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In my” Anatomy of” series I go in detail and cover the idea and parts behind a computer customized for a very specific era of gaming. I usually see the topic of what is best for this or that in DOS machines. The DOS era covers a HUGE area of computer history and to be able to reliably experience all those games to there optimum visuals and sound there’s really no one best setup. I do realize that many people either don’t have the space or care to have multiple PC’s for every specific era of DOS gaming so I’ve decided to briefly explain what I would feel makes up the best all around DOS machine. This machine may not be the fastest or produce the best sound but I think it will play the vast majority of DOS games thrown at it. If I could only have one DOS machine this would be it for its ability to play almost anything.

Operating SystemFor DOS the only choice is really DOS 6.22. There are a few games that will give you trouble if not played on a specific version of DOS but for the most part it’s the same but more options. Also most of the later DOS games that encompass a large amount of games will require at least DOS 5 or above. A lot of people would also recommend Windows 98SE as an operating system since you can enter “real DOS mode” (DOS 7) through it. This would let you play your DOS games as well as allow the playing of early windows games. This is a acceptable option but personally I still find pure DOS much simpler and less of a hassle but it really depends on what you want and how much effort your willing to put into it. having windows (even with its real DOS mode) is still going to cut down your DOS game options and probably create a lot of headaches getting things like sound to run in DOS. your also probably going to get a lot of memory manager errors with some games. My suggestion is just stick with DOS 6.22 unless your dead set on having Windows 98 games as well, arent concerned with the drop in DOS games that will be compatible and have time to deal with the errors and conflicts some DOS games will produce when run with Windows on the system. Keep in mind that the slower CPU/Video/RAM will hinder some of those later windows games.

 CPU – Intel Pentium 100mhz – 133mhz. The Intel Pentiums are good performers, reliable and not to rare or expensive. keeping it under 133mhz helps keep down a lot of the timing errors you’ll get playing a DOS games on a Pentium but still give you enough speed to competently play Duke 3d and Doom. I would use a 100mhz just to help keep the timing issues down but a P120 or 133 would also work as excellent CPU’s

Video card – S3 PCI  Trio64/V2, Not the fastest video card out there but defiantly the most compatible. Theres a reason emulators like DOSBOX use the S3 line as their baseline for graphics. it’s basically the standard for DOS video and has excellent compatibility. You could also use any S3 Virge up to the Virge/GX card which supposedly uses the same excellent 2D core. Using a Virge card would also allow you to play any DOS S3D 3d accelerated games like Terminal Velocity or Tomb Raider

*adding a Voodoo 1 card would expand your choice of games to early DOS glide 3d games while keeping the excellent 2d compatibility of the Trio.

other choices for video card

PCI Tseng Labs 4000ET or 6000ET – any PCI card using a Tseng Labs chip should work fine. The Tseng Labs 4000ET was the king of DOS in the ISA and VLB days commonly seen as the fastest DOS card of the 486 era. Around when the PCI era started it seems to have lost a little of its edge. Still a great card but for later DOS games and slightly better compatibility go with a S3 card.

Ark Logic 2000MT – any card based on the ARK2000MT chip. very fast and compatible DOS card comparable to the ET4000

Sound – Creative Sound Blaster 16. The de facto sound standard for the DOS days. Most games support the SB standard and its adlib compatible. It wont give you the quality or range of the AWE series or the Gravis Ultrasound but you’ll get pretty decent sound and music in just about every game you throw at it.

*with a little extra cash and effort you can add a second sound card or an external sound module for expanded compatibility and quality in games that support the chosen card. This would be completely optional and would not interfere with the excellent compatibility of the SB16.

RAM  Most of those DOS games will happily run off 8MB of RAM but for the best compatibility and speed I would say 64MB and that’s still kinda overkill. you could go all out and do 128MB of RAM or even more but I’ve read unconfirmed rumors that some old DOS games/programs act a little unstable if there’s way more RAM than required/expected so I would stick to 64 or 128 at the most just to be safe. Besides if you have a BIOS that insists on doing a RAM check on startup it takes forever with huge amounts of RAM.

Those really are the main points, most motherboards should work just fine, just make sure it has a few ISA and PCI slots. type of RAM doesn’t matter too much either as long as it supports the amount you need. Other than that a nice hard drive of at least 500MB, a 3 1/2 floppy drive and a CD ROM drive and your set. also adding a 5 1/4 floppy drive will also help expand your range of games too much older titles or newer ones that you may find on that format. Again not the fanciest, fastest, best sounding or prettiest setup but in my opinion if you only want one DOS computer this will play the vast majority of games just fine and not cost an arm and a leg or several years part hunting.

I recently threw together a Pentium based DOS computer to experiment with some different hardware/software in DOS and I think it makes a pretty solid all around DOS PC with the potential to be upgraded or duel booted with Win 95/98 and thus makes a good example for an all around DOS PC.

perdosx

Standard ATX case with a common 1.44MB floppy drive and a 1.2MB drive installed as well as a CD-ROM drive. You can use a DVD drive as well if you wish. It should function just like a CD drive.

*its not in the image above but I did recently install a Zip 100 drive under the floppy drive. Its a really handy addition for files that are larger then 1.44MB but to small to justify burning CD or messing with a network. Its also nice that you can use  a USB ZIP drive with windows XP, VISTA or Windows 7 and and transfer things that way from a modern PC to this DOS machine.

100_4789Here is the rear of the machine and as you can see it has all the standard ports as well as a PS/2 port for mouse and keyboard which is very convenient since I don’t have to bother with an AT keyboard or AT > PS/2 adapter. Also has 2 USB ports but I haven’t messed around with them. I’ve read it is possible to install special USB DOS drivers but as of yet I haven’t played with that. It is useful to have them if i ever decide to put Windows 95/98 on this machine.

100_4787

Pretty nice socket 7 Motherboard with 2 16 bit ISA slots, 5 PCI slots and an AGP slot. The AGP doesn’t get used under DOS but like I said before if I ever go Windows with it its there. As for the CPU I’m running the classic Pentium 133mhz which is mostly ideal. It will run a large amount of DOS games without issue and still has commendable speed as well as being super reliable.

I have a network card installed in one PCI slot but haven’t played around with it as of yet.

virgegx

For Video I went with the S3 ViRGE/GX. The ViRGE/GX uses the mostly same 2d core as the S3 Trio64V+ so overall DOS comparability is still excellent. It also can do early 3D acceleration on games that support it and some games are “ViRGE enhanced” and use the S3D API. The GX variant is one of the faster versions of the card that still retains the ability to play older S3D games like DOS Terminal Velocity without graphical issues. Picture quality can vary between manufactures but the Nitro BIOS as seen here tend to give a good image quality. The 3d portion of the ViRGE really only comes into play if your running those games that support it but its still possibly one of the best all around cards for this fast DOS machine. My card has I believe 4MB or RAM, more then enough.

dminpent

I also recently added a spare 3dfx Voodoo 1 card I had to take advantage of DOS Glide based games. Unlike the Voodoo card in my other fast Pentium based PC this is a Diamond manufactured card. Its basically exactly the same as the Orchid card in my other machine except this card uses a digital switch as opposed to mechanical so there’s no distinct “click” noise when the card becomes active.

100_4764

Lastly for sound I went a slightly different route and decided to install a SB16 clone, the Audio Excel AV307. This is a ISA sound card that according to the box supports SB16/WSS/SB Pro/SB 2.0 as well as having a UART MPU-401 MIDI interface and wavetable that is free of the “hanging note bug” that plagues true Sound Blaster 16 cards. This card does not have true Yamaha FM chips though so FM synth is done via emulation which may sound off. I haven’t played with this card to much but It does seem to do a fair job and makes a decent alternative to the Sound Blaster 16 since the SB16 has issues with older Sound Blaster compatibility as well as issues with its MIDI ports.

BUT, if you want true Yamaha FM synth and really want to stay with  Sound Blaster those are still a great choice. I recently was having some odd issues with this sound card so I stuck in  CT1470 SB16. This is a very early SB16 card and one of the few models that does not have an issue with the “hanging note” bug. It is a noisy card but I haven’t had any issues with it.

earlysb16

Benchmarks

Pentium 133mhz, 128MB SDRAM, 512kb L2 cache, 4mb Virge PCI

3dBench – 87.2 FPS

PCPBench – 34.1 FPS

DOOM – 49.73 FPS

Quake – 28.8 FPS

Landmark 2.0 – cpu – 771 fpu – 2259 video – 10922

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4 Comments

  1. I have a question: What is the practical application of using Dos 6.22 instead of, for example, Windows 98 which comes with Dos 7 (and you can make it boot straight into DOS)?

    Also, I have heard there are application that only run in older versions of Dos. Can you confirm or deny?

  2. there’s not a huge difference at all between DOS 6.22 and Dos 7 as far as I know, DOS 7 actually allows a little more I think in terms of allowing long files names. that being said if your simply running the DOS mode on a win98 PC I’ve personally run into a lot of memory management, sound and video issues with many games under windows MS-DOS mode. Theres a lot of variables running DOS 7 under Win 9x that can cause these issues. kings quest collection is one example I remember with memory errors though this may vary depending on your setup. usually there are ways to work around it if you have the time and tolerance and there are so many different setups that you can get different results with the same game. I know there is a way to actually “strip” DOS 7 from win98 and only install that portion on a PC but if this helps with the issues I don’t know. In practical terms you probably won’t see much difference in 6.22 and 7 most games should play ok. If you want particulars I’ve read about people having issues with games such as Fire & Ice and Jill of the Jungle when using win 98 dos mode. again, I’m not sure if having dos 7 only installed would correct this. I just personally prefer DOS 6.22 to me it feels less problematic, easy to install and overall more stable. If i was suggesting a best “all around” PC for classic gaming I probably would recommend a PC running Win98SE and DOS 7 but for pure DOS I would still stick to simple 6.22.
    *update 1/3/15 – Bio Menace is an example of a game that has issues running under Dos 7 and will freeze up. there is a patch though to correct this issue.

    as for the second question, I’ve actually asked it myself before and from the responses I got there really isn’t much reason to use a version older then 6.22 unless its an extremely old machine with less then 640k of memory. early Tandy machines use a special version of Dos for some features so a newer MS-DOS version wouldn’t be recommended. As far as specifics though I have yet to run a DOS game in 6.22 that will not run because it requires an older version. I do believe there are a few games that require older versions though but for specific games the only one that comes to mind is Wheel of Fortune but I cant confirm that since I’m only running on the vague memory of something I read.

  3. I’m using an old machining software called Americam. It was purchased in 1991 . It will only run ( without problems) on very old pc’s .
    I had (6) old pc’s left and am now down to my last one. It only seems to work on the old dos 286 or 486 .
    Anything newer won’t work.
    Been trying to find any old working pc’s but no luck.
    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • That’s not surprising as a lot of old hardware requires slower CPU’s. availability really depends on where you live. In a big city such as Phoenix or Pittsburgh I found old PC’s all the time at thrift stores, Craigslist ect. I would first suggest trying your local Craigslist of Offerup. failing that maybe Ebay but that’s going to be pricey unless you find something local. Do you have any local swap meets or flea markets that are held? If you have a socket 7 machine you can also try slowing it down via software like MoSlow or by disabling L2 cache in the BIOS. Perhaps even setting the CPU multiplier to a lower number depending on your motherboard.


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