90's retro PC build (Troy) phase 1

04-09-2017

History

Back in 1998 my parents got their first PC. A Pentium 2 with a 350MHz CPU, 128MB of RAM, an 8GB hard disk and a Diamond Monster 3D II 3dfx Voodoo2 graphics card. For the time, this was quite a powerful PC. The Voodoo2 card came bundled with a couple of games, which started my interest in them. Now, almost 20 years later, I'm still an avid gamer and I’m gainfully employed in the tech industry.

As I mentioned, the Voodoo2 card came with a couple of games, so for the first couple of months I was busy playing Battle Zone, Incoming, G-Police and NitroRiders Interstate ’76. After that I started to spend every Gulden I earned on PC games, some of the more notable games I played on this system: Grand Theft Auto, Grand Theft Auto 2, The Sims (and the pile of expansions), SimCity 3000, Dungeon Siege, Need for Speed 3 and Tomb Raider 3. The reason I’ve named this system Troy is because Grand Theft Auto was the first game I bought with my own money and I always played it with the Troy character.

It would take three more years before we got a 1Mbit ADSL internet connection. Those years offline forced me to understand the system and fix it whenever I destroyed the Windows 98 installation by (wrongly) installing some driver or DirectX version. Many evenings and weekends were spent trying to fix this thing!

For nostalgic reasons I now want to rebuild this system. The original was sadly thrown out back in 2004 / 2005, so I need to start from scratch. Here are the specs, as closely as I can remember:

In Win IW-A500 case DFI PA61 motherboard
Intel Pentium II “Deschutes” 350MHz CPU slot 1
128MB of RAM, brand unknown
8GB Seagate hard drive
Diamond S3 ViRGE 2D video card
Diamond Monster 3D II 3dfx Voodoo2 graphics card
Creative Sound Blaster PCI128
Philips 40x PCA403CD CD-ROM drive
Floppy drive
15 Inch Philips Brilliance CRT monitor, model unknown
Trust Soundforce 480 PC speakers
Microsoft Internet Keyboard RT9410V56TW PS/2
Microsoft IntelliMouse PS/2
Microsoft Windows 98 (not Second Edition) with Microsoft Office 97

It’s my goal to recreate this machine as closely as possible but to also get it running as quickly as possible. Therefore I’ve started out buying easy to get components which I plan on replacing with the ones listed above.

Case

First, I needed a beige case. The In Win IW-A500 is hard to find these days, so I decided to just go for the first non-yellowed beige PC case that I could find. I quickly found one on eBay from a German seller. They had a pile of brand-new Codegen G6012-G1 cases and they were selling them very cheap, only 8 euros per case.


As you can see, the case came new in box and showed no signs of aging. This will be a temporary case until I find a decent In Win IW-A500.

Power supply

Sadly the case didn’t come with a power supply. These days almost every new power supply is black which doesn’t look good inside a beige PC case, so I bought an old one from goodwill. As soon as I connected it to a power outlet the thing start to make all sorts of electrical noises and within a couple of seconds the sweet smell of burnt electronics filled the room. That was the end of the power supply…

As a replacement I bought a brand-new Corsair VS550. It has a black case but at least it won't burn my house down. It also sports a 20 pin motherboard connector which is perfect for this build since 24 pin connecters were not yet a thing in 1998.

Motherboard, CPU and RAM

The motherboard, CPU and RAM are the basis of every PC, so I wanted to get this right from the start. Luckily someone in The Netherlands was selling a motherboard that’s very close to the one I had back in 1998.

The DFI PA61 REV.D2 came with a Pentium III 600 MHz CPU and 128MB of Hynix RAM. The CPU is too new but I’ll swap it out when I find a Pentium II 350MHz CPU in good condition on eBay. The motherboard supports both Pentium II and Pentium III CPU’s, as long as it’s slot 1 it should work. The board uses the VIA VT82C693A Apollo Pro133 chipset and can support a maximum of 768MB of SDRAM.

Storage

Functioning hard drives from the late nineties are difficult to find these days, so I bought a refurbished 40GB Western Digital WD400. This is a fairly nice IDE drive that’s more then big enough for all the games that I want to play on this system. As a secondary drive I bought a Compact Flash to IDE adapter, this way I can easily transfer files to and from this system. The adapter can be mounted in a slot on the back panel of the ATX case so that I don’t have to remove the side panels in order to swap the Compact Flash card. The BIOS sees the card as a normal IDE hard drive, so the system needs to be powered off when you want to insert or remove it.

Functioning CD-ROM players are even harder to find then working IDE hard drives, so I bought a used DVD-RW player from a local goodwill thrift store. Namely the NEC ND11000A. It’s a basic drive and most importantly: It’s beige! No retro PC is complete without a floppy drive, so I also bought a new Mitsumi D359T7 from eBay.

Graphics and audio

I’m still searching for the Voodoo2 card that I had back in 1998 so in the meantime I’ve purchased a Nvidia GeForce 2 GTS. It’s from 2001 but it’s the best non-3dfx graphics card that I could find from that time period. Pure 3dfx games play fine but they do look bad. This is especially noticeable in Tomb Raider III and Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit, the games are a lot more pixelated and things like smoke effects will crater your frame rate. This is because those games are not using any features of the GeForce 2 card since they lack Direct 3D (DirectX) support and will just use software rendering instead.

The sound card for this system is a Creative Sound Blaster PCI128 Ensoniq ES1371. From what I can remember this was the card that I had back in the day, so it’s perfect. In every DOS game that I’ve played so far the sound worked perfectly. You do need to configure it by hand in most cases however, so write down the port, IRQ and DMA info of your card. You’ll need it a lot!

Software

The only operating system up for consideration was Windows 98. I still have the original discs for both the original Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition. Since Windows 98 SE is considered to be the more stable and better version, I installed that one. The installation itself was quick and painless, although I had to install some drivers to get everything working.

The VIA chipset drivers were the most important ones, without those drivers my IDE hard drive had a maximum read / write speed of about 5MB per second. ATTO Disk Benchmark was a useful tool when I was trying to figure out why everything ran so slow, it’s graph showed clearly that something was capping the speed of the disk.

Nvidia still has every version of every driver they have ever released on their website. So an amazing thank you to Nvidia! This is the way it should be done. The only thing I needed to was finding the latest Windows 9x driver on nvidia.com.

The drivers for the Sound Blaster were a bit harder to find. Creative seems to have removed all of it’s old drivers from their website, so I had to download them from VOGONS Vintage Driver Library. VOGONS is a great community of very helpful PC hardware and game enthusiasts, please check out their forums. As the diskettes and CD-ROMs that carried all those old drivers are slowly decaying their driver library will only become more valuable.

Conclusion

It was a lot of fun to build this system! The system is far from finished but I intent to keep changing until it has the exact specs of the PC that I owned in the late nineties. It was a great trip down memory lane, picking the components, installing Windows and all of the required drivers. And of course, the games! Playing those classic games is a great experience, they’re a lot of fun while they also show you how far we’ve come over the past twenty years.

In a couple of months I will post an update with the progress I’ve made!