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A "broad spectrum" 90s build?

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First post, by 2mg

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Sup,

would it be possible to build a PC that would cover things from say ~1992 (think circa Doom 1) to ~1999 (think circa Unreal Tournament/Diablo 2)?

I saw those Phil's X-in-1 computers, and read a bit around Vogons, the best thing appears to be the (Super)Socket7 K6-2/K6-3 or Pentium MMX.

Since I'm not looking for a perfect "it can run WC1/WC2/Wing Commander properly AND UT@60fps" unicorn, is the above the only combo that's worth it?
What about PIII underclocked and with disabled caches, just for an example?

Also, I need some schooling, does ISA,VLB,PCI, AGP matter here - would DOS see an AGP GPU? Can for example Carmageddon, Tomb Raider use Voodoo2 or Voodoo3 natively? Is it possible to have both a Glide GPU(+VGA if necessary) and an DX/OGL GPU?

Also, the prices for these Socket 7 MBOs and K6 CPUs seem way overpriced, or is it just my perception? Are there any "stand-in" cheaper alternatives?

Any info is appreciated!

Reply 2 of 88, by BitWrangler

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Well the Asus ought to be the nice one and the PC Chips ought to be the horrible one, but 80% of my PC Chips boards are working and 80% of my Asus boards are playing dead, so make of that what you will.

2017: Basement full of ancient PC stuff, starting to go through it. 2021: Still starting, heh, many setbacks. So what's this BitWrangler guy's deal ??? >>> Taming the pile, specs to target?

Reply 3 of 88, by cyclone3d

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DOS doesn't care what interface the video cards is on. The only thing you really need to worry about is VESA support and nice, fast speed in DOS.

Yes you can have separate video cards for Glide and DX/OGL. You will just have to switch the monitor cable or have a switchbox (usually poor quality video / ghosting) to do that though) or have a monitor with multiple inputs such as VGA for the 3DFX card and DVI for the other card.

The problem with that is that there aren't a ton of LCD monitors out there that do proper scaling for lower resolutions.

You really can go up to a Socket 478 Pentium 4 if you get an industrial board with fully working ISA.

Short of that, you can go Intel Pentium III (Slot 1 / Socket 370) and AMD Athlon XP (Socket A/462) and still have full DOS support. You can even get an AMD Athlon XP Mobile or AMD Geode if you want software multiplier support down to 3x.
Stay away from the nVidia chipsets as they don't support such things as DDMA or even ISA at all.

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Reply 4 of 88, by Horun

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2mg wrote on 2021-07-13, 00:00:
I can get my hands on some cheapish Socket 7 stuff, which one would be recommended: […]
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I can get my hands on some cheapish Socket 7 stuff, which one would be recommended:

EFA VIKING P5VPX97
BIOSTAR MB-8500TAC-A VER.2
ACORP 5TX29
ASUS TXP4 R2
PC-CHIPS M560 v 3.1A

Yes many PcChips boards run just great ! If the Asus is a rev 2.0 board it would be Good, if rev 1 then not so much.....just my opinion
Have not looked at the other boards you mentioned yet. If you could find a FIC VA-503+ for reasonable it would be a better choice imho

Hate posting a reply and have to edit it because it made no sense 😁 First computer was an IBM 3270 workstation with CGA monitor. 🤣 Second computer a 286 12Mhz with real IDE drive ! After that came 386, 486, Pentium, P.Pro and everything after....

Reply 5 of 88, by Caluser2000

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2mg wrote on 2021-07-13, 00:00:
I can get my hands on some cheapish Socket 7 stuff, which one would be recommended: […]
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I can get my hands on some cheapish Socket 7 stuff, which one would be recommended:

EFA VIKING P5VPX97
BIOSTAR MB-8500TAC-A VER.2
ACORP 5TX29
ASUS TXP4 R2
PC-CHIPS M560 v 3.1A

Pick a couple just in case..😉

There's a glitch in the matrix.
A founding member of the 286 appreciation society.
Apparently 32-bit is dead and nobody likes P4s.
Of course, as always, I'm open to correction...😉

Reply 6 of 88, by chinny22

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Super Socket 7 is highly regarded as you have more control over downclocking but if none of your games are speed sensitive other cheaper hardware alternative become available.
https://www.vogonswiki.com/index.php/List_of_ … sensitive_games

As your wanting to play dos games you really want something with a ISA slot.
For Win9x You really want an AGP slot which will give you more options for decent Video cards for Unreal and the like.

The P3 and AMD systems cyclone3d recommended typically come with AGP and ISA, and are good options indeed.
but If unreal is your most demanding game a SS& PC will be just fine. A voodoo 3 while not cheap is the perfect match giving good dos and Windows performance, PCI based, and has glide for the games that support it (Tomb Raider, Carmageddon)

Reply 7 of 88, by dionb

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2mg wrote on 2021-07-13, 00:00:

I can get my hands on some cheapish Socket 7 stuff, which one would be recommended:

EFA VIKING P5VPX97

Via VPX: slow chipset with bad early SDRAM implementation. Also very obscure brand.

BIOSTAR MB-8500TAC-A VER.2

Biostar made some of the most solid boards out there, but this is one of the oldest in your lineup with i430FX chipset and asynch cache.

ACORP 5TX29

Cheap and cheerful i430TX board. Functionally identical to the TXP4, up to and including unofficial K6plus BIOS, but I'd go for the Asus instead.

ASUS TXP4 R2

One of the classic i430TX boards. Well-supported (still documented on their site) and solid build quality.

PC-CHIPS M560 v 3.1A

The wildcard here. PC Chips is generally misleading and frequently crap - but this is one of the best boards they made, with the ALi Aladdin IV(+) chipset. It actually outperforms Intel's i430TX clock-for-clock and officially supports 83MHz FSB. Then again, you're still left with a crappy-feeling PC Chips board, just a very fast one. I'd choose this or the Asus.

Reply 8 of 88, by jheronimus

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2mg wrote on 2021-07-12, 19:57:

would it be possible to build a PC that would cover things from say ~1992 (think circa Doom 1) to ~1999 (think circa Unreal Tournament/Diablo 2)?

I'd say there aren't a lot of speed sensitive games in the time range you've specified. And honestly, I think speed sensitivity is grossly overrated.

It's one thing to build a 386 machine because you want a 386 machine and are interested in a very specific period in computing, but otherwise why worry about running Wing Commander if there's always the Windows port (Kilrathi Saga edition) that doesn't need 386? Sure, that port won't work with a real MT-32, but it's not like WC is a great example of MT-32 music (that's just my opinion, of course). Point is, with popular games there usually are some ways to fix compatibility issues.

On the other hand, even the fastest Super Socket 7 will be roughly comparable to a mid-high Pentium II (K6-2/3 had worse FPU performance). You will be able to play, say Unreal Gold, but Deus Ex won't be enjoyable.

In the end I'd go with a 440BX build with Pentium 3 and ISA slots — stable, fast, versatile, just works. At 700-1000 MHz you'll have enough performance for running any DOS game as well as most Win9x games. With ISA slots you'll be able to experiment with sound cards — and that's a lot more important to DOS experience.

(of course there are VIA chipsets that do the same thing, I just don't have any experience with them)

Tl;dr: I wouldn't obsess with compatibility — more often than not those issues can be fixed. Not having enough CPU power can't.

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Reply 11 of 88, by Socket3

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Just for experiment's sake I built 4 "all in one" retro PCs a while ago. I'll post the configuration and performance/stability results below:

First PC - budget slow-down computer:
- AMD K6-II 400 ACZ running at 6x66MHz (set multiplier to 2x, the K6-2 interprets it as 6x)
- Lucky Star VIA VP3 AT motherboard
- Voodoo 3 3000 PCI
- Guillemot Maxi Gamer 64

Speed can be controlled in two ways: via a hardware switch fitted to the back of the case - it changes the multipler from 2x(6x) to 2.5x resulting in 166MHz clock speed witch requires rebooting or using SetMuL. It can go down to 386DX-33 levels. Newer games are challenging. Unreal Tournament for example will run and is playable but only offers a pleasant experinece at 640x480 / 16bit colours. Even then, it's not 60FPS. Quake 3 is again, quite playable, but at lower settings. D3D games like Homeworld will run very well until you get lots of ships and projectiles on screen - then it becomes a slideshow regardless of what graphics settings you use. All in all not bad for a cheap socket 7 PC.

Second PC - Super 7
- K6-III+/500ANZ
- Aopen AX59 PRO (VIA MVP3)
- Voodoo 3 3000 AGP
- Ensoniq Audio PCI (used to have a AWE64 value in it but I noticed newer games perform noticeably better with the ES1371)

Slowing down is performed exclusively with SetMul, and just like the machine above it can emulate a 40MHz 386DX. Windows games like Unreal and Quake III perform noticeably better, mainly due to 100MHz fsb and 256kb of on-die L2 cache. Using a newer PCI sound card seems to have eliminated some of the occasional stutter I experienced in some windows games, at the expense of real OPL3 (who needs it on this PC anyway, the soft wavetable synth is pretty decent). It's still not a speed daemon, but games like red alert 2 are noticeably smoother on the K6-3/MVP3 platform then on a regular K6-2 and a slower 66MHz socket 7 board. Unreal Tournament runs great at 800x600, same for Quake III. Homeworld however is still choppy with lots of on screen action.

Third PC - VIA C3
- Via C3 Ezra 933MHz
- Shuttle VIA Apollo PRO 133 mATX (can't remember exact model name)
- Voodoo 3 2000 AGP
- Aztec Waverider 32

Good performance in windows games but not on par with a Pentium III of the same speed. Later 2D and RTS games like Red Alert 2 run exceptionally well, but unreal and quake III perform about the same - if not a bit slower then the K6-III. This is due to the C3's slow floating point unit - simply switching to a 933MHz pentium III on the same exact configuration doubles the framerate in any openGL or direct3D game. It can be slowed down using setmul to about the level of a 386-33, and even overclocked a little bit (seems to be stable enough at 7.5x - 1000MHz). I'd say subjectively the performance is very close to the K6-III PC, but at one quarter the price (K6-2+/K6-III prices seem to have exploded lately).

Fourth PC - the experiment
- AMD Geode NX 1750 (socket A) 10.5x133 = 1400MHz
- Abit AN7 (nforce 2)
- Geforce FX5900 (MSI)
- Voodoo 2 12MB (powercolor evilking 2)
- Creative Sound Blaster Live!

Setmul lets you play with the multiplier as well as cache. Lowest multiplier setting is 4x, witch gives a speed of 533MHz. Further downclocking can be achieved via BIOS. In fact the Abit AN7 provides FSB, Multiplier and voltage control via BIOS, as well as cache control. Lowest I could get the Geode is 4x100. Disabling both cache levels yields performance equal to a 50MHZ 486 - according to speedsys at least. This machine does not have an ISA slot, and none of the socket A boards with ISA I own will post with this CPU apart from an Abit KT7, but for some reason setmul freezes on this combination of CPU and motherboard, and the KT7 has doesn't support multipier control via bios. I don't have to describe windows performance on this thing - everything runs smooth even at 1600x1200. As an added bonus, the Geode is a great overclocker. It can go up to 2000MHz with minimal voltage bumps. At 533MHz tough, even with cache enabled, games that would terminate with "Runtime 200" seem to work fine (jazz jackrabbit for example). So far this build covers the widest range of games, being able to run 1991 to 2003 dos and windows games with minimal fuss. The only downside is the lack of an ISA slot and as such real opl3. The only improvement would be finding a socket A mainboard with DDR and an ISA slot - no easy feat.

Last edited by Socket3 on 2021-07-14, 09:41. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 12 of 88, by Joseph_Joestar

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Socket3 wrote on 2021-07-13, 20:52:

- Ensoniq Audio PCI

While General MIDI is tolerable (if somewhat bland) on that card, its FM synth emulation is atrocious.

Many games made from '92 onward support General MIDI for music, but those that don't (e.g. Duke Nukem 2 and Jill of the Jungle) will sound absolutely terrible.

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PC#3: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
PC#4: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 13 of 88, by mothergoose729

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gdjacobs wrote on 2021-07-13, 17:00:

For something different, you can pair your BX board with a VIA C3 Ezra.

Better yet, the C3 Nehemiah! It's as fast a P3 600 EB if you want or as slow as a 386SX if you need that (or slower). There is a lot to do about the K6-3, but by far the best hybrid CPU is the Via C3.

Reply 14 of 88, by darry

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My system is/was this Jack of several trades, master of some (hopefully) (it has evolved a bit and now has an Orpheus instead of the Audiotrix 3D/XG , a Sound Blaster Live!, an SSD instead of the HDD, a DreamBlaster X2, an OSSC, a 70Hz capable HDMI monitor with a 4:3 mode and a few other tweaks/upgrades) . So far, with L1 and L2 caches disabled, even speed sensitive games like Gateway run fine, as does Space Quest III, for example . I have not yet needed to resort to slowdown utilities .

This is as broad a 90s capable setup (with some late 80s and early 2000s capabilities) as I was able to set up . Admittedly, some parts are expensive and/or not that easy to source, but you don't need to go overboard on extras .

IMHO, they key is finding a motherboard with as many ISA slots as you need for ISA sound cards (one may be enough for you) and with a fast enough CPU for the late 90s AND the ability to be throttled by disabling caches and possibly changing multipliers. If Super Socket 7 is too expensive/rare , finding an industrial socket 370board with working ISA DMA (not a given) may be an easier/cheaper option .

To get something fast and with ISA slots, something like an Asus P2B or P3B variant with an ISA slot or more (not all of them have one), a Coppermine CPU capable slotket and an adapted Tualatin Celeron CPU from and certain Ebay seller in Korea ( search for korea tualatin) would likely be a good starting point .

Just my two cents worth of an opinion .

Reply 15 of 88, by 2mg

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People, thanks A LOT for the input, all of you!

I do have A LOT of questions now:

- Since I need a Voodoo card for Glide, do I need a GPU for DX/GL, aka does Voodoo do these proper and fast?
- For those recommending PIII builds, why ISA? Wasn't ISA replaced by PCI and AGP by then?
- Why recommend ISA anyway, I'm very unsure about this part, is it the DOS drivers aspect? If it's because of soundcards, aren't there good PCI options?
- Are PIII/Athlons "slowdown" friendly (cache, downclock)?
- Is setmul exclusive to K6 CPUs?
- Aren't prices for K6/SS7 a bit too high? Would it be any cheaper to do a PIII build?

In the spirit of it being a 90s PC, I'd add one specific requirement if possible: no tech dated 2000 and onward (except PSU).
So an early Katmai/Coppermine 700mhz PIII is fine, a Tualatin 1Ghz PIII not so much.
This limits GPUs to Voodoo3 and GeForce 256 max AFAIK.
Again, if possible.

Reply 16 of 88, by Oetker

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- Since I need a Voodoo card for Glide, do I need a GPU for DX/GL, aka does Voodoo do these proper and fast?

Up to a certain level of DX (6/7). As long as you're fine with 16-bit color a Voodoo 3 will run ~2000 games just fine in OpenGL/D3D mode. I.e. Quake 3 engine games will run fine. You mention a Geforce 256, that has hardware T&L, which is, afaik, the first real cutoff requirement games had for making older video cards unusable (software hacks notwithstanding).

- For those recommending PIII builds, why ISA? Wasn't ISA replaced by PCI and AGP by then?
- Why recommend ISA anyway, I'm very unsure about this part, is it the DOS drivers aspect? If it's because of soundcards, aren't there good PCI options?

DOS games, when run in pure DOS (which, in my experience, works better than running them in a Windows DOS prompt), want direct hardware access to a sound card. With an ISA card, this just works, with a PCI card you're dependent on various tools and/or chipset support. It can be gotten to work but it's more of a pain. PCI cards such as the Sound Blaster Live are great for Win98 games, and those can benefit from hardware acceleration, EAX support, etc.

I'm not well versed in slowdown options, a P3 can be slowed down by Throttle to quite slow speeds, however I believe the Athlon XP and K6 CPUs have more granular speed settings.

Your year 2000 requirement, whatever floats your boat, you might not be able to crank up some games to max resolution. If you want a Coppermine CPU + ISA (i.e. 440BX chipset) it might be cheapest to get a s370 Coppermine CPU and a slotket, some Slot 1 Coppermine CPUs are quite expensive.

Personally I run a 440BX system with an Aztech ISA sound card, modded 1.4GHz Tualatin running at 1GHz (100MHz FSB) and nothing else. At first I was running a Voodoo 3 for Win98 games, but the Win98 games I'm interested in can be gotten to run on modern systems, so I switched to using the on-board Ati graphics, which is fine for DOS. Personally for DOS games I care about using specific hardware (genuine OPL3, a SC-55) while for Win98 games I don't care if Unreal is running using Glide or on Win10/D3D10.

Reply 17 of 88, by dormcat

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As a current owner of Asus TXP4 + P-MMX 233 + 64MB RAM (max cacheable size of 430TX chipset) + S3 Savage4 Pro PCI 16MB (Gainward CARDEXpert SG4) + SB Pro 2 (CT1600) for DOS/Windows 3.1 only, I wouldn't recommend playing late 90's games on it. My very first Windows 98 machine bought in 1999 was P2-400 (on 440BX) + 64MB RAM (later upgraded to 128MB) + RIVA TNT 16MB (STB Velocity 4400) + SB Live!, and the experience back then was just "acceptable," not exactly "enjoyable."

1990's was an era with quantum leaps in computer tech every few months. A machine running Unreal Tournament / Quake III Arena (1999) with ease might have problems running Wolfenstein 3D / Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992) and vice versa. If you are not too tight on budget or space, I'd suggest "splitting" your requirements into two machines. Correct me if I were wrong, but IIRC P2/440BX and later builds cannot be slowed down by disabling cache in BIOS, meaning early DOS games sensitive to speed must be slowed down via other means (e.g. Mo'Slo). I don't have any Athlon/XP builds now so I'm not sure if they can be slowed down with ease.

Personally, I've got a TXP4 listed above that can be slow down to 386 level (thanks, Phil!) for games from the original Railroad Tycoon (1990) to Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness (1995), plus a Gigabyte GA-6VXC7-4X-P (Socket 370, VIA Apollo Pro 133A) + P3-800 + 384MB RAM + Radeon 9000 Pro 128MB + SB Live! (came from my retired P2-400) for 3D-accelerated late DOS games and DirectX Windows games, from GLQuake (1996) to NFS: High Stakes (1999). For the most demanding DX7 games I've got another Sempron 3100+ build with Radeon 9600 Pro; DX9 games are on another WinXP build.

IMHO the one for older titles could be:
(Super) Socket 7 MB + P-MMX or K6 CPU
64 MB RAM (max cacheable for 430FX/VX/TX and more than enough for most non-3D DOS games)
S3 Trio/ViRGE/Savage video card for maximum compatibility
SB-compatible ISA sound card

The one for late DOS or Win98SE / DirectX games:
P3/4 or Athlon/XP/64 with corresponding Socket 370/478/462/754/939 MB
512MB RAM (max RAM for "default" Win98SE without modding)
Voodoo 3/4 (if you're willing to spend time and money), GeForce 3/4 Ti, or Radeon 8x00/9x00 series video cards
EAX or A3D compatible sound card

If, however, you insist on building just one machine, then go for Super Socket 7 + latest K6-III+ (500/550MHz) + Voodoo 3/4, but those combinations are highly sought after by vintage gamers and might be more expensive than the two systems above combined, not to mention the MB might limit your choice of video cards (most SS7 MB uses early version of 3.3V AGP).

Reply 19 of 88, by chinny22

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- Since I need a Voodoo card for Glide, do I need a GPU for DX/GL, aka does Voodoo do these proper and fast?
For the games you specified and/or SS7 based build a Voodoo 3 should be fine.
A V3 may start been a bottleneck for a P3 in later D3D games, In which case you can pair Voodoo 2 for Glide with a GeForce or Radeon for better D3D performance.
If it was me I wouldn't worry about 3DFX card just yet, You can still find old GeForce cards for a fair price and just about every game supports D3D. Anything with 3dFX is expensive and you may find you don't actually need it. or at least may take a while to find for a good price.

- For those recommending PIII builds, why ISA? Wasn't ISA replaced by PCI and AGP by then?
ISA is only desirable for dos sound cards, everything else can be PCI/AGP.

- Why recommend ISA anyway, I'm very unsure about this part, is it the DOS drivers aspect? If it's because of soundcards, aren't there good PCI options?
PCI cards are better for Windows for sure but dos the few cards that do have dos support often have compatibility issues as well.

- Are PIII/Athlons "slowdown" friendly (cache, downclock)?
Both can be slowed down but P3's are less friendly due to their locked multiple amongst other things. Athlons are much more flexible if this is important.

- Aren't prices for K6/SS7 a bit too high? Would it be any cheaper to do a PIII build?
IMHO yes, but then Slot 1 prices have doubled since I got into this and even S478 prices are creeping up. That's supply and demand for you!

In the spirit of it being a 90s PC, I'd add one specific requirement if possible: no tech dated 2000 and onward (except PSU).
So an early Katmai/Coppermine 700mhz PIII is fine, a Tualatin 1Ghz PIII not so much.
This limits GPUs to Voodoo3 and GeForce 256 max AFAIK.
Again, if possible.

My Katmai 600, GF2MX + V2 SLI plays 99% of my 9x games just fine. NFS Porsche is a example of a game that's better on the machine below)
My Coppermine 1Ghz, GF4ti plays 100% of my 9x games just fine. (but lacks glide support)
Any game that starts to struggles on the 1Ghz is crossing over the XP era anyway, eg GTA3

Personably I don't do period builds, instead selecting hardware around the CPU so in the 1GH'z case my bottleneck is the CPU and not the graphics card.
But plenty of other people do so if you want to limit yourself to a year that's fine, nothing saying you can't upgrade later if you wanted.