What retro activity did you get up to today?

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade' started by adz, Jan 28, 2014.

  1. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Well this is interesting:
    https://twitter.com/Manawyrm/status/1316416401171722240
    https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?p=902486#p902486

    Basically a controller that can run an ISA backplane over USB. Still lots of bugs for them to work out, but it can talk to an open source ISA backplane, which you can then plug in anything you like. From there, you can connect all manner of things, whether real hardware or emulators.

    EkTZyzfWoAAIK5I.jpg

    Here's an example of the low level and very accurate "PCem" emulator running Monkey Island, with all sound running over the bus to the real hardware ISA card (Twitter video that I can't embed, sorry):
    https://twitter.com/Manawyrm/status/1316416815598317569

    Here's another video of PCem using both ISA audio AND an ISA video card (which it can boot from), which is nuts. Currently video is slow (apparently writes are fast, but reads are slow, which is causing the display lag). But this is early stuff and there's a lot of work to be done yet, which might fix this entirely:



    The implications here are enormous. We're doing GPU over USB3/thunderbolt now already on newer PC devices. Makes total sense that we could wrap up ISA/VLB/PCI era hardware and send that over the same.

    I've long moaned that PC hardware doesn't have the sort of development we see in the console and microcomputer world purely because it's (a) so easy to find, and (b) largely backwards compatible. But as everyone here knows, you can't just go and bang an ISA card in your brand spanking new Threadripper or i9 box, which kind of sucks if you want to play the occasional old game with certain accuracy hardware, but don't want to bother with maintaining an entire second retro system just for that.

    This is exactly the sort of thing I've wanted to see developed for ages. I really do hope this extends across a whole range of connectors, and lets you plug anything you like into your new system to play legacy stuff without the need for 100% legacy hardware, nor 100% emulation.
     
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  2. power

    power Member

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    how would that compare to the ISA on say this board?

    upload_2020-10-16_14-2-10.png
     
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  3. rugger

    rugger Member

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    It's actually the other way around.

    PC hardware has developed way faster than any console or microcomputer, with both Xbox and PS4 (and their successors) now based off PC hardware.

    Awesome, but closed platforms like Amiga were just too complex and costly to constantly redevelop like PC hardware. The very things that makes these platforms awesome when first released are also the seeds that eventually lead to their doom. And like you notice now with not being able to use ISA cards in a new PC system, PC's have been stealthily re-inventing themselves every 10 years or so to capitalize on newer technologies while also largely depreciating those that are no longer viable.
     
  4. rugger

    rugger Member

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    The ISA on that board isn't typically useful for retro gaming, as you typically cannot correctly drive an old soundblaster over it.

    The USB->ISA bus converter, works in conjunction with a full PC emulator, to capture and deliver ISA requests to the cards on the ISA bus. It is useless with the PC emulator.
     
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  5. mAJORD

    mAJORD Member

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    Unless you dual boot dos?
     
  6. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    The big thing for me is that a USB solution can be plugged into anything I want. My laptop, my brand new 10th gen Intel / Ryzen 5000 / whatever. Hell, even a Raspberry Pi or non-x86 system where I can emulate part of what I need in PCem/DOSBox/whatever, and then have real hardware talk to it for stuff like audio and video.

    Again, my want is that I have infinite choice, and not be forced to go and track down a specific motherboard because I want to play DOS games one month out of 12. (And folks who do want to play DOS games 12 out of 12 months aren't prevented from doing so if this device exists).

    Performance wise, if they can clean up the current latency issues (which I'm quite certain they can), I would say you're looking at an identical experience from pure data transfer rates, but with all the added benefit of an easily removable/portable USB style system.

    As above, if you want to play SNES games all year around, buy a SNES. If you want to play SNES games for a week out of the whole year, you've got a lot of emulation/simulation options.

    Having the same in PC land would be cool. I don't think this project replaces a whole retro PC for hardcore retro PC fans. But I do think it opens up options for people who sit in the middle.

    There's far more powerful hardware out there. It's not been PC's development speed or grunt at all that made it attractive, but rather it's economy of scale.

    A well optimised program running on a Cell processor from 20 years ago can outperform some of the top tier x86 CPUs today in pure floating point grunt. But the reason Cell "failed" to catch on (remembering that IBM were trying to sell it as a datacentre/cloud accelerator too, with rumour for a while that World of Warcraft even ran on it server-side) was that it could never get cheap enough at scale, even with the help of the PS3 as a loss leader. It just worked out cheaper to buy more x86 than fewer Cells for the same net output.

    PC's ability to cover all facets of computing and be "jack of all trades, master of none", has made it financially attractive to a lot of different groups. And that's before we even talk about porting code between platforms (I'm sure developers love the simplicity of writing code for PC/XBOne/PS4 all on x86 compared to PC/XBox360/PS3 on much more radically different architectures).

    But I digress, this is not a discussion about how to win a market. This is a discussion about plugging a bit of old gaming kit into my new gaming kit.

    Not at all. All the logic needed to interact with that ISA bus is still there in any PC that still has a BIOS (and even a lot of the "new" UEFI models still have a legacy BIOS floating about - we're only seeing that vanish completely in a handful of bleeding edge computers).

    What changed was the physical removal of the ISA ports, again due to economies of scale, not any "stealth upgrade". You wouldn't put an ISA port on a modern motherboard today because it takes up space that a PCI-E slot requires, and you'd lose out financially from people who want to plug in newer cards. Again, nothing to do with "stealth upgrades", and everything to do with economies of scale, particularly when all that 16 bit logic still sits on a ROM on the motherboard from a million years ago.

    In fact, one thing I look forward to with this new ISA-over-USB is the ability to play midi music in new school operating systems straight out to old school hardware, using drivers directly.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2020
  7. power

    power Member

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    this specifically happened as those older legacy technologies slowed everything down, and they are also quite niche and specialised. Who (normal people not us crazies) wants all those old cards?
     
  8. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    I repeat: it didn't. All the stuff you need to run ISA is still there in your new kick-arse gaming rig. That's not true "deprecation".

    PC is very likely the most backward compatible platform on Earth, still. Every 64bit i9 still can boot 16bit i386 code, as well as talk to an ISA bus.
     
  9. rugger

    rugger Member

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    No, you need a specific PC emulator with a USB driver that talks to the ISA bus over the USB interface. The I/O/IRQ/DMA/memory bus is not actually mapped to the ISA cards over the USB bus.

    Yep, I would have to agree with you, but point out that economies of scale has directly fed into the speed of PC development. They are directly related.

    Not really. Modern PCs may still have an I/O space that can sort of push ISA type memory/IO access requests through it, but on a hardware level, the Interrupt controller is completely different, and only software compatible with the original 8259 interrupt controllers. Modern operating systems switch to APIC mode which is far more capable. Modern PCs haven't had the old ISA DMA controller for quite a long time as well, hence why modern PC motherboards that have ISA bridges on them typically do not work with ISA sound cards.

    Unless someone writes a windows 10 driver to communicate with your sound card over the USB bus, this isn't really going to happen.
     
  10. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Specific to my niche-of-a-niche use case, I run Linux mostly. All those old drivers are still floating around, and still work for the most part. I can happily load three or four legacy sound systems in parallel on a per-device basis too, which is nice.

    It'll be interesting to see how the device is mapped, and what the OS sees. Given the mostly open source nature of the project, I expect someone will have it up and running at some point.

    Certainly still a lot of functioning ISA era soundcard drivers floating about even in modern distros and kernels. Some folks are deprecating them (RedHat for example). But folks like Debian tend to keep them around for ages.

    My point being that all that stuff is still there (with 8259 functionality moving into the southbridge), regardless of if some vendors work well and other's don't. The larger design still includes it, even if individual vendors physically chop it off at implementation time.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2020
  11. rugger

    rugger Member

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    Problem is that these drivers are all expecting to directly talk to I/O ports of the sound cards, which cannot happen. You would need to intercept these somehow and send these requests to a specific USB driver handling the ISA bus bridge. These old drivers would need to be converted to do so, you wouldn't be able to typically just drop the binary driver into the kernel and have it work.
     
  12. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    For sure, but again with the open source nature of (a) Linux and (b) this project, I have higher hopes for my little wants (playing midis on real cards via modern players) compared to other OSes.

    But that's a side want. My larger desire is just straight up having a nice thing I can USB attach to my new PC, and build a hybrid emulator/hardware solution for old games. And that's precisely what this thing allows.

    I know it's a bit taboo to say out loud in these parts, but I don't want to maintain a real, full-setup MS-DOS computer just to play the occasional game. But a little USB board off the side of my daily drive machine that can connect to a real VGA CRT? Yes please!

    I can store all my game images on my NAS with all it's wonderful compression and deduplication, mount them seamlessly on my gaming box without the need for expensive hardware devices or floppy emulators, and play games mostly emulated but with nice-to-haves like real sound cards. Exactly what I want!
     
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  13. rugger

    rugger Member

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    Some of the stuff yes, but definitely not everything. And virtually all of the original inefficiency problems with the PC that caused bottlenecks in the past have been overcome on modern hardware, and where this has broken software to a degree that compatibility needed to be maintained, a combability mode has been added. For example, 8259 compatibility is there, but modern operating systems don't use it at all, talking directly to the APIC controller that allows for many more interrupt levels and better programming for more efficient interrupt processing.

    Regarding ISA DMA transfers, once direct connect floppy drives were banished, all traces of ISA DMA have disappeared from modern chipset.

    Hopefully someone else has this itch and implements it for you! It sounds like fun!

    Yep, even with it's limitations, it is still an amazing piece of kit. There are really plenty of cycles on a PC to do all CPU/System board emulation crap, and it can be more or less perfectly controlled for speed. People just need to be aware that you don't just boot DOS up on your Ryzen PC and everything suddenly works as though the ISA bus was actually in the machine.

    And I totally appreciate that not everyone whats half a dozen PCs floating about to play games/software from different eras, and that there is a total spectrum from "must have every hardware device that existed" to "I want to emulate everything on the single laptop I own"
     
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  14. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Yeah I should have said something more like this in the post above. This will very much be in the "hardware extensions to software emulators" space, somewhat like the hardware passthrough of modern hypervisors, albeit with a bit more software glue to assist with the data transfer transparent to the guest OS.

    I do hope the likes of DOSBox and co make use of this too, and not just PCem. Despite their different design goals, I would think that this should be possible for single devices like sound or video cards (given forks of DOSBox like DOSBox-X implement low level 3dfx hardware emulation now and not just libGlide translations, so it seems like the framework is there to expand to physical devices).
     
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  15. Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    Without wading into too much of the technical minutiae (because I'm just not inclined to, at this moment) I'm enjoying a little daydream about what such a USB-ISA interface could enable. A modern gaming PC with ISA bus to run not only your SB and your GUS, but legacy IO and who knows what other obscure or arcane ISA widgets. A DOSBox experience with all of the 'real hardware' components that matter. If your ISA video card falls into that category, integrate an OSSC so you can run it all on one display :leet:

    A mega MegaPC. Packed into this of course:

    vintage-gateway-2000-gaming-desktop_1_5f32a30c84a4a521990e81624a766d49.jpg
     
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  16. rugger

    rugger Member

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    If you could get a mini version of this ISA bus system, with only 3 slots, then put it in a full ATX box with a Micro ATX board, such a beast might be possible. You would have to engineer some kind of VGA switch to switch between the ISA and internal PCI-e video outputs, but certainly doable. Sound from the sound card can be routed through the onboard sound via internal header or via Line-In.

    Such a brilliant daydream!
     
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  17. MUTMAN

    MUTMAN Member

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    god thats awesome.
    when nerds were nerds and a tower pc was a TOWER and wasnt going anywhere in a hurry
     
  18. FIREWIRE1394

    FIREWIRE1394 Member

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    I've been putting new stuff in my only functional Pentium 4 system.

    When I assembled this system a while back from a bunch of rescues, the board (Asus P4P800) had some bulging caps but they were only slight and it was still fully functional, so I used it.
    But now the bulges have gotten bigger and I have a decision to make.
    Do I keep using the mobo and CPU untill it dies? or do I gut it now, and put a nice Athlon 64 dual core in there?

    I was inspired to work on this PC because of the retro bargains thread where one of these cases showed up recently and looking at the condition of mine, it matches my 19" monitor, speakers and period correct microsoft keyboard and mouse perfectly.

    I fitted:
    2 Zalman 80mm 3 pin case fans to replace a coolermaster and no name one.
    A creative Live!Drive IR purely for looks. (to go with the current Live!drive II)
    a less yellowed panasonic FDD
    A Pioneer 109 DVD burner to replace a busted Asus CD burner.

    Looking at the front, in it's current config only the top Drive is useful. Essentially the slot loading DVD ROM, Live!drives and floppy disk drive are all for looks. :lol:
    DSCF0201.JPG

    I was going to put my Athlon 64 in an antec to match my daily PC, but looking at this on my desk, I'm pretty sure I want to gut out the P4 and keep these beige/white looks when I want to XP game.
     
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  19. rugger

    rugger Member

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    Could always fix the Pentium 4 motherboard. Better to fix it while the machine still posts, rather than wait until it shorts a VRM or does something else fatal to itself!

    Maybe a polymod for prosperity :)

    Gotta strip down a system tonight/tomorrow and replace a bad capacitor on it. Damn you chemicon KZG capacitor!
     
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  20. Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    That front panel needs a birdsnest of unneeded, noise-introducing patch cables to chain the SBs together. RCA, optical, MIDI, the works. Then tell people it's Live! SLI.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2020
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