The Quest For Retro Gaming: Building A Vintage PC (Part 1)

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Alec Mowat

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"Warcraft II is one of those titles that suffers from having a CPU that performs too fast. Monkey Island Series, Kings Quest V,The 7th Guest, Doom, Quake, Diablo, Age Of Empires II, Warcraft II, Command And Conquer, and Descent: Freespace."

All of these games will work in DOSBOX, are on GoG or are on Steam already.

Age of Empires and Warcraft II will install on Windows 8 no problem. Quake probably will to, and I wouldn't be shocked if Monkey Island and Kings Quest install fine. I have Diable, The Sim 1 and Black & White installed on this Windows 8.1 box right now.

Freespace has an HD remake on Steam. WarCraft II Battle.net edition should also work fine on any modern PC and includes a number of fixes you'll probably won't want to miss.

Now that DOSBOX supports Glide emulation, you can get a lot running in there properly and looking fine, including Tomb Raider (also on Steam).

Any game that works on XP will work on Windows 8.1, with a little tweaking. I'd had people give me lists of games they could only run in XP and I had them all working fine. You might need to shim them a bit (compatibility mode, etc.), but they will go.

There are only two kinds of games I couldn't get working in Windows 8.1, that you will get working in 98SE/ME.

1. DOS games that won't work in DOS BOX for x reason
2. Windows games that are 16 bit won't emulate on 64bit Operating Systems (but will run in 32 bit).


Just my recommendations:

I recommend the biggest HD you can get. The ISO files take up a lot of disk space rather quickly. If you can find an old PCI IDE RAID card, you can RAID 0 two matching IDE drives and get a good performance boost and a bit more disk space. I am running 2 80 GB drives on one of my retro rigs, which runs Windows XP now.

Remember also that Windows 98 SE has a bug that does not support over 256 MB of RAM, so you are better off with ME if you are getting near 1 GB of RAM. You can get unofficial patches, but it still doesn't really use the RAM.

I wouldn't bother with Windows 95 because it simply lacks any method of troubleshooting. And you will be doing a lot of troubleshooting on these rigs.

Another thing I'd mention is that you are dealing with old hardware. Old harddrives, old soundcards, old ram, old videocards.
Keyword is old. You will have disk issues, you will have bad RAM. You need to thoroughly check these parts before using them. And they will fail on you frequently. I've tossed out half a dozen old videocards, from parts snapping off, to bad RAM, to failing when attempting to overclock.

Now you are hitting the wall here on Videocards: ATI, Nvidia or 3DFX.

ATI still has bad drivers. That's never changed, I wouldn't recommend them because it's difficult to find drivers and they don't support their cards as long as Nvidia has.

3DFX is good for games that are specific to Glide (Tribes, Starsiege, Mechwarrior 2, Quake, a few others).
Any game that fully supports Glide is going to give you a decent experience on a 3DFX card... Once you hit some of the later 90's games (Giantz: Citizen Kabuto, Tribes 2), the Voodoo3 will be destroyed.

...however, that being said, you run up to an Nvidia GT 6800 in Windows 98/ME, which will hands down blow away a Voodoo3 in Glide with OpenGL or DirectX. I've done a lot of benchmarking on older video cards, and on the old AGP slots, a Universal AGP FX 5950 was the best card I could find. Anything later, you'll need to make sure you have a newer motherboard for the later AGP 2.0 cards.

You can't really win with Glide anymore. The Geforce 2 and greater cards will greatly outperform Glide in any game. It was good at the time, but it looks awful and you won't get 1080p out of them. For a "Modern" gaming system, I'd go with anything FX or GT and you'll get old games at 1080p on a new monitor easily.

PCI is too slow for video and the BUS is shared, so you may end up with video, NIC, sound all sharing the resources.

For Processors, I found I struggled on a PIII 500 Mhz. If you are looking at chips in the 1 Ghz range, I'd focus on AMD boards at this time period. The early P3's were better than what AMD had to offer, but AMD was king up until the Intel Core2's came around, and the i-series took the performance crown. My second rig is an old Athlon XP Shuttle X system that performs with ME quiet well.

Drivers are a bit difficult too. Some manufactures are not updating the links anymore. ME does give native USB support, so you can plug a USB key and install the drivers, but 98SE does not seem to. You'll need to map a drive over the network or create an FTP site. That could tricky, as newer operating systems tend to reject their connections by default.
 

knowom

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I'd suggest this set the multiplier to x6.0 and CPU speed to 800-1000MHz if you want it to clock slower use throttle stop then set [Clock Modulation/Chipset Clock Mod] this basically will underclock CPU further you can additionally set thread affinity in task manager as well so it only runs on 1 core.

That said interesting article. Great thing about older games is most of them back then had MIDI sound support most users just use their sound cards for that.

Better though is you can also use hardware synths/sound modules with this for awesome sound character many E-MU, Yamaha, and Roland synths are dirt cheap on Ebay these days you just need MIDI output via a audio interface/sound card dirt cheap USB midi cable. Some of these synths are like $50-100's E-MU Proteus and Yamaha FM synths sound downright great for chip tune sounds.

Roland has that vintage 808 drum sound many people love though personally I'll take a Yamaha DTXPress drum module over that any day they sound great and have 128GM sounds built int as well.

 

TeamColeINC

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Nice article! This is actually something I've been wanting to do on a mini-ITX build for the past year, I just keep putting that cash into my main rig lol.
 

Vlad Rose

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I've had no problems running Win95/98 games through VirtualBox and DOS games through DOSBox. I haven't even noticed a sound difference. The only advantage of actual hardware is in the case of 3D acceleration; which a 'glide' wrapper usually handles well enough. The biggest disadvantage though is that you can play DOS games with a USB gamepad in DOSBox whereas you can't in actual DOS. Have fun trying to find a gamepad that uses the midi port anymore. :(

Windows 3.1 games on the other hand can be a major pain. I haven't had much luck with via DOSBox, VirtualBox, or even VMWare. That I believe is related more so to the video drivers as I couldn't even use my old Virge card in Win 3.1 on an actual P60 I had laying around without a driver disk; let alone trying with a virtual video card.

As for CPUs that are too fast in pure DOS environments, there are plenty of programs out there to 'slow' the CPU down by adding in useless cycles to it. MoSlo was the one I used to use.
 

beetlejuicegr

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Ooooh the memories!
I do want to comment that you should use an alternative to 3dfx voodoo 3 and this should be 2x voodoo 2 16mb on SLI! Why?
Me and my brother had one voodoo 2 16mb each. At some point we moved on to voodoo3 both of us and i decided to sell both our voodoo 2. However the buyer wanted to see them in action (he bought them both) so i removed my voodoo3 and installed both voodoo 2 on SLI mode..
I still remember UT 99 (unreal tournament 1999) was playing BETTER than with voodoo3... I was shocked and felt SCAMMED for selling those awesome graphic cards, i still regret it. :)
 

Nintendork

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Why go all the way to ancient hardware, just get an AMD 880G mobo + an Athlon X2 240 and underclock the cpu or even deactivate the 2nd core.

With just multipliers and k10stat I can underclock the cpu to 400Mhz as its max p-state. It can go lower touching the FID.
 

turkey3_scratch

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I like how you bring up how too fast of a computer affected the speed of the games. Did you know, in the original Space Invaders, when aliens were killed the rest of them moved faster, and this was not programmed this way, but when there were less aliens there was less load on the CPU so it could move them quicker.

Also, could you perhaps describe what power supply to get?
 

palladin9479

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I have two "vintage" gaming PC's I use, one for DOS era games and another for Win98 era.

For the "DOS" system I bought an old Dell Optiplex GXi (classic beige low profile desktop) and then modified it. Added a 10GB HDD, ATI RageXL PCI card and some extra memory I had laying around which gave it something
like 128MB. I also was able to install an AMD K6-2 450 CPU because the board is Socket-7. Used the trick where your set the CPU multiplier pins to 2.0 which is interpreted as 6.0 for a 400Mhz clock speed. Installed FreeDOS and an old copy of Windows 3.11. Was able to get the video, network and sound drivers working along with a basic browser. This is the system I played older 16-bit Windows games and Dos games on until I was able to successfully get most of them ported to Dosbox. The problem with Virtual machines is that the vast majority of them are business orientated and simply don't have drivers available for low end OS's.

The Windows 98 box was far more interesting. Had to hunt down old components and eventually got a socket 370 motherboard with a Pentium III 733. Installed something like 512MB of RAM (Windows 98 max is 1GB but at 512MB or more you need to manually set a parameter to avoid a file cache bug) a 20 or 40GB HDD and a NVidia Geforce 4 MX440. Installed Windows 98SE and got everything configured with working drivers. I still use this system because there are older Win95/98 games that won't work or play stably on newer platforms but require some sort of DX6,7,8 3D acceleration and so can't be used inside VM's. Mechwarrior III, Might and Magic 6 and 7, stuff like that.
 

blackbeard34

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Like guy first wrote a response - Just run these games in dosbox. You can turn down the speed in dos box and if game was made after dosbox you can set affinity on process to adjust speed. This dumbest article I have seen on tomshardware.
 
Interesting, I was hoping for something about 80s computers. Such as choosing 8086/88, 286, and the various x86 competitors, IRQ settings, what audio cards are widely compatible, breaking the 640kb barrier, &tc. Windows 95/98 builds are much easier due to plug and play, greater standardization and games being able talk better to the OS.

I remember having to specify to games what sound card I was using.
 

Crass Spektakel

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I have Retro Hardware back to the VIC20 with a real CBM1540 drive :)

PC gaming before Windows 95 sucked. DOS games where often available as a superior Amiga version (Wing Commander, some Sierra Adventures) which runs very well inside an Amiga Emulator. There were little to no Windows 1.x to 3.x games. There where lots of Windows95/98 games. Most XP games run fine on modern systems. So this leaves some DOS games and a lot of Windows 95/98 games. Some old DOS games are hard to control because of Timing or absurd hardware requirements or simply because I can not be bothered to optimize config.sys/autoexec.bat, so I emulate these using DOSBox. ALWAYS. No matter what, do not aim for "slow" plattforms. If you can get a power house then get it.

I own three systems for retro games:

AMD K7/800, AMD 750 Irongate Chipset, 384MB RAM, Geforce2, 120GB Harddrive, using DRDOS/NovellDOS. Nice thing about this system, the south bridge VIA 82586 is able to emulate a Soundblaster 8 Pro and an OPL2 chip in hardware and also has a ISA slot which I use for a Soundblaster32 AWE with Wavetable RAM. Also its memory layout is pretty smart so you can get 16kByte more DOS memory than on any other plattform I ever got my hands on. And the early K7 had some kludges which stopped games from running "too fast". This is by far the best DOS plattform one can get.

AMD K7/2100, VIA KT266 Pro Chipset, 1536MB RAM, Geforce4200, 250GB Harddrive, using Tripple Boot Ubuntu/Windows98SE/DOS7.10. This system has tons of stability issues due overaged hardware, capacitors, power supply running borderline... but is has the K7 "not too fast switch" and also contains my last tape drive, my last 5,25 disk drive and my only Video-A/D-D/A-Converter... I should just rip out the good stuff and put it into the K7/800 and dispose of the rest...

Pentium4 3200Mhz, Intel 875 Chipset, 2048MB RAM, Geforce 6800, 2x250GB, using Windows XP. I also tried DOS and Windows98 and old games but these just didn't work very well. For Later Windows98 games and early Windows XP games this system is by far the best one can get. You also can run Steam and as long as you only use Steam and Firefox+Noscript you can even get some modern games and web pages to run.
 
I still have my old Intel 486/66 DX2 processor sitting in my desk drawer and just recently tossed out my 3.5" disks of Windows 3.11 for Workgroups and DOS 6.22. Of course the rest of that PC is long gone.
Not long ago I upgraded my old P4 3.2ghz w/HT 775 socket PC, just for kicks. It's now a Pentium D 945 3.5ghz(slight OC and $7 on eBay), ASUS P5V800-MX mobo, Sapphire 3850 AGP 8x, 2gb DDR3200 400mhz single channel RAM, Running Vista, however, I'm going to change it back to XP as Vista is still a mess and too heavy for the system. Even tried ReadyBoost to see if that would help with the slower RAM but made little to no difference.

As others have mentioned, DOSBOX works extremely well and I use it for Warcraft, Warcraft II, The 7th Guest, Ultima 8: Pagan, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom 2, Mechwarrior 2 and MW2 Ghost Bear Legacy. Diablo has been very buggy but I've gotten it to run on Windows 7, but like Starcraft, the color gets badly distorted in the menus.

I can still remember on my old 486 system, having to tweak the config.sys and autoexec.bat to get games to run, and taking note of the settings for our Sound Blaster 8-bit and Western Digital Paradise 512kb GPU. That and having to run MemMaker to make sure there was space. I used to tick my Mom off uninstalling her Printshop Deluxe so I'd have the HDD space to install MW2 on the 256MB HDD.(The salesman at the time told my Mom that it would take 10 years to fill it up, took me 2 months, lol. But the only other option was a 640mb HDD adding like $500 to the PC's price)
 

jj463rd

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My opinion here just build custom builds according to each era using genuine parts and Operating systems from that era.Have fun building ultra high end super builds for a pittance of the cost today.Look at the old Toms Hardware or Anandtech reviews from the 1990's for hints.Reading those old articles is a blast.Also check out old PC magazines archived online too.There are some fascinating retro buildings shown at Youtube.
It's great fun to build a system using Diamond Monster (i or II) 3Dfx cards,or a Diamond Stealth II S220 (rendition Verite 2100 graphics card) or using those amazing true 3d sounding Aureal Vortex ( 1 and 2 ) sound cards.Heck I have about 30 working 3Dfx cards right now
For instance I have 2 Pentium III systems from 1999,2 Pentium 2's,2 AMD K6-2 systems,1
233 Mhz Pentium system,3 other Pentium systems and 2 486 systems too.Sadly I disposed of even older systems.
If you're desperate for a particular component there is always eBay (not cheap) or you can find a lot of older components and PC's at a local thrifts store,PC recycle.
store,craigslist,swap meet etc.
Just a week ago a new boxed Diamond Stealth II S220 (from 1997) was being sold at Amazon for $50 USD.I missed out on that one dang I should have bought it.
 

cmi86

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Why go all the way to ancient hardware, just get an AMD 880G mobo + an Athlon X2 240 and underclock the cpu or even deactivate the 2nd core.

With just multipliers and k10stat I can underclock the cpu to 400Mhz as its max p-state. It can go lower touching the FID.
It is for the nostalgia of it. It is like restoring an old muscle car perfectly period correct to replicate the original experience and aura. Sure you could rig up a brand new 2015 engine in to it, but it wouldn't be the same.
 

alextheblue

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Remember also that Windows 98 SE has a bug that does not support over 256 MB of RAM, so you are better off with ME if you are getting near 1 GB of RAM. You can get unofficial patches, but it still doesn't really use the RAM.
Actually all of the Windows 9x variants have the same issues with RAM. 512MB was typically the limit. I've had 98 SE and ME rigs with 512MB of RAM no problem. However if you're using a graphics card with a (for the era) large buffer you might run into issues even at 512MB.

However, if you know where to look there are unofficial service packs for 98 SE and ME that improve stability and function with >512MB of RAM.
ATI still has bad drivers. That's never changed, I wouldn't recommend them because it's difficult to find drivers and they don't support their cards as long as Nvidia has.
If you mean AMD, their drivers in recent years have been fine. Both vendors have had some bad batches of drivers here and there. Both of them are decent overall, even the beta drivers, and blow away Intel drivers. Although even Intel's graphics drivers are bearable these days compared to the old GMA days *shudder*.
 

Deus Gladiorum

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For me, as others have said, DOSBox takes care of my nostalgia fix, but as this article pointed out, certain things like sound processing just aren't the same. More than anything though, I think the most important thing is the display. Modern LCDs and their image interpolation algorithms can't do justice for classic 640x480 resolution games. If only I still had an old CRT :\
 

palladin9479

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The memory issue with Win9x systems involves the file cache subsystem. With 512MB or more memory there is a bug where the file cache driver can allocate the entire address range to itself and cause windows to blow up. The fix for it is a simple line added to the system.ini that limited the maximum value the file cache can be in kilobyes.

[VCache]
MinFileCache=32768 (32MB)
MaxFileCache=524288 (512MB)

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/253912
 

shrapnel_indie

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Ah... I got a closet full of some of the old stuff... as old as 486 based computing. 386 computing had a major caveat... the socket was definitely NOT zero insertion force and could damage the CPU pins easily enough. I think I might still have an old 286 MoBo too... sans battery pack. You start getting that old though, SIMMS may not be your memory choice (meaning you need to find discreet RAM chips.)

I remember playing around with boot disks just so I could have enough available memory for DOOM back in the DOS days. Oh the joy that was... but worth it for that 2D game that gave a 3D feel.
 

Hellbound

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I have and use an old P3 system with a voodoo 3 3000, still rocking the much hated windows ME, to play my vintage games.. I love playing star trek klingon academy.
 

rwinches

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My Dual Pentium III 550 DFI MB dual voodoo2 with the dongle Soundblaster system running 98SE
Holds onto the past running classic games, dosbox is just not the same thing.
 

tnn

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What you need to play old games is not an old PC, but a CRT monitor, the one thing that wasn't mentioned. They can all be run on a modern OS or, failing that, within a VM. It's the CRT that delivers the Authentic Old School Experience™, not the actual hardware that runs the game, because when set up properly, old games in modern PCs behave and play just like they did all those years ago, whereas CRT technology can never really be simulated by an LCD monitor.
 
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