VOGONS


First post, by Hezus

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Recently I put together an Althon Slot A system without any ISA slots and therefore I had to look for a PCI solution. The card I had on hand (Soundblaster PCI 128) didn't have any support for DOS, so I was looking for a replacement.

Then today I found a lot of new old stock PCI soundcards for cheap and decided to take a gamble. Here's what I found:

SoundForte PCI64 PCP
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It's using the FM0801-A1 sound chip, which has full Soundblaster Pro compatibility. Sadly my box didn't come with the driver disc, so I had to search online for a driver. I managed to find version 1.17 of the driver. This one however doesn't seem to have the Wavetable portion of the driver, so I wasn't able to test the 4 megs of internal wavetable goodness. If anyone does have the original CD, then let me know!

What I really like about this card is that it's simple and to the point. The driver size is small nad Windows installation is quick and effortless. The same goes for DOS. The drivers come with a simple TSR (801DOS.exe), which gives you the DMA/IRQ channels. I'm quite happy with the quality of the music.. pretty close to what I'm used to from a real Soundblaster or Adlib. Here's a quick example:

Filename
MediaForte SoundForte PCI64_PCP - Doom E1M1.mp3
File size
2 MiB
Downloads
46 downloads
File license
CC-BY-4.0

Overall sound quality is decent both in Windows and DOS games. I'm quite liking this card!

SoundForte Quad X-Treme 256 R
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This card just screams oddity. Starting with the redicilous name but also the special R edition that I've got here, which stands for built-in FM radio. I've had a radiocard before but this is an 8 bit ISA card from the very early 90's. I did not expect this feature in a PCI card. The box comes with a long antenna that plugs into the rear of the card using a 3.5 jack. The RadioAKTIV software is a simple interface and works really well.. better enjoy it while FM radio is still a thing! The CD also has a copy of Yahama SoftSynth S-YXG50, which is able to generate pleasant MIDI without any of the hardware.

On to the real hardware then. The card uses MF4CH-256 chip. It also has the same Soundblaster Pro compatibility as it's younger brother, the PCI64 PCP. Within Windows, sound effects and music are quite good. For DOS mode, it also uses the 801DOS TSR and it seems to initialise just fine. In game however, all sound is terribly distorted to the degree that it makes your ears bleed. Whatever they upgraded in their chip design from the FM0801-A1, it didn't do any good for the DOS side of things. I had high hopes for this card, but I doubt I'll use this one over the PCI64.

Lenco MSX-9800 5.1
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Last card is this MSX-9800 from Lenco. It has an MCI8738 chip and does 3D audio quite well. I've set it up with my 5.1 sound system and the effects are good. The box mentions support for DirectSound 3D, A3D and EAX APIs. Nothing much to complain about for Windows games. DOS games on the other hand is a different story. There is a legacy driver but it's not fully functional. I ran Doom within a DOS window and it didn't play any music whatsoever. Sound FX were fine and sounded good. The driver also comes with a DOS TSR. It reroutes the IRQ and DMA but does this quite dodgy. Doom and Heretic would crash on load. There was a small fix program included, which made Doom run again but this time only with music and no sound effects. I tried a few different settings but results varied and crashes because more frequent, so I finally decided to give up on this card.

The Verdict
Initially I had the lowest expectations for the PCI64 card. It seemed like a very feature-less generic card but it ended up ticking all the boxes! Both Windows and DOS seems to work just fine with the supplied drivers. It would have been great if the other cards had better support for DOS, so I could use the extra features but it wasn't a requirement for my build. Pretty pleased with this haul and hopefully I'll find some use for the other two cards.

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Reply 2 of 3, by Hezus

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Pino wrote on 2023-05-10, 17:34:

thanks for the detailed review.
It's a small sample size, but I'm impressed with the FM0801-A1 sound in Doom.

I've done some more tests today and here are a few more examples of the PCI64 PCP:

Filename
MediaForte SoundForte PCI64_PCP - Warcraft II Main.mp3
File size
2.26 MiB
Downloads
41 downloads
File license
Fair use/fair dealing exception
Filename
MediaForte SoundForte PCI64_PCP - One Must Fall 2096 Main Theme.mp3
File size
2.57 MiB
Downloads
41 downloads
File license
Fair use/fair dealing exception
Filename
MediaForte SoundForte PCI64_PCP - Dune II Main Menu.mp3
File size
2.29 MiB
Downloads
37 downloads
File license
Fair use/fair dealing exception
Filename
MediaForte SoundForte PCI64_PCP - Duke3D Main Theme.mp3
File size
2.32 MiB
Downloads
43 downloads
File license
Fair use/fair dealing exception

I did run into some issues with Ultima Underworld 2. Adlib music worked fine but the Soundblaster wasn't detected for digital effects. After some searching I found an updated dos801 driver (version 2.02) and it worked fine. Seems like the version I was using (1.17) was lacking in some aspects.

While experimenting I also gave the Soundforte 256 another shot with both DOS driver versions. The distortion on version 1.17 was less than on version 2.02 but still very noticable. It happens when sound effects play in rapid succession or start stacking up. A good example is shooting the plasma gun in Doom.. it's quite painful to listen to.

Lastly I looked for the correct driver to get the Wavetable going on the PCI64. The box didn't mention it but the old MediaForte website says it's an optional software-based wavetable. That's probably why it tell you that it needs 32 mb of RAM if you're planning on using the full 4 mb. A bit disappointing.

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Reply 3 of 3, by chinny22

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Doom doesn't sound that bad, not sure I can say the same thing for Warcraft or Duke3d (the 3 games I'm most familiar with)
But it's a PCI card with native dos support, options are always good even if expectations are low.
Would be really interesting if the wavetable works in dos.