I decided one day, after getting tired of having to use virtual machines and emulators to play some of my favorite old school games, that it was simply not the best way to go about playing these classics. Some games simply don't emulate well, or at all for that matter, and they just don't have the same feel being played in an emulator on a modern machine anyway. So I went digging for parts and started to put together an old school PC designed just for playing all the games I used to love from back in the early days of PC gaming. What I ended up with was a great little old school "Retro" PC that runs all my old games perfectly and operates at lightning speed.
I actually started messing with making a "Retro" PC a while back, just for fun. I liked to see how far I could push the old school technology. I started on 486/DX4 100's and Pentium 133-166 powered systems, running DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.1, and trying to see how much I could get these machines to do. I was surprised to find a wealth of information, utilities, and applications out there that give this old school technology an incredible amount of usefulness, even in today's high powered world. However my goal was simply to be able to play some of my rather large collection of older DOS and Windows 95 era games as they were intended.
The "Retro" PC Builds
I actually ended up with two different systems and came to a crossroads as to what one to build. One would have been based on an old ATX A-OPEN AK72 AMD Motherboard powered by an 700 MHz Athlon CPU. The benefits of this build would have been the AK72 Motherboards AGP support, 5 PCI Slots, 1 ISA, and 3 memory DIMMS.
The other build was based on an Micro-ATX ASUS-TUSI Motherboard powered by an Intel Celeron CPU running at 1GHz, high-end on board video (for the time), and better all around on-board hardware. The primary drawbacks were the fact it was Micro-ATX, had no AGP support, and only 2 DIMMS. The on-board video had drivers designed for use on Windows 95, but I was never of fan of on-board, so I wanted to find a good PCI video card to use in this build that was comparable to the on-board or better.
Since I did not have any case available for the full ATX motherboard, I decided to go with the Micro-ATX build first. The case I had laying around collecting dust was that of an old Compaq 7360, stripped of everything but its power supply a long time ago. After giving it a good dusting, I took the case outside, removed all the Compaq stickers and labels, and gave it a nice fresh coat of paint. I decided to go with a black and gray color scheme, since most of the case was gray already, that saved me time.
Once I was done with basics on the case, It was time to assemble the build and see how it turned out. I was not very pleased to find out that the on-board sound could not emulate Sound Blaster very well, that meant DOS support would not be easy in that respect, so I chose to not go through the hassle. There are many games I wanted to put on this rig that will only run in pure DOS mode, not through Windows 95, so that will have to wait for my next build. The on-board sound works wonderful in Windows 9x however so it's not a big deal. I also don't have any old working Sound Blaster PCI cards laying around anymore. Im sure tracking one down would be easy, but you will see my reasoning once you get to my second build.
I also got quite lucky with the video card. A good friend had an old 3dfx Voodoo 3 2000 and gave it to me for my project. The card was in mint physical and operational condition and it was PCI bus, so needless to say, I was thrilled. Memory was also not a problem, I had rather large quantities of old PC133 just laying around as well.
Upon completing the build, I found to my dismay, that the Voodoo 3 2000's ran hot, very hot. I knew the card could be overclocked, but not on its pathetic stock heatsink. It was also not going to be easy to find a cooler I liked for such an old card. So I ended up coming up with my own idea. I had an old, no longer functioning, Gigabyte Motherboard still sitting here, waiting for me to throw it out. I noticed that the Northbridge Heatsink would fit perfectly on the Voodoo 3, and decided to give it a try. A few minutes, and a tiny amount of Arctic Silver 5 later, I had my new much better heatsink. For air flow I ended up mounting a case fan directly to the bottom of the case that pulled air in the front, forced it directly over the card and the much larger heatsink, and out the back of the case . The result was a very cool running Voodoo 3 2000 that was ready for overclocking, and that's exactly what I did. I was able to push the stock speed from 143MHz, all the way up to 170MHz with no ill effects at all. The card performs flawlessly! I know you can push it up to 190MHz, but I don't see the need since it works wonderfully at 170MHz.
The other hardware was all pretty basic, 2 Western Digital 3.2GB Hard Disks, an HP CD-Writer CD-Rom, Standard Floppy Drive, and 2 128MB PC133 DIMMS for 256MB. More than enough for any game I expect it to run.
The final result was a Windows 95 OSR2 powered system that runs every "old school" game I throw at it. I have decided to use this specific build for Windows 9x capable games only, and build #2 for both Windows and DOS powered games, as you will see below. It's also running DirectX 8.0, multiple Win95 "Enhancements", and has full USB support. This rig is actually going to be setup for my kids to use when they get bored. They have expressed interest in some of the games I used to enjoy and yet they simply don't run well on modern systems.
The current installed games list for this build is:
- Quake (GLQuake)
- Quake III
- Heretic II
- Hexen II
- Final Doom (Doom 95)
- Sonic CD
- Mechwarrior 3
- Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
- Command & Conquer 95
- Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun
- Command & Conquer Red Alert
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Eagle Watch Mission Pack
- Blood II: The Chosen
- Half Life (The original released by Sierra in 1998.)
- Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness (Windows Battle.net Edition)
- Wipeout XL
- Destruction Derby 2
- Twisted Metal 2
- Final Fantasy 7
This build is going to be my favorite, I wanted it to not only be able to play all the games my previous build can, but also go backwards and play some of my favorite old DOS titles as well.
This time I would be using the A-OPEN AK72 AMD Athlon Motherboard I spoke about above. I really liked this board for a Retro Gaming Rig since it had everything I needed to get the more than enough power for high-end Windows 95 games as well as much older DOS classics as well.
- The features I like are the fact it supports AGP 4X, so that opens up more power for a few games I have that push my overclocked Voodoo 3 PCI to it's limit, since it gives me a much more powerful set of video cards to choose from.
- It also has 5 PCI slots vs the 3 on the above ASUS Micro ATX I used in my previous build. So that leaves me much more room to expand if I choose to do so.
- I have 1 ISA slot at my disposal as well, and this is great since I wanted to be able to use an old Sound Blaster AWE 64 Gold for my much older DOS games. The great thing about this card is its also more than powerful enough for all my Windows 95 games as well.
- 3 DIMM slots means more RAM since the largest PC 133 sticks I have on hand are all 128MB.
- I am also a hardcore AMD fan, always have been, so that's an automatic brownie point in my book.
The only thing holding me back on this build is I have yet to find a case. I may just end up looking for a new case from a local shop that they may have on clearance, since this build will end up being my primary Retro Gaming Rig. I will want it to look nice sitting next to my modern rig.
The final specifications on this build will give it just under 10GB of storage, that's from 3 3.2GB Hard Disks.
It will have 384MB of PC133 SDRAM, unless I can track down 3 256MB DIMMS.
A modified (for extra cooling) VisionTek Xtasy GeForce4 MX 440 AGP 64Mb card that will give it far more than enough power than it will ever need.
A Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold sound card that will make for very easy DOS setup for those much older games.
And last but not least, an AMD Athlon K7700MTR51B Pluto Core CPU running at 700MHz, also far more than enough power for its use. However I used to have a K7100MNR53B 1000MHz Orion Core CPU I can throw on there, if I can find it.
Once this rig is all up and running, I will be sure to give it a proper blog.
Until then just remember, just because its an old game, don't mean it's not worth playing!