VOGONS


First post, by Hydrohs

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I didn't get into computer hardware until the late 00's when everything was basically standardized, growing up in the 90s I played a lot of different cereal box games and point and click adventures, but my dad was the computer guy. I've recently stumbled upon the kind of "wild west" that was classic computing, and I've gotten pretty interested in building a period machine, or two, and playing some old games. I work at a place that also takes electronics recycling, so I've been collecting some stuff that I thought was neat and now I'd like to actually get something together, and look for stuff with maybe more purpose. First, here's what I've collected so far:

CPUs: i486DX2-66, Pentium-133, Pentium MMX-200, Slot 1 Pentium 3-850
Motherboards: This one I found with the P3, this eBay image is all I could find for it
Sound Cards: Sound Blaster 16 (CT4170), Sound Blaster Live! (CT4830)
GPUs: Nvidia RIVA TNT2 (I think, pulled from a Compaq system), Matrox Mystique (Again, I think), ATI RAGE 128

Ideally, I'd like one machine that I can use for DOS and Windows 98, but if not, then two separate. I already put together an XP machine, so anything kind of post 2000 I'm not looking to run on these rigs. From what I've got, I'm not sure what is most useful or would necessarily pair well together. Kind of kicking myself for not grabbing more motherboards, but I thought if I ever needed one they'd be dirt cheap (my mistake there 🤣). So yeah, any suggestions or recommendations appreciated. I'm in no real rush for this stuff, but knowing what to keep an eye out for would be super helpful.

Reply 1 of 15, by framebuffer

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Ideally I'd use the Pentium III 850 + Sound Blaster Live! + TNT2 which will work very well in Windows 98, but for DOS it depends how back in time you want to go, because some games rely on CPU speed to sync the game engine speed and the Pentium III would be too much of course ( but if I'm not mistaken there are some tools/ways to slow down the CPU and get proper speed btw)
For audio, although you should get some decent DOS sound (or at least, some sound) with the Live!, probably it's a little too new for the "full experience" in some games.

Anyway I'm not a DOS era expert, better wait for someone more prepared, I'm sure you are in the right place 😁

https://framebuffer.io

Reply 2 of 15, by dionb

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If you only have one board, and only one of your CPUs matches that, that's what you have to work with. The Chaintech 6VTA2 is an unremarkable ApolloPro133 board, but assuming its caps are good (big assumption...) it's fine for both Win98SE and DOS.

Agree with above though, how suitable it is for DOS games depends on which games you want to play. Doom and Quake will be fine; Jazz Jackrabbit, Monkey Island and Ultima VII will be more of a challenge. Also, for later Win98SE stuff, a P3 (on slow Via chipset) might be a bit slow. You might want to split it into two builds, a P4/AthlonXP for Win98SE and a 486 for DOS. Or maybe into three or four. Beware the rabbit hole, that way lies madness 😉

As for the other hardware, TNT2 is great: best Windows/DirectX/OpenGL performance of the three and best DOS VESA compatibility (Matrox and ATi Rage were quite bad at that). Sound - SBLive! is one of the best for Win98SE, but awful for DOS. So stick in another card. I'd not quickly recommend a nasty late Vibra like the CT4170, but it will do the job of getting sound to the speakers (so long as you don't mind artefacts and clipping in digital audio, metallic CQM FM synth and MIDI issues) in DOS with a minimum of fuss. You can always look for better cards later. For a shared system like this, the obvious thing is not to choose but to do both. In Win98SE you can have multiple sound cards, just choose the Live! as default. In DOS it's as simple as don't initialize the Live! (it needs a big TSR), only use the Vibra.

Reply 3 of 15, by mothergoose729

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You can get a lot further with a Pentium 3 with DOS than you might think. There are pretty reliable ways to slow it down to 386 speeds which can cover a lot of ground, and a slot 1 pentium 3 is pretty fast for a windows 98 machine. I can get about 60 fps in unreal gold with my Katmai at 450mhz, for example.

You don't typically see pentium 3 CPUs running at 850mhz with a slot board, however. Just making sure, that CPU is in a slot form factor correct?

The only thing I would add to your build is a decent graphics cards. The TNT2 is period correct for 98 for sure, but you can spend very little money and get a lot more "oomph".

Reply 4 of 15, by Hydrohs

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dionb wrote on 2021-02-16, 22:29:

If you only have one board, and only one of your CPUs matches that, that's what you have to work with. The Chaintech 6VTA2 is an unremarkable ApolloPro133 board, but assuming its caps are good (big assumption...) it's fine for both Win98SE and DOS.

Agree with above though, how suitable it is for DOS games depends on which games you want to play. Doom and Quake will be fine; Jazz Jackrabbit, Monkey Island and Ultima VII will be more of a challenge. Also, for later Win98SE stuff, a P3 (on slow Via chipset) might be a bit slow. You might want to split it into two builds, a P4/AthlonXP for Win98SE and a 486 for DOS. Or maybe into three or four. Beware the rabbit hole, that way lies madness 😉

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.

As for the other hardware, TNT2 is great: best Windows/DirectX/OpenGL performance of the three and best DOS VESA compatibility (Matrox and ATi Rage were quite bad at that). Sound - SBLive! is one of the best for Win98SE, but awful for DOS. So stick in another card. I'd not quickly recommend a nasty late Vibra like the CT4170, but it will do the job of getting sound to the speakers (so long as you don't mind artefacts and clipping in digital audio, metallic CQM FM synth and MIDI issues) in DOS with a minimum of fuss. You can always look for better cards later. For a shared system like this, the obvious thing is not to choose but to do both. In Win98SE you can have multiple sound cards, just choose the Live! as default. In DOS it's as simple as don't initialize the Live! (it needs a big TSR), only use the Vibra.

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?

mothergoose729 wrote on 2021-02-16, 22:53:

You can get a lot further with a Pentium 3 with DOS than you might think. There are pretty reliable ways to slow it down to 386 speeds which can cover a lot of ground, and a slot 1 pentium 3 is pretty fast for a windows 98 machine. I can get about 60 fps in unreal gold with my Katmai at 450mhz, for example.

You don't typically see pentium 3 CPUs running at 850mhz with a slot board, however. Just making sure, that CPU is in a slot form factor correct?

I'm pretty confident, but certainly not sure. So here's some pictures of it: http://imgur.com/a/adJG5en

The only thing I would add to your build is a decent graphics cards. The TNT2 is period correct for 98 for sure, but you can spend very little money and get a lot more "oomph".

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?

Reply 5 of 15, by mothergoose729

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That is definitely a slot 1 pentium III.

In order of cheapest to most powerful

MX 440 (look for a 128mb, AGP 8x models) ~25$
FX 5200/FX5500 (128 bit, typically 128mb or 256mb) ~25$
Ti 4200 ~50$
FX5600 (128bit, 128mb or 256mb) ~ 50$
5900xt ~ 100$

You can also get an ATI 9000 series card for much cheaper, but the hard part is tracking down the AGP 2x compatible models. They lack table fog and 8 bit palletized texture support but they are really fast and cheap.

I would go for the MX 440. They are cheap and easy to find. DOS compatibility is pretty good. Image quality is pretty good. If you want more performance it is more cost effective to just build a windows XP machine with PCIE.

Reply 6 of 15, by pentiumspeed

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I do have slot 1 PIII 800, but that is intended for win98SE gaming and non-sensitive DOS games but I also have another option using socket 754 board.

Cheers,

Great Northern aka Canada.

Reply 8 of 15, by Shreddoc

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Hydrohs wrote on 2021-02-16, 20:39:

I've gotten pretty interested in building a period machine

My interpretation of "period machine" is to match a software era with the hardware setup which was typically used at that specific time.

In that sense, (and imo), anything after an original Pentium or PentiumMMX was almost-entirely used for Windows/GUI at the time, and therefore quickly moves beyond what I would consider DOS period machines.

However if your software interest is towards the very tail-end years of DOS gaming, then the speed of a less-authentic (e.g. P3) period machine provides the grunt to max everything out, which you would otherwise not be able to do with certain late-DOS games.

If we had a shortlist of the DOS games you want to play, then a choice could be better targeted.

Reply 9 of 15, by dionb

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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.

Reply 10 of 15, by chinny22

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I agree with most of the above but as your just getting started I always recommend working with what you already have and work out before going out and spending money on more hardware.

As luck would have it a P3 with ISA slot is perfect for a combined dos/win9x box. It might be a bit fast for some dos games and bit slow for some 9x games at which point you can look at swapping hardware/another system to fill that gap. OR it may play all your games just fine, only 1 way to find out.

The SBLive is perfect for Win games and the SB16 is fine for dos, you may want to upgrade the SB16 or add midi but cross that bridge when you reach it, for now you've both sides covered.

TNT2 is probably the best card out of your existing hardware and really good dos compatibility but is holding back the CPU in win gaming, even still it'll serve you will as a intro card while deciding if you want to go down the expensive Voodoo/glide path or stick with D3d.

As a bonus newer the system the more forgiving it is, a P3 is much easier to get up and running then a 486 so its a good system to get to understand how to configure dos, card resources, etc which you WILL need to know about setting up some of the earlier CPU's you have.

Reply 11 of 15, by Hydrohs

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Thanks for the help so far, all.

Shreddoc wrote on 2021-02-17, 02:13:
My interpretation of "period machine" is to match a software era with the hardware setup which was typically used at that specif […]
Show full quote

My interpretation of "period machine" is to match a software era with the hardware setup which was typically used at that specific time.

In that sense, (and imo), anything after an original Pentium or PentiumMMX was almost-entirely used for Windows/GUI at the time, and therefore quickly moves beyond what I would consider DOS period machines.

However if your software interest is towards the very tail-end years of DOS gaming, then the speed of a less-authentic (e.g. P3) period machine provides the grunt to max everything out, which you would otherwise not be able to do with certain late-DOS games.

If we had a shortlist of the DOS games you want to play, then a choice could be better targeted.

dionb wrote on 2021-02-17, 08:49:

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'm not super familiar with most games from that period, besides big names like Doom or Quake. I'm hoping to get a machine that will generally play nice with whatever I decide to try out. I've come to realize that there's likely nothing that will do everything well, so to start I'm shooting for most robust rather than specific. Once I get my feet wet I can branch out or upgrade if need be. I don't mind tinkering with hardware, and this stuff certainly has a novelty value to me, but I would definitely put myself more in the second camp.

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 ans […]
Show full quote

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.

I will grab some info from the RAM today. As far as sound, I'll keep a look out for some more sound cards. I should have also mentioned, as far as MIDI is concerned, I actually found a new-in-box Roland SC-8. I just need an adapter to go from the SB to the MIDI connector I believe.

chinny22 wrote on 2021-02-17, 09:18:
I agree with most of the above but as your just getting started I always recommend working with what you already have and work o […]
Show full quote

I agree with most of the above but as your just getting started I always recommend working with what you already have and work out before going out and spending money on more hardware.

As luck would have it a P3 with ISA slot is perfect for a combined dos/win9x box. It might be a bit fast for some dos games and bit slow for some 9x games at which point you can look at swapping hardware/another system to fill that gap. OR it may play all your games just fine, only 1 way to find out.

The SBLive is perfect for Win games and the SB16 is fine for dos, you may want to upgrade the SB16 or add midi but cross that bridge when you reach it, for now you've both sides covered.

TNT2 is probably the best card out of your existing hardware and really good dos compatibility but is holding back the CPU in win gaming, even still it'll serve you will as a intro card while deciding if you want to go down the expensive Voodoo/glide path or stick with D3d.

As a bonus newer the system the more forgiving it is, a P3 is much easier to get up and running then a 486 so its a good system to get to understand how to configure dos, card resources, etc which you WILL need to know about setting up some of the earlier CPU's you have.

That's a good point, I'd certainly prefer something a little more straightforward to set up initially. One thing I haven't gotten into yet is storage, are there any good modern alternatives to IDE hard drives?

Reply 12 of 15, by paulo_becas

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Working on a recycling center is a huge help, try to get your hands on any socket 3, socket 7, socket 370, slot 1 motherboards, probably only a few will be in working order so whatever you can get your hands on.
If you want to build a DOS/Win98 hybrid build you should try to find this type of components to try to give you an all around gaming machine from both eras.

Motherboard: Slot 1 or slot 370. If your lucky enough to find a super socket 7 would be great
Memory: Max 512mb for windows 98 but i would stick with 256 mb Max
Sound card for best compatibility i would go with sound blaster 16
Graphics card, here is a bit tricky, you can go with the riva tnt 2 but you could try and get an early radeon agp card like the 7000, it has a good ms-dos compatibility and are rather cheap to buy.
CPU i would try to get a Pentium II or an early Pentium III. If you could get a slot 1 Pentium 3 450Mhz would be perfect.

I guess if you can get something similar to this specs then your all good. You need to understand that it's not going to run every game you want but it's a fairly campatible system if you manage to build one like this.

You can always go with separate machines but thats a all new adventure...

AMD Am486/Am5x86-P75 DX5 133 Mhz-64Mb Ram
S3 Trio 64V2DX 2 Mb
Soundblaster AWE64 Gold+Music Quest+MT-32+MU80
LAN-3Com
1.44 3,5 Epson Drive+1.2 5,25 Mitsumi drive+Iomega Zip 256Mb
8gb HDD,4Gb CF HDD
HP CDRW 9200
http://jp-retro.blogspot.com

Reply 13 of 15, by chinny22

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Storage on P3 you've got 2 main options, excluding IDE
#1 ide to sata converter, these are invisible to the PC/OS. Hard drive size will be limited to what the motherboard supports. 40GB or 120GB are the common limits, both plenty for a 9x PC.
You can use a old SATA HDD or go for a SSD, your choice.

#2 PCI sata card, You'll need to find one that works under Win98 but it'll support larger drives. It'll also be faster then the converter which is limited by the motherboard chipset.
Personally I prefer the simplicity of option 1

Reply 14 of 15, by dionb

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Hydrohs wrote on 2021-02-17, 09:50:

[...]

I'm not super familiar with most games from that period, besides big names like Doom or Quake. I'm hoping to get a machine that will generally play nice with whatever I decide to try out. I've come to realize that there's likely nothing that will do everything well, so to start I'm shooting for most robust rather than specific. Once I get my feet wet I can branch out or upgrade if need be. I don't mind tinkering with hardware, and this stuff certainly has a novelty value to me, but I would definitely put myself more in the second camp.

Define "that period"...

Basically, you can divide DOS gaming into three, maybe four eras:
1) Really old pre-386 (pre-1990): very primitive, speed almost always likely to be an issue. Almost no sound hardware support in games, so a PC speaker is all you need.
2) 386-486 (1990-~1993) pre-DOS extender. This is the most challenging era. Games need maximum free conventional memory, some games also use EMS or XMS. Sound card support present, but no generic drivers, so each game has its own supported set and sound quality (or even what is played) can differ markedly between devices. Speed issues still common, and some extreme examples undermine slowdown methods. You will probably need multiple CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT entries for different games (functionality vs free memory). Any component that needs a TSR driver (say the DOS support of an SBLive) is your enemy here.
3) later 486 and newer games (1994-) using DOS extenders (DOS4W) and sound libraries (Miles Audio). Here conventional memory hardly matters anymore and all audio will be similar up to limits of what game programmers included or hardware can handle. Easy and fun, you can focus on the games themselves.
4) same as 3, but with SVGA graphics. Here VESA compatibility of your VGA card becomes a thing.

There are lots of exceptions (take Doom - dates from era 2, but very well-written so behaves like era 3), but in general these are the options. If you're more into enjoying the software, look to era 3/4. If you want a challenge in both hardware and software setup, look to 2.

[...]

I will grab some info from the RAM today. As far as sound, I'll keep a look out for some more sound cards. I should have also mentioned, as far as MIDI is concerned, I actually found a new-in-box Roland SC-8. I just need an adapter to go from the SB to the MIDI connector I believe.

SC-8? Do you mean SC-88? If so, very nice catch. Then you really want a non-SB16 sound card to handle the MIDI. The CT4170 is better than most in that regard (no hanging note bugs reported) but suffers from slowdowns in MIDI playback if high-quality (16b) DA playback is happening at the same time, as the DSP can only do one thing at a time. Workaround is a second card for MIDI (or just replace the SB16 with a non-buggy alternative).

chinny22 wrote on 2021-02-17, 09:18:

[...]

As a bonus newer the system the more forgiving it is, a P3 is much easier to get up and running then a 486 so its a good system to get to understand how to configure dos, card resources, etc which you WILL need to know about setting up some of the earlier CPU's you have.

That's a good point, I'd certainly prefer something a little more straightforward to set up initially.

Yes, that is a really good one. About 1996 is where stuff got relatively standardized and easy. Most P1 and all P2 and later systems (except weird OEM designs) are easy to set up, and once you can do one, you can pretty much manage it on any of them. Also, ISA PnP is dodgy at the best of times, but at least PnP itself on the motherboard will be reliable with a new board like this.

One thing I haven't gotten into yet is storage, are there any good modern alternatives to IDE hard drives?

For older systems, CF-to-IDE adapters (+CF cards) are the way to go, for newer ones, IDE-to-SATA adapters and SATA HDDs or SSDs are better, or go for a PCI SATA controller card. Win98 is on the tipping point as far as I'm concerned, either a big CF card or a small SSD.

Be aware of OS and BIOS disk size limits:

OS:
- DOS partitioning allows max 4 primary partitions on a drive.
- DOS <= 6.22 FAT16 can handle max 2GB partitions (but is not negatively affected by any additional capacity over that size)
- DOS 7.x and Windows 9x FAT32 can handle max 2TB partitions (but your BIOS almost certainly can't!)

BIOS:
- multiple limits exist, the commonest at 512MB, 2GB, 8GB, 32GB and 128GiB (137GB).
- system BIOS limits only apply to IDE (PATA or SATA) handled by BIOS. Standalone IDE, SCSI controllers have their own limits unaffected by system BIOS.
- sometimes limit is documented, usually it isn't and you just have to find out... drive being detected with incorrect capacity is typical sign you're over the limit.
- going over limit will generally lead to bad stuff happening to your data, even if drive is detected in some form or other - just don't do it.
- BIOS overlay software exists to allow old BIOS to support newer HDDs. Check the HDD vendors for availability and compatability.

Practically speaking, a late Slot 1 motherboard will almost certainly handle HDDs up to 32GB, and might go up to 137GB. Going over that could get complicated.

Reply 15 of 15, by Hydrohs

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dionb wrote on 2021-02-17, 12:08:
Define "that period"... […]
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Define "that period"...

Basically, you can divide DOS gaming into three, maybe four eras:
1) Really old pre-386 (pre-1990): very primitive, speed almost always likely to be an issue. Almost no sound hardware support in games, so a PC speaker is all you need.
2) 386-486 (1990-~1993) pre-DOS extender. This is the most challenging era. Games need maximum free conventional memory, some games also use EMS or XMS. Sound card support present, but no generic drivers, so each game has its own supported set and sound quality (or even what is played) can differ markedly between devices. Speed issues still common, and some extreme examples undermine slowdown methods. You will probably need multiple CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT entries for different games (functionality vs free memory). Any component that needs a TSR driver (say the DOS support of an SBLive) is your enemy here.
3) later 486 and newer games (1994-) using DOS extenders (DOS4W) and sound libraries (Miles Audio). Here conventional memory hardly matters anymore and all audio will be similar up to limits of what game programmers included or hardware can handle. Easy and fun, you can focus on the games themselves.
4) same as 3, but with SVGA graphics. Here VESA compatibility of your VGA card becomes a thing.

There are lots of exceptions (take Doom - dates from era 2, but very well-written so behaves like era 3), but in general these are the options. If you're more into enjoying the software, look to era 3/4. If you want a challenge in both hardware and software setup, look to 2.

I'm probably looking at numbers 3/4, with maybe some 2 thrown in later.

SC-8? Do you mean SC-88? If so, very nice catch. Then you really want a non-SB16 sound card to handle the MIDI. The CT4170 is better than most in that regard (no hanging note bugs reported) but suffers from slowdowns in MIDI playback if high-quality (16b) DA playback is happening at the same time, as the DSP can only do one thing at a time. Workaround is a second card for MIDI (or just replace the SB16 with a non-buggy alternative).

Typo, I meant SC-7.

EDIT: Here's that RAM: http://imgur.com/a/hMrEdhE