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On this blog we have already taken a look at two models of the Apple G4 Macintosh line. In this article we are going to take a brief look at another of this line. The Macintosh G4 “Sawtooth” also referred to as the AGP G4 due to its addition of an AGP slot for video.

The Sawtooth as we will refer to it uses the same style case and color scheme as the Digital Audio G4 that I covered earlier as well as the entire early G4 line. Released in 1999 the Sawtooth was a modest improvement over the earlier “Yikes” G4 with an AGP slot for video as well as faster ATA controller for IDE devices and the option of some faster video cards as well as faster CPU speeds.

The front is identical to the earlier models with the center speaker and power button as well as the smaller reset and debug buttons on the lower section. There are two bays, one 5 1/4  and the lower bay being 3 1/2. Mine has a DVD drive installed as well as an optional ZIP drive.

Turning the Macintosh around we see the PSU connector as well as four expansion slots on the lower portion of the case.

On the upper half we have our various connectivity jacks and ports.Closest to the top we have two Firewire 400 ports with a 10/100 Ethernet jack below that and then below that we have two USB 1.1 ports and finally two audio jacks for speaker and / or microphone. We also have a jack for a modem to the right.

Like the other G4 Macs the case opens very easily by pulling on a handle on the side. Here I have all the expansion cards removed as to give a better view. Up top we see the power supply as well as the two drive bays. The bays are actually one single piece that slides out by removing the front panel and undoing two screws. The lower bay appears to be 5 1/4 at a glance but it’s really a 3 1/2 bay. Mine originally had a hard drive installed in it for some reason.

The G4 Macintosh actually has ample room for hard drives and mine came with six hard drives installed. Possibly the previous owner was running a RAID array. I took out most of them but left in two. One is a 400GB and the other is 250GB. I left the OS that was installed though which was OS X 10.2 though I believe the original OS shipped was 8.6.

Now lets take a better look at the motherboard.

Compared to a PC motherboards I always found Macintosh motherboards from this time to look rather sparse and boring though this may be attributed to having components on the underside of the board. This motherboard like the Yikes model before it and the Gigabit Ethernet model after run on a 100mhz front side bus.

1) CPU – All of the original model G4 Macs run on the Power PC G4 (7400) CPU.  The CPU in this machine is a 450mhz version with 1mb of L2 cache but they also came in speeds of 350mhz to 500mhz. The 450mhz would be the middle range option and is probably comparable to an earlier Pentium III in performance.

2) RAM – There are four slots present designed to handle up to 2GB of PC100 SDRAM. stock though the most the machine usually came with was 256mb. Also earlier OS’s which originally came loaded onto the Sawtooth can only detect up to 1.5gb

3) Internal Firewire. The Sawtooth G4 has an interesting internal connector not present on the earlier Yikes models nor the later Gigabit Ethernet version. This is a Firewire 400 jack on the lower right corner of the motherboard presumably to power an internal Firewire hard drive.

4) Wireless airport card connector for attaching a wireless card. This was a feature not present on the earlier model.

5) ATA connectors – Two ATA66 connectors for attaching up to four IDE devices such as CD drives and hard drives.

6) CMOS battery – Is the standard 3.6 V lithium battery to save settings. Like all Macs the death of these batteries tend to cause more issues then what I see happen in PC’s. If your having odd instabilities replace these things first.

7) ATX power connector

Finally lets take a look at the expansion slots and cards I have installed.

The Sawtooth comes with three 66mhz PCI slots which will accept your standard PCI cards as well as special cards meant for the faster 66mhz PCI slot. Also new to this model over the Yikes Macintosh is the x2 AGP slot for a dedicated video card.

Video – The video card I have installed is an AGP ATI Rage 128 Pro card. This would of been the stock video card to come with this G4 though some models also came with non Pro versions. These cards came with 16mb of video memory onboard. I think the Rage 128 Pro is a decent card for the time and these were found in virtually all Apple Macintosh machines at the time. They have decent performance compared to something like the TNT2 as well as good compatibility with older titles. The video out options on this particular card are also nice offering standard VGA as well as DVI and S-video. This card does seem to run out of steam fairly quickly when you start running games post 2001 or so. Id recommend it for late 90’s Mac games but if you looking to upgrade this card maybe should be close to top on the your list for replacement.

SCSI was also an option on these Macs and many long time Macintosh users were still quite accustomed to the SCSI hard and CD drives. My machine came with a PCI Adaptec SCSI controller which I suspect was installed stock. I was able to use this card to replace the hard drive in the ZIP drive bay with an actual purple face plate SCSI ZIP drive although stock these machines used IDE ZIP drives with a face plates matching the translucent blue plastic.

CPU UPGRADE

I did also happen to acquire a Sonnet Encore ST/G4 upgrade CPU that I wanted to test out on this machine. Mine is a whopping 1.7ghz upgrade but they also made a 1.8Ghz upgrade chip and possibly faster. Installation was fairly easy and saw a massive speed boost over the 450mhz G4

I did notice that OS 10.2 did identify the CPU as a G3 though this didn’t seem to really affect anything.

sawtoothug3

Another upgrade I tried out as adding a PCI ATA133 card to match with the installed Maxtor ATA133 hard drive. This created noticeable faster booting times.

All an all another solid G4 machine from Apple. The Sawtooth does a modest job of improving on the Yikes G4 (a machine I hope to one day cover) but doesn’t offer anything to dramatic. Again, this is machine would certainly make a nice 90’s Mac gaming rig with a CPU that falls into the area of being capable but not to fast. The case is also rather nice being built quite solidly compared to earlier “brittletosh” cases and is also super easy to access and work on. I’ve never had any issues with the G4 processor and its always a treat to work with. These machines can also be found very cheaply so don’t hesitate to pick one up.

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If you’ve followed this blog you probably know by now I’ll find any excuse to put together a new PC build. This of course includes building  and optimizing PC’s for the purpose of playing a single game. The last example of this was my Ultimate Ultima VII PC that I assembled and wrote about a few months back that I had built specifically to play Ultima VII. Today’s article is about a similar PC. Back in the day it wasn’t to uncommon to have a game released that required very specific hardware to run at its best looking or sometimes even at all. Either a very specific CPU speed such as in the case of Wing Commander and Ultima VII or using a specific graphics API  such as Glide or S3D and a compatible graphics card to look its best. As we moved into the late Win 9x and Windows XP era these become much less common as games were programmed better for future CPU clocks and the huge array of proprietary graphics card APIs died out and eventually boiled down to Direct X and OpenGL.

The 2002 game Splinter Cell on PC though became an exception to this norm and required a graphics card of the Geforce 3, 4 of 5 (FX) series to display properly on PC. Even here the choice mostly boiled down to the Geforce 4 line as the it could do anything the Geforce 3 could do but faster and the Geforce 5 (FX) line being faster but actually suffering from imperfect compatibility. The need for these specific cards is due to the game being a port from the original Xbox requiring it to use features of the NV2x chips. This mostly pertains to shadows and with Splinter Cell being a stealth game this aspect plays a major role. The NV2x and NV3x use a technique known as Shadow Buffering where as later cards use a technique known as Projected Shadows. The methods are similar but different enough to cause graphical glitches in Splinter Cell when using non Shadow Buffering cards.

The game is completely playable with other cards including those from the Radeon series but is missing some shadow and lighting effects. I am aware that it may be possible to hack ini files or force older drivers to allow shadow buffering on other cards or use game patches to correct the issue but in this article we’re going to focus on a period correct retro machine to get the best authentic experience without the need to use patches or any hacking of files.

So now that we know why we might want to build a Splinter Cell PC let take a look at the machine I came up with.

Case and Drives – For a case I used a ATX PC case I had that was unused. For the Splinter Cell theme I decided to paint the case back using cheap spray paint acquired from the local hardware store though I suppose a dark grey would of also worked. To create a look that mimicked the iconic splinter cell green night vision goggles I found and installed a 5 1/4 inch 3 fan hard drive caddy but left the bay without a hard drive so that the internal lighting I’ll talk about shortly could shine through the three holes giving the night vision effect.

For drives I went with a SATA DVD drive since we will need an optical drive to install Splinter Cell as well as a 1.44 floppy drive. The floppy drive is unneeded for Splinter Cell but it adds versatility to the overall machine.

Motherboard – For the motherboard I decided to go with a socket 478 board. I went with this socket because I wanted to try something a little different (for me) with this build and try out the Pentium 4. The motherboard I ended up using is the Gigabyte GA-81PE1000-G.

This socket 478 motherboard uses the very stable Intel 865PE chipset and supports DDR400, AGP x8, Hyper threading, built in SATA as well as a 800mhz front side bus for the later and faster Pentium 4 CPU’s. The motherboard came without any fan on the chipset cooler so I added this nice little fan with LED’s.

OS and Hard Drive – for a hard drive I decided to go with a 160GB SATA hard drive since the motherboard had built in SATA. For and OS I went with Windows XP for an overall easier experience although the game is also supported in Windows 98.

CPU – for a CPU you can really use just about anything from a 800mhz Pentium III up. I originally played Splinter Cell on a 1.4ghz PIII and the game ran more or less just fine but since I was going with a Pentium 4 build I decided to go all out and opted for the Pentium 4 Extreme CPU. This CPU helps me run the game at high graphical settings and resolution while keeping an acceptable framerate.

The Pentium 4 Extremes were Intel’s high end enthusiast chips and sported 512kb of L2 cache on die as well as a whopping 2mb of L3 cache.  My socket 478 Pentium 4 Extreme runs at 3.2ghz with a 800mhz FSB and hyper threading enabled. There is also a 3.4ghz version available for socket 478 but it can be rather hard to come across and expensive. The P4 Extremes based off the Gallatin core can run a little hot so I would suggest a decent heatsink and fan. I used this Zalman fan that sports a copper stripe and mostly aluminum fins. There are all copper versions available as well.

RAM – For RAM I went with four sticks of 1gb DDR400 running in dual channel mode for maximum memory speed and capacity. My RAM came with heat spreader attached but you probably don’t need anything so fancy in your own build.

 Sound – For sound I went with a Creative Audigy 2ZS. In my opinion this is one of the best old school PCI sound cards and is a good step up from the Sound Blaster Live! and original Audigy cards in terms of audio quality. Splinter Cell also supports EAX or Environmental Audio Extensions which the Audigy 2ZS supports. What this mostly does is create echo effects in larger indoors areas of the game.

Graphics card – Probably the most important piece of the Splinter Cell PC build. As I mentioned at the start of the article Splinter Cell is very specific about what graphics cards it needs to use for the best looking and most hassle free experience. Using any card outside of the Geforece 3, 4 and 5 (FX) line will result in the game missing many of the correct and intended shadows and lighting effects. As I mentioned the Geforce 5 (FX) line of cards will work and give the greatest performance and best FPS but they aren’t 100% compatible and you will get graphical glitches such as “shinny textures” at points as well as shadow flickering. Some cards of the FX line display these glitches less then others, for instance the Geforce 5800.

With this in mind if you want a complete glitchless experience your options are either the Geforce 3 or 4 lines. Seeing as the Geforce 4 does everything the Geforce 3 does but faster the logical choice is the Geforce 4. I chose the top of the line Geforce Ti4600 with 128mb of ram. This was the high end AGP x4 offering from Nvidia and will get you the best performance while retaining all the shadow effects. Later Nvidia also released an AGP x8 version labeled the Ti4800 but in reality the AGP x8 offers no real performance boost over the Ti4600. I even recall one source claiming the Ti4800 was ever so slightly slower then the Ti4600 perhaps due to the slightly higher clocked memory on the Ti4600.

I am using Nvidia drivers 45.23 and these are the best overall drivers I would recommend using for this game.

Something to take into consideration is that Splinter Cell is a slower paced game relying on tactics of hiding, waiting and slow thought out movements. This being the case having a higher frame rate really doesn’t seem to take a priority over having better looking and functioning shadows so I really would recommend a Geforce 4 over the Geforce 5 (FX).

extra lighting – In order to go with the theme I decided to install some extra lighting. This included cutting out a spot in the side of the case to mount a green LED fan to help with cooling as well as adding some light strips, one behind the top 5 1/4 HDD caddy and one along the rear vent holes.

These lights (not including the case fan) can be turned off via a rear switch that installs in one of the expansion slots.

Here is the machine with the lights out.

 

 

Lastly were going to take a look at come comparison screenshots and benchmarks. The following images are courtesy of Phil from Phils computer Lab.

Non Geforce 3/4

Geforce 4

Non Geforce 3/4

Geforce 4

Non Geforce 3/4

Geforce 4

Benchmarks

3DMark 2001SE at 1024 x 768 no AA – 14604

3DMark 2003 – 2005

MDK2 at 1024 x 768 x 32 colors w/ T&L – 64.8 FPS

As for running Splinter Cell using FRAPS to watch frames at all the highest settings running at 1280 x 1064 the game seemed to average at around 20 FPS sometimes going up into the 30’s and 40’s and sometimes dipping down to around 15 FPS. At 1024 x 768 the average framerate seemed to stay much closer to 30 FPS. adjusting detail levels downward can also significantly help. Using thermal vision seems to tax the game the most and can really drop your FPS.

Funny thing is I played this entire game start to finish at 1280 x 1064 and at the highest graphical settings and the lower FPS really didn’t affect me. This is likely very much due to the slow and methodical nature of this game making higher FPS not as important as in some other games. Of course different people have different tolerances for framerates so it may bother you more then it has me. If this is the case a simple fix is just tuning down the graphical settings, resolution or swapping the Geforce 4 out for a higher end Geforce 5 (FX) and trade off some glitching for higher FPS.

Xbox version

I think it merits mentioning the original Xbox version here since that was the original platform this game was released for. From my research the games runs just fine on the Xbox and is perhaps the better and most hassle free way to play the game. The PC port does have the advantage of quick saves as well as higher resolution options.

Other games using Shadow Buffers?

Maybe, the sequel to Splinter Cell, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow possibly uses shadow buffers but nothing in the documentation confirms this. For a long time this game suffered even worse then the original when played on more modern PCs  with parts being almost unplayable due to missing shadow effects. On the up side the game seems to render perfectly when using a card of the Geforce 5 (FX) series as well as the Geforce 6 and 7 series cards. A patch was released by the community to fix some of the issues when using a later card such as the a Geforce 8 or 9 card.

Komat, a member of the Vogons forum came up with a patch that fixes some of but not all of the graphical issues when using a card other then the Geforce 3,4 or 5 (FX), you can find it here

Conclusion

In conclusion if you want to play splinter cell on original hardware without glitches or lost shadow effects without fiddling with hacks the only real choice is the Geforce 4, preferably the TI4600 or Ti4800. Something like the high end offerings of the Geforce 5 (FX) series will also mostly get the job done at a much higher FPS but at the cost of a few graphical issues. The one nice thing about this project is even though the PC is fine tuned for Splinter Cell it also makes an excellent early Windows XP machine playing many games from the time at their highest settings. As for framerates, despite the lower FPS you get running Splinter Cell with a Geforce 4 and high settings I say give it a try. The nature of the game makes having a really high framerate not as important as it is in other titles and you may appreciate the better looks over the smoother play.

I’m known for being a bit of a purist with my retro PC builds. Sure I’ll make exceptions at times, use a CF or SDD HDD here and there (out of sight out of mind right?), use a CD-ROM or DVD drive in a system that probably wouldn’t of had one back in the day or even throw a floppy emulator into some problematic floppy only systems but generally I like to stick to period correct builds with hardware more or less from the time period. With this build though I’m going to step away from that a little bit and build what I call DOSzilla, A super powerful yet highly compatible DOS based gaming PC with key parts more or less outside of the era that DOS was a prevalent or even moderately used as a operating system in the home.

If your looking for a fast but more era correct DOS PC check out my article on my fast Pentium MMX DOS PC.

One of the pickiest components when building a DOS PC is the sound card. DOS always works best with a 16-bit ISA sound card. There are PCI sound cards like those based on the Aureal Vortex chip that do a pretty good job of working under DOS, especially with later games but I wanted to go for as high of a compatibility and ease of use as I could and this meant I needed a motherboard with a 16-bit ISA slot. This basically limits us to either a Pentium III motherboard that supports up to a 1.4ghz Tualatin CPU or a AMD Athlon socket A Thunderbird motherboard that supports up to a 1.4ghz AMD Thunderbird CPU. There are motherboards that support faster CPU’s as well as having a 16-bit ISA slot but they tend to be for industrial applications and are expensive and hard to find so for this project I wanted to keep costs low and components easily attainable.

If your wondering about performance between the Intel 1.4ghz Tualatin and the AMD 1.4ghz Thunderbird they are relatively similar but it depends on the application and game. Here is an example of some benchmarks I performed using this motherboard and a separate PIII board though note different motherboards may give varying results.

Motherboard – Tyan S2390

Either motherboard choice is fine but I went with a AMD board just for something a little different. The motherboard I chose was the Tyan S2390, a socket A board which uses the VIA KT-133 chipset.

This is a pretty good performing motherboard that met my immediate needs. It supported a Thunderbird 1.4ghz CPU (though that manual states it can only accept up to a 1ghz CPU) had a x4 AGP slot, BIOS options to disable internal cache and finally had one all important 16-bit ISA slot.

For my operating system I’m just using my old fallback of DOS 6.22 but if your feeling adventurous you could try DOS 7.1 which some people have managed to isolate from Windows 9x and make into its own standalone OS. This MAY induce a few compatibility issues with a rare few picky games but on the upside you can use much larger hard drive sizes and partitions.

CPU – AMD 1.4ghz Thunderbird

So first we need to talk about my choice of CPU, the AMD 1.4ghz Thunderbird.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Released in 2001 the 1.4ghz model is the final and fastest CPU in AMD’s Thunderbird core chips. Things to note is this CPU can be a little hard to find as well as it runs a little hot so make sure you use a decent heatsink / fan combo. This CPU is also the fastest CPU my motherboard will accept even though official documentation says it will only support CPU’s of up to 1ghz this is probably because the motherboard came out roughly a year before the 1.4ghz Thunderbird was a thing.

I also like this motherboard / CPU combo because although 2001 is well after the death of DOS as a mainstream home OS or platform for gaming it’s not to far out of the era to count as ridiculous overkill as bigger DOS titles were still being released in 97 and probably 98 only three or so years earlier. All the extra horsepower does have one big advantage and that’s running many of these later DOS titles much smoother then PC’s of their time could especially in higher resolutions that games such as Quake offered.

One major downside of such speed though is greater incompatibility with games due to mostly speed issues. This results in some titles running far to quickly or sometimes more subtle issues such as a game appearing to run fine but timed events hidden in the background running to quickly. This can be especially prevalent with older titles where a CPU was expected to be running at a mere 33mhz or 66mhz let alone 1.4ghz.

This issue can be mitigated somewhat by the BIOS option to disable internal cache on the CPU. My testing with programs like Topbench has shown when the internal cache is disabled in BIOS on the 1.4ghz Thunderbird it performs similar to a 33-50mhz 486DX.

RAM – PC133 SDRAM

For RAM I’m using one stick of 512MB PC133 SDRAM. This is actually massive overkill and may actually adversely effect compatibility with a few rare titles. I’m just using it for the sake of trying it but if you want to play things safer a 128mb stick or even a 64mb stick would be best. If though your planning on duel booting Win 9x or running Windows as your main OS and using DOS mode stick with 512mb.

HDD – Maxtor ATA133 HDD & Promise ATA100 PCI IDE controller

The Tyan S2390 only has ATA66 on the built in IDE controller which although adequate I wanted to go a bit faster. For a hard drive I could easily have thrown in a SATA adapter and a SSD or even SD card as a hard drive but I wanted to just go with something I already had laying around so I opted for a 40GB Maxtor ATA133 hard drive with a PCI ATA100 IDE card I had on hand. using this card I do lose a bit of performance from the I could of gotten out of the hard drive as well as wasting a lot of hard drive space as my setup can only see 2GB of the hard drive.

If you have one lying around or want to spend the few extra dollars you shouldn’t have any issues with throwing in a PCI SATA adapter card and a SATA hard drive or even SSD.

Video – Diamond Stealth S540 Savage 4 Pro

For a video card I wanted to go with something very capable and fast but also a card that gave the highest compatibility with older DOS titles. For this I went with the AGP S3 Savage 4 pro chip in the form of the 32mb Diamond Stealth III S540

S3 cards from the mid 90’s such as the S3 Trio and Virge were known for their excellent and highly compatible 2D core and the Savage 4 chip is no different. Also like their earlier cards the Savage 4  wasn’t really known as being a speed demon and was generally outclassed by cards from Nvidia and 3DFX such as the TNT2 and Voodoo 3 but in our DOS build the Savage 4 based S540 is more then powerful enough as well as delivering that excellent 2D image and compatibility. The card I’m using here is the AGP x4 pro chip but if you want a card a little faster look for the Savage 4 Xtreme.

Sound – Creative AWE64

Lastly we have the sound card. Obviously we I wanted to go with a 16-bit ISA card for a large degree of hassle free DOS compatibility. The card I ended up going with largely for for the reason of having one in easy reach was the Creative AWE64.

Keep in mind there are many acceptable sound cards one can use for this project. I went with the AWE64 for its good compatibility and sound quality. In DOS the AWE64 acts just like an AWE32 and many later DOS games directly support it in setup options, otherwise it usually can emulate a SB pretty well. It also can do its own MIDI which although usually not as good as an external module still sounds acceptable with many later games. It does have its drawbacks though such as a lack of a real OPL FM chip but since this PC is heavily geared to later games that would take more advantage of MIDI or a CD soundtrack I felt it was a still a great choice. This model also lacks a wavetable header so no MIDI daughterboard add-ons. Again though, if you have a different preference many other ISA cards should work just fine such as an AWQE32 with a MIDI daughterboard of your choosing or a Sound Blaster 16 or clone.

Games, Overall Performance and Conclusion

Now to take a look at how this PC performed for me once all put together. First a look at some Benchmarks with my more period correct Pentium based fast DOS PC

RED = DOSzilla

GREEN = 233mhz Pentium DOS PC, 2mb L2 cache, 132MB PC133 SDRAM, Virge/GX

As expected DOSzilla stomps the Pentium 1 PC. For some reason my benchmark for Wolf3d wouldn’t even run on the Pentium rig but this could be due to anything. Some benchmarks turn out surprisingly close though like DOOM. If my terrible math skills are correct it’s only about 30% slower on the Pentium MMX PC.

As for games I did test a number of them including a few older titles. The games I tested and the results are

DOOM – no issues

Quake – no issues

Tex Murphy, Under a Killing Moon – no issues

Duke Nukem 3D – no issues

Decent 2 – ran to fast, corrected by disabling CPU cache in BIOS

Commander Keen 4 – no issues

Star Wars Dark Forces – no issues

Wolfenstein 3D – no issues

Double Dragon – no issues

Major Stryker – failed to install (this is due to a installer bug if your hard drive is to big, even happens on a 386 if the HDD is > 1GB)

Even though I didn’t play any of these games on DOSzilla extensively I was surprised by the initial excellent compatibility. most of the late era games ran just fine with pretty much zero issues in gameplay, graphics or setting up the sound in the install. Everything just worked for the most part. Decent 2 did run to fast but restarting and turning off internal CPU cache in the BIOS options corrected this. Major Stryker failed to install but this was due to the HDD being to large which happens on any PC regardless of the CPU if you use a HDD > 1GB. Of course this is a very small sampling of DOS games from a library of thousands so there is bound to be compatibility issues especially in older titles but overall I was impressed by the initial trials.

As for Quake and some of its ridiculously taxing resolution options for the time DOSzilla was able to run the game in 1280 x 1024 though gameplay was not optimal and quite choppy. It was technically playable but not a great experience. I suspect a fast video card could help in this department. The game did run at a perfectly acceptable framerate at 1024 x 768 though.

In conclusion I think DOSzilla makes a fine DOS PC. I still prefer a more traditional retro PC using a bit more period correct parts. I feel a slower machine does offer better all around compatibility and just feels a bit more special. That said I was impressed with DOSzillas compatibility, at least with later DOS titles likely due to the 16-bit ISA sound card and S3 video. The ability to actually play games like Quake in higher resolutions was nice but as I said I suspect more and more issues with CPU speed would crop up as you played more and more older titles. All in all if you have the parts and are looking for a DOS rig with an emphasis on playing late 90’s games go ahead and build your own DOSzilla.

This article is going to be a fairly brief overview of a mod I recently performed on my “Vader” Atari 2600. I may end up glossing over a few details but this is only because there is already a great wealth of information on the internet pertaining to these mods so I really just wanted to share my experience as a relatively novice solderer in performing these mods.

First off lets take a look at the Atari we will be modifying.

This is my four switch “Vader” Atari 2600. They call this model the “Vader” due to its all black case as opposed to the faux wood grain found on earlier four and six switch models. Personally I’m not a fan of wood grain so I tend to prefer the “Vader” models. This particular 2600 I bought at a Swap meet for something like $5. The guy said he didn’t know if it worked since he didn’t have a power supply. After giving it a look I also quickly notice the RF cord was completely missing and there was a round hole cut into the case where the RF cable would internally connect to the motherboard.

My best guess is that at some point the RF cable was severed so the previous owner cut this hole so they could directly connect a separate RF cable. After getting it home and digging out my 2600 power supply and a spare RF cable I tried this myself and thankfully the Atari powered up and played games fine though with a pretty terrible image quality. Now I’ve been hearing a lot about these $10 Atari RCA mods on eBay that add RCA jacks for superior and more convenient composite video as well as sound out of the a RCA jack for some time and I figured with this machine in the condition it was in it would make a perfect candidate for the mod. I also decided to do an LED power light mod since I was going to be messing around with the Atari anyways.

Finding these kits is super easy and just a simple search on eBay for Atari composite kits or Atari RCA kits will bring up tons of options. There are minor differences in some of the kits but they are all basically the same and sell for around $10. Keep in mind that you can find these kits preassembled for a few bucks more which is the option I went for rather then just getting the parts and assembling it myself. I figure it’s worth the less hassle for about $3-$5 more. The composite mod kit I bought came with its own LED but I opted to buy a second kit. The LED light kit was only about $3 and came with the wires presoldered onto the LED. I went with a purple LED light since I think that looks really slick with the all black 2600.

After getting the kits and assembling them (if you bought yours in pieces) it’s time to open the 2600 which is very easy and only consists of removing four screws on the bottom of the case.

So here is the motherboard to the Atari 2600. Keep in mind your board may look slightly different due to different revisions. This is also the four switcher so the six switcher and 2600 jr. will also look different. A quick Google search for Atari 2600 composite mod will find you many sites with instructions on performing the mod. Many of the eBay listings give links right in the item description.

We will start with the very simple LED light mod. You only need to make two easy solder connections with this mod as well as drill a small hole where you would like the LED light to go. Below is my purple LED light with the wires pre-attached.

Here is the spot on the motherboard your going to need to solder the two ends of the wires.

It should look pretty much the same on all 2600 motherboards. Were going to need to solder the wires to the two bottom legs coming out of that black block.

Most of these kits seem to use the same colored wires but double check your own. the black wire connects to the center leg and the red to the lower. That’s seriously it for the LED mod. I decided to place my LED light next to the power switch. If your also doing the RCA mod though don’t connect the LED to the case just yet. It should be fine just laying off to the side.

Next we need to remove that metal RF shield if you already haven’t.

After this we are going to need to remove a few parts. Namely one resistor and the little black tripod thing I’ve boxed below.

They should be able to desolder relatively easily and fall right off.

Next we need to remove the RF circuit and if your feeling so inclined the box.

The instructions suggest just cutting and/or snapping it off but if you want to be able to reverse the mod the best course of action is to desolder everything. I attempted this at first but the stubborn components would not come off. After awhile of trying and knowing the RF cable was missing off my unit anyways I finally gave in and just cut off the RF circuit and left the RF box in place. Ive read removing the box can help create less signal interference but mine just would not come off so I left it.

After making sure the holes are clear of old solder or broken off pins were going to need to start connecting our RCA video/audio circuits wires. As I said earlier some kits have different colored wires so be aware of this.

The black ground wire goes in the first hole, the red wire which I believe carries the sync signal connects to the third hole from the left and the yellow video wire connects in the hole next to it. Your audio wire, in my case green, connects to the leg of the transistor as seen in the image above.

Lastly were going to need to cut holes in the back of your case, or wherever you may want your RCA jacks and install them. following this your going to need to connect the yellow video wire to your video jack and your audio wire to your audio jack or jacks. some kits like mine come with two audio jacks but since the Atari 2600 is not a stereo system it really doesn’t matter if you use one of two jacks as they both will just output mono. lastly connect the black ground wire to all three jacks as so.

Replace everything carefully and test your system. hopefully if everything went well you should now have a nice looking LED light and composite video which I feel increases video quality greatly as well as makes hooking the 2600 up to more TV’s easy. There are S-video and even RGB mods for the 2600 but with such primitive graphics from these systems I don’t really feel going above composite yields much overall. I really like this mod because it’s very cheap, simple to preform and once done drastically improves playability of the 2600 system. If your just starting out soldering or doing system mods this is a great mod to try out.

Some time ago I wrote an article on the Power Macintosh G3 minitower. In This article we are going to take a look at the desktop version of the same G3 and also look at a few minor upgrades I have performed.

Here is my rather yellowed but otherwise in good shape G3 desktop also known as an “Outrigger” case.  The G3 desktop was apples last traditional desktop Macintosh and more or less uses the exact same case as the 7500 and 7600 series I’ve covered in the past. Same speaker on the left and same available drive bays. Mine came with a 1.44mb floppy drive in the obvious floppy drive spot as well as a 24x speed CD-ROM drive below that and a 100mb ZIP drive which were not to uncommon on these machines. The floppy drives on these machines though are powered via a propietary floppy cable and do not have a molex connector on them. I’m unsure if you can use a regular floppy drive.

Here we see the back of the case which is similar but a little different then the 7500 or 7600 due to a different motherboard. There are three slots for expansion cards located on the far right.

We have a power connector and a pass through for a monitor top center and starting at the bottom left we have a SCSI connector followed by a lone ADB port followed by a Ethernet jack and then modem and printer jacks. Lastly we have a display jack for the built in graphics. To the right of the display jack we have another modem jack that my model came with as well as jacks for the audio, a audio out and mic input. This section may vary since it can be swapped out with various “personality cards” which I’ll talk about when we get to the motherboard portion.

Taking the top of the case off reveals pretty much the exact same thing we saw with the 7500/7600 machines.

Opening up the plastic folds and lifting the drive bay compartments reveals the motherboard as well as a space for a hard drive which is mounted on a sled much like in the drive bays. Mine came with the original 4GB hard drive and OS 8.6. The motherboard is much smaller then the motherboard of the 7500 or 7600 in the same case.

Here we have the drive and its sled removed.

The motherboard in the desktop model uses the exact same board as was found in the minitower.

Here is a closer shot of the area on the board were going to look at first with the CPU, RAM and ROM.

1 ) CPU – The G3 macs including the desktop models all used the PowerPC G3 750 CPU. The Desktop model came most commonly with a 233 or 266mhz CPU with 512k6 of L2 backside cache. They also came with a 300mhz CPU with 1mb of L2 cache option. My model was originally a 266mhz version but I upgraded mine to a 300mhz CPU with the 1mb of L2 cache.

The CPU modules have the L2 cache on them and install pretty much like you would on a PC  with a ZIF socket. You simply remove the heatsink, lift the lever and remove and replace your CPU. Keep in mind to change the CPU speed you will need to set jumpers on these motherboards which I will detail further down the page. When I replaced my 266mhz CPU with a 300mhz version it was still running at 266mhz until I set the jumpers although it was detecting the full 1mb of L2 cache as opposed to the 512kb on the original CPU.

2 ) RAM – the G3 has 3 RAM slots for PC66 SDRAM. Generally the machine sold with 32 to 64mb of RAM but is expandable up to 768MB. I have mine with the full 768mb of RAM. You can use faster PC100 or 133 RAM but it will operate as PC66.

Also keep in mind your going to want lower profile RAM since if the RAM is even a little taller then the stock CPU heatsink its going to cause issues with the top fitting. you can make it work but its awkward and pressed down on the motherboard.

Also of note for games. If you are experiencing audio stutter in games as in the example below TURN OFF virtual memory in the OS.

 

3 ) ROM – Like a lot of earlier Macs the G3 has its ROM on a module. early A revisions of this ROM did not allow slave devices on the IDE bus thus limiting you to one device per IDE controller. This was fixed with revision B and C. I have a later B revision of the ROM, the $77D.45F1 but if you do have an early revision A it is advisable to track down a B or C revision and swap them out. You can find this information under the Apple system Profiler in the OS.

3b ) Video – The onboard video as well as the SGRAM is located under the modem on my machine and next to the PERCH card slot. Early models had the ATI Rage II+ chip on board and later motherboards like mine have the Rage Pro or Rage Pro Turbo chips. This came with 2mb of SGRAM on the board expandable to 6mb.

4 ) “Personality” card or PERCH card – This card basically is the audio card for the Mac providing a simple audio out and mic input. These cards were known as “personality” cards or PERCH cards and are upgradable. My G3 has the simple audio card known as “Whisper” but can be upgraded to the “Wings” card which includes A/V input for video capture. There is also a very rare “Bordeaux” card which features DVD decoding capabilities.

My machine also has the optional 56k model seen just below the PERCH card.

5) Pram Battery which is you CMOS battery for retaining data.

6) CPU and FSB jumpers – This is the jumper block for setting your front side bus, CPU multiplier and PCI clock speed. The G3 comes from the factory with a preinstalled jumper block set to whatever your machines factory configuration is. as seen below.

This is usually under a warranty void type sticker. If your planning to upgrade your CPU or overclock your going to need to set these jumpers. Keep in mind the G3 motherboard uses the smaller 2.00mm sized jumpers but these can usually be found very cheaply on Ebay.

A guide to setting the jumpers can be found here and here.

Here is the jumpers after the factory set block is removed.

7 ) PCI – the G3 has three PCI slots available for expansion with the appropriate MAC version PCI cards.

I have cards installed in two of my three PCI slots. I will detail these upgrades at the end of the article.

8 ) 50 pin SCSI connector for connecting relevant SCSI devices such as hard drives and CD drives.

9) Two ATA-2 IDE connectors for connecting IDE hard drives and CD-Rom drives. If you have an early ROM board then you can only have one device per connection as opposed to two in a slave/master configuration. You are also limited to drives of up to 137gb with the onboard controllers.

10) PSU connector

11) Floppy connector.

My Expansion cards

I have installed two PCI cards in my G3 Macintosh as upgrades

1 ) Sonnet ATA-133 controller card

This is actually the same card I had installed in my G4 MDD Macintosh. I decided to pair this card up with both a 52x speed CDRW drive as well as a 40gb Maxtor ATA-133 hard drive for added speed. This allowed me double my CD speeds and dramatically increase the speed of accessing my hard drive. Using a PCI IDE controller also allows you to overcome the 137gb size barrier of the onboard controller.

2 ) ATI Rage 128 PCI video card w/ DVD decoder.

Not really a huge upgrade over the onboard video but an upgrade that offers a little more power and DVD decoding abilities. The Rage 128 chip is a decent chip that offers good compatibility with games in general and should work fine with late 90’s Mac games. I believe the card pictured above is the 16mb version though there are 32mb cards available. These cards are also fairly cheap and available online. Just be sure to buy the Macintosh versions.

So in the end what do I think of the G3 desktop? I like it. Even though it is basically the same machine as the minitower model I have a soft spot for desktop designs and the desktop just fits into my setup better. The desktop model also seems lighter then the tower model though since it uses the same 7500/7600 series case it comes with the same issues of being made of very brittle plastic. Expect hinges and tabs to bust off when working with this machine. Overall I feel the G3 makes a good rig for playing late 90’s Macintosh games and offers a good range of expansion options. With OS 8 or 9 loaded on your hard drive your good to go.

The Color Classic was a much beloved but underpowered classic compact Macintosh released in February of 1993. Along with the Color Classic II released that same year it was the only “classic” compact Mac to feature a color screen. Unfortunately the Color Classic was very underpowered and was comparable to Apples low cost LC machines. It has a very low RAM limit of 10MB and its 16mhz 68030 CPU was strangled performance wise by its 16-bit data bus. Compare this to its big brother the Color Classic II which featured 36MB of maximum RAM and a 33mhz 68030 on a full 32-bit data bus. Unfortunately the Color Classic II or Colour Classic II as it is also known was never sold in the US and only in Asia, Europe and Canada. Even in places it was officially sold it was not overly common and importing one can command a high price. If you do live in the US though there is a practical solution to turning your Color Classic into the machine it should of been in the first place and that is to replace the motherboard with that of a Macintosh LC 550, essentially transforming it into a Color Classic II. In this article we will be looking at one such machine. Except for the case label on the front and a slightly different motherboard this machine is for all practical purposes a Color Classic II.

The Color Classic and Classic II use the same case and only differ externally by the name plate at the bottom. The case itself is a departure from the earlier styling of the compact Macs and has a much rounder case design. The main attraction to the Color Classics are the built in 10 inch (9 inch viewable) Sony color Trinitron monitor. Former models in the compact Mac lines all used black & white monitors and later macs immediately following the color classics used lesser quality shadow mask monitors.  The monitor in these models is known to give a very crisp image capable of 512 x 384 pixel resolution. The down side of this monitor and its lower resolution is that many games from the time required a 640 X 480 resolution. One popular modification does allow you to increase the Color Classics resolution up to the required 640 x 480 increasing game compatibility also adds stress to components and may result in a shorter overall life span of your Macintosh.

Above the monitor we have a built in Microphone, a new feature for Macintosh computers at the time. Below the monitor we have a standard 1.44mb floppy drive as well as a power LED and controls for volume level and brightness.

One thing to note about the Color Classic is the the power switch on the back does not actually power up the system. To initiate boot you need to use an Apple keyboard with a soft power on button on the keyboard. The switch on the rear is simply to activate the power supply. To the right of the PSU we have two pots for monitor adjustments and in the center above our ports is a security lock.

From the bottom left to right we have two ADB ports for keyboard and mice followed by a printer port, modem port. external SCSI port, microphone jack, audio out jack and finally a space for an expansion card. My Color Classic came with a Ethernet card installed.

Getting access to the motherboard in a Color Classic is exceptionally easy and all you need to do is gently press down on the two plastic tabs and pull away from the case. The plastic cover should come right off. To remove the motherboard itself just grasp it firmly and pull away from the case.

If you look inside the bay where the motherboard came out you can see the edge connector on the far side where the board interfaces with the rest of the computer.

The floppy drive and hard drive are accessible by removing the outer case via four t15 screws much like the older compact macs. My machine came with a 120mb SCSI 50 pin hard drive. The hard drive can be removed without removing the analog board with a little effort but the floppy drive usually requires its removal to access it. Also of note the speaker is also housed in a plastic shell below the PSU and behind the floppy drive. The speaker also needs to be removed to access the floppy drive.

Before I start talking about the motherboard I need to restate as the title says that this is NOT a stock Color Classic. Stock I feel this machine is pretty underpowered so thankfully when I picked this unit up it had been upgraded by replacing the motherboard with the motherboard from a Macintosh LC 550. The Macintosh LC 550 motherboard is essentially the same motherboard in the fairly uncommon Color Classic II thus by swapping boards with a 550 board you turn your Classic I into a full fledged Classic II with two minor differences. The first difference is the name badge on the front of the case which I suspect can be swapped out if by some random chance you come across a Classic II’s badge. Second, depending on what you read the Color Classic II either has the exact same motherboard as the LC 550 or the LC 550 has slightly more video ram maximums ( 512k maximum in a Color Classic II as opposed to 768kb maximum in an LC 550). The LC 550 having a higher VRAM max makes sense as it was meant to drive a higher res monitor but still many sources on the internet claim they use the same board.

There are other upgrades you can perform on a Color Classic I or II such as the “Mystic” mod which allows a 68040 CPU or even Power PC CPU mods but these require software and/or hardware modifications where as the LC 550 mod is simply a matter of swapping motherboards and that is all. LC 550 boards have gotten harder to find in the US but price wise it’s still a cheaper and easier option then paying a hefty premium to import a Color Classic II.

The board itself is extremely compact. Take note of the metal legs on the underside when removing or reinserting the board back into the case as they can break off and short components as they rattle around inside a powered on machine.

1)  Edge Connector – This is the connector that the board uses to interface with the rest of the computer when inserted into the case.

2) PDS or Processor Direct Slot – A rather limited form of expandability slot. Usually cards using the PDS slot were specific to the CPU used thus a PDS card meant for a 68040 would not work on a 38030 with a PDS slot. My particular Color Classic has an Ethernet card occupying this slot but another popular card was the Apple IIe emulator card which let one play Apple IIe games on the Color Classic I and II.

3) CPU – The LC550/Color Classic II are equipped with a Motorola 68030 running at 33mhz on a 33mhz front side bus utilizing a full 32-bit data bus as seen on this board. This was a pretty speedy CPU at the time and is worlds better then the 16mhz 38030 in the original Color Classic which was strangled performance wise by a 16-bit data bus motherboard.

4) Coprocessor – Here is a socket for an optional 68882 math coprocessor to assist in floating point math. This was an option on both Color Classics and the LC 550. My motherboard thankfully came with one installed. Not terribly useful for games but nice to have none the less.

5) PRAM – standard PRAM battery for holding saved data and date/time.

6) VRAM – Here is the systems video ram for the built in video controller. On the original Color Classic you had 256kb with the slot allowing for expandability up to 512kb of VRAM. On the LC 550 we have 512kb standard with the added RAM via the neighboring slot for a total of 768kb. As I stated earlier there is some mixed information on the internet on if a true Color Classic II board allows up to 768k or is maxed out at 512kb like the original Color Classic.

7) RAM – The original Color Classic was restricted to managable but still low amount of 10mb of RAM but the Color Classic II and LC 550 board we see here comes with 4mb solder onto the board with the ability to expand up to 32 additional megabytes via a 72 pin RAM slot for a full 36mb of RAM as I have on my machine.

In conclusion the Color Classic is a neat little machine. It takes up barley any space which is also part of the reason it has such a cult following in places like Japan where space is at a premium. It also has a very nice and crisp color display unlike previous compact macs which were limited to monochrome displays. While the power and expandability of the original Color Classic is pretty poor the Color Classic II is everything the original should have been and if you happen to come across one pick it up if you like Macs. If your in the US however finding a Classic II may be daunting so if you do have an original model keep an eye out for the LC 550 motherboard, perhaps from an LC with a dead monitor. The motherboard swap is literally just a drop in replacement and you instantly have yourself a Color Classic II with maybe a little extra VRAM.

ultima_vii_black_gate_box

Ultima VII is without doubt one of the greatest CRPG’s and perhaps one of the best RPG games ever made. It is also without doubt one of the hardest games to get running correctly. In this article we are going to take a look at building a PC specifically for the purpose of playing one game, Ultima VII and Ultima VII part II, Serpent Isle

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this article I do want to point out there are various patches and fixes to allow Ultima VII to play on a Windows 9X computer, there are also other methods that allow one to play the game on a machine that normally would not play U7 optimally such as utilities or jumper tricks to slow down faster PC’s or simply using a boot disk to configure things correctly. That is not the reason or focus of this article. In this article we are building a PC specifically for the sole purpose to play U7 as optimized as we can using “mostly” period hardware in a DOS environment without the aid of patches or boot disks.

The first question one might ask is “Why would I want to play Ultima VII”? The answer to this question I actually answered in the first paragraph. U7 is widely considered one of the greatest RPG games of all time so if you are a RPG lover you owe it to yourself to play this game. The second question one would likely ask is “Why is it so hard to get this game running correctly, or for that matter running at all”? That is the question we will be looking at below as well as how to put together a PC that addresses these issues.

There are basically two major reasons and one minor reason this game was and still is so hard to get running. I’ve read stories of people buying this game back on release and having to return it due to not being able how to figure out how to make it run. We’ll start with the more minor issue first and then work our way up to the major roadblock to getting this game to run properly.

1 ) Hard drives usage – Ultima VII accesses the hard dive A LOT. This can result in continuous stuttering or pauses as the screen scrolls. This though is the most minor of issues when hoping to play U7 on real hardware. The simplest advise I have for this is find the fastest hard drive and hard drive controller you can find for your build and use that. I went with a VLB controller paired with a none era correct compact flash card which I think works very well as a solution.

2) CPU speed sensitivity –  Ultima VII is one of those games that require a vary specific CPU speed or things will either play to slowly or to fast. You can play the game on a 40mhz 386 or early 486 but the game just bogs down. On a 66mhz 486DX2 or above the game just plays way to fast.  a 33mhz 486 is largely considered the “official” recommended CPU speed but I would say the U7 Goldilocks range is between a 33mhz 486 and a 50mhz 486DX2. On a 50mhz DX the game just runs a little to fast and on a 66mhz DX2 it becomes almost unplayable especially if your chasing something on screen such as a monster. Users of 66mhz DX2’s can play with jumpers on the motherboard and set your FSB to 20mhz to simulate a 40mhz DX2 (which never existed as an actual 486 CPU) which plays the game pretty optimally. Those trying to slow down their machine by using programs to disable internal cache may find a nasty surprise as the game re-initializes cache if it is disabled.

3) Memory management – The greatest hurdle in getting U7 to work at all is the custom memory manager known as the Voodoo Memory Manager that the game REQUIRES to work. This manager is incompatible with just about all expanded memory managers such as EMM386. On top of this the game requires a fairly large amount of conventional memory, as much as 585kb. This is the core of the problem. In normal use a user would use a program such as EMM386 or QEMM to move essential drivers into upper memory thus freeing up conventional memory for games. The requirement to use the custom Voodoo manager thus prevents this and in turn you can’t free up enough conventional memory for the game since it’s eaten up by drivers for various required things such as CD-ROM drivers, mouse drivers, SMARTDRV, ect… This requires users to either use a boot disk with a minimal setup  or hand pick the smallest compatible drivers that can be found and trim the system down to the required basics.

Here is a look at my “Ultimate Ultima VII PC” and how I set things up to play U7 without the need for a boot disk or any slowdown utilities.

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u7pc2

u7pc3

I came across this machine at a local swap meet and thought the compact case would be perfect for this U7 build I had in my head.

The motherboard I’m using is a version of the FIC 486-GVT U2, and Is the same board I have used previously in my 50mhz DX machine. I’m using 24MB of RAM (U7 only requires 4MB) as well as 256k of L2 cache.

u7pc4

Before I get into the software side of things and show you how I’ve set up DOS to have enough conventional memory while retaining the needed drivers and using the custom Voodoo Memory Management system U7 requires lets go over the hardware.

CPU – Initially I went with the generally recommended 33mhz 486DX but after some further research I concluded the optimal CPU for my tastes is the AMD 486DX-40 running on a 40mhz front side bus. I decided on this CPU over the 33mhz because I felt that later in the game when there are multiple enemies and things happening on screen the extra CPU power could really come in handy in preventing things from bogging down to much.

u7pc7

Video – For video I went with my old VLB Diamond Speedster Pro based on the Cirrus Logic GD5428 chip. I have used this card in the past and overall it is a fast and compatible video card for DOS.

u7pc9

The combination of the 40mhz DX CPU and fast video may result in the game running marginally fast in areas such as the city but nothing that ruins the game. To be honest if it is running slightly faster then it should in these areas I’m not noticing it to any great degree.

Also please note there seems to be some sort of incompatibility with cards using the ET4000 chipset and Ultima VII. The issue seems to be a shimmering effect or what I see as sort of “VCR tracking lines” appearing at the top of the screen. I have confirmed this is an issue effecting several ET4000 cards by testing multiple cards from different manufacturers and also talking to others that share the same issue.

Here is a video showing the effect when U7 is played with an ISA ET4000 based card.

Audio – Ultima 7 offers the option to use the MT-32 for music as well as FM. Obviously the Roland MT-32 midi module offers superior quality in music and so that is the direction I took my machine. I didn’t want to spend extra money on a Roland midi interface card but thankfully U7 does not require intelligent mode to play its midi via the joystick port on a standard sound card. Knowing this I went a slightly unexpected route and went with a sound blaster clone card, the Audio Excel PNP16.

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I decided to go with a clone card because the Sound Blaster Pro cards do not support midi via the joystick port and Sound Blaster 16 cards are prone to the “hanging midi bug”. A careful observer may notice the complete lack of a real OPL FM chip on this card. For me this wasn’t an issues as I do not plan to use FM and only need this card for the MIDI interface capabilities and for digital sound effects. If you are planning on using the FM track for music as opposed to a Roland MT-32 I would recommend a Sound Blaster Pro 2.0 or Sound Blaster 16 with a real OPL FM chip.

Hard Drive – As I mentioned earlier U7 thrashes most hard drives so I strongly recommend getting the fastest hard drive and controller you can. I decided to go for a VLB HDD controller as well as a era incorrect 512mb compact flash card to use as a hard drive.

u7pc8

The hard drive controller I’m using the the VLB  DTC 2278 enhanced IDE controller card. There are certainly faster controllers out there but not wanting to spend money on expensive and hard to find controllers with on board cache RAM I felt this card was quite capable.

For the hard drive itself I went with a Sandisk 512mb compact flash card on a IDE to CF adapter. I also housed this card in a removable HDD caddy so If I ever wanted to use the machine for something other then Ultima VII and did not want to mess around with my configuration I could simply and easily swap hard drives.

u7pc5

u7pc6

So now that we’ve taken a look at the hardware lets take a look on how to setup DOS to get U7 running.

getting enough conventional memory to run Ultima VII and Serpent isle (which requires even more memory then part VII) without being able to utilize upper memory was a bit of a chore. Firstly you only want to load drivers that are needed for the game so this would include CD-ROM drivers, mouse drivers and sound card drivers if required depending on the card your using. SMARTDRV is also recommended to help with speeding up hard drive access. This means you don’t want to be loading any drivers that are not necessary to the games so nothing for example like drivers for a ZIP drive need to be loaded.

Next you need to search for the smallest sized drivers you can and hope they are compatible with whatever motherboard or drives your using. Some of these nonstandard drivers may have compatibility problems with other games but for the Ultima VII PC we only care if they work with U7. here is a look at my memory usage on my U7 PC and the drivers I’m using.

u7pc11

This setup gives me more then enough conventional and XMS memory for Ultima VII and Serpent Isle. Here are some of the recommended drivers I used.

Mouse – CTMOUSE, the most compatible and smallest DOS mouse drivers out there, I actually use these drivers as standard for my DOS PC’s. http://cutemouse.sourceforge.net/

CD-ROM – I used VIDE-CDD drivers for my CD-ROM drive and SHSUCDX as a substitute for MSCDEX. these both take up significantly less space then my usual GSCDROM and MSCDEX combo which combined can eat a whopping 57k of memory compared to 11k of the  VIDE-CDD and SHSUCDX combo. This combo may very well have inferior overall compatibility but remember, for this project we are only concerned with U7. One side effect of using VIDE-CDD is on boot up I get a brief speaker beep and illegal operation error yet the CD drive seems to detect and operate flawlessly. VIDE-CDD & SHSUCDX – https://www.hiren.info/downloads/dos-files

Everything else I’m running is standard with AEMIX being for my sound card.

If your having trouble finding drivers that work and that are small enough you can possibly get away with disabling SMARTDRV if your using a more modern HDD or a compact flash drive. SMARTDRV is primarily most useful in boosting performance of older more period correct hard drives.

Finally a look at my Autoexec.bat and Config.sys files.

u7pc12

u7pc13

Ignore the GSCDROM line I have REMed. I was initially using them for my CD-ROM drive but switched over to the VIDE-CDD drivers in order to get Serpent Isle to run.

In conclusion I hope this information helps anyone out there looking to play Ultima VII on real hardware and helps alleviate some of the frustration associated with putting together such a build.

references

Nerdly Pleasures – Ultima VII on Real Hardware

Vogons post – http://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=32619

BSR or Birmingham Sound Reproducers may not be immediately recognizable to many readers and it wasn’t to myself. Based out of the UK, BSR was a fairly major producer of turntables that started up in the 1950’s and lasted until 1998 when they were acquired by Emerson. Like many companies in the 1980’s and 90’s they dabbled in the home computer market. The PC we’re going to look at in today’s article is branded by BSR and is one of the subtly oddest PC’s I’ve yet to come across. It doesn’t do anything “wrong” but some of the design choices are just unexpected and unconventional.

bsr1

The BSR 386SX/16 uses a fairly slim and light desktop case. To the left we have a rectangle power button next to three LED’s for power, turbo and HDD activity with a red reset button near the bottom. The turbo function is not initiated by a button but by keyboard command of CTR + or CTR -. To the right of the reset button we have a front PS/2 port for a keyboard. Having a keyboard port of the front wasn’t super uncommon on older 80’s PC’s but by the early 90’s  It was a much less common design choice. It is nice though to have a PS/2 port rather then the big AT keyboard port on a 386.

External expansion for the 386/16 though is rather weak with only two 5 1/4 external bays to the far right limiting your options for drives. I opted for a traditional 1.2mb and 1.44mb floppy combo which would of been typical for the time time but there is no reason one cannot ditch a floppy drive and add a CD-ROM drive or even find a combo drive.

bsr2

Here is a full view of the rear of the PC with the power supply on the left. below is a closer image of the interesting stuff on the right.

bsr3

Although it looks like there are more you really only have four ports for expansion as the two bottom slots are connected to the motherboard as well as the video port on the left. Other then the video lets take a look at the built in ports starting from the left below the VGA port and moving right.

The first port labeled “mouse” is the first of what I would say is a somewhat unusual feature which in this case is a built in bus mouse port. Bus mice along with serial mice were the two common interfaces for mice before the ps/2 interface came along and became standard. The BSR 386sx/16 uses a standard Microsoft InPort interface for the bus mouse. In my experience built in bus mouse ports aren’t terribly common but they also don’t really function any differently then a serial mouse would.

Here is an example of a bus mouse that I use on this machine.

bsrmouse

The connector for bus mice at a glance looks very similar to a later PS/2 mouse and can easily be mistaken for one but the pins are arranged very differently.

bsrmice

After the bus mouse port we have a printer port followed by two serial ports.

The case is easy to open. After unscrewing two screws on each side just slide the top and front bezel forward.

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1) CPU – The CPU in the BSR 386SX/16 is unsurprisingly the Intel 386SX chip running at 16mhz. The 16mhz 386SX is one of the earliest 80386 processors and the SX designated it as a sort of low cost cut down version of the 386 with only a 16-bit data bus as opposed to a 32-bit data bus of a true 386 or a 386DX chip as they were labeled.  What this results in is a snail of a CPU which in many circumstances is slower then even a 286 running at the same clock rate and almost certainly slower then a 20mhz or 25mhz 286 that are only running at slightly higher clock rates. The saving grace of the 386SX chip though is its ability to run programs or games that require 386 code to run even if the chip is slower then its 286 equivalent. Unfortunately in the case of the BSR 386SX/16 the CPU is soldered onto the motherboard leaving few options for upgrade paths.

For a rough comparison I tested the CPU of the BSR and my 20mhz Harris 286 machine in Checkit 3.0 CPU benchmark

386SX-16  = 3234

286-20      = 3683

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2) Co-Processor – Next to the CPU we have an empty socket. This socket is meant to allow the later addition of a 387 math co-processor to assist in mathematical calculations. As I’ve said countless times before this was mostly useful for things like CAD programs at the time though a few games can take advantage of the co-pro. I upgraded my PC here with a Intel 387sx running at 25mhz which works fine with a slower CPU.

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3) RAM – The RAM setup on this machine is a little odd. Soldered directly onto the motherboard is 2MB of RAM. Connecting to the motherboard directly above the soldered on memory is a kind of little RAM daughterboard with six slots for 30 pin RAM. now as I cant find any documentation on the maximum amount of RAM the BSR 386SX/16 can take I cant say but on first guess I would say 16MB max but after finding a manual for a similar machine I now suspect the total max RAM is 8MB. Unfortunately despite my efforts I can not get the machine to recognize more then 4MB total. The two on-board and then two additional via the RAM slots. If I attempt to populate the other slots or use higher density RAM, 4MB for instance, the machine either only “sees” 4MB total or just plane refuses to POST. It could simply be an issue with my particular PC or my RAM as I find a 4MB limit unlikely for a 386 with that many RAM slots available.

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*UPDATE*

After some more experimenting and finding a manual for a similar model I now believe the total RAM this PC can accept is 8MB. Focusing on this I did find a combination that gave me a total RAM of 8MB. This did not require messing with any jumpers or DIP switches.

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4) Switch – Here is the mysterious switch. most likely this is used in place of jumpers to set things such as disabling on-board floppy controllers and other functions. Unfortunately I can find no documentation on this motherboard so I’m left with no idea what these switches do. Also next to the switch is the Pizo speaker.

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5) Riser board – The riser board on the BSR 386sx/16 features four 16 bit ISA slots. Three are on the left side and one is located on the upper opposite side. The lack of more then one slot on the opposite side has to do with the video card which I’ll get to shortly. There is also a molex power connector on the riser board though I’m not entirely sure what purpose it serves. I would assume this is to supply extra power to the slots but I cant think of an example ISA card that would require the extra power.

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6) Power connector – Despite the PSU connector being a standard AT connector it is arranged in a rather non-standard way. Rather then having both of the connectors lined up next to each other as in just about every AT connector I’ve ever seen the BSR places them above and below each other. It achieves the same thing but its just a little odd.

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7) Floppy connector – On-board standard floppy controller supporting 1.2mb and 1.44mb HD disk drives. Another oddity is that the power to the floppy can come straight off the motherboard via a connector by the PSU connector and external batt. connector.

8) External battery connector – There is no actual CMOS battery on this motherboard, either RTC or nic-cad barrel battery only a connector for an external battery. Note that I have seen one other BSR 386SX/16 online that seemed to have a different revision of this motherboard that did have a RTC battery on the side close to the switch box.

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Video – The video on the BSR 36SX/16 is very interesting. AT first glance from the outside it appears to be a discrete card or maybe built in but like the RAM module the video is connected in a sort of daughterboard fashion.

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Even more interesting is the somewhat rare video chipset this PC uses. The fabled Cirrus Logic “Eagle II” chipset.

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This video chipsets claim to fame is that it’s supposedly the only VGA capable video chipset that is actually 100% CGA backwards compatible. Many VGA video cards claim to be 100% CGA register compatible but in all known instances they aren’t actually 100%. The discrete video card version of this video chipset tends to go for high dollar amounts and is not very common. My own tests with the video card using the CGA tester program have turned out some incompatibilities but that may be due to the fact this version only has a VGA connector where as the discrete video card versions also has a hd-9 pin  connector that when attached to a CGA monitor may very well be 100% compatible.

The hard drive controller card that came with my system is from WDC. Its works fine with the Seagate 107MB HDD that also came with the PC. I have no idea though if the hard drive and controller card are stock but if I had to guess I would say yes.

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To round the system out I did add a Sound Blaster Pro 2.0 which I think is about the perfect card for a 386 system of any speed.

There’s not much else I can say about the BSR 386SX/16 except its a very odd system. It doesn’t really do anything innovative or revolutionary but what it does do it just implements in different and odd ways, not better or necessarily worse….just different.

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The CPU is an absolute snail as I said earlier and is soldered directly on but I suppose it does make a good machine for many early titles since it’s so slow but still has the ability to run games that need a 386. The video is also pretty uncommon and offers great compatibility for early games. All and all the BSR 386SX/16 kind of fits a nice little gaming niche between an 8088 and a 486 since your getting roughly  12-16mhz 286 performance but the ability to to run games that require 386 code.

Benchmarks

Checkit 3.0 – CPU 3234, NPU – 917.6

Topbench – 27

Wolf3d – 7.7

3dBench 1.0 – 4.4

PCP Bench – 1.1

Speedsys – 1.88

 

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There’s just something about an IBM machine. After the PS/1 and PS/2 line IBM continued within the consumer PC market with a line simply known as the IBM PC line. This line of PC’s was sold roughly from 1994 to 2000 and consisted of many models from mid range 486 CPU’s to Pentium III’s. There isn’t anything particularly special about the IBM PC line as they don’t do anything necessarily new outside of a few uncommon design choices though I have to say I’ve always loved the look of the desktop cases within the line. In this article we are going to look at the 300PL type 6562…..sounds like a designation for a WWII Japanese tank.

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I’ve just always liked the look of these desktops. Kind of unique look that mixes more modern style (late 90’s and 200’s) with older (80’s early 90’s). The only thing I really don’t care for is the plastic case seems pretty fragile in parts and mine received a fair amount of damage in shipping. We have sort of a “ribbed” beige case with a nice prominent IBM logo. To the left we have a large round power button as well as your led lights for power, HDD and Ethernet. Not to much room for external bays as we have a spot for a 1.44mb floppy mid case and to the right of it two 5 1/4 bays that I currently have a DVD drive installed in one and nothing in the lower bay. Stock this machine would have a CD drive installed rather then a DVD drive.

One feature of the type 6562 that is lacking on most other models of the 300PL line is the convenient front audio options.

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We have a microphone jack and a headphone jack as well as a very convenient volume knob. My research indicates this was removed from later models due to the fact it was difficult to line up the case with the volume knob when putting the case top back in place though personally I have not found this to difficult. The built in audio is powered by a Crystal 4236B chip. It is possible to enhance the audio quality of the sound by replacing some caps but I will leave a link outlining this processed at the end of the article.

Looking at the back.

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You may notice in the image above that the case uses plastic tabs to shut which unfortunately were damaged in shipping so the case doesn’t quite snap back together properly. There are four expansion slots arranged in a vertical manner as well as a key slot for locking the machine if you were the type to do such things. Its inclusion does make sense seeing as these were likely heavily marketed to business. Starting at the lower left we have the usual suspects, audio in and out jacks along with built in Ethernet port, parallel port, two USB ports, two serial ports, ps/2 ports for keyboard and mouse and finally a built in VGA port. Having built in Ethernet and audio out of the box is a nice feature for a Pentium 1 machine.

The IBM 300PL uses a screwless case design which causes it to suffer similarly to others 90’s screwless cases. The plastic has become brittle with age and is easy to accidentally snap off making shipping and even routine case open and closings a risky endeavor.

ibm300pl4

Above are the internals along with a view of where the drives are oriented. One interesting thing about this motherboard that you can’t see to well in this image is that floppy, IDE and power connectors are all located on the riser card rather then the motherboard itself.

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With the removal of two screws the 5 1/4 bays can fold up on a hing allowing easy access and revealing a bay on the underside for a hard drive. I like this feature as it makes swapping drives very easy.

The primary IDE connector is actually located on the side of the riser card facing 5 1/4 bays. The primary power connector is also located on this side which can be made out in the background.

ibm300pl7Now to take a look at the riser card itself.

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Here you can see the secondary IDE connector as well as the floppy connector and power connector for the floppy drive, which is somewhat odd seeing as power is not being supplied by a cable straight off the power supply. This riser card has three PCI and two 16-bit ISA slots though one of the PCI/ISA slots is shared. This is more then adequate for a late DOS or early windows rig in my opinion

ibm300pl9

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1) CPU – The 300PL is an early socket 7 motherboard with the Triton II chipset which seems to have been a high-end offering at the time. My 300PL came with a Intel Pentium 200mhz installed but I upgraded it to a 233mhz MMX CPU which is officially the fastest CPU it can take. Upgrading the CPU is possible though with something like a PowerLeap PL-K6-III. The stock CPU does not come with a fan on the heatsink but the case fan is located directly below the CPU blowing air over the heatsink.

The 300PL has 512kb of on-board L2 cache which I suspect are the two chips located just above the CPU

2) The 300PL is very picky about RAM. According to official documentation it must be EDO nonparity (NP) or EDO error correcting code (ECC) DRAMs of up to 128mb in size. Mine currently has 128MB that came installed when I acquired this machine. The max RAM that is physically possible to install is 384mb since there are only three sockets for RAM and the machine is only capable of using 128MB sticks each. The chipset itself though is capable of supporting 512mb of RAM. I attempted to use various RAM sticks over 128mb and none were accepted.

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3) Video – The built in video chip is actually rather good and is the Matrox Mystique 1064SG-H chip. Not a surprising choice seeing as this machine has business uses in mind but it still makes a fast chip for DOS games and offers excellent 2d image quality as well as providing some early 3D abilities. The Mystique does have some compatibility issues with things like fog layers in some games but overall is a good chip, especially when paired with something like a Voodoo 1 or 2. The chip comes with 2mb of video SGRAM built into the board with the option to increase the amount to 4mb with an add on card. There is also connections for video option cards like the Rainbow Runner.

ibm300pl11

That white connector to the right is for an optional IR upgrade.

4) Switch block – Rather then use all jumpers to make settings IBM opted to use a nice switch block to help set things such as CPU speed. Here is a shot of the info sheet on what the switches control located on the underside of my case.

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ibm300pl13(double click to enlarge)

5) CMOS Battery – Next to the switch block is also located the CMOS battery for saving changes made in the BIOS.

That’s about it for the IBM 300PL type 6562. It’s actually not a bad choice for a DOS machine or early Windows. The amount of options built in is nice and the the built in video is actually very good for the time especially when paired with a Voodoo card. The case, although very estheticly pleasing, at least to me, suffers from aging brittle plastic issues as do most screwless 90’s computers.

A great resource on the 300PL 6562 HERE

Benchmarks (Intel 233mhz MMX, 512kn L2 cache, 128 EDO RAM, Built-in Matrox Mystique 1064SG-H)

3D Bench – 163.6

PCP Bench – 58.1

DOOM – 82.7

Quake – 45.6

Speedsys – 175.43

Anyone that has read my Dell Dimension XPS D and R series post knows that I have a large soft spot for the Dell Dimension series. Here were going to look at the 4100, one of the final PC’s in the Dimension series to sport the classic beige case style before moving on to the black/grey rounded P4 cases that currently litter thrift store electronics sections.

The 4100 seems to of been released sometimes in the very early 2000’s. Although I do not know for sure the exact factory configuration these shipped in mine is a good example of something period correct.

d41001

The 4100 uses the same case as some of the older models in the Dimension line such as the XPS R450 I looked at in the earlier article mentioned above. I do like these case designs and I think they give a unique look. There are two 5 1/4 bays at the top for things like CD drives and two 3 1/2 bays below those plus another 3 1/2 bay for a floppy or zip drive below that. I also like how these Dimension series cases are thinner then average PC towers of the time so they tend to be able to fit into smaller nooks.

d41002

The rear ports from the motherboard are very basic with no built in video or audio which is typical of some of the Dimension series. This was because they generally were sold with higher quality add on video and sound cards rather then built in A/V. Mot serious PC enthusiasts now and then preferred expansion card video and sound as opposed to built in options which you were stuck with and were generally of lower quality to save on costs.

Built in we have the basic two PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse as well as one serial and one parallel port and two USB ports. The number of ports is adequate for the times but I feel it gives the back a rather sparse look.

removing the side cover is very simple and only involves removing one thumb screw and pinching the latches with a pull back.

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Here we have a view of the motherboard fully populated with expansion cards from when I first brought it home. Notice the nice space for a vertical hard drive near the front of the case where a typical PC speaker or fan may go.  I like this and it’s a nice use of space allowing for more open bays if you want to add more hard drives, ect… The drive that came with my 4100 is a 40gb drive and I believe this was likely the original drive that came stock with this PC.

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Here we have a view of the motherboard without any expansion cards as well as having that fan shroud removed which diverted air flow from the case fan down over the CPU for cooling. Like the rest of the machine this motherboard looks relatively sparse and is very similar to the motherboard used in the older D and R series just with no ISA, one less RAM slot and a socket 370 CPU rather then the older slot 1 CPU type. The lack of an ISA connector does hurt this machine in terms of using it as a DOS rig as older DOS era games tend to get along much nicer with ISA sound cards. The AGP port supports 2x and x4 AGP cards.

1) CPU – The CPU that originally was installed in this machine was 1.1ghz Pentium III Celeron. The Celeron line was seen as more of a budget friendly entry level CPU and was basically a cut down “Coppermine” Pentium III . The 1.1ghz model ran on a 100mhz front side bus as opposed to 133mhz for many “full” Pentium III’s and also only had half the L2 cache on-chip (128kb vs 256kb). Thankfully the motherboard is capable of supporting all but the later Tualatin Pentium III’s so replacing the Celeron with a standard “Coppermine” Pentium III is a simple CPU swap. I swapped mine out with a slightly slower clock rate but higher performing 1ghz Pentium III. All I had to do was swap CPU’s and the computer knew without having to make any adjustments. Even with the 100mhz slower clock rate on the Pentium III chip I received noticeable performance gains due to the higher 133mhz FSB and double on-chip L2 cache. I also used a later Pentium III 1ghz chip which incorporated an integrated heat spreader. There is no performance difference with these chips but I prefer the heat spreader as it seems to make the CPU’s a little more durable during installation.

Bechmarks

1.1ghz Celeron

3DMark 2000 – 3513

3DMark 2001SE – 1874

1ghz Pentium III

3DMark 2000 – 4321

3DMark 2001SE – 2023

d41005

There is also no fan cooler directly mounted on the heatsink as in this design the case fan is used with a plastic shroud that diverts the air flow down and onto the CPU. Above image is with shroud removed.

2) RAM – Total memory officially supported is 512mb of PC133 SDRAM. I currently have one 512MB PC133 stick of RAM installed in the image below but I had no trouble at all installing a second 512mb PC133 stick and running things completely fine under Windows 2000 Pro.

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3) The 4100 motherboard continues to use the Dell proprietary PSU connector as you can see directly behind the RAM slot. Adapters can be found cheaply on eBay though for well under $10 so you can use any AT  PSU. Also behind the RAM are two IDE connectors and one floppy connector.

Lastly I want to talk about expansion cards. I believe the sound and video cards That I found installed in this PC are the stock cards that this machine was sold at retail though configurations may have varied.

The machine I bought came with several connectivity cards installed such as a modem, ethernet and wireless adapter. Unfortunately I had heavy stability issues initially with this machine until I removed these cards. This was likely caused by driver conflicts but since I didn’t plan on using these cards anyways they were just eating space.

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Video – The video card was a Geforce 2MX.

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This was Nvidia’s entry level budget card for the Geforce 2 line and was cut down feature and performance wise from the standard GF2 cards. That said it is still a capable card and offered good performance for the price point offering hardware T&L as well as dual monitor capability.

Sound – lastly we have the sound card installed.

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This is a Creative CT5807 and is a very basic budget card. It lacks a joystick port which to be honest were phasing out at the time in favor of USB gamepads but is just very sparse in features. for output it simply offers line out/in and mic. it gets the job done but not to exciting.

Its fairly obvious that between the Celeron CPU, Geforce 2MX and budget sound card that whomever built or ordered this PC back in the day was doing it on a budget. Despite this the great thing about the Dimension series is that they were very easy to upgrade. I was able to boost performance very easily with a CPU swap to a full fledged PIII and swapping out the video and sound cards would be a breeze. Even though I’m not a fan of OEM builds from the mid 90’s up the Dimension series has always appealed to me. I love the look of the case and relative ease to get inside. I would certainly recommend the 4100 series as one of the final “beige box” Dimensions for a retro gamer. The lack of ISA slots hurt DOS games but with the right upgrades it still makes a great rig for late DOS, win 98 and early XP gaming.

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