Building a retro PC gaming computer – revisited

I’ve been thinking awhile about getting an older PC for some Windowsrelated retrogamingstuff and also just to tinker with. A while ago when I visited some relatives that asked of me to backup and dispose of an old PC (and assorted floppies) they had, I decided that I may keep it If I could get running without too much work. Well. It took some more hours than I though of initially but…

The computer in question was an Compaq Presario 8200EA,  and now consists of a setup of:

  • CPU Pentium 4 , 2 ghz
  • ATI Radeon AGP 9550, and a Voodoo 3 , both added after update.
  • Floppy drive, 3,5 and 5,25 after and upgrade
  • 2 HD’s,120 GB and 250 GB after and upgrade
  • DVD-RW after an upgrade.
  • ESS SOLO -1 based – replaed the SB0100 in it (to much trouble)
  •  1028 mb Sdram after an little upgrade
  • An 19 CRT-screen, Nokia 446Xpro.

image

The first thing I checked was that I booted. Yes, an old XP-install started crunching. After doing all backups requested of me, the machine was all mine, all mine..(Evil laughter)

Phase 1: General inspection

I opened it up, and 10 years of dust attacked me. Honestly, I’ve never seen such much dust in a computer. But, with some dust-off, and some cleaning alcohol, freshness was soon abound.

Almost looked like this (not my computer):

computer-dust-300x225

The caps looked good, and none of them seemed to be popping out. So I decided not to change them. I’ve seen worse caps in far,far never computers.

After that I removed the CPU, and cleaned off the old dry thermal grease to replace it with some fresh Artic 5 thermal paste.

Final thing of the first phase was to update the firmware to the latest Compaq compatible one I did find for this computer.

Phase 2: Partiton of harddrives and getting hold of the operating systems.

I wanted a quadruple boot of Windows Xp, Windows 98, Lubuntu and Freedos.

  • XP for some XP-retrogames,
  • Win98 for some specific Win9x-games
  • Freedos for all old DOS-games.
  • Lubuntu, as I wanted a real modern lightweight OS on it. Also for the easy bootmenufixes.

Would it be possible?

Yes!

I used Gparted to set up the first HD with 2 FAT32 partitions for Win98 and Freedos, both Primary.

For the second HD I created An NTFS,  An EXT4, and one Linux swap. All Primary. This was very easy.

Getting hold of Lubuntu, and Freedos was no problem, as they are Open Source systems, but to get hold of XP, and 98 I had to sail the pirateship.

Then I basically :

* Installed XP first on the NTFS-partition, harddrive 2

* Then I installed Lubuntu on the ext4 partition,harddrive 2. This fixes the bootloader magically with GRUB, and gives you a boot menu to choose OS:es from.

* Then installed Win98 on the first Fat32 partition, hardrive 1.

* Then I installed Freedos on the second Fat32, hardrive 1, with the WIn98 partition hidden.Freedos only wants to be installed on the first partition.

Also, you have to do an “sudo update-grub2″ from within Lubuntu afterwards, so that GRUB will add the systems to your boot-menu.

After that it was a matter of setting up and installing drivers were the OS:es hadn’t found them.

Problems I had during this:

First I wasted hours as I had corrupt files on both the XP and 98  scratchy DVD’s, DVDs, that still installed OK.

Than I had to look for chipset drivers , ethernet and graphic drivers for both XP and 98, and it took me quite a while digging through outdated websites and non-existing archives.

Halfway through this, the floppydrive broke, as I tested stuff, and it thought I was crappy disks at first. Luckily I had a spare.

I installed an old 5,25 floppy to be able to backup real old stuff with a kryoflux. Unfortunately the floppydesk-controller on the Motherboard got real confused with 2 drives attached, so I had to choose, and unplug one of them.

Getting sound to work in XP, 98 and DOS were a timeconsuming part, as Compaq in their customer-friendly wisdom decided to use an OEM Soundblaster SB0100 f r which the drivers aren’t readily available. However with the help of this,  I got the sound running in all three of them.  quite easy with a ESS Solo-1 audiocard – can recommend this for retrogaming.

My testinstalls were Phantasmagoria (Win98), Space Quest 5 (DOS) and Legacy (DOS). Worked like a charm!! I had to patch the Sierra games with ”Gosierra”‘s speed patches to get sound correct in them.

Reflections:

It was a real mix of fun and frustration setting this up. Computers were a lot tougher to get working in the 9x-days. You may have to read up on Hardware and obscure settings. Also I had forgotten what a crap the Win 9X-series was, building on MS-DOS, that these days were patched to death. XMS-Mem, Config,sys, Autoexec.bat, 640K conventional memory, bla bla – what a fuckin bitch!

It was fun to see that Freedos worked so well, as all DOS games I tried so far runs very well.

The historic perspective also shows the importance of Open Source for OS, drivers and Hardware specifications. The Lubuntu Install JUST WORKED and found all devices at once. No problems. The Freedos JUST WORKED, better than the real MS-DOS, as it have features like tab-completion , help to setup memory at boot, small drivers for mouse and cd giving more free conventional memory. Also Lubuntu is an modern Os, running on this soon 15 years old Hardware. Cool.  So please do love Open Source, because one day it’s going to save your a**!

For the XP , DOS and Win9x I had to look everywhere on the net as the drivers weren’t available, and since the manufacturers didn’t have them. As for the Hardware in itself, Compaq were famous for using modified solutions, so that they should be replaced with Compaq parts. (Hey, does anyone recognize this, Apple…). Luckily, most of my stuff weren’t modified, except for the soundcard then, which I replaced with a ESS SOLO-1.

I’m so happy with this little retro PC-rig. Build one you too, it’s a fun learning experience. It gets me that warm fuzzy retro feeling.

About emulators:

Yes, I know perfectly well that most of the games works in DOSBox, VirtualBox and so on. However, all things doesn’t work 100%, and more important – it feels more retro running them on real hardware. Also, it’s an interesting project in itself to get the old stuff running.

Troubles:

* Windows 98SE will have problems with more than 512mb mem. See this thread for solutions http://www.msfn.org/board/topic/129983-how-to-install-windows-98-in-modern-motherboards-using-more-than-1-gb/
Basically, you need to:
cd windows
edit c:\windows\system.ini

– When the edit screen is open you will see that the lines you wrote before have been modified. You must restore them copying again the given values, that is:
[386Enh]
MaxPhysPage=30000

[vcache]
MaxFileCache=393216
* To skip win98 diskscan during install, start setup with YOURDRIVE:setup /is

* If installing for example Freedos and Win98 on the same harddrive, on different primary partions, you’ll need to set the hidden flag for one of the partions in grub, depending on which on you youre booting. Both wants to be on drive C:/ primary. See Grub manual example

* You may also need to format the freedos/win98 drive with real fdisk, google for a windows me boot disk. For me, gparted and Paragons partition-magic created Fat32 partions that weren’t good enough for win98, it only complained about them. It was first when fdisk (from a rescue-boot image) had created the partitions it would work.

* The win98 partition limit is about 125GB.

* Have an annoying intel ethernet pxb boot message in your bios-post?  Turn it off with this

* Flickering and stuck to 60hz in windows 98 with your ATI card?  Changed the value 01 00 00 00 to 00 00 00 00 in registry:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > Software > Ati technologies > Driver > 0001 > DAL > IDCRegOptionDontUseOsmonitorInfo 01 00 00 00. After reboot i could get refresh rates over 60 Hz

* Flickering and stuck to 60hz in windows xp with your ATI card?  Change the EDIC settings under the catalyst driver settings. After reboot i could get refresh rates over 60 Hz

* Remeber Freedos doesn’t use Config.sys and Autoexec.bat default, it uses FDCONFIG.SYS and FDOS/autoex.bat, so that’s where your setting goes!

* If GRUB have trouble finding you XP partition, check that the partition contains ntldr,ntdetect.com and boot.ini. For me,  the were on the wrong drive, as i installed XP on the second drive.