VOGONS


First post, by fitzpatr

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Hi everyone,

I'd like to optimize my coverage of PC builds to allow for maximum flexibility with minimum total number of builds. I suppose this is a very first-world problem, but I have far more components than I do builds, and I'd like to limit how many active systems I have to a reasonable number. I'm looking for things like compatibility (Speed-sensitivity, period correctness, Sound Blaster compatibility nonsense), unique features (think CMS, Intelligent MPU-401, GLIDE, A3d, Speedy3D, etc).

So that being said, in your ideal world, how many systems (8088 - Pentium 4 eras) would you want and need to cover all of these things? I have some ideas, but I don't want to skew the thoughts of others.

Thanks!

MT-32 Old, CM-32L, CM-500, SC-55mkII, SC-88Pro, SC-D70, MU2000EX
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486 Build

Reply 1 of 22, by Warlord

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Id probably skip P4 as a platform altogether unless you want to run windows 98 on a pentium 4 platform. And in that case this would increase your total number of builds since you would still need a XP computer to run all of the games that don't run on windows 98 and that a pentium 4 is too slow to run well Sure you can dual boot it but almost any game that would run well on a Pentium 4 under win 98 would run better under XP. If you intend to run XP on a Pentium 4 platform Id reconsider skipping strait to Conro Gen 1 Core micro architecture. To be honest XP had a 20 year life span theres no such thing as period correct in a 20 year life span. However Id consider something like a X38 or x48 chipset on XP. That system would run basically every game since 2015 and later in a lot of cases to year 2000 probably.

Super slow computer for DOS something pretty old maybe able to get away with a socket 7 with a 233 MMX using Setmul or slow K5/6
A windows 98se computer PIII or PII
A XP computer core 2

Only reason Period corectness ever matters is
A. you are using windows 9X and that operating system doesn't play nice with hardware or driver.
B. You are playing games that only run in DOS and are speed sensitive or your games are so old they need specific hardware.
C. If A or B dont apply period correctness is bad as it lowers your FPS.

Reply 2 of 22, by Aragorn

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I've been fighting with this a bit myself...

I currently have a couple 486's which i've not finished setting up. I suspect i'll maybe sell one though, as i bought one, then uncovered an old 486 of mine from back in the day in my parents attic. The 486 would be aimed at DOS stuff, Soundblaster(or some decent equivalent) MT32 etc.
I've got a Socket A setup with an Athlon 1100 and Quadro2, which makes for a decent Windows 98 machine. Currently dual booting '98 and Windows 2000, and been fiddling around getting it working "right" after my first Socket A attempt died due to a shit motherboard.
and I've got a Dell T3500 (nehalem Xeon, 12gb ram, AMD 6970 GPU) which is setup with Windows XP. Its modern enough that it all just works. I've aimed for 2010 with this machine, though for the lolz i've been keeping my eyes out for a 6-core westmere chip for it, because why not!

I think those three machines fairly decently cover the period from the early 90's thru to 2010, and after that my modern PC would take over anyway. I've not done much with the very old systems, i was born in '84 and my early computing memories were on an Atari ST, so theres not a lot of draw from the 8086-386 period. That said, i'd love a 5162, as they look fantastic, my folks had a small business back in the early 90's and had a few of those for office duties and i recall writing basic programs and things on them, but so very unaffordable nowadays.

I sorta fancied something in-between the Athlon and Xeon. I do have a few mid 00's graphics cards (i think a 6800 and 7900), and always fancied a 2005-2006ish Opteron system, but it would just be something for the sake of it at that point i suspect, as i think being realistic, if a game wont run well enough on the Athlon, its likely to run perfectly happily on the T3500. If i come across a very cheap 939 board and cpu i'd probably bite though. Its also an era where AMD were in the rare position of being ahead, which kinda holds appeal as its a bit unusual.

It also feels like i'm missing something between the 486 and the Athlon, its funny, but a LOT changed in those 5 years between '95 and '00, so despite being the smallest gap out of the systems i have, it feels like i should have something in there. Currently thinking Socket 7 and Voodoo2 based setup. Obviously space is an issue and i dont want the wife thinking i'm just hoarding lots of old crap, so its a fine balance.

Reply 3 of 22, by Warlord

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Aragorn wrote:

It also feels like i'm missing something between the 486 and the Athlon, its funny, but a LOT changed in those 5 years between '95 and '00, so despite being the smallest gap out of the systems i have, it feels like i should have something in there. Currently thinking Socket 7 and Voodoo2 based setup. Obviously space is an issue and i dont want the wife thinking i'm just hoarding lots of old crap, so its a fine balance.

This era to me is P6 architecture, or any Pentium with MMX instructions. Yes a lot happened, but once Intel transitioned from the P5 architecture to P6, after this most of the changes were simply clock speed and package type.

Reply 4 of 22, by Scali

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My personal DOS history was something like this:
1) Turbo XT, 8088 capable of runnin 4.77, 7.16 and 9.54 MHz
2) 386SX-16
3) 486DX2-66 VLB
4) Pentium 133

I think those 4 cover the 'eras' of DOS gaming. From there, it was Windows, so 'anything goes', especially in terms of all the 3D accelerators that were availab.e
In fact, the 486DX2-66 had a turbo button, and without turbo, it was more or less the same speed as the 386SX-16. So you could probably reduce it to 3.
The same goes for the 8088 I had: without turbo it was the same speed as the original IBM PC and XT. With turbo, it was more or less the speed of the first AT, so you covered that range of early PC games.

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Reply 5 of 22, by Aragorn

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Warlord wrote:
Aragorn wrote:

It also feels like i'm missing something between the 486 and the Athlon, its funny, but a LOT changed in those 5 years between '95 and '00, so despite being the smallest gap out of the systems i have, it feels like i should have something in there. Currently thinking Socket 7 and Voodoo2 based setup. Obviously space is an issue and i dont want the wife thinking i'm just hoarding lots of old crap, so its a fine balance.

This era to me is P6 architecture, or any Pentium with MMX instructions. Yes a lot happened, but once Intel transitioned from the P5 architecture to P6, after this most of the changes were simply clock speed and package type.

Yeh, it just feels technologically a big jump to go from a 486 to a Athlon 1100.

And its not just the CPU, GPU's appeared in this era with various quirky options, by the time we got to about '99 things had settled down somewhat and GPU's thereafter were all largely compatible with one another, due to the API's mostly having settled down and coalesced into Direct3D and OpenGL.

It just feels like not having something in that gap is missing out on a section of history when a lot happened. I'm not sure exactly where to drop the pin though, do i go pentium mmx and a voodoo1? Or maybe K6-3 and a Voodoo2? I dont think any later than that makes sense as it gets too close to the Athlon.

Reply 6 of 22, by kolderman

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I don't feel the need to go below Socket7. Between a K6-3+ and a Via C3 and setmul there are very few games I can't play properly, and if I found one I would MUCH rather play it in DosBOX than try and build a pre-ATX system (even though I have several AT cases lying around).

My list:

SS7, k63+, voodoo1, s3 virge, awe32, DOS6.
s370, Via C3, voodoo2sli, s3 savage4, awe64+audigy2, win98
socketA, athlon xp 3200+, voodoo5, aureal vortex2, win98
s478, p4 3400, fx5950ultra, audigy2zs, win98
s775, c2d 3200, radeon HD5850, x-fi titanium, winXP (and win7 for emulation).

Reply 7 of 22, by clueless1

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I've had builds from 486/66 through Core2Quad. Probably 6 or 7 builds. I did enjoy the building process but I was really in it for the gaming. So after about 4 years of experimenting, I found myself primarily using my Socket 7 for DOS gaming. It slows down to 386 speeds and runs fast enough for the latest DOS games. A real CRT is a must for authentic feel. But beyond that, I found that Win9x and later games play just as well on my modern system (GOG versions). My 2nd most used retro PC is a Socket370, and lately I find myself playing the games on there on my modern PC instead. Its just more convenient, with a similar experience. They look right on an LCD display. So, after 4 years of this, I pretty much use two machines:
1) Socket 7 for MS-DOS (DOS games only look right on a real CRT)
2) modern PC for Win9x and higher games via GOG installers.

The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.
OPL3 FM vs. Roland MT-32 vs. General MIDI DOS Game Comparison
Let's benchmark our systems with cache disabled
DOS PCI Graphics Card Benchmarks

Reply 8 of 22, by SirNickity

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Everyone should have a Pentium MMX. That gets you late DOS and Win 95, which is a period where hardware still mattered. Make sure to have SB16-compatible sound and good DOS-compatible 2D VGA.

386s and 486s aren't that important, since MOST games of that era will run OK on a Pentium. Maybe having an early 386 (SX?) is good for a few finicky titles, and some stuff that would prefer an SB Pro. Plus, it's a generation of hardware that is cool by its own merit, and things had changed pretty significantly by the Pentium.

If you have anything earlier than will run well on a 386SX/25, then I would recommend a Tandy 1000. My personal favorite is the 1000 RL-HD, because you've got the classic, unique, interesting stuff like Tandy graphics and sound, high/low speed settings, and a hard drive -- if it still works.

The next step up from the Pentium is a judgment call. Graphics hardware and OS support are going to be driver here. A Pentium III Tualatin would be a good candidate. It would run 98 or XP well, depending on which you needed more.

Alternatively, a Pentium 4 would cover up to the end of XP, which is good for compatibility with DirectDraw stuff like Starcraft that just doesn't work as well on Windows 7 and beyond. It's a big leap from a Pentium, but there shouldn't be TOO much that the Pentium couldn't reach up to, that the Pentium 4 couldn't also reach down to.

After XP, a modern PC should be able to cover back far enough that you don't need anything else.

So: Tandy 1000, 386SX, Pentium MMX, Pentium III or 4, modern PC. That's my full PC-era coverage map, with the 386 and XP stages optional if you need or want them.

Reply 9 of 22, by gdjacobs

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There are a few titles that run too quickly on my 386DX40, my MMX machine, and my C3 build (Deathtrack, I'm looking at you). A C3 build might be a little more flexible with a S370 motherboard that supports 50mhz FSB clocks.

All hail the Great Capacitor Brand Finder

Reply 10 of 22, by clueless1

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A 486 de-turboed and de-cached will run at 286 speeds. Loderunner needed all caches and turbo off on my DX2-66 to run at a playable speed. Other games that need such slowdowns to run are Ultima I - IV and Might & Magic I and II. A slower 486 and ISA graphics will take that even lower.

The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.
OPL3 FM vs. Roland MT-32 vs. General MIDI DOS Game Comparison
Let's benchmark our systems with cache disabled
DOS PCI Graphics Card Benchmarks

Reply 11 of 22, by badmojo

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I find that my 1 Ghz PIII system covers a huge range of eras, from early 90s DOS to early Win9x 3D. If I had to choose 1 system to keep it would be this. Obviously it’s no good for games with speed issues and I have a range of PCs from 286 up that can deal with that and gosh it was fun to build them all, but they rarely see the light of day.

Once you see your favourite late DOS SVGA game running totally smoothly it’s hard to go back.

Life? Don't talk to me about life.

Reply 12 of 22, by retardware

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I have only two retro PCs.

An ISA 486 that can be clocked from about 2 MHz upward. This is for CPU/clock speed dependent games, which range from 4.77MHz 8088 to about 33MHz 486.
To cover this, the PC will be variably clockable using a front tuning knob, like on a radio.
The clock generator contraption is not yet finished because I am still working on the "tunable" oscillator and the 5.25" insert/frontplate.
It will have a "real" MHz display, resolution 1/10 MHz 😀

A Pentium 3 (latest AT form factor consumer mobo, which can run up to 1.4GHz) for games that are made for up to the Win98SE era.

All later games stuff can be played well with current Windows and PCs.

Reply 15 of 22, by mothergoose729

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fitzpatr wrote:
Hi everyone, […]
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Hi everyone,

I'd like to optimize my coverage of PC builds to allow for maximum flexibility with minimum total number of builds. I suppose this is a very first-world problem, but I have far more components than I do builds, and I'd like to limit how many active systems I have to a reasonable number. I'm looking for things like compatibility (Speed-sensitivity, period correctness, Sound Blaster compatibility nonsense), unique features (think CMS, Intelligent MPU-401, GLIDE, A3d, Speedy3D, etc).

So that being said, in your ideal world, how many systems (8088 - Pentium 4 eras) would you want and need to cover all of these things? I have some ideas, but I don't want to skew the thoughts of others.

Thanks!

I don't know if this is the optimal number, but I am piecing together four.

I have a turbo XT based PC for 1981-1988.
I have a pentium MMX build with a voodoo 1 for 1990-1996
I have a p4 with a voodoo 3 and geforce FX for 1996-2002
I have a Ivy Bridge build with a GTX 960 for 2002-2010

and finally I have a modern PC.

I could easily find a home for a 286 to fill the 1988-1991 gap. I am also discovering right now with my turbo XT build, that there is no one computer that plays ever game from the 80s. A tandy 1000 sx and a PCJr could also have a place in my collection, as could a number of other vintage computers with various configurations.

I could also get rid of my pentium 4 build as anything that won't run at least ok on a pentium MMX at 233mhz will probably run without issues on windows XP.

So it really depends on what you are trying to do. I think for good coverage, a flexible DOS PC and a windows XP machine will play almost all of it. I love my turbo XT machine, but there really aren't too many speed sensitive/early DOS games that I am actually going to spend much time playing. The best stuff from that era IMO are the text based adventures, and for the most part they run on anything.

It all depends though. If you want to represent all of the cool and unique hardware standards throughout the history of the PC, you could easily end up with a dozen different computers and still not quite have it all. You have to focus and compromise at least a little bit.

Reply 16 of 22, by creepingnet

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If I were to strip down to the minimum machines to cover all bases, my setup would look like this...

GEM 286 - XT Class-early 386 era (ie, 1981-1989) - In order to tweak this right, I'd need to add a Tandy 3-voice capable adapter card to run along-side the SoundBlaster for the old stuff that supports Tandy 3-voice.

CREEPING NET 486 - 386-Mid-era Pentium (ie. 1988-1997) - basically the computer the same as it is, running Windows 95 OSR 2.5 most likely to get the widest compatibility with the least speed penalty due to useless crap in RAM.

MAIN PC - Late win9x and later (1997-present) - basically my daily driver Core 2 duo box that I'm typing on right now in Windows 10 using Compatability mode and Virtual Machines as necesary.

This is assuming an experienced enough retro-system builder to make something like this and make ti all work well together - which can be tricky, or can be easy, depending on your luck what software you want to run.

The reason being for this split....

My 286, with turbo off, is like a Turbo XT, which makes the situation of running that era of games the most comfortable to run with the most accurate performance possible without being on an actual XT class machine. With Turbo on, it's 12 MHz, has a co-processor, 4MB of RAM, and a fast SCSI HDD, so the experience feels almost like a low-speed 386 SX minus the whole 32-bit code execution thing (which most games from that period ran fine on a 286). It also has a fast SVGA card and I have a nice NEC MultiSync II to connect to it for "of the period" graphics.

From my experience, everything from 1988 onward runs just fine on a 486 DX4-100, and in some ways, I favor the over-speed I get - for example, Utlima VI: the False Prophet - it just feels smoother, even though I'm aware things are running a bit too fast, but being an RPG, that does not matter so much. Other stuff by that point was throttled to run at a perfect speed, but put on anything faster it'll just overflow, or won't even run on anything modern and 64-bit. Once we get into the Windows/Direct X era games, most of the early stuff can either be run, or tricked to run, on an 80486 with not much tweaking, and a lot of it runs properly, even contrary to manuals (I'm looking at you Diablo). I just find the late 486 VLB era to be one of the best compatibility wise across the board.

Once we get around 1997, when I feel the PC became really boring, and mainstream as a hardware platform - most of the games made during that time can be tweaked to run just fine in Windows 10 using compatibility mode. I still run my old copies of The Sims, Robot Arena 2, Monster Truck Madness, Midtown Madness, and so on on my Core 2 Duo, with maybe the worst being The Sims (major graphics patching required, but after that it becomes a piece of pie and I kind of enjoy it more that way anyway). From an authenticity standpoint, it feels authentic because were no longer playing keyboard dominant/keyboard only games at 320x200 on a CRT with low dot pitch designed in a way that it makes things look smooth rather than jagged.

This is my experience. I've owned just about every generation of PC with the exception of the Pentium II and Core i-series stuff - XT Clones, Tandy's, 286's galore, more 486's than most people own computers in their lifetime, Pentiums, a Pentium Pro (which pretty much is in 686 PII/III/4 territory performance wise from my experience with a lot of RAM and a strong graphics card behind it), PIII, Pentium 4, Pentium D, VIA C7-M.....I was did this when it was junk nobody wanted, and after awhile, as much as I miss a lot of that old hardware after selling/trading/liquidating it as prices went up, I feel like that's what I'd do if I hat to cut down as much as possible and still get the full authentic experience using old hardware.

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Reply 17 of 22, by fitzpatr

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Thank you for the input! It's both fun and insightful to see how everyone approaches this topic!

The impetus behind this is that I have two Pentium II systems that are in great shape. One IBM Personal Computer 300XL (Pentium II 300, 440FX), and one Seanix (Pentium II 300, 440LX). I can't seem to figure out if they fit in anywhere or if they're just redundant.

I have the Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF) to worry about, so I'd like to keep things condensed, but not to the point of losing uniqueness. In essence, I'm not asking what the minimum is to achieve retro computing, but rather what is needed to get the full experience. To illustrate this point, I'll give a quick listing of my builds. My main goal is for compatibility with as many different standards and games as possible. My retro systems are, where appropriate, connected to a subset of the MIDI devices in my signature, as well as a Sony Trinitron G520 21". These are assembled/pieced together unless otherwise noted.

Turbo-XT - SB 2.0, VGA Graphics (ISA-8 capable ISA-16 card) - conjectural, as I've just gotten the motherboard and haven't tested/assembled and have no case
386 - DX-40, SB Pro 2, CL-GD5434, MPU-401/clone - adjustable clock speed by changing oscillator.
486 - DX2-66, SB AWE32 with OPL3, GUS Classic, MPU-401AT, S3 Vision 964, 968, orTrio64 VLB (still undecided, waiting to benchmark/feel). Details in sig.
Pentium MMX - 233MHz, Crystal onboard sound, GUS PNP, S3 Virge GX, Voodoo1.
AMD K6-III+ - 450MHz, Gigabyte GA-5AX, Matrox G400 Max, Voodoo2 SLI, SB Pro 2, SB Audigy 2ZS, MM-401 Clone.
Pentium III - 1.4GHz, Voodoo5 5500, Diamond Monster MX300.
Pentium 4 - 3.4GHz Extreme Edition, Asus P4C800-E Deluxe, Radeon 3850, SB Audigy 2ZS Platinum

Obviously, this is a significant number of builds. The K6 build was intended as a one-size-fits-all system, but as I often do, I found that I preferred to have systems that do one thing well rather than converge. I don't like building with constraints. Rather, I like to maximize systems. As can be seen, I am at or near the limit for each of the ISA, VLB, and AGP slots.

Last edited by fitzpatr on 2019-07-29, 04:10. Edited 1 time in total.

MT-32 Old, CM-32L, CM-500, SC-55mkII, SC-88Pro, SC-D70, MU2000EX
K6-III+/450/GA-5AX/G400 Max/Voodoo2 SLI/CT1750/MPU-401AT/Audigy 2ZS
486 Build

Reply 18 of 22, by mothergoose729

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For the turbo XT, a proper CGA card is going to give you the best compatibility, and I believe it is worth it sticking with a 8088 (rather than a NEC V20 or turbo mode 286) clocked at 4.77mhz (or at least clock switchable). Tandy sound in particular is nice to have. You can make your own, or you can just buy a Tandy to begin with. The Tandy SX has five expansions and can clock switch.

On my NEC V20 with trident SVGA graphics, I get about maybe 80% compatibility compared to DOSBox. String parser errors and CGA graphics errors are the reason I don't do better. I haven't ran into any games yet that don't run on DOS 6.22, but I have read that F-14 Fighter Pilot won't run on anything after DOS 4. I use DOS 3.31 at the moment.

If you are looking at SB 2.0 cards, the CT1350B can take a CMS upgrade, but the A revision cannot 😀.

Reply 19 of 22, by fitzpatr

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I've fortunately been able to equip two SB 2.0 with the CMS upgrades. For CGA Graphics, I do have an Amiga 1084s monitor that can apparently handle CGA, but I haven't tried them together.

I'll make another thread when it comes time to build that system...8088 class boards are outside of my experience and expertise.

MT-32 Old, CM-32L, CM-500, SC-55mkII, SC-88Pro, SC-D70, MU2000EX
K6-III+/450/GA-5AX/G400 Max/Voodoo2 SLI/CT1750/MPU-401AT/Audigy 2ZS
486 Build