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Jac's trip down memory lane

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade Worklogs' started by JaC, Jul 18, 2020.

  1. JaC

    JaC Member

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    Without turning this into a dear diary, I figured someone might be interested to read about the trip down memory lane I've embarked upon, starting a few months ago. It roughly coincided with a few life changing events - covid, being sent home with full pay but eventually made redundant and changing jobs; oh and the birth of my first child.

    Being cooped up inside under lockdown, watching LGR, and reading threads like sonicthemouse's I started to feel a bit nostalgic about some of the good times I had growing up with PC gaming, particularly lanning through high school and uni, circa 1998-2006. It was such a huge part of my life at the time and I really miss the tech, the games and the people. I won't ever be able to relive those days, but I've decided to rebuild and preserve some of the computers I had at the time, mostly as they were but some with a couple upgrades that younger me could only dream of. Who knows, if the stars align maybe I'll be able to play a few games on the original hardware with some of my old mates (if any of y'all see this, shoot me a message!)

    So the first post is going to be a bunch of boring history.

    In 1994 we got our first PC at home - a 40MHz 486. Dad put some extra RAM in it, then a DX4-100 CPU, then a sound card and CDROM. Played some Wolf3D, Doom and RoTT plus a bunch of older games like Commander Keen. It got windows 95 which was amazing at the time but it was a bit of a novelty and I was firmly a console gamer in my youth.

    I think the first computer that was mine might have been a 486 of some description but I don't remember much about it. I think I would have played some C&C on it.

    The first one I really remember was a P2 233 on a baby tomato board, with a Tseng Labs video card (one of the few things I still have) and eventually a Voodoo for 3D. I played a lot of RTS, most notably C&C, Red Alert and Dark Reign. The voodoo was a late addition and with it I started playing some FPS again - AvP. It had no heat sink and it would overheat causing weird rippling artifacts that would not only affect 3D games, but persist on the 2D desktop passthrough after playing games until it cooled down.

    Around this time I started to hang out with some guys at school who played PC FPS games. I upgraded to a P3 500 with a Geforce 2 MX and joined them lanning on weekends. This was where I first started overclocking (and joined OCAU). I took that bad boy to 5x117 for 585MHz. I put a blue orb on the GPU and wound it up a little too but it was so memory limited it was pointless. I played more FPS - mostly UT and Q3 but played a bit of everything. I was hooked on PC gaming. This was a hand me down system that was already a bit old when I got it. The MSI motherboard started getting flaky and eventually it stopped booting altogether.

    So then I jumped ship to AMD and got my first ever brand new hardware - an Abit KT7A with a Duron 800 (ran it at 1000) with a noisy as hell Globalwin FOP38 running 24/7 about a metre from my bed. Kept the Geforce 2 MX and played more UT, Q3 and eventually UT2k3, as well as various other games - small amounts of DoD and CS at lans, CoD 1 & 2 and Max Payne stand out as memories as well. Started off running Win98SE, then Win ME, then Win2k.

    Took it to many LANs, including a few QGLs and out to TaLANt a few times. I spent so much time on this thing in year 11/12 and early uni. Painted the generic beige case black and cut a window in the side. While I loved this computer, I had a couple mates who had some beasts at the same time that I was so jealous of. One had a AXIA 1GHz Thunderbird that ran every day at 1.4 under a Kanie Hedgehog on a KT7A that we got to boot at 1.6GHz in winter. He had a Geforce 2 GTS with it and this thing was what I wanted my computer to be. Then another mate got an Athlon 1.4 on an Asus A7V133-C with a Geforce 3. I eventually got me a 1GHz Athlon, but it only overclocked to 1050. FML.

    Early on in uni I traded up to a 2500+ Barton on an NF7-S with a hand-me-down Geforce 4 Ti4200. By the time I upgraded the old gear was pretty long in the tooth so it was amazing to be able to play more current games, including some of the more taxing UT2k4 maps (icetomb, ugh). Lots of UT2k4, Wolf ET, more single player CoD, HL2. Ran Win XP on this one. Lanned quite a bit still.

    Finally just after uni when I started working I jumped back to Intel and got me a core 2 duo and a Geforce 7950GT. The video card died and got replaced with an 8800GT. It served me well. Over time I played fewer games, and especially fewer multiplayer games. Kept playing CoD single player campaigns once a year but eventually fell behind and reverted to console releases. Played through Portal 1 and 2, HL2 Ep 1 and 2, L4d 1 and 2 (there's a pattern here...). Started on XP, skipped Vista and eventually ran Windows 7. Got a G25 and played some racing sims - L4S, rFactor and iRacing. Confirmed I was never going to be a race driver and should stick to engineering race cars.

    After a few years I picked up some used c2d parts and built up a new fileserver with similar motherboard, ram and cpu and upgraded my desktop CPU. Haven't really bought any desktop parts newer than 2007/8ish. Life really started to get in the way. Social life got busier. Had other hobbies. Changed to a job with long hours and lots of travel. Fell behind the tech curve and it was just too much effort to try and catch back up. I was really on top of it all in the socket A days but I blinked and everything changed. Like Abe said, I was with it until it changed and then what I was with wasn't it, and it was weird and scary.

    Since then I've slowed down on gaming and had a few laptops (though all with decent GPUs to keep my options open). Mostly used for couch web surfing, software development and other work. They've been used a lot, but they've just been tools and haven't been loved like my old Thunderbird. Bought an xbox 360 and PS4 and reverted to some light gaming on those and eventually stopped gaming altogether. I grew up and it sucked.

    I bought a house in 2016 and when it came time to unpack my desktop PC it didn't boot. I think the last time it was powered up was some time in 2014 or 2015.

    Things were pretty dire.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2020
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  2. OP
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    JaC

    JaC Member

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    Fast forward to today, or at least ~March 2020. I have but a few of my original PC parts left over. In 2012 for some reason I gave away a whole bunch of parts (including my 4MB Voodoo :(). Like any good project, this one started with a spreadsheet. I laid out some objectives, made up a list of the parts I wanted and then spent a whole lot of time over the last few months scouring the for sale forums here, gumtree, ebay and facebook for parts.

    My goals:
    - Rebuild my Thunderbird machine as closely as I can, but with a higher clock speed and the Geforce 2 GTS I always wanted.
    - Rebuild my Barton machine as closely as I can.
    - Fix my Core 2 Duo desktop, or replace with something similar.
    - Build some kind of a low end P3.
    - Build some kind of a P2.
    - Keep an eye out and maybe acquire a 486 or pentium for a win3.11 install and DOS gaming.

    At the same time I was keeping an eye out for other hardware that didn't necessarily match my list to play with, and if I end up with multiple similar spec machines, they can probably be used for some lan play down the track once it's all set up.

    During covid I was at home for 10 weeks while my work was shut down, so even with a newborn I had a little time to look for and go pick up parts. Now I'm back working and realistically between that, family and some long slow burning renos I don't have a lot of time for this, but at least buying parts during child-enforced quiet time in the evenings is something I can do. On weekends I can spend an hour or two plugging away at things but even then the office is a mess with the renos so this is going to be a long slow ride.

    To start with I've just been acquiring parts. I've been buying a whole bunch of stuff for all of the machines and while I've got most parts for a few machines, I still don't quite have everything I need for any one machine.
     
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    JaC

    JaC Member

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    The first machine that I've got mostly together is the Barton. I picked up an Asus A7N8X-X with a 2600+ off the forums here. It's not my NF7-S, but it's an nforce 2 board. Close enough, though it is missing SATA which isn't ideal. Still keeping an eye out for an NF7-S (or AN7) for maximum sentimental points.

    I pulled the CPU cooler to check the previously unknown CPU. Happy enough with the 2600+ so it just got some new thermal paste. I still had my old Ti4200 in storage so that came out. I put it in a sonata 3 which isn't necessarily period correct, but its a modern concession I'm willing to make and it was readily available for cheap. It booted first time but the 160GB IDE hard disk I pulled out of my pile in storage was clicking and carrying on. The CPU fan was dead by the time it got to me so after a few minutes of messing around in BIOS it became unstable and refused to POST. A couple days later I replaced the hard disk with a 120GB and powered it up just to make sure there was no permanent damage. It booted into safe mode of an old install of windows and I decided I didn't want to nuke that drive just yet. Some real gems half from my life time ago.

    So straight away I realised I needed to grab some hard disks. The ones I already had either didn't work, or potentially had some data on them that shouldn't be blown away just yet.

    I decided to try booting a linux distro but try as I might, I could not get it to boot from any of the USB sticks I had. Despite having various USB boot options, USB boot support wasn't very mature at the time I guess. I didn't want to push my luck too much on a passively cooled CPU so I put things on ice. I feel like through all this there will be a lot of frustration stemming from a lack of modern conveniences that I had completely forgotten about.

    While suitable socket A coolers aren't plentiful for cheap so since then I just ordered a cheap fan. I've also put an Audigy 2 ZS with the 5.25" drive bay IO panel in it that I didn't have at the time (only ever had onboard sound). The fan is on but this one is on the back burner until some hard disks arrive.

    I've also picked up a couple complete machines that mostly just need cases.
    - A P2 233. Might swap the video card for my original Tseng, and put in a Voodoo 2 in lieu of my original Voodoo.
    - A Slot 1 Celeron with a Geforce 2 MX. The P2-99 motherboard supports early P3 processors so I might find a ~500MHz Katmai and call this one my low end P3 machine.
    For now they sit in boxes in the cupboard until I get my hands on suitable AT and ATX cases for them.

    Between some random parts that came in bulk lots, a couple of original bits and pieces I kept from back in the day and the same generic beige case popping up on Gumtree (holy shit I'm pumped I found one) I've managed to accumulate most of the parts for the thunderbird machine which is the one I'm most looking forward to getting together. I got sniped on a reasonably priced KT7A on ebay the other day that I'm kicking myself about. It's pretty much all I'm missing. I am dead set on a KT7A and worst case the only substitution I will entertain is an A7V133-C so that's going to be a tough limitation.

    Also picked up a Pentium D Dell system that I threw a hard disk and optical drive in and got windows xp installed. It's a solid little thing except for the X300 video card. Something like a 7800GT or 8800GT would be a nice period correct upgrade. I'll probably also trade out the 1.5TB hard disk I had on hand for a more period correct size drive when it arrives, but hey, at least one of the 6(!) systems I have boots to a desktop.

    Still need:
    - IDE and SATA hard disks - got a few from various sources on the way
    - Power supplies for Thunderbird and C2D machines
    - Abit KT7A for the Thunderbird
    - AT and ATX cases for P2/P3
    - Katmai P3 CPU
    - CDRs/DVDRs to make some kind of bootable media
    - Floppy disks to maybe boot the P2/P3 machines
    - NF7-S would be really nice
     
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  4. deevus

    deevus Member

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    Good luck with your search mate. I'm currently trying to do something similar, though I'm not being super specific about hardware that I had as a kid in the 90s. You have outbid me a few times on items here, dammit :)

    I have a friend in Brisbane who I think has a NF7-S he's thinking to sell soon. I'll reach out to him and let you know via PM if you're keen.
     
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    JaC

    JaC Member

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    Missed out on the reasonably priced local NF7-S ☹️. Super keen to get those exact 2 abit motherboards but they sure are hard to come by. The A7N8X-X will have to do the job in the mean time.

    Won a cheapish soltek kt133a board last night that will fill the void in the Thunderbird machine until I can get the KT7A.

    Had a couple of deliveries during the week
    IMG_20200725_105859.jpg
    3x160gb SATA drives
    1x160gb IDE drive
    2x80gb IDE drive
    Voodoo3 that I still haven't figured out what I'm going to do with
    GeForce 3 for the Thunderbird

    Time to test the disks, swap them into the Barton and P4D and install windows.
     
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  6. deevus

    deevus Member

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    Sorry the local motherboard didn’t work out. When I messaged my friend about it he already had a buyer interested
     
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  7. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    Thanks for your memory lane trip, enjoyed riding shotgun through your days, thanks for that. I had to laugh a little at your mention of making a spreadsheet for projects. lol yeah i guess we all fall back to what we know. :)

    Nice collection of parts, and goals, can wait to see how that evolves.

    Interested in what you do engineering wise? :D
     
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    JaC

    JaC Member

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    Just recently I moved back to software engineering after spending most of the last decade in the traveling circus that is the world of motorsport.

    Spent a couple hours this afternoon/evening playing around.

    Bad news - of the new hard disks, 2 of the IDE drives are no good.
    Good news - got a SATA disk swapped in to the P4D, got a fresh copy of windows installed, drivers installed. Still need a real GPU. Was able to use it to test the IDE drives.
    Bad news - The Barton machine won't POST. No signs of life even with minimal hardware connected. Tried unplugging and replugging everything, shuffled RAM around, swapped out video card, no dice. Has to be CPU/MOBO/PSU. The joys of working with old hardware. What booted a week ago now doesn't. :(

    Of course baby has gone down for the night and I'm in the room next door so I can't plug the PC speaker in to listen for beep codes so I'm flying blind.
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2020
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    JaC

    JaC Member

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    9800GT arrived for the Dell 5150 Pentium D machine. Probably a generation or two newer than it should be. A 7800 would be better but until one pops up for a reasonable price this will do. A couple of niggles that I'm putting down to dirty edge contacts but it seems ok now. Nvidia wanted windows imaging components installed before drivers. WIC wanted SP1 installed first. Looks like WIC was part of SP3 anyway so that solves that problem. Nvidia drivers are going on now. By the time that's done I'll probably have about 5 minutes for some sweet HL2 or something.

    Also got a few more Motherboard/CPU combos.
    • P4S800 with some flavour of P4
    • MSI KT3 Ultra with an an AYHJA 1333 Thunderbird. HSF jumped off during shipping. A couple of very small chips out of the CPU but hopefully nothing to worry about.
    • QDI (who?) K7S746FX SiS746FX socket A board with an AthlonXP 2400+. All the 6.3V 100uF caps are toast so I'll have to replace those. Apparently tested and works but probably not for long.
    Plus an AT and ATX power supply which will be good for testing, a thermaltake volcano with the stupid LEDs on it like I had on my Barton back in the day, another IDE HDD which is hopefully more alive than the last few and a couple of $5 optical drives because why not. Starting to get a bit of a socket A collection going.

    Need to try the PSU on the barton machine, and if the A7N8X doesn't start behaving the KT3 will get a run as a stand in until I can find an NF7-S.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2020
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    JaC

    JaC Member

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    Picked up another 2x512MB sticks of RAM for a total of 2GB in the Pentium D. Played some more HL2 - the stuttering I had is gone. L4D2 plays pretty well too. I have a 30 minute window between kiddo/wife bedtime and when I should be in bed so those 2 will keep me busy for a while.

    Still not happy with the 9800 being too new for the pentium D. Got an 8800GTS (Nov 06 release date - close enough) coming so I'll downgrade to that and use the 9800GT in the core 2 duo/quad pc. A pair in SLI would be cool.

    Got enough memory ICs coming to upgrade my 8MB Voodoo2 to 12MB, with enough left over to do a second card if I can find one for $notdrugmoney.

    Starting to get to the point where I have enough hardware to put most things together. Just lacking in the time department. And a couple cases. Decent cases are hard to come by.
     
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    JaC

    JaC Member

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    Ah the joys of old electronics.

    Looks like I've got a bit of soldering to do.

    IMG_20200802_154536.jpg IMG_20200802_154529.jpg IMG_20200802_154523.jpg
     

    Attached Files:

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  12. Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    Man I've been lucky to not have any cap issues so far, touch wood. Apart from one small explosion.

    Curious about this. Even though the thread is not an AMA!
     
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    JaC

    JaC Member

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    The stuff I've picked up off OCAU has been sweet. 2 of the 3 IDE drives from ebay were toast and the caps on this mobo and psu from gumtree are pretty ordinary. I should just stick to OCAU.

    I was in and around motorsport professionally for around 10 years. Mostly in top level supercars, but also some development series work, some amateur level circuit and hillclimb stuff and even a bit of drag racing. It was a real rollercoaster with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and at times it was a bit of a blur. I achieved everything I wanted to and now that I have a family I've hung up the headset for good and gone back to the more family-friendly 9-5 desk job world.
     
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  14. Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    Very cool :) Thanks for sharing!
     
  15. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    Software dev work is not without it's highs and lows (mostly lows if you have managers like mine) but there's a lot to be said for a desk job ATM, all the best with it.
     
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  16. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    L4D2. ... Epic!!! Love it a lot!! Such an amazing game on so many levels. Have you seen the "Coach" movies on YouTube?

    such an amazing game though, and runs so nicely for its time.

    If you've got spare memory chips, let me know what I could do to convince you to do my 8mb board ;D

    I've been keeping an eye on voodoo2 boards in oz. Holy cows. 12mb boards go for 200 plus.. that's just crazy..

    Really enjoying this thread/build.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2020 at 10:47 AM
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    JaC

    JaC Member

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    I haven't see the coach movies, but I'll take a look. I probably played more L4D than L4D2, but they're both awesome. They came at a time when I was starting to game less and less, and my already modest competitive FPS skills were fading so being coop still allowed me to play online and have fun without just getting my ass handed to me.

    I bought 18 memory chips - enough for 2 cards with a couple spares. I probably should have got more. The chips are cheap (~$1.60 each) but the shipping is a bit of a killer from utsource. The soldering job doesn't look too tricky. Once upon a time I worked in electronics manufacturing and was IPC certified and there's a microscope at the new job so it should be pretty straight forward. That said, I'll see how I get on with my card before I offer to do anyone else's.

    Ordered caps for the power supply and motherboard. The iron at work looks like a little anaemic so I'm not sure how it will cope with the motherboard ground planes but we'll find out soon enough.
     
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