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Mention of the Pentium 4 is commonly met with disgust from a certain portion of techies, the Pentium III was a far superior CPU they will tell you. Tech reviews from the time seem to affirm this and the early Pentium 4’s looked to be outperformed by both AMD’s Athlon XP chips and the older Intel Pentium 3 but how bad really was the early Pentium 4?

Its actually not that uncommon for a new CPU architecture to be outdone by the last models of the previous generation. There are several examples of this in the history of CPU development. For instance the AMD 386DX-40 was faster then the early 486’s and late 486 chips like the AMD 133mhz 5×86 (a 486 in all but name) easily outshines the original Pentiums. Why then is there such distaste for the first generation of “Willamette” core Pentium 4 CPUs? When Intel developed the Pentium 4 they used a new architecture called NetBurst which differed from the P6 architecture of the Pentium II and III before it. Many felt Intel would of done better to continue to evolve the P6 architecture and that NetBurst was good for gaining higher mhz numbers (which consumers paid attention to) but not giving better performance relative to those numbers. Once the Northwood cores hit the market in 2ghz+ speeds performance of the Pentium 4 became quite good but I believe most of the hate for the Pentium 4 is centered around those early Socket 423 Willamette core P4’s and these are what I wanted to test. Were the Willamette Pentiums 4s as bad as they say?

I frequently read about how the Pentium III easily stomped the Willamette based Pentium 4 CPUs in performance and I wanted to test this myself. To this end I decided to build the ultimate year 2000 Pentium 4 machine. The Pentium 4 did come out in late 2000 but probably wasn’t readily available to consumers until 2001 but I thought it would be fun create a year 2000 specific machine using the best parts that money could buy at the time. I’d like to think maybe it could of been a very expensive high end Christmas present assembled in December of 2000.

p4w1

For a case I just went with a beige white case that I felt was very representative of the time. I kept things pretty simple with bay drives and limited my build to a pretty standard 1.44mb floppy drive as well as a DVD drive manufactured in 1999. At this point CD-ROM drives would of still been very common but I went with DVD since that would of been the high end and they were widely available in 2000. I believe this drive is a x12 speed but x16 speed drives were available. For a hard drive I’m using a ATA-100 40gb Quantum Fireball AS drive from early 2000.

Motherboard – Obviously the star of this build is going to be the socket 423 motherboard. Socket 423 was the original socket for the Pentium 4 and was a very short lived socket type only being in production a very short time before the Pentium 4 moved on to socket 478. Because of this, socket 423 boards tend to be pretty hard to find these days and can command a high price on the internet. Socket 423 supported the 1.3ghz to 2.0ghz Willamette based Pentium 4s. Intel quickly realized this socket was not adequate for higher clocked CPU’s so it was ditched fairly quickly for socket 478.

The motherboard I choose was the Legend QDI Plantinix 4x board largely on the bases of its availability to me to purchase and its unconventional look with RAM placement. The QDI Plantinix motherboard features RIMM slots for RDRAM (will get to that shortly) as well as an AGP x4 slot and an Intel 850 chipset.

1 ) Usually I mark the PSU connector as an afterthought but socket 423 is actually a bit picky about its power supplies. Socket 423 boards along with a standard 20 pin and 4 pin ATX +12 volt connector requires a supply with a 6 pin AUX power connector. It kind of looks like one half of an old AT power connector and plugs in next to the 20 pin connector.

This connector is necessary to properly power the socket 423 board and CPU. It’s not a very common connector to find on power supplies but I had the most luck searching under “Pentium 4 PSU” in eBay searches. These power supplies will all be fairly old at this point like mine and I had to go through 2 supplies to get a working unit. I failed to find an adapter to add an AUX connection to a more modern supply but they may exist.

2 ) CPU – Socket 423 supported all the Willamette CPUs which were produced in speeds of 1.3ghz to 2ghz. In 2000 only two Pentium 4s were available, the 1.4ghz and 1.5ghz version. The slowest 1.3ghz CPU interestingly was not released until very early January 2001. Originally I used a 1.3ghz CPU as seen in the image below just to see how slow the slowest P4 actually was but later decided to upgrade to the 1.5ghz model after discovering the performance difference in games was only 1-3 FPS in most cases and to make a truer year 2000 machine.

Except for the 200mhz speed difference and indication of clock speed on the chip the 1.3ghz CPU shown above and the 1.5ghz CPU installed on my motherboard look exactly the same. All Willamette P4s have 256kb of full speed  L2 cache on die which is the same as most of the Pentium III CPUs (exceptions being some of the Tualatin models and the early slot 1 Pentium III’s which had 512kb of half speed L2 cache). Later the L2 cache would be bumped up to 512kb on the Northwoods and even higher on later model P4 chips.

Socket 423 CPUs are rather large coming in a little bigger then a Coppermine Pentium III and much bigger then the later Northwood P4 as seen below

(CPU’s from left to right, Coppermine Pentium III, Willamette Pentium 4, Northwood Pentium 4)

3 ) RAM – Most socket 423 boards also used an unusual and (in the realm of consumer PC motherboards) short lived RAM type known as RDRAM or Rambus DRAM. RDRAM was expected to be the next PC memory standard replacing SDRAM  but was eventually beaten by DDR memory. In the days of the early Pentium 4 though Intel had licensed the use of RDRAM with its chipsets so RIMM slots (Rambus in-line Memory Module) showed up on many socket 423 boards.

RDRAM was both very expensive and ran quite hot. It was so pricey that Intel had to subsidies it and include it with certain motherboards. It also required a heat spreader be attached due to the heat it produced. It was found that the relatively small performance increase in some areas did not justify the cost and RDRAM was quickly replaced in the coming years by DDR which in general was faster, cheaper and ran cooler.

The Legend QDI Plantinix 4x board supports up to 2GB of RDRAM but since I’m going to be running Windows 98se I’m only going to a max of 512mb via four PC800 128mb sticks.

The Legend QDI Plantinix 4x has one of the most unusual RAM slot orientations I’ve seen in a post 1980’s motherboard with two slots being in a typical close side by side configuration close to the CPU and another slot spaced further away with a fourth slot being completely perpendicular to the other three. I’m not sure why they went with this setup other then maybe as a space saving feature. This board is also very picky about RAM as well as placement and sizes.

4 ) CNR Slot – CNR or Communications and Networking Riser was another Pentium 4 era slot that was quickly phased out of personnel computers. It was primarily intended for networking and audio cards.

5) IDE – Two ATA-100 IDE connectors for connecting IDE devices (two devices each) like hard drives and CD/DVD ROM drives.

6) Floppy – standard floppy drive connector.

Now for my sound and video card selections for the top of the line in 2000.

Sound – For a sound card I went with the Creative Sound Blaster Live! which was sort of the default sound card of the time.

The card I have installed in the Value version manufactured in 2000 but other then lacking an extended I/O connector and having color coded ports as opposed to gold is identical to the regular version. The Live! cards also supported EAX (Environmental Audio Extensions) 1.0 and 2.0 which many games of the time supported. An Aureal based card would of been another sound option but I feel the Live! cards are a little more compatible feature wise and more representative of 2000.

Video – Finally we have the graphics card. This was actually a very easy decision as the top dog of 2000 was easily the Geforce 2 Ultra.

The AGP x4 Geforce 2 Ultra was pretty much unanimously sighted as the most powerful graphics card of 2000 and in some circumstances even proved faster then the initial Geforce 3 card that preceded it. The Ultra came with 32mb of video memory and was clocked higher then the base model GF2 GTS and GF2 Pro beating out both of the competing Voodoo 5500 and Radeon DDR cards.

One thing to note is that finding a Geforce 2 Ultra can sometimes be a challenge since they can be sought after but also because certain other Geforce cards can almost look identical.

So with that out of the way lets look at some benchmarks to see if the Willamette Pentium 4 really does drag this beast of a year 2000 machine down. To compare I wanted to use a fairly contemporary machine so I choose my Dell Dimension 4100 from 2001 as the competition. This PC will be running the exact same video and sound card as the Pentium 4 PC. The CPU I have installed is a 1ghz Coppermine Pentium III released in 2000 and also using the old P6 CPU architecture.

Both machines are also using the same video drivers (version 45.23) as well as Power Strip 2.78 in order to disable Vsync. Both machines are also running Windows 98se and using 512MB of RAM. The first test I wanted to run was just a few synthetic benchmarks just to get a feel of the two systems. The benchmarks I ran were 3DMark 2000 and 20001se as well as PCP Bench Version 2.10. All tests were run at a resolution of 1024 x 768 with 32 bit color. This was a high but reasonable resolution for the time.

Initial Benchmarks put the Pentium III ahead by a wide margin in 3D Mark 2000 and with only a slight lead in 3D Mark 2001se. Not looking good for the Pentium 4 so far. For PCP Bench the results were

PCP Bench V. 2.10

Pentium III – 119.7 FPS

Pentium 4 – 84.9 FPS

So once again in PCP Bench the Pentium III handily beats the 500mhz faster P4.

Lastly I wanted to run some gaming benchmarks as I feel they give a better idea of performance so I ran six different game benchmarks multipal times on each machine to get a average. The results are.

In four of the six games the Pentium III easily bests the higher clocked Pentium 4. The only two exceptions being the demanding Comanche 4 bench where we basically have a tie due to margin of error and the Expendable benchmark where the Pentium 4 only pulls ahead by about 3 FPS.

To be completely honest I was surprised at how much better the Pentium III performed to the point I went back and reran the benchmark tests on the P4 system just to confirm the findings. According to every test I’ve run along with real world usage I’ve had with both machines it appears the talk of the early P4s being noticeably inferior to the previous generation was in fact true. Now in truth the Willamette based Pentium 4’s may not deserve the hate they tend to get. In my experience the chips have been fairly stable and do run basic tasks just fine. They also when paired with a powerful graphics card of the time like the Geforce 2 tend to run games of the early 2000’s just fine on moderate settings or even high depending on the game. The Pentium III on the other hand just tends to do everything better. This isn’t even mentioning the more capable Tualatin based Pentium III’s with double the L2 cache and 400mhz more clock speed then my 1ghz Coppermine CPU.

In the year 200 and 2001 as well it does appear you were better off either sticking to your Pentium III or going the AMD route with the Athlon XP. I don’t feel the Pentium 4 really became competitive until the later Northwood cores started clocking over 2ghz and especially with the 2.5ghz hyperthreading models. I’d certainly be interested in how much difference a 2ghz Willamette makes against the Pentium III or even an early Northwood against a 1ghz Pentium III but that’s a matter for another article.

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The CED or Capacitance Electronic Disc was a form of media that started development in the early 1960’s but did not see commercial release until 1981. In the most basic terms CED is movies on vinyl discs. The players were manufactured and sold between late 1980 and 1884 and around 1,700 titles were ultimately made available on the CED.

The players were produced in relatively large numbers in North America (about 500,000) but many individuals Ive personally talked to that were of the age to have disposable income in the early 80’s have no memory of these machines and are always shocked at the idea of movies on a vinyl record. These players were also sold in smaller numbers in both the United Kingdom and Australia.

Video quality was roughly on par with VHS standards of the time but which media looked slightly better seems to depend on who you ask with some sources saying it looked slightly better. I find that VHS seems to have held up a little better picture wise. CED was intended to be a cheap form of home movie viewing and was slated for a 1977 release but was pushed back to 1981. By that time Laserdisc, VHS and Beta were well on the scene and in the case of VHS and Beta prices were dropping to affordable levels.

My model is a relatively low-mid end RCA SGT-100W. CED players can be pretty hard to find these days at thrifts or yard sales and even on sites like Craigslist and OfferUp. eBay is always an alternative but like most “rare, collectables” prices plus shipping can be outrageous. Even on local sites like Craigslist people tend to want unreasonable amounts. I paid $50 for my player which I think is pretty fair. Interestingly though actual CED movies are quite common and cheap. I see them on a fairly common basis at thrifts and prices for all but the rarest titles are very reasonable online.

My player seen above is obviously a product of the time with bad wood grain casing but more modern players in all silver and blacks were available. These players were also marketed as “Selectovision” which is labeled in blue on the face of my player. The CEDs themselves come in protective caddies and are inserted via a long slit at the front of the machine and play mode is engaged by a large switch. Not all players used this switch mechanism and some of the more high end or late players used an auto load mechanism. This, though looking more modern, tends to be less reliable as auto load trays being more complex tend to break down more with time then the simpler manual loaders.

The switch or lever seen above on the far right is for loading and playing movies on this particular player as well as functioning as a on/off switch. It’s a little strange and awkward at first to use this thing since its nothing like the processes on a VCR or DVD player though It is worth pointing out again that not all CED players use this manual giant switch load/play method.

all the way to the left there are two lights labeled side 1 and 2. This just is there to indicate what side of the CED is playing. Much like a Laserdisc A CED only can hold about 60 minutes on each side and thus needs flipped at the half way point for standard length movies.

Rapid Access buttons are merely fast forward and rewind and video search button could be held down to rapidly skip ahead or to previous scenes. Finally the pause button does just what it says and pauses the movie though this causes thew screen to blank as the stylus is raised from the disc being played.

Here is the back of my RCA SGT-100W. As far as video and audio connections go my model only supports RF out as well as a switch for channel 3 and 4. For some reason with this machine I’ve had better luck getting an image on channel 4 then on 3. RF quality unfortunately is not very good and is the worst video output method available. Some higher end CED players do offer composite out which offers a noticeably better image as well as makes it much easier to hook a CED player up to more modern TV sets. I have read it may be possible to modify RF only players for composite but it may be easier or cheaper to just acquire a higher end CED player with composite out.

It may be a little hard to see but at the top of the player on the right hand side but more to the center is a little button. This button is used to pop a small hatch on the top of the machine to give access to the stylus.

Once this black cover is removed you have access to the stylus which is a plastic casing with a needle. This works just like a a record player and is needed to read the CED movie discs.

On my player the stylus is held on in a metal cradle with moves on rails over the disc when a CED is playing. To access the stylus there is a small latch that you pull back and then lift up the metal cover. after this is done the stylus can easily be lifted out.

These styluses can and do wear out over time and do need replacing. unfortunately they can be hard to source these days and different models may use a different type of stylus so the form factor stylus I need for this CED player may not work in a different model. Changing them though is incredibly easy and is basically just involved pulling the old one and placing a new one down in its place.

Now lets take a look at the CED movies themselves.

Here are two CED films. CEDs with mono soundtracks came in white plastic cases where CEDs with stereo sound came in blue. You never actually touch the vinyl itself or at least your not supposed to. The vinyl movie itself is in these plastic caddy carriers. When you insert the CED movie into the player it grabs the end of the case and as you pull the case out the vinyl slides out of the case it is in and onto the turntable. This is actually a really good solution RCA came up with to protect the vinyl movies as they can be very susceptible to dust and finger prints. Dust and grim can still find their way onto discs and cause skipping. repeated viewings can correct this issue.

Speaking of repeated viewings, CED movies do have a finite life and after about 500 viewings the quality can degrade considerably. For home use this isn’t to bad as it is unlikely a single individual or even a family would of watched a movie 500 times or more but for something like rental this could become an issue. This was never an issue though as CED’s were never popular enough to find a place in the rental market of the time.

The image above compares size between a CED, Laserdisc and a DVD in the case/sleeve. The CED is slightly larger then a Laserdisc and like LDs if the movie was longer then 120 minutes it ether had to be edited down or spread across multiple CED discs. Unlike LDs there were only a few widescreen versions of films released and then only in North America so the vast majority of titles seem to be mono sound and full screen format.

My friend owns an SGT 200 model that features stereo sound as well as composite output for superior image quality. I asked to test a few CED movies on it and although the Image was superior to my CED player it was still pretty lacking and suffered from continuous skipping issues likly due to an old stylus.

As far as quality goes you can expect a player with a new stylus and a CED with fairly low use to give about the image quality of a VHS though these days with second hand players and discs expect watchable but slightly lower then VHS quality as the norm for something you pick up from a yard sale or thrift store. The image from a CED seems to be more stable then an image produced from a VCR player with no tracking line issues but then you do have to tend with skipping due to possible dust issues or worn out stylus needles.

CED was meant to be a cheap means for consumers to watch movies in the home and if it came out in the 1970’s it very well may of been a success. This scenario wasn’t the case however and the CED wasn’t introduced until 1981. By this time prices for VHS and Beta players were already becoming affordable and Laserdisc was occupying the markets high end. CED wasn’t standing much of a chance even with the budget market. Even though quality and at first, price was comparable to VHS add the inconvenience of disc size and the idea of having to flip a disc mid movie and VHS was the clear winner. Not to even mention the ability of VHS to record programming. Like Laserdisc, CED could not record programs off TV but at least Laserdisc had the advantage of a vastly better image quality over both CED and VHS/Beta.

So in the end CED faded off into relative obscurity not even being remembered by the majority of consumers and movie lovers of the time. As for picking one up in modern times it’s really up in the air. CED’s really offer nothing that you cant find elsewhere. The quality is poor and none of the movies that I know of can’t be found on either VHS, DVD, LD or Blu-ray nor are any movies or special cuts of a movie available on CED that can’t be found elsewhere as well. at least with Laserdisc or even VHS there are some movies that have never found official release on DVD or Blu-ray or have features or versions not found else ware but this doesn’t seem to be the case with CED. Even VHS likely offers the same movie but in a widescreen version with comparable quality and more convenience in size and no disc flipping.

Another thing to keep in mind is price. CED movies themselves tend to be very cheap, even brand new and sealed but players seem to be relatively hard to find if not using eBay. They also tend to be expensive and are commonly tagged with words such as “Rare” and “Collectable”. In my opinion they aren’t worth more then $30 or $50 for a working player as just a novelty but most places seem to want at least $100. There is an active CED collector community and it is a neat little machine so I don’t mean to poo-poo to much on it but I do want potential newcomers to the CED to be aware. If you do find a a CED player at a thrift for a high price don’t be afraid to haggle. I had one friend find a player for $120 but after a few weeks was able to get the price down to $60.

 

 

Previously we talked about Apples attempt to create a low cost color Macintosh for the home and educational market. That machine was known as the Macintosh LC. In this article we’re going to look at Apple’s 1992 second attempt at a low cost color Mac, the aptly named Macintosh LC II. Unfortunately as we will see the LC II solved virtually none of the issues that plagued the original LC to the point that it almost makes you wonder why Apple even bothered to release the LC II.

First lets take a look at the front of the machine and the case.

The LC II uses the exact same slim form factor “Pizza Box” style case as the LC. It looks identical on the front except for two differences. Fist off is obviously the printed model name on the front be LC II as opposed to LC. The second change is the lack of a cut out slot for adding a second floppy drive. The dual floppy version of the original LC was so uncommon that Apple decided to do away with the option all together for the LC II.

The rear of the case though is identical to the LC. from left to right you have the power connector and switch, Mac video port, modem and printer ports, external SCSI port, ADB port and finally an audio jack for speakers and mic. This machine had a Ethernet card installed when I bought it which you can see all the way on the right in the expansion slot.

The LC II like the LC does not support power on via the keyboard and use of the rear switch is required. Opening the LC II is exactly the same as the LC with just two fairly sturdy tabs securing the top.

Lets take a look with the top removed.

Internally the LC II looks very similar to the LC as far as where things are placed both on and off the motherboard. The right side of the board is obscured in this image by the Ethernet card I have installed. On the upper left we have the 1.44MB floppy drive and to the left we have a SCSI hard drive installed, usually 30 – 80mb in size though this one has been upgraded to a 100+mb hard drive by the previous owner. In between them we have a speaker and fan for cooling.

My LC II suffers from leaking capacitors like almost all Macs from the 80’s and early 90’s yet still functions.

1) CPU – Possibly the biggest difference in the LC II is the upgraded CPU from a 68020 @ 16mhz to a 68030 running @ 16mhz. Unfortunately the 32-bit CPU is still running on a 16-bit data bus so we see virtually no increase in performance. Interestingly enough some sources claim the LC II actually runs slower then the original LC in some instances. The one big advantage though of the new 68030 is that this CPU had built in memory management capabilities finally allowing the use of virtual memory on the LC II.

2) LC PDS Slot – expandability was the same as the on the LC allowing for expansion only via one LC PDS (Processor Direct Slot) though on my motherboard the slot is a snazzy white as opposed to black on the LC.

The previous owner whom I believe was a teacher had a Ethernet card installed presumably this was an educational model connected to a network

3) RAM – Just like the LC the LC II had a limit of 10mb of RAM. Also like the LC the RAM was expanded by two 30 pin slots. The difference in the LC II was that opposed to having 2mb soldered onto the motherboard the LC II had 4mb on board. This was good news to first time users That didn’t have the money to upgrade RAM or did not have any sticks laying around but for users that already had 4mb sticks on hand it was a bit of a waste. This is because as I mentioned the LC II had the same 10mb memory limit as the LC but on the LC if you added two 4mb sticks you would get 10mb with the 2mb on board. With the LC II doing this same upgrade you still ended up with 10mb or memory but 2mb were completely wasted (4mb on board + 4 = 4 =12mb but with a 10mb limit). It was still worth the upgrade to have the 10mb max but it just feels a bit wasteful.

4) Video – Built in video on the LC II is almost exactly the same as the LC with 256kb of VRAM upgradable to 512kb via a VRAM socket next to the two 30 pin RAM sockets. The stock configuration of the LC II supported 512×384 pixels at 8-bit color while upgrading to 512kb gave the ability to display that same resolution at 16-bit color or 640×480 at 8-bit just like the LC. The LC II was also still meant to run at a 512×386 resolution with the 12″ Apple RGB monitor. This still gave problems with many Macintosh games and programs expecting a standard 640×480 res. The video on the LC II was supposedly tweaked though to allow it to work with a wider range of external monitors but in my testing I couldn’t find any that failed to work with the LC but worked with the LC II.

Eventually I did find an adapter that did work. This adapter had DIP switches and I found setting it to “auto sync” and 640 x 480 @ 67hz (the lowest setting) produced a off center but usable image.

5) PRAM battery – for saving settings

6) Floppy connector – The LC II supports 1.44mb floppy drives that receive power via the floppy cable and also use auto eject mechanisms. The LC II lacks a second floppy connector due to the complete removal of a dual floppy option.

7) 50 pin SCSI connector for connecting a SCSI hard drive.

So looking at the overall specs and design of the LC II we quickly realize that the changes from the LC are very minimal indeed. so to understand this better lets take a quick second look at the shortcomings of the original LC.

1 – A 32-bit CPU on a 16-bit motherboard severely hampering the performance of the LCs 16mhz 68020 CPU.

2 – An imposed limit of 10MB of RAM regardless of the size of the RAM stick(s) installed.

3 – complete lack of a MMU or FPU or the ability to easily add one.

4 – Difficulty getting the LC to run with monitors outside of the fixed resolution 512×386 monitor it was intended to be paired with or period Apple or early SVGA monitors.

Of these four shortcomings the LC II really only addressed part of problem 4 which is incorporating a CPU with a built in MMU to allow for virtual memory. It is true the machine came stock with more RAM but the total limit was still an anemic 10mb and even with the tweaks to the video I still couldn’t find a monitor outside of the Apple 12″ RGB or a professional NEC multisync CRT that would display with the LC II. I tried several adaptors as well as several monitors such as my Sony G240 and Mitsubishi Diamondtron CRT’s but all gave a “out of range” error. You may have much more luck with an earlier SVGA monitor. Also one has to take into consideration that as stated earlier in some instances the LC II may even be slightly slower then the original LC.

Overall the improvements to the LC II don’t really seem significant enough to justify its existence though I’m sure a number of people did appreciate the inclusion of virtual memory and even the increased stock RAM. If your a retro gamer I would still suggest holding out for an LC III or Macintosh II though for the price these things go for its worth grabbing if your a collector.

LC II running with a screensaver. This monitor has severe vertical folding issues that are not to apparent in this image.

 

The Macintosh LC, if not Apples most crippled computer must be up in their top 5. The machine is purposefully held back in so many ways that performance is severely impacted yet it was still successful and is still an enduring member of the Macintosh family.

The LC in Apples 1990 Macintosh LC stands for “Low Cost” or “Low Cost Color” so one wouldn’t be shocked to to find that the machine is hindered performance wise. This was Apples stab at making a low cost color Macintosh for the family and the educational market.

The first thing one notices about the LC is its extremely thin and light case. This case became known as the “Pizza Box” case due to its similarity to the shape of a Pizza Box. The case is remarkably small and light and despite being all plastic it holds up as there are only two fairly sturdy plastic tabs on the rear that secure the top of the case down. The LC sports one or rarely two 1.44mb floppy drives. The two drive versions were not very popular but you can see on the left where another floppy drive could be placed. Usually as with this model that space was occupied by a 30 to 80GB 50 pin SCSI hard drive.

Looking at the rear of the LC was have a standard connector for a power cable as well as a switch. The LC does not support soft power on from the keyboard so powering on and off is done via the rear switch. Next to that we have a 15 pin video port for the built in video, an apple printer, modem port an external SCSI port a ADB port for keyboard and mouse and finally two audio jacks for speakers and mic.

Here is the inside with the top cover removed and we can see the motherboard is very small and compact. This machine when I got it had the hard drive removed but you can see where it would be mounted. between the two drive bays we have a speaker and a small fan. The LC also uses a proprietary small form factor power supply which if yours dies can be an issue to replace.

1) CPU – The Macintosh LC is controlled by a Motorola 68020 CPU running at 16mhz. The crippling factor here though is that we have a 32-bit CPU running on a motherboard with a 16-bit data bus thus severally hindering the performance of the CPU. One example of the bottleneck this created is the Macintosh II which used the same CPU yet ran on a 32-bit motherboard. This computer is almost twice as fast or up to 40% faster then the LC despite having the same clocked CPU. This performance gap is due mainly to the restrictive data bus of the LC. The LC also lacked a MMU (Memory Management Unit) for virtual memory or ability to add one thus limiting the memory.

2) RAM – RAM is another area that the LC is a bit limited. The LC comes with 2MB of RAM soldered onto the motherboard with the option to add another 8MB via two 30 pin SIMM slots for a total of 10MB of memory. This limit is placed by the memory chipset so even placing larger RAM sticks into the sockets still results in a limit of 10MB. This amount of memory, though usable, was fairly small even by the standards of 1990.

3) Video – The LC came with video built into the motherboard as well as 256kb of VRAM upgradable to 512kb via a VRAM socket next to the two 30 pin RAM sockets. At stock configuration the LC supported 512×384 pixels at 8-bit color while upgrading to 512kb gave the ability to display that same resolution at 16-bit color or 640×480 at 8-bit. The problem was the LC was mainly meant to display at the 512×386 resolution and even had a special 12″ RGB monitor which had its resolution fixed to 512×386. This monitor fits perfectly on top of the case of the LC, LC II and LC III. Many programs at the time expected 640×480 so when displayed on the 12″ RGB monitor at 512×386 a number of programs displayed incorrectly.

The LC is also notoriously picky about what monitors it will work with. neither my Sony G420, Gateway T17LC-8 CRT monitor nor my Samsung Syncmaster 171n LCD monitor would work with the LC when using a mac to PC adapter. This incompatibility continued when attempting to use a VGA to S-video converter as it produced a rolling and unstable image on my Sony KV-32FV310. usually the error was an “Out of Sync” error as the LC seems to output at a 25khz frequency many monitors just will not accept. I finally had to use a NEC PG-2740 professional monitor to get an image from this machine or the LCII I also have.

It is supposedly possible to modify the Apple 12″ RGB monitor to run at 640×480 but it likely takes some experience with soldering and working with CRT monitors and not for the novice.

4) LC PDS slot – Expandability on the LC was pretty meager and it only sported one specialized LC PDS (processor direct slot). This slot was mostly intended for the Apple IIe compatibility card which granted high compatibility with the huge Apple IIe backlog of games and programs but other cards such as accelerators and video cards were produced as well.

5) PRAM battery – for saving settings

6) Floppy connectors – The original LC had two floppy connectors for connecting one or two 1.44mb floppy drives. Note that these are special drives that receive power via the floppy cable and also use a auto eject mechanism. The dual floppy versions of the LC are pretty rare as this was not a popular option.

7) 50 pin SCSI connector for connecting a SCSI hard drive.

8) PSU connector

So lets go over and list the issues that crippled this machine.

1 – A 32-bit CPU on a 16-bit motherboard severely hampering the performance of the LCs 16mhz 68020 CPU.

2 – An imposed limit of 10MB of RAM regardless of the size of the RAM stick(s) installed.

3 – complete lack of a MMU or FPU or the ability to easily add one.

4 – Difficulty getting the LC to run with any monitor outside of the 12″ RGB  fixed resolution 512×386 monitor it was intended to be paired with or period Apple monitors.

Considering that Apple was trying to create a low cost machine at an affordable price one wouldn’t be to surprised at the cost cutting done to the LC and the limitations thus created. One plus I could give the LC is that it is extremely lite and the Mac itself is easy to transport and setup. The case is also pretty durable for being all plastic and the tabs seem to hold up fairly well. That said for the modern retro gamer looking for an early 90’s Macintosh I would stay away from the LC for anything other then pure collecting. They are fairly cheap even on eBay as well as easy to find but there are far better options such as the various models of the Macintosh II or the LC III (which we will get to). I should note that the LC in this article currently is none functional due to leaking capacitors which is a common issue on old PC’s and especially these 80’s and early 90’s Macs. Apple did in fact attempt to correct the issues that limited the LC though it wouldn’t be until the third iteration that they more or less got it right.

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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.

 

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.

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