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Can one still build a reliable DOS based system?

Last response: in Systems
March 31, 2008 11:09:13 PM

OK, I know some of you out there are snickering, and some outright laughing uncontrollably, but I have a bunch of fun (at least I think so) DOS games my grandkids (5yo + 6yo) might get a kick out of.

So, I have a copy of DOS 6.22, a copy of WIN95, Win 3.11 for WG and the games. I have a case, PSU, mouse and keyboard just lying around and was wondering if there are parts out there to put together a decent DOS machine that won't make these games go so fast as to make them unplayable.

Do you have suggestions as to what I need and where this stuff might exist: A low speed CPU, a compatable MB, memory, sound card and gpu, as well as maybe a copy of Quarterdeck's Q-Mem 386?

This really is not a joke posting. I really would like to build this simple, yet functional, DOS machine.

Please accept my thanks in advance...
March 31, 2008 11:14:49 PM

friday, I understand completely. Some of my favorites were DOS games. Good old Tie fighter...

Anyway, hardware incompatibilities and such rule out new stuff and old hardware is hard to come by.

Maybe there is a DOS emulator out there somewhere? I still have an old P1 166MHz I keep around for those old games, though I 'm not sure I remember how to use it.
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April 1, 2008 9:31:56 AM

EXT64 said:
...but if you do try it and it dos, tell me...

Pun intended? :lol: 
April 2, 2008 3:44:51 PM

OK...DOS Box...Checked it out, but can't quite figure how to slow clock rate down so games aren't all super hyper....Anyone have a clue?
April 2, 2008 3:49:12 PM

Actually oushi, I didn't write that on purpose. I caught it just after I posted, but I thought it was funny so I left it.

So wait, do the games run really fast? I won't get to try it till the summer (I don't have any DOS games here with me). It is a little old, but ithough that they claimed compatibility with newer systems?
April 2, 2008 4:19:20 PM

Get any budget computer (self-built), underclock the processor, memory and video card and it should be good to go.
April 2, 2008 4:22:18 PM

run MS DOS 6.22 via Microsoft Virtual PC on Windows XP
April 2, 2008 4:50:47 PM

Mishra100 said:
run MS DOS 6.22 via Microsoft Virtual PC on Windows XP

good call. I would try that first.
April 2, 2008 4:51:37 PM

Anyone that knocks another user for trying to build a DOS box has never experienced the awesomeness of Ultima 7 (parts 1 & 2)

I was actually able to find some DOS 6.22 disks (it appeared to be a legal OEM copy) on eBay for around $10 shipped. I moved recently and managed to lose them before I attempted to build a system around it. I really miss the classics... new games just aren't the same.
April 2, 2008 4:55:03 PM

People keeping mentioning virtualization as an option... but I'm really not sure this is a good suggestion for what the OP is trying. The old games he's probably wanting to play probably require an ISA sound card that is SoundBlaster compatible. Can virtualization software mimic that? I'm sure that this would be fine for text based applications (Word Perfect 5 comes to mind) but for games... especially difficult to run ones like Ultima 7 and Falcon 3.0 (damn you 640k limit!)
April 2, 2008 5:04:27 PM

friday0164 said:
OK...DOS Box...Checked it out, but can't quite figure how to slow clock rate down so games aren't all super hyper....Anyone have a clue?

DOSBox rules! I had the other problem (too slow). I think you can type help in the main window and gives you some commands. I think speed up / slow down is Alt+F11 / Alt+F10, but I suggest you check.

Good luck.

Tie Fighter, the original Settlers, Betrayal at Krondor...

Some many great games...
April 2, 2008 5:06:02 PM

rodney, you bring up an interesting point about sound.

I use a near-dos program. It was supposed to run on windows 95, but it doesn't use any registry stuff. It all runs out of the folder and I too have the 640 k limitation to it. I run mine through a P4 with windows 98 SE. Would this type of set up help the OP? I don't know, my software is an industrial application and doesn't use sound.
April 2, 2008 5:36:00 PM

In a perfect world the OP would have something in the range of a 486 DX4-75 up to maybe a Pentium 90. Those are fast enough to play the most intensive DOS games, but at the same time old enough to have ISA slots for the older sound cards. Because some really old games would run too fast on those, there are TSR applications (wow... haven't seen that acronym in a while) that would artificially slow the CPU to a more modest level. That was the type of setup I was aiming for. Motherboards of that age have to be dying left and right... and I imagine it's not getting any easier to find AT power supplies either.
April 2, 2008 6:02:44 PM

First, there is nothing wrong with dos. I still use my commodore64 emulator, and thats even older. (MULE, Firefighter, Lords of Conquest, Pitstop (don't forget to change those tires!)

I also use dosbox. Defender of the crown and Nuclear war are the games I play on it. Doing some digging, I came up with this. (the dosbox website sends you to their wiki when you click on help.)

According to this, to speed up or slow down emulation, click on Ctrl F11-F12. In your case, Press Ctrl F11. Keep working on it, this is very possible to do.
April 2, 2008 6:32:26 PM

The dosbox is a good idea, also you could see if you can get them in an emulator, most do exist... there are thousands out there. And those just run with a computer inside the emulator software.
April 2, 2008 6:37:37 PM

Also with DosBox is the dosbox.conf file. It's a text configuration file where you can manually adjust the settings. These settings are then implemented each time you start up DosBox.

I'd look under the [CPU] section of the dosbox.conf file.

For those concerned about sound there is also a section for SB16 emulation.

-Wolf sends
April 2, 2008 6:42:12 PM

I have a bunch of old computers out in the shop, you are more than welcome to come get one free of charge..
April 2, 2008 6:54:39 PM

inglburt said:
I have a bunch of old computers out in the shop, you are more than welcome to come get one free of charge..

Damn if you only lived in Georgia I'd be there now rummaging through the pile trying to piece together a DOS gaming rig.
April 2, 2008 10:30:18 PM

I downloaded DOSBox along with Aces of the Deep, Tie Fighter, and Odell Down Under (all super classics, by the way, which I own). I've only tried Aces so far and it ran decently. Go in the config, there are tons of options to mess around with. If I find anything else out I'll post it.
April 2, 2008 11:05:17 PM

WOW, did I miss a bunch, OK, need time to digest all of it, but just wanted y'all to know I was still around....

Edit: Read 'em all since my last post...I loved Ultima Underworld, Cutthroat, 1086 A.D., as well as the DOOMs and the QUAKEs....I appreciate all your posts and will try them....And I will keep checking here as long as it doesn't get hijacked.... :lol:  :lol: 
April 3, 2008 6:31:39 AM

If you want even older blasts from the past, check out CCS64. Bad graphics, square people, whats not to love?
April 3, 2008 7:15:56 AM

run MS DOS 6.22 via Microsoft Virtual PC on Windows XP

Ughh... God no... Virtual PC is the worst Virtual Machine software I have ever used... So slow. My recommendation would be to use VMware's Workstation if you could afford it. You can also try it from their webpage for 30days. It is so much better than Virtual PC it is not even funny. Especially if you want to run OS's like Linux from your windows machine :) . But it should work fine for things like DOS etc just fine. I got Windows 98 working in one of my Workstations and it has internet access and sound :)  Although I haven't tried to run old games on it yet.
April 3, 2008 7:43:43 AM

DOSBox is the best solution to run DOS era games and softwares reliably:
- it emulates a VESA 2.0 video card, a Soundblaster 16, and PC-DOS 5 with 16 Mb of RAM (note: DOS 5, not 6.22 as 6.22 didn' t bring much apart from userspace utilities, configurable boot menus and ynamic drive remapping for hard disk compression)
- it emulates the CPU in a lower clock mode, in 16-bit mode with possibility to start 32-bit mode through those 32-bit DOS extenders like DOS4GW etc. (you can run 16-bit apps in a 64-bit OS), like it was done at the time.
- keyboard is locally remapped to US keyboard layout (you can use keyb to change it)

Changing clock slowdown can be done with a key sequence, or with parameters to be set in its config file (yes, it's all text file based); if you always set up the same virtual C: drive, that can be saved too. Some wrappers allow you to use DOSbox with a GUI, look them up.

In my case, it worked perfectly on a Sempron64 2600+ under Linux 64-bit to run Terminal Velocity, Raptor Call o the Shadow, and several others (such as DOS demos from the demoscene).
April 3, 2008 7:59:32 AM

I used moslow and dosbox for a while, but never seemed to get them right.

You can probably find an old machine around, I see them occasionally at garage sales and in the free section of craigslist. I know some school districts still have those machines, but those usually go to "recyclers".

If you find the parts, QEMM and other old, mostly abandoned utilities are just a Google search away.
April 3, 2008 8:24:20 AM

Hah! MULE!!! I'd forgotten about MULE. Good, ol Commodore 64. Gotta love it. Must be on the wrong side of 30, oops.
April 3, 2008 4:24:27 PM

Does anyone know if the old DOS OrCAD (SDT 386 & PCB 386) will operate under DOSBOX?
April 3, 2008 4:58:11 PM

Can't you just hit the TURBO button, cut your clock speed in half?? ;P
April 3, 2008 5:22:56 PM

put a want ad on craigslist for a 386 or 486. You'll be able to land a complete system for cheap, and likely locally. Goodwill usually has a bunch of systems too. Shouldnt cost you more than 10 bucks for the whole thing.

I much prefer to use DOS Box to run lemmings and Dangerous Dave...
April 3, 2008 5:36:51 PM

I never had much luck with DOSbox got a lot of stuff to run but not quite right. I ended up building a bunch of DOS systems. IMHO it's the best way to go if you can find the parts. I have (3) 486's, (2) P90's and (3) P233MMX's using DOS 6.22, depending on the game you still need MoSlo. They are all tweaked to run DOS games at their original maximum settings and the autoexec.bat is set to provide 617k of base memory and I never met a game they wouldn't play.
The optimal setup is an original Pentium, a board with ISA slots, a SB ISA soundcard, and 16-32MB of memory. Almost all DOS games do not recognize PCI soundcards and DOS emulation through PCI is very problematic. You also need the DOS driver for your CD drive.
If anyone needs advice or parts on building a DOS system I have both. The advice is free, the parts will cost.
April 3, 2008 8:16:40 PM

Who would have thought ther would have been this much interest in DOS and a system to run it on.
I thought for sure I'd be laughed off the board, but I am so pleased to find out I am not alone.
I will give CL a shot, but I may be asking for some parts beavercleaver....I have a case, a PSU, a floppy drive, keyboard and mouse. I guess all I need is a cpu, memory and a mobo to put them in...and maybe even QEMM (which I may even have in my "cabinet of unwanted cables, floppies and other once thought unusable software")....Thanks guys, you have given me hope that I can share my fave games with the kids....
April 4, 2008 4:12:57 PM

Another poster was right in saying your best bet was to find an old system locally, but it's a tough find for stuff this old. Piecing it together through ebay or online is easy but expensive, shipping kills! You already have a case and PS and that's the biggest hurdle because of weight. Many of these old mobos take AT case's and PS's so check your parts and make sure they're compatible. I have several slot 1 CPU's, a couple socket 7 CPU's, various mobo's, some memory, VLB, PCI, AGP Graphics cards, Soundblaster ISA cards, and ISA modems and NIC cards (just in case you want to Doom deathmatch) I charge $5 a part + actual shipping (Mobo might be more depending on type) If anyone thinks that's too pricey feel free to check ebay, it's usually .01 + $10+ shipping! Forget the Qemm you won't need it. You can edit the config.sys and autoexec.bat to get 617k of base which is enough for every game I've tried. Depending on the mobo you may need a PS/2 to serial adapter for the mouse and a ps/2 to Dinn adapter for the keyboard. And last but not least, if you have any games on 5 1/4" disk, those drives are TOUGH to find in working condition. Hope that helps.
Ultima, Wizardy, System Shock here you come!
April 4, 2008 4:30:39 PM

Acck! I almost forgot. DOS will only recognize a maximum of 2 gigs on a Hard drive. You can use bigger but it will only see 2 gig partitions. Really old mobos (486 and such the Bios would only see 512MB!) Optimal is to try and find a 4gig drive and divide it into 2 partitions using Fdisk. You must format in FAT16 NOT FAT32 (DOS won't see FAT32) and to add to my previous post I toss in cables and drivers for free when you buy stuff.
April 4, 2008 6:49:18 PM

OK...almost forgot about all those DOS requirements...I have found some old AT parts around the ol' "cabinet", including an old PSU....But I could just get an really low end mobo, like a real cheap 775 or 462(A) and drop a really low end CPU in and lower the clock...right?That way I can drop in a cheap, but good ATX PSU...and say 256MB of RAM(DDR400)...I mean I found some of those for a total of like $75...and I could use an existing ATX case...throw in a low end AGP card (BIOSTAR GeForce FX 5200 128MB)...This should work, right?
April 4, 2008 7:02:49 PM

I ran Doom1 (dos based) on XP, I couldn't make use of the better sound options, I guess they wern't suported.

If you get you mits on a server motherboard, many have EISA slots, wich are ExtendedISA, I think normal ISA cards can plug in, like an old soundblaster.

I don't know if a P3 can run DOS nativly. but I'd look for a P3 server myself.
April 4, 2008 7:04:44 PM

you might want to look at those Compact Flash to IDE adapters for your HDD
April 4, 2008 7:10:43 PM

I have an old P166 which runs DOS great (some sound issues though, its hard to find drivers for systems this old :lol:  I'll have to go digging through my mountains of floppies :fou:  ).

My issue is with Tie Fighter. My only non-USB joystick died. I did use a V3 racing wheel for a while (a skill/art that takes lots of practice) but I would love to get these old games to run on my new system. If I have time I'll try to play with it more over the weekend.
April 4, 2008 7:16:42 PM

you can get a program that turn USB joystick signal to keystrokes
April 4, 2008 7:39:16 PM

If I were in your position I would check thrift stores in the area for old 486/p1 machines for under $10 :) 
April 4, 2008 7:46:35 PM

^srry mistype on the total, should be $124 (oops)
April 4, 2008 7:59:11 PM

Friday.....get the word out to friends to have them ask thier friends if they have or know any one with really old computers, thats how I got all my old parts. Then I salvage the stuff to make a good system. Even got a hold of ISA video cards, sound cards, 2-button mouse, ps/2 keyboards and etc........Reading this post was great, hope your grandkids enjoy the great games of our time. :) 
April 4, 2008 8:04:06 PM

Just to let you all know, I may be at work now, but am still reading. Love all the suggestions. Especially the CF to IDE idea. AND the mobo/CPU combo...but think I would only need this for memory...Have the floppy (more than 1 even, could put in TWO in my system, like the old days) and with my old case/PSU, this would would be pretty good...
April 4, 2008 8:26:41 PM

The problem with the 166 was that it didn't have any USB ports.

Anyway, I just was playing my DOS favorite TIE Fighter. It ran at the correct speed and had FULL working sound. My 166 couldn't play the music. I can't play it for real since I don't have a joystick here at college with me, but I am thrilled. I know what I will be doing this summer and next semester. Ah, the memories.

Edit: and I was doing all of this on my Core 2 Duo Laptop.
April 4, 2008 8:32:02 PM music, that would be a problem, especially in like DOOM and QUAKE....just have to have the music. Wrer you running DOS Box? If so, were you able to slow the clock cycles sufficiently? I tried Cutthroats and it was so fast it was unplayable....
April 4, 2008 8:35:12 PM

This was on DOSBox. I had to play with the sound settings to get it working (I had to go into the game config settings and tell it what soundblaster DOSBox was using).

Surprisingly, the speed was perfect with no tweaking. I had tried Aces of the Deep and it seemed a tad fast, but Tie was perfect. Try some other games if you can. I'll try to see if I can improve AOD.
April 4, 2008 8:39:15 PM

Hey, EXT64, appreciate the help and advice.....hope we can keep people posting here, so we can get some more info and knowledge to play those old, but fun, DOS games....Have already put out the word and may have an old 486 or even an old AMD CPU/MOBO by Monday from a co-worker...never thought about asking the peeps I work with....
April 4, 2008 8:42:33 PM

The DOSBox readme says:

CTRL-F11 Slow down emulation (Decrease DOSBox Cycles).

Have you tried that? I'm going to try it now in AOD.

Hopefully the still have the drivers for those old comps. I suppose you could find them on the internet, though (I never tried). I know when my old Pentium crashed it was a pain to get Windows 95 and sound working again (I'm not sure we ever did fully).
April 4, 2008 8:51:36 PM

Craigslist or Freecycler mailing lists for your area and ask for an older computer. I know my P3 machine back 1999 had an ISA slot if you need that.
Personally I wouldn't BUY anything for older Dos games and I LOVE Dos games. Use the free software approach 1st, then try a VM of of the OS or of Win95 (still Dos based).
April 4, 2008 9:04:53 PM

Ok, I was wrong. It turned out AOD was running fine. For some reason the game kept turning time compression up to 2x. It wasn't DOSBox's fault.

So, both of my games are running fine. Only problem is a sound hiccup every now and then. Still, I'm very pleased and the games are more than playable.

Also, that CTRL-F11 didn't seem to do much, but I suppose you could try it on your hyperactive game. It didn't do anything on AOD (except make it eventually crash), but that could have been because it was running at the right speed. Try some other games when you get a chance. Maybe they will work better.