VOGONS


First post, by elmirador

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As those beautiful giant ivory towers standing tall, questioning our very existence, there's only one problem:

These builds are huge.

As someone who doesn't have the luxury of space, a small form factor build is much more preferred.
The requirements are simple:
1) DOS SB16/Adlib support (not to be perfect but support most of the games)
2) Enough graphic capability for late 90s 3D titles under Win98 (not only by the raw processing power but more importantly, the driver support)

There are several different options:

1) Laptops: Generally not upgradable. No cards allowed.

Laptops from the "correct era" (e.g., 1999) will likely have SB16 compatibility. The mobile GPU most likely would work fine on early 3D titles, but definitely not enough for later titles.
The models that suffice both requirements are probably from 2000-2001 (e.g., Inspiron 8100). Legacy SB16 support became scarce when 2002 came around.
Sadly, these models are pretty hard to find here in China (a Pentium desktop would cost a fortune back then, and no average person would spend $2000 on a laptop), and the international shipping fee is not something I'd like to pay.

2) Thin clients: RAM / Storage upgradable. Models with expansion ability could accept a PCI card.

There's already a thread about thin clients here: What is the best Thin Client for Windows 98 (SE)
I'll focus on the HP T57x0 series since they're much easier to find than the Wyse Vx0 series (at least to where I live).
Phil did lots of videos on these units, I'll just compile all the information I could gather here.

1/ T5710: 800MHz model has limited SB16 support with VIASBCFG, 1.2GHz model has slightly better spec with CPU but loses SB16 support onboard with the ALi chipset. A Radeon 7000M with 16MB memory is onboard on both models, fine for early titles but not enough power for later ones. One PCI slot is available, but you have to use it with the chassis open. All drivers for Win98 are available for both models.
2/ T5720: Almost perfect with the expansion module. NX1500 is definitely better than Efficeon. No SB16 support onboard because of AC97. One PCI slot is available with the expansion module or using a PCI riser card. The onboard graphic card is a SiS. It's usable but not that great. All drivers for Win98 are available. It seems like the expansion module (or models that came with it) is extremely hard to find nowadays.
3/ T5730 / T5740: Almost the same as T5720 with Sempron 2100+ (AMD 690G) / Atom N280 (ICH4). Chipset and the onboard graphic driver are NOT available for Win98. There are two types of the expansion module. One provides PCI, and the other one provides PCI-E x1 (T5730) / PCI-E x4 (T5740). In theory, one could use a PCI-E x1 to PCI conversion card that supports two PCI cards at the same time, but I'm not sure whether that would work under Win98.

Keep in mind that all 4 models have an LPT port (T5720/30/40 with expansion module installed). Thus OPL3LPT is always an option. An expensive one (for me), though.

3) Mini-ITX build: Most of the time, it's like a thin client without a chassis.

Mini-ITX is around since 2001. VIA has lots of motherboards that utilize this specification. Most of these mobos are for ICS with onboard CPU, graphic, and sound.
Unfortunately, these boards usually only have one PCI slot (some have another Mini PCI-E slot, though). This put them roughly the same spot as a thin client.
I haven't researched much into this, but there are some interesting models.
Models from the VIA EPIA line seem like good choices. These boards come with VIA C3 / C7 CPU and a corresponding VIA southbridge.
IBASE products are also not bad, especially MB890 (855GME) and MB850 (845GV). But these are hard to find.

I'll add more about this topic later after gathering more info.
The perfect solution would be something like the mobo has a powerful enough onboard GPU with Win98 support, and the PCI slot is solely for the sound card. I don't even know whether that exists or not.

-----------

Any thoughts are welcomed!
Me personally, I'm knee-deep in the thin client rabbit hole.
Mini-ITX builds need chassis to hold them after all and that adds more cost.

HP T5710 (1.2GHz variant) / T5720 (No expansion module) / T5730 w/ expansion / T5740 w/ expansion
Toshiba Satellite 310CDT

Reply 1 of 16, by fosterwj03

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I don't know how easy these are to acquire in your neck of the woods, but I have a ThinkPad T42 paired with an IBM Dock II which can handle the tasks in your post pretty well.

I upgraded my T42 to a 2 GHz Pentium M processor and 768MB of RAM (it can go up to 2GB). My model also has a Mobile Radeon 9000 graphics engine that can handle most late-90s games at high resolutions with no problems (you might lose some DirectX 6 capabilities, though). My T42 has a DVD-ROM drive in the UltraBay and I upgraded the hard drive to a 128GB SSD using a mSATA to 44-pin IDE adapter/enclosure.

The Dock II adds a bunch of ports (USB, DVI, 2x PS/2, etc.) and expansion options (I added a floppy drive to the UltraBay). You can use the Dock II with an external monitor (the Radeon supports high resolutions including 1080p) and keyboard/mouse if you want to set the unit away from your desk.

The best part of the Dock II is the full height, half length PCI slot inside to dock. I put an Aureal Vortex in the slot to add 3-D audio support. Because the T42 has an Intel ICH5-based chipset, the Vortex also provides DOS SB Pro compatibility for DOS gaming. My Vortex also has a Wave Blaster header, so I can attach my Dreamblaster S2 for some sweet MIDI sounds.

On the downside, the Dock II adds a bit more space to the setup (about 11 inches behind the laptop). It's not a big deal if you use the T42's screen (it looks great, BTW) and keyboard, but the combination is almost as big as a thin desktop case if you use an external monitor and keyboard.

The power supply fan in the Dock II is also extremely loud. You could replace the fan with something quieter, but the Dock II is really hard to disassemble (I broke a Dock II trying to get inside to fix it).

As for cost, I've spent about $200 US for all of the parts (including the T42 and Dock II themselves). I'm really happy with how it turned out as a Retro PC. Here's a pic of some DOS gaming.

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Reply 2 of 16, by Oetker

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You could also look into 'SFF' office pc's. My retro PC is a Deskpro EN SFF, it's got a 440BX chipset, ESS audiodrive and Ati Rage graphics, all very compatible retro parts. It's got an ISA and PCI slot for better sound (i.e. gameport) and graphics. Of course, if you really want to get max graphics performance you need an AGP slot, which is probably difficult to find in a PC like this.

Reply 3 of 16, by elmirador

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fosterwj03 wrote on 2021-03-06, 17:15:
I don't know how easy these are to acquire in your neck of the woods, but I have a ThinkPad T42 paired with an IBM Dock II which […]
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I don't know how easy these are to acquire in your neck of the woods, but I have a ThinkPad T42 paired with an IBM Dock II which can handle the tasks in your post pretty well.

I upgraded my T42 to a 2 GHz Pentium M processor and 768MB of RAM (it can go up to 2GB). My model also has a Mobile Radeon 9000 graphics engine that can handle most late-90s games at high resolutions with no problems (you might lose some DirectX 6 capabilities, though). My T42 has a DVD-ROM drive in the UltraBay and I upgraded the hard drive to a 128GB SSD using a mSATA to 44-pin IDE adapter/enclosure.

The Dock II adds a bunch of ports (USB, DVI, 2x PS/2, etc.) and expansion options (I added a floppy drive to the UltraBay). You can use the Dock II with an external monitor (the Radeon supports high resolutions including 1080p) and keyboard/mouse if you want to set the unit away from your desk.

The best part of the Dock II is the full height, half length PCI slot inside to dock. I put an Aureal Vortex in the slot to add 3-D audio support. Because the T42 has an Intel ICH5-based chipset, the Vortex also provides DOS SB Pro compatibility for DOS gaming. My Vortex also has a Wave Blaster header, so I can attach my Dreamblaster S2 for some sweet MIDI sounds.

On the downside, the Dock II adds a bit more space to the setup (about 11 inches behind the laptop). It's not a big deal if you use the T42's screen (it looks great, BTW) and keyboard, but the combination is almost as big as a thin desktop case if you use an external monitor and keyboard.

The power supply fan in the Dock II is also extremely loud. You could replace the fan with something quieter, but the Dock II is really hard to disassemble (I broke a Dock II trying to get inside to fix it).

As for cost, I've spent about $200 US for all of the parts (including the T42 and Dock II themselves). I'm really happy with how it turned out as a Retro PC. Here's a pic of some DOS gaming.

Thanks for the suggestion! That dock is cool 😁
We do have some T42 units lying around at the second-hand market.
The dock on the other hand seems pretty hard to find, almost all Thinkpad docks I could find are branded Lenovo 🤣

Oetker wrote on 2021-03-06, 18:02:

You could also look into 'SFF' office pc's. My retro PC is a Deskpro EN SFF, it's got a 440BX chipset, ESS audiodrive and Ati Rage graphics, all very compatible retro parts. It's got an ISA and PCI slot for better sound (i.e. gameport) and graphics. Of course, if you really want to get max graphics performance you need an AGP slot, which is probably difficult to find in a PC like this.

These do look like what I had back in the old days ;D
It's still a little bit large by my taste. I really wish I had more space for all my stuff...
ISA+PCI sounds good enough to me. A board with all three type of slots are definitely not 'SFF' anymore 🤣

---

Recently I'm tinkering around the T5730 while waiting for my PCI riser card for T5720.
Apparently, I should disable the USB controller inside the BIOS. Upon checking under Win98, all IRQs are stuffed by USB ports. I should've watch Phil's video on YMF744 first...
Duke3D spits out "couldn't detect FM chip" constantly under real DOS, although the sound card driver loads perfectly fine (which is weird?).

I need USB to PS2 converters for my keyboard and mouse...

Last edited by elmirador on 2021-03-07, 16:59. Edited 1 time in total.

HP T5710 (1.2GHz variant) / T5720 (No expansion module) / T5730 w/ expansion / T5740 w/ expansion
Toshiba Satellite 310CDT

Reply 4 of 16, by debs3759

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If you want Mini-ITX small, try the VIA Epia series of boards. The slowest at 500MHz C3 based with onboard USB, SO-DIMM, etc

See my graphics card database at www.gpuzoo.com
Constantly being worked on. Feel free to message me with any corrections or details of cards you would like me to research and add.

Reply 5 of 16, by cyclone3d

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The PCIe to pick adapters would work fine in Windows 9x but the compatibility leaves something to be desired. Also not sure if you would get sound blaster emulation working through them or not.

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Reply 6 of 16, by elmirador

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debs3759 wrote on 2021-03-07, 16:55:

If you want Mini-ITX small, try the VIA Epia series of boards. The slowest at 500MHz C3 based with onboard USB, SO-DIMM, etc

These are pretty easy to find too which is always a good thing.
I may end up building another PC although I've got 4 thin clients at hand.

cyclone3d wrote on 2021-03-07, 17:03:

The PCIe to pick adapters would work fine in Windows 9x but the compatibility leaves something to be desired. Also not sure if you would get sound blaster emulation working through them or not.

That's what I'm worried about. I mean, is PCI-E even recognizable under DOS?

HP T5710 (1.2GHz variant) / T5720 (No expansion module) / T5730 w/ expansion / T5740 w/ expansion
Toshiba Satellite 310CDT

Reply 7 of 16, by fosterwj03

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PCIe to PCI bridges do work with DOS because they use the same protocols (it's completely transparent to the OS). However, these bridges do have significant shortcomings when it comes to latency, port addressing, and noise. The implementation matters a lot. The PCIe to PCI bridge works very well on my Asrock H97 Fatal1ty Performance, and I have no issues using PCI sound cards with it. The same bridge chip on my Asus P8H67-M Pro sounds horrible with PCI sound cards.

PCI sound under DOS all depends on the hardware, and it can get pretty hit or miss on modern platforms. My Yamaha YMF744 works under DOS on the H97 Fatal1ty, but doesn't work at all on my Asus 6-series boards (and it's the most compatible sound card I have for DOS).

Reply 8 of 16, by WildW

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Since you said any thoughts are welcomed, I think you're going about it all wrong. Get a desktop ATX case - supports any full size motherboard, and doesn't take up any space because it's under your CRT monitor that you were going to have anyway.

Your other option are Shuttle PCs, which are not quite as small as ITX but very nearly. There are versions with Pentium 4 and Athlon XP that have both an AGP and PCI slot, and Windows 98 is commonly supported. Yes, with PCI you're stuck with an Ensoniq / Creative PCI card with DOS support, but it's workable. The main issue with these is that the PSU is a weird form-factor (1u / FlexATX or whatever they're calling it this week) and they're all getting old, but I guess the Pentium 4 versions will be happy with a modern replacement.

Reply 9 of 16, by elmirador

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fosterwj03 wrote on 2021-03-07, 19:05:

PCIe to PCI bridges do work with DOS because they use the same protocols (it's completely transparent to the OS). However, these bridges do have significant shortcomings when it comes to latency, port addressing, and noise. The implementation matters a lot. The PCIe to PCI bridge works very well on my Asrock H97 Fatal1ty Performance, and I have no issues using PCI sound cards with it. The same bridge chip on my Asus P8H67-M Pro sounds horrible with PCI sound cards.

PCI sound under DOS all depends on the hardware, and it can get pretty hit or miss on modern platforms. My Yamaha YMF744 works under DOS on the H97 Fatal1ty, but doesn't work at all on my Asus 6-series boards (and it's the most compatible sound card I have for DOS).

Interesting... Well that means it's the good ol' PCI all the way then 😁

WildW wrote on 2021-03-07, 23:06:

Since you said any thoughts are welcomed, I think you're going about it all wrong. Get a desktop ATX case - supports any full size motherboard, and doesn't take up any space because it's under your CRT monitor that you were going to have anyway.

Your other option are Shuttle PCs, which are not quite as small as ITX but very nearly. There are versions with Pentium 4 and Athlon XP that have both an AGP and PCI slot, and Windows 98 is commonly supported. Yes, with PCI you're stuck with an Ensoniq / Creative PCI card with DOS support, but it's workable. The main issue with these is that the PSU is a weird form-factor (1u / FlexATX or whatever they're calling it this week) and they're all getting old, but I guess the Pentium 4 versions will be happy with a modern replacement.

Well actually I've considered ATX HTPC cases but these are still kinda big... I don't have CRTs I'm using an OSSC for VGA to HDMI.
Shuttle PC, got it! Will look out for them if we got something the same here!
1U power (my personal exp.) is not that bad except for the fan. It sounds like a freaking engine when it's at 100% RPM.

HP T5710 (1.2GHz variant) / T5720 (No expansion module) / T5730 w/ expansion / T5740 w/ expansion
Toshiba Satellite 310CDT

Reply 10 of 16, by Pierre32

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I picked up this for next to nothing last year. And the small form factor retro challenge was on.

Pierre32 wrote on 2020-07-15, 23:49:

Picked up this Aptiva 2196-20A for pocket change. It's a K6-2+ 550, and needs a HDD & optical drive. Also needs a low profile PCI video card. I'll be on the lookout for an FX5500 at a non-silly price.

Low profile PCI cards are the only option in this, so the search began for some better sound and video. Eventually I found an MX440, but could not squeeze any extra performance out of it compared to the onboard graphics. An FX5500 or similar (also available in half height PCI) was on the shopping list too. I ended up finding an FX5200 at a recycling place for $5 just the other week, but I'm not even going to try it here. A Voodoo is what this hardware needs, but there isn't one that fits.

For sound, I picked up a Creative SB1070 because the seller said he had Win98 drivers. But that card's chipset doesn't work in Win98, so I don't know what he was on about. Similar situation for every other retro-ish SFF sound card I could find; they're all for XP or later. I also looked at dodgy modern options like in your other thread, but didn't pull the trigger on any.

Challenge failed, I thought. But I did end up improving my sound performance by installing VXD drivers, and made peace with the capabilites of the onboard video which is actually not bad. In the end this platform is best suited to late DOS / early Windows, and the system handles that fine without additional hardware. And that was my lesson from this adventure: If you're going with a half height case, make sure it has everything you need on board, or has PCI risers allowing full size cards.

Reply 11 of 16, by RandomStranger

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For a time I was thinking about the same thing. I considered the Dell Optiplex GX260 SFF might be a decent choice. It's compact (a bit larger than a fat Xbox360 and has similar design), offers AGP and PCI expansion slots, though only low-porfile, basically all Willamette or Northwood Pentium 4 is fast enough for Windows 98. The core problem I found with that is that it's low profile which made it more difficult to find a graphics card that is fast enough, have the right feature set and also small enough to fit. The least bad options were various Geforce 4 MX cards or low and Geforce FX with 64bit memory bus.

So I decided to go with a slightly larger case that allows full-height expansion cards. The footprint is about the same, but it's a little taller.

sreq.png retrogamer-s.png

Reply 12 of 16, by elmirador

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Sadly the project is on pause right now because somehow my OSSC failed 🙁
Without it, I don't really have a way to test anything.
I'll get back to this as soon as it got repaired!

---

Hey guys I'm back. The OSSC is fixed, thank goodness the hardware is fine, it's just a firmware thing.
I got some of those cheap USB to PS/2 converters and none of them worked. It seems I need to buy a real PS/2 mouse and keyboard now.

HP T5710 (1.2GHz variant) / T5720 (No expansion module) / T5730 w/ expansion / T5740 w/ expansion
Toshiba Satellite 310CDT

Reply 13 of 16, by crazii

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I saw an ESS Solo-1 half height PCI on local online market, unfortunately it is sold already.

Toshiba Satellite Pro 4300 - YMF744, Savage IX
Toshiba Satellite 2805-S501 - YMF754, GeForce 2Go
IBM Thinkpad A21p - CS4624, Mobility Radeon 128
main: Intel NUC11PHKi7C Phantom Canyon: i7-1165G7 RTX2060 64G 2T760PSDD

Reply 14 of 16, by Sphere478

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There was a guy that made a retro build out of a pc104 based form factor setup. It was pretty cool but looked like a fair amount of work.

Someone could post some links to cards and part numbers used and some 3d printer files and probably make a kit though.

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Reply 15 of 16, by BitWrangler

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One of them compaq or zenith tall notebook bordering on clamshell 286 machines with a couple or three ISA slots in the back, upgraded with an above board 386 with a DLC2 jammed in it and overclocked 🤣 .... okay I guess it would still wheeze a bit on 3D

mATX builds can be pretty compact in a custom case, use a "LPX" psu picked up surplus, turn to the dark side and grab a PC Chips M810 and stick a Duron 800 or other cheap POS in to screw around with. IDK, just came to mind as cheap to screw with.

Atom boards, there's one called Johnstown that's smallish and easy to house. External laptop type PSU if you want. Drink the koolaid... no wait that was Jonestown.... this is a bit messy for 98 I think, have to force install 945 drivers manaully.

Unicorn herding operations are proceeding, but all the totes of hens teeth and barrels of rocking horse poop give them plenty of hiding spots.

Reply 16 of 16, by crazii

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I'm up to SFFs recently, I guess Dell Optiplex is a good choice, GX100/GX110, GX150 and then GX260/GX270/GX280.
GX110 is pure white and beautiful (some models are not), but it seems to have only 1 ISA slot, there's raiser with ISA+PCI or all PCI slots but I don't think PCI graphics card is a good option, but the ISA sound cards will get better DOS compatibility.
GX260 is a intel 845 board and GX270 is a 865, GX280 is 915 which is said to be the last chipset supported by Win98. (you can check the models in the Wikipedia page)
What I want most is a GX150 with 815 chipset that is possibly supporting Tualatin. There're half height AGP graphics cards, among which I'm planning to get a half height Geforce FX5200 or 6200, But I found few half height / low profile PCI sound cards that have DOS support, or even win98 SB support.

BTW I've got a T5700, T5710 (quite recently), and a T5720, I'd say T5710 is the best of them, with DOS SB support, and a decent graphics, more VRAM to support higher res (AGP/GART driver install with no effect, dxdiag shows NO AGP acceleration, PCI only with shared VRAM, Radeon 7000 will be much less powerful but still OK). Didn't test with quake3 or half life, but with counter strike 1.5, it runs 1024x768 around 30FPS some times higher but sometimes lower to 15FPS, depending on the scene and view.
T5700 has DOS SB support but the graphics is too weak.
T5720 no DOS SB support, its SiS graphics driver has compatibility issues, some games gives a garbled screen on startup, i.e. RA95, but I'm not sure whether it's the DOM corrupted or a graphics driver issue.
Those 3 thin clients all have driver issues since they officially have XP embedded OS installed and don't have official 98SE driver, there're some IRQ conflict but they can be solved by disabling the secondary IDE controller, and you need to enable HDD DMA manually in device manager or though some driver utility.

Toshiba Satellite Pro 4300 - YMF744, Savage IX
Toshiba Satellite 2805-S501 - YMF754, GeForce 2Go
IBM Thinkpad A21p - CS4624, Mobility Radeon 128
main: Intel NUC11PHKi7C Phantom Canyon: i7-1165G7 RTX2060 64G 2T760PSDD