Hydrohs wrote on 2021-02-17, 00:29:
It's too late for me now 🤣 I certainly don't mind waiting around for something more suitable, or even buying something on eBay at some point. Just a matter of finding out what's most suitable, whether it be something I've already scrounged or not, because that's where I'm most ignorant.
Whatever you are going for, the most important thing isn't knowing the hardware (you can look that up, people in places like this can help you), but being crystal clear about what you exactly want out of your machine. The big divide in the community is between people who like tinkering with hardware for the sake of tinkering, and tend towards the most obscure/unusual (or just plain sentimental) builds. On the other hand there are the people who just see the hardware as a means to run the software they are interested in. In that case, compatibility and performance are more important. Given some games can be notoriously picky it can go as far as a build for a specific game (guilty as charged: built one for the sole purpose of running Ultima VII correctly).
Once you know what you want, all you need to do is a reality check (is this possible?) and then go out and do it. For a generic (later) DOS and early Win98SE build, your P3-850 and existing cards are fine. Every single bit could be improved upon if you're really picky about hardware, but what you have will do what you have stated perfectly well, so don't let yourself get distracted unnecessarily.
I've heard a lot about the Voodoo cards, would they be a better choice vs the TNT2, or had they begun to show their age by that point?
You can look at Voodoo cards from different viewpoints:
- as a practical option for running 3D games. In that sense, there's a very small set of games that only run (well) with a Voodoo - mainly a handful of DOS games that require a Voodoo 1 for decent visuals. Beyond that, they don't offer compelling objective value over other options, and do cost significantly more. Also, the Voodoo cards with 2D core (Banshee onward) had very good 2D picture quality and DOS VESA compatibility.
- as a historical document or personal nostalgia. 3Dfx was the first vendor to successfully popularize 3D acceleration in PC games. In the late 1990s, if you ran 3D stuff and did it well, there's a good chance some Voodoo was helping you do it. Eventually other vendors beat 3dfx (yes, capitalization change was intentional, they changed name) technically and commercially, in no small part due to mismanagement at 3dfx itself. A Voodoo card is a piece of gaming history - and commands the prices to match.
- as a collector's item. Some people want to have all (significant) chipsets or cards out there. Other people are purely in it for the money. Average prices of Voodoo stuff have nearly doubled over the past few years. As retro computing gains popularity, demand is likely to keep rising while supply is unchanged. Buy one 3 years ago, sell it now, you made a profit. Buy one now, sell it in 3 years time you probably will again.
If options 2 and 3 don't apply to you, and you don't specifically want to play one of those GLide-only DOS 3D games, Voodoo cards are overpriced and none but the very last (V5-5500) would beat the TNT2 you already have, and any random GeForce2 would outperform that at a fraction of the cost.
What would I be looking at as an upgrade?
Since the P3 is the only one I have a board for, it's also the only one that I know for sure works. I did a quick power on test and it turns on and POSTs no problem. Of the two 128MB sticks that were already in the board, it only works with one. Not sure if it's a slot or stick issue, I didn't invidually try both. Also the fan is pretty hoarse, are replacements available?
Regarding the RAM, you'd need to tell us exact specs (preferably the chip codes and number of chips per DIMM) to get a clear answer on what's happening. Practically speaking, 128MB is more than enough for gaming on Win98SE on a P3. Nothing that needs more RAM would run on that system anyway.
In terms of upgrades to make the P3 more elegant:
- i440BX-based board instead of Via ApolloPro133. Would win maybe 5% performance. No other real benefit (well, drivers for i440BX are built into Win98SE whereas you need to install Via 4-in-1 for the ApolloPro). Note: not all BX boards support Coppermine CPUs. If considering this, make sure yours does.
- Personally I find the TNT2 a perfect match with board and CPU, but the ones listed above are decent upgrades for more performance. Note that DOS VESA support declines rapidly after the FX-series, so avoid anything newer if you want to run DOS. Note that newer cards demand newer drivers with more overhead in Win98SE, so if a game is CPU rather than GPU limited, you might actually lose performance with a newer card. I'd not go past a GeForce3 personally on a mid-period P3 like this.
- That Vibra is far from best sound card. Now, sound cards are probably the biggest rabbit hole to go down, and there's a big subjective element to them. Personally I consider Creative cards, particularly the SB16 series, to be overrated and buggy, and overpriced relative to availability. Others disagree. Either way, even if you want an SB16, there are much better ones than that Vibra out there. Many consider the CT2230 and CT2290 to be the all-round best SB16s, but here again, because all SB16s are buggy in some way or other, what is best for you depends on exactly what you want to run and how irritating you find the various bugs. If you want to do anything with MIDI/wavetable, get something that isn't an SB16. For a cheap single-card solution with max compatibility and minimal bugs, take a look at an ALS100 (not 100Plus), which offers SB16 and SBPro2 compatibility, plus bug-free MPU-401 MIDI, a real OPL3 (or 100% clone) and WSS support (better 16b audio) in the handful of games that support it.