Pentium 200 MMX PC Project

CosmicCruncher

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Here is a mini project I've been working on for the last few days. I wanted to see if I could quickly get a retro PC up and running for DOS and early Windows games. I put this PC together many, many years ago from mixed parts, the specs are:

PentiumMMX 200MHz
P5ST-A Socket 7 Motherboard (Not sure on the exact manufactuer, appears to orignally be an OEM board, is has a SIS5598 chipset with onboard graphics)
32MB RAM
2GB HDD
Sound Blaster 16 ISA card (will need to double check exact model)
PCI 10Mbit Network Card

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The last proper use I had for this PC was to connect a Commodore 1541 disk drive via a XE1541 LPT parallel to Commodore serial interface. The PC itself had MS-DOS 6.22 installed for the purpose of running StarCommander to communicate with the 1541. On top of this I also had Windows for Workgroups 3.11 installed which allowed easy access to a SMB share for copying files over the network. I have an Ultimate1541 these days which replicates some of the functionality for copying real Commodore floppies to and from disk images, straight from the C64 itself. StarCommander is still a powerful piece of software but this particular PC has been shelved for the last five years or so.

So for my retro gaming PC, which I wanted to get up and running with minimal fuss, I had this machine to hand, already built and fully functional so it was ideal. As mentioned it already had MS-DOS 6.22 installed, along with a mouse and CD-ROM driver. This meant it was already a good set up for many DOS games. However I also wanted to be able to play some early Windows games, Need for Speed 2 for example and Full Tilt Pinball which is one of my personal favourites. To achieve this I decided to go with Windows 95, which I feel is well suited to this particular hardware, being one of the faster original Pentium chips. It also retains good DOS compatibility. 98SE could also be an option, there are various pros, cons and differing opinions out there on the best OS to run so I won't go in to too much detail here.

As mentioned, I didn't want to spend too much time on set up (and had no floppies to hand to create a boot disk) so decided to play it dangerous and chance running a Windows 95 upgrade from the existing DOS / Win3.11 install. I did take a copy of the HDD contents first for what it's worth and thought I could roll back if it all went wrong with Windows of this vintage being such a stable OS 🤣🤣.

I copied the contents of the Win95 installer from a network share to the HDD and ran the in place upgrade from within Windows 3.11. Note that this is the original retail version of 95, not the later OEM only OSR2 versions, although I would like to explore those at a later date as some add basic USB support amongst other things. All went smoothly and was eventually greeted with the famous Windows 95 desktop. One thing I didn't set up on Windows 3.11 was proper display drivers, the MS VGA driver was ok for my needs so I never explored further. For Win95, I wanted to be able to use my LCD monitor at its native resolution, so managed to track down some drivers for the SIS5598 chipset / graphics. The first ones I tried appeared to work, until it came to set a higher resolution, which needed a reboot (remember that?) and then presented me with a bluescreen. I removed these drivers and found some older ones which seem stable so far. Here we are now running at 1280x1024:

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I have a number of games to properly try but here we are running Need For Speed 2 SE:

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I also tried Test Drive 3 (a DOS game, not Windows) a number of times but kept crashing instantly (as in the car not the actual game). It turns out my Pentium is way too fast to run the game, however there is a neat trick I saw on PhilsComputerLab YouTube channel, which shows turning off the internal and external CPU caches in the BIOS. This should slow the processor to 386 like speeds, the game then runs as it should as you can see here:

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That's about it for now, I will continue playing around and testing games. I would like to install an IDE to Compact Flash adapter, or possibly SD card for some mass storage or to replace the HDD all together. Also weighing up if a Gotek would be worthwhile for boot disks although I do have a stash of unused High Density 3.5" floppies somewhere.

Out of interest does anyone have any experience with IDE to SD adapters? With SD cards being as cheap and plentiful as they are seems a good option over Compact Flash.
 

Retro

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That’s a really nice retro rig. Especially that 32MB RAM screams retro. There’s more memory than that in a HDD or CPU cache nowadays and graphics cards have several orders of magnitude more.

I remember building a PC in 1999 (my first one) that had a “large” 64MB RAM in it. I think I upgraded it to 256MB eventually, to run XP on it.

It had a Cyrix 333MHz CPU in it on a crappy PC Chips M590 motherboard with the fake “100MHz” bus on it. It was quite the scandal at the time when the news broke and the shop did offer me a refund at the time. A proper Intel mobo cost quite a lot more so I stayed with it for a price reduction. Dumb move in hindsight.

I’d like to build a retro PC based around the fastest Pentium 3 ever: the fabled 1.13GHz one. I think this was the first x86 CPU to break the gigglehurtz barrier if I remember correctly. Unfortunately, it’s not likely to happen as I need to hunt for used parts on eBay, but it remains on the back burner.
 

Retro

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btw I have a Win95 OEM OSR2 CD if you want. I also have Win98 SE if you want that too.
 
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GCC

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That looks great do the car games run at full speed ? Also have you had Doom on it yet
 

CosmicCruncher

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btw I have a Win95 OEM OSR2 CD if you want. I also have Win98 SE if you want that too.
Thanks I might take you up on that or will just take an image of the W95 disk if you want to keep the originals.
 

CosmicCruncher

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That looks great do the car games run at full speed ? Also have you had Doom on it yet
Yeah, Need for speed runs smoothly. Test drive also runs ok once the CPU caches are disabled although I still find Test Drive a challenging game lol.

I have had Doom running, that runs well. Going to see what other classics I can dig out. Got the Windows version of lemmings installed.
 

Retro

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Thanks I might take you up on that or will just take an image of the W95 disk if you want to keep the originals.
How about I bring the discs down one club evening and you take an image of them with your laptop?

I’m not sure what software you need for that, or if W10 can do it natively. I know that there’s free software for W10 for this basic task. I wouldn’t bother with Nero nowadays, not even the free trial.
 

CosmicCruncher

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Tried some more DOS games this evening, here are a few highlights.

Tempest 2000
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Commander Keen
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Alien Trilogy
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Gave Marble Madness a go as well but it runs too fast, need to try the disable cache trick that I did for Test Drive 3. I also want to give Quake a go which should run nicely on this system, have the orignal CD around somewhere.

The LCD monitor I'm using really doesn't do DOS games justice due to the 5:4 aspect ratio and display scaling. A CRT is the ideal solution for this, will see if I can dig one out.
 

CosmicCruncher

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Alien Trilogy looks good. Is it a bit like UT?
Got to confess I haven't played it much but it looks to be more like a single player campaign. Maybe similar to Half Life. Although looking online apparently the DOS version does have a death match mode that can be played over a network.
 

Mort

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No space - but would love a machine like that purely for archiving floppys etc.

Don't forget to try Duke 3d as well :)
 

HEXdidnt

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I'd really like to get a retro PC sorted out at some point. For one thing, I have a fair few DOS games that I'd really like to play again... for another, a PC with an actual floppy drive would give me another means of transferring files between the PC and the Amiga or the SAM.

Of course, the ideal would be to get the SAM connected up to my network via the Trinity interface, and then get some sort of network connectivity sorted for the Amiga as well...

Not instead of a retro PC... as well as... :D
 

CosmicCruncher

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No space - but would love a machine like that purely for archiving floppys etc.

Don't forget to try Duke 3d as well :)
I keep eyeing up a Greaseweazle for floppy archiving purposes as I have some assorted disks from different systems. As long as you have a suitable floppy drive it will connect to a modern computer / laptop via USB and seems to read most formats due to reading the disk at a low level. Some more info here - https://github.com/keirf/Greaseweazle.

And yes, Duke 3D is definitely on the to do list 😁.

Here's a bit of Outrun:

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My main motivation for getting this PC up and running is to have it for RetCon, PC should be a nice contrast and will be of the era where many were purchasing their first PC compatible.
 

CosmicCruncher

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I'd really like to get a retro PC sorted out at some point. For one thing, I have a fair few DOS games that I'd really like to play again... for another, a PC with an actual floppy drive would give me another means of transferring files between the PC and the Amiga or the SAM.

Of course, the ideal would be to get the SAM connected up to my network via the Trinity interface, and then get some sort of network connectivity sorted for the Amiga as well...

Not instead of a retro PC... as well as... :D
PCs can be a fun project because of the many different options for parts. Certain early graphics and sounds cards are going for silly money these days though.

For anyone interested in building a retro PC, I would recommend checking out PhilsComputerLab on YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/user/philscomputerlab. He really thinks outside the box when experimenting with hardware and might open your eyes to some options you hadn't thought of for DOS gaming. Much of the stuff he experiements with can be picked up for little money.
 
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Mort

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Still really annoys me that no one seems to have made a PCI-E based Floppy card.
You'd think that would hardly be a major issue to develop as well - with the details of many of the FD controllers available.
 
G

GCC

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I keep eyeing up a Greaseweazle for floppy archiving purposes as I have some assorted disks from different systems. As long as you have a suitable floppy drive it will connect to a modern computer / laptop via USB and seems to read most formats due to reading the disk at a low level. Some more info here - https://github.com/keirf/Greaseweazle.

And yes, Duke 3D is definitely on the to do list 😁.

Here's a bit of Outrun:

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My main motivation for getting this PC up and running is to have it for RetCon, PC should be a nice contrast and will be of the era where many were purchasing their first PC compatible.
I have got the greaseweazle would like to try it out just got to solder the bits on maybe we should make it a club project after Retcon
 

Retro

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Still really annoys me that no one seems to have made a PCI-E based Floppy card.
You'd think that would hardly be a major issue to develop as well - with the details of many of the FD controllers available.
That’s a good point, I’ve never seen one either.

I can only think that the market is too small and niche. Despite floppies being low performance, it would still take significant investment in time and money to develop such a card. Who’s gonna do that if they can’t see profit in it?
 

Mort

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I think it's a "if you build it, they'll come" scenario - it could potentially cost less than some other options - especially with cheaper than FPGA options available such as the nanopi etc - which are capable of potentially emulating a WD1772 or equivilent.

But - probably some reason involved...
 

CosmicCruncher

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I’ve been using this PC for a few weeks now and really getting in to some of the old DOS games. In that time I’ve made a few changes to the machine as well as a couple of small eBay purchases. I’ve even now got Office 97 installed and am using it to write this post.

One of the first things I did was dig out a CRT monitor as you can see. Much better for DOS games that rely on a >60Hz refresh rate.

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I also grabbed this pair of cheap Hi-Fi style speakers, which I thought would add to the retro look with the wood finish. Sound quality is ok but for £15 can’t complain.

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I originally built the machine with a 2GB hard drive, fine for DOS / Win 3.11 at the time but soon starts to fill up. This is especially an issue when installing a lot of the later DOS and early Windows games, which grow from a few hundred kilobytes to tens of megabytes. I knew I had some larger IDE hard drives still stashed somewhere but couldn’t lay my hands on one. Luck would have it I was sorting through the loft for kit for the upcoming RetCon event and came across a 40GB IDE drive, perfect size for my needs.

This presented a good opportunity to look at upgrading the hard drive. First thing was to see if the drive even worked so I connected it to the machine and booted but the BIOS hung while trying to detect the drive. It seems the BIOS has issues with large drive support, luckily I was able to jumper the drive down to 32GB and it was then recognised. I did find what looks like a third party motherboard BIOS patch for the drive size issue but if I’m honest haven’t been brave enough to try it on this old motherboard. A low level format of the drive was successful using a later Win98 boot disk which has FAT32 and large drive support.

The original retail version of Windows 95 I was running doesn’t support FAT32 so this is a good chance to switch over to one of the later OSR2 releases with FAT32 support and start with a completely fresh install. One thing to note is even the latest Windows 95 versions only officially (I believe there are workarounds) support a drive size up to 32GB so the whole 32GB limit in the BIOS isn’t a big issue for me at present. With the drive formatted I then kicked off the Windows 95 OSR2.5 install. CD-ROM not floppies, sorry to disappoint. That will have to been for another time. Another thing to note is OSR2.5 was the version that introduced Active Desktop and IE4, I didn’t want this but handily you can kill the wizard that installs it after your first boot. This leaves me with a nice, clean version of Win95, it’s surprising how general responsiveness isn’t that different to a modern computer with a SSD. I guess back when Win9x was still mainstream from what I remember the average machine was still full of rubbish and bloatware, just like today.

I also found a sealed OEM Windows 95 COA when doing my loft hunting.

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I proceeded to install the same drivers as before and copy my growing collection of games from the old hard drive. Only thing I miss from that 2GB drive is that it made proper hard drive noises, adding to the retro PC experience. The 40GB one is near silent with the fan noise from the rest of the machine. I was going to leave the 2GB drive installed but the silly case design doesn’t easily accommodate a second drive, where the PC speaker is mounted it fouls the bottom of the drive so I’ve left it out for now. Will grab a photo when I next have the case open.

Here we are at the new desktop after installing a few essentials and games.

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Another aspect I wasn’t overly happy with while using the machine was the sound, it was generally quite noisy and sounded a little crunchy at times. The card installed was a Creative SoundBlaster 16 CT2980. From reading around this appears to be one of their lesser cards and doesn’t contain a proper OPL3 chip that it seems often results in inferior sound quality. There is also a widespread MIDI hanging note bug with many Creative cards from the era and this is one of the affected models, MIDI audio is something I would like to explore so this was another reason to look at other options.

Sound cards are a huge area of discussion when looking at PCs of the time. Many of the better known ones go for silly money on the likes of eBay. After some searching on eBay I found a Genius branded Yamaha YMF719E-S for £24.99. Looking at Vogans forum, this seems to be an OEM version of the Yamaha Audician 32 Plus which is a widely respected card. It’s SoundBlaster Pro 2 compatible, also no MIDI hanging note bug with this one should I decide to start playing with MIDI stuff, that’s another topic in itself.

I installed the card before doing my fresh Win95 install. After Windows was installed, I installed the sound card drivers which appeared to install successfully, they are just the standard Yamaha Audician 32 Plus drivers straight from Yamaha themselves. However when it came to checking the device itself in device manger there were multiple resource conflicts I couldn’t resolve. I’m still not sure what happened, I should have grabbed a few screenshots to explain better but there seemed to be some extra sound devices that remained even after removing the card which were causing the conflicts. Only thing I can think is it could be seeing the onboard audio, which I’ve never got to work but as far as I can tell it’s disabled via the jumper for it on the motherboard. Anyway I removed those devices from Windows, reinstalled my Yamaha sound card and it worked straight away. I did a new hardware scan and it never picked those other phantom devices up again so I’m still not entirely sure what happened.

So with working sound I fired a couple of games up and straight away noticed the sound is much cleaner and just generally sounds better. So far seems the card was a good choice.

Another strange issue I was having prior to the hard drive change and reinstall was the machine momentarily hanging when playing certain games within Windows, more a stutter than a proper hang but now seems to be fixed.

That will probably be it for changes for now, I’ll have the machine at RetCon on Saturday so don’t want to break it in the meantime.
 

CosmicCruncher

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Another small eBay purchase. Picked up this boxed Logitech Wingman Extreme. Was described as never used and have to say the joystick itself looks as new even if the packaging it a little tatty. It includes all the original disks and documentation including the free copy of WarBirds. Have yet to fully try it out just did a quick plug in and test with Descent. Have the PC all packed up for Saturday now.

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mikeitstop

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Another small eBay purchase. Picked up this boxed Logitech Wingman Extreme. Was described as never used and have to say the joystick itself looks as new even if the packaging it a little tatty. It includes all the original disks and documentation including the free copy of WarBirds. Have yet to fully try it out just did a quick plug in and test with Descent. Have the PC all packed up for Saturday now.

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Nice purchase! I'll definitely give this a play at RetCon!
 
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