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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Imagine being able to play games in high quality at a smooth 30 frames per second and in full screen. It’s a silly thing to ask gamers or those that stream their favorite movies off the internet these days but in the 1980’s and early 90’s it was a wonder to behold being done on a lowly 386 or even a 486. Decoding video was a hefty task for those CPU’s of yesteryear and many just were not powerful enough for the task. Video cards eventually helped with the task of decoding video as they did with 3d rendering but this was still years away. Compromises then were forced to be made as we entered the brave new world of Full motion video or FMV as it is often referred to. To allow the use of FMV on the less capable CPU’s of the time videos screens were often shot in fairly low and grainy quality. Many times FMV was also reduced to a small section of the screen to ease the burden on the CPU in much the same way one is able to reduce the visual play area in a game such as DOOM to increase frame rate. Enter the Reelmagic Mpeg decoder card. A card that was ment to install next to your primary video card and whose sole purpose was to decode Mpeg1 video and send it to your monitor. Finally PC users were able watch actual full screen FMV videos on their PC at smooth rates and at acceptable quality.

First were going to look at an older Reelmagic card which is also the card I used in all my testing.

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(remember all images can be enlarged by clicking on them twice)

This is the Reelmagic CD lite from 1993 by Sigma Designs. It is a fairly long 16 bit ISA card meant to be installed alongside a primary video card. The CD lite card differs from the full version of the Reelmagic CD card by its lack of an IDE connector meant to connect to a CD drive as well as the lack of a pin header to attach an OPL3 FM card which basically turns the card into a sound blaster compatible. Since I already had a CD drive controller as well as a Sound Blaster Pro 2.0 installed I felt the Lite version was a better buy. The full Reelmagic cards can also go for quite a lot of money so weigh your needs.

The card has both a VGA output and a 1/4″ inch audio jack output port.

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The card works by connecting internally with your primary video card via a vesa feature connector located on the upper right corner of the card nearer the output jacks. Generally the cable ends in both a pin style and edge style connection so you can connect to video cards that use either style. Here is my Tseng Labs ET4000 card with its vesa feature connector highlighted which is where you would connect your cable from the Reelmagic card to.

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older cards sometimes had this connector in a edge card form.

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The cables themselves aren’t to hard to find and offer a superior image quality to using an external connection solution. The downside to this method is some video cards may lack a vesa feature connector making the Reelmagic card unusable with these video cards.

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Reelmagic card connected to ET4000 video card via vesa feature connector

 Later Sigma Designs changed the name to their Mpeg decoder cards to Realmagic. These cards also come in a PCI variety and are much shorter in length, significantly more common and less expensive.

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Unfortunately these later cards switched to using an external proprietary dongle to connect to the primary video card and works in the same way as early 3DFX voodoo cards in connecting externally. Unfortunately the dongles can be hard to find and the image takes a slight quality hit compared to the internal method. The plus side is these cards can be used with virtually any primary video card.

Besides video the Reelmagic card also streams audio directly from the CD through the 1/4″ audio jack so be sure to connect this to your sound cards line in and then use the mixer to output all sound to your speakers since your sound card is still going to be doing most of the music and sound effects while your RM card will be streaming sound from the FMVs from the CD.

There weren’t very many games released that were able to take advantage of the Reelmagic cards and unfortunately these days they tend to be hard to find. Also finding a reliable list of confirmed games also seems to be a challenge. Below I’ve compiled a list of games believed to have Reelmagic versions produced though I can only confirm the games with a “*” placed after the title. If I’ve placed a “#” after a title that means I strongly believe this game was never produced as a Reelmagic version.

 Matinee
MPC Wizard
The Nature of Hunting
Learning Fly Fishing
Mozart Visits Yosemite
Mozart Visits Grand Canyon
Mozart Visits Yellowstone
Mozart Visits Hawaii
Animal Kingdom
WorldView
Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia
The Sporting News
20th Century Video Almanac
Police Quest 4 #
Man Enough
Return to Zork *
Dragon’s Lair *
Video Cube-Space
SoundTrack
Space Ace *
The Lord of the Rings
The Phychotron *
Conspiracy with Donald Sutherland (AKA KGB)
The Horde *
Escape from Cyber City
Kings Quest VI #
Gabriel Knight #
Under a Killing Moon #
Brain Dead at 13
Dragons Lair II

In my experience these games usually only came in jewel case form and clearly have “Reelmagic” printed on both the cover and the CD’s themselves.

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Although the Reelmagic versions of games can be hard to find and may require sifting through tens or hundreds of jewel case versions on EBay once found the Reelmagic versions tend to sell for about the same price as the regular versions likely due to the general ignorance that these are even “special” versions. Reelmagic versions of games also make calls to the Reelmagic card requiring it to be present, as far as I can tell Reelmagic versions have also not been emulated in any way such as via DOSbox. There is also some reported incompatibilities with getting the later PCI versions of the Realmagic cards working with older RM games such as Return to Zork.

Supposedly the Reelmagic cards can also play VCD movies which were basically movies on CD and I’ve even read within the driver readme file that with the right CD drive you can watch CD-I format movies though I can’t confirm this at present.

Take note that the card also needs a driver install to function properly. I initially had a lot of trouble getting my card working due to resource conflicts with my sound card but driver version 2.01 offers a test which checks your system for conflicts and a menu to switch IRQ and DMA if needed.

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Some of the games I tried also were a little odd to get running. Return to Zork for instance installed and was executed like most any game from the era. You put the CD in and run the install off the CD. After installation you simply run the EXE from the directory you installed to, simple. The Reelmagic version of Dragons Lair on the other hand does not allow you to run the game off the EXE on the CD without manually initializing the RM card. Actually when you install the RM drivers it also installs a file named “dragon” in the directory you installed the RM drivers in. With the CD in your drive the game will start if you run the “dragon” file from the RM directory. Space Ace works the same way except there is no special run file created for it when you install the RM drivers so you need to run “FMPDRV” in your RM directory to initialize the drivers before Space Ace will play by running the EXE on the CD.

Here are a few comparison gameplay shots.

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Return to Zork

The Reelmagic version of Return to Zork features a smooth and better looking full screen intro when compared to the retail CD version. It also features more animated segments and some improved backgrounds effects as well as some changed conversations and puzzle’s.

My Dragons Lair Reelmagic version was captured on a 33mhz 486DLC with an ET4000 ISA video card. Windows version from the Dragons Lair Deluxe pack on a 550mhz K6-III+ and a AGP Voodoo Banshee.

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In the end would I recommend a retro PC enthusiast to pick up a Reelmagic or later Realmagic card? I’d have to say no. The later cheaper Realmagic cards are a bit questionable with dongles being hard to find and reports of game incompatibilities while the earlier cards are just hard to come across and expensive when you finally do. If you did come across one cheap then by all means but I cant recommend searching one out especially with the number of games supported being so low and hard to find.

Awhile back LGR reviews, a very popular YouTube channel that covers retro computing posted a video about building a 486 machine. It was certainly a competent machine, faux woodgrain aside but one comment in the video stuck out to me. At one point it is mentioned somewhat offhand that the AMD 486 CPU’s were known to be slightly faster then their Intel counterparts. I never had heard this before and became quite curious to the matter. After some Google searching I still could not find any reference to this. Finally I created a thread over at the VOGONS forum on the matter and it was the general consensus that the AMD chips were basically clones and performance was virtually identical. It was even brought up by a few posters that the AMD chips seemed to have a few software incompatibilities for unknown reasons with OS/2 and Netware cited as examples.

With this information in hand I decided to do my own testing and thus we have this article and the CPU face off. My goal with these tests was to perform a number of benchmarks on both CPU’s to see if there is any actual performance difference and second to attempt to install OS/2 Warp using various CPU’s to check compatibility. So lets take a look at the CPU’s we will be testing.

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The two main CPU’s will be testing are the Intel and AMD 486 DX2-66 chips. These are classic 486 CPU’s both running at the exact same speed. Supposedly the AMD chip is a virtual clone of the Intel model and both of these chips have 8kb of on board L1 write-through cache though both companies also produced enhanced write-back cache versions. To keep things interesting I also decided to throw in a Cyrix DX2-66 which was also a popular CPU manufacturer at the time. Supposedly the Cyrix chip is an independent design from the AMD or Intel parts but specs wise is identical with a 66mhz running speed and 8kb of L1 write-through cache.

GIGA-BYTE-TECHNOLOGY-CO-LTD-486-GA-486VF-1The motherboard I’ll be using for these tests is the Ga-486VF rev 8B socket 3 board using a SIS chipset with 20mb of FPM RAM and 256kb of L2 cache. I’m using a CL-GD5426 based VLB video card for video output and a generic ISA I/0 controller. Since a sound card would be unused for these tests I left it off the board.

Before the benchmarking tests I wanted to give the results of the compatibility tests using OS/2 warp version 4. There are many versions of OS/2 and warp ver. 4 was all I had on hand so keep in mind earlier versions may show incompatibilities that ver. 4 does not. After my testing I found that OS/2 warp ver. 4 loaded up and ran fine on both the Intel and AMD DX2-66 chip. Warp ver. 4 however did fail to load running the Cyrix DX2-66 and on loading the OS consistently threw an error and halted the loading process.

cyrixos2error

Lastly we have the benchmark results running the standard gambit of DOS benchmarks.

dx2 mashup

So according to the results of several benchmarks as seen above the AMD and Intel chips are virtually identical performance wise. The Intel chip in most cases barely pulls ahead of the AMD chip by a hair but usually this is a less then 1 FPS difference and within the margin of error. The Cyrix chip on the other hand lagged behind a little on three out of five benchmark tests lagging by 10 FPS in quake and almost 5 FPS in DOOM. The Cyrix DX2 barely pulled ahead in PCP bench and for whatever reason was given a higher score in Speedsys test.

So what’s the final verdict? From everything the benchmarks have shown me plus personal experience and online research the Intel and AMD DX2-66mhz chips are virtually identical performance wise. The Intel does seem to be the slightest bit faster but never even exceeded more then 1 FPS or point difference in any test. I don’t think this difference is even perceivable by a human user. The Cyrix chip though was the clear loser falling behind the Intel/AMD duo and having incompatibility issues with OS/2. In most usage situations I think the Cyrix 486 would perform just fine and the average user would see little difference but given the choice an Intel or AMD DX2 is certainly the way to go. Personally between the Intel and the AMD I would choose the Intel but they appear to be identical performance wise and very close in overall software compatibility. As I stated earlier the AMD chip may have compatibility issues with older versions of OS/2 and Netware, another piece of software the AMD chip is said to have issues with but not tested by myself.

 

 

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