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

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Super_Nova

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I found a PIII 600 a few days ago with 128mb, a scsi cd-burner, a TNT2 card and a Sb. I still have an old Sb. and a Yamaha xg midi daughterboard paying around somewhere:) I will be using that pc for W98 goodness and my recently revived duron 900 laptop for XP stuff.
I hate to throw away old computers so I still have my c-64breadbox and 1541, pc-engine, etc. Good times indeed. Allthough I love emulators, Notting beats the real deal.
 

AndrewJacksonZA

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If you're used to SSDs now and the wait of an old HDD drives you crazy but you can't find an EIDE RAID controller (hat tip to cmi86 for nostalgia,) use a small cheap SSD (60GB or 120GB) and get yourself a SATA - PATA converter cable.

I look forward to the next piece Michael. Please could you include more photos of the hardware (ALL the hardware, PSU included) and photos of you building it!
 

Alec Mowat

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Vlad Rose

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I can just see someone trying to setup an old DOS machine and about pulling their hair out trying to configure their config.sys and autoexec.bat to have 634k free of conventional memory while still having a sound card and cd-rom enabled. The game Lion had that sort of insane requirement and of course it didn't like QEMM. I ended up having to return that game because of it.

I also remember X-Wing would corrupt itself on your hard drive upon defragmenting it if the drive was compressed.

Alien Logic would do the same, regardless whether the drive was compressed or not.

Then there was Al-Qadim: The Genie's Curse which you'd hit a spot and not be able to get any further whatsoever without emailing SSI to have them mail you a bug fix disk since internet barely existed then.

Oh, the nightmares......
 

ART-T

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I'm not really sure the point of this article. Locating the hardware mentioned is not easy nor cheap.

I'm guessing part 2 is going to be, where to get the hardware.....
 
i doubt this would be fun to build considering you would have to go around to pawn shops and trying to find decent prices for old hardware on ebay. it would be simpler to use a virtual machine like vmware player to install a copy of windows /9598SE and take all the specs down as low as they can go.

and just because the game is on steam doesn't mean its compatible or altered to work on a modern PC. i bought the Max payne pack off steam and my AMD 7770 does not display the graphics right and you still had to go searching for a patch because it has sound issues on later versions of windows. if you are going to buy on old PC game off steam check out the forums first

 
Windows NT4 Workstation (multi-processor kernel) is the way to go for an OS. Probably snag a factory copy for $20 on ebay.

So. I went out looking for a 2P Slot1 motherboard (for that multi-processor kernel :)) with an AGP Pro50 slot for something like a ATI FireGL Z1 128MB DDR AGP Pro Video Card for $12, or essentially any AGP 1X and up video card.

Couldn't find any
--- realized I got a box of 'em downstairs so, Adios MFs :lol:

Diamond Stealth and Viper were some great early cards with decent drivers. Old, Old Retro builds without AGP will need a VLB slot for graphics (Vesa Local Bus).

PCI video cards were stinky. But those early 8MB Intel AGP cards were great :ouch: Old Elsa 'Gloria' or 'Snyergy' cards would be dandy, too.

 

jj463rd

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I forgot to add that it is getting harder to find older device drivers now and some of them are disappearing.One good resource very that's useful for older hardware for retrocomputing is the Vogon's Driver Library and also their forums too.There are a lot of dastardly sites now that will try to trick you into obtaining device drivers from them out of your desperation and are just scam malware or other trickware loaded websites.

To note on many of these older later 1990's PC's you can run a live Linux distro such as Puppy Wary Linux on a lowly Pentium II class PC as long as you meet the minimum memory requirements,have a compatible ethernet card or even use a live Distro of DSL linux on a low Pentium class PC (if you have enough memory and meet the minimum hardware requirements there too).This can be useful for downloading drivers and other important files which can be easily moved to your Windows partition.So those low requirement live Linux Distros have proven to be a handy too for retrocomputing.
 

mapesdhs

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I built a Win98 system for my brother a few years ago as there are some older
games he likes to play, think it was a GHz PIII, XFX GF6200 256MB AGP
low-profile card (the PC was in a pizza base style unit), I maxed out the RAM,
found a newer & much quicker 80GB IDE compared to the original models that
would have been available back then, it all worked very well. Naturally, I sorted
the RAM fix others here have mentioned.

Interesting though how even 1980s systems have been keeping up to date in
some ways, eg. new products for C64 are still being produced (I bought a
testing kit a while ago for fault detection). Best example IMO is the BBC Micro
Model B from 1984, for which one can get the Data Centre, a unit which includes
connectivity for compact flash devices, an IDE link, USB, PC file transfer, etc.,
available as both an internal board upgrade and an external portable unit (I had
the external type as my bday present a few years ago, which is connected to
an Electron with Plus3/Plus5/etc.) See:

http://www.retroclinic.com/acorn/datacentre/datacentre.htm
http://www.retro-kit.co.uk/page.cfm/content/RetroClinic-Datacentre/

The guy even makes a completely updated reference/service manual
covering all the main Beeb/Master models:

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=261815426874

I bought one way back, excellent quality book. Still amazes me he doesn't
charge a lot more for them.

Seems like the further back one goes, the more effort some people are
willing to expend in producing really good retro addons and mods to
bring systems up to date, extend their usefulness, include connectivity
with PCs and newer tech, etc. Really pleases me that there's such a
strong desire to keep these old systems alive.


Anyway, good article! And a lively response from readers. I'd forgotten how one
had to tell a game which sound card one was using. :D And I can still remember
seeing a decent PC running Doom for the first time (P90) vs. older units which
couldn't handle it so well (486/33). Doom roolz! (anyone have the "Replay"-branded
Ultimate Doom edition? ;)

Ian.

 

IInuyasha74

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Hello everyone,

Glad to see many of you are enjoying my article. I like to take the time to join discussions when possible, so having a moment I thought I would reply to what some of you had said and give you a little heads up about the the second part of this article.

First, I would like to say some of you might be looking at this from the wrong angle. Its true that all of the games I mentioned in the article have updated versions that work on modern versions of Windows, work on modern versions of Windows right off, or work on emulation or a virtual machine. Most (if not all) of the games from before the year 2000 you can get to run on modern systems if you try hard enough, but its not just about getting the games to run.

Playing games on modern systems can alter the games. Sometimes its just the color or sound, but other times its a greater problem. Maybe some of you don't hear or see it quite the same, but to me, especially in the sound, the experience changes and really becomes something special.

Not to mention, as I said in the article the parts for building a computer like this are inexpensive and as a computer enthusiast, sometimes its fun just to sit and put a computer together. Even more fun to turn it on and see it works.

For someone above who mentioned Voodoo 2 GPUs, its true they offer 3D performance than a Voodoo3 when connected in SLI, and honestly I would love to get my hands on a pair. I have been searching for years for some that are reasonably priced just because they are so iconic of this era of gaming. Unfortunately they are quite expensive compared to other old GPUs, so I skipped over mentioning them.

I hope everyone is enjoying the trip down memory lane. The next article will hopefully be out before the end of the month, but because of technical difficulties it might be delayed. The south bridge on my dell motherboard is dying, only occasionally detects IDE devices, most of the time it doesn't anymore, so I have another one on the way. The next article will have several pictures from building the PC, some pics of my retro game collection, and some pics in Windows and gaming. There will also be some software information and settings information. So stay tuned for part 2 :)

Best,
MJ
 

none12345

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"I can just see someone trying to setup an old DOS machine and about pulling their hair out trying to configure their config.sys and autoexec.bat to have 634k free of conventional memory while still having a sound card and cd-rom enabled."

I had a whole box of custom boot disks for various games for that purpose lol. It was annoying as hell.
 
I remember trying to run Ultima 8: Pagan on my old 486DX2/66 system, it was the only program I actually had trouble to get running. After the install, I had to use a boot disk that, still for unknown reason, would cause an error booting up the computer yet Ultima 8 would run perfectly. Had to do a normal boot after to get anything else to run...wish I could remember the error, think it was something with the controller card I had, but it was 1993 or 1994.

As much fun as it might be to put an old system together, I have to admit, I don't miss the headaches dealing with the drivers and things like MemMaker and the constant nagging about not enough memory.

Specs i can remember of my first computer:
Intel 486DX2/66
8mb RAM 30-pin SIMM
Maxtor 256MB HDD
ISA Western Digital Paradise 512KB Video Card
Sound Blaster 8-bit PCI sound card
HDD Controller Card, Unknown make/model, but had to be replaced to upgrade to a 3GB HDD a couple years later.
DOS 6.22 with Windows for Workgroups 3.11
3.5" and 5.25" disk drives
Double speed CD-ROM
4800 baud fax/modem

Was a fun machine for it's time, but the convenience of today's tech has spoiled me too much to go that far back ever again. Looking forward to the next installment though!
 

alextheblue

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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
I'm aware of that but even applying this patch doesn't help the issue where the system doesn't make proper usage of large amounts of memory. It just fixes the crashing. Some of the unofficial work out there overhauls 9x quite a bit and even improves performance.
 
I am interested in seeing part 2 of this article. i have recently been looking around and pondering building a 1998-2000(or maybe earlier) system to play a bunch of older games i remember. Im most interested in the pros and cons from each system build type.
 
And here I was thinking I was insane for hoarding all my old PC gaming rigs built since the late 90s, as well as keeping my old Sony Trinitron 17" and 19" CRTs. Moving up from 1280x1024 to 1600x1200 with that 19" was incredible for the time and to this day not even the highest quality IPS monitor can beat the color reproduction of a CRT. Here's what I still have, and I have revisited old games like Quake II, Descent 3, System Shock 2, Need For Speed Porsche Unleashed, and Star Wars Rogue Squadron over the years. More recent retro games like HL2 I am playing again on my current i5 2500k backup gaming rig thanks to an upgrade available on Steam for new enhancements to the game.

Pentium II 333/Riva TNT/Win 95
Celeron 300 overclocked to 525/Riva TNT2 Pro/Win 98SE (originally had Voodoo2 SLI setup)
Pentium III 733 overclocked to 900/GeForce2 Ti/Win 98 ME
Pentium IV 3.06 overclocked to 3.2/GeForce Ti 4600/Win XP (Samsung Rambus memory)

People ask me why I still have all this "old crap" laying around and when I tell them, they think I am crazy. No, I just love going back in time and appreciating how far gaming technology and game development have come over the nearly 20 years that I've been building PCs for gaming.

 

MrBadAxe

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obligatory RetroBox98 post

Rescued a bunch of parts from the trash pile at a former job. Among these:

*an intel 440BX motherboard with 550MHz Pentium 3. Slot 1, with integrated heat sink and 40mm fan.
* 3x128MB SDRAM.
* 2x10GB IDE hard drives.
* 24x CD-ROM drive. No DVD; read-only, no write.
* 3.5" floppy and a 5.25" floppy drive. Couldn't get both working at the same time, so only the 3.5" is hooked up right now.
* Netgear NIC, as the motherboard's old enough that Ethernet ports aren't standard issue yet. Hooked up to my switch with a Sun Microsystems-branded ethernet cable.
* Matrox Millennium G200 card. It was either that or an ATI Rage 128. Google revealed an archived Anandtech review proclaiming the Matrox card better, assuming you're not playing Quake 2 because the OpenGL driver's aren't very good yet. Working under the assumption that they've managed to fix this ca.1998 issue prior to EOL, I went with the Matrox.
* and a SCSI card, because why not.
* hooked up to old 19" flatscreen, because I haven't found a CRT for it yet. Kinda regret getting rid of my 19" Samsung Syncmaster now.

Installed 98SE, set to "Inside Your Computer" theme. Set about looking for a decent browser. After fiddling with IE6 and Netscape 7, settled on OffByOne. Found drivers for the graphics card. Installed Office '97 just for lulz. Started browsing my old Computer Games Strategy Plus demo disc collection.
 

Alec Mowat

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This is the truth of retro gaming rigs. The hardware is old and they don't make it anymore. Once it's broken, it's broken forever and cannot replaced by a new one. Most of the warranties are long expired and good luck finding that receipt. It's very difficult to find out what's damaged as well, the HD SMART isn't always available, the Motherboard sensors don't always work or require additional thermal sensors connected.

I think this is the true reason why moving games onto modern operating systems is more critical than trying to run them on retro rigs. Beside the ongoing hardware failure issues, I think people often forget about how many technical difficulties they experienced trying to get games to work years ago. Drivers weren't signed back then and finding them online is becoming increasingly more difficult.

But my house is full of retro.. who am I kidding?
 

jj463rd

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Prices for 3Dfx Voodoo 2's on eBay are not really unreasonable in my opinion at around $30 USD each however you will notice that many of the Voodoo 1's and 2's sold there won't come with the required pass through cable that connects between the SVGA output of your graphics card and the 3Dfx Voodoo 1's and 2's .
This is more difficult to acquire.I have found a good really thick well multi shielded 3 foot monitor extension cable (short3ft SVGA/VGA Male-Female Extension Monitor/Video/LCD/TV Cable/Cord{4xShield) there at eBay that has worked well for me as a substitute though I do have quite a few extra original pass through cables..I really couldn't tell the difference in output quality except that the extension cable was a little annoyingly long physically.
You will also need the SLI connector too if you want to connect two matching Voodoo 2 3D accelerator cards in SLI.
However someone already sells this on eBay so the SLI connector is not really hard to find.
As a side note an interesting thing is to collect the original bundled software/box other included items etc that came with those cards.My opinion is if you want the choice (desired) components for a system you just have to pay the extra price that they command.
 

DavyJ

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The WarCraft II speed issue was a known problem at Blizzard. They fixed it in the Battle.net edition they later released.

There are many games older than 1994 where a 200MHz CPU will be too fast. Depending on era, I usually recommend a 486DX2 66MHz or 386DX 33/40. With the Turbo button, you can slow them down enough for most games. It is much harder to get things working on Pentium CPUs (although there are a few DOS software utilities that work pretty good).

The 440BX chipset is legendary and comes highly recommended for early PII/PIII builds. The AMD Super Socket 7 boards of the time did have quite a few issues. The Aladdin V were known to be fast, but the VIA MVP3 were the most popular. There is a great guide on Anandtech that walks you through the correct order to install drivers to minimize your problems. To quote Anand, "the Busmaster, IRQ routing, USB Filter, and PCI Bridge drivers should be installed first and a clean reboot should be performed before either the AGP GART or your video card's drivers are installed." However, you do need to install DirectX before either the AGP or Video Card drivers are installed. Super Socket 7 boards can have quite a few issues, but the Intel boards of the time are usually pretty straight-forward.

If you want really incredible audio, add a Roland card for MIDI. They will add a hefty amount to the build cost, though.

The 3dfx Banshee cards are also a good choice. They are among the fastest 2D cards in DOS, and support 3D Glide. Other great 2D cards include ones based on Tseng ET4000 (great compatibility), and ARK2000PV (great speed) chipsets. You can always add a Voodoo2 or two. For Voodoo2s you'll be limited to 800x600 for single cards, or 1024x768 in SLI, however. If you want 32-bit color 3D rendering, a simple GeForce 2MX or MAtrox Millennium G400/450 is fine (again, you can always add Voodoo2s). One thing to watch out for is AGP voltages. e.g. Some motherboard slots are universal, but only support 1.5v. You can terminally damage your hardware if you plug some 3.3v cards in.

I like to use a combination of 1 internal DOM and 1 external CF card for my storage. Also, you can format FAT32 - even DOS will work fine with FAT32. Windows 95 supports FAT32 natively from OSR2 (although I would recommend OSR2.5).
 

J Costa

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Well keeping a but load of old full working PC's just panned out... Still have my 1st IBM PC (386 SX @ 40Mhz with a wooping 4MiB of RAM)..

But then again Virtualizations nowadays does the job pretty well for all those games i like to play (Dune II, Doom, Heretic and so on) that i don't think the waste of electricity is justified.
 

Rogue Leader

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Man Ive tossed enough hardware out over the years to build 5 to 10 of these. I still have the guts of my last PC which was an XP Machine running an Athlon 64 3500+. It will be turned into an arcade machine.

Part of me wishes I kept them, but the rest of me remembers the frustration and bullshit of playing games on that hardware when it was new back then. I can only imagine now that this stuff is old and failing would drive me completely bonkers.

I played through almost all the games I wanted to from that time period, so I think I'll just stick with the new stuff, my game time is limited anyway. But fun project if you have the time!
 
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