The 486DX 33 MHZ Retro Gamer - Or The Adventure Games MIDI Master

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade Worklogs' started by philscomputerlab, Jun 7, 2016.

  1. philscomputerlab

    philscomputerlab Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2014
    Messages:
    1,843
    The gist of this build:

    The 486 is an awesome processor for building a DOS retro gaming PC. Often I see people build the "ultimate" 486, using PCI motherboards, 133 MHz AMD processors, maybe a Cyrix 5x86, ultra fast 60 ns memory and modifications for 512 KB Cache.

    With prices spiraling out of control I wanted to build an "average" 486. Now the prices thing went out the window because of all the Roland gear, but at least that is a one-off purchase :)
    Every project should have a focus, so for this one the theme are playing classic DOS adventure games from Maniac Mansion (PC Speaker), Last Crusade (Adlib) to Space Quest III (MT-32) all the way to high resolution games such as Larry 7 (General MIDI)

    The finished build:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Motherboard:

    I found this Biostar 486 motherboard at work. It was covered in Dust (I live in rural Australia, basically in the desert) and looked neglected. I took it home maybe 2 years ago, cleaned it and it was fully working. I de-soldered the RTC chip, soldered in a socket and put in a new Dallas from eBay. I got a pack of 10 at some point. With the cache I always aim for 256 KB because it's the easiest. You just got to buy 9 of the same chips and you're good to go.

    8 MB of memory. 70 ns, nothing fancy.

    The board doesn't have PS/2, is VLB and has a nice BIOS.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I am using an ATX to AT adapter:

    [​IMG]

    CPU:

    Keeping it simple I went with a 486DX 33 MHz. A great CPU, faster than I thought. It performs roughly twice as fast as a 386DX 33 MHz. Using the turbo function as well as disabling the internal cache through software or BIOS and you can slow it down to 386 and 286 levels. A few games did run too fast (Loom has sped up animations, so did Cruise for a Corpse). And Monkey Island sounds off for example.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Graphics card:

    A VLB card with Cirrus Logic chip. I can't remember buying this one, maybe it came with a bulk purchase? It is missing some memory, I really got to buy myself a bunch of memory, a lot of my cards have missing memory and they all seem to be the same type as I can just interchange. The image quality is decent and performance too. CL cards are great value.

    [​IMG]

    Controller card.

    Another product I don't remember buying. The jumper table is silk screened at the back, VERY useful. I disable the second serial port and the parallel port as well as the game port. It has a single IDE port, Floppy port and I use the serial port for a mouse. It worked fine, at the beginning I got some HDD errors, but re-seating the card fixed that!

    [​IMG]

    Sound card:

    Nothing fancy, a cheap PnP Sound Blaster 16. It doesn't have a OPL3 chip, but who cares, most of the games support MT-32 or General MIDI. Does have the hanging note bug, but I am using a separate MIDI card anyway, so this isn't an issue. The card is very clean and simple. Quiet, little noise. Doesn't have controls for bass and treble. I route the PC speaker using two cables, the memory ticking sound during booting sounds very nice :)

    I write a bit about the mixer and resources later if you're interested!

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    MIDI card:

    So glad I got this card many years ago. Prices are crazy, so it's always a special occasion to use it. There are alternatives such as SoftMPU and clone cards.

    [​IMG]

    MIDI modules

    Roland MT-32 (Old) and Sound Canvas. These really bring these old adventure games to life. Can be substituted by running Munt and SoundFonts on another computer, but the way I see it, once you have them, you are set. Well worth the investment.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Storage:

    An IDE optical drive. I chose this one because it has a headphone output. This lets you route the audio to the mixer (more about the mixer later) to balance speech with music. A 32 GB CF card is great for DOS games. And of course, the GOTEK floppy emulator, I don't know how I would cope without it :)
    I have a 1000 image thumb drive will everything I need. DOS, drivers, starter pack, benchmarks. Apart from the games, I set up the entire machine from a single USB.

    [​IMG]

    PS/2 adapter for the keyboard:

    [​IMG]

    Serial mouse, works quite well actually, even though it's not optical:

    [​IMG]

    My 4 channel stereo mixer:

    I got this one maybe 2 or 3 years ago. Works great. You can mix the Sound Blaster, MT-32, Sound Canvas and CD Audio and balance the volume on the fly.

    [​IMG]

    Speakers:

    Great 2.0 speakers from Creative.

    [​IMG]

    Software:

    The machine has a 500 MB BIOS limit. So I use Ontrack to get around this. It creates a single 32 GB FAT 32 partition:

    [​IMG]

    MS-DOS 7.1

    I got a boot disc from bootdisc.com. A bit dodgy, but that site has been up and running for ages, I doubt Microsoft will do anything about it :)
    Sys c: installs the system files. Then I just copy all the files to C:\DOS

    Emm386.exe is not on the boot disk, so I stole it from a Windows 98 SE machine.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Boot menu / starter pack

    You can download this from my website. Pre configured autoexec.bat and config.sys with options geared for gaming. Pretty much every game should work. It also installs mouse and CD-ROM driver. Thinking of creating an installer for easy installation rather than manual copying.

    [​IMG]

    Sound Blaster drivers

    When you install MS-DOS 7.1 from a boot disk, all the Sound Blaster drivers will work. This is not the case if you're running Windows 98 SE and using MS-DOS mode!
    Two disks are needed. SBBASIC for the main drivers and CTCMBBS for the plug and play configuration manager:

    [​IMG]

    Run mixerset to mute line-in, CD and microphone inputs for a clearer output signal:

    [​IMG]

    Run CTCU to re-configre resources of the Sound Blaster 16. I change the interrupt to 7 and the MIDI address to 300:

    [​IMG]

    And that's it! Time to play some adventure goldies:

    [​IMG]

    Topics for discussion

    What's a good source for graphics card memory chips? A lot of my cards have empty slots that I would like to fill.

    2.0 speakers vs. 2.1 speakers with sub. I feel that 2.0 speakers sound more "retro".

    Some games ideally are played with a CM-32L, CM-64 or LAPC-I. For example in Monkey Island 2 some sound effects will sound richer.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2016
  2. badmofo

    badmofo Member

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2011
    Messages:
    1,447
    Location:
    Australia
    Great post Phil – love the format! I’m more of a pics / text guy and rarely look at vids (probs in the minority though).

    As I mentioned elsewhere I’m a big fan of the 33 MHz 486, they are surprisingly quick particularly with a decent VLB VGA card – can’t go wrong with the Cirrus Logic. DOOM is quite playable I think, and like you say you can turbo the speed down to useful levels for older games.

    Those VLB motherboards can be a pain in the bum to set up but that looks to be a nice one. You seem to have forgotten to install it in a case but that’s just a minor point I guess :o

    I personally use 2.1 speakers but that’s mainly because I use the same speaker / monitor / mouse / keyboard setup for PC’s all the way to a P4 (just switch the boxes). Using a sub with the classics isn’t period correct but it certainly doesn’t detract from the experience.

    I do wonder sometimes what I’m missing out on with my classic MT-32, but a bit of research suggests that it’s not a whole lot. Certainly not enough to motivate me to spend big bucks on a CM-32L, etc. I also think that the MT-32 looks cooler :thumbup:

    Re the memory for VGA cards, I can’t help much there – I always just pinch it off other cards I have lying around if I need it. But in saying that, I haven’t ever found a situation where I did “need” it – 1MB is enough for DOS, and not many cards from that era can produce a nice enough image at > 800x600 res in Windows, so the extra memory isn’t justified there either.
     
  3. OP
    OP
    philscomputerlab

    philscomputerlab Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2014
    Messages:
    1,843
    The MT-32 certainly looks cooler :)

    I agree, the extra video memory isn't needed, but if I can get the chips for cheap I wouldn't mind "maxing" them out.

    I tried that WDC card you used in the 286, I think it scored 22 FPS, so not much slower. Nothing you would notice. So at 25 or 33 MHz VLB doesn't do that much it seems.

    Edit: Video will go live tomorrow, lots of game footage and Roland tunes, I think the video is over 40 minutes :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2016
  4. jmannik

    jmannik Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2005
    Messages:
    731
    Location:
    Albury, NSW
    My first 486 was a DX33.
    I had a Tseng Labs ET4000/W32 VL Bus card with the full 2MB max memory.
    I remember being disappointed that my monitor couldnt go to a high enough resolution lol.
    Although the system was quite powerful for the time my friend had just upgraded to a DX2-66... so naturally I upgraded to a Cyrix DX2-80.
    I miss the 486 era, it was my favourite.
     
  5. OP
    OP
    philscomputerlab

    philscomputerlab Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2014
    Messages:
    1,843
    DX2-66 is pure awesomeness.

    Forgot to include the monitor. It's a 19" 1280 x 1024 monitor.

    [​IMG]
     
  6. JidaiGeki

    JidaiGeki Member

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2001
    Messages:
    1,057
    Location:
    Sydney, NSW
    Great concept and awesome pics Phil - and with the font you used I thought maybe Apple was getting into retro PCs ;)

    Look forward to the vid!
     
  7. shane41

    shane41 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2008
    Messages:
    6,957
    Location:
    dice que no sabe
    Wow Phil :thumbup: This project is epic.
    These older machines like 486 I still wish to learn about.......this is what really should be in Retro :)
     
  8. OP
    OP
    philscomputerlab

    philscomputerlab Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2014
    Messages:
    1,843
    Is that right? It's the default faunt of the PowerDirector video editor I'm using :lol:

    My tip for 486:

    - Do not buy a motherboard that doesn't have (jumper) documentation.
    - Barrel batteries have killed many 486 boards. This one came with a Dallas RTC module, they have their own issues, but they do not leak, ever. So that's something you can use your EagleEyesTM when looking around
    - Like dirkmirk mentioned, a more epxensive PCI board can end up being cheaper as it has IO controller on-board and you can use cheap PCI graphics card

    And lots more. Let me know if you eyed something up. There are great sellers, not cheap, in Germany that sell 486 bundles. They are great investments, will only get more expensive I guarantee it.
     
  9. bYrd

    bYrd Member

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2001
    Messages:
    2,215
    Location:
    NE Melbourne
    Also enjoyed the format Phil, nice pics.

    I'm also fixing up a 486-66 (found an Evergreen 586 133 for it!), with the same 500MB limitation using an IDE -->SD 8GB adapter card - has a basic AMI BIOS which is very picky.

    What's the best version/download for Ontrack for DOS?

    Thanks

    JB
     
  10. OP
    OP
    philscomputerlab

    philscomputerlab Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2014
    Messages:
    1,843
  11. Flamin Joe

    Flamin Joe Member

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2001
    Messages:
    5,086
    Location:
    4300
    Didn't the 486 patch take care of this issue? I remember trying it on my Dell 486DX2/66 not too long ago and it sorted out the sound issues I had with my SB Pro 2.

    Mind you they weren't hooked up to anything special speaker wise and I'm by no means an audiophile but it sounded pretty good. :)
     
  12. OP
    OP
    philscomputerlab

    philscomputerlab Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2014
    Messages:
    1,843
    Yes there is a 486 patch, thanks for reminding me, got to try that one day :)
     
  13. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2001
    Messages:
    44,048
    Location:
    Brisbane
    Now *this* belongs in the retro thread. :)

    All you need is a CRT, and it would be perfect.
     
  14. OP
    OP
    philscomputerlab

    philscomputerlab Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2014
    Messages:
    1,843
    Enjoy while it lasts :)

    Here is the video:



    Lots of games at the end to look at and listen to.

    7:32 Sam & Max
    8:15 Gabriel Nights
    9:20 Police Quest 4
    10:30 The Heart of China
    11:22 Rise of the Dragon
    12:20 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
    12:52 Willy Beamish
    13:56 Space Quest 3
    14:55 Indiana Jones and Fate of Atlantis
    16:07 Space Quest 4
    17:22 Maniac Mansion
    19:37 The Secret of Monkey Island
    21:03 Monkey Island 2
    23:03 Police Quest III
    23:47 King's Quest 4
    24:18 The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes
    25:48 Simon the Sorcerer
    27:28 Cruise for a Corpse
    28:56 Operation Stealth
    30:14 Future Wars
    31:14 Star Trek 25th Anniversary
    32:00 Day of the Tentacle
    35:00 Loom
    37:03 Space Quest 5
    38:59 Gateway
    40:40 Leisure Suit Larry 6
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2016
  15. dacow

    dacow Member

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2007
    Messages:
    470
    Location:
    Sydney
    Very nice Phil, enjoyable reading and viewing. I dig the new format that's for sure :thumbup::thumbup:
     
  16. Pbx_Jnr

    Pbx_Jnr Member

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2003
    Messages:
    1,838
    Location:
    Brisbane, QLD
    Great work Phil!

    This reminds me a lot of my cousin's DX33 he had... dad wanted to buy a PC after this and paid for a DX2-66, but we actually got ripped off at the time and didn't know it due to our lack of knowledge.

    We actually got an IBM 486 SLC2-50, which ran slower in a few games and programs due to its low amount of cache. It used to frustrate me sooo much, I couldn't wait to upgrade. I later inherited a DX4-100 cpu and motherboard and all was well with the world again :)
     
  17. OP
    OP
    philscomputerlab

    philscomputerlab Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2014
    Messages:
    1,843
    That story reminds me :)

    I bought a 486DLC-40 PC from a newspaper advert. It was only much later that I found out they run on 386 type motherboards. It was still a fast cheap, a bit behind a 486DX-33.

    So yea, the next machine I built myself. A lovely AMD 100 MHz 486 with that mouse controlled Win BIOS :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2016
  18. shredder

    shredder Member

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2001
    Messages:
    13,969
    Location:
    New Zealand
    Damn this is awesome. Dreams were made of this stuff back in the early 90s. Very interesting to finally hear it in action, albeit 20+ years later, haha.

    The Gravis Ultrasound was the other highly desirable soundcard of the times, somewhat niche compatibility though of course.
     
  19. Bullseye81

    Bullseye81 Member

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2003
    Messages:
    823
    Location:
    Adelaide
    This is awesome.

    Why did you need to replace the RTC?
     
  20. OP
    OP
    philscomputerlab

    philscomputerlab Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2014
    Messages:
    1,843
    The battery inside was dead.
     

Share This Page

Advertisement: