VOGONS


First post, by Rham243

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Hey all, I played a lot of dos games when I was a kid, now am trying to recapture the memories. I picked up an old Pentium 1 PC the other day and got it up and running. It is small form-factor and has Windows 98 and MS-DOS 7.1, 64mb ram (only 48 seems to be working, probably post another question on this later).

It doesn't have a sound card but does have two open ISA slots and three PCI slots so I think I have options. I don't know a lot about what will work but would like something that works in both Windows 98 and DOS natively (when I boot directly to dos). I would also like MIDI sound for games that support it like Raptor, Tyrian, Pinball 2o00, Caesar 2 etc. Not sure how to get this, something to do with an OPL chip i think? Shows how much I know. Anyway, just really want to learn more on what the best option would be. I have looked around on here a lot but the info is kind of overwhelming. I have a SB0200, but from reading on here, I dont think this will work for me so wondering what will or where to start. Thank you!

Reply 1 of 32, by Azarien

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For DOS games you should look for ISA sound cards.

DOS games do not have native support for PCI sound cards, partly because such cards only became common (and ISA slots started to disappear) roughly at the same time when DOS was slowly becoming a thing of the past.

Some PCI soundcards came with a driver which emulates ISA Sound Blaster for DOS games. This doesn't work for all games, and doesn't work on all mainboards. Your mileage may vary.
To avoid this emulation nightmare, stick with ISA.

Reply 2 of 32, by Rham243

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Azarien wrote on 2022-01-18, 20:39:
For DOS games you should look for ISA sound cards. […]
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For DOS games you should look for ISA sound cards.

DOS games do not have native support for PCI sound cards, partly because such cards only became common (and ISA slots started to disappear) roughly at the same time when DOS was slowly becoming a thing of the past.

Some PCI soundcards came with a driver which emulates ISA Sound Blaster for DOS games. This doesn't work for all games, and doesn't work on all mainboards. Your mileage may vary.
To avoid this emulation nightmare, stick with ISA.

Okay thanks, i am leaning toward the SB AWE64 CT4520. Do you know if this play MIDI music for games that support it?

Reply 3 of 32, by Joseph_Joestar

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Rham243 wrote on 2022-01-18, 20:55:

Okay thanks, i am leaning toward the SB AWE64 CT4520. Do you know if this play MIDI music for games that support it?

First, you need to understand the difference between FM synth and General MIDI. I'll give you an example using Doom:

Most of us never experienced General MIDI back in the day, and had to settle for FM Synth, since that was what sound cards commonly used at that time. I'm guessing you want that, but let us know, and then we can recommend you a sound card.

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Reply 4 of 32, by dr_st

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Like Joseph_Joestar mentioned- when people say MIDI they generally mean playing sequenced music through one of 2 ways:

  1. FM synthesized music (Adlib/OPL). The AWE64 does not have an actual OPL chip, but it has an alternative implementation, which sounds a bit different, and not as good (although passable).
  2. General Midi - this is a different standard that allows for richer sound, but depends on the presence of instrument banks. The AWE64 does have such a bank (not a very advanced one), but its General MIDI interface is limited - it works well under Windows, but under pure DOS it works only for some games, and is buggy. What the AWE64 (and AWE32) cards do have is Creative's own proprietary implementation for MIDI - through the "AWE" synthesis chip. It sounds pretty much like General MIDI, but requires native support from games, and not a whole lot of them do (nothing from early nineties and prior to that, for example). See partial list.

TL;DR - AWE64 is sort of a "jack of all trades, master of none". It is quite compatible, but for every thing it can do, there is a card that can do it better. However, will you find a card that can do everything better, and at an affordable price? Not necessarily.

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Reply 5 of 32, by Azarien

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Rham243 wrote on 2022-01-18, 20:55:

Okay thanks, i am leaning toward the SB AWE64 CT4520. Do you know if this play MIDI music for games that support it?

AWE64 supports FM synth of the older Sound Blasters as well as Adlib, though it doesn't exactly sound the same as the original OPL2/OPL3 chip.
Most DOS games that use MIDI support this. Older games use OPL synth directly without pretending it is MIDI.

AWE64 is also compatible with AWE32, supported natively by a number of later DOS games.

It is also compatible with General MIDI, supported by many games, although to use this you need to either load a TSR driver under DOS, or (better) run the game from Windows 9x.

General MIDI and AWE32 options will sound roughly the same and more natural than FM, which is kinda artificial. Some like the FM sound, some don't.

Reply 6 of 32, by keenmaster486

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Getting an AWE64 is a good idea if you do not want an external MIDI box or wavetable card.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.
World's foremost 486 enjoyer.

Reply 7 of 32, by badmojo

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The AWE64 value cards are readily available and relatively cheap too - I think they're great.

Pretty soon people will start posting walls of text in support of their idea of what a good ISA sound card looks like and why Creative cards suck - it's just that sort of a topic 😂

I had to physically restrain myself from doing just that 😁

Life? Don't talk to me about life.

Reply 8 of 32, by maxtherabbit

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An AWE64 with a SIMMCONN is probably the best all-around ISA sound card. CQM sucks balls though, so add an additional Adlib or SB16 or something to provide OPL. (You can disable port 338h on the AWE64)

Reply 9 of 32, by kolderman

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When did the awe64 replace the audiodrive as the default best cheap soundcard? The awe64 does not do MIDI under pure DOS, is hard to configure, has no waveblaster header and CQM...its great if you are strictly under win98 and can afford one of the expensive ram expansion adapters.

The ESS audiodrive has decent OPL, waveblaster header, bug free midi and digital sound, super easy to configure, and is cheap. Also good are crystal and opti card, and also aztech make good ones. Some of these have onboard wavetable which is good if you can find one.

Reply 10 of 32, by Kahenraz

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I think the AWE64 is overrated. The AWE32 isn't anything special either but at least it's fun when measuring features with a ruler and is great to show off to friends.

I own both the AWE64 Gold and a SIMMCONN and I never use it. When I need a fast an easy Sound Blaster I always reach for a CT1600 Pro 2 because it "just works" with the least amount of fuss.

For something on the cheap and about as good, I've heard that anything ISA with an ESS chip on it works great and has good compatibility.

Last edited by Kahenraz on 2022-01-19, 03:12. Edited 2 times in total.

Reply 12 of 32, by dr_st

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kolderman wrote on 2022-01-19, 02:16:

When did the awe64 replace the audiodrive as the default best cheap soundcard? The awe64 does not do MIDI under pure DOS, is hard to configure, has no waveblaster header and CQM...its great if you are strictly under win98 and can afford one of the expensive ram expansion adapters.

The ESS audiodrive has decent OPL, waveblaster header, bug free midi and digital sound, super easy to configure, and is cheap. Also good are crystal and opti card, and also aztech make good ones. Some of these have onboard wavetable which is good if you can find one.

My first card 25 years ago was an ESS688. I would have had it still, if I had known anything about sound cards at the time, but they are not completely trouble-free. I have experienced some games randomly refuse to detect the card (usually it works after restarting several times). I still have this issue sometimes with the Audician 32 Plus that I currently use, which is also an SBPro clone, so that might be related. My SB16 cards, including AWE64, never presented this issue. I wouldn't call them difficult to configure either - you can usually use CTCU to find a conflict-free resource allocation pretty easily.

AWE64 can do bug-free MIDI through the joystick port, but the lack of Wavetable header is a downside, of course. This is why I eventually settled for an Audician 32 + Dreamblaster S1. However, such a combo will cost more than an AWE64.

An OPTi card with a built-in wavetable may be an interesting solution too.

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Reply 13 of 32, by dionb

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badmojo wrote on 2022-01-19, 02:00:

The AWE64 value cards are readily available and relatively cheap too - I think they're great.

Pretty soon people will start posting walls of text in support of their idea of what a good ISA sound card looks like and why Creative cards suck - it's just that sort of a topic 😂

I had to physically restrain myself from doing just that 😁

Incoming...!!! 😜

No, actually agree with you here, the SB16 cards (which include everything up to the AWE64 Gold) are fundamentally flawed in a few areas, but those flaws are insignificant compared to what we put up with as poor ignorant youngsters back in the day, and sometimes even add 'authentic charm'.

Also, there's a simple way to nullify them: this board has three ISA slots. Instead of chasing the unicorn of the perfect card, or even the 'best' card, it's far easier to just use two cards that cover each others weaknesses. AWE64 value give you SB16 16b digital audio and Creative AWE MIDI. What it lacks is SBPro2 (stereo) compatibility, bug-free MIDI interface and a 'real' Yamaha OPL3 - plus WSS 16b digital audio as a nice-to-have. There are lots of card out there that can cover that, some very cheaply. Anything with a 3rd or4th gen Aztech (AZT2316 or 2320) fits the bill, as do Crystal CS4232 and OPTi 929 and 930-based cards. All can be found far cheaper than 'real' Creative cards, so you can combine one with an equally cheap AWE64 Value (still a far better card than SB16 Vibras that sell for more) to cover pretty much all the bases. Both cards will work in DOS and Windows, although in Windows the added value of the second card is far less and you can basically do everything with the AWE64.

Set the 'clone' card with good MIDI to A220 I5 D1 P330 U9 T4 and the AWE64 to A240 I7 (or 3) D3 (or 0) H5 (or 6) P300 E620 T6 and you're good to go for pretty much anything.

I have a very similar combo in my main late-DOS box: Aztech MMSN841 (3rd gen AZT2316R) for SBPro2, OPL3, WSS and MIDI, AWE64 Gold for SB16 and AWE - and a Gravis Ultrasound for good measure. The latter is only if you want to go expensively down the rabbit hole, but that Aztech card really complements the AWE64 well and costs peanuts. There's an almost identical one on eBay in the US for USD14.95 at the moment and a functionally similar one (well, no modem, but that's hardly an issue for retro-gaming) in DE for EUR 18, and if you're patient you can probably get something similar for less.

Reply 14 of 32, by dr_st

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dionb wrote on 2022-01-19, 09:48:

Also, there's a simple way to nullify them: this board has three ISA slots. Instead of chasing the unicorn of the perfect card, or even the 'best' card, it's far easier to just use two cards that cover each others weaknesses.

This option is nice, and has been done by quite a few folks here. One must be prepared to fight off "IRQ/DMA hell", but it is certainly doable.

dionb wrote on 2022-01-19, 09:48:

AWE64 value give you SB16 16b digital audio and Creative AWE MIDI. What it lacks is SBPro2 (stereo) compatibility, bug-free MIDI interface and a 'real' Yamaha OPL3 - plus WSS 16b digital audio as a nice-to-have.

I think the MIDI interface of an AWE64 is bug-free, actually. DSP 4.16 has no hanging notes issues as far as I recall. The problem is that it has no convenient Wavetable header.

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Reply 15 of 32, by dionb

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dr_st wrote on 2022-01-19, 11:18:
dionb wrote on 2022-01-19, 09:48:

Also, there's a simple way to nullify them: this board has three ISA slots. Instead of chasing the unicorn of the perfect card, or even the 'best' card, it's far easier to just use two cards that cover each others weaknesses.

This option is nice, and has been done by quite a few folks here. One must be prepared to fight off "IRQ/DMA hell", but it is certainly doable.

Two SB-type cards are perfectly doable, see the example I gave. All you need to sacrifice is either COM2 (IRQ3) or LPT (IRQ7).

dionb wrote on 2022-01-19, 09:48:

AWE64 value give you SB16 16b digital audio and Creative AWE MIDI. What it lacks is SBPro2 (stereo) compatibility, bug-free MIDI interface and a 'real' Yamaha OPL3 - plus WSS 16b digital audio as a nice-to-have.

I think the MIDI interface of an AWE64 is bug-free, actually. DSP 4.16 has no hanging notes issues as far as I recall. The problem is that it has no convenient Wavetable header.

No hanging notes, but you still get the slow-downs when playing 16b DA at same time as MIDI in games like Tie Fighter.

Reply 17 of 32, by dionb

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Azarien wrote on 2022-01-19, 12:21:
dionb wrote on 2022-01-19, 09:48:

Set the 'clone' card with good MIDI to A220 I5 D1 P330 U9 T4 and the AWE64 to A240 I7 (or 3) D3 (or 0) H5 (or 6) P300 E620 T6

What is U9?

IRQ 2/9 for MIDI MPU.

Reply 18 of 32, by aitotat

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dionb wrote on 2022-01-19, 09:48:

Set the 'clone' card with good MIDI to A220 I5 D1 P330 U9 T4 and the AWE64 to A240 I7 (or 3) D3 (or 0) H5 (or 6) P300 E620 T6 and you're good to go for pretty much anything.

That is good if you are want to configure games based on what card you want to use. But there is another way to do things (and third as well. Those SBPRO.BAT and SB16.BAT can be used to switch cards from command line so all games can be configured same way).

I would set the port, IRQ and DMA just the opposite: AWE64 should be set to port 220, IRQ 5 or 7 and DMA 1 and HDMA 5 (and P300 or Unisound specific P0). And unisound specific F0 to disable FM.
The clone card needs to be set to P330 but port, IRQ and DMA can be set to anything, even values not supported by many games, like those high IRQs that are more likely to be free. The clone card is only used for FM and MIDI. AWE64 handles the Sound Blaster DSP perfectly so no need for clone card for that (by the way, if someone finds a game with stereo samples but no SB16 support, then MIDIto can be used to emulate the missing stereo bit. Future versions will allow to map the clone card FM to AWE address space to remove any remaining need to switch to the clone card).

Reply 19 of 32, by Joseph_Joestar

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aitotat wrote on 2022-01-19, 13:45:

Future versions will allow to map the clone card FM to AWE address space to remove any remaining need to switch to the clone card).

Do you mean A220?

Because port 388 already works fine in a dual card setup, and many games allow it to be used.

PC#1: Pentium MMX 166 / Soyo SY-5BT / S3 Trio64V+ / Voodoo1 / OPTi 82C930 / AWE64 Gold / SC-155
PC#2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / Voodoo3 / SBLive / Vortex2
PC#3: Athlon64 3000+ / Asus K8V-MX / GeForce4 / Audigy1