VOGONS


First post, by Snookeroo

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Yesterday I finally setup my new Windows 98 gaming rig, and I'm ecstatic.

(See pics attached!)

I am still waiting on the speakers to arrive, and I plan to build a shelving unit for the big box games to live in. I chose the desk specifically for its retro look, and I am very pleased with the overall impression.

I have been building my own gaming PCs since I was a teenager, but I am completely new to the retro PC scene. I started watching LGR a few months ago during covid lockdown and decided to build a retro rig since it was financially feasible, unlike modern ones. I started off with a minimal knowledge base, and have no mates who are into retro stuff, so I was completely on my own. With the help of some venerable Vogons I overcame many set backs, and I must say I am very proud of the finished product.

Now that all the warm and fluffies are out of the way, let's get to the heart of my post!

What part of my build is holding back performance?

The first thing I did to test the build was boot up Warcraft 3 and play for a few solid hours. I found that while playing on 1024x768x32 resolution the framerate was pretty much unplayable. I bumped it down to 1024x768x16 and that made it bearable enough to still enjoy the game, but it's far from ideal. I would like to upgrade my build so the game runs buttery smooth, and so that other games like Deus Ex and Morrowind do as well.

Specs
Motherboard: Tekram APBx-An 440BX
Graphics: TNT2 M64/Vanta AGP 32mb
Sound: Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 Digital (model SB0220)
RAM: 640mb PC100
CPU: Pentium III 550MHz
Storage: 40gb WD Caviar
Power: brand new Corsair RM550X (it was the smallest they had!)

It looks like vogonsdrivers.com is down at the moment? Anyway, this is the video driver I used. It's the 7.76win9x one for TNT2 Vanta if I remember correctly.
http://vogonsdrivers.com/getfile.php?fileid=274&menustate=0

This graphics card is just a random one I salvaged from a machine for parts. I know that it's the lowest end one in the TNT2 range, and assume that it is the heart of my performance problem? I am considering upgrading to an ATI Radeon 9200. I hear that they're cheap, abundant, and great for Windows 98 machines. Does this sound like a wise choice? Any help and advice would be greatly appreciated!

One last thing! In videos such as this one, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxISYvdYGzU&t … hilsComputerLab, I always see people talking about installing "chipset drivers". Is this something I need to do? All I recall is installing Windows 98, and then the gpu and sound card drivers. After this things seemed to work fine. Have I missed something crucial here?

Sorry for the super long post. Thanks all.

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Reply 1 of 46, by PC-Engineer

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I like the System - especially the beige desktop case style. How managed the internal airflow to keep the components cool?

Maybe some points by individual priority:
- reduce the RAM to 512MB
- switch the maybe sufficcient (for low resolutions), but cheapo M64 against another, more valuable card: 3DFx (Banshee, or V3), nVidia TNT or TNT2, Matrox G400

Epox 7KXA Slot A / Athlon 950MHz / Voodoo 5 5500 / PowerVR / 512 MB / AWE32 / SCSI - Windows 98SE

Reply 2 of 46, by Snookeroo

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PC-Engineer wrote on 2021-08-16, 13:10:
I like the System - especially the beige desktop case style. How managed the internal airflow to keep the components cool? […]
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I like the System - especially the beige desktop case style. How managed the internal airflow to keep the components cool?

Maybe some points by individual priority:
- reduce the RAM to 512MB
- switch the maybe sufficcient (for low resolutions), but cheapo M64 against another, more valuable card: 3DFx (Banshee, or V3), nVidia TNT or TNT2, Matrox G400

Thanks for the kind words and advice! I managed the cables as well as I could, but you know how it is with these retro builds. I also installed a 60mm Noctua exhaust fan to try and dispel some heat.

Why would reducing the RAM help? Does Windows 98 not deal well with 640MB? I had two 256MB sticks and one 128, so I just decided to put all three in since there are 3 slots.

After watching this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rc4vivgEriU&a … hilsComputerLab
I am thinking that this card would be a good choice. What do you think?
https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/GIGABYTE-GV-N5525 … GP/393447935758

Cheers!

Reply 3 of 46, by schlomoe99

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Windows 98SE really can't handle more than 512MB, and even patched can't use it efficiently:

https://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=1038886
https://forums.anandtech.com/threads/win98-me … ram-max.403589/
>512MB with Windows 98...

More isn't always better!

Reply 4 of 46, by PC-Engineer

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Win9x supports official 512MB only and you need a workarround to run it with more MB stable. And all Games of this era running well with 256MB. So 512MB are enough and prevent trouble.

The M64 is very compatible and sufficient for pre 1999 gaming at low resolution (640x480) and lower color depth (16bit). For higher resolutions and higher color depth you need more memory bandwidth. The vanilla TNT and the TNT2 for example , outperformes the M64 in any task. I would stay with more time correct hardware like described above. The newer Graphics cards need newer driver with potential more CPU overhaed.

Epox 7KXA Slot A / Athlon 950MHz / Voodoo 5 5500 / PowerVR / 512 MB / AWE32 / SCSI - Windows 98SE

Reply 5 of 46, by Gmlb256

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Snookeroo wrote on 2021-08-16, 13:15:
After watching this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rc4vivgEriU&a … hilsComputerLab I am thinking that this card would be […]
Show full quote

After watching this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rc4vivgEriU&a … hilsComputerLab
I am thinking that this card would be a good choice. What do you think?
https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/GIGABYTE-GV-N5525 … GP/393447935758

Cheers!

The nVidia GeForce FX is terrible for DX9 stuff, but it will be useful on your system since it is the last nVidia card to support the palettized textures and could act as an decent alternative to older GeForce cards. As said before newer cards requires later drivers and these have more CPU overhead over the older ones.

The TNT series that are not M64 nor Vanta uses 128-bit memory interface instead. However the entire TNT series lacks support for palettized textures unlike the early GeForce cards.

Reply 9 of 46, by Gmlb256

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Warlord wrote on 2021-08-16, 15:35:

get a P3 cpu that has a full speed L2 cache. Since yours only runs at half speed would help. get a better graphics card like a geforce 2, 256, 3, 4 theyre all better than a tnt.

Agree upon this. If your motherboard has support for Coppermine-based CPUs it's a no-brainer to get these. Also the GeForce cards supports hardware T&L and this also greatly helps with that CPU you are currently using.

Reply 10 of 46, by RandomStranger

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I'd upgrade the TNT2 M64 to a full TNT2 or TNT2 pro. The M64 is really bandwidth starved. Maybe an MX200 would be a good fit for your Pentium. It's cheap and has hardware T&L.
If I'd need more performance, I'd just use a faster PC.

sreq.png retrogamer-s.png

Reply 11 of 46, by Warlord

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Snookeroo wrote on 2021-08-16, 12:27:

I always see people talking about installing "chipset drivers". Is this something I need to do?

Snookeroo wrote on 2021-08-16, 12:27:

I have been building my own gaming PCs since I was a teenager, but I am completely new to the retro PC scene.

The only time a person ever not needed to install chipset drivers is when the hardware was so old that the version of windows they were installing had them bundled already. Thats the rule of thumb. If you bought a motherboard in 2021 with a newer chipset than windows 10 knew about you would need to install chipset drivers. It's always been like this as long as I can remember and it hasn't changed. Except these days the drivers are usually for newer technologies on the boards that windows doesn't know about.

With intel hardware it's usually been the INFINST which isn't actually a driver its a configuration file. VIA, AMD, Nvidia other chipsets in the past have had not only configfiles in their driver install but some actual driver files.

So unless your chipset is sooo old that windows 98 knows exactly what to do with it like a 430FX chipset or something like that than of course windows doesn't know what to do with it by default. If its intel 440bx it will probably run like that but you wont have full performance.

Reply 12 of 46, by Snookeroo

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Ydee wrote on 2021-08-16, 14:15:

Oh don't worry, I have a kick-ass Star Trek Next Generation one coming in the mail 😉

Reply 13 of 46, by Snookeroo

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Hey guys,

Thanks for all the awesome suggestions. I have read them all and taken down a list of actions/upgrades. I have to login for work now, but I will make a post later tonight with my decisions and further questions.

Cheers!

Reply 15 of 46, by waterbeesje

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I agree with Pentiumspeed here. The MX440 is honestly a bit too new, but performance is about equal to the GeForce 2 non-mx. You can still use lower driver numbers so the CPU overhead would be ok there.

You could check for the Coppermine support as stated, maybe have to update the bios for that, and don't be afraid to use a slotket if that turns out cheaper than a Slot 1 Coppermine.

If your motherboard can handle Coppermine thru BIOS, see if the board supports overclocking. Get a 133MHz FSB Pentium 3, some 133MHz ram and put it in.

Try to figure out if your board supports the 1/4 PCI divider and if so set the FSB skyrocket high and watch it fly (my BX board takes 150MHz FSB no problem). If not, keep the FSB lower to 112 or 124 max so PCI remains stable.
You'll certainly overclocking the AGP bus, but that's no problem for almost any Nvidia graphics card.

Last edited by Stiletto on 2021-08-17, 21:23. Edited 1 time in total.

Stuck at 10MHz...

Reply 16 of 46, by chinny22

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I was also going to say while the TNT cards are period correct so was gaming at 800x600
For gaming at higher resolutions you'll want something with a bit more grunt. This does seem to be your main bottleneck so first thing I'd upgrade.

For a P3 550 I'd think something like a GeForce 2 MX is a good match. I upgraded my P2 400 with one in 2001 so somewhat period correct if that matters?
MX440 is also a good choice if period correct isn't a consideration.
Radeon 9200 isn't a bad choice but does lack some backwards compatibility (palettized textures and fog table)

Chipset drivers for BX motherboard are easy, just grab 3.20.1008.zip of Phils page
https://www.philscomputerlab.com/intel-chipset-drivers.html

Other upgrade options although not strictly necessary
The 640MB of Ram may be slightly hurting performance but I doubt by anything noticeable. It may cause compatibility issues though and it's very true Win98 doesn't more then 512MB max
CPU upgrade is never a bad thing but doesn't sound like you 550 is the cause of any speed issues. Faster one will speed up load times if your looking for an excuse.
HDD You can probably find a faster IDE or SATA drive or go crazy and get a SSD but again I doubt it makes much difference, I also just use whatever I have already.

Reply 17 of 46, by Snookeroo

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Wow, I am overwhelmed by all the helpful advice and support! Huge thanks to all for taking the time.

I have read everybody's points multiple times and done some of my own research. Here is what I'm going to do for now.

RAM
This one's easy. I didn't know about the 512MB preference on Win98SE. I'll remove the extra 128MB stick and just run 512MB.

Graphics card upgrade
Obviously my big bottleneck is the M64. Replacement options I have considered include:
ATI Radeon 9200 - Cheap and highly available, but lacks good features like hardware T&L, paletted textures and fog table.
Geforce FX 5500 - Perhaps not a great match for my CPU. Feels like it would be better suited to an XP system with a 1GHz+ CPU. Also, came out in 2004, so drivers might be a bit heavy.
Geforce 2 MX 400 - This seems like the best fit. Many of you have recommended it, plus Phil's video speaks quite highly of it. It's super cheap, available and seems more period accurate to my CPU.

CPU upgrades
For now I will hold off on upgrading the CPU. I just got the system up and running and am keen to sink some game time into it. If I were to look into CPU upgrades that would mean sourcing new RAM and maybe even a motherboard too, which means pulling the whole build apart. If this were more of a bottleneck to me I'd be right onto it, but for now I'm going to focus on the GPU upgrade and see where that takes me.

Chipset drivers
I'm going to learn how to deduce which chipset drivers (if any) are currently installed on the machine. Maybe Win98 installs some basic ones by default? I will do some research and probably end up installing the one from Phil's page that chinny22 recommended.

Thanks again for all the amazing knowledge! I know I can always count on my venerable Vogons for assistance. I'm going to go buy this now:
https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/174739281491

Tataa!

Reply 18 of 46, by PARKE

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Snookeroo wrote on 2021-08-17, 11:34:

Thanks again for all the amazing knowledge! I know I can always count on my venerable Vogons for assistance. I'm going to go buy this now:
https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/174739281491

I may well be mistaken but the two caps next to the fan connector do not look very healthy imo.

Do you happen to have a high resolution photo of your motherboard ? I cannot find any info for it on the web. Thanks in advance.

Reply 19 of 46, by Gmlb256

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PARKE wrote on 2021-08-17, 13:56:

I may well be mistaken but the two caps next to the fan connector do not look very healthy imo.

Indeed. The card is only visible from top view, but I can see that these two capacitors are leaking and bulged up which is a red flag.