VOGONS


First post, by Kahenraz

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I couldn't find a good place in a particular build I'm working on for this where I felt that the PoweVR PCX2 had enough airflow. I had already modded it with a heatsink and fan to offset the new clock crystal, but there wasn't a whole lot of clearance beyond that where it wouldn't sandwiched into an adjacent card.

I finally settled on the video card I wanted for the PCIe slot, a Quadro FX 1300. This particular card had the GPU die at the far end, which gave a lot of room to loop a PCI extension cable over the front without blocking the fan. So I strapped the PCX2 onto the back. Now it has plenty of room to breathe and great airflow!

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Last edited by Kahenraz on 2022-06-03, 18:19. Edited 2 times in total.

Reply 1 of 12, by Kahenraz

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A couple more photos.

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Reply 5 of 12, by Kahenraz

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This is a particularly odd beast of a machine and has a lot of redundant parts, for some very specific reasons. The processor is a Pentium D 950 clocked at 3.4 Ghz. The motherboard is an Intel i945 chipset with a PCIe graphics slot that is incompatible with Windows 98. So it has two graphics cards, one for Windows XP and another one for Windows 98. Actually, it has three graphics cards; if you count the PCX2, or four if you count the disabled IGP.

Sound cards are in a similar situation, with three sound cards, four if you count the disabled onboard AC97. There is also an ATA133 adapter, because the motherboard has only one onboard IDE port and it's only ATA66.

At a minimum I wanted at least DirectX 9, ideally a GeForce FX class graphics card with two display outputs. This didn't leave many options, with the best in class being a Quadro FX 1300 for Windows XP and a GeForce FX 5500 for Windows 98. The limiting factor for graphics capability in Windows 98 is the lack of an AGP slot. But this has its own unique advantage, since it allows me to swap the other graphics card for one OS without affecting the other. It's like having two different retro configurations, but in the same box.

Sound is very complicated, so I'll try to explain it on a per-operating system list.

For DOS I use a Sound Blaster 16 exclusively for its getting Yamaha Adlib OPL3 for FM synthesis. However, this motherboard does not support DMA over the USA bus, so Sound Blaster Pro effects is provided by a Vortex 2. The Vortex 2 also has a Yamaha DB50XG daughterboard for General MIDI. The GeForce FX 5500 is very compatible with DOS and pairs well with the PowerVR PCX2. Because the video card is PCI, I also have great flexibility for swapping it out should I encounter an incompatibility.

For DOS games in Windows 98, I still have the Yamaha OPL3 from the Sound Blaster 16 and sound effects from the Aureal Vortex 2, with General MIDI is handled by the Audigy 2 ZS with a Roland SC-55 soundfont.

For Windows 98 games, I have the option of genuine A3D via the Aureal Vortex 2 or EAX from the Audigy 2 ZS. Video is still the GeForce FX 5500, which is more than sufficient, with Glide compatibility available through nGlide.

Windows XP is far less interesting, as it's just the Quadro FX 1300 and Audigy 2 ZS, for games and programs that either require NT or simply need the extra grunt from the faster graphics. I also find it a luxury to have all of these options available within the same machine that can also double as an early Windows XP machine. The only limiting factor is the video card, but since it is PCIe, it too can be swapped out as necessary without affecting the DOS/Windows 98 portion, since that has its own exclusive video card of its own.

The goal of this machine was very specifically to try and find an optimal build with as much compatibility for pure DOS and Windows 98 sound and video features, at the expense of top tier graphics, in exchange for a very fast CPU. The theory is that an overpowered CPU would compensate for itself in speed sensitive games by running them in a DOSBox emulator, either in Windows 98 or XP. The idea is that I would have the option to run newer DOS titles that were not speed sensitive natively. And those that were incompatible, could still be run from within Windows with emulation. One use case for this is Dungeon Master, which normally cannot be run from within Windows, as it corrupts Adlib sound. And the Wing Commander series, but with the benefit of accurate timings and Windows joystick support for greater compatibility.

Another issue that I kept running into when it came to sound was FM music. I wanted a genuine Yamaha OPL3, but I always found there to be caveats with the options available for PCI, including compatibility with newer motherboards, problems or instability with DOS drivers, and issues with the FM being far too quiet. Choosing a PCI sound card for Yamaha OPL also had its own problems with my decision to use both an Aureal Vortex and a Creative Audigy. A third PCI card made this extremely complicated to manage resources and moderate legacy resources from within Windows 98. Having a fast motherboard with a driverless ISA Sound Blaster with Yamaha OPL3 solved all of these problems and just worked. I also had full control over the volume, since it was separated into its own unique audio channel.

Yes, it's a beast. Yes, there are three video cards and three sound cards. Yes, it's pretty crazy and absurd. But it is glorious.

Alternatively, this same setup can work by swapping the GeForce FX 5500 PCI for a 3Dfx Voodoo 5 5500 PCI. I think that the GeForce would be faster, at the very least in DirectX titties, but I don't have one to compare.

Last edited by Kahenraz on 2022-06-12, 18:26. Edited 2 times in total.

Reply 6 of 12, by Kahenraz

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As predicted by leileilol, the PowerVR PCX2 has problems with the NVIDIA cards tested, a GeForce 4 MX 420 PCI, GeForce FX 5200 PCI, and a Quadro FX 1300 PCIe. I tried drivers from 43.45-81.98.

I had great success when paired with a Voodoo 4 4500 PCI and a Radeon X300 PCIe. There was no performance variation between these two, suggesting that there is no bottleneck on the PCI bus when the PCX2 has been overclocked up to 90 Mhz.

Reply 7 of 12, by Kahenraz

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I've been experimenting with a lot of different video cards to decide what I want to use in this build. My options are limited by having only PCI and PCIe, and I want to straddle the point where I have some reasonable 3D, but also good DOS/9x compatibility.

I have tried the following PCI cards:

ATI Rage XL
ATI Rage 128
ATI Radeon 7000
ATI Radeon 7200
NVIDIA GeForce 2 MX
NVIDIA GeForce 4 MX 420
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200
3dfx Voodoo 4 4500

And the following PCIe cards:

ATI Radeon X300
NVIDIA GeForce PCX 5300
NVIDIA Quadro FX 1300

I have had nothing but problems with all of the NVIDIA cards in some form or another; even after extensive testing with drivers as far back as 7.7.6, all the way to 82.69. Often, I could find some combination that worked well enough to solved one problem, but then another would spring up elsewhere. My opinion is that, for Windows 9x, NVIDIA cards on AGP are excellent. But for PCI, they are pretty terrible. My PowerVR PCX2 had ghosting problems on all of these NVIDIA cards with Tomb Raider, and the Direct3D HAL was always broken. I did not have the same ghosting problem with MechWarrior 2, however.

I was always happy with the compatibility and performance of the ATI cards; even the Rage XL, despite its flaws. I've been a fan of the Rage 128 in AGP form for a while now, and it's still a solid pick on PCI. The Radeon 7000 series were "OK", but there wasn't as much of an improvement over the Rage 128 as expected. Either is a strong pick for Windows 9x, and the correct choice will depend on the software you want to run. For example, the Radeons have much better OpenGL support, but you may lose compatibility with newer divers.

The 3dfx Voodoo 4 is a very solid pick, which great legacy compatibility and support for Glide. I was disappointed in the overall performance compared to some of the other offerings; Direct3D is not as fast and OpenGL support is not as complete. A Voodoo 5 PCI might have offered a better experience. I think that Voodoo cards are best paired with lower spec processors, where 3dfx GPUs are often much stronger than the competition for this particular era.

PCIe support for Windows 9x was very spotty. NVIDIA drivers were absolutely terrible, and when things did work, performance was pitiful compared to the same card in Windows XP. Some games like Doom 3 could not render without some kind of glitchiness or corruption on any driver. The ATI Radeon X300 however, was an absolute joy to work with. Compatibly was great and performance was excellent.

I had a lot of fun trying out all of these different PCI cards on Windows 98 to see how they would perform when competely unrestricted by the CPU. My favorites are the Rage 128 for compatibly and overall features, and the Radeon X300 for sheer speed. A Voodoo 1 or 2 can also be paired for Glide, and I think that this provides a wider range of compatible games than a Voodoo 4. Unless you have an AGP slot, just avoid NVIDIA entirely. An NVIDIA Riva TNT2 PCI card may be an alternate to the ATI Rage 128, but I don't have one to test with.

So far I'm leaning towards a Rage 128 PCI for Windows 98 and a Radeon X800 PCIe for Windows XP. My choice of video card for Windows 98 must also have good compatibility with DOS, so there is still further testing to do.

I would like to revisit compatibility relative performance figures in the future with a Riva TNT2, Radeon 9250, and a Voodoo 5. I am particularly interested in the TNT2, but every showing by NVIDIA so far has been a great disappointment. I didn't even bother with a Riva 128, since its drivers are so terrible. I see no reason to ever choose a Riva 128 over a Rage 128 for Windows.

Games that I've been using for testing have included:

Doom (DOS)
Doon 3
Duke Nukem 3D (DOS)
Tomb Raider 1 (DOS)
Quake 1 (DOS/Windows OpenGL)
Quake 2
Quake 3
Hexen 2
Arthur's Quest
Unreal
Freelancer
MechWarrior 2 (for Windows)
Moto Racer
Sea Dogs
Pirates of the Caribbean
Diakatana
Scrapland
The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind
Incoming
Thief 1
Final Fantasy 7
Final Fantasy 8
X-COM UFO Defense

I don't know why, but X-COM UFO Defense seems to be a particularly difficult test to pass. I think it's invoking a very strange video mode or refresh rate that is not well supported.

Some surprises with this motherboard included none of my ESS sound cards (Solo, Allegro, Maestro) working with VxD drivers (WDM worked fine), OpenGL failing to work on my GeForce FX 5200 PCI in certain PCI slots, and severe incompatibility (blue screens/hard locks galore) with Yamaha YMF 724 and 744 PCI sound cards with VxD drivers (WDM drivers worked fine). I also experienced lockups with a MediaForte FM801. Luckily, I had no problems with my Aureal Vortex 3 and a Creative Audigy 2 ZS.

I also decided to remove the Promise Ultra133 TX2 ATA controller. While it provides excellent performance in DOS and Windows 9x, I plan to have this machine dual boot, and the performance in Windows XP is terrible. I have instead opted to use the onboard SATA in IDE compatibility mode, and this performs very well in both operating systems. I can still use the onboard IDE controller for a bootable CD-ROM and Redbook analog audio.

Reply 8 of 12, by pentiumspeed

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What is this motherboard and processor used? This detail does matter and helps us to understand what is causing this?

Cheers,

Great Northern aka Canada.

Reply 9 of 12, by Kahenraz

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It's an IMBA-9454ISA motherboard with an Intel Pentium D 950 processor. The ISA slot does not support DMA, but is still useful for other features, like driverless Adlib OPL3 FM synthesis. I think this motherboard also supports some early Core 2 processors, but I have yet to test this. I have also only been using 256MB of memory during testing, to limit any problems that a larger amount may have during this early testing.

The goal of this build is to find a good combination of parts for dual booting Windows 98 and XP. This is more challenging than a lot of other builds, as the i945 chipset has very borderline support for 9x operating systems, and there is a PCIe slot instead of AGP. I want this build to have genuine Yamaha OPL3, Aureal A3D, Creative EAX, and PowerVR PCX2 SGL. The reason for the borderline parts is to push the absolute limits of compatibility for running games within Windows 98, without having to reboot into DOS. If it can't be run from within Windows, I want the processor to be powerful enough to run it in DOSBox instead (from within Windows 98), so I don't have to boot into DOS. I could easily put all of these parts into an older motherboard that would be more compatible, but this would would sacrifice DOSBox emulation.

This is a very unique build for a very specific purpose. I have plenty of other motherboards that would fit lots of specific use cases, but this particular build is meant to span as wide a spectrum as possible. It's not about being the fastest, but rather being the most capable. Not only should it be great in Windows 98, but it should be able to run as much DOS software as possible; more than would otherwise be possible on a period correct machine (as it will be supplemented by DOSBox).

Reply 10 of 12, by pentiumspeed

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That makes sense in mind how you had experienced so much problems with sound cards and some video cards on late boards other than 8xx chipsets.

For me, being simple minded, prefer to have single boot rather not go through of issues and setting up a dual boot. For this reason, I already have collected parts over the years enough and some cases and few complete computers to play with. I have covered enough: 386dx (all of them are cached), one or two 486, and some pentiums, PIII, P4 with 865 chipset and AMD (socket 754 with SiS chipset and socket A with 12V VRM). I already have Optiplex 780 fully restored, was my main computer, will go all XP or one of Dell 990 with sandy bridge i7.

Cheers,

Great Northern aka Canada.

Reply 12 of 12, by Kahenraz

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The PCX2 compatibility issue seems to be specifically with DOS games (from my limited testing). The artifacting is visible as horizontal banding and ghost images, depending on the resolution. This leads me to believe that it has something to do with triple buffering. I think the reason this isn't a problem with MechWarrior 2 has to do with it accessing the framebuffer from within Windows, and NVIDIA's drivers know how to deal with it, whereas Tomb Raider accesses the framebuffer directly through VBE.