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BUILD LOG - AM386SX PC

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First post, by Almoststew1990

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Title changed as this will hopefully become a build log!

Hi everyone

I am getting into DOS games using Windows 98 but I am having a few speed related issues e.g. Panning speed in SimCity is impossible to use, TD3 runs a bit too fast, some games complain about not enough memory. It's a Via c3 733MHz SDR Ram PC with a Soundblaster Live and using built in Sis 630e graphics. So I want to go the authentic hardware route...

I'm well versed in hardware from Slot1/A and up but know little about gaming on DOS. I will be playing DOS games up to I dunno Wolfenstien 3D (as anything later will be on my W98 PC). so what sort of CPU speed should I get? 386 or 486? 4/8/16MB Ram? From watching PCL and LGR I know a few bits e.g avoid barrel batteries...

I suppose I'll also need to get a whole load of cards to that I haven't needed till now. ISA sound card, video card, controller card etc... Eeek!

Or would a 233MHz PII be slow enough?

Last edited by Almoststew1990 on 2018-06-23, 10:18. Edited 1 time in total.

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Reply 1 of 29, by BeginnerGuy

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If Wolfenstein 3D is really the limit of what you want to play AND you want to play Test Drive 3, a 386 is going to be the sweet spot for this. You may also get away with a 486DX2 66 with the turbo button hit for test drive 3 and your mileage my vary with Ultima VII or Wing Commander.

If you want to go more modern route, check out this "4 in 1" K6 system from philscomputerlab: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcAqRbFFQPU

When you decide which you would be more interested in building, we can give you glorious amounts of input about which cards to pick. If you go with a super socket 7 build, then you really only need to be choosy over your ISA sound card, most people would just settle on an Awe64 gold there.

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Reply 2 of 29, by dionb

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Of course that AWE64 Gold isn't going to be cheap and you can get even deeper down the rabbit hole with other stuff too. So as well as decide roughly what you want to build, also give us an idea about budget and how much patience you have. If it has to be just-so and ready asap, it's going to cost you. If you can wait and leisurely pick up bits when they appear for a decent price, or are prepared to make concessions on the hardware (back in 199x very few people had an AWE64 gold - or GUS or MT-32/SC-55 or other money sinks either), things can be surprisingly affordable.

Reply 3 of 29, by squiggly

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> Panning speed in SimCity is impossible to use, TD3 runs a bit too fast, some games complain about not enough memory. It's a Via c3 733MHz

Wait...have you used SetMul to slow that baby down? You may already have a great DOS gaming machine and not know it. The Live has a TSR that allows it to work pretty well in DOS.

Reply 4 of 29, by Almoststew1990

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TD3 was just an example, if this game is a bit picky then I am not fussed if it can't play well if it affects the rest of the machines / my other games! At first glance a 386 seems to cover the time periods I would like to play, although Sim City 2000 suggests a 486 33MHz is recommended? Is it better to go with a slow 486 or fast 386 (in terms of cost, system reliability etc) I am usually the sort of person who would say go slightly newer and slower than older and faster. So I am leaning towards something like 50MHz 486

I am quite happy to wait and find hardware at good prices. Also, prices don't seem as inflated in the UK compared to other places.

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Reply 5 of 29, by Almoststew1990

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squiggly wrote:

> Panning speed in SimCity is impossible to use, TD3 runs a bit too fast, some games complain about not enough memory. It's a Via c3 733MHz

Wait...have you used SetMul to slow that baby down? You may already have a great DOS gaming machine and not know it. The Live has a TSR that allows it to work pretty well in DOS.

Wow I recall that C3s were slightly special in that there multipliers could be adjusted easily but clean forgot about it! setting it to 3x (400MHz) and then disabling L1 Cache (increase cpu speed to 461MHz for some reason) has made Simcity very playable, thank you!

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Reply 6 of 29, by gdjacobs

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Almoststew1990 wrote:
Hi everyone […]
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Hi everyone

I am getting into DOS games using Windows 98 but I am having a few speed related issues e.g. Panning speed in SimCity is impossible to use, TD3 runs a bit too fast, some games complain about not enough memory. It's a Via c3 733MHz SDR Ram PC with a Soundblaster Live and using built in Sis 630e graphics. So I want to go the authentic hardware route...

I'm well versed in hardware from Slot1/A and up but know little about gaming on DOS. I will be playing DOS games up to I dunno Wolfenstien 3D (as anything later will be on my W98 PC). so what sort of CPU speed should I get? 386 or 486? 4/8/16MB Ram? From watching PCL and LGR I know a few bits e.g avoid barrel batteries...

I suppose I'll also need to get a whole load of cards to that I haven't needed till now. ISA sound card, video card, controller card etc... Eeek!

Or would a 233MHz PII be slow enough?

The most flexible approach is to build a system that can throttle in hardware. I'm aware of three different ways of doing this:
1) Pentium MMX builds
Using a socket 7 motherboard with a Pentium MMX chip, it's possible to throttle from full performance down to a mid performance 386 equivalent using a program called SETMUL and L2 cache settings in BIOS. Even more flexibility can be added by installing a toggle switch to change FSB.

2) VIA C3 builds
The C3 processor is multiplier unlocked and can be adjusted in software using SETMUL. SETMUL can also adjust cache and branch prediction. In addition, select motherboards can have their front side bus adjusted on the fly using using a utility called SMB.
http://rayer.g6.cz/programm/programe.htm#SMB
In terms of performance, a C3 build can operate in a range between a mid performance 386 and a 400-500 mhz P3.

3) AMD K6-2 builds
K6-2 and K6-III mobile CPUs can have their multiplier and CPU cache manipulated via SETMUL and motherboard cache manipulated via BIOS. This yields a performance range stretching from 386 territory (as above) to slightly less top end than a C3. Desktop CPUs can yield similar performance ranges, although the multiplier and FSB settings must be changed via switches or jumpers.

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Reply 7 of 29, by BeginnerGuy

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Almoststew1990 wrote:

TD3 was just an example, if this game is a bit picky then I am not fussed if it can't play well if it affects the rest of the machines / my other games! At first glance a 386 seems to cover the time periods I would like to play, although Sim City 2000 suggests a 486 33MHz is recommended? Is it better to go with a slow 486 or fast 386 (in terms of cost, system reliability etc) I am usually the sort of person who would say go slightly newer and slower than older and faster. So I am leaning towards something like 50MHz 486

I am quite happy to wait and find hardware at good prices. Also, prices don't seem as inflated in the UK compared to other places.

That's a nice board you found there for the 386. I haven't tried Sim City 2000 on a 386, but I believe the floppy version was rated to run no a 386 25mhz (minimum). Either way on my 486DX2 66 playback can get a bit sluggish when you have a very dense city built up, but it runs nicely overall. I'd probably build a 486 for Sim2k myself, but opinions may vary.

Sim City 2000 is later than Wolf3D, so that was kind of what I was trying to push out of you with my first post. You sound like you would fit well into the 486DX 33mhz to DX2 66mhz crowd. Since I like to play DOOM and push the system a bit, I definitely prefer 33mhz bus systems over 25 but either will do well with Sim City 2000. If you want to play DOOM though, there will be room to grow for a very smooth experience.

Also with the 486, if you want, you can look for later boards that have a PCI bus and save yourself a bit of hassle and money on choosing your video cards.

I think what you should ask yourself is "DOOM engine games, or no DOOM". If it doesn't matter, you can get a straight 16-bit ISA board with a 486DX-33 . If you want to play DOOM, I'd suggest a VLB board with a Cirrus Logic GD-5428 VLB video or better. Or a PCI card maybe an S3 Trio or ATi mach series card, up to you there.

Again though, my previous post with the phils computer lab build or what the user above recommended will give you the biggest "bang for the buck" system, though it will kind of blur the line between your DOS and existing win9x machine.

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Reply 8 of 29, by Almoststew1990

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A little update and questions, I'm certainly keeping my VIA C3 PC for Windows 98 DOS gaming but I also want to get a 386.

I've going to get that board above (it's £35 with an AMD 386SX at 40MHz and 4MB of RAM) but the seller notes it has some corrosion from the old battery leaking (which has been replaced now). First, is it a) necessary and if so is it b) easy to clean off the corrosion from an old battery?

Here is the board. Is the CPU soldered on? Is the hole to the right of it for a math co-processor? Do I need one? I can't see any places for cache - was this not a thing yet or could/should I get an ISA card for this? Will it fit standard ATX case count locations?

VuKPlinh.jpg

Secondly, I will be using DOS 6.2.2 as I understand it is generally considered the best / easiest to work with and I assume will run fine on the 386?

Thirdly, I can get 8GB IDE HDDs quite easily here (they're pulled from the original XBox it seems) and SCSI drives are expensive. I've found an ISA IDE controller card but it only has one IDE connector. Would I be able to connect both a CD-ROM and HDD to this one connector (which is marked HDD). Related - do I have to use a 40 "line" cable or will a more modern 80 "line" work fine?

What controller/expansion card would I need? I would want to use

- Graphics
- Sound
- Something with a PS/2 or two
- Something with a floppy connector or two if I am feeling truly decadent
- Something with IDE for HDD and CD-ROM

Sorry these are very basic questions!

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I have a vacancy for a main Windows 98 PC

Reply 9 of 29, by konc

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Just answering a couple of those

Almoststew1990 wrote:

Is the CPU soldered on? Is the hole to the right of it for a math co-processor? Do I need one? I can't see any places for cache - was this not a thing yet or could/should I get an ISA card for this? Will it fit standard ATX case count locations?

Yes, yes, no, no (most 386SX come without cache), probably yes (most ATX cases support mounting of AT+ATX boards except some late ones) but the PSU isn't suitable so you'll need either an AT case or an adapter.

Almoststew1990 wrote:

Secondly, I will be using DOS 6.2.2 as I understand it is generally considered the best / easiest to work with and I assume will run fine on the 386?

Yep.

Almoststew1990 wrote:

Thirdly, I can get 8GB IDE HDDs quite easily here (they're pulled from the original XBox it seems) and SCSI drives are expensive. I've found an ISA IDE controller card but it only has one IDE connector. Would I be able to connect both a CD-ROM and HDD to this one connector (which is marked HDD). Related - do I have to use a 40 "line" cable or will a more modern 80 "line" work fine?

Yes you will be able to use 2 drives as master/slave, but I don't think there's any chance of a 8GB HDD working on this machine.
Your options are a (much) smaller HDD, DDO software, a CF card+adapter or a DOM, XTIDE BIOS

Almoststew1990 wrote:
What controller/expansion card would I need? I would want to use […]
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What controller/expansion card would I need? I would want to use

- Graphics
- Sound
- Something with a PS/2 or two
- Something with a floppy connector or two if I am feeling truly decadent
- Something with IDE for HDD and CD-ROM

As a minimum you'll need
-an I/O card to connect the floppy, the HDD and the CDROM. It'll probably also feature a serial port which is important (see below)
-a VGA card
-a sound card

But you can't just add a PS/2 port, you'll be using a mouse connected to the serial port. Similar discussions have taken place in this forum if you're feeling like reading a bit.

As a general comment, a SX40 isn't bad at all for what you want to accomplish. You're not after top 386 performance, everything suited for a 386 will run just fine. What pushes a 386 too far will run on your Win98 machine anyway.

Last edited by konc on 2018-06-19, 16:51. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 10 of 29, by brostenen

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Normally I use 512mb CF cards as harddrive for MS Dos 6.22 machines. Personally I do not see the need for larger space. And then again, need for space might be different for others. The good thing about CF cards, are that they are fast. Another thing I like about CF cards, are that they are noiseless. Shure the sound of clicking heads are gone. Though I do not have to deal with high decibels, overwelming the game sound and music.

Again... Things differ and vary from person to person.

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Reply 11 of 29, by Almoststew1990

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I will probably go the CF route as that sounds a lot easier. I suppose I could format it in any old PC using its IDE adapter. I'll probably put XP on something to sort out the floppies and CF IDE adapters etc.

Am I OK to use a modern power supply with a ATX to AT adapter? I don't suppose it'll be very power hungry.

This PC is shaping up to be... Quiet (also expensive even if the motherboard is quite cheap!)

Ryzen 3700X | 16GB 3600MHz RAM | AMD 6800XT | 2Tb NVME SSD | Windows 10
AMD DX2-80 | 16MB RAM | STB LIghtspeed 128 | AWE32 CT3910
I have a vacancy for a main Windows 98 PC

Reply 12 of 29, by gdjacobs

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Almoststew1990 wrote:

I will probably go the CF route as that sounds a lot easier. I suppose I could format it in any old PC using its IDE adapter. I'll probably put XP on something to sort out the floppies and CF IDE adapters etc.

Am I OK to use a modern power supply with a ATX to AT adapter? I don't suppose it'll be very power hungry.

This PC is shaping up to be... Quiet (also expensive even if the motherboard is quite cheap!)

ATX with an adapter is ok. This one is popular and very compatible as it includes a regulator for -5V.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/24-PIN-to-AT-P8-P9-C … DE/262868740795

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Reply 13 of 29, by Almoststew1990

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Well, I bought the board. I guess that this PC is happening now!
I'm now thinking about sound cards. I've got my eye on a couple of AWE64's (non gold), as well as a SB16. Whilst I'm not too bothered about period correctness, I would like to have proper CMS support, which I think limits me to SB2?

graphics card- something svga, 1mb? Do I have to be picky or will pretty much any chip be OK?

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Reply 14 of 29, by cyclone3d

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Yeah, for CMS support, the newest you can have is a Sound Blaster 2.0... but to do that, you will have to have:
1. One with a regular 1336 chip if you plan to do the CMS upgrade yourself. 1336A will not work with the non-Creative upgrade
2. It must have the dip sockets for the chips unless you add the sockets yourself (some sold as "Sound Machine" may not have the dip sockets)

It is much easier to use a SB 1.0 or 1.5 unless you already have a flasher for the one chip.

For the 1.5, you can just add the Phillips chips to enable CMS.. which will turn it into a 1.0.

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Reply 15 of 29, by Thermalwrong

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Haha, I was watching that 386 board - I was trying something similar with a 386 DX40 board but the motherboard has turned out to be non-working, so I've moved on for now (at least its cache chips will go on to greater things...). I was also doing lots of planning on what I'd put together 😀

Video: Getting an ISA videocard is a bit of a pain now, I ended up getting a WD90C11-LR card, which places quite well out of the ISA cards benchmarked here: http://vgamuseum.info/index.php/benchmarks
I think it's best not to spend out on a Tseng ET4000 card, since the system will be going pretty slowly anyway. Some more abundant ISA cards from around 92-93 perform around the same, because the ISA bus is pretty slow. However, there are some that perform comparatively badly, which this shows: http://vgamuseum.info/images/vlask/bench/diaggraphic.png

Sound: Personally I think Yamaha/Opti/Aztech based souncards are fine, as long as they have yamaha OPL3 for midi (ymf262 or "LS-212") which I think is ideal for the era that you're looking at. The value / gold AWE64 cards are good but none of them have a real OPL3 and aren't in my experience that great for DOS gaming because of how they handle midi and FM emulation.
Honestly FM music is most of what I have found I enjoy looking back on with my cadre of old PCs, I also made the same choice to get an AWE64 and found I enjoy just OPL3 audio most of all.

I/O: And you'll need one of these, at least they're fairly cheap and easy to get hold of.

Reply 16 of 29, by chinny22

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386 era games will be more aimed at adlib (Yamaha OPL) and SB Pro. SB16 and greater reverse the stereo so watch out for that.

There is a post around here for adding CMS support to Sound Blaster 2 cards, but cant for the life of me find it now! However Nerdy pleasures lists the cards that are upgradable
http://nerdlypleasures.blogspot.com/2013/06/t … ms-upgrade.html

I would wait till you get the I/O controller as you may get one that supports 8GB or you may be limited to 512MB in which case the CF card is great as the smaller sizes are able to be found pretty easy and you get an adapter that mounts the CF card in the back of the PC you can swap them out pretty easy.
I did this with my 486 and had 2 identical cards. One had dos and 3d shooters, the other had dos and platform games. this way the PC doesn't even know your swapping out the "HDD"

Make sure you get a CF adapter that allows you to specify Primary/Secondary as this will allow you to have the CD drive as well.
Or if your Sound card has an IDE port you can add the CD here but that's harder to configure

Reply 17 of 29, by Almoststew1990

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Thermalwrong wrote:

Video: Getting an ISA videocard is a bit of a pain now, I ended up getting a WD90C11-LR card, which places quite well out of the ISA cards benchmarked here: http://vgamuseum.info/index.php/benchmarks
I think it's best not to spend out on a Tseng ET4000 card, since the system will be going pretty slowly anyway. Some more abundant ISA cards from around 92-93 perform around the same, because the ISA bus is pretty slow. However, there are some that perform comparatively badly, which this shows: http://vgamuseum.info/images/vlask/bench/diaggraphic.png

it looks like I'm going to have to shell out about £60 for an ISA graphics card, once delivery from Europe and customs VAT is taken into account. I can see a few available:

Trident TVGA9000i-3 SVGA 512kb - £30+ 20% VAT = £36
Trident TVGA8900CL VGA 1mb - £48 + 20% = £58
TSENG ET3000AX - £58 + 20% = £70
Cirrus Logic CL-GD5428 1MB = £58 (no customs)

and few with names I haven't heard of (for video cars anyway...)
Realtek BT-505B RTG3105 512kb - £34+ 20% = £41
Headland Technology G2 650-0216 12 ???? - £45 (no customs)

The trident 9000 looks to be the fastest based on those charts, the 8900 with 1mb in others...

Thermalwrong wrote:

Sound: Personally I think Yamaha/Opti/Aztech based souncards are fine, as long as they have yamaha OPL3 for midi (ymf262 or "LS-212") which I think is ideal for the era that you're looking at. The value / gold AWE64 cards are good but none of them have a real OPL3 and aren't in my experience that great for DOS gaming because of how they handle midi and FM emulation.
Honestly FM music is most of what I have found I enjoy looking back on with my cadre of old PCs, I also made the same choice to get an AWE64 and found I enjoy just OPL3 audio most of all.

Thanks, I'll keep an eye out.

Thermalwrong wrote:

I/O: And you'll need one of these, at least they're fairly cheap and easy to get hold of.

I've picked up a generic looking card with Winbond (which is a name I recognise) W83787F chips. It 'can do' 2x serial, parallel, 2x floppy 2x HDD. boxed and manuals £18 posted.

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Reply 18 of 29, by alvaro84

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Almoststew1990 wrote:
... Trident TVGA9000i-3 SVGA 512kb - £30+ 20% VAT = £36 Trident TVGA8900CL VGA 1mb - £48 + 20% = £58 TSENG ET3000AX - £58 + 20% […]
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...
Trident TVGA9000i-3 SVGA 512kb - £30+ 20% VAT = £36
Trident TVGA8900CL VGA 1mb - £48 + 20% = £58
TSENG ET3000AX - £58 + 20% = £70
Cirrus Logic CL-GD5428 1MB = £58 (no customs)
Realtek BT-505B RTG3105 512kb - £34+ 20% = £41
Headland Technology G2 650-0216 12 ???? - £45 (no customs)

The trident 9000 looks to be the fastest based on those charts, the 8900 with 1mb in others...

The Trident 9000s I've met were quite slow, like most other Trident cards. The only fast ISA Trident I've ever seen is the 8900D. The only known (to me) fast card of the lot is the Cirrus Logic GD5428. The Tseng ET3000 and the Realtek are definitely slow. Headland... sounds like an old one, probably slow. I'd definitely go with the Cirrus, it's nice and compatible too but I'd ask before buying if it has VESA BIOS. There's software to add the functionality (like Scitech Display Doctor) but having it in the BIOS is very convenient and leaves the precious 640k alone.

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Reply 19 of 29, by Thermalwrong

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Please remember that in those benchmarks, many of them are between 10fps to 14fps at the upper end for the ISA cards. ISA is a slow bus - so resolutions above 320x200 are typically beyond what you'd expect from them for games.

There are certainly cheaper cards available, I see an "AVGA2" card and an "8900D" card that both performed quite well on those tests, for around £20 each.
While there are some bad cards you can get, with most of the easily available cards on ebay being lower performers in those test results, if you search for the part codes of the better performing ones of the PC Player 320x200 benchmark, there are some to be found for not too much money.

Your video card search reminds me that I really need to start clearing out my spare boards - I bought one of the only reasonably priced ISA video cards in the UK, but I can't use it because my 386 is dead (and I found a 486 instead with pretty good integrated video).

edit: the 8900D isn't on the benchmark lists, but a quick search showed it's the same as an 8900CL-C but with some fixed bugs