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Thread: If you wanted to build an MS-DOS PC...

  1. #1
    ToeJam is a wiener Hero of Algol Guntz's Avatar
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    Default If you wanted to build an MS-DOS PC...

    How would you do it?

    Would you use an AMD or Intel CPU?

    Adlib, one of the many kinds of Soundblaster or something else?

    What operating system would you be more comfortable with?

    Would you want it contemporary, modern or all over the place?

    etc, etc...

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    Whuff! Outrunner Jax184's Avatar
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    Well, that depends on a few things. What sort of stuff will it be used for? Early early PC software often depends on quirks and timings of real 8086/8088 machines. On the other hand, the 386 brought about a dramatic redesign, so it's the absolute minimum requirement for nearly everything created after.

    I assume you read my K6 build? I took a bunch of new pictures and tidied up the machine, so I should re-do the page soon.

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    ToeJam is a wiener Hero of Algol Guntz's Avatar
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    I've read your K6 build too many times. I drool over it every time I go through that page. Some people have all the luck in the world....

    I would be interested to hear what the less fortunate users on here would want to build.

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    It's called a Mega Drive Master of Shinobi Devil N's Avatar
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    I would build a modern PC and use DosBox.

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    I was waiting for someone to say that.

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    It's called a Mega Drive Master of Shinobi Devil N's Avatar
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    And I say it without a tinge of sarcasm, too.

    Seriously, I wish setting up a DOS PC game machine back in 1993 was as easy as it is with DOSBox. Not only that, but it's more compatible than my old 486-SX ever was. EMM386, VESA, Adlib, IPX, all work out of the box with minimal setup work, and you've got as much memory as you'll ever need, both conventional and extended. I can now play all those games that didn't work back in the day.

    Of course, there's always that 1% of games that won't work in emulation. But I'd still take that over the 20% that didn't work on my old DOS machine.

  7. #7
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    Well, more often then not, We all end up cobbling together a dos system from whatever is available, but in a perfect world.....

    PRIMER:
    One of the main reasons someone goes through the trouble of building an honest-to-God dos machine is maximum compatibility, So I like to look at it from a "Screw exotic, high-end devices, get what works" point of view, At least in the beginning of the build. You can always expand to something better down the road.

    Audio:
    Soundblaster ISA-based card. An SB-16 can run without the need to install any drivers, which is a big help, as one of the problems You face in dos is running out of memory, and a driver would eat up that much more ram. So long as You have The follwoing autoexec line: SET BLASTER=A220 I5 D1 H5 P330 It should work. If You want MIDI, there are a number of daughterboards and/or external midi devices You can attach. I'd steer clear of the Yamaha db50xg daughterboard, as I have yet to find a way to get it to work with any old Seirra/game arts titles. Go for something more compatible like a Roland MT-32 or similar.

    Graphics:
    OK, so I don't have a hellava lot of experience with different graphics cards, so I can't say much here. Stick with PCI, as ISA is a bit to slow, and although there are some nice cards for VLB, from the amount of trouble You'd go through to get one, You could of just gotten something several times better for PCI. Whatever You pick, make sure it supports mode 2 VESA, either through software drivers, or in the card's BIOS. This'll allow You to run games like Duke Nukem 3D in in 800x600, Which looks real nice.

    CPU:
    This falls into the "Coke vs Pepsi" realm, so it's really up to You. Personally, I've never had much luck with AMD processors, I've always found that, at least on dos and early windows software, Intels run faster and smother, so I'd go with either a Pentium Overdrive processor @83 Mhz, a Pentium 1 @ 133 Mhz, or either the Intel 486 DX2 or DX4. Keep in mind that there will always be a few games that need something slower, So if Your tower and Mobo support a "Turbo" switch, turn it off and half Your Processing speed.

    Motherboard:
    Oh man, the sky's the limit here! There are many choices, But here are the basics: You'll want something that has both ISA and PCI slots, Preferably four of each, as a dos-era rig may end up having lots of extra cards for various functions. Make sure You pick a board with a 512K L2 cache, this, along with the 128k L1 cache, will give You the maximum amount of memory most old dos programs will use. Back then everyone though 640k would be enough for anything, so that's what most hardware/software was designed around originally. latter programs (Like Duke Nukem 3D) would end up being able to use expanded memory like modern programs do, but most older games will be stuck in the conventional memory.
    Keep in mind there are also two different hardware standards here: AT and ATX.
    The older AT standard Mobo's are easily identified by having a 6-pin DIN connector for Their keyboards, and, for the most of them at least, not having any onboard IDE, Mouse, or I/O ports.
    ATX is still around today, and will usually have the usual PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors.
    This is a generalization based on the typical AT and ATX boards out there, and is by no means definitive.

    I/O
    Can't say much here, My dos rig is using a VLB-based I/O board, with one IDE interface (with Two devices on one connection), and one Floppy interface. What I would like to suggest is getting a dedicated gamport controller card and disabling the gameport function of the gameport connector on the sound card. Some, although few, games have been known to misbehave when You use a joystick/pad on a soundcard gameport. And a lot of dedicated I/O board makers were shameless cheapskates and only wired up their I/O boards to support one two-axis, two-button controller in their gameport. The CH Products Gamecard III automatic is often considered the best, as it'll play nice with both slow and fast systems. I've used it on a PIII 800 Mhz system with no problems. A dedicated Game card will also give You two separate gameports, so You won't need a Y-cable for two-player.

    Drives:
    A cd-rom that can read cd-rw's wouldn't be a bad idea. It'll make it easier to transfer large amounts of files to the dos system's hard drive without going through a ton of floppies. Also, be sure to equip a 5 1/4 floppy drive, because, well, it's a freaking dos computer! the only people who don't equip Their dos computers with 5 1/4 drives are filthy communists.

    Display:
    CRT.
    ........ What? Dos games ran everywhere from 320x240, 640x480, 800x600, and then some. A CRT will look a lot nicer bouncing back-and-forth between different res's the a LCD.

    That's all I can think of for now, My main computer is down for repairs right now, so I can't get to My repair/hardware notes, and I'm a bit rattled from just getting off of six days straight at the factory.
    Oh well, at least the lovely St. Pauli girl and her buddy Miller will be staying with Me tonight.
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    Creator of the Mega Amp Raging in the Streets Ace's Avatar
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    I recommend you use a computer with an Intel CPU no faster than 120MHz. Sound cards with discrete YMF262s don't like fast CPUs and output garbage when used with certain games.

    I recommend you use a Pentium 1 for your CPU and have at least 16MB of RAM.

    As for graphics cards, it's all up to you, but I prefer one with TV outputs, S-Video in particular.

    For sound cards, I recommend 3 different ones:

    -SoundBlaster Pro 2.0
    -Any SoundBlaster 16 with a real YMF262 or a CT1747 combo YMF262/ISA interface chip(unless you want some MIDI, in which case the SoundBlaster 16 is the worst sound card of all time for MIDI support)
    -OPTi 82C929A(NOTE: some of these used cloned YMF262s, and I don't know how good they are)

    You could also use Yamaha sound cards, be it PCI or ISA(priority to ISA sound cards).

    And if you want customizable MIDI(will only work under Windows, not DOS), get a SoundBlaster AWE32 with a CT1747. Just be sure the AWE32 will fit in your computer because this is a big card. And get a few 30-pin SIMMs so you can have more RAM to load bigger and better soundfonts.

    If you're not too crazy about having 100% accurate FM Synthesis, I'd recommend a SoundBlaster AWE64 Gold(this has 4MB of on-board RAM for soundfonts). I privilege real SoundBlasters over clones unless the clones are very well made like the OPTi 82C929A.

    Here are some sound bytes from some of the sound cards mentioned in Star Wars X-Wing(Collector's CD-ROM and floppy disk editions):

    OPTi 82C929A:





    SoundBlaster AWE64(Value, not Gold; this has a measly 512KB of RAM for soundfonts):













    SoundBlaster Pro 2.0:

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    Whuff! Outrunner Jax184's Avatar
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    Some thoughts:

    Don't use a Pentium overdrive. 486 overdrives are different, they're just faster 486s with voltage regulators. Pentium overdrives attempt to graft a pentium CPU onto an older motherboard. It doesn't usually work very well and it's really slow compared to a proper pentium 1.

    Remember that Pentium boards seldom have a turbo switch. You'll want a 486 or older if you intend to make use of it.

    VLB is something of a hassle. I wouldn't suggest using it in a first vintage build. Furthermore I would be careful around motherboards that have ISA, PCI and VLB all together. Some boards that did this used a bit of an ugly hack to get all 3 to play together, which isn't good for stability.

    Start with a real soundblaster for compatibility.

    Read through the red hill site. It has information on a lot of hardware from this vintage. Especially note the the bad motherboard guide.

  10. #10
    Mastering your Systems Shining Hero TmEE's Avatar
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    CPU speed limit is about 400MHz, then a shitton of games start giving Runtime Error xxxx errors on startup because they use a CPU loop to time init time and it overflows on faster machines.

    Above 64MB of RAM is not recomended too as some games think you have no RAM if you got over 64MB installed.

    For video get any PCI card that supports VESA 2.0. I liked my Ati Mach64

    for sound get SB16 no doubt, and a MIDI board to go with it, or a sound card with MIDI synth integrated to it like AWE32/64
    Death To MP3, :3
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    Creator of the Mega Amp Raging in the Streets Ace's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TmEE View Post
    for sound get SB16 no doubt, and a MIDI board to go with it, or a sound card with MIDI synth integrated to it like AWE32/64
    Oh jeez, DO NOT USE A SOUNDBLASTER 16 FOR MIDI!!! Many of them have buggy DSPs that cause stuck notes and completely kill the MIDI. Now, I did hear you can use an MIDI daughterboard on a SoundBlaster 16 with a buggy DSP(any DSP version between 4.05 and 4.16(excluding those DSP versions) have the stuck notes bug) as long as you DO NOT use the SoundBlaster 16 for digital sound. In this situation, you would need a second sound card, either another SoundBlaster 16 or a SoundBlaster Pro or any good clone card, to produce digital sound.

    Be sure to get sound cards with true Yamaha YMF262s. Some SoundBlaster 16s and AWE32s have a CT1747 chip which houses the YMF262 and part of the ISA interface on the sound card, but there are others which use a clone of the YMF262 developed by Creative, which isn't 100% accurate. If you don't see OPL written on any chips or don't see a Yamaha YMF262 on the sound card, it uses Creative's cloned YMF262.

    Some SoundBlaster Pro clones with YMF262s actually perform very nicely with my favorite being the OPTi 82C929A. You can really fiddle around with the sound settings on this card and add some extra roughness to the FM Synthesis by making the audio super loud or make it sound like a SoundBlaster Pro minus the heavy filtering by reducing the volume of the FM Synthesis.

    Like I said before, some 82C929As use a cloned YMF262 labeled LS-212, and I don't know how good those clones are, so if you find an 82C929A without a real YMF262, I wouldn't jump on it too soon.
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  12. #12
    The Best Genesis Master of Shinobi GohanX's Avatar
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    I want to build an old dos systom that is really tiny like a console. Damn the large size of mid 90's computer hardware!
    Quote Originally Posted by CMA Death Adder
    Recently I sold the majority of my 32X games for a measly 18 bucks. With it, I bought some tacos. Definitely a more pleasing choice.

  13. #13
    The Cat in the Hat Shining Hero NeoVamp's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GohanX View Post
    I want to build an old dos systom that is really tiny like a console.
    Amen to that, would be sweet!

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    Whuff! Outrunner Jax184's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GohanX View Post
    I want to build an old dos systom that is really tiny like a console. Damn the large size of mid 90's computer hardware!
    You want a Unisys CWD then.
    http://www.vintage-computer.com/vcfo...-486-gaming-PC

    If you want to built your own small system I'd suggest getting a 4DPS, otherwise known as the tomatoboard. It's no deeper than it's ISA slots.
    http://www.jax184.com/4DPS.jpg
    Last edited by Jax184; 12-05-2010 at 03:05 PM.

  15. #15
    The Best Genesis Master of Shinobi GohanX's Avatar
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    That Unisys is really cool, but I'd prefer something along the lines of a P166 or 200 or so. Now that I think about it, I do have an old P166 laptop laying around, if I can figure out how to make a gameport work on it, it might do the trick.

    I already have an awesome DOS computer, but it's in a pretty large case so I never pull it out. I'm not even sure if it works anymore, I haven't turned it on in over 10 years.
    Quote Originally Posted by CMA Death Adder
    Recently I sold the majority of my 32X games for a measly 18 bucks. With it, I bought some tacos. Definitely a more pleasing choice.

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