Wanting a build a retro PC; need some direction.

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Cody The Wolf
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Wanting a build a retro PC; need some direction.

Post by Cody The Wolf » Sat Jan 06, 2018 9:32 pm

So after watching a lot of videos on retro PC gaming, I thought I would try my hand at building my own retro rig.
I have a decent idea of the the type of hardware there is, but I don't have a great idea of what I should get for the era I want to play in.
I'm looking to mainly play mid-90s/early 00s games (Tomb raider, Quake, Diablo I, etc.) So far I've come to the conclusion I would want something in the Pentium II range of CPUs. I was currently thinking an Intel Pentium II Xeon and for graphics acceleration, I was thinking the ATI Rage 128 Pro. I would use CompactFlash for the Hard Drive and for CD/Floppy drives, I'm not super picky on a specific brand, probably would peruse for a decent one. My problem is I don't know what kind of Motherboard or sound card i should go for. I also don't know what kind of case I should get either. I was thinking about going for an IBM case, but the ones made in the 90s were quite ugly.

If any of you veteran builders has any input, it would be much appreciated!
Aiya, Essenya Epeataro!!!

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Re: Wanting a build a retro PC; need some direction.

Post by Boss Llama » Sat Jan 06, 2018 11:07 pm

If you're trying to make the hardware accurate to the period, the sound card to get is a first gen Sound Blaster Audigy PCI card - nobody really bothered with anything else back then for gaming.

For your video card, the Rage 128 Pro is a good choice, though also consider the RIVA TNT2 . Both were excellent and widely used early AGP cards. Both will easily power the standard-issue 17 inch CRT monitor pretty much everybody had.

With Pentium II's, make sure that you match the CPU socket type to the board. P2's came in numerous variants, both SECC cartridge slot types and more modern-looking socket types. I wouldn't recommend a Xeon processor if you're building a period gaming box - they were slower and had features gamers didn't need (they were really just workstations and servers). They also may end up needing EEC RAM and other expensive options, which won't have any gaming return. I'd suggest using a Slot 1 Deschutes PII 450MHz chip.

On the subject of RAM, there are a different versions that were bouncing around at the time, and your motherboard will dictate what you need. The technically fastest in that time period was probably PC-800 RDRAM, in 184 pin RIMMs. It was very expensive at the time, and required being used in certain combinations of slots (including using blank RIMM chips in empty slots), and it's probably a bit harder to source these days. The performance increase wasn't as big as the price difference, so standard 184 pin DIMMs might be the most straightforward solution.

For your motherboard, there were several of the usual suspects, like Intel and Asus, making mobos. To be sure you find the right era of board, do a search based on the CPU slot or socket type. Within a year or two nobody was making any of those types any more, so anything with the matching slot is pretty much guaranteed to be from that era. Verify the slot/socket, then what type of RAM it takes, and what kind of peripheral slots it has. If you're building an ATX form factor system, you'll be looking at four or five PCI slots, and one AGP slot.

There weren't a lot of custom cases running around at the time - you pretty much had the option between beige, off-white, and ecru, though occasionally you'd see a black one. Cases were generally tower-style, like today, but there were still some flat desktop-style cases to be had.
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Re: Wanting a build a retro PC; need some direction.

Post by Cody The Wolf » Sat Jan 06, 2018 11:26 pm

Thanks for all that info.

For cases, I want a tower style case that's off white. Something that screams "90s business machine", with its straight edges and and blocky buttons.
Aiya, Essenya Epeataro!!!

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Re: Wanting a build a retro PC; need some direction.

Post by Boss Llama » Sun Jan 07, 2018 10:08 am

Look in to the cases from Dell Dimension XPS series desktops (not to be confused with the current Dell XPS laptops). I think they are pretty much exactly what you're looking for.
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Re: Wanting a build a retro PC; need some direction.

Post by Flash » Mon Jan 08, 2018 7:59 am

I've been looking into putting together a RetroPie so my kids can play all of the old NES and SNES games I did when I was a kid.

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Re: Wanting a build a retro PC; need some direction.

Post by Boss Llama » Wed Jan 10, 2018 2:48 pm

Flash wrote:I've been looking into putting together a RetroPie so my kids can play all of the old NES and SNES games I did when I was a kid.
Good call! I have a friend who built one, and then put it inside an old empty NES case, with USB ports for the controllers. Was a pretty good way to capture the feel as well as the games.
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Re: Wanting a build a retro PC; need some direction.

Post by John Doe » Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:10 pm

I would go the retropie route, inexpensive, tons of support for it, and the kicker is the hardware is new. IMHO if your going to dig up 20 year old hardware (and I just recycled all the stuff I had about 5 years ago) your getting just that 20 year old hardware. My experiences with gear that old tends to involve many explainable OS crashes which tend to be due to bad caps on the motherboards, failing CPUs, failing dimms, failing power supplies and more.

The other thing I find amazing is that some people will pay ungodly sums of money to get retro hardware, and that it can be cheaper to build a new PC than to find reliable good parts to build a retro box.

Of course if you have access to the hardware (Grandma and Grandpa never threw out the first PC they bought 20 years ago) then you may as well mess around with and try to get it working, but if you dont have the hardware well, as I said earlier I would try a retropie or something similar.


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Re: Wanting a build a retro PC; need some direction.

Post by Checkm8 » Sat Jan 27, 2018 9:31 pm

https://emulationstation.org/
http://www.retroarch.com/

I have an emulationstation config file set uo for your frontend to use the retroarch emulator. Let me know if you go that route! I use my raspberry pii as a webserver! :P
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Re: Wanting a build a retro PC; need some direction.

Post by Plas » Tue Jan 30, 2018 3:55 am

https://books.google.com/books?id=EwIAA ... ues_anchor

Cody, check out these Maximum PC magazines if you want to see PC builds and hardware from the late 90's / early 2000's. I loved reading this magazine back in the day.

Far as the retro console gaming being discussed, I went the route of soft modding a old Nintendo Wii for my kids. A free way to get in some retro gaming if you have a dusty Wii in a box somewhere. Took a older SD card I had laying around and used the Bootmii / Homebrew Channel method. NES games play fine on the Wii remotes. You can even use the wii remote as a zapper for games like Duck Hunt. For SNES games you'd want a Wii classic controller. I had one, but they are fairly cheap on ebay. NES, SNES, and Gameboy games is what I setup on mine. Fun to relive 8bit/16bit classics with the next generation. No idea how a Wii video output will look on a current day HD TV, mine is just plugged into a old 90s console TV.

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