Skip header

Classic Systems (12024-05-03)

brook > pcs > classic

After I assembled the first iteration of PC5014, I decided to grab some older hardware and see what I could do with it. One fun project that soon led to another.

The first of these projects was a Windows 98 PC.

Initial 12014 Build

Motherboard: ASUS P5A-B (Baby AT)
Super Socket 7 with 3 DIMM slots
PSU: Cooler Master Elite (460w)
CPU: AMD K6-2 (300 MHz)
RAM: 320MB (256+32+32) PC100 SDRAM
GPU1: Diamond Stealth 3D 2000 PRO (4MB S3 Virge/DX)
GPU2: Diamond Viper V770 (16MB Riva TNT2)
APU: Creative SoundBlaster 16
Net: 3Com EtherLink 10/100
OS: Windows 98 SE (with MS-DOS 7.1)
A: 3.5" 1.44MB FDD
C: 32GB 266x CompactFlash card in IDE adapter
D: Sony 4X CD-ROM (connected to sound card)

The keyboard was shared with PC5014 via a KVM switch. The motherboard doesn't have a PS/2 port without its USB/MIR card, so I picked up a dedicated serial mouse for it.

I used a CompactFlash solution for the hard drive as it was cheaper than getting a full-fat IDE drive. For internet connectivity, there's a WiFi bridge connected to the ethernet card.

KernelEx is installed to be able to run later browsers and other software for fun. I have Opera 11.64, but am trying to track down 12.50 Build 1497, which is supposedly the latest version that will run.

12020 Redesign (planned)

Since I've decided to build a seperate PC for DOS gaming (more on that below), 5004 will be upgraded to be able to play some more demanding games.

CPU: AMD K6-2 (475 MHz)
RAM: 352MB (256+64+32) PC100 SDRAM
GPU: ATi Radeon 9000 64MB
APU: SoundBlaster Live! CT4870 (EAX2)
A: 3.5" 1.44MB FDD
B: USB LS-120 SuperDisk (Shared via KVM)
C: 32GB 266x CompactFlash card in IDE adapter
D: Sony 16x/40x DVD-ROM

For a while, I was putting something together to run an oldschool BBS on. I was then reminded that thin clients exist, so I decided to turn this system into a dedicated DOS gaming rig.

Planned Build

Motherboard: PC-Chips M525 1.1 (Baby AT?)
Socket 7 with 1 DIMM and 4 SIMM slots
PSU: StarTech AT (230w)
CPU: Pentium MMX (200 MHz)
GPU: S3 Trio/64V+ (2MB)
APU: SoundBlaster Vibra16 PNP (ISA)
OS: MS-DOS 7.1
A: 3.5" 1.44MB FDD
D: Sony 4x CD-ROM
E: Swappable CF card bay

As stated on the Tech Wishlist, I'd love to have a 3Dfx Voodoo (4MB) and Gravis UltraSound in here someday.

After upgrading 5014's CPU to an FX-8320, I decided to see if I could use the older processor for something, and looked up AM2+ motherboards.

Planned Build

Motherboard: kesoto MCP78S 2.3 (microATX)
Socket AM2+ with 1 DDR2 and 1 DDR3 slot
PSU: Corsair CX600M (600w modular, 80+Bronze)
CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 965 (3.4GHz)
RAM: 4GB DDR3-1600
GPU: XFX nVidia GeForce 9600GSO (512MB)
APU: SoundBlaster X-Fi XtremeMusic SB0460 (EAX5)
OS: Windows XP
A: USB LS-120 SuperDisk (Shared via KVM)
C: 32GB CompactFlash card in IDE adapter
D: Pioneer 16x/40x DVD-ROM (ATAPI)

PC5004C (New!)

I eventually got tired of having a bunch of boxes making my setup more complicated, so I decided to crunch them all down into a unified time machine. Probably a less than ideal configuration, but it ought to be able to run anything released from 11995 to 12005.

12022 Planned Build

Case: Rosewill SRM-01
USB: 2x2.0, 1x3.0 (removed)
Fans: 120mm intake, 80mm exhaust, 120mm side (not installed)
Bays: 5¼ optical; 5¼ internal, 2x2½ internal
Motherboard: kesoto MCP78S 2.3 (microATX)
Socket AM2+ with 1 DDR2 and 1 DDR3 slot
PSU: ...
CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 965 (3.4GHz) with TT Contac Silent 12 cooler
RAM: 2GB Micron DDR3-1600
GPU: ATi Radeon X600 (128MB PCIe)
APU: SoundBlaster Live! CT4870 (EAX2)
OS: MS-DOS 7.1/Windows 98SE, Windows XP SP3
A: USB LS-120 SuperDisk
C-IDE: 32GB CompactFlash card
D: Sony 4x CD-ROM (ATAPI)

Building Your Own

If you'd like to get your own classic system together but aren't sure about the hardware, here's my rules of thumb:

Not having any luck tracking down an old Tandy 1000 or Turbo XT clone? Look into the NuXT, a micro-ATX form factor system with some modern conveniences built in. Hook it up with a diskette drive and serial mouse, and you're good to go.

CreepingNet's DocsHomegrown infobase on classic (8088-486) computing/laptops.

While a 486/66 seems like the go-to, you probably actually want a system that's a bit newer; if you're into 3D shooters, they perform much better on a Pentium 120. Plus on newer boards you're more likely to find a CR2032 socket, instead of an already-leaking Ni-Cd barrel battery, or an out-of-juice-but-critical-to-booting-the-system-so-nothing-happens Dallas chip.

Something to be aware of is that depending on the age of the BIOS, it might not support fixed disks over a certain size. Memory shouldn't be an issue, with 32MB being the 'run anything' overkill target. Though even just 8 would be enough for nearly everything except Build engine games.

IMO the ideal PCI VGA card for this era was the S3 Trio 64V+. Be nice to pair it with a Voodoo but good luck getting one of those nowadays. Or, if you want something that's easy/still being manufactured, pick up an ATi RAGE XL.

For audio, any sort of ISA SoundBlaster would work, with my favorite being the original Pro model. If those are unobtainable, there are modern workarounds and reproductions such as the OPL3LPT or Orpheus 2LT. It's also possible to use some PCI SoundBlaster/Ensoniq cards that emulate an SB16 with the appropriate driver loaded. For better MIDI sound, most of those old external modules are expensive now, so I'd suggest you either get a DreamBlaster addon, use a spare PC as a MIDI emulator, or set up an MT32-Pi.

The last GPU with dedicated Windows 3.11 support was the original RIVA TNT. ATi RAGE cards are also supported due to retaining Mach64 compatibility.

Boot Disk dot com Need some boot disks? Guess where you can find them. CDBeQuiet Run those crazyfast optical drives at slower speeds to reduce noise. The Eric Experiment's Win3 Software Essential downloads for all your WFW builds. MS-DOS Packet Drivers Got an Ethernet card in your DOS PC? Get some drivers for it. mTCP DOS networking suite with DHCP, FTP, Telnet, IRC, and HTTP tools. SBEMU + FreeDOS Run DOS games bare-metal on PCs with VIA and Intel HD chipsets.

The bare minimum for this era is a Super Socket 7 board paired with a fast AMD K6-III. But, due to the increasing rarity of those, a safer bet would be Athlon XP or Pentium III systems. Should work a dream paired with 256MB of RAM.

Most AGP cards are compatible, up to the GeForce 6 series (6100-6800) from nVidia, or Radeon R300 (9500-9800) (stable) or R400 (X700-X850) (beta) on the ATi side. Then for audio, Aureal Vortex or SoundBlaster Live/Audigy are the best choices, as they'd let you up the immersion with A3D or EAX.

Rather than dealing with old hard drives or trying to get SATA working, consider using a CompactFlash adapter. The non-CFast cards natively use a PATA interface and are well suited to this purpose.

1+GB RAM Patch Patches and configs to get 98SE working with higher amounts of RAM. DotNet9X Runtimes to enable support for .NET 2.0-3.5 programs on 95/98 KernelEx Extender for 98/ME, allows Windows 2000 programs to work on older PCs. Latest Versions The final software releases officially supported on 98/ME. Phil's Computer Lab Useful collection of experiments, utilities, and drivers. Prevent Windows prompting for a CDXcopy D:\WIN98\* to C:\WINDOWS\OPTIONS\CABS\ to never see "Insert the Windows 98 CD-ROM" again. VOGONS Drivers Archive of drivers and utilities for older hardware. Windows 98 is still alive! Treasure trove of Windows patches, Service Packs, and device drivers.

It should be relatively easy to find an LGA775 Core 2 Duo, 1st-3rd gen Core i, AM2 Athlon 64 X2, or AM2+/AM3 Phenom CPU and throw a fat 4GB stick of RAM at it.

Any PCI Express GPU will work, up to a GTX 960 or Radeon HD 7970 if you prefer official support, or a 980 Ti/R9 280X if you don't mind modifying files for the driver installation.

A SoundBlaster X-Fi series audio card is recommended for EAX5 support.

Most manufacturers seemed to lump XP and Vista together on the software side, so I'd imagine hardware support is similar.

Daemon Tools 3.47 Virtual drive utility for loading programs from disc images. Latest Versions The final software releases officially supported on XP. Legacy Update Fixes automatic updates on unsupported versions of Windows. Snappy Driver InstallerAutomatically downloads and installs drivers. Using Windows 2000 Today Video guide to fully updating and extending NT 5.0.
Extended Kernel for Vista Patch to improve the capabilities of 64-bit Vista and run later programs.

Will eventually be considered retro.. and perhaps it already is, but it works fine for me thus far. Anyway, due to some variety of fuckery, unmodified 7 doesn't work properly on Ryzen or generation 7+ Intel CPUs. Workarounds do exist, but if you want a hassle-free Officially Supported experience, you're looking for an AM3+ FX-83x0 or LGA1151 Core 6000-series.

The last-supported video cards are the RTX 3000 and RX 6{7/8/9}00 series, making a 3090 Ti or 6900XT the most powerful GPUs usable.. Except if you're on a 32-bit system (and idk why you would be), where you're limited to the R9 380X.

KUC Update Checker Utility to fully patch Windows 7 and 8.x Solution to Windows Update endless searching The patches needed to get auto-updates working again on 7/8. VCREDIST All-In-One BundleEvery 2005-2022 Visual C++ Runtime installer, now available in a single download.

That's where you're gonna have to do your own research because IRDGAF. Here's a few things I've heard about through the grapevine, though:

Lee-Soft ViStart Adds a Vista/7-style Start menu to XP/8/10
Bulk Crap Uninstaller Quickly wipe your PC clean of all the shit it came with. Chris's Debloat Script One-click access to privacy restorations and annoyancy removals. Explorer Patcher Streamline and customize the file manager to your liking. Hellzerg's Optimizer Dashboard for quick customization and program installation. O&O ShutUp10++ Tells Windows 10/11 to zip it good.
Useful Links Boot Failure Troubleshooting Flowchart Steps to take when your system doesn't make it to the desktop. Computer Hardware Chart Visual guide to ports and connectors on and in PCs/Macs from 11981-12008. Eye Candy Archive Comprehensive collection of old screensavers. Old Version Where to find some classic software to use. Ultimate Windows Tool This one weird powershell command improves any Windows 11 installation. WinWorld Superb library of older OSes and programs.

[Listen]Listen to "Robert Allen - Medivo" on YouTube?

[Nav]In too deep? Perhaps you could use a Roadmap.