Question Building a legacy Windows/MS-DOS gaming rig

emrystuatha

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Good day computer people. I have a puzzle for myself and anyone else that cares to assist.

I have never built a PC before. I've had one built for me once, but want to try my hand at this on legacy equipment and hopefully learn a thing or two before building a modern day media server. I have a vision that may or may not be possible, and so far haven't found anyone else asking the questions I have on building a rig like what I have in mind.

I want to build a rig that has the equipment to natively run MS-DOS and Windows games from the early 80's to mid-2000's under one chassis. I don't want to run DOSbox or some other emulation software. That's cheating, lol. This build will run W98SE with DOS 7.1. As for Motherboard and CPU I think I want to track down an AMD Athlon XP 3200+ on a Gigabyte GA-7NNXP. Will probably top out the With 3 Gb DDR-400 RAM. Case, cooling, storage, drives, and peripherals are still being researched. I'm confident I'll find what I want without issue. The challenge lies with the sound card(s) and graphics card(s).

I'm not a tech genius. However, the couple of challenges I am coming to understand are finding compatible sound cards for DOS games and Window's games is not a one size fits all solution. I also don't know how much my choice of GPU(s) has on DOS games. I do understand the importance the CPU has as well as not running anything higher than 32-bit architecture. I have chosen a CPU and motherboard that should sufficiently allow me to slow down the CPU to 100 mhz and max at 400 mhz, and I also understand that there is software that will allow me to control the BIOS from Windows to make adjustments.

Finally, the question of the post...

Assuming enough room in the case (and beefy enough PS) and proper spacing of the PCI slots, can I run two separate Sound and GPU cards (non-SLi or Crossfire) on one motherboard and select between the cards I want to use depending on the games I choose to play? I was thinking of putting in a Soundblaster 16 using a PCI32 to ISA16 adapter and an Aureal SQ2500 for DOS and Window's respectively. I am still looking into GPUs. My thought is to look for something made in the 1993-1998 range and something made in the 2003-2006 era. I'm also thinking of making use of this niche by using a CRT for DOS games and an LCD for the newer stuff.

Please reserve responses for how to make this work, why this might not work, what else would be needed to accomplish this project, or constructive criticism to my insanity. I'm not interested in opinions on emulation options or better CPU/motherboard combos. Thank you!
 

USAFRet

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I would suggest buying a couple of old systems, and starting with those.

Such as this from fleabay:
https://www.ebay.com/itm/114890468754?hash=item1ac0016d92:g:5AYAAOSwZg9g7gdS


Reverse engineer what works and what does not work in a system like that.

Then build a new one.


PCs of that era were a real PITA. Especially when it came to graphics and sound cards.
Often, there was a lot of manual manipulation needed in the .sys and .ini files, just to make some random combination work.
 

emrystuatha

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I would suggest buying a couple of old systems, and starting with those.

Such as this from fleabay:
https://www.ebay.com/itm/114890468754?hash=item1ac0016d92:g:5AYAAOSwZg9g7gdS


Reverse engineer what works and what does not work in a system like that.

Then build a new one.


PCs of that era were a real PITA. Especially when it came to graphics and sound cards.
Often, there was a lot of manual manipulation needed in the .sys and .ini files, just to make some random combination work.

If I don't receive sufficient answers to my query, that may be my next approach. I'm hoping to avoid having a ton of spare PCs in the house, lol but who knows?
 

USAFRet

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If I don't receive sufficient answers to my query, that may be my next approach. I'm hoping to avoid having a ton of spare PCs in the house, lol but who knows?
If you didn't live though those days building and configuring, it is hard to underestimate the pain it was...lol


And for your 3GB RAM? That's not happening.
Win98SE could only talk to 1GB physical RAM.

https://www.techrepublic.com/forums/discussions/max-ram-for-windows-98-se/
https://retrocomputing.stackexchange.com/questions/2494/windows-98-with-2gb-of-ram
 
Assuming enough room in the case (and beefy enough PS) and proper spacing of the PCI slots, can I run two separate Sound and GPU cards (non-SLi or Crossfire) on one motherboard and select between the cards I want to use depending on the games I choose to play?
Dos era games would use two sound cards at once all the time, one for normal sound and one for music, these were on different channels (irq) so games could target them independently.
All dos games have sound config tools so they will use the soundcard you tell them to during install and ignore any other ones.

Using an original 16bit soundblaster is going way too far, use a nice sound card that will give you decent sound, watch some LGR videos about midi to learn about the gold standard of the times, you don't have to go that far up either but a good soundblaster 32 should be used at least.

The GPU issue is much more difficult if not impossible since all motherboards I know of only have a single GPU slot. Even sli and crossfire only does one output as far as I know.

Scitech display doctor has long since become free and is a tool to enable all available resolutions of a univesa capable GPU in dos and windows 98, this will be essential to get high resolutions with some cards.

For all your driver needs use vogons
They also have a forum with way more nuts then here so maybe consider asking them as well.
 

emrystuatha

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I personally didn't build anything in those days, but I watched two grandparents and a father fight with the equipment non-stop. I remember one particular Sunday as a boy and a three hour headache trying to get Descent running smoothly, lol. Once my dad got "acceptable" results, he firmly planted his butt in the chair and did not move the rest of the day.

Thanks for the head's up on the RAM. I'll keep that in mind. I was told I need to partition a HDD for DOS because it doesn't recognize more than 2 Gb of storage. So, good to know on the memory end of things.
 

emrystuatha

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Dos era games would use two sound cards at once all the time, one for normal sound and one for music, these were on different channels (irq) so games could target them independently.
All dos games have sound config tools so they will use the soundcard you tell them to during install and ignore any other ones.

Using an original 16bit soundblaster is going way too far, use a nice sound card that will give you decent sound, watch some LGR videos about midi to learn about the gold standard of the times, you don't have to go that far up either but a good soundblaster 32 should be used at least.

The GPU issue is much more difficult if not impossible since all motherboards I know of only have a single GPU slot. Even sli and crossfire only does one output as far as I know.

Scitech display doctor has long since become free and is a tool to enable all available resolutions of a univesa capable GPU in dos and windows 98, this will be essential to get high resolutions with some cards.

For all your driver needs use vogons
They also have a forum with way more nuts then here so maybe consider asking them as well.

Both LGR and Vogons are recent resources I've become recently familiar with. Thank you.

What do you mean by a Soundblaster 16 going too far? I don't follow. And I thought a SB32 or AWE32 were newer than a SB16? Am I mistaken?

As for the GPU, this shows my lack of understanding, lol. I thought the GPU went into a PCI slot. I will look up the display doctor info and go from there. Thanks.
 
What do you mean by a Soundblaster 16 going too far? I don't follow. And I thought a SB32 or AWE32 were newer than a SB16? Am I mistaken?
I meant the 16bit one is taking it too far with the "nostalgia" it's too old/crappy, while the roland is taking it too far into the high end, for some at least.
The 32 is a nice middle ground, easy to find, cheap enough, and good sound.
Thanks for the head's up on the RAM. I'll keep that in mind. I was told I need to partition a HDD for DOS because it doesn't recognize more than 2 Gb of storage. So, good to know on the memory end of things.
If you use windows 98 it can see all of the disk (well more than 2Gb at least) even in pure dos mode because dos 7.1 that comes with win98 has fat32 support, also the 2Gb partition limit is more of a bios issue than it is an dos issue, 2Gb looked so futuristic back then that most mobo makers just didn't care about it.
 

Rogue Leader

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My God the idea of going through this era again makes me want to drink bleach.

SoundBlaster 32 or AWE32 are what you want. Good drivers, easy to make work, and the best sound you'll get out of that era of Games. My Buddy had a Roland, was unreal, but The AWE32 does basically the same thing but easier.

That era GPU will go into an AGP slot. Though there were some PCI GPUs as well.

One thing you may run into with all this stuff is even if you get it working, reliability may be suspect. Its all so old and depending how hard it was used and how hot it got (or where it was stored for that matter) you may end up chasing unfixable problems.
 
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geofelt

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FWIW, Civilization 2, namely the 2.42 16 bit version is one of my long time favorite games.
To run it, I built a pc for it exclusively.
It does not need a strong cpu.
From a previous build, I retained a I5-6600K processor which runs windows7 just fine.
That is about the strongest that will do so.
I earlier had it running on windows 10 32 bit but windows insisted on upgrading it, and when it failed to boot, backed out he update until the next cycle. There are compatibility settings for several versions of past windows.
I use a GTX750ti graphics card that can even handle a 4k monitor via displayport.

Integrated motherboard sound should be ok.

The main problem currently is that there seems to be no good antivirus available for 32 bit.
Defender installs ok. But when it tries to load the first set of known viruses, windows says it will not du windows update without a antivirus installed.
Catch 22 so I am looking elsewhere.
In the mean time, internet access is just disconnected.

A problem with some games is that they need patches which may be hard to find.
 
So, I take it no one here has tried to install more than one GPU from different generations on the same PC before?
As it was mentioned before - GPUs from that era were AGP, which replaced PCI, which replaced ISA and EISA, Two GPUs were used by some CAD stations in 80s, where monochrome adapter was used for user interface, and fancy CGA/EGA for graphics display. I don't remember ever trying (or having need to) have AGP and PCI in the same system back then.

What was popular, though, was having an "ordinary" GPU paired with "GPU accelerator" (Voodoo, anyone)...
 
A few things here since I had to go through this a few years ago when I built my Windows 9x PC.
  • Get something closer to the time period of the software you want to run. The further you're away from it, the worse compatibility can get. I got a Pentium 3 since I figured a Pentium 4 class processor is more appropriate for Windows XP and I wasn't planning on throwing XP on it.
  • When you get the motherboard, be aware that there's a good chance it has bad caps on it. Mid 90s to early 2000s was during the capacitor plague. Note that if you get a motherboard with bad caps, at best you can try to get a return, but with parts this old, it may not work in your favor. However, caps are easy to replace if you have a soldering iron, it's just tedious work depending on how many you have to replace.
  • Depending on how old the motherboard is, USB support is basically non-existent outside of the OS. So you should plan on getting a PS/2 keyboard + mouse and an IDE CD/DVD drive.
  • Don't go too crazy with RAM. Windows 98 encounters problems when you have more than 512MB of RAM installed, and it's limited to 1GB anyway.
  • Regarding drivers, make sure to get the VxD version, not the WDM version. While Windows 98 supports WDM drivers, WDM was designed for Windows NT, and things can get wonky if you use WDM drivers. I had a heck of a time trying to get my sound card working with WDM drivers, but it worked perfectly fine with
  • If you wanted to play games from GOG.com, which is doable, you have to first install them from another computer then copy it over. You can't run GOG Galaxy in Windows 98 (connecting an old OS to the internet notwithstanding...) and if you try to run the installer, it says it's meant for a more recent computer.
If you're curious, the hardware I went with my build was:
  • CPU: 800 MHz Pentium 3
  • Motherboard: ASUS CUV4X-C
  • RAM: 512MB
  • Video card: I started with a GeForce 2 MX, but swapped it for a Radeon 7500
  • Sound card: CT4760 SoundBlaster Live! (I believe this a retail one, as opposed to an OEM one)
 
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emrystuatha

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Here is an example of two cards I might consider:

S3 ViRGE/DX (86C375) [Genoa Phantom 3D/DX] BIOS version: 3.0
This is a PCI slot card from 1997

HIS Radeon X850XT IceQ II Turbo VIVO AGP
This is an AGP 8X card from 2005 (I believe).

As I said, the idea is to run DOS games from the 80's up to Window's games through the mid-2000's under one system. What would likely outcomes be if I ran both in one motherboard at the same time?
 
Here is an example of two cards I might consider:

S3 ViRGE/DX (86C375) [Genoa Phantom 3D/DX] BIOS version: 3.0
This is a PCI slot card from 1997

HIS Radeon X850XT IceQ II Turbo VIVO AGP
This is an AGP 8X card from 2005 (I believe).

As I said, the idea is to run DOS games from the 80's up to Window's games through the mid-2000's under one system. What would likely outcomes be if I ran both in one motherboard at the same time?
Trying to do a one-system build like this isn't going to work very well. DOS games are super finnicky with hardware, especially games made in the 80s. Early Windows games can be equally finnicky. There's a reason why LGR has a lot of computers: they're all meant for a particular era in PCs because the only way to run some games properly is to have period correct hardware.

If you want a one-size fits all computer, build it for Windows XP and find a version of DOS Box or DOS Box X that works with it. If you really want to go with Windows 98, use late 90s hardware.
 
Here is an example of two cards I might consider:

S3 ViRGE/DX (86C375) [Genoa Phantom 3D/DX] BIOS version: 3.0
This is a PCI slot card from 1997

HIS Radeon X850XT IceQ II Turbo VIVO AGP
This is an AGP 8X card from 2005 (I believe).

As I said, the idea is to run DOS games from the 80's up to Window's games through the mid-2000's under one system. What would likely outcomes be if I ran both in one motherboard at the same time?
Basically newer GPUs are backward compatible so you only need the newer one, DOS doesn't really have any drivers for different GPUs, they all just run generic VGA or SVGA or CGA/EGA if really old and all newer GPUs support these standards.
You only need the really old GPU if you want to experience the really crappy performance of one in newer titles to get that authentic frustration that people had back then. But you can simulate that by downclocking your newer card or by using frame limiters, slow down software.
 
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Rogue Leader

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So, I take it no one here has tried to install more than one GPU from different generations on the same PC before?
Why bother? The "newer" GPU should run the old games no problem if you still have DOS running. SOME games (very few) may run too fast on it, but you can just downclock the GPU for them. Also trying to run 2 GPUs in the same system thats already a finicky PITA is adding an extra round of torture trying to make the software pick one. It just doesn't work like that.

As it was mentioned before - GPUs from that era were AGP, which replaced PCI, which replaced ISA and EISA, Two GPUs were used by some CAD stations in 80s, where monochrome adapter was used for user interface, and fancy CGA/EGA for graphics display. I don't remember ever trying (or having need to) have AGP and PCI in the same system back then.

What was popular, though, was having an "ordinary" GPU paired with "GPU accelerator" (Voodoo, anyone)...
I had this a few times. In fact at one point I had 3, a normal GPU, an accelerator (PowerVR PCX2), and a DVD decoder card.
 

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