Building a Retro Gaming PC - Part 3

Chris Kennedy's picture
I had planned to discuss software a bit with Part 3, however I've decided to focus on the hardware changes I have made to this system since Part 2. Some of these improvements have taken old hardware and replaced it with old hardware of higher quality. Other improvements have replaced old hardware with new hardware made in recent years. Nevertheless, the system remains retro. Taking old hardware and modifying it with the intention to slightly modernize it always creates the fear in me that my purist membership card will be revoked. While I have great appreciation for emulation and the programming behind it (I am a programmer, myself), I prefer the real hardware over emulation any day of the week.

1: Video card - Matrox Millennium PCI 4MB - This shouldn't come as a surprise. I replaced the S3-Virge-based card with the Matrox Millennium, and the result is a nice, smooth graphical experience. Gone are the random pixels that appeared in most of my games (especially bad in Space Quest V and Wing Commander Privateer). We had some discussion about Matrox in previous parts of the retro computer discussions. I couldn't find the Mystique, and elected to just go for the original Millennium. Cost: $5.99 (ebay)

2: Sound Blaster 16 SCSI - This Sound Blaster offers SCSI. I don't plan on using the SCSI interface, however the DSP version (4.05) doesn't have the issue with hanging notes when using a wavetable daughercard (such as a Wave Blaster). I plan on retiring the Wave Blaster from the setup as I have a Roland SC-55 on the way, but this helps things out quite a bit. Cost: Free gift from Armchair Arcade member and good friend of mine - Aaron Wegner.

3: 430 Watt ATX Power supply - Overkill? Not really. Hardly coming close to requiring it output its maximum wattage, this power supply offers a safer, cleaner, quieter, and cooler solution to running the vintage PC than the original 1995/1996 AT 250 watt power supply. Unfortunately, I had to mount it upside down inside of the case. An easy trade to make for the much quieter experience that it offers. I didn't skip on this one - went with a Seasonic quiet power supply. Cost: $63 (newegg)

4: ATX to AT adapter - Gotta adapt the new power supply to work with the old computer. The initial adapter I bought was made by Athena, and it was TERRIBLE! There are typically two motherboard power connectors on an AT Power Supply - Labeled P8 and P9. The labels on these were *reversed* - I could have burned out all sorts of hardware had I not noticed this. I switched them before powering up. Everything worked fine except the Sound Blaster. It didn't output sound because the 12V line wasn't reaching the motherboard (and therefore the ISA bus). The Sound Blaster amp is 9v stepped down from the 12v line. Long story short on diagnosis and troubles, I bought a different adapter from buy.com made by Cables Unlimited. Cost me several dollars more, but was made with higher quality wires & plugs. Cost: $11 (buy.com)

5: Socket 7/370 CPU cooler - While this Pentium 100 doesn't create too much heat, the fan and heatsink took quite a beating over time. The fan's bearing was warn out. Rather than mess with trying to remove the fan, clean it, oil it, and salvage it, I replaced it with a socket 370 (Pentium 3) fan that easily fits Socket 7. Cost: $9 (newegg.com)

6: Compact Flash to IDE adapter - The newest and quite possibly the "coolest" addition to this system is a Compact Flash to IDE adapter from StarTech. I had some old Compact Flash cards lying around from a 2005 Nikon camera and figured I could use these on this old machine. It was just too easy! I put the adapter in a snug 3.5" bay and hooked it up to the primary slave channel. I put a 512 MB flash card in there (FAT-16) and just installed DOS 6.2 and Windows 3.11 on it this weekend. I can easily access it as a second drive when booting off the 8 GB Windows 98 partition, and I can remove the whole thing and put it in the Core 2 Quad to do quick transfers of files - Quite nice when you are getting Windows 3.11 drivers and Quicktime 2.1.2 up and running! I got a little FMV gaming in with Critical Path after the installs were complete. More plans for this little Compact Flash drive. It doubles as a pseudo-CD drive since I don't want to copy discs over to the small, 8 GB primary drive.

Outside of trying to add a full-on Roland card to this machine (and hooking up the SC-55 when it gets here), the machine is pretty much complete as far as hardware is concerned. These changes have altered how I load and configure the software, so I will try to talk more about software in Part 4.

Thanks to all of you that have contributed your thoughts and suggestions. It has been a blast.

Pictures of the new case fan, the ATX to AT adapter, and the Compact Flash to IDE 3.5" bay device before I mounted it in the case. (Notice I also moved to a newer, rounded IDE cable for the Primary IDE. I will probably do the same thing to the secondary IDE cable when I get a bit more organized.

Comments

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Wow

That pretty much is the ultimate retro pc system.

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Chris Kennedy
Chris Kennedy's picture
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Joined: 08/31/2008
Thanks, Mark

Thanks for the comment, Mark. I am really excited about it. Little issues with it have all been ironed out with a few hardware changes, and it looks like I may acquire a genuine Roland interface to access the external devices. Once that is installed, I will put on a slip cover or two for the open expansion slots & seal it up.

The only other thing that *kinda* bothers me is that switching out the old power supply for the new one left me without a two wire molex connector for the front panel. That basically means that the 100 Mhz doesn't light up on the front, and pressing the turbo button doesn't show it visibly drop to 16 Mhz. I could probably cut a wire for it or order an adapter, but I will focus on software for now.

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