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Episode 4 follows the same pattern of Episode 3, except now the videos opt for live commentary from a voice call rather than annotations. Though I'm really not much of a live commentator, so this page should be a lot more informative as to the hardware used in these systems.
#22: Pentium Overdrive
The Pentium Overdrive was released in 1996 as a drop-in upgrade to some Socket 3 motherboards, basically allowing them to make the jump from a 486 to a Pentium at a low cost. To what extent is it actually beneficial, though? Being a Pentium, this CPU will have a stronger FPU than any 486, but unless you're using a late era 486 with PCI slots, this thing is hardly worthwhile, and certainly nowhere near as exciting as an Am5x86. In fact, the only real use I can see for a Pentium Overdrive is to run software that refuses to run on a 486, and even then, the results are still going to be disappointing.
If anything, I would compare the Pentium Overdrive to a 386SX. Internally, the CPU is good; it adds a lot of new capabilities that can really make any task run faster, but it's constrained by an aged architecture which surrounds it. You lose turbo functionality with the Pentium Overdrive, you're stuck with a 33MHz FSB as opposed to 66MHz on normal Pentium boards, you're probably not going to use EDO RAM, and you're still going to have a varying number of bottlenecks elsewhere depending on which motherboard you use, including the possibility that you may be stuck with nothing but ISA cards if you can't shell out the cash for anything VLB.
I initially planned to use this with Windows NT, but it was so slow on there that I had to fall back to Windows 95A. I suppose it makes sense; Windows NT was originally designed for powerful workstations, and it just so happened that in a few years, faster Pentium desktops could be classified as such. It really does go to show that the CPU simply can't do it alone...
I did try a little stunt here, where I replaced the 256KB of onboard L2 cache with modules adding up to 512KB. It worked in this instance, but upon using this motherboard again just recently, its instability was unlikable, so the original 256KB of cache is back in here. It must be that those cache modules are counterfeit ISSI chips with badly contrasting labels.
In the case of L2 cache on a 486, larger cache not only makes programs run slightly faster, but it also allows more system RAM to be cacheable. However, later 486 CPUs have two caching algorithms: write-thru, the old kind more prevalent in everything DX2 and earlier, and write-back, a more efficient algorithm, but one that cuts the cacheable memory in half. I've found that write-thru and write-back aren't all that different. Even on Windows 95, 32MB of RAM is reasonable for a 486, and is the maximum cacheable memory in write-back mode. Go with that if you care about maximizing the overall performance of your 486.
I can't go without mentioning the motherboard! This is the Asus PVI-486SP3, the other top-tier 486 motherboard based on the SiS 496/497 chipset. It only has two SIMM slots (not that you'd really need more with this), but retains many of the same great features of Soyo's 4SAW2, such as PS/2 mouse support and three practical PCI slots. Not only that, it already takes CR2032 RTC batteries, so it's the easiest point of entry to late era 486 goodness... assuming you're ready to shell out $200 for an eBay listing.
#23: Passive Matrix Laptop
Want something evil? You could opt for reducing the frame rate as much as possible, or you could use a horrific display from an era where portable computers were meant for users doing business work! Actually, this has both, but it could still be worse. LCDs were expensive and difficult to manufacture in the 90's, which is why many laptops settled for passive matrix technology. It had very bad image persistence much like certain green monochrome CRTs from the 80's, but it worked well at the time for applications that didn't require frequent repainting.
Ironically, a low frame rate is a blessing for a passive matrix display. If it takes longer to draw each frame, it will be much easier to get a grasp of your surroundings at every moment. The same applies to Doom, given it's capped at 35 FPS. If you were to play a game like Full Tilt! Pinball, however, it would be incredibly cheap on you thanks to that program drawing every frame as fast as possible, easily achieving over 60 FPS with only very small sprites on a static background it has to update. That ball will fly down the gutter without you even being able to see it. Really, no passive matrix laptops are ideal for gaming unless you're talking about anything that doesn't require active involvement.
I think I've heard some controversies about Toshiba laptops, but they've been really good in my experience. I have this and a Tecra 8100, both which still hold a charge on their batteries! It seems like they shouldn't have the issue of degrading plastic that tore my WinBook XL to shreds, but as with all old things, your luck will vary.
#24: Pentium II, 8MB RAM
This sounds like a very powerful machine for running Quake, but... what's with the tiny RAM count?! Yep, 8MB of RAM is the absolute minimum Quake will run on in DOS, and incidentally the smallest amount of RAM one can insert into a Pentium or Pentium Pro/II build due to its 64-bit external data bus requiring SIMMs to be installed in matching pairs. Actually, now that I've checked, 2MB 72-pin SIMMs do exist, but they seem to be wildly uncommon compared to 4MB modules and were mainly used by printers to buffer jobs. A Pentium II with 4MB of RAM sounds terrifying.
Despite the tiny amount of memory installed, Quake still runs great on here! RAM isn't quite like CPU speed; the clock rate a CPU runs at is generally the fine-tuning of how fast any program will run, whereas RAM count is a much more absolute factor in deciding if a program will either run way too slow or perfectly normal. This is why a lot of systems with so much RAM are often regarded as overkill. Today, 64GB is considered overkill while 32GB is enough for most things, although I expect this will not hold up in several years. 512MB is way too much for MS-DOS (as it can only address 64MB with the stock HIMEM.SYS), great for Windows 9x/NT, acceptable for Windows XP, and too little for anything later.
If a program like Quake can work with 8MB of RAM without too much swapping, a small memory count is not that big of a deal. Still, to put only that much in anything later than a 486 is nothing but a stunt these days. You will put unnecessary strain on your hard drive from swapping in protected mode software. Always opt for at least 32MB on any systems you have, preferrably more if you won't get hit by performance penalties or bugs from older software. Most RAM for old systems is now dirt cheap, and, in fact, still being manufactured.
#25: K6-2 on 430TX
If you really want to push a classic Socket 7 system to its limits, you could overclock a Pentium MMX to 291MHz, most likely needing to bump the voltage up a lot... but if you've got something very late which supports 2.2V CPUs, you may have a much better option: the AMD K6-2! This CPU was designed with Super Socket 7 in mind, but will also gladly run on a 66MHz FSB to its fullest speed thanks to how it interprets certain clock multipliers. I haven't documented what they are, but there might be another reference elsewhere.
Using the same 450MHz K6-2, I was surprsingly able to get it to run at 500MHz just as well on my TX97-LE from 1998. Same motherboard, same 430TX chipset from before, now running at a little over double the fastest clock of the Pentium MMX. It's certainly not going to match the Pentium MMX's FPU clock for clock, but it very much will outdo it on a higher level of brute force.
You can combine this with a decent 3D chipset such as the PCI variant of nVidia's TNT2 Model 64. It works great at 640x480, but given it's more constrained by the PCI bus than the 3dfx Voodoo series, anything higher may not be desirable even on faster systems due to data bus bottlenecking. While the CPU is still technically overclocked, it should still be more reliable than a 291MHz Pentium MMX. I imagine it could run at the native 450MHz and other faster CPUs could run at their stock speed on here, but I haven't bothered with it.
#26: 1999 CPU, 1989 Video Card
IT'S NEW! IT'S OLD! It's a pain in the ass to record I had to retake this like 10 times! Most of it was just me stumbling on my words. There's a lot of bizarre combinations you can pull off when it comes to working with old hardware, but none seem so terrifying as running WinQuake with an ISA video card from 1989 alongside a PCI sound card and a Pentium III. The results are fun to torture your friends with!
If you've used an original IBM CGA video card before, you may have encountered an annoying quirk it has displays "snow" when you do something in a certain program. This is because the Motorola 6845 controller on the adapter expects to write a character or pixel on the screen only at a certain time. If a program does not regard the timings of the 6845, the screen will repaint much faster, but it will briefly display a bit of white noise. Programs which were designed to respect the 6845's timings were very slow to draw large graphics. If you pick up a newer CGA card that doesn't generate snow, the IBM XT couldlook much faster than it does with the timing constraint.
As for this setup, the cause is almost certainly completely different. This card was never designed to be used with such new hardware, let alone in combination with a sound card that's faster than it. It seems like as the rest of the hardware runs circles around the ISA card, the video card is forced to skip a number of bytes, which causes snow to drizzle on the screen. Not only that, the audio is always slightly distorted, and if you analyze each frame in the video, you'll very easily see that the EV-678 "wipes" as it struggles to repaint every frame.
But don't most ISA video cards not even have drivers for Windows 98? Indeed, you won't have much to do with this card if you're expecting to use high color programs, but 256 colors at 320x200 is usable on just about any VGA card since it fits into 256KB of memory. It's only when you move up to 640x480 that you become restricted to 16 colors.
Getting this video card to work in WinQuake is determined by what can be considered the equivalent of rolling the dice. Sometimes the colors will become too distorted and you can't even use the keyboard, mandating a reboot. It would probably work a lot more consistently in MS-DOS mode, but any ISA video card is better suited to a slow 486 or earlier.
#27: Windows 95D on 1GB of RAM
Normally, Windows 9x cannot be practically used with more than 512MB of RAM due to limitations in VMM and VCACHE, but any version can be patched to use the full 32-bit address space using PATCHMEM. As I was working on a Windows 95 remaster in 2019, I decided to include the patch along with a large sum of other updates.
More details about Windows 95D are available on its own page, but the gist of it is that it merges a bunch of system files from various Windows versions (Memphis, 98, ME) with Windows 95 OSR2 in an attempt to create a proof of concept that Windows 95 is very much capable of doing things Microsoft insisted were only for Windows 98 - gradient title bars, menu animations, larger component lists, HyperTerminal with Telnet, Magnifier, the FAT32 converter, and out of the box support for newer programs.
1GB of RAM is of no use to Quake and most other Windows 95 programs, I just have it up here to prove that it can be done. In fact, I've yet to find a program that would greatly benefit from more than 512MB of RAM even in Windows NT. I'm sure they're out there, it's just that they're more likely niche cases as opposed to any modern program seeming to tie up at least 2GB now.
I should also talk about the AOpen AX6B used here. For retro hardware enthusiasts with little time on their hands, AOpen's Slot 1 motherboards are really great because they allow you to configure the CPU and FSB settings from with the BIOS setup utility! No need to worry about jumpers or anything like that! They have a reputation for making very reliable boards like Asus, although some of my AOpen boards happen to have issues despite that.
They also have the very unusual ability to suspend the user's session to a file or partition on the hard disk... it was common on laptops, but this is a DESKTOP MOTHERBOARD we're talking about here! Hibernation didn't even become prevalent in desktops until Windows 2000 was released, where that function would start being handled by the operating system instead of the BIOS.
Extra: The First Xeon
To get it out of the way, Windows 95D Lite is much closer to Windows 95B than the original Windows 95D is, doing away with Memphis mismashing and creating a much more invisible setup process. 95D Lite is much more reliable and would make a great solution for Pentium II systems and earlier if you don't want to waste time with drivers and updates.
Onto the hardware... do you ever see a Pentium II or III Xeon rig all that often? I sure don't. There's only like less than 10 videos of them up on YouTube! That hasn't stopped me from trying to put together one of my own. It's no wonder they're rarely seen anywhere; a classic Xeon is twice the size of a normal Pentium II, and much heavier as well. It turns out the only way Intel could figure out how to add a ton of full speed cache to a Pentium II was to develop a separate cache die in-house and put that next to the CPU.
For some, this wouldn't be so much of a problem, if not for the retention brackets being completely impossible to find on their own, let alone the strange I/O shield layouts some of these things may have. In the case of the MS-6135, it looks as if any standard ATX shield of the day could fit in it, but the ports simply aren't in perfect alignment with such a thing.
If you are lucky enough to ever put one of these systems together, you will be able to enjoy the benefits of a giant full-speed cache depending on which model you get. All of your programs will run a lot faster than they would on a normal Pentium II of equal clocking, so you could have yourself a very high power Windows 95 machine...
...but let's face it, it's not worth it. Even if you have all the essential accessories on hand, it would still be easier to just get an 800MHz Pentium III or faster, because games tend to yield only a 10-20% improvement on Xeons compared to equally clocked Pentium IIs. It may have been a big deal back then, but it's not practical for anyone wanting to get started with retro computing. Well, I've yet to compare the classic Xeons to any regular Pentium II or III CPUs in common applications, but I have intentionally reused some hardware found in Build 10 to briefly illustrate what the Xeon's cache can do.
Cooling this kind of Xeon is not as hard as it might seem, provided you have a spacious case with a rear fan next to the CPUs. To adequately cool the first (bottom) CPU, you'll definitely want to mount a fan either directly to the heatsink or close to it so it constantly blows cool air over the heatsink. I did the latter, and seem to be maintaining an acceptable 57°C according to the AMIBIOS HIFLEX hardware monitor. You have to get creative with plastic zipties or whatever else you can think of, because there is no standard mechanism for adding active cooling to the first CPU. If you have retention brackets, you can probably install 40mm fans to cool the second CPU.
As I recall, Intel intended to release a Pentium II with full speed cache before, but ended up going over the specifications for Slot 1, so Slot 2 was created. Like the Pentium Pro, the Pentium II Xeon ended up being geared towards servers and workstations as a low-cost alternative to all the RISC-based solutions out there. In that regard, a Pentium II Xeon would be a great option if old 3D modeling software is what you're wanting to use. If you want more details on this CPU, check out this article on Tom's Hardware written around its launch.
The deathmatch that ensued here was a test run for the QuakeWorld FFA server I recently started up on this website. Since then, I've made some modifications to the server configuration for greater variety and chaos. If you want to connect to one of my servers, check out the Razorback QuakeWorld hub.
#28: Dual Pentium II
We're going back to the normal Pentium II now, this time two of them! Not that Quake is bound to make use of both at the same time, but if you happen to be running Windows NT Workstation, you could play Quake while running one or more heavy background processes without experiencing regular dips in the frame rate. Of course, if you really need to multitask in such a manner on any system, turning on vertical sync is advisable. Disabling vertical sync means all of the CPU is used to draw as many frames as possible, whereas enabling it caps it to 30 FPS, 60 FPS, or whatever your monitor's refresh rate is, so any wasteful frames are skipped to leave extra room in the CPU for anything else.
In either case, we're finally getting to the GeForce 256... nVidia called this "the world's first GPU". Indeed, it was a turning point for the 3D accelerator market and nVidia themselves, throwing 3dfx off its high ground before proceeding to devour the poor company like the capitalist scumbag it is. The GeForce 256 could fly through many 3D games at very high resolutions, thanks to its integrated T&L engine and high bandwidth memory. This is only the SDR version; an even faster DDR version was released just a few months after the SDR version made its debut in October 1999.
Given how expensive many CPUs were in this era, a fast GPU was often paired with a slow CPU, which proved to be a very effective combination for many games that weren't too CPU-intensive. When using OpenGL or Direct3D, an AMD K6-2 with a GeForce 256 could outrun an Athlon with a TNT2 Ultra, according to a testimony I recall reading on a YouTube comment.
This particular instance of the GeForce 256 SDR is a bit unusual, as it has 64MB of RAM onboard. Mostly, they have 32MB, so this could be a late manufacture, as suggested by the VGA BIOS copyrighted 2000. It's a new old stock Asus V6600MX, specifically. The extra memory sounds like it should come in handy for something like Quake III Arena, but GLQuake and other early 3D games do not need too much memory.
As of writing this page, I now have two GeForce DDR cards on hand, but had none at the time of Bigeye's recording. I also used to have another GeForce SDR inherited from my grandpa's Dell Dimension XPS T600r, which had been outputting faulty video for a long time. I assumed it wasn't worth that much and gave it up after some time... you probably see that I regret doing that now, but at least now I'm covered with several NOS GeForce cards. I no longer have the XPS T600r either, as that died. Maybe one day I will thrift another similar model, as OEM systems are very common here in the United States.
To touch on the dual Pentium II CPUs one last time, these are going to be much more sensible than any kind of P6-based Xeon build. Cooling solutions are much more readily available and dual Slot 1 setups will fit in more cases. Anyone wanting to try out SMP should get a kick out of these things instead, and many mid-range servers and workstations gladly used them. One thing you should do is make sure your case has a rear fan next to the CPUs to avoid excessive heat buildup from the two CPUs together.
#29: Broken LCD
A partially broken active matrix display is not as bad as a fully intact passive matrix display, and, in fact, more usable with Quake than Windows itself. In a first person game, you can get a pretty good idea of your surroundings with only three fourths of the screen, but for a GUI, you're asking for a ton of trouble.
See what I mean? If you can't see the entire contents of a window, you're forced to drag it to the visible part of the screen all the time, and maximizing a window is a big no-no. Oh, but you're more concerned about the fact that I'm using Windows ME, aren't you? I actually don't use Windows ME all that much due to it missing certain things like full VxD and real mode DOS support; otherwise, I would have been using it a lot more often than I used Windows 98, and would have gladly made that the base for Redtoast instead.
Despite Windows ME being blasted for its gimped DOS support, it still runs many DOS programs underneath Windows better than NTVDM could ever dream of. Running DOS programs in a window generally yields better results than in real mode DOS when you're using Windows 9x. In the case of programs using the Sound Blaster AWE32 wavetable such as Doom, this will be accessible in a DOS window, but not within MS-DOS mode as it would have been in MS-DOS 6.22 or earlier. You do lose a bit of speed in a DOS window, but for a Pentium MMX or Pentium II, this really isn't such a big deal.
You should really try Windows ME yourself one of these days instead of believing all the negative press that's been thrown at all of us over the years. It is kind of lame, but it's nowhere near as bad as it's made out to be, and, in fact, is even better than Windows 98 in some small areas.
#30: Am386 DX-40!!!
So it has come to this... one among the very worst computers you could possibly run Quake on. Any 386 CPU is so ill-equipped for Quake that none even have an integrated FPU; you have to pop in an external 387 coprocessor of the matching speed (Intel 387 FPUs don't require speed parity) in order to run Quake. The 387 may be great for spreadsheet macros, but you will not be pleased if you expect to do any sort of 3D gaming at all.
Even with some of the best hardware you can find for a 386, being a 40MHz 386, 16MB of RAM, 128KB of onboard cache, a Tseng Labs ET4000/W32i, and maybe a SCSI controller for CPU offloading, it's still going to be very slow... EXTREMELY SLOW in Quake. I'm talking "if Quake were a slideshow" here, about one frame per second. The first timedemo took 11 minutes to complete!!
Ready to give up? OH HELL NO, this shouldn't stop you from playing some Quake! Once you realize that frame rate is nothing but an illusion and you can perceive the world of Cthulhu or whatever it may be so blindly, becoming the computer attempting to calculate its geometry... nothing can stop you.
And so we proceed with the cheesiest music possible. One thing to note is that this may not have been on the right difficulty, because the save file seems to have gone broken along the way; I lost all but one of my runes, and had to type map end at the console in order to wrap this up without wasting more time.
I was expecting to fall over many, many times, but following some rehearsal on a faster machine earlier in the day, I actually managed to complete this in one take. It took almost seven minutes to finish, trying to fill all the skipped frames in my mind, and then we sat for another 10 minutes to watch the ending text print out completely.
It might be worth noting that this is with sound effects enabled. I had an uncertainty if I really wanted to go with that, but ended up doing so in the end. If you disable all audio in Quake on a 386/387 combo, you may be able to get a slightly faster frame rate.
Even if this demonstration gives sour impressions about the 386, do know that this machine works surprisingly well with Windows 95, largely thanks to its 16MB of RAM and abundance of cache. You can multitask quite all fine, the most mainline office programs are very much usable, and even Doom is playable if you cut down on the detail and screen size. Being powered by a very compact board comparable to the Mini ITX form factor and a very late one from 1993, this is perfect for a tiny DOS machine. The only issue I have with it is that it's very unstable with 16-bit programs, which I suspect is the result of the kind of memory I installed... should've gone for non-parity, maybe.
This concludes the venture through 30 different computers and an additional last-minute one. In terms of the scope, Bigeye is my largest project to date. I do hope to dethrone it one day, but in the meantime, I hope the videos and HTML documentation I've provided will have done something to show you that the possibilities with old hardware really are endless. See you in Cisco (not to be confused with the brand)!
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