Since publishing my Abit VP6 Retro Gaming PC Build write-up last September, I’ve had a few emails asking how I have been getting on with it. I’ve bought some new parts, set up the software properly and had some hardware issues, so read on to find out what’s new with the retro gaming PC.
During the winter I wasted countless hours messing around with the Highpoint RAID controller onboard the Abit VP6 motherboard. I had been attempting to create a RAID1 mirror set using two Western Digital 80GB SATA Raptor drives and IDE/SATA adapters. The first problem was when in the Highpoint BIOS screen to configure the array the BIOS would freeze up and crash the system at random times. It particularly didn’t seem to like navigating through the user interface faster than one key press every 2-3 seconds.
I tried virtually every official and unofficial BIOS (and even a second VP6 motherboard) but this problem never went away. After trying many times, it was usually possible to create/delete/format the RAID array and exit the BIOS before it crashed. However, there would still be spurious behaviour relating to the disks within any operating system (Windows or Linux), so I gave up on the idea of the RAID1 Raptor drives. My hypothesis is that the RAID controller just didn’t want to play with the SATA/IDE adapter units. So, the system now has one 40GB IDE HDD for Windows XP, another for Windows 98SE, and a 36GB SCSI HDD for software.
B4mbooz on Reddit was kind enough to point me to his complete Abit software archive FTP site which was very useful when trying out various drivers and firmware for the Abit VP6 during these shenanigans.
After resolving the hard drive issues, I moved on from using the ‘MiniXP’ environment on Hiren’s boot CD and Linux LiveCDs and got Windows installed properly.
First, I installed Windows 98 SE from some original media I still have. This was a surreal experience that not only took me back in time but was a poignant reminder of how non-user-friendly PC’s used to be. After the OS was installed I applied the Unofficial Windows 98 Second Edition Service Pack 3 by
PROBLEMCHYLD which I highly recommend.
Windows XP was then installed on the other 40GB HDD. I created a slipstreamed service pack 3 disc, which also had all of the post-SP3 Windows XP patches pre-installed (an unofficial Windows XP ‘SP4’ if you will). This was accomplished using the excellent nLite tool to create custom Windows install ISOs, and the broken UDC tool by xdot.tk. The UDC tool downloads post-SP3 patches in a format which can be slipstreamed using nLite. However, the tool is unmaintained and broken (since 2015) – unfortunately the author doesn’t want to update it or even post a warning on the website about it being broken. It took a lot of messing around and troubleshooting to get working properly, so I really ought to make a separate post on how to do this before I forget the detail.
Once I had sorted out the HDD issues and got proper Windows installations set up I was ready to pull the trigger on buying a 3Dfx Voodoo 5 5500 graphics card. Up to this point I had been using a super cheap NVidia GeForce card as a stop-gap. After following the second-hand market for a while, I picked up this bare 5500 AGP card:
There are three versions of the 3Dfx Voodoo 5500 - AGP, PCI and ‘MAC PCI’. The PCI cards have very marginally lower performance over the AGP card, but their PCI interface makes it possible to use them as a second GPU in newer PCs (dedicated to Glide API gaming) and are also used in Amiga computers with PCI busboards. The Macintosh version is the most expensive these days, presumably as it has a more desirable DVI connector in addition to the standard VGA connectors that the other versions have. I went with the standard AGP version, as it is easier to get hold of and I don’t have any spare PCI slots in the retro gaming PC (the last one is reserved for a 56k modem!).
Fitting the 3Dfx Voodoo card in the retro gaming PC was pretty straightforward, apart from some brief concern the IDE cables were going to block the card. The HDDs were moved from the upper to the lower cage to make some extra space. The card in its new home is shown in the photo below:
So far I have only been testing out the card using Windows XP. There are a slew of unofficial drivers available for the 3Dfx Voodoo cards – the two main sites for 3Dfx software are 3dfxzone.it and the FalconFly 3dfx Archive. After experimenting with several different drivers, I am currently using the SFFT Alpha 47 driver with the 1.18 GPU BIOS. Quake 1/2/3 are all running gloriously on the system (I was pleased to find out there is still an active Q2 online server population too). Soon I will be setting up the 3Dfx card under Windows 98, where I plan to use the AmigaMerlin V2.9 Win9x driver from the FalconFly archive.
Unfortunately, the Creative IDE CDROM drive I originally purchased last year was defective so had to be replaced. I recently acquired a similar 52X CDROM drive (Creative CD5220), with the added bonus feature of an orange turbo button:
I wasn’t able to find much information about the turbo button, but from what I understand the drive normally operates at 40X speed and will boost up to 52X when the magic button is pushed. I assume this is to keep day-to-day noise levels down if the drive is being used all the time. Still, it’s quite novel and not something I had seen before.
So, apart from some Windows 98 related jobs to do, the retro gaming PC project is basically finished. You might be able to find me online playing Quake 2 or 3 as
phraxoid via q2servers.com.
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