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My ultimate dual 440LX / Voodoo2 SLI build

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First post, by pixelatedscraps

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I’m piecing together a build from late ‘97 to early ‘98. It was a seminal year for me (halfway through my A-levels, my city being handed over to Mainland China (Hong Kong), girls and hormones aplenty. Oh, and boarding school in Scotland where my parents granted me one wish to take with me to help ease the transitional pain - a new PC.

I had feverish dreams of a brand new Pentium II (think the 266Mhz was the fastest at the time) with a Millenium II and Voodoo 2 cards. In reality, my parents cut that short when they saw the price tag and in a cruel game of rationality I ended up with a much smaller and far more compact Pentium 120Mhz laptop from a minor brand I no longer recall, though barely saving a couple of hundred $$, it did hold its own playing Championship Manager and Wing Commander III.

Now I find myself with the following parts with just one thing on my mind: I need that Pentium II / Voodoo 2 rig, and I need it now. Here’s the parts list:

CASE: InWin IW-A500
CPU: 2x Pentium II 333Mhz ‘Deschutes’
MB: Asus P2L97-DS
RAM: 128MB PC133 SDRAM
VGA: Matrox Millenium II 8MB AGP
3D: 2x Diamond Monster 3D II 3dfx Voodoo2 12MB SLI
HDD: 9.1GB Seagate Cheetah 10k ST39103LW
OPTICAL: Plextor PX-20TSi SCSI CD-ROM 12/20x, Creative CD-RW RW4224E, iOMEGA Z100 Zip drive, Panasonic 1.44MB 3.5’, Epson SD-600 1.2MB 5.25’
SCSI: Adaptec 2940U2W
PSU: Seasonic SS300-FS
SOUND: Soundblaster AWE64 CT4390
MONITOR: Dell 2001FP
KEYBOARD: Intergraph ConcertMaster Multimedia Keyboard
JOYSTICK: CH Flightstick Pro
SPEAKERS: Roland MA-12C

I would like this to be as period accurate as possible (and I’m still in Hong Kong so shipping from USA / Poland / Russia - where most vintage PC parts seem to be found on eBay) is expensive, but doable and something I’m willing to absorb in this endeavour. I accidentally accepted a seller’s offer on eBay for the Matrox before realising it was a PCI and not AGP version. Oops, but my research shows me there were some initial Slot 1 boards without AGP. I’m fine with that - unless I’m going to suffer a performance hit on any of the games I want to play below.

I don’t necessarily need or want this to be the most powerful Pentium II build out there, but simply one that allows me to delve into some iconic hardware from the period of late 1997 to mid 1998 while still being able to run my favourite games from that period. I can afford to SLI Voodoo 2 but unless there are massive restrictions to the games below, I’m pretty happy with a single 3D accelerator.

I’ve got a lot of experience building and configuring PCs so am comfortable putting something together. However, I don’t own a soldering iron or a dremel so my repair skills are somewhat limited 😉

• Wing Commander III/IV
• Privateer 2
• Half Life
• Duke Nukem 3D
• Quake 1 / 2
• Championship Manager 97/98
• The Secret / Curse of Monkey Island
• and many more

Some questions I have:

1) Is it best to stay away from prebuilt from Compaq and Packard Bell or did they feature quality motherboards for that period?
2) I don’t have a case yet and may not be able to find one that scratches the itch. If I find a Compaq / PB, etc from that period, can I swap in a good third party motherboard easily and just use the chassis?
3) In the name of future proofing this, can one use a modern ATX PSU for rebuilds from this era? Everything else I’d prefer to keep period accurate apart from a good, platinum PSU with a long warranty that won’t jeopardise vintage components.

So I guess my question is this: what would your ideal late 97-early 98 Pentium II build look like if you had the parts above?

Last edited by pixelatedscraps on 2022-01-25, 06:51. Edited 9 times in total.

My ultimate dual 440LX / Voodoo2 SLI build

Test bench: Asus P3B-F | 1.3Ghz Tualeron w/ Powerleap | Geforce 2 Ti500 | SB Live! 5.1 CT4760

Reply 1 of 89, by Woody72

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The only thing I can add at this point is to beware of big brands like Compaq and Dell etc They tend to have proprietary motherboards so if was to fail you'd be stuck looking for a like-for-like part. If you go more generic, you can always replace a motherboard with one of similar spec ie ATX or mini-ATX etc

Modern PC: i7-9700KF, 16GB memory, RTX 3060. Proper PC: Pentium 200 MMX, 128MB EDO memory, GeForce2 MX(200).

Reply 2 of 89, by Anonymous Coward

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Late '97-Mid 98 was actually a pretty bad time to build a new PC, because no matter what you ended up buying it would have been horribly obsolete in 6-12 months. Consider yourself lucky you didn't drop a few thousand USD on a PII-266. If I could go back in time and do it all over again, I would have just ridden my 486 to '99 or 2000 and saved myself a lot of $$$.

"Will the highways on the internets become more few?" -Gee Dubya
V'Ger XT|Upgraded AT|Ultimate 386|Super VL/EISA 486|SMP VL/EISA Pentium

Reply 3 of 89, by waterbeesje

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1. You may get away with brand-stuff, but take care of what you're going to get. Lots of computer-brand-name boards are rebrands from the major motherboard builders. Compaq, Dell, PB, HP: they all gone shopping at Intel or Acer to get the best bang-for-buck. Sometimes they got a fairly cheap cutdown version of a specific well known and robust motherboard. I recall the Intel Seattle board (SE440BX). Those just wont die, but have zero extra functionality and zero overclocking capacity.
Power supply: be aware some brands used a different pinout in the same 20p connector! Having some specific Dell PSUs on a regular board makes stuff go boom. And some specific boards with a regulat PSU all the same ofc.

2. From this time most vendors used the ATX standard. It means a nice case form -say- Compaq can house most regular boards. They tend to use some one connector with probably a weird pinout for the buttons and LEDs in the front, but those are fairly easy to rearange. Again: be careful with the PSU!

3. For a P2-era computer: use a 250-300 W PSU or as close it gets to that. Anything over that is pure overkill. Getting a platinum PSU may get you some more heavy stuff, but they all will do. There may be an issue with some sound cards if the newer PSU does not have a -5V line. Given you want an AWE64 I don't think it will be a problem at all. Just make sure the connector is a 20+4 instead of 24 pin, so the connector fits along with other components. If you have enough space next to the power connector on the motherboard, every 24 pin will do, the 'loose' pins don't matter and it only will fit in one way.

If you're looking into something really extreme for the beginning of 1998: the famous Intel 440BX came out in April that year. The Deschutes 333 was released in January 1998 (still 66MHz fsb). Voodoo 2 was released March 1998. Add 64 or even 128MB SDRAM (PC100) Also: get a CDROM plus CD-RW drive. For hard drive: go SCSI if you want the best (but they are quoie noisy).

Stretch it up onto 1999 and you'd have a Coppermine or K6-3+ 😜

Stuck at 10MHz...

Reply 4 of 89, by evasive

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Anonymous Coward wrote on 2021-03-17, 14:24:

Late '97-Mid 98 was actually a pretty bad time to build a new PC, because no matter what you ended up buying it would have been horribly obsolete in 6-12 months. Consider yourself lucky you didn't drop a few thousand USD on a PII-266. If I could go back in time and do it all over again, I would have just ridden my 486 to '99 or 2000 and saved myself a lot of $$$.

486DX4-100 to... P2-350. I skipped the 66MHz Slot1 train entirely... Glad I did.

Reply 5 of 89, by flupke11

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Late 97 would mean 440LX chipset. It's a very stable platform. I remember my Asus P2L-97A fondly. You can still upgrade to a Celeron 533 on such a system, should you need more oomph without compromising too much on the 97 system.
My RIVA 128X was less impressive than the Voodoo, but AGP was brand new, so it got extra points for using that new bus.
And HK, my love for your people is huge.

Reply 6 of 89, by vetz

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A really close build to my 1997 build (dual Pentium II 300mhz, 440FX chipset, 9gb IBM SCSI harddrive, PowerVR, 3DFX Voodoo, Nvidia Riva128 and Soundblaster AWE64 Gold). 1997 is a special year to me as it was the year I got my Compaq (P166mmx) and really got into the games released at that year. Pentium II was for me unobtanium and just something I read about in magazines, didn't know a single person who owned one.

The problem with my 1997 build is that it really only can do 1997 and most 1998 games if you care about playing those games at the maximum resolution and framerate. If you want for instance Half-Life it will run, but not as good as it can or should.. Heck even Quake 2 will only run in about 30-40 FPS in 640x480 with a 3DFX Voodoo 1. The PC industry was moving at a insane speed at that point in time. From 1996 to 1999 the available power in CPU, RAM and 3D graphics acceleration skyrocketed like we've never seen before or after. I made a post about it here: Playing games on periodcorrect retro computer versus playing on newer/modern machine

If you can limit yourself to only play games from that year or earlier you'll have a great time!

3D Accelerated Games List (Proprietary APIs - No 3DFX/Direct3D)
3D Acceleration Comparison Episodes

Reply 7 of 89, by dionb

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pixelatedscraps wrote on 2021-03-17, 13:34:

[...]

I would like this to be as period accurate as possible (and I’m still in Hong Kong so shipping from USA / Poland / Russia - where most vintage PC parts seem to be found on eBay) is expensive, but doable and something I’m willing to absorb in this endeavour. I accidentally accepted a seller’s offer on eBay for the Matrox before realising it was a PCI and not AGP version. Oops, but my research shows me there were some initial Slot 1 boards without AGP. I’m fine with that - unless I’m going to suffer a performance hit on any of the games I want to play below.

If you have a Voodoo, there wil be zero impact of the 2D card being on PCI or AGP. Without the Voodoo it could theoretically make a small difference, but a Millennium II is very early AGP and it hardly uses anything. Here's benchmarks of PCI Mystique 220 vs AGP Millennium II:
mystmill.png
Completely irrelevant.

I don’t necessarily need or want this to be the most powerful Pentium II build out there, but simply one that allows me to delve […]
Show full quote

I don’t necessarily need or want this to be the most powerful Pentium II build out there, but simply one that allows me to delve into some iconic hardware from the period of late 1997 to mid 1998 while still being able to run my favourite games from that period. I can afford to SLI Voodoo 2 but unless there are massive restrictions to the games below, I’m pretty happy with a single 3D accelerator.

• Wing Commander III/IV
• Privateer 2
• Half Life
• Duke Nukem 3D
• Quake 1 / 2
• Championship Manager 97/98
• The Secret / Curse of Monkey Island
• and many more

Some questions I have:

1) Is it best to stay away from prebuilt from Compaq and Packard Bell or did they feature quality motherboards for that period?
2) I don’t have a case yet and may not be able to find one that scratches the itch. If I find a Compaq / PB, etc from that period, can I swap in a good third party motherboard easily and just use the chassis?

That depends on the board/build more than the brand. I'm more familiar with PB than Compal (worked for PB tech support in 2000/2001), and there were huge differences. In general the mid to high-end was solid, with Intel OEM boards such as the AL440LX 'Atlanta' ATX Slot1 and MU440EX 'Maui' uATX Slot1 with onboard ATi Rage. The low-end So370 and So7 boards were awful (GVC FR500 and GV724 - *shivver*). Slot 1 full ATX with AGP slot is a safe bet, that will be the AL440LX. In any event, all the post 'frog' design cases are all ATX or uATX standard, so you can swap out boards if needs be, and even the old frogs were LPX form factor and had standard AT PSU. Note that the old frogs suffer from brittle plastic detailing, won't affect practicality, but won't look good.

What I know about Compaq is that they were transiting between LPX and even less standard custom designs with odd PSU at this time. Good quailty builds, but utterly incompatible with 3rd party stuff.

3) In the name of future proofing this, can one use a modern ATX PSU for rebuilds from this era? Everything else I’d prefer to keep period accurate apart from a good, platinum PSU with a long warranty that won’t jeopardise vintage components.

There are big discussions on this. One thing everyone is agreed on: use a good-quality PSU from a good brand regardless of age. Given the very modest requirements of a P2 system, any modern PSU can handle its current draw. You want to look for a design that first converts mains voltage to 12V, then derives it 5V from that. That way it doesn't matter that the old system draws far more on 5V and far less on 12V than a modern system. Personally I prefer period PSUs though. Good OEM stuff (Compaq's Delta PSUs are generally bullet-proof, as are the Lite-On PB ones) is frequently better than retail PSUs, but either way open up the PSU and check for bulging caps or other problems before hooking it up. The period to avoid (for PSUs too!) is 1999-2004, due to capacitor plague.

So I guess my question is this: what would your ideal late 97-early 98 Pentium II build look like if you had the parts above?

What *my* ideal build would look like isn't so relevant - yours is, and looks is the main thing here.

As for innards, you already have decided for P2, which pairs with i440LX or EX chipsets (BX would work too, but not period correct), so pretty much any early P2 motherboard would be fine. You already have VGA, 3D and sound. So all that's really left is the case, and that's about your aesthetics more than anything else.

Personally I don't like the 1997-era PB full ATX cases, this one to be precise:

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It is however a fully standard ATX case that pairs nicely with Intel AL440LX. Here's a teardown of one (in French) http://passion-pb.fr/model_multimedia_xl_2413.php

Personally I'd rather go for a retail InWin ATX case, something like this:

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I have a variant of the IW-A500 and it's a dream to work on and in (removable motherboard tray, nice separate side panels, all edges rounded not sharp etc.) and looks the period-correct part, even if I use it with a 1998 So7 MVP3 motherboard and K6-2 CPU.

Reply 8 of 89, by pixelatedscraps

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Wow, thanks for the super helpful responses, everyone. So nice to see a forum these days with wise hands and cool heads 😉

Not sure if there is a way to do multi quote replies so I’ll respond one by one below - and well noted about the poor suboptimal timing of this build. This time period had a lot of significance to me so it is what it is. I still have most parts necessary to put together an FX-60 build from my next favourite era of gaming 2006-2007 so that will be the vintage speed demon to play games from 1999 onwards. I’m not sure this build would be able to play Half Life which is a bit of a bummer. If the perfect vintage Half Life PC was to be put together, am I right in assuming it would be something closer to a Coppermine / Argon / Tualetin?

Waterbeesje: Thanks for all this, very grateful for the info. I’m still leaning towards a brand new PSU as I’ve seen what a bad PSU can do and my tinkering skills don’t extend as far as checking for blown / swollen caps and so on. If there’s a way to minimise the amount of dodgy capacitators in a build, I’m all for it - starting at the PSU. Great to know ATX was relevant at the end of 97 as I’m well aware the AT system is much harder build to maintain. Currently looking at the Deschutes 333Mhz paired with a 440BX but it’s nice to keep one foot in the 97 door while the VGA cards are firmly from the future - the 1998 one, that is!

Flupke11: Didn’t know that about the 440LX chipset - this is on the list now. Re: Hong Kong - the gratitude is immense. We’ve had a rough time of it the last couple of years and I don’t imagine there is a light at the end of this tunnel any time soon.

Vetz: We’re in similar boats, you and I. And to be honest, I really do only care about playing games from 1994-1998 on this build. This particular nostalgic itch is the strongest one and is recurring so therefore it definitely needs scratching. The bit about not being able to play Half Life is a bit annoying though, considering it was released at the end of 98.

Dionb:Thank YOU for these nuggets. Reading your post was like a goldmine - and I love the InWin cases at the end (still a very respectable case maker now) - the V500 and A500 in particular. Unfortunately, eBay doesn’t seem to have any so I’ll need to keep a beady eye peeled the next time I visit Hong Kong’s Mecca of tech - Golden Arcade in Sham Shui Po and its surrounding flea markets.

My ultimate dual 440LX / Voodoo2 SLI build

Test bench: Asus P3B-F | 1.3Ghz Tualeron w/ Powerleap | Geforce 2 Ti500 | SB Live! 5.1 CT4760

Reply 9 of 89, by vetz

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You'll be able to play Half-Life with a PII 266 and a Voodoo Graphics (which is better than what I used back in 98), just won't be the best experience if you're used to/expecting to play in higher resolutions than 640x480 and 60+ framerates. Though, if you pop-in a Voodoo 2 or Voodoo 3 that will significantly help, but then again it won't be to 1997 period accurateness.

3D Accelerated Games List (Proprietary APIs - No 3DFX/Direct3D)
3D Acceleration Comparison Episodes

Reply 10 of 89, by gerry

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Anonymous Coward wrote on 2021-03-17, 14:24:

Late '97-Mid 98 was actually a pretty bad time to build a new PC, because no matter what you ended up buying it would have been horribly obsolete in 6-12 months. Consider yourself lucky you didn't drop a few thousand USD on a PII-266. If I could go back in time and do it all over again, I would have just ridden my 486 to '99 or 2000 and saved myself a lot of $$$.

I had a pentium 166mmx at that time and whilst it was great at DOS and pretty good at win95 too it really would have struggled or just failed with games from just a year or two later like unreal tournament, half life and so on, even with a reasonable graphics card, so yes - i think you're right!

I still like that period though, the pentium 1 / early pentium 2 period. It was exciting at the time!

Reply 11 of 89, by dionb

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pixelatedscraps wrote on 2021-03-18, 09:13:

[...]

Dionb:Thank YOU for these nuggets. Reading your post was like a goldmine - and I love the InWin cases at the end (still a very respectable case maker now) - the V500 and A500 in particular. Unfortunately, eBay doesn’t seem to have any so I’ll need to keep a beady eye peeled the next time I visit Hong Kong’s Mecca of tech - Golden Arcade in Sham Shui Po and its surrounding flea markets.

Not sure how easy it is to go to the mainland, but there are massive shops, malls even, of computing stuff, including older stuff, over in Shenzhen. Never been there myself, but colleagues who have were telling me I really should go, and pics and stuff other people found there lead me to believe it's a goldmine, both in terms of what's out there and price vs eBay.

Take a look at this Vogons topic:
Retro Hardware Adventures in Shenzhen, China

Reply 12 of 89, by pixelatedscraps

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dionb wrote on 2021-03-18, 12:25:
Not sure how easy it is to go to the mainland, but there are massive shops, malls even, of computing stuff, including older stuf […]
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pixelatedscraps wrote on 2021-03-18, 09:13:

[...]

Not sure how easy it is to go to the mainland, but there are massive shops, malls even, of computing stuff, including older stuff, over in Shenzhen. Never been there myself, but colleagues who have were telling me I really should go, and pics and stuff other people found there lead me to believe it's a goldmine, both in terms of what's out there and price vs eBay.

Take a look at this Vogons topic:
Retro Hardware Adventures in Shenzhen, China

It’s actually almost impossible for anyone to visit the mainland, despite Beijing calling Hong Kong ‘one of us / ours’ and all that. Without getting political and going off topic (though I have many opinions on this) let’s just say they’ve made it extremely hard for the average visitor to make the border crossing. 100 year anniversary of the CCP, dissuading the ‘dissidents’ of Hong Kong from ‘infecting the worker class’ or just a plain old Covid coverup, nobody from Hong Kong without carefully vetted business visas will be visiting anytime soon.

I’m going to take one last look around Sham Shui Po tomorrow to see what I can find. There was nothing in the computer malls on Hong Kong island when I went today. Failing that I’ll have to look for components and cases on eBay or hunt for forum sellers.

My ultimate dual 440LX / Voodoo2 SLI build

Test bench: Asus P3B-F | 1.3Ghz Tualeron w/ Powerleap | Geforce 2 Ti500 | SB Live! 5.1 CT4760

Reply 13 of 89, by dionb

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pixelatedscraps wrote on 2021-03-18, 12:48:

[...]

It’s actually almost impossible for anyone to visit the mainland, despite Beijing calling Hong Kong ‘one of us / ours’ and all that. Without getting political and going off topic (though I have many opinions on this) let’s just say they’ve made it extremely hard for the average visitor to make the border crossing. 100 year anniversary of the CCP, dissuading the ‘dissidents’ of Hong Kong from ‘infecting the worker class’ or just a plain old Covid coverup, nobody from Hong Kong without carefully vetted business visas will be visiting anytime soon.

Damn, so close yet so far. Sorry for my ignorance there.

Reply 14 of 89, by pixelatedscraps

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vetz wrote on 2021-03-18, 09:52:

You'll be able to play Half-Life with a PII 266 and a Voodoo Graphics (which is better than what I used back in 98), just won't be the best experience if you're used to/expecting to play in higher resolutions than 640x480 and 60+ framerates. Though, if you pop-in a Voodoo 2 or Voodoo 3 that will significantly help, but then again it won't be to 1997 period accurateness.

Good to know! And I do have a Voodoo 2 card for this build. Ideally I’d love to hit 30fps (period accurate 🤣, who’d ever heard of 60fps back then 😅) at 800x600 on a good 15/17’ Mag Innovision or Ilyama (I had both brands at different points of the late 90s)

My ultimate dual 440LX / Voodoo2 SLI build

Test bench: Asus P3B-F | 1.3Ghz Tualeron w/ Powerleap | Geforce 2 Ti500 | SB Live! 5.1 CT4760

Reply 15 of 89, by pixelatedscraps

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dionb wrote on 2021-03-18, 12:49:

Damn, so close yet so far. Sorry for my ignorance there.

Don’t be. Not many people know that here either, they just assume nobody is travelling because of Covid. I regularly - used to - work in China. 2019 I spent probably 3 solid months there of the year but nobody is allowed to really go in or out of there without strict vetting these days.

Last edited by Stiletto on 2021-03-22, 04:19. Edited 1 time in total.

My ultimate dual 440LX / Voodoo2 SLI build

Test bench: Asus P3B-F | 1.3Ghz Tualeron w/ Powerleap | Geforce 2 Ti500 | SB Live! 5.1 CT4760

Reply 16 of 89, by flupke11

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Last time I was in the golden arcade ( April 2019), I was specifically looking for dual S370 boards, but prices were close to Ebay prices (~2500 HKD). Stock space is excruciatingly expensive, so I suppose that does not improve the prices. Hopefully, you're lucky in finding the board you need.

Reply 17 of 89, by Anonymous Coward

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gerry wrote on 2021-03-18, 11:08:

I still like that period though, the pentium 1 / early pentium 2 period. It was exciting at the time!

I was never really that impressed with the first batch of PIIs. I always thought of them as cut down PPros that used really gimmicky cartridge slots. Though, one thing I like about them is that they're really heavy and robust, and they stay firmly seated in their slots unlike the later ones.

"Will the highways on the internets become more few?" -Gee Dubya
V'Ger XT|Upgraded AT|Ultimate 386|Super VL/EISA 486|SMP VL/EISA Pentium

Reply 18 of 89, by pixelatedscraps

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I remember the excitement at this newfangled slot mechanism. A cartridge! It was almost like having a SNES again 😉

Has anyone had much experience with dual Slot 1 builds? Are there any issues with drivers or gaming performance under Windows 98, specifically with the LX chipset and the initial Klamath / early Deschutes?

My ultimate dual 440LX / Voodoo2 SLI build

Test bench: Asus P3B-F | 1.3Ghz Tualeron w/ Powerleap | Geforce 2 Ti500 | SB Live! 5.1 CT4760

Reply 19 of 89, by dionb

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pixelatedscraps wrote on 2021-03-18, 16:53:

I remember the excitement at this newfangled slot mechanism. A cartridge! It was almost like having a SNES again 😉

Has anyone had much experience with dual Slot 1 builds? Are there any issues with drivers or gaming performance under Windows 98, specifically with the LX chipset and the initial Klamath / early Deschutes?

Well, the biggest issue under Windows 98 is that it doesn't support SMP, so your second CPU is useless. Apart from that, no extra issues with drivers because they don't even see the second CPU.

If you want a dual configuration for more than just looking good, you need an SMP-aware OS. If you want it period-correct, that means Windows NT4.0, or more exotic options such as OS/2 Warp 4 modified for SMP, BeOS, early Linux versions or late proprietary Unixen (including Solaris x86) - but for gaming NT4 is probably your best bet, and that's not good. It's rock-solid, but multimedia support is primitive.

Stretching the envelope a bit, a dual P2 could run Win2k or WinXP (do NOT install all Service Packs though, as that makes RAM and CPU utilization shoot through the roof), which would allow gaming. Unfortunately, no period-correct games are themselves SMP capable (and the first that was, Q3A, would be impossibly slow on a system like this), so at best, you get the advantages of system processes not competing with game processes while playing.