Repairing my retro pc

The bulged capacitor

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I inspected my main retro pc’s capacitors and found out that one of them was already bulged and leaking. The capacitor was between two PCI slots, one of which has my Sound Blaster in it. The PC worked fine and didn’t suffer from crashes or freezes, but I decided to replace the capacitor just in case (the worst thing that could happen is the PC breaking down while playing a Quake 3 match!).

The capacitor was a 1500 μF 6.3 V. An exact replacement wasn’t available, so I ended up buying a 1500 μF 16 V capacitor. It is a bit taller than the original one, but it fits perfectly between the two PCI slots.

So I opened up my Enlight case and removed the motherboard from the case. The case is unique in a way that it allows me to remove the motherboard and expansion cards in one piece.

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Motherboard and cards removed from the case

Removing the capacitor was easy, but getting the new one in turned out to be a bit tricky. The holes for the capacitor were too tight so I had to use some force to push the new capacitor’s legs through the motherboard. I could get them about a millimeter through and then I soldered the legs tightly.

The PC worked as usual and didn’t crash. I can only hope that this was the only broken capacitor on the mobo.

The new capacitor

The new capacitor

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Four new retrolan PCs!

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Compaqs to the rescue

I was given four Compaq Deskpro computers as donation via an internet forum. Three of them have a Pentium III 866 MHz processor and one has a Celeton 700 MHz processor. All computers have 256 MB of RAM, at least 10 GB of disk space, CD-ROM drive and a network card (model varies). The display adapter is integrated to the motherboard, but they all have a free AGP slot. I also found a few old AGP graphics cards from the same internet forum for these PCs.

My plan is to repair these PCs for our upcoming retrolan party, so that the new players can get right into action without using precious time configuring and installing games.

Inspecting the PCs

The PCs are externally in a good shape, but they are really heavy (which is a good sign, heavy duty hardware). There was a lot of fine dust inside the cases but it was easily removed with a vacuum cleaner. The network card were all of different brand and model and they were all in different PCI slots. The motherboards are all exactly the same. Every Pentium III PC also has a 80 mm fan installed (which is the most noisy fan ever…). The Celeron machine has a CD-RW drive.

Instaling software

The original plan was to install Windows 98 SE and all the drivers to the first Compaq and then clone the hard drive to the rest of the PCs. In practise it woudn’t have been practical, because the components are different in all the PCs and cloning would require detaching and reattaching the hard drive, So I ended up installing each machine separately. Luckily I had an old Samsung  SyncMaster 940Fn monitor which has two VGA inputs. I used it while installing two PCs simultaneously.

I numbered the PCs from one to four (in no particular order) and started the installing process.

First, I inspected the BIOS settings. The BIOS had a surprisingly wide range of settings, which is a good thing considering the Windows 98’s pickyness about resource allocation. I disabled most of the integrated devices (USB, LPT, COM, Audio etc). and assigned IRQ 9 to the display adapter and IRQ 10 to the Sound Blaster. This way I’m pretty sure that IRQ 7 or 5 is left unreserved for the SB legacy device.

My goal was also to keep the resource allocations as uniform as possible to avoid additional problems.

Compaq info in BIOS

Compaq info in BIOS

Compaq nr. 1

Compaq nr 1

Compaq nr 1

So I started to install the first PC. This one had the Geforce 2 Ti as a display adapter and an Intel 8255-based network adapter. The installation went fine until I added a sound blaster to the last PCI slot. This gave me a ”Windows Protection Error” telling me to reinstall windows.

I reinstalled the Windows and tried to use GeForce3 Ti-200 as a display adapter. There was an I/O conflict with the network adapter.

I/O range conflict

I/O range conflict

I stopped the installation here and focused on the Compaq nr 2 which had been installing Win 98 at the same time. When I get all the other PCs working, I may return to work on this one (and maybe try another network adapter…).

Compaq nr. 2

Compaq nr 2

Compaq nr 2

Compaq number 2 was an easy setup and I had no problems with it. Yipee! This one had a GeForce 4 MX 440 as a display adapter and a 3com network card.

Components installed

Components installed on Compaq2

It’s worth noticing the the GF4 only has a DVI output for video!

Compaq nr. 3

Compaq nr 3

Compaq nr 3

Since the PC nr 2 had installed without problems, I thought this one would be easy too. Wrong! The difference was that this PC had a GeForce 4 MX 420 and an Intel network card. The Geforce MX420 and System ACPI had a I/O range conflict, which resolved by changing AGP aperture size from 64 to 32MB.

I/O conflict.

I/O conflict.

Components installed

Components installed on Compaq3

Compaq nr. 4

Compaq nr 4

Compaq nr 4

Since this PC is the slowest one, I decided to use my leftover Radeon 7000 32MB for it. I’m still missing a Sound Blaster, so maybe this one will never be fully installed :(

Final thoughts

I’m still tweaking the PCs and trying to get the ”number one” to work, but it’s a lot of work. The randomness of I/O range conflicts and other problems is very tiring. I think I’ve installed Windows 98 at least six times during this process.

I ran some benchmarks with the PC number 3. It scored 6182 points in 3DMark 99 MAX and 3739 points in 3DMark2000. That’s OK for a PC this age. Quake III Arena runs quite smoothly at a constant 83 fps.

I think we will have fun with these PCs in the retrolan event on October 11th.

Kategoriat: Hardware | Avainsanat: | Jätä kommentti

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!

Kategoriat: Hardware | Jätä kommentti

The Retrolan

How it all started

Back in the late 90’s we held some LAN parties in which we played the latest games at the time, such as Unreal Tournament 99 and Quake 3. So one time me and my friends started thinking it was a very good time. So we decided to arrange an event where everyone would bring a PC with a maximum CPU speed of about 1000 MHz and a Windows 98 SE installed. And then we would play games like in the good ol’ days.

The first RetroLan event was held on 9.12. – 11.12.2005 at Pori, Finland in an abandoned store that had been transformed to a large lan party hall. It didn’t go as planned because setting up an ethernet network for Win 98 wasn’t as easy as we thought. Also making the IPX network running was a whole challenge itself. But finally we got everything running and had a good time.

Since then we’ve been having RetroLans once or twice a year. The last one, 12th in the series, was held at Tervakoski.

Retro games

We usually play FPS games because they’re easy to adopt and support over at least eight players at a time. Our all-time favorite is Quake III Arena with FreezeTag mod because it lets every player to use his or her strengths against another team. You can be the player that frags every other player or you can save the team by thawing them after they’ve been killed.

Other FPS classics are the Build-based games Blood, Duke Nukem 3D (with our total conversion called The Purify) and Shadow Warrior. Usually we just agree on a frag limit of 100 after which we switch to another game.

We also play games like Death Rally, C&C: Red Alert, Rise of the Triad, Carmageddon, Unreal Tournament 99, Soldat, Worms: Armageddon, Doom 1 and 2, Descent… the list goes on :)

Kategoriat: Events | Avainsanat: | Jätä kommentti

The first setup

The first setup

So this is where it all started. My first retrolan pc setup. I guess it was an Athlon 1200MHz with 368MB of SDRAM and a Radeon 7200 GPU. Oh, and notice the old keyboard with no Windows keys.

The blue window on the screen is the setup program for game called Blood. We’re about to start a lan game on it.

It’s also worth noting that the blue mouse in the picture is the first optical mouse I had. It was very expensive at the time.

Kategoriat: Events, Hardware | Avainsanat: | Jätä kommentti