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Building a nostalgia rig on a budget

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First post, by WarhammerDarkOmen

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Hi all

I've started building a rig for pure nostalgia of the old games i used to play on Windows 9x and DOS. I've been trying to do this with laptops (as they are often cheaper than desktops where i am and are small footprint on desks) but they have been terrible to work with especially with MS-DOS games and audio so... Time for a proper desktop but prices right now are stupid so I've been searching eBay endlessly for deals... Here's what I have with costs so far:

1, Dell UltraSharp 2007FPb 20 inch 4:3 LCD screen for £27 (on offer due to eBay promotion) I've heard they are amazing quality screens and are 4:3 which is what I'm aiming for. I did want to get a CRT but the prices are ridiculous but from what I'm hearing these hold up very well, anyone got experience with these?

2, i managed to snag a bundle for cheap, only £25! which consists of:

Aopen AK77-400GN Motherboard
AMD Athlon XP 2400+ (2GHz)
2x 256MB DDR400 RAM
Sparkle TNT2 M64 Video card
300w PSU
Sony FDD
Pioneer DVD-RW
FDD cable and two IDE cables

3, a PCI mounted IDE to CF card converter for £5 as I have a Sandisk CF card from my previous attempts with laptops and i hate the noise of old HDD's spinning

So all in all so far I've got a machine and screen minus a case and a Sound Blaster Live! for under £60 so I think I'm doing pretty well? Does anyone have the model name for the Sound Blaster Live! which has the best MS-DOS support? Or is there a cheaper model i could use?

Games I aim to run are Warhammer Dark Omen, Recoil, Theme Hospital, Tomb Raider I / II, F22 Lightning 3 and loads of other games from that era. I expect a GPU upgrade might be on the cards but it's ultimately a battle to find the right GPU which has the right performance for 'newer' games but will also run Warhammer Dark Omen properly as that game is a nightmare to get running with 3D and that is my favourite game of all time.

Any suggestions welcome.

Nostalgia rig: AMD Athlon 800Mhz | Gigabyte GA-7IXE4 | Geforce 2 MX400 AGP | Sound Blaster AWE64 | 256MB RAM | Windows 98 SE

Reply 1 of 24, by Shponglefan

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Sounds like you're off to a great start and for very little investment!

Athlon XP systems tend to make good Windows 98 machines, with plenty of speed for any Windows 9x or DOS games.

Regarding the LCD, I have that model LCD. I wouldn't describe it as amazing; it's okay. The issue with LCD monitors in general, is that all 4:3 monitors are going to be limited to 60Hz. Since standard VGA is 320x200 @ 70 Hz, this means that you're going to see frame-skipping in DOS titles. This is especially noticeable in games where scrolling happens (e.g. platformers, RTS, etc.). Ironically, I find that LCDs with low response times actually helps hide the frame-skipping by inducing motion blur instead.

The other issue with older LCDs is they are more likely to have defects including dim backlighting, dead pixels, etc. You may need to acquire a few LCDs to source a good quality one.

For sound cards, since your motherboard is PCI only, you are going to be more limited when it comes to DOS compatibility. Don't have experience with the SB Live! myself, but I have used both a Vortex 2 card (Diamond Monster MX300) and the ESS Solo-1 under Windows 98 and DOS. The latter is I believe considered to be one of the best PCI cards for DOS compatibility. And if you get one with a wavetable header, you can install a wavetable card for General MIDI support, which is nice to have for DOS games.

486 DX4-100 with 6 sound cards
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Reply 2 of 24, by WarhammerDarkOmen

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Thank you! Yes i have heard Athlon XP machines are a good base for Win9x. I had one way back in 2003 and it was my first ever custom build PC i built myself. It ironically had an Aopen AK series motherboard too and a Athlon XP 2600+ so not far off replicating the old machine

Thanks for the info, online it seems to be the highest rated for a 4:3 LCD but i was skeptical to be honest but for £27 shipped i'm happy to take a chance. Do these Dell's have low input lag? Hopefully mine comes through without any defects it is sold as fully tested and working so we shall see i guess.

Thanks for the suggestions. I think SB Live! is my best bet as i've used one before and they can be found extremely cheap (£6 or so!) but i know there are OEM models which lack SB 16 compatibility. Need to remember which model was the best one for Windows 98 SE / DOS.

I just went to my mums place as i recall in her attic she had some old neons, like... those neons I'm sure we all remember. Blue cathode tube ones. Absolute classics which i used to put in everything. Sure enough i had a look and i found them. God knows if they work these are literally from 2004 - 2006 but if they do they are going in this machine!

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This is the one last picture i have of my original machine. I want to kinda replicate it if possible. It was such an amazing PC it even had primitive water cooling at the time haha!

Untitlergrd.jpg

Nostalgia rig: AMD Athlon 800Mhz | Gigabyte GA-7IXE4 | Geforce 2 MX400 AGP | Sound Blaster AWE64 | 256MB RAM | Windows 98 SE

Reply 3 of 24, by dionb

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WarhammerDarkOmen wrote on 2023-11-29, 18:01:

[...]

Thanks for the suggestions. I think SB Live! is my best bet as i've used one before and they can be found extremely cheap (£6 or so!) but i know there are OEM models which lack SB 16 compatibility. Need to remember which model was the best one for Windows 98 SE / DOS.

When it comes to Win98/DOS builds, the thing to remember is that you can have multiple cards in the same system. Windows will happily let you choose which one you use, and in DOS PnP cards 'aren't there' if not initialized.

SBLive is far from great for DOS, although it will generally do something.

IMHO the most interesting PCI chips for DOS are:
ESS Solo-1 - "it just works", nothing special, just the usual ESS SBPro compatibility with ESFM, but it's the most trouble-free PCI card I've experienced in DOS. And if you get the Terratec Solo-I you have 50% chance of a (working) wavetable header, and if yours doesn't have one, you can just solder it in and yours now does 😉
Yamaha YMF-74x - real OPL3 from the people who designed it. Best PCI DOS sound bar none. Getting it to work on a chipset without SBLINK or DDMA is a challenge, requiring the same sort of TSR that SBLive does.
Trident 4DWave-NX - SB16 support and hardware wavetable with SF2 support for DOS. However it uses DDMA which Via dropped after the 686B, so at best you're stuck with a TSR. And no OPL either.

If you want it to 'just work' without nasty TSRs on a Via chipset without DDMA, the ESS Solo-1 really is the way to go. Again, it can live next to the SBLive without DOS being aware of the latter's presence.

Reply 4 of 24, by VivienM

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WarhammerDarkOmen wrote on 2023-11-29, 14:51:

I've started building a rig for pure nostalgia of the old games i used to play on Windows 9x and DOS. I've been trying to do this with laptops (as they are often cheaper than desktops where i am and are small footprint on desks) but they have been terrible to work with especially with MS-DOS games and audio so... Time for a proper desktop but prices right now are stupid so I've been searching eBay endlessly for deals... Here's what I have with costs so far:

1, Dell UltraSharp 2007FPb 20 inch 4:3 LCD screen for £27 (on offer due to eBay promotion) I've heard they are amazing quality screens and are 4:3 which is what I'm aiming for. I did want to get a CRT but the prices are ridiculous but from what I'm hearing these hold up very well, anyone got experience with these?

I have one of those, although it's been in a box since 2015 so who knows if it still works...

My comment on that for a retro system, at least if you want to do 3D-accelerated Windows games: you need to be prepared to game at non-native resolutions. 1600x1200 gaming in the early 2000s basically required the current highest-end (or next-highest-end) video cards, e.g. I went from a GF3 Ti500 to an ATI 9800 to a GF 7900GT to a GF 8800GT. If you are going to run CivIII or other games without 3D graphics then that doesn't matter...

That being said, 1600x1200 is 800x600 doubled so... maybe 800x600 would run nicely enough, I don't know.

Are there much in the way of 1024x768 LCDs out there? I suspect there weren't - by the time LCD prices got half-reasonable, people wanted 1280x1024...

Reply 5 of 24, by WarhammerDarkOmen

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Yeah most resolution i will use is 1024x768 mostly 800x600/640x480 I'm hoping the screen will play nicely at those resolutions but we will see.

I do plan to run 3D acceleration but not at its native res, no way haha.

So as it stands i've now purchased everything i need to build it...

I've built a complete system for just under £140 which i feel is pretty good! I've replaced some items that came with the bundle as they are poor quality. Additional parts I've ordered:

FSP Group 250W ATX PSU £7
Verto Geforce FX 5200 AGP 128MB Graphics Card boxed - £6
Gelid Solutions Silent 6 Quiet CPU Fan - £6
Microsoft Wired Keyboard 600 - £5
Creative Labs Sound Blaster LIVE! (SB 16 compatible model) - £12
Afew cables for fans/extensions which i will need for the case choice - £15?
New PC case - £28

Now the case choice might be questionable... it sure as hell doesn't fit the machine inside but it was new and cheap. All the retro cases are £100+ for some reason... so stupid. But this is what i went with...

s-l1600.jpg

It was the only thing i could find with a CD drive bay, window and full ATX which doesn't cost a fortune. I would love a retro case but they are all stupid money. This will do the job though i guess.

On another note... The neons still work after 15+years in storage 😀

Screenshot-20231130-012322-Video-Player.jpg

Nostalgia rig: AMD Athlon 800Mhz | Gigabyte GA-7IXE4 | Geforce 2 MX400 AGP | Sound Blaster AWE64 | 256MB RAM | Windows 98 SE

Reply 6 of 24, by WarhammerDarkOmen

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Well it's been progressing... I've partially built the machine and its coming a long well. The modern case doesn't look too bad i think either.

20231202-203134.jpg

20231202-203145.jpg

20231202-203341.jpg

Currently its:

Aopen AK77-400GN Motherboard
AMD Athlon XP 2400+
2x 256MB DDR400 RAM
Sparkle TNT2 M64 Video card
Pioneer DVD-RW
16GB Sandisk CF card via IDE

I did spot this and it was only £15

s-l1600.jpg

it's untested but worth a gamble as i found an AWE64 i had from years ago and this bundle would be better than my current one i think, certainly would for DOS. It's a 800Mhz athlon, 256mb SD RAM and i believe PCChips motherboard. If it works, will make a better setup for Win9x / DOS i think and it could even be the start of a dedicated MS DOS pc. Well shall see.

Nostalgia rig: AMD Athlon 800Mhz | Gigabyte GA-7IXE4 | Geforce 2 MX400 AGP | Sound Blaster AWE64 | 256MB RAM | Windows 98 SE

Reply 7 of 24, by chinny22

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Guessing your based in the UK?
Keep an eye on https://www.freecycle.org
CRT's still come up from time to time as well as older PC's even if just for parts.

Reply 8 of 24, by Shadzilla

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WarhammerDarkOmen wrote on 2023-12-02, 20:48:
Well it's been progressing... I've partially built the machine and its coming a long well. The modern case doesn't look too bad […]
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Well it's been progressing... I've partially built the machine and its coming a long well. The modern case doesn't look too bad i think either.

20231202-203134.jpg

20231202-203145.jpg

20231202-203341.jpg

Currently its:

Aopen AK77-400GN Motherboard
AMD Athlon XP 2400+
2x 256MB DDR400 RAM
Sparkle TNT2 M64 Video card
Pioneer DVD-RW
16GB Sandisk CF card via IDE

I did spot this and it was only £15

s-l1600.jpg

it's untested but worth a gamble as i found an AWE64 i had from years ago and this bundle would be better than my current one i think, certainly would for DOS. It's a 800Mhz athlon, 256mb SD RAM and i believe PCChips motherboard. If it works, will make a better setup for Win9x / DOS i think and it could even be the start of a dedicated MS DOS pc. Well shall see.

"it could even be the start of a dedicated MS DOS pc" - this is how it starts, before you know it you've got 7 fully built retro PCs and nowhere to move 😅

Reply 9 of 24, by WarhammerDarkOmen

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chinny22 wrote on 2023-12-02, 23:39:

Guessing your based in the UK?
Keep an eye on https://www.freecycle.org
CRT's still come up from time to time as well as older PC's even if just for parts.

Thanks yeah i will keep my eye on it thank you!

"it could even be the start of a dedicated MS DOS pc" - this is how it starts, before you know it you've got 7 fully built retro PCs and nowhere to move 😅

Yes sir! 😁 you aren't wrong!

So after lots and lots of tinkering i got the older board to boot up and good job as the newer board has leaking caps so its really unstable, will recap it another day but for now I went with this.

It's actually a Gigabyte GA-7IXE4 and it was being a real pain to get going. First time trying it fired right up and no issues but after awhile especially after turning it off fully the machine wont POST.

I did get round to trying my game of choice, Warhammer Dark Omen and it runs perfectly with full 3D on the TNT2 card

20231203-173619.jpg

It's not super super smooth but i'd guess around 48 - 52 fps? I haven't really tweaked many things yet and im lacking chipset drivers. But maybe this is just how the TNT2 cards are im not familiar with them.

I've got this to go in it next, an AWE64 I'm not even going to bother with the Sound Blaster Live! on this.

20231203-141712.jpg

I've chucked it all in the case now, and it refuses to POST... two times now i have put it in the case and it won't POST. It's either coincidence or the PSU as I've checked literally everything for any possible shorts etc.

20231203-180818.jpg

This is where im at now... waiting on the new PSU

20231203-180804.jpg

I did check in the BIOS and the voltages on the 12v rail were dropping to 11.7 or 11.6v at times, this is a old PSU and looks like its been in damp storage so i will try it with the new one asap.

20231203-155526.jpg

Last edited by WarhammerDarkOmen on 2023-12-03, 19:24. Edited 1 time in total.

Nostalgia rig: AMD Athlon 800Mhz | Gigabyte GA-7IXE4 | Geforce 2 MX400 AGP | Sound Blaster AWE64 | 256MB RAM | Windows 98 SE

Reply 10 of 24, by Shponglefan

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Shadzilla wrote on 2023-12-03, 09:35:

"it could even be the start of a dedicated MS DOS pc" - this is how it starts, before you know it you've got 7 fully built retro PCs and nowhere to move 😅

Wait... are we supposed to stop when we reach 7 systems?

Uh oh...

486 DX4-100 with 6 sound cards
486 DX-33 with 5 sound cards
Ultimate Windows XP build

Reply 11 of 24, by VivienM

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Shponglefan wrote on 2023-12-03, 19:18:
Shadzilla wrote on 2023-12-03, 09:35:

"it could even be the start of a dedicated MS DOS pc" - this is how it starts, before you know it you've got 7 fully built retro PCs and nowhere to move 😅

Wait... are we supposed to stop when we reach 7 systems?

Uh oh...

Do vintage Macs count in the 7 system cap, or is it only DOS/Windows/x86 machines? (And yes, I guess... Intel Macs that can boot BIOS operating systems are old enough to be vintage now... but... we'll ignore those for a second)

Reply 12 of 24, by Shadzilla

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What I really meant to say was the correct number of retro systems you should have at any one time is always n+1, where n is the number of retro systems you currently have.

WarhammerDarkOmen wrote on 2023-12-03, 19:15:

It's not super super smooth but i'd guess around 48 - 52 fps? I haven't really tweaked many things yet and im lacking chipset drivers. But maybe this is just how the TNT2 cards are im not familiar with them.

The TNT2 M64 is a bit crap in all honesty. You could do a lot better without spending much. A GeForce 2 MX for example, or push the boat out for a GeForce 2 GTS.

From Wikipedia:

"A low-cost version, known as the TNT2 M64, was produced with the memory interface reduced from 128-bit to 64-bit. Sometimes these were labeled "Vanta", continuing the Vanta name started with a value-oriented RIVA TNT-based product. This chipset outperformed the older RIVA TNT while being less costly to produce. They proved quite popular in the OEM market, as most consumers simply assumed all TNT2 cards were the same."

Reply 13 of 24, by WarhammerDarkOmen

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Thanks, sounds good to me i was actually thinking a geforce 2 would suit this machine too. I had no idea the M64 was a value card so yes definetly need to upgrade.

Nostalgia rig: AMD Athlon 800Mhz | Gigabyte GA-7IXE4 | Geforce 2 MX400 AGP | Sound Blaster AWE64 | 256MB RAM | Windows 98 SE

Reply 14 of 24, by PD2JK

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Ah, I thought I saw something familiar, an IXE4. I got an IXE.

You could upgrade that 800MHz Athlon to a 1400 MHz part. Make sure you get the Athlon 'B', not C.
B = 100 MHz FSB
C = 133 MHz FSB, won't work with Irongate chipset. Well, it will run slower than designed.

i386 16 ⇒ i486 DX4 100 ⇒ Pentium MMX 200 ⇒ Athlon Orion 700 | TB 1000 ⇒ AthlonXP 1700+ ⇒ Opteron 165 ⇒ Dual Opteron 856

Reply 15 of 24, by VivienM

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WarhammerDarkOmen wrote on 2023-12-03, 20:18:

Thanks, sounds good to me i was actually thinking a geforce 2 would suit this machine too. I had no idea the M64 was a value card so yes definetly need to upgrade.

The M64 was a value card... but a good value card. There were a lot of things out there, particularly soldered on the motherboards of HP/"IBM"/Compaqs/etc, that were dramatically worse than the M64. And this was roughly the same era where Intel launched the first on-chipset graphics with the i810... which I'm sure the M64 massively outperformed in every way.

I remember playing the original UT on a TNT2 M64 and I think it was... passable... at 1024x768. Try that on an i810...

Reply 16 of 24, by WarhammerDarkOmen

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VivienM wrote on 2023-12-03, 20:40:
WarhammerDarkOmen wrote on 2023-12-03, 20:18:

Thanks, sounds good to me i was actually thinking a geforce 2 would suit this machine too. I had no idea the M64 was a value card so yes definetly need to upgrade.

The M64 was a value card... but a good value card. There were a lot of things out there, particularly soldered on the motherboards of HP/"IBM"/Compaqs/etc, that were dramatically worse than the M64. And this was roughly the same era where Intel launched the first on-chipset graphics with the i810... which I'm sure the M64 massively outperformed in every way.

I remember playing the original UT on a TNT2 M64 and I think it was... passable... at 1024x768. Try that on an i810...

True it handled F22 Lightning 3 fairly well too which can be a little demanding for that era. It's not terrible but i have ordered a Geforce 2 MX 400 for this build.

PD2JK wrote on 2023-12-03, 20:27:
Ah, I thought I saw something familiar, an IXE4. I got an IXE. […]
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Ah, I thought I saw something familiar, an IXE4. I got an IXE.

You could upgrade that 800MHz Athlon to a 1400 MHz part. Make sure you get the Athlon 'B', not C.
B = 100 MHz FSB
C = 133 MHz FSB, won't work with Irongate chipset. Well, it will run slower than designed.

Thanks will bear that in mind.

I've been having a hell of a time with this machine. The new PSU came but it still refuses to boot any time it's inside that case??? Outside it works, perfectly but inside it I get absolutely nothing I've checked all over for shorts or anything like that or if the stand offs are not sitting right but nope... It's nothing obvious. Any ideas???

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It's so strange, but anyway im carrying on without a case till i can work that out,

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My first time using an ISA sound card again since the 90's!

20231204-183548.jpg

It works great, just need a case.. that works! 😒

Moderator/admin note: Please move to System Specs forum as this has somewhat turned into a build. Thank you!

Nostalgia rig: AMD Athlon 800Mhz | Gigabyte GA-7IXE4 | Geforce 2 MX400 AGP | Sound Blaster AWE64 | 256MB RAM | Windows 98 SE

Reply 17 of 24, by Shadzilla

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Could it be a problem with the power button in that new case? Try shorting the two pins on the front panel header to start it rather than using the button. Along the same train of thought, try disconnecting all the front panel LEDs/speaker/IO as well.

Edit: just realised it's powered on in your picture, obviously not the power button at fault then

Reply 18 of 24, by WarhammerDarkOmen

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Shadzilla wrote on 2023-12-04, 19:23:

Could it be a problem with the power button in that new case? Try shorting the two pins on the front panel header to start it rather than using the button. Along the same train of thought, try disconnecting all the front panel LEDs/speaker/IO as well.

Edit: just realised it's powered on in your picture, obviously not the power button at fault then

yeah it turns on but no POST its really strange.

I've tried:

Looking for shorts or metal touching the board at all, anywhere
Unplugging things bit by bit till its literally just board and PSU
Unplugging all the front panel buttons etc and using a screw driver on the power pins
RAM sticks

I've now bought a replacement case. £15 + £6 shipping its a Zalman one with a little window so will be fine for this.

Nostalgia rig: AMD Athlon 800Mhz | Gigabyte GA-7IXE4 | Geforce 2 MX400 AGP | Sound Blaster AWE64 | 256MB RAM | Windows 98 SE