VOGONS


First post, by PleaseHelpMeAdmin

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Hi everyone,

This is my first post here. First of all let me say I just love to see forums still being a thing. Almost every forum community I've been a part of in the past 25 years have died off so I'm glad to see Vogons so active. Been lurking for some time but I've recently been active in buying retro gaming systems. Currently done with a few Win7/XP builds that I'm very happy with and almost done with an SS7 build. Might share those later. Diving into older systems can get a bit technical and I really have to delve deep into my memory from back when to recognize everything. I started building my own pc's when I was 11 in the late 90's during P1/2 era with spare parts and used to have a 286 and 486 at home. Didn't think to tinker with the latter two myself but now I've finally decided I want to build one so I'm figuring out how get the parts and configuration right.

Here's what I'm planning to do with it:

  • Run MS-DOS 6.22
  • Run Windows 3.11
  • 2D/3D Gaming
  • Benchmarking ISA/PCI/VLB cards and maybe different CPU/Cache setups
  • Some overclocking
  • Possibly some workstation use
  • LAN-use for Doom

Requirements:

  • ISA/PCI/VLB slots
  • Socket 3 with support for 3.3V (DX4-100/120) and POD
  • ISA NIC for offload on CPU
  • 256/512kB of Cacheable DATA SRAM
  • 32MB RAM

Nice to have's:

  • SXGA and 132-column text mode
  • On-board P/S2
  • Sockets for SRAM/Battery (either coin cell or Dallas chip)

What I currently have in mind:

Intel A80486DX4-100 / Pentium OD 83 / AMD Am486DX4-120
Gigabyte GA-486IM (Alternatives would be the PVI-486SP3, 486-VIP-IO for on-board IDE but I would have to splash out an additional 150-200 euros)
2x16MB 60ns unbuffered non-parity FPM-RAM
256kB of DATA SRAM + 256kB of TAG SRAM 15ns 2-1-1-1 (suitable for 40MHz FSB?)
Cirrus Logic CL-GD5429 Tseng Labs ET4000/W32p VLB 2MB
Creative Sound Blaster AWE32 ISA + 8MB EDO-RAM
3COM EtherLink III 3C509B-C ISA
WD Caviar WD84AA 8.4 GB
Winbond - Multi I/O Controller
200W AT PSU
Early 90's SVGA /XGA CRT

How feasible is this concept? What choices should I reconsider or what better alternatives are there? From what I can read in the manual this looks to be alright. I'm just curious about what the requirements would be to boot from disk, since there is no on-board IDE on this Gigabyte. Is a PCI P-ATA card recommended and what options are there for storage? I'm not too familiar with performance differences on old tech. Also is the selected SRAM and FPM-RAM suitable for 40MHz FSB? Thanks for your thoughts.

Off-topic question:

Where can I post something with regards to my account? I've previously created two accounts which are unable to activate. This account is linked to an e-mail I never use and the admins haven't answered for weeks after several requests for help.

Thanks a lot guys!

Last edited by PleaseHelpMeAdmin on 2023-12-04, 15:49. Edited 1 time in total.

W7-1: i7 990X / Rampage III / HD7990
W7-2: i7 970 / EX58-UD5 / HD5970
W7-3: C2Q Q9550 / X48T-DQ6 / HD4870X2
WXP1: FX-55 / A8R32 / X1900XTX
WXP2: A64 3700+/ K8N / X850XT-PE
WXP3: P4 3.0 / P4C800 / FX5950U
W98: MMX233 / K6BV3+ / Geforce DDR

Reply 1 of 12, by Shponglefan

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Welcome to VOGONS!

Looking through your proposed build, there are a few things I'd change.

For the OS, I'd go with DOS 6.22 + Windows 3.11. While Windows 95 can run on a 486, it's not going to run that well. It's better suited to Pentium setups rather than a 486.

The amount of RAM is excessive. For that era of computing, 16MB of RAM would already be a significant amount, at least where gaming in concerned. Games of that era typically only recommend 8MB at the high end, with a few games (e.g. Under A Killing Moon) recommending more than that.

For storage, I'd just go with compact flash and a CF-to-IDE adapter. It can offer more flexibility if you want to have multiple OS setups (e.g. DOS 6.22 versus Windows 95) on different cards and make for easier swapping.

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

Reply 2 of 12, by dionb

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Second the 'save Win95 for a Pentium' opinion. I had to use Win95 on 486 at uni and it was not fun. In fact, I ran Win3.1 on my own P60 to keep the experience snappy (it felt faster than my mother's P90 with Win95).

That has an additional benefit of keeping RAM requirements low. Thing is, >16MB in DOS is going to give you memory detection issues, where games or other apps tell you you don't have enough RAM even though you have huge amount. If you really want to run Win95, you need at least 24MB IMHO, but drop that and 16MB is the sweet spot, good enough for just about anything under Win3.1 or DOS.

I wouldn't be too concerned about 512kB L2 vs 256kB. Depending on chipset and rest of system it might be marginally faster, but this is async cache so its impact isn't huge in any event and difference between 512kB and 256kB will be measurable at best, not noticeable. Of course, if you can get 512kB by all means do it, but don't sacrifice anything else for it.

Then the 'nice to haves':
SXGA is 1280x1024. Simple math: at 8b colour (256), you need 1.67MB video memory for it, at 16b colour (32k) you need 3.3MB and for 24b colour (16M) it takes 5MB. So with the 2MB VLB card you can do 8b at best. 4MB VLB cards exist, but are rare as hen's teeth and priced accordingly. I've not seen cards with more than that. Also the RAMDAC on the card needs to support the resolution and colour depth. The ET4000/W32P has an external RAMDAC so you need to check that per card. The Hercules Dynamite VL has an AT&T ATT20C490 RAMDAC, which supports both 16M colours and 1280x1024@60Hz non-interlaced. Of course, that card only supports max 2MB so you're limited to 8b colour at that resolution.
Tbh, I'd say this requirement is similar to Windows 95: not realistic for the software or indeed hardware of a late 486. Even if you found unobtainium 4MB VLB cards (there's an ATi Mach32 4MB out there and some S3-based cards), or decided to go for a PCI card (much easier to find 4MB there), what software are you going to run on it? No games that run on a 486 will even come close to that resolution, even Windows GUI will look tiny and lost on it. And a period correct monitor couldn't display it.

There's an additional VGA consideration: VESA SVGA support. Take a look here, Tseng chips aren't terrible but don't have great VESA support, which is highly relevant for the stuff that will run best on a 486DX4. Instead, an S3-based card might be better, or Cirrus Logic GD5434 (the ubiquitous 542x series can't use 2MB of RAM suitably so are very limited for GUI use).

Then I/O... PCI multi-I/O cards exist but are pretty rare as most PCI-based boards have onboard I/O. Most cards will be IDE only. Don't expect newer ATA66/100/133 controllers to work on a PCI 1.0 5V only bus, you need an older card from similar time as the motherboard. Avoid CMD controllers as they are buggy (and common...). You would then also need an ISA floppy+serial+parallel controller. Instead I'd say go for a VLB multi I/O card. They perform as well as PCI and are much easier to find. Then use CF or DOM (late 486 would be on the cusp of which works better; CF is easier to find but messier).

Finally sound - I consider SB16 derivatives to be overpriced given how buggy they are. If you can get an AWE32 with real OPL3 cheaply, by all means do, but consider that if you want to use MIDI and not experience the SB16 bugs, you will need a second card without the bugs. The least buggy SB16s are the last AWE64 and SB32 CT3670 cards, without hanging notes, but still slowing down if digital audio and MIDI are played simultaneously.

Reply 4 of 12, by AlexZ

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Even the fastest AMD 5x86 is mainly DOS territory. You will only be able to play strategy games in SVGA resolution in Windows 95. 32MB RAM should be enough for a 486, 16MB will be too little.

Pentium III 900E, ECS P6BXT-A+, 384MB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce FX 5600 128MB, Voodoo 2 12MB, 80GB HDD, Yamaha SM718 ISA, 19" AOC 9GlrA
Athlon 64 3400+, MSI K8T Neo V, 1GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 7600GT 512MB, 250GB HDD, Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS

Reply 5 of 12, by Shponglefan

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AlexZ wrote on 2023-12-02, 21:24:

32MB RAM should be enough for a 486, 16MB will be too little.

Why would 16MB be too little?

I'm not aware of any DOS games that recommend more than 16MB especially from the 486 era.

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

Reply 6 of 12, by dionb

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I was running 16MB on my P60 with Win3.1 up to 1999. By then the system was totally outclassed, but since I upgraded from 8MB to 16MB RAM was never an issue. CPU power and (1MB) VGA limitations were the big problems. Oh, and not being able to burn a CD decently.

You only need more than that with Win95 (24-32MB sweet spot) or Win98SE (starts at 64MB, likes 128MB, purrs with 256MB)

Reply 7 of 12, by chinny22

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Guessing big part of this is you want to compare PCI vs VLB graphic cards? Otherwise not really much point having both.

For VLB graphics cards I also like the Cirrus Logic, they are still fairly fast but don't attract the price premium of a Tseng Labs ET4000
Phil did a comparison of few cards here https://youtu.be/7Ha8Q_oLUr8?si=cE1KW5UcKmKqLAe8
(And on a 486 we are only talking about a few extra fps's. Not like it makes the difference if a game is playable or not)

PCI is bit boring on a 486 but more practical. Something like a S3 Trio is cheap and plentiful but also high end for a 486.

If you do need a I/O card go with VLB (otherwise whats the point of a VLB motherboard?)

RAM I've got 64MB just because I like to max things out, again it's not like the performance hit for cache limits changes what games do/don't run.
I just use the excess ram for a ram disk which also eats up games that don't like excessive amounts of RAM. 64MB may also help depending on hat you mean by workstation.

Sound is a personal choice

While I agree no point installing both Dos 6.22 and Win95 I don't fully agree with not installing Win95.
Yes you will spend most your time booting into dos mode, but "dos 7" gives you some nice things most importantly FAT32, Plus the Win95 GUI is much nicer for system management like file copy's networking, etc.
That said most my 486's run Dos 6.22/Win 3.11 because it feels more "correct"

Reply 8 of 12, by dionb

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DOS 7 is great - but you can get that without installing Win95.

As for file management - run the (FTP) server on the retro system and the client on your modern box. Filezilla on a QHD screen wins hands-down in terms of practicality over anything you could do on a retro rig. And even an XT will happily run an FTP server, so everything can use the same protocol & interface.

Reply 9 of 12, by rasz_pl

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PleaseHelpMeAdmin wrote on 2023-12-02, 16:38:

[*]ISA NIC for offload on CPU
3COM EtherLink III 3C509B-C ISA

is this about 3com marketing and meaningless "parallel tasking" print on the chip? Re: Which of these 3com cards is the fastest for a 486 66mhz? ?

PleaseHelpMeAdmin wrote on 2023-12-02, 16:38:

[*]512kB of Cacheable DATA SRAM

I dont think you will see much difference between even 128 vs 512 cache on socket 3, and if you need more speed then you dont want 486.

PleaseHelpMeAdmin wrote on 2023-12-02, 16:38:

[*]>64MB RAM

16MB is where 486 tops off, anything requiring more ram simply wont run well on 486.

PleaseHelpMeAdmin wrote on 2023-12-02, 16:38:

Gigabyte GA-486IM (Alternatives would be the PVI-486SP3, 486-VIP-IO

Afair boards mixing PCI and VLB usually have low VLB performance, or maybe it was low pci performance, something about the way address decoding works. VLB was 1992 thing, by 1994 it was only thrown in for backward compatibility.

PleaseHelpMeAdmin wrote on 2023-12-02, 16:38:

How feasible is this concept?

socket7 K5 will be faster then the fastest 486 config you could build spending multiple hundreds of dollars. There was no such thing as a "high end" 486 in 1995 (age of motherboards you selected), 486 if what you got if you couldnt afford Pentium. Thus there is no point trying to aim for the stars overspending on "premium" parts.

Open Source AT&T Globalyst/NCR/FIC 486-GAC-2 proprietary Cache Module reproduction

Reply 10 of 12, by zwrr

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PleaseHelpMeAdmin wrote on 2023-12-02, 16:38:
[*]ISA/PCI/VLB slots [*]Socket 3 with support for 3.3V (DX4-100/120) and POD [*]512kB of Cacheable DATA SRAM [*]>64MB RAM […]
Show full quote

[*]ISA/PCI/VLB slots
[*]Socket 3 with support for 3.3V (DX4-100/120) and POD
[*]512kB of Cacheable DATA SRAM
[*]>64MB RAM

You can try to find the Octek Hippo 12 VIP motherboard, which is what I used for the first 486 I assembled by myself. It impressed me with its perfect expandability and full support for the processor, but unfortunately, it was installed after a drunken trip. When installing the processor, I mistakenly rotated the processor 90 degrees or 180 degrees? Then I lost it.

I have been looking for this motherboard in the past few years, and have encountered it several times, but it has been severely damaged due to battery leakage.

Cyrix 486DLC-40, 386-VC-H, 16MB, GD5422, ES1868F


Intel 486DX4-100EW, VI15G, 16MB, WD90C33, ES1868F


AMD5x86-133, HIPPO-15, 32MB, S3 Vison 964, ES1868F


K6-3+ 500, T2P4, 128MB, Millennium II, Voodoo 2 12MB, SoundBlaster AWE32


Reply 11 of 12, by PleaseHelpMeAdmin

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Thanks a lot for the feedback guys.

I think I will make some adjustments now:

  • Windows 3.11
  • 32MB RAM + 256kB cache
  • VLB I/O controller
  • SVGA/XGA
  • GD5429/5434 type card
dionb wrote on 2023-12-02, 18:36:

Second the 'save Win95 [...]wing down if digital audio and MIDI are played simultaneously.

Thanks for your thorough reply. Have noted some changes, will try to use classical HDD before switching to CF though.

Disruptor wrote on 2023-12-02, 20:47:

PS/2 mouse port !!!

I'm still in the search for this. It's not easy since headers weren't standardized yet.

chinny22 wrote on 2023-12-02, 23:17:

Guessing big part of this is you want to compare PCI vs VLB graphic cards? Otherwise not really much point having both.

For VLB grap[...]it feels more "correct"

Will switch to a VLB I/O Controller. Will it work alright if I populate the VLB slots with both the controller and a VGA adapter? I will skip W95 for this build, it was mostly just me maxing out posibilities for each system rather than consider a comfortable experience. But I will reserve the W95 install for my Socket 4 build and go with 3.11 here. Got a 8.4GB Seagate incoming. Perhaps a combination of two partitions for MS-DOS and W3.11 could do?

rasz_pl wrote on 2023-12-03, 00:31:
PleaseHelpMeAdmin wrote on 2023-12-02, 16:38:

[*]ISA NIC for offload on CPU
3COM EtherLink III 3C509B-C ISA

is this about 3com mar[...]ending on "premium" parts.

I've read this thread: Performance comparison of 486 motherboards with VLB-only, PCI-only, and PCI+VLB

So for PCI/VLB combo there is like 10-20% performance drop off which isnt great but not earth shattering either. I get your point btw, I can also get a P2 for DOS-games and have all the speeds but I mean there's a reason we like to focus and build with older or more legacy type of hardware. It's a preference I guess.

zwrr wrote on 2023-12-03, 01:18:

[..]tery leakage.

Will look into this thanks!

W7-1: i7 990X / Rampage III / HD7990
W7-2: i7 970 / EX58-UD5 / HD5970
W7-3: C2Q Q9550 / X48T-DQ6 / HD4870X2
WXP1: FX-55 / A8R32 / X1900XTX
WXP2: A64 3700+/ K8N / X850XT-PE
WXP3: P4 3.0 / P4C800 / FX5950U
W98: MMX233 / K6BV3+ / Geforce DDR

Reply 12 of 12, by Disruptor

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PleaseHelpMeAdmin wrote on 2023-12-04, 15:43:
Disruptor wrote on 2023-12-02, 20:47:

PS/2 mouse port !!!

I'm still in the search for this. It's not easy since headers weren't standardized yet.

It's not that difficult to adapt one as long as the board has a connector for it.
+5 and GND are easy to find with a multimeter, and Mouse Data / Mouse Clock just have to be swapped when it does not work from the scratch.