Building a throw back / retro PC can be
complicated. First you need to pick the era you want to target.
Then you will want to scope out the hardware to run those
titles. For example: if you wanted to be able to play the old
Sierra and Lucas Arts adventure games, a system running a 486
SX/DX with a Sound Blaster 16 would work pretty well. It's old
enough to run the vast majority of the EGA/VGA library, and you
can run some of the Windows 95 era games as well. Or if you are
targeting 90s FPS games, a Pentium 200 / MMX 233 (If you can get
a Pentium Pro, DO IT), paired with a 3dfx card and a Sound
Blaster AWE 32. You are going to want a CF card to IDE or a SD
to IDE adapter so you can easily add files to the system. The
old hard drives are probably going to be worn out.
If you are building your own PC: MAKE SURE
YOU CAN FIND THE MOTHERBOARDS MANUAL. Older systems use jumpers
to configure the CPU. Prebuilt systems by companies like Compaq
are a good bet, getting them to work should be straight forward.
Upgrades are easier to find for the 386/486 era then the PII. If
you are building a 5x86, 6x86, K6, or MII system, do some
research on what games/apps work well with them. The AMD 5x86 is
actually a renamed 486 DX4; and the Cyrix 5x86 is a Pentium
clone, neither will run Quake era titles all that well.
My system: A friend had an old Gateway 2000
system he had purchased back in 2000.
The 3dfx card I was able to get my hands on, a Diamond Monster 3d Voodoo 1 card, will not work with AMD Athlon systems of the era. I am still hoping to find a reasonably priced Voodoo 3 card (or maybe a Voodoo 4/5 but I doubt it). 3dfx products go for insane prices these days.
I was able to find a Roland SC-7 off ebay for $65, which is crazy. Currently the cheapest Roland/Yamaha MIDI device I can find is more than $100. Don't bother looking for a MT-32 if you're not willing to spend a lot of money.
Once you have it running, download
Afterdark so you can have a proper screen saver. I
currently have it swapping between Star Trek modules.
I found a Firewire PCI card at Goodwill
Still working on filling that last PCI slot. Looking for a
NVIDIA Quadro DCC:
with an NV20 GPU and 64 MB of video ram, this card is pretty
speedy for it’s time. It’s not era appropriate, but it supports
higher resolutions and has DVI out so the machine can display to
HDMI with an adapter. I am now keeping this card as a spare
since I found a proper Dell LCD display. (1208x1024 resolution).
Aureal Vortex: OEM part from a Dell system I believe. The driver software for these Aureal cards are fantastic. Creative’s drivers are always annoying, and with the SB Live cards you have to really hunt for the right ones to work with your specific card. The SB Live card that my system came with had a broken 3.5mm audio port from some bad caps. Soundblaster emulation on the Aureal card is really good in MS-DOS mode.
CF Card IDE adapter: one of the cheap ones you get from Amazon/Newegg/Aliexpress.
Thrustmaster Flight Stick.
500 Mhz Athlon CPU – I ran Descent last night and it ran like it was in fast forward. I think the current CPU is much too fast for many of the games I was planning on running.
USB 2.0 PCI card – copying data off thumb drives takes too long.
A New Case – either a more modern case or a beige case. If I
get a modern case, I would also get the USB card in order to use
the front panel USB ports.
CF Card Hard Disk
My buddy Chris had an old Dell system in his garage that had survived a few moves (including one from Texas) and wanted to know if I wanted it. It’s a Athlon 1Ghz based system, with a GeForce 2, sound blaster live, and a 10/100 nic. A few cd-two drives were included, but no HD. So I added this.
Windows loads really fast now. I’m looking forward to getting
this running properly. The packed in OS disc comes with Windows
ME (ewww). I want to put it in a more modern ATX case, add a few
more quiet fans and replace the PSU. Changed OS to Windows 98.
Adding Peace and Quiet to the PC
The continuing adventures of the Retro Machine. Old Athlon machines (hell any machine from the late 90s) have this lovely high pitched whine associated with them. Usually this came from 2 places: the CPU cooler and the Power supply.
First replaced the CPU fan on the heat sink. I couldn’t find a
Noctua fan the right size. So I hot glued a 60mm fan over the
I also replaced the Power Supply 80mm fan with a Noctua fan. I
made sure it was discharged and then very carefully
replaced the fan in the Power supply. I added 2 wires to adapt
the Noctua fan to the 2 pin connector in the PSU.
I also added a new fan to the exhaust since that was in the
original set up too. Over all the system is much quieter when
running. The high pitched whine is gone. The main downside is
that it doesn’t sound like a high performance machine form the
USB Card upgrade -
The latest update to my retro PC build is a USB 2.0 PCI card. This particular card comes with a pin-out for internal accessories and a internal USB 2.0 port along with the 2 external ports on the back. I got it so I could move files to this machine faster than I could before. Quake 2 with the motherboards USB 1.0 ports took around 30 minutes to copy, with this card, it takes about 5-8 minutes.
But the really fun part was this is a old part still in it’s
box and shrink wrap. It looked ready for the display shelf at