First post, by bZbZbZ

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Earlier this year I started a thread about my cheap Core i3 computer that now handles most of my retro gaming. This is a what it looks like, what the specs are, etc. This isn't a particularly interesting computer at face value, but I hope it might encourage some conversation about what aspects of our hobby we enjoy most (the games? what it looks and feels like? the hardware itself?). In my opinion there's no "right" or "wrong" way to enjoy retro computing, and this is one option maybe some of you might find interesting. I look forward to your comments!

Before I start, I would say that I do have some experience with actual old-ish hardware. I grew up using a 68040 Macintosh, then a Pentium II Packard Bell. Those machines are sadly gone, but I did preserve and restore the very first computer I built myself from scratch - a 440BX Pentium III. I have a moderate collection of vintage hardware, with four operational retro computers running Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000, and Windows XP. Each system has its own strengths, weaknesses, and peculiarities. But despite this... I wanted to have one system where I can sink most of my gaming time, that:

  • runs everything from DOS to late Windows XP era games very very well
  • is stable, robust, cheap to repair, and low-guilt when it comes to putting hours and hours of runtime on it
  • looks, sounds, and feels like my imperfect memories of the past - not necessarily in a completely authentic way, but in a way that pleases me!

So here's the specs, starting with what it looks, sounds, and feels like:

  • 19" LG Flatron CRT (bought new in 2004, I have moved it to this rig and my PIII is instead paired with a another CRT)
  • Sennheiser HD555 open back headphones (had these lying around, they sound great)
  • Razer Orochi V2 2.4 GHz wireless mouse (way more responsive than retro, but it has a vaguely familiar shape... pulls double duty as a Bluetooth mouse paired with a Surface Pro)
  • NextTime X75 mechanical keyboard from AliExpress (the least retro thing about this build... I got sick of how much space my Model M took up and I needed a volume dial)
  • two Xbox 360 wireless controllers, with the official Microsoft wireless receiver (official WinXP driver support)

And the inside:
CPU: Intel Core i3 540 overclocked from 3.07 GHz to 3.83 GHz (the oc is completely unnecessary for retro games but I was so amused that I kept it)
MB: Asus Maximums III Gene (Intel P55 chipset) with 2x 2GB DDR3 memory
VGA: PowerColor Radeon 5770 1GB PCIe (this card has a VGA port, which is handy because my quirky case doesn't have space for a DVI-VGA adapter brick)
Sound: Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 PCI
Drive 1: Intel SSD DC S3500 160GB with Windows XP SP3 32-bit (Intel's toolbox software supports manual TRIM in WinXP)
Drive 2: Intel SSD320 160GB with KDE Neon Linux and Windows 7 x64 (this is set as the boot drive in the BIOS, and GRUB can then load Windows XP from Drive 1)
Case: Silverstone FT03 (the reviews said this case isn't very good, but when it came out I wanted one anyway... it's just so quirky)

So where does this get me? Well, it runs basically any XP era game at 1280x1024 far above 85fps (the CRT hits 85Hz at this resolution) with 4x MSAA and 16xAF. Most of the Win98 era games I want to play work too with some fiddling... often with a patch and/or a Glide wrapper. Admittedly it is a bit of a chore getting some Win9x games to work but once I get it working there's something very nice about having multiple eras worth of games all on the same system without a need to reboot. I also have DOSBox and Basilisk installed. Obviously emulation isn't truly authentic... but I personally loathe the chore of DOS troubleshooting more than I loathe Win9x/XP troubleshooting. DOSBox and Basilisk look great fullscreen on the CRT. Actually everything looks great on the CRT.

I could boil this down to a reliable cheap fast computer that plays CRT era games really really well on a real CRT.

Perhaps my favorite thing of all about this system is that it tucks into a corner of my main office. When I'm not retro-ing, I swing my 24" arm mounted flatpanel over to block the CRT and get back to work.


Reply 1 of 3, by Joseph_Joestar

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bZbZbZ wrote on 2022-07-24, 05:15:

[*]is stable, robust, cheap to repair, and low-guilt when it comes to putting hours and hours of runtime on it

This is a very reasonable approach to retro gaming. As you say, retro components are getting more expensive and harder to track down, so using a newer but still very compatible system makes a lot of sense.

[*]19" LG Flatron CRT

Great looking monitor! A have a 17" Samsung SyncMaster which I bought around 2005, and it still serves me well. I wish I had gotten a 19" version, but my budget was too limited back in the day.

Sound: Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 PCI

While the Audigy 2 is a very nice card, I would replace it with an X-Fi for this build, if you can get one for a reasonable price. The improvements that Creative made to the sampling rate conversion process might help with older games.

PC#1: Pentium MMX 166 / Soyo SY-5BT / S3 Trio64V+ / Voodoo1 / YMF719 / AWE64 Gold / SC-155
PC#2: AthlonXP 2100+ / ECS K7VTA3 / Voodoo3 / Audigy2 / Vortex2
PC#3: Athlon64 3400+ / Asus K8V-MX / 5900XT / Audigy2
PC#4: i5-3570K / MSI Z77A-G43 / GTX 970 / X-Fi

Reply 2 of 3, by bZbZbZ

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Thanks for the comments! I am on the lookout for a reasonably priced PCI X-Fi. I have an extra X-Fi for PCI Express, but with this particular motherboard's slot layout I'd rather avoid using the nearby PCIe slots to leave more space for the graphics card airflow.

Reply 3 of 3, by mgtroyas

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Hi, came here through the suggestion you made on the comments of my build. I'm loving what I see! Ha, ha, we share way of thinking and goals so much, your build and desk is an alternative universe version of mine, I have a big smile on my face:

  • CRT on the desk corner to gain that diagonal space. Modern monitor arm mounted by its side.
  • Audioplile headphones: Sennheiser HD555 --> I use Audio Technica ATH-M70x. For gaming I have a Logitech G435 but rarely use it, I love my Creative GigaWorks T40 speakers and the RealTek ALC1220 integrated on my GIGABYTE Z270N-WIFI has surprisingly good sound quality for an integrated card.
  • Simracer: Logitech G27 --> I have a Thrustmaster T150 plus T3PA pedals. I play Asetto Corsa with 2TB of Mods (tracks, cars) on my modern rig, but sometimes switch it to the XP build (USB switch) to play GTR2, Race07, Colin McRae 2, 04, Richard Burns Rally, and all the old school arcade games like NFS3 (excellent Force Feedback support for such an old game) on the CRT "the way they were meant to be played".
  • Drawing: I see a wacom tablet --> I have a XP Pen Deco 01 but haven't dedicated much time learning, yet.
  • High refresh rate modern mouse: Razer Orochi V2 2.4 GHz wireless mouse --> I use Logitech G305, smooth, precise, not expensive, but the wheel fails after some time...
  • Mechanical keyboard --> I use a basic Logitech K260 but give it time...
  • Multiple XBox controllers --> I love my Logitech F710 (similar but with zero dead zone), one on the PCs, other on a Chromecast to run RetroArch from the couch.
  • Core i3 with DDR3 RAM, SSD, Radeon HD5770 (I have a HD7750 as an alternative to the GTX 750), Sound Blaster (I have no free PCIe slots, and the SSF case limits the options, so I opted for 3D sound emulation), black case (I love yours! it's what Darth Vader would have used: elegant, black and with the Empire logo 🤣).
  • CRT + high res + 32 bits + vSync + FSAA4x + AF16x = heaven
  • Using DOSBox plus DBGL 0.83 (latest with XP support) to have all games generations on same machine, without CPU speed/640KB/DMA/IRQ/EMS/XMS/HDD size/MIDI/Soundcard hell.
  • You saved your original Pentium 3, I fortunately conserve my 286 12MHz (and 14" CRT) and Athlon XP.

Congratulations, enjoy that build for many years and share it with your friends and relatives. Which console has so extensive and variate game collection?