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Thread: Best computer for old DOS games

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    Insert Coin (Level 0)
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    Default Best computer for old DOS games

    I want a Windows 3.1/DOS computer. What would be the best one to get that can play old DOS games the way they were meant to be played? I'm sure many different kinds would suffice, but there must be a brand that is better than others, plus what sort of specs and hardware would be ideal to get the most out of every game...

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    Apple (Level 5) dsullo's Avatar
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    I used to play dos games on my 486 PC that cost me 1500.00 about 20 years ago. You can probably find one at a garage sale or craigslist

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    Quote Originally Posted by ebenezer View Post
    I want a Windows 3.1/DOS computer. What would be the best one to get that can play old DOS games the way they were meant to be played? I'm sure many different kinds would suffice, but there must be a brand that is better than others, plus what sort of specs and hardware would be ideal to get the most out of every game...
    This is kind of a broad question. Almost like asking what Nintendo is the best to play old Nintendo games. "Old" could mean 80s or it could me 90s or anywhere in between. There are tons of versions of processors and this will largely decide what you can play. For instance, many games made before say 1991 could be CPU dependant, meaning they will too fast or too slow if you have the wrong processor for the game.

    Since you mentioned Windows 3.1 I will assume you want to play games circa 1993. For that I recommend a 486 CPU with 8MB of RAM and DOS 5.x or perhaps 6.22. Go with 16MB if you want to play bigger CD games.

    Brand doesn't matter so much, because by that time most machines were just as good as the IBMs they were cloning. Still, I am partial to Compaq, IBM and Packard-Bell computers of the time.
    If you want a real "all-around" machine, I would say get something with a 100+Mhz Pentium and 32MB of RAM and a powerful 2D graphics card and even a Voodoo card. This will get you compatibility and speed needed for the last DOS games (Quake, Duke 3D, Doom II, Carmageddon, Mechwarrior 2 etc) as well as be more than quick enough for older 90s games. It will be way too fast for many really old games though, most anything after 1991 or so should be fine.

    Also check out the "Post your DOS machine" thread here on DP for lots of great examples.
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    i say use your current computer and run dosbox. spec the emulator accordingly.

    virtualization is a good way to go about it too. if a certain game wont work you can just respec the virtual pc and load it up with whatever you want.

    only thing about PC games being played the 'way they were meant to be' is make sure you have a keyboard and (sometimes) a mouse

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    Peach (Level 3)
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    I'm a big proponent of playing games on the original platform rather than emulating, but I've got to agree with poofta when it comes to PC gaming. The only difference between playing a game on a "vintage" pc and dosbox is all the hassles of setting IRQs and loading TSRs and whatnot. I can see the value of playing an early 80's pc game on a real CGA monitor with an old fashioned clicky keyboard, but if it's a Windows 3.1 VGA game from 1991, who cares?
    Last edited by blue lander; 10-25-2009 at 04:18 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by blue lander View Post
    I'm a big proponent of playing games on the original platform rather than emulating, but I've got to agree with poofta when it comes to PC gaming. The only difference between playing a game on a "vintage" pc and dosbox is all the hassles of setting IRQs and loading TSRs and whatnot. I can see the value of playing an early 80's pc game on a real CGA monitor with an old fashioned clicky keyboard, but if it's a Windows 3.1 VGA game from 1991, who cares?
    While I may agree, and in fact I do play all games I can on DosBox, I still prefer to play them on the real thing with a real CRT monitor and all of that. I have an IBM 5150 with a CGA monitor for the really old stuff, so that works for those DosBox screws up on. Me, I just like messing with memory managers and disk drives and failures and all of that.. Ha
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    Quote Originally Posted by phreakindee View Post
    While I may agree, and in fact I do play all games I can on DosBox, I still prefer to play them on the real thing with a real CRT monitor and all of that. I have an IBM 5150 with a CGA monitor for the really old stuff, so that works for those DosBox screws up on. Me, I just like messing with memory managers and disk drives and failures and all of that.. Ha
    you know, dosbox DOES output to crt monitors, right ? =D

    its a pc, there is absolutely no difference what hardware the program runs on as long as you can get it to run. video output aside, the control scheme and the position of your body has stayed the same since when the programmer intended it.

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    I've been noticing some vertical sync/tearing issues with DOSBox, which I don't get on real hardware. Just something to take into account...

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    cool..yeah that was the main reason i wrote this post was because i remember some of my really old games going way to fast on newer computers, CPU dependent was the term I was looking for I see. Dosbox is convenient, but its not just the games I want...i want the whole experience of starting up the machine, the grinding of the disk drives, typing in CD\..., waiting forever, glitches, all that jazz. I don't know much about installing hardware on old machines though...I was hoping for a sort of "set" where the monitor and drives are all in one--or at least something with some character rather than the normal monitor, computer, keyboard and mouse...saw some cool pics in other posts. I'll check around. Thanks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Poofta! View Post
    you know, dosbox DOES output to crt monitors, right ? =D

    its a pc, there is absolutely no difference what hardware the program runs on as long as you can get it to run. video output aside, the control scheme and the position of your body has stayed the same since when the programmer intended it.
    People tend to use Dosbox on PCs that use 31khz VGA monitors, which looks different (to me at least...) than an old 15khz CGA or EGA monitor.

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    Vsync issues, hertz issues, color issues, native resolution issues... all sorts of reasons to play on a real machine with an old CRT. And why would I have a newer Windows XP/Vista computer with a CRT for DosBox? If I'm going to go through the trouble to get a computer with DosBox and a CRT running, may as well make it a real DOS machine! I use DosBox because it's convenient, but if I really want to play, I'll whip out my 486 or Pentium with my old Compaq 14" and it's off to the games.
    Last edited by phreakindee; 10-26-2009 at 11:57 AM.
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    A 486 DX2 66 MHz(preferably with a turbo button to downgrade to 33MHz), 16mb of Ram, and a Soundblaster 16 should be more than sufficient to run older DOS games. Run Dos 6.22 as specified above and you shouldn't have any issues. If you're planning on running the original disks from Sierra, make sure you have the patch disks/files.

    Don't forget an older IDE HD.

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    Quote Originally Posted by phreakindee View Post
    Vsync issues, hertz issues, color issues, native resolution issues... all sorts of reasons to play on a real machine with an old CRT.
    The "real" machine with an old CRT will have even more issues, even if it solves those other ones, which it might not.
    Quote Originally Posted by OMF2097 View Post
    A 486 DX2 66 MHz(preferably with a turbo button to downgrade to 33MHz)
    Turbo buttons are extremely handy, but there are much faster processors that still support a turbo button.
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    Seriously now, how many posts and no one has mentioned the one place where discussing exactly this topic is the most bonerific thing possible?

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    I got my hands on an old IBM thinkpad laptop. I can't remember the model, but it is a P2, like 512meg ram, 8 gig hdd. Took forever to tweak but it is a dos 6.22 and win 3.11 system. Spent forever digging thru my archive of everything, then thru the underdogs and abandonware websites. I broke it up into 4 partitions, the first has dos and win 3.11 games, the second has more dos games, the third has mame, and the fourth has other console emu's. When I need a fix it is easy to pull a laptop out of the drawer for a few hours, then put it away.
    I'm just trying to keep from losing my mind!

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    Quote Originally Posted by ebenezer View Post
    i remember some of my really old games going way to fast on newer computers, CPU dependent was the term I was looking for I see.
    You can usually compensate for this by running programs specifically designed to slow down your computer. Mo'Slo used to be pretty much the only choice here, but there are other options these days. I haven't tried many of them, so I can't really comment on which ones work best. I do remember having a very difficult time trying to slow down my Pentium 133 enough to play Montezuma's Revenge, which I think was meant to be played on an 4 MHz 8088, as even at 1% speed, it was still too fast.

    There are also all kinds of other errors that can crop up on newer computers. Sometimes the errors are also caused by the speed difference, but give you misleading messages that confuse the actual problem. Home of the Underdogs has a FAQ that lists some of them.

    I don't know much about installing hardware on old machines though...I was hoping for a sort of "set" where the monitor and drives are all in one--or at least something with some character rather than the normal monitor, computer, keyboard and mouse.
    A laptop might be your best bet then... but you still have to know IRQ's and IO addresses and stuff, even with a laptop... so it might not help as much as you think it will. Laptops of the time were generally bad for playing games on though... but with a newer machine, you might have trouble getting features to work with DOS (sound and CD-ROM might give you a hard time)... so you might have some trouble finding just the right balance here.

    I'd recommend either a 486 or Pentium, somewhere in the 66 MHz to 133 MHz range. Look for something with ISA ports on the motherboard, that way you can be confident of finding DOS and Win 3.1 drivers for pretty much all of the hardware you'd ever put in it. Finding graphics cards, hard drives, CD-ROM drives, and floppy drives should be very easy... but finding just the right sound card might prove tricky. I'd recommend a SoundBlaster-16 to get the best compatibility. It's not the best *sounding* card, but you'll have to jump through a lot less hoops than you would with something like a Roland MT-32, Gravis Ultrasound, or even newer SB cards like the AWE-32.

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    Last edited by Ze_ro; 10-26-2009 at 05:37 PM.

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    i think i know what your getting at with just a pre put together old PC. maybe something from the IBM line?

    i'm picking up one of these tommarow
    http://john.ccac.rwth-aachen.de:8000/alf/ps2_70121/

    hope it meets some of my old gameing needs. only problem though is it doesn't use ISA, think they used there own thing for this model.

    I'm not a fan of useing laptops for gameing. just feels wierd to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Soviet Conscript View Post
    i think i know what your getting at with just a pre put together old PC. maybe something from the IBM line?

    i'm picking up one of these tommarow
    http://john.ccac.rwth-aachen.de:8000/alf/ps2_70121/

    hope it meets some of my old gameing needs. only problem though is it doesn't use ISA, think they used there own thing for this model.
    Good heavens, no! If you're going to bother with this at all (and I still think it's a lousy idea), at least get something halfway standardized! You might as well go for a Packard Bell for all the good this will do you!
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    I have to agree! As much as I have a soft spot for PS/2s, the hardware overall pretty much sucks! Second only to the PCjr... incompatibility, awkward hard configs, memory issues from what I've read. It can be a pain. A PB, NEC, Compaq... something else from the time would be MUCH more doable! You'll still have all the lovely "problems" with real DOS, but it's better than the hardware issues.
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    Quote Originally Posted by phreakindee View Post
    I have to agree! As much as I have a soft spot for PS/2s, the hardware overall pretty much sucks! Second only to the PCjr... incompatibility, awkward hard configs, memory issues from what I've read. It can be a pain. A PB, NEC, Compaq... something else from the time would be MUCH more doable! You'll still have all the lovely "problems" with real DOS, but it's better than the hardware issues.
    really? well mine is comeing with a mouse/keyboard and a color monitor for $20 so i may still pick it up for the novelty of it

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    I think you're better off putting together the hardware yourself. In order to make good use of DOS, you really need to know things like what IRQ's are free, and how to arrange your conventional memory and such. If you're going to go the hardcore route, then you might as well go all the way and learn how to do it properly.

    Installing hardware really isn't all that hard. It's usually just a matter of stuffing the card into the computer and loading the appropriate driver. Most drivers are still readily available on the internet, even though they're 20+ years old. The main hard part is sound cards, where you need to know IRQ, DMA, I/O addresses, etc. With some cards, this kind of stuff can be set with jumpers (you might need to find a scan of the manual on the internet to find out what jumpers are what)... otherwise, sometimes the easiest way is to just guess at values until a game works, then write down those numbers on a sticky note that you keep on the computer itself so you don't forget 'em.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Soviet Conscript View Post
    really? well mine is comeing with a mouse/keyboard and a color monitor for $20 so i may still pick it up for the novelty of it
    If it's a Model M keyboard, that's definitely a keeper, or at least good for eBay. But the computer might as well be a doorstop.
    Quote Originally Posted by phreakindee View Post
    A PB, NEC, Compaq... something else from the time would be MUCH more doable!
    No, no, definitely not a Packard Bell.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ze_ro View Post
    Installing hardware really isn't all that hard.
    Oh, it's not that simple either... If you've got a random assortment of parts, there's all kinds of wacky little obscure compatibility issues that might pop up - and that's assuming all your parts are completely functional to begin with, and they might very not be.

    The first example that comes to mind is RAM - you can't just toss any old SIMMs into your available slots willy-nilly; some of the motherboards were mighty particular about exactly what went where.
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    I expect a lot of people will disagree with me, but if you want an "Out of the box" early 90's computer that you don't need to fuss with much, you might want to consider an IBM PS/1. They're small, compact, and DOS is on ROM so it boots in an instant. All the hardware is proprietary, though, so don't expect to ever upgrade it.

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    well, after a few days of playing around with the PS/2 i don't find it that horrible...but then i havn't tried playing alot on it

    it acually is a decent condition M model keyboard. i also like the monitor that came with it, its wierd but i like how easy it swivels. i've always been a sucker for desktop style pc's over towers

    i have hit a wall with its expansion bus system though. none ISA is a pain. i want to put a sound card in it but apperently they didn't make many for it

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    Cherry (Level 1) phreakindee's Avatar
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    Yeah, the lack of expansions became the biggest reason I never got one. Somewhat ironic that some of its other aspects became "standard" like the PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports.
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