which slot I would place a sound card, for example, or is setting up resources done with jumpers etc. regardless of the slot?

[Install Win95 like you were born in 1985!] on systems like this or this.

Reply 2 of 41, by chinny22

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486's in general aren't that useful, most speed sensitive games want something earlier and later dos games want a Pentium.
A 486 is all about nostalgia so unless any of your dos games don't like your K6 then build whatever makes you happy.

To answer your more specific questions
The MSI MS-4132G only supports 5V CPU's later 486's are 3.3 volts Dx50 is about as good as you can go unless you find a Pentium Overdrive.
Mid level 486's is when heatsinks started to become common, some companies seem to have started a bit earlier then others, Dx2/66's almost always had one, If you do upgrade I'd just play it safe
Often you can use different memory types, but 30pin ram is slower then 72 fast page which is what this board uses (so no EDO)
No special slots, some people liked putting somehting like the I/O card closer to the CPU but dont think it makes a real world difference

Reply 3 of 41, by Cuttoon

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That thing should take a DX2-66 without issues.
Being a normal VLB system, there's maybe a 1 in 5 chance it will take anything past DX-2, which would require regulators for 3.x V instead of the usual 5 V.
Most boards of that time did not have them. No 3.x V would mean the latest to install would be a DX2-80 at 40 MHz FSB. Using 40 for FSB is debatable since it can cause trouble with some boards and cards.
So, for a VLB system, I'd say both 33 and 66 are very typical, matter of taste, really. Guess DOOM will be more fun with 66.

That VGA card is no rocket, AFAIK.

Heatsink, never an exact science, seen plenty of DX33 without heatsink and DX2-66 with heatsink only, sans fan. But can't hurt. Many chips of the time note it's needed. Depends on the case, environment, etc. If it runs, it runs.

The RAM, technically, 4 of the 30 pins SIMMs should be pretty much the same as one 72 pin SIMM. Mixing them is not a crime, just an unnecessary complication.
The small sockets by that point were legacy, for people who brought those from an earlier system. Most of those had eight sockets for them. 30 pins SIMMs with 4 MB are very rare, in comparison to 1 MB pieces. While it should be very easy to find 16 MB in one or two 72 pins SIMMs for next to nothing. 16 seems like a good number, although 8 will do most things. Make sure it's FPM, not EDO. 70 ns will suffice.

Sure, ISA sound card, NIC, why not?

Side note: That case, pretty sure it's too modern for the board. Think those with turquoise buttons were late 90s, AFAIK.
Also, three digit display - bit of a waste on a 66 MHz system, pretty rare.
The case looks very much Pentium to me.

I'd say, leave it be, unless you have a DX2-66 at hand or could get one for maybe five bucks. The 66 is the quintessential 486 and dx33 sound more like ISA only system.
But, the moment you start upgrading that thing for more performance, you'd have to consider faster VLB graphics, yaddayadda, so, rabbit hole ahead. 😉

I like jumpers.

Reply 4 of 41, by leonardo

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Cuttoon wrote on 2022-05-18, 14:44:

That thing should take a DX2-66 without issues.
...
Heatsink, never an exact science, seen plenty of DX33 without heatsink and DX2-66 with heatsink only, sans fan.

How would I go about attaching one? I don't see any retention clips like on Socket 7-boards, and it looks like most 486-CPUs are sold bare without any coolers.

Cuttoon wrote on 2022-05-18, 14:44:

Side note: That case, pretty sure it's too modern for the board. Think those with turquoise buttons were late 90s, AFAIK.
Also, three digit display - bit of a waste on a 66 MHz system, pretty rare.
The case looks very much Pentium to me.

It's possible this was a very late 486-sale, perhaps leftover stock with a more recent case and PSU for "value oriented" buyers. Also given that the digit display was configured for 25/50, I'd say the original owner probably looted that 50 MHz DX2 at some point for another system. OR this was someone's retro-build and they decided it wasn't worth their time.

chinny22 wrote on 2022-05-18, 14:26:

486's in general aren't that useful, most speed sensitive games want something earlier and later dos games want a Pentium.

Cuttoon wrote on 2022-05-18, 14:44:

...the moment you start upgrading that thing for more performance, you'd have to consider faster VLB graphics, yaddayadda, so, rabbit hole ahead. 😉

I know right, that's why I'm afraid of where I'm headed. 😁

[Install Win95 like you were born in 1985!] on systems like this or this.

Reply 5 of 41, by Disruptor

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I'd add a cheap VLB graphics card, like a S3 or a Cirrus.
I'd also swap the 4 MB 30 Pin DRAM SIMMs with 16 MB 72 Pin DRAM PS/2 SIMM in total (8+8 or 16).
Ethernet and Sound, yes ofc.

Don't play with faster CPUs when you don't have a cooler.

Reply 6 of 41, by Cuttoon

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leonardo wrote on 2022-05-18, 15:07:

How would I go about attaching one? I don't see any retention clips like on Socket 7-boards, and it looks like most 486-CPUs are sold bare without any coolers.

Some are being sold with fixed heatsinks, glued on.
Most others used clips or cages that grab to the CPU itself, some 3D print them:
https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2459258

I like jumpers.

Reply 7 of 41, by leonardo

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Disruptor wrote on 2022-05-18, 15:12:

I'd add a cheap VLB graphics card, like a S3 or a Cirrus.

Hmm.... define cheap. 😁

A quick browse through eBay didn't give me anything < $50...

I could get 16MB FPM DRAM shipped for roughly ~10eur which doesn't seem so bad. There are some DX2 CPUs too, just none with heatsinks included in this price range.

[Install Win95 like you were born in 1985!] on systems like this or this.

Reply 10 of 41, by Anonymous Coward

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chinny22 wrote on 2022-05-18, 14:26:

486's in general aren't that useful, most speed sensitive games want something earlier and later dos games want a Pentium.

I kind of get tired of hearing this argument. A 486 can't play 8088 games well? Can an 8088 play most games made after 1987 well (or at all)? Do 286s play games made after 1990 well? Considering the games made for the 8088 and 80286 were third rate compared to the same release on dozens of other platforms at the time, why even bother with those.
Personally I get tired of seeing all the vogons builds based on PMMX and K6+ that can suppsedly play everything made before the year 2000 perfectly. Perhaps with constant tinkering with hardware and software. I doubt a lot of timer sensitive games would run well even then.

It's time we just accept the fact that there isn't a one size fits all. This 486 will play a certain subset of x86 games. If you upgrade the CPU, it will play another subset of x86 games.

"Will the highways on the internets become more few?" -Gee Dubya
V'Ger XT|Upgraded AT|Ultimate 386|Super VL/EISA 486|SMP VL/EISA Pentium

Reply 12 of 41, by Anonymous Coward

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Despite being in high demand, Trio64 is indeed a budget graphics IC.
Until a certain point, eBay was actually flooded with VLB Trio64s, primarily the Diamond versions. new in box. They weren't really available until 1995, by which time people were avoiding VLB 486s...thus most went unsold. They are one of the best chips for VLB, by virtue of being one of the last and most advanced chips that were VLB compatible. S3's competitors largely chose to opt out.

It wasn't until a few years ago when VOGONS members started doing all these tests that people realised the Trio64 was good (including myself). I've had a Hercules Trio64 VLB sitting in my bin for years...I never really cared.

Trio64 is the best choice if you stay under 1024x768 (I'm talking accelerated graphics). It's a budget card, and it doesn't offer high resolution output with good colour depth, high refresh rates and clarity. Also remember not all Trio64s cards are alike. If you get a #9, it's going to be a much nicer experience than say "Jaton" or something designed in an illegal factory in Taiwan.

So yes, it's "cheap", but very good value for the day.

"Will the highways on the internets become more few?" -Gee Dubya
V'Ger XT|Upgraded AT|Ultimate 386|Super VL/EISA 486|SMP VL/EISA Pentium

Reply 13 of 41, by Jo22

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It really depends on the games you want to play.
For an allrounder, a 486DX2-66 is fine.
In fact, that's what was seen as a "sweet spot" for a long time
.
Since the chassis seems to have a turbo button, it might be easily possible to slow down the PC if needed.

Just make sure the DX2 processor doesn't say "3.3v only" on the ceramic.
There were AMD/Intel versions, also, I believe.

The Trident 8900D..
Leave it installed if performance is fine for your games.
It's one of the fastest Tridents and perhaps comparable to the ET4000AX.
A Trident was emulated by DOSemu on *nix originally, also.
Like many old ISA cards, the 8900 has the ability to emulate Hercules, CGA and EGA through a mode utility.

It also has drivers for Windows 3.11 and perhaps is known by old programs from the late 1980s/early 90s.

Basic VESA VBE compatibility is provided by UniVBE or a DOS TSR by Trident itself.

Of course, if you're playing more SVGA games, like Descent etc, a VLB card might be way better.

Edit: Soundcards.. They're comparably expensive now. So just use what you can find.
16-Bit support would be nice if you're into Windows gaming or if you like tracker music.
Otherwise, just make sure it has an OPL3 and SB Pro compatibility.

16-Bit supports can be provided by other standards, like WSS (Windows Sound System).
Programs using 16-Bit samples are rather flexible in that case.

If you're a real MIDI or MOD fan, a cheaply sold SB32 or AWE32/64 or AWE Gold might be worth a try, too.
The EMU8000 was directly supported by Impulse Tracker, a Windows MOD player and some DOS4GW Protected-Mode games like Descent/Descent 2 or Mega Man X.

Just keep in mind that with the exception of the SB32, maybe, none of the cards mentioned has a real MPU-401 on-board.
So you need a TSR from Creative, which is hit and miss and works for real-mode games only,
but can emulate an MT32 using standard instruments (ok for Secret of Monkey Island).
Also, some AWEs don't use OPL3/FM synthesis but a compatible chip with quadrature modulation.

"Time, it seems, doesn't flow. For some it's fast, for some it's slow.
In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

//My video channel//

Reply 14 of 41, by Gmlb256

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Jo22 wrote on 2022-05-21, 01:52:
Just keep in mind that with the exception of the SB32, maybe, none of the cards mentioned has a real MPU-401 on-board. So you n […]
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Just keep in mind that with the exception of the SB32, maybe, none of the cards mentioned has a real MPU-401 on-board.
So you need a TSR from Creative, which is hit and miss and works for real-mode games only,
but can emulate an MT32 using standard instruments (ok for Secret of Monkey Island).
Also, some AWEs don't use OPL3/FM synthesis but a compatible chip with quadrature modulation.

Actually the AWE cards still have a MPU-401 compatible interface like the SB16 and for revisions lacking the WaveBlaster header it can be still accessed thru the gameport. Just start AWEUTIL with the /S parameter so it won't be loaded as TSR in DOS and in Windows the MPU-401 emulation can be disabled thru the AWE Control Panel.

The "best" AWE cards with real OPL3 are the ones with the CT-1747 bus chip, having a largely useful MPU-401 interface (except for the Type 2 hanging note, but I don't mind that as it doesn't happen frequently). Otherwise, the AWE64 is the better choice considering that it has DSP 4.16 which is mostly bugfree compared to many SB16 and AWE32 revisions.

Edit: There is DOS32AWE, a DOS/4GW compatible extender that allows the use of AWEUTIL for MPU-401 emulation with most protected mode games.

Reply 15 of 41, by leonardo

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Anonymous Coward wrote on 2022-05-21, 01:45:

...
Trio64 is the best choice if you stay under 1024x768 (I'm talking accelerated graphics). It's a budget card, and it doesn't offer high resolution output with good colour depth, high refresh rates and clarity. Also remember not all Trio64s cards are alike.

Jo22 wrote on 2022-05-21, 01:52:

... if you're playing more SVGA games, like Descent etc, a VLB card might be way better.

I'm contemplating the video card upgrade. VLB is not something I'm very familiar with, as my 386 had built-in VGA back in the day, I was used to - at most - 320x240 in 8-bit color for anything, and our next system was already Pentium (PCI)-class...

Unless I upgrade the CPU to a 66 MHz DX2, it could be none of the games the computer will run will see any improvement going from ISA to VLB... at least if Phil's Graphics Card Comparison video is anything to go by.

Speaking of upgrades... I traded my now-dead ASUS TXP4 salvage motherboard and the AMD K6-II 400 MHz in for these:

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They're a Creative CT3670 (Sound Blaster 32 ?) and a single 16MB FPM-SIMM!

I wonder if the shorter memory modules from the motherboard can be plugged into this sound card? That's my plan, if the system boots with the 16 MB SIMM without the currently installed modules...

I'm kind of giddy about trying these upgrades out. 😀

[Install Win95 like you were born in 1985!] on systems like this or this.

Reply 16 of 41, by Disruptor

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leonardo wrote on 2022-05-22, 12:39:

I wonder if the shorter memory modules from the motherboard can be plugged into this sound card? That's my plan, if the system boots with the 16 MB SIMM without the currently installed modules...

Yes they can be used there.
But 2 MB is quite low for an AWE. It would be better if you had two 4 MB 30 Pin SIMMs. 8 MB is the sweet spot to test soundfonts.
Please be aware that the plastic clamps on the memory sockets are merely one-time-usable. Don't use that sockets to test memory modules in masses 😜

Last edited by Disruptor on 2022-05-24, 14:20. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 17 of 41, by Cuttoon

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Disruptor wrote on 2022-05-22, 17:07:
Yes they can be used there. But 2 MB is quite low for an AWE. It would be better if you had two 4 MB 30 Pin SIMMs. 8 MB is the s […]
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leonardo wrote on 2022-05-22, 12:39:

I wonder if the shorter memory modules from the motherboard can be plugged into this sound card? That's my plan, if the system boots with the 16 MB SIMM without the currently installed modules...

Yes they can be used there.
But 2 MB is quite low for an AWE. It would be better if you had two 4 MB 30 Pin SIMMs. 8 MB is the sweet spot to test soundbanks.
Please be aware that the plastic clamps on the memory sockets are merely one-time-usable. Don't use that sockets to test memory modules in masses 😜

Just on general principle and before you ask: Yes, there are actually 16 MB 30 pin SIMMs in existence and the card will accept them, using up to 28 MB of it, IIRC.
Again, rabbit hole, etc. Quite some sound banks around for free download that specifically stay within 8 MBs. Little reason to go down that particular hole on a VLB 486 system.

But, apart from that, had an SB32 pnp on my first Pentium 133, (might even be a ct3670, still somewhere on the heap), never let me down, played Tie Fighter and DOOM to death on it, excellent choice. 😀

I like jumpers.

Reply 18 of 41, by chinny22

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Anonymous Coward wrote on 2022-05-20, 23:43:
I kind of get tired of hearing this argument. A 486 can't play 8088 games well? Can an 8088 play most games made after 1987 well […]
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chinny22 wrote on 2022-05-18, 14:26:

486's in general aren't that useful, most speed sensitive games want something earlier and later dos games want a Pentium.

I kind of get tired of hearing this argument. A 486 can't play 8088 games well? Can an 8088 play most games made after 1987 well (or at all)? Do 286s play games made after 1990 well? Considering the games made for the 8088 and 80286 were third rate compared to the same release on dozens of other platforms at the time, why even bother with those.
Personally I get tired of seeing all the vogons builds based on PMMX and K6+ that can suppsedly play everything made before the year 2000 perfectly. Perhaps with constant tinkering with hardware and software. I doubt a lot of timer sensitive games would run well even then.

It's time we just accept the fact that there isn't a one size fits all. This 486 will play a certain subset of x86 games. If you upgrade the CPU, it will play another subset of x86 games.

I'm not saying 486's are useless, I own 3 of them and nothing earlier
But it has to be said a 486 will struggle with late SVGA dos titles something like a PMMX will be fine AND play doom.
2 games I'm missing out from my youth are Test Drive and Lamborghini Challenge which are broken on a dx2/66, but you cant have everything

But you are right, no 1 PC will play everything and my personal history means anything after Socket 3 doesn't hold any nostalgia till Slot 1. It just depends on what your main goal is (or space limitations)

Reply 19 of 41, by leonardo

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chinny22 wrote on 2022-05-23, 14:26:
I'm not saying 486's are useless, I own 3 of them and nothing earlier But it has to be said a 486 will struggle with late SVGA d […]
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Anonymous Coward wrote on 2022-05-20, 23:43:
I kind of get tired of hearing this argument. A 486 can't play 8088 games well? Can an 8088 play most games made after 1987 well […]
Show full quote
chinny22 wrote on 2022-05-18, 14:26:

486's in general aren't that useful, most speed sensitive games want something earlier and later dos games want a Pentium.

I kind of get tired of hearing this argument. A 486 can't play 8088 games well? Can an 8088 play most games made after 1987 well (or at all)?
...
Personally I get tired of seeing all the vogons builds based on PMMX and K6+ that can suppsedly play everything made before the year 2000 perfectly. Perhaps with constant tinkering with hardware and software. I doubt a lot of timer sensitive games would run well even then.

It's time we just accept the fact that there isn't a one size fits all. This 486 will play a certain subset of x86 games. If you upgrade the CPU, it will play another subset of x86 games.

I'm not saying 486's are useless, I own 3 of them and nothing earlier
But it has to be said a 486 will struggle with late SVGA dos titles something like a PMMX will be fine AND play doom.
2 games I'm missing out from my youth are Test Drive and Lamborghini Challenge which are broken on a dx2/66, but you cant have everything

You're both providing valid points and the whole reason I started this thread was to muse on the decisions I would make for a PC that was essentially headed to the junk-yard without my intervention. I'm trying to keep the upgrades within reason for cost/effort so that the system can justify existing alongside that mandatory Pentium/K6-build that I also possess. 😀

Mostly I will admit this is fueled by nostalgia, as I don't really play any games that wouldn't also run on the faster system. The computer is tantalizingly close to what my first system was (although, it was admittedly even less impressive spec-wise). This is me revisiting what I wish I had back in the 90's.

I think honestly by the time it's finished, I'm going to just resell it or give it away to someone who is also an enthusiast - and for that reason I'm trying to refrain from that $100 VLB video card purchase etc. as there is no way this thing is going to sell for that kind of money when finished. I wouldn't spend the kinds of money I see people asking for those retro-systems online so why would I make that ask?

--

As for where we are with those upgrades, last night I successfully booted the system with 16MB of RAM and the sound card inserted (didn't have time to try the sound card, though). I will try to get to testing the sound card and drivers and see if I can locate some kind of usable sound font for the 2 MB of memory now plugged into the SoundBlaster 32.

Then I will try the two/three games that have become possible (at least by their minimum requirements) to run on the system:

Command & Conquer (80486DX/33, 4 MB RAM listed on the box)
WORMS (80486DX/33, 8 MB RAM listed on the box)
SimCity 2000 (didn't run previously because I had a hair less than 4 MB of total RAM at the time).

The system could now technically also take Windows 95, but I'm still trying to see what DOS-life would have been like.

[Install Win95 like you were born in 1985!] on systems like this or this.