Building a retrolan PC from spare parts

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We needed more spare PCs for the upcoming lanparty, so I decided to buy an old PC from an internet forum. It was only 5 € and had decent components, so I decided to buy it.

It had the following components:

  • AMD Athlon XP 2600+ with a Glacialtech Igloo SilentBreeze cooler
  • 1GB DDR SDRAM (2x 256 MB, 1x 512 MB [which I removed, because Win98 doesn’t like more than 512MB of RAM])
  • No HDD
  • Radeon 9800 Pro
  • Asus A7N8X-E Deluxe motherboard
    • This one has two integrated network adapters. One of them is a gigabit adapter. Not so retro after all…
  • Black Nexus case with an orange-black PSU (350W)
    • The PSU’s fan was broken and the PSU was full of dust
  • Sound Blaster 128 PCI (CT4810)

First impressions

The PC was very dusty. Everything from the motherboard to the display card was covered in large gobs of dust. Radeon’s fan didn’t even spin because it was so filled with dust. I used some pressurized air to blow away the dust, but it didn’t help much. So eventually I had to use a vacuum cleaner to get clean it up.

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Replacing the PSU’s fan

I removed the screws from the PSU’s case and removed the cover with ease. Then I cut the main fan’s power cord from the circuit board and removed it from the casing. I used my Phoenix Silent 120 mm fan for replacement. It rotates at lower speed, but I guess it’ll do the job (after all, we’re not going to use the PSU at its full capacity).

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I didn’t want to solder the fan to the PSU if I’d need the fan somewhere else, so I just smuggled the cord though the power cord hole and attached it to the mobo’s PSU fan adapter.

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Powering up

The machine booted up, but had some issues.

Issue #1

No picture on the screen. Graphics card fan was not spinning. I noticed that the AGP slot was a bit dusty, so I cleaned it. Didn’t help.

The fan seemed to run randomly and then stop. I figured that pushing the card down kept the fan running, so I decided to try to remove one of the metallic card slot blockers to give the card more room. It worked! I guess the pins on the AGP slot must have been out-of-place a bit.

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Issue #2

BIOS always resets the setting after power outage.

Replaced the battery (fortunately I had one of these lying around!).

Installing the OS

I though it would be safe to leave the Sound Blaster out until I had successfully installed the OS. Win98 setup has a bad habit of getting stuck while detecting devices, thus fewer devices connected equals less problems.

I had an old Maxtor DiamondMax HDD (80 GB) lying around. I jumpered the drive to cap the size to 32 GB and started installing Win 98 SE.

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First I had to run fdisk on the hard drive and then format it. The drive contained an old NTFS partition, which I deleted.

The installation went fine and surprisingly fast with no problems at all. However, I did notice that the PSU was getting really hot during the setup, so I decided to change the fan to a more powerful one. Although it may have been due to the fact that it was 28 degrees in my room during the installation…

After the setup I plugged in the Sound Blaster, rebooted and started to install drivers.

Installing drivers

As always, the most important drivers are the chipset drivers, so I started with them. I downloaded them with my main PC and burned to my ”retrolan software cd”, which contains all important drivers for Win98.

The chipset driver setup program was a bit confusing, because it asked me to insert Windows 98 CD a few times, and also it asked for ”nForce Driver CD” (which I didn’t have). I just had to browse for the files from the HDD and the setup succeeded. Oh, and the joy of Windows ”rebuilding the driver information database” several times… :)

The display driver comes next, because using Windows in 640×480 and 16 colors isn’t very user-friendly. I used Catalyst drivers version 6.2, because they have been reliable with older Radeons in the past.

Finally I got to install the sound drivers. And it turned out it wasn’t easy. The SB128 setup program hung up while installing the Legacy Device. I though this must have been due to a conflicting IRQ (as it usually is). So I restarted the PC and Windows started to boot.

The setup program had installed EMM386 drivers and they failed to initialize EMM, and this halted the boot process. I had to start Windows in the Safe Mode and disable SB128 from the device list and remove the EMM configuration from the config.sys.

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Then I opened the BIOS settings and manually excluded the IRQ 7 commonly used by the Legacy Device. The IRQ 7 was originally reserved by a display adapter.

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Manually reserving the IRQ 7

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IRQ 7 not in use any more

The Windows starts up normally with the Legacy Device enabled. Now it’s time to test if any DOS game actually works. I installed Blood from my main PC and started the setup.exe. After selecting the sound settings I got an error message telling me that the ”Sound Blaster is not responding on the selected port”. The settings were correct, and I tried some other configurations, too, but it just didn’t work.

Sound Blaster not responding

Sound Blaster not responding

Also after installing Blood windows threw me a message telling the HDD was corrupt… *sigh*

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Bad sectors. Yipee…

Final thoughts

This might have been a bit too modern setup for a retro gaming, but I had to try. I think there’s not much I can do for the DOS programs if the motherboard is not designed to support them anymore. Also the HDD breaking up was just the last straw for me.

Luckily I will be getting some older PCs in the future. I’ll post some information about them later!

Kategoria(t): Hardware. Lisää kestolinkki kirjanmerkkeihisi.

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