Building an MS-DOS PC

Published by angrydinosaur on

In 1994 I received my first PC. It was an Amstrad 2086 powered by an Intel 20286 processor running at 8MHZ with 640KB of RAM and a VGA graphics card. It was this machine that introduced me to the world of MS-DOS.

Back in 1994 I loved my 286 PC however most of my friends were running 386 and 486 machines with double the CPU and RAM. I would often visit friends after school to play on their PC’s and ogle at their machines and the games they could run.

This week I decided although I can still play MS-DOS games using GOG.com I wanted to build a purpose built MS-DOS machine. Having experienced the frustration of not being able to run games I wanted to build a machine that was stable and fully compatible with  MS-DOS. I didn’t want to spend any extra money so I have restricted myself to the hardware I have available at home (thankfully I have lots to choose from). In my box of spares I found a Pentium 2 266MHZ CPU and using a machine (Patient Zero) I picked up earlier in the year I built the following machine:

  • Intel 440BX Motherboard
  • Pentium 2 266MHZ (underclocked to 200MHZ
  • 128MB RAM
  • S3 Trio 3D/2X 8MB
  • Soundblaster AWE32

Check-out this time-lapse video I made:

Unfortunately after building the machine and installing MS-DOS 6.22 I encountered a few problems. These included the following:

Sound Issues – After installing the Sound Blaster drivers I could not get the card to initialise. I battled the card for the majority of the afternoon searching Google for answers but coming up short. After trying everything I can’t shake the thought the card is physically damaged, the card does have a random green wire soldered across the board (that’s never a good sign). To correct the issue I installed a new card I went for the ESS ES1868F ISA sound card, this card installed without any issues.

CPU Running Too Fast – Ironically given the history with my first PC in 1994 this new-old machine was running too fast. While building the machine I knew 266MHZ would be too much so using the jumper switches on the motherboard I under-clocked the CPU to 200MHZ. Unfortunately even at 200MHZ some games were still glitching and running too fast. Inside the BIOS I was able to turn off the L1 and L2 cache on the CPU and this did slow the CPU down, but the machine then ran too slow. I turned the L1 and L2 caches back on and I looked for a software fix. I found a DOS program called Throttle (http://www.oldskool.org/pc/throttle/DOS/) which allowed me to “throttle” back the CPU and run at a reduced speed.

Finished MS-DOS Machine

Although Throttle did work I wasn’t 100% happy with the build and decided to build a new machine using an RM desktop machine that was gifted to me from a friend. The RM machine came with an AMD K5 PR166 CPU. Using parts from my spares cupboard I built the following machine:

  • P54C S17 Motherboard
  • AMD K5 PR166 CPU
  • 64MB EDO RAM
  • Diamond Viper V550 16MB
  • 512MB CF Card (Hard Drive)

I prefer the size of this new machine and doubled with a CRT monitor it really looks the part – shallow I know!

I understand how childish this sounds, but I’m going to say it anyway. If I had this machine in 1997 I would of been the envy of all my friends, king of the nerds.

Thanks for reading my blog and I have included some photographs below documenting my MS-DOS hardware journey.
John


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