Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Discussion about old graphics cards, monitors and video related things.

Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-21 @ 08:39

So here's a project I've been wanting to get to for a long time. We've been hearing hype for ages that running an external GPU on a laptop is going to be the 'next big thing' for gamers, but you've actually been able to do that for years. Various docks from the late-'90s onward have included PCI slots, albeit often well hidden, and at least some of those have allowed you to use them for a primary video card.

Well, let's give that a shot & see what we can do. Here's what we're going to be doing this with:

1.jpg
^^ a Dell D430 "halftop" and a PD-01x dock. This was my primary PC setup for a long time. Eventually the LCD inverter failed and I removed the built-in display.

It's a Core 2 Duo U7300 (1.2 GHz with an early implementation of Speedstep which idles it down to 800MHz under light loads), 2GB of RAM, and most importantly, a thoroughly un-lovely Intel GMA950 graphics system built into its i945 chipset. No speed demon, in other words; in raw CPU speed it's probably not all that far ahead of a good Pentium 3. (Despite the loss of the display panel, the integrated graphics still works fine; you can use this thing completely normally with an external monitor attached.)

The dock is a super-common Dell model that works with a bunch of different models, including the (barely!) Windows 98-capable Latitude D600. I actually have one of those, but we're not going to use it today because it's perfectly happy doing useful stuff in my office running Linux and I don't feel like messing around with it for this project. Besides, it has an integrated Radeon 9000 on the AGP bus which is likely going to perform better than anything we can do here.

These docks are being tossed out by the boatloads by businesses right now. I have three - two came from a pawn shop for $5 and the third one I found in a dumpster. I also have a Thinkpad X24 with its own PCI dock, but again, that has a contemporary Radeon chip onboard which is just fine for it.

So how about some graphics cards? Here are the contenders, plucked from my stash because I thought they’d be interesting:

2.jpg

In rough chronological order, we have an 8MB ATi Rage LT Pro, an 8MB Voodoo2, a GeForce (4) MX4000 with 64MB, and a 256MB ATi FireMV 2260 from 2009 (Radeon HD3400-equivalent.) Honestly, I'm expecting the GMA950 to blow some of these out of the water, but maybe we can find a good use-case all the same.

Before we begin, though, there's a bit of a problem. We need to modify the dock so that some of the cards will fit. There was a piece of metal that had to be removed and an internal fan that needed to be externalized.

3.jpg
4.jpg

This thing is NOT particularly easy to get apart, although I will give Dell credit for using exactly two different types of screws, one internal and one external, with no variation in length. Suffice to say not all of those screws will be going back in. It's actually built like a tank with a ton of metal shielding.

Thanks to the help of someone whose voice changed during the span of his “tech tips” video career, I was able to get it open. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to get all the way in without doing some manual bending of metal. Fortunately, it all bent back into shape pretty well when I was done.

Note: some cards will fit just fine into this dock without modding. If you're doing this yourself, check first!

5.jpg

For the purposes of this test I think I'll leave it this way; makes swapping cards a ton easier too. I put a piece of white cardboard over the metal power supply & media bay to prevent accidental shorts; you'll see that in pics later.
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-21 @ 08:44

Intel GMA950

intel_xpu-z.png

Running anything on the integrated graphics doesn't sound like much fun, but it's important to establish a baseline, and I want to make the point that this runs everything except the Shader Model 3 stuff. It may not be a particularly good one, but it's a modern GPU on the PCIe bus and it's the same age as the rest of the laptop so there's no incompatibilities for "temporal reasons."

Here are the tests I chose:

gma950-benchmarks.png

Green means the test or game ran well enough I’d call it ‘playable’ (which may well mean 25FPS, I’m not a “locked 60” snob.)
Yellow means it was noticeably choppy or full of graphics glitches & incompatibilities.
Red means it didn’t run at all. Blank boxes mean I didn’t try something because it was obviously going to fail (e.g. CIF-only games on the GeForce.)

Some of these are obvious choices - I ran the 3DMark procession because I wanted to see the point where each card would break. Aside from that I tried to get a succession of games and demos in there which roughly spanned the time period of the cards we're running, as well as some more recent stuff I thought might run.

Note that not everything here has an easy way to do a "benchmark" or even see FPS. Some of these are just going to get a score of "works", "unplayable", or "fail”, because 2008 memes are better than 2018 memes.

Not everything was run at the same resolution or color depth. In the end I wasn't really trying for rigorous performance scores; I just wanted to show whether or not using the card this way made sense.

Testing notes for the GMA950:
- In 3DMark03 and later most of the benchmarks dropped to single-digit FPS. This is the point where I’d say the chip becomes unsuitable. However, in 05 it still impressively rendered most scenes with no glitches or graphical errors, just not quickly.
- I ran 3DMark06 at 800x600 to reduce the pain. Didn’t help. Most scenes showed “0” FPS. This chip can’t do Shader Model 3 so not everything ran. (SM2.0 score: 65)
- Freedom Planet 1 had broken window scaling, but ran fine in 1X mode in a tiny window. Freedom Planet 2, despite being such a new game & running on Unity, exhibited some minor slowdown and a few broken alpha artifacts (purple transparency) but was otherwise completely playable.

(So the newest game in the lot ran on the newest GPU - I guess I didn't prove anything here yet.)

fp1-brokenscaling.jpg
fp1-tinywindow.jpg
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-21 @ 08:49

ATI Rage LT Pro

ati_rage_xpu-z.jpg

So let's start some tests with a real card! First up from Team Red we have a good old Rage; a mid-lifespan model that avoids most of the chip's teething problems even. I've defended Rage cards in the past, citing that they were actually decent considering the price point and the time they came out... but I have to say, using this one on this setup in WinXP was a pretty miserable experience.

With 8MB VRAM, this one actually supports the native 1280x1024 of my LCD monitor, but you probably wouldn't want to run it at that as even dragging windows around the desktop is sluggish. The VGA output seems to be off-spec as I never could get the monitor to fully adjust and not have some overscan somewhere. Whatever mode the Rage tried to use for my GRUB boot menu would cause the monitor to throw an out-of-range hissy fit, so every reboot would be 'blind.' It has a digital output but it's a weird connector that I don't have an adapter or converter for (how many digital video standards did we need, exactly??), and that may not have alleviated any of these issues for all I know.

So how bad was it? Let's see some benchmarks:

rage-benchmarks.png
^^ look at all those red boxes...

Testing notes:
- The explosion scene in GLExcess was ridiculously slow for some reason and skewed the result.
- Unsurprisingly this card barely supports anything. For some reason 3DMark 99MAX was nearly decent, although maybe that was just my perception in comparison to all the rest.
- Yes, that is 4 FPS in D2X Rebirth. I honestly would have expected better than that, although even this old version of Rebirth is a long way from the original code.
- Freedom Planet 1 surprisingly ran, but had the same scaling problem as the GMA950. It struggled to play at even half speed in some parts. FP2: not a chance.

That all said, it did work where you’d expect it to work, and it does something the other cards don't - CIF. Yep, this one supports ATI's early proprietary API which is used to good effect in games like Wipeout and Tomb Raider, and this system should be well fast enough to chew through those at good framerates.

...that is, in theory. The problem is Windows XP doesn't do CIF with its built-in driver for this card. I downloaded a bunch of different official driver packs, all much older, hoping to find an undocumented NT4 or 2000 driver that might work hidden away in one of them, but no such luck. The 9x drivers wouldn't install (for good reason!), and the timeframes don't even match up: CIF was long deprecated by the time even Windows 2000 rolled around, let alone XP SP3.

Eventually, not wanting to destabilize my whole Windows system, I gave up. If anyone knows if it's possible to get this to work, please post up.

rageface.jpg
rageface.jpg (61.46 KiB) Viewed 715 times
^^ Remember this guy?

So yeah, not a great experience here. TO BE FAIR, running this card on a Core 2 Duo is completely absurd anyway; I really only did this to see if I could get CIF working, but nope.
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-21 @ 08:55

Diamond Monster 3D II (3DFX Voodoo2 8MB)

voodoo-1.jpg

First off, this card is dying. At least one of its texture units is consuming itself from the inside out, so don't expect anything nice on the display. This is the card responsible for this awful sequence of screenshots which I'm monumentally surprised nobody's replaced yet. (There was no capture available on Youtube at the time; I didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to look like that. :P)

I did find a bent pin on one of the TMUs (actually Fitzpatr spotted it when he was over here one time) and tried to straighten it out:
voodoofix.jpg

...which looks better, but it didn’t help.

THAT SAID, once I installed the right driver, this ended up being one of the less-troublesome cards to run. Despite the visual corruption, stuff "just worked." Everything ran about as well as you'd expect and I didn't get any blue screens or protection faults. What the fuck.

voodoo-2.jpg
voodoo-corruption.jpg

I also didn't bother running every single thing on it; I ran a few Glide-only titles and some OpenGL stuff with MesaFX. This was really just an experiment to see if it would work. It's a Voodoo2. You guys know how those do.

voodoo-benchmarks.png
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-21 @ 08:59

Geforce MX4000

gf4.jpg
gf4mx_xpu-z.png

Now THIS should be an upgrade! Essentially a GF4 MX440 with 64MB DDR2 on the PCI bus, in this nice small form factor & passively-cooled design. As with all GF"4" MXes, don't let the name fool you as the actual GPU is really more like a GeForce 2. That means Shader Model Zero and DirectX 7, but it might be an interesting card with those constraints.

gf4-shader-model-0.jpg

This card exhibited some odd quirks, like UT99 for example, which ran at a SLIDESHOW under D3D in 32-bit color. After I wrangled it into 16-bit color it did far better, but in OGL 32-bit it ran better still. I didn't see that particular problem in any other program, so no idea what was going on there. It also seemed to cause Windows to take a ton of time to "rebuild" the screen after shutting down a full-screen app. D2X Rebirth on this ran almost twice as fast in full-screen as it did in a window, which is opposite the case on the GMA950.

I ended up running the last (93.71) drivers that support this card from Nvidia. I was going to go with 30.82, but those are actually older than, and conflicted with, the extremely-cut-down driver that ships in XP SP3, making accelerated titles unusable. Needless to say there were a few reboots involved in setting this one up.

gf4-benchmarks.png

Notes:
- For some reason there was no texture filtering in Final Reality. I’m not convinced it wasn't running in software (the GPU did get warm though.)
- Only one game test worked in 3DMark 2003, but I still got a result. Every later 3DMark failed.
- As mentioned, UT99 crawled in Direct3D at 32-bit color, so I used 16-bit instead which ran fine. OpenGL in 32-bit ran fine.
- fr-025 made it through with no graphics errors, but was sluggish throughout.
- The scaling in Freedom Planet worked properly, unlike the Rage or GMA950. There was some minor slowdown in areas but nothing show-stopping. It’s not the most demanding OpenGL title, but still, that’s a 2014 game running on a Geforce “2”-class GPU; not bad. Freedom Planet 2 wouldn’t run at all due to missing SM2.0 support.
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby BinaryDemon » 2018-9-21 @ 09:05

Very cool project!
Check out DOSBox Distro:

https://sites.google.com/site/dosboxdistro/ [*]

a lightweight Linux distro (tinycore) which boots off a usb flash drive and goes straight to DOSBox.

Make your dos retrogaming experience portable!
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-21 @ 09:12

ATI FireMV 2260 (Radeon HD3450 equivalent, RV620 GPU)

firemv.jpg

SADLY, this is where our story ends. Absolutely nothing I did would get this card to work in the dock. I was expecting this to be the star of this whole experiment, chewing through Shader Model 3 and DirectX 9 games with comparative ease, but it just wasn't gonna happen. When the system powered up the fan would briefly spin and then stop, and no image would ever appear from the card.

I tried disconnecting the fan, figuring it wouldn't be happy but at least I'd see a POST screen, but no dice. I stuffed it into a nearby Pentium 3, where it did an admirable job of displaying the DOS text mode & Windows 98 in crisp digital video through its displayport interface, so I knew the card itself was fine, but when hooked up to the laptop it just refused to work. I even set the onboard chip as the primary video in the BIOS and tried getting Linux to use it as a secondary display, but it wouldn't even show up in the list of PCI devices.

I think it just draws too much power from the PCI for this configuration. The dock plugs into the wall and has its own PSU, but it's pretty tiny and I can't imagine it outputs much juice. Kind of a shame, but what can you do?

firemv-benchmarks.png

So that’s it, until I get some more PCI cards that bridge the SM2.0 gap or someone suggests a way to get the FireMV going. Did this little experiment work? Yep. Is there a decent use-case for any of this?

Well... maybe! None of these cards in this system offered a better option than the integrated GMA950 as a primary display, but the Voodoo2? If I had one that *worked* properly, it would totally be useable in a setup like this. The fan-made drivers for XP do just fine and my corrupted card was surprisingly trouble-free even if its display didn’t look nice. On a laptop with a working internal display, running the Voodoo card out to a second monitor without using the pass-through cable is actually a really nice way to use one.

You could theoretically even use it as an extra head in the Linux desktop with the SSTFB framebuffer driver, although I didn’t try to get that working on mine.

I imagine if you went to the trouble of setting up a Latitude D600/Inspiron 600m to run Win98 with this dock, you’d have a blisteringly fast Voodoo2 system for not a lot of desk space. And there are heaps more laptops around with compatible PCI docks and various horrible integrated graphics chips, which might be a little more suited than this one. If you have one, give it a try & post up!

You can see the raw spreadsheet I was recording my results on, with a few additional notes in the far right columns, here. It's super exciting.

Hope you guys had fun reading or got some useful info out of this; it was an ass-ton of work to put together, but I've been collecting all the ingredients for ages & had to give it a try.

See you in the next Megathread...
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby nekurahoka » 2018-9-21 @ 13:20

Real shame about the FireGL. I was really hoping to see how that fared in this configuration. I have a PCI HD7350 that I tried to use in an HTPC that is quirky in some circumstances and wanted to see how the FireGL compared. That card is finicky about which systems it will work in too. It powered on ok in the low-power USFF system I used for that build, but won't do anything in my full size 750W LGA1155 system.

Awesome project. This is my first introduction to a "halftop" setup.

You mentioned a slow down issue with an explosion on the Rage card? Is this a scene with some transparency involved? I've had issues with ATI cards from that era bogging down in some blending situations.
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby bjwil1991 » 2018-9-21 @ 14:26

I'm actually wondering: would this docking station work on a Dell Inspiron 600m notebook computer, or is that impossible? I never knew that some docking stations had it where you can add your own expansion cards, such as sound, video, and so on. I've seen docking stations that have a full-sized CD drive in it. Sadly, my other laptops won't do docking stations since there's no port for it.
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-21 @ 19:27

nekurahoka wrote:Real shame about the FireGL. I was really hoping to see how that fared in this configuration. I have a PCI HD7350 that I tried to use in an HTPC that is quirky in some circumstances and wanted to see how the FireGL compared. That card is finicky about which systems it will work in too. It powered on ok in the low-power USFF system I used for that build, but won't do anything in my full size 750W LGA1155 system.

That would be an interesting card to try! Another generation newer & it draws even less power than the FireMV (19W vs 25W according to Techpowerup's GPU database.) I really think that was the limiting factor here, some specs sites even mention it can't support "high power draw" devices but don't specify what the limit is.

nekurahoka wrote:You mentioned a slow down issue with an explosion on the Rage card? Is this a scene with some transparency involved? I've had issues with ATI cards from that era bogging down in some blending situations.

It was this scene, so yeah, seemingly lots of transparency & alpha blending. It runs perfectly on any Radeon IIRC.

bjwil1991 wrote:I'm actually wondering: would this docking station work on a Dell Inspiron 600m notebook computer, or is that impossible? I never knew that some docking stations had it where you can add your own expansion cards, such as sound, video, and so on. I've seen docking stations that have a full-sized CD drive in it. Sadly, my other laptops won't do docking stations since there's no port for it.

I have a 600m sitting on one of these docks in my office, it's fully supported & works fine. You have to flash it to the latest Latitude D600 BIOS as the two models are identical, but Dell blocked the "consumer" Inspiron model from using the dock.
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby bjwil1991 » 2018-9-21 @ 19:35

Cool beans.
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby leileilol » 2018-9-22 @ 22:09

A PowerVR PCX1/2 could work.


SPOILER: It will be slow. Depends on how fast the dock is really
Voodoo2s aren't 100mhz stock
Geforce256 isn't released as a beta on New Years '99 under the Quadro brand
DOS gaming isn't a bilinear 320x200 16:10
DOS PCs aren't better than the Macintosh
DOSBox is not for running Windows 9x
SGL != Glide
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby cyclone3d » 2018-9-23 @ 03:18

You could always try a larger power adapter. You may very well be limited by the power adapter if you are using one of the smaller ones. The normal size back then was 90w.

The smallest available is 65w. The largest available is 240w.

And don't forget that the power adapter also has to power/charge the laptop at the same time.
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-23 @ 06:44

cyclone3d wrote:You could always try a larger power adapter. You may very well be limited by the power adapter if you are using one of the smaller ones. The normal size back then was 90w.

The smallest available is 65w. The largest available is 240w.

And don't forget that the power adapter also has to power/charge the laptop at the same time.

The dock plugs into mains AC power & has its own internal supply, 130W IIRC. A high-power PCI card with a Molex or PCIe connector on a second external PSU might work, but I don't have one to try. I suppose you could route the power pins of the PCI slot to an external supply, but holy hell that would make a cumbersome mess.

leileilol wrote:A PowerVR PCX1/2 could work.


SPOILER: It will be slow. Depends on how fast the dock is really

That's a good suggestion; I have a Matrox M3D in my storage room somewhere. Running add-in cards with proprietary APIs is one of the uses I'd think a setup like this is makes sense for.

AFAIK the dock PCI shouldn't be any slower than a PCI slot in a desktop machine. It hooks in directly to the "real" PCI bus through the dock connector; there's no bus translation or extra logic. But yeah, a 4MB PowerVR card on a C2D makes about as much sense as an ATI Rage. :P
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby cyclone3d » 2018-9-23 @ 06:55

xjas wrote:
cyclone3d wrote:You could always try a larger power adapter. You may very well be limited by the power adapter if you are using one of the smaller ones. The normal size back then was 90w.

The smallest available is 65w. The largest available is 240w.

And don't forget that the power adapter also has to power/charge the laptop at the same time.

The dock plugs into mains AC power & has its own internal supply, 130W IIRC. A high-power PCI card with a Molex or PCIe connector on a second external PSU might work, but I don't have one to try. I suppose you could route the power pins of the PCI slot to an external supply, but holy hell that would make a cumbersome mess.


Ah, ok. Been quite a while since I had one of those docks.

Are you able to plug in a power adapter to the laptop itself while docked? I don't remember if it will fit.
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-27 @ 01:11

But wait, there's more!

Not wanting to give up on the FirePro (FireMV) card just yet, I got out my Thinkpad X24 and its dock, hoping for a different result. Behold the new (older) hotness:

think1.jpg

Now this machine is a couple generations older, but I really wanted to see if the card would work. It's a 1.13GHz Tualatin with 640MB of RAM. The onboard video is a much-better matched Radeon 7000-m, so I initially didn't think the FireMV would offer much improvement. Well, let's put that to the test.

Here it is installed in the dock - incidentally access to the PCI slot on this one is much easier than on the Dell. It's a Thinkpad Dock II.

think2.jpg

This card has two DisplayPort outputs. It's connected to the monitor via a DisplayPort to DVI adapter:

think3.jpg

After setting the primary video card to PCI in the BIOS, I booted into XP & installed some drivers:

think4.jpg
^^ incidentally it took a bit of trial and error to find the right driver package (there's an explicit driver for the 2260 PCI available on AMD's site, which is found buried in a different category than the 2200 PCI), but once I did it loaded straight up with no hitches.

think5.jpg
(I'd manually disabled the onboard Radeon for ease of setup here, but I probably didn't need to. I re-enabled it later.)
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-27 @ 01:19

So with that all up and running, let's get some results. The first thing I did was run my precession of 3DMarks.

think6.jpg

Surprisingly, every single one up to 2005 ran fine, although framerates got pretty bad by that point. Even 2006 mostly worked except for the SM3.0/HDR tests which failed, crashing out with an insufficient VRAM error. (This is a SM3.0 card and 2006 "should" run on 256MB VRAM; I'm wondering if it was failing due to lack of AGP memory access or something like that.)

think7.jpg
^^ just because some parts of 06 ran doesn't mean there wasn't any pain.

Most of the later 3DMarks were clearly GPU-limited on the Dell D430+GMA950 setup, so the Thinkpad+FireMV handily beat its scores despite the older CPU architecture and reduction in system RAM. (E.g. in 3DMark2005, where the Dell barely crunched out 356 3DMarks, the Thinkpad managed 2473.) This surprised me a bit. 99MAX gave a CPUMark of 29992 to the Dell's 1.3GHz Core2 vs 15981 to the Thinkpad's 1.13GHz PIII, showing that single-threaded performance is at least comparible on an old benchmark like this.

For some reason Final Reality gave a WAY lower score to the Thinkpad (6.42 vs. 19.49), despite it seemingly running fine with no slowdowns on either system, compared to GLExcess where the Thinkpad flattened the Dell (7064 vs 1866.) Maybe due to better OpenGL optimization in the FirePro driver package?

think8.png

Incidentally, Final Reality's AGP tests ran fine on this configuration and gave decent results. Final Reality was written to test AGP memory access back when 4-8MB GPUs were hot shit, so I think whatever it was doing just fit into the FireMV's 256MB and didn't try to spill into system memory at all.
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-27 @ 01:23

And since I know you've all been waiting for it, how about some games? Naturally not everything that takes advantage of a 2011 GPU will run on a 2002 Pentium III. Prince of Persia & Freedom Planet 2 failed outright due to lack of SSE2(*) and Freedom Planet 1 failed for unknown reasons. The titles you'd expect to work (fr-025, UT99, and D2X Rebirth) did work, although UT99 proved troublesome and was prone to bluescreens when changing video modes. I wasn't able to get a result for it in 32-bit colour because of this. GTA4 should work fine but I didn't feel like installing it to test.

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^^ fr-025 bringing out the groove.

(* I had no luck finding an emulator or exception handler that could bodge this into working - there's an SSE exception handler for Transmeta Crusoes floating around which didn't work for this, and the Hackintosh community have developed SSE3 emulators for SSE2, but AFAIK there's no general-purpose SSE2 emulators for SSE1. If any of you know of one please post up.)

But what about Nitronic Rush? Well, it took a bit to load, but
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BAM.

It's not the most graphically intensive game out there, but this is a 2012 title and it does use SM3. And here it is running on a Pentium III. Ahahaha.

After I bumped the resolution down to 640x480 it was positively playable, happily chugging along at 30FPS in lighter scenes. Even after I turned on motion blur & bloom it still eked out 20-25 FPS. How's that for a result?

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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-27 @ 01:28

Naturally, after this I went on a binge trying to run things that shouldn't be run on a P3, on this P3. Results were mixed, with a lot of predictable failures due to lack of SSE2, but here are some highlights:

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fr-041: Debris (2007) - this demoscene powerhouse blew everyone away when it came out at Breakpoint 07. And my little laptop here with its overpowered GPU managed to chew through it, albeit at 640x480. What can I say, this card rules.

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Farbrausch & Neuro: Masagin (2008)

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I really thought Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (2004) was going to run, but it crashed after this menu. :( The background here is in-engine and was running just fine at 1024x768.

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Similarly, FEZ (2012) failed after this splash screen. Had high hopes here.

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La-Mulana (2005) ran without errors but was way too slow, like platforming through molasses. On the other hand,
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Re: Laptop gaming the hipster way: using an external GPU before it was cool

Postby xjas » 2018-9-27 @ 01:31

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VVVVVV 2.0 (2011) played totally fine. It's worth mentioning that most of these "2D" games are using OpenGL & built on modern-ish dev tools.

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Tasty Static (2011) also ran great, even cranked all the way up to 1280x1024.

And finally:

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Goddamn Shovel Knight - this is the latest version from 2016 with all the expansions, and here it is on a Pentium III. Sure, it's "just" a 2D platformer but this is a modern game and it was fully playable with no slowdown in sight.

Unfortunately, one thing I just couldn't get working was using the FireMV for extra monitors in conjunction with the integrated display on the Radeon 7000. Dual-heading on the FireMV itself worked fine, but nothing I did would make the two GPUs work in tandem, regardless of which one had boot priority in the BIOS. I tried this both on XP and a recent build of Linux (Lubuntu 18.04 32-bit), but no luck. :(

So, what's the conclusion? Is this an upgrade? Is running a more modern GPU in an otherwise non-upgradable machine like this worth doing?

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Well, if you're not trying to play "triple-A" stuff and want to run modern indie retro-platformers on a Pentium III, absolutely. :P Granted, that's an awfully specific use-case but I think I've shown at least some benefits to running a setup like this.

Also, it's worth mentioning that this specific dock works with quite a few different Thinkpads including some Pentium 4 & M models which would solve the SSE2 problem. Unlike the Dell counterparts, "not officially supported" Thinkpads like mine can apparently use this dock with no firmware whitelists or lockout BS. So if you've got anything with the right connector, it might be worth tracking down.
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