My "lockdown" side project: Gaming like it's 1999

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

Dad Pun Joke Master Over Nine Thousand Meme Lord
Joined
Jul 31, 2013
Messages
1,108
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UK
Real Name
Ovidiu
Hello, a few months ago I got my hands on a pristine Toshiba Satellite L350-203 (when I checked the last Windows log-in was on 18 August 2010 and the battery status is 100% healthy). Given its age and specification, there is only one thing it can do: Gaming like it's 1999.

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Default specs:
*Intel Pentium T3400 (Launch date: 2008, 65nm, 2 Cores 2 Threads, 2.16 GHz, 1MB L2 Cache, 35W TDP)
*2x 1GB DDR2 667 MHz with 2 RAM slots available
*Intel GMA 4500 up to 1GB shared memory from RAM
*320GB SATA II hard drive 5.400 RPM
*DVD+/-RW
*17" 1440x900 pixels 60Hz refresh rate

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The rest of the specification I am ignoring because I have no intention of installing even the wireless drivers, I do not want to connect it to the Internet under any circumstance, all I care for is the USB ports for external storage ... which is limited to 2x USB 2.o and 1x USB 1.o

First I wanted to do a few upgrades (as they are the most that can be done, to be honest):
1) Change the 2.5" slow as granny at the supermarket hard drive to a 2.5" 1TB SSD. Normally SSD's are not a good idea to be used with Windows XP (more on that later) because Windows XP does not support TRIM and will significantly reduce the lifespan of an SSD caused by inefficient management of the clusters of data on SSDs. BUT the reason I wanted this upgrade is I could not live with myself (even if it would be time accurate representation of booting up Windows and games from 1999) with the slow mechanical hard drives and since SSDs have gotten so much cheaper since I can just replace it.
2) I ordered a 2x 2GB DDR2 667MHz RAM from China BUT when they arrived they would not work together, I tried all the BIOS options and it would not work, in the end, I just mixed and matched the 1GB OEM and a 2GB stick that worked (I know I am losing performance from mixing different capacity RAM but I am not losing sleep over it ... and the seller promised to send me another kit, which has not arrived yet). I wanted 4GB of RAM because Windows XP is basically X86 designed (I would not even try the prototype X64 because it's too unstable and unknown compatibility with all of the games of old) so only 3.2 GB would be recognized as usable, and I can just shift 1GB of the RAM to the integrated GPU and get 3GB usable. Given the class of games I am aiming even 3GB it's overkill but it cost me 10 £ for it so why not?

By default, the laptop comes with the Windows Vista Home Edition X86 version ... which I do not care about so from the start I was thinking of a "downgrade". Enter Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 3 Release Date 2008. Why? Well:
1) I double-checked to make sure the laptop has drivers compatible with Windows XP because, in some rare instances, drivers from an older OS MIGHT work on the next OS, it's damn near impossible to get new drivers to work on an older OS. If this first requirement couldn't be fulfilled then it wouldn't be worth attempting the whole project.
2) Windows Vista had/has compatibility issues with older games, especially the ones that were native to Windows 95/98 and DOS. Hardware-wise the integrated GPU does not have a lot of grunts (even for games 5 years prior to it's conception), Windows Vista would take quite a lot of resources away from the gaming experience with its higher requirements. And finally: NOSTALGIA (ain't it a b*%$h)!!!

Getting proper drivers was quite a challenge since such old hardware is losing its access to drivers as the wells of databases and knowledge is being lost. It can get quite sketchy to get drivers when you get to websites one never heard of or so old the credentials can't even be validated by the web browser. Some of it was a bit risky to get but I managed (and after 11 virus scans with 11 different antiviruses :p ) to get functional drivers. The most important drivers are:
*Graphics cards (for gaming duuuuuh)
*Sound card (phew phew)
*Intel Framework (for the CPU to run at the proper speed per utilization)
*Intel Chipset (for the proper drivers for USB ports, especially the 2.o since those were yet to be integrated into the OS by default)
Anything else I did not care about at all, I am not going to connect a Windows XP machine to the Internet (I've seen Terminator 2 :p ).

Getting Windows XP itself was quite a hassle because making a bootable USB drive with Windows XP installation is like trying to eat ramen with 2 broomsticks (that only works if you are Shaq). I managed to get a copy of Windows XP with the last update release and needed to burn a CD to make an installation disk (haven't touched a CD since car stereo was a thing, now of the past) ... and the only bloody thing that actually had a CD-RW was the laptop in question (so in goes the old OEM hard drive, boot up Windows Vista quickly, burn a CD, replace the hard drive with the SSD and) off to the races ...

... and what a slow race it was, let me exemplify:
That's me after 1 hour 1/2 of the blue screen installation process ... nostalgia can be painful ... and not long after I get greeted by the ye'ol'classic:

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Oh, the sweet sound of Welcome and the rolling green hills that were declared the most viewed picture in history (you can blame Bill Gates on that one for the "American" style competition in the space of software and hardware of the 80s and 90s).
So after some concentrated effort, I managed to grab about 400GB of 1995 to 2005 games (of my taste and preference, though it's far from complete) and installed a few as a test drive to make sure that my plan was actually working:

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The results were a bit mixed but mostly because I may have been a bit overly ambitious, the integrated GPU is a bit of a slog for games of 2003 to 2005. To the point that I stopped considering playing them because even games like Command & Conquer: Generals have trouble running at 30 FPS 800x640 maxed out. I could lower the graphic options but that's losing the intended look of the game. I think I will stick to games up to 2002 (MABYE 2003, depending on the graphics quality of the game and the game's engine).

I have wanted for so many years to do a project (possibly more than one) of building around or an old machine to be able to play games on their native platform (Windows 98 1990 - 1996, Windows XP 1997 - 2003, and Windows 7 2004 - 2012) but given space constraints and my habit of moving every 1.75 years that made it impossible ... BUT a laptop would solve the portability and space problem because it's a self-contained unit for that task. The only problem with laptops is given their old age components might be too unreliable to survive for another decade or so OR the capabilities are not compatible with my needs because the old laptops of that age had very unreliable graphics card as manufacturers like ATI and nVidia was just starting to experiment with lowe powered/small size GPUs in the early days of laptops. Windows 98 laptops might be the hardest to find these days and less probable with a GPU that could handle even Quake I in OpenGL or Direct X. With later laptops for Windows 7 there is a better chance of finding the wonderful models of nVidia GTX 7xxxx and 8xxxx or ATI HD 2xxx and 3xxx and 4xxxx.

At the moment my biggest gripe with the current setup is the 16:9 screen, it does not go well with most Pre-2006 games that were more optimized for 5:4 and 4:3 aspect ratios, most common being 800x600, 1024x768, 1280x1024, 1600x1200. And for games of "back then" resolution optimization was extremely important and had a huge impact on performance if playing on a non-optimized or non-native resolution. This could be solved with a 2nd monitor as output, like a classic CRT, which I would LOVE VERY MUCH to own and try again, but their scarcity has made them quite expensive ... at least the good quality ones and not the basic office 1280x1024 at 60Hz. I guess I will have to live with big black bars.

All of this was an inspiration from the fear of losing a large piece of the history of gaming because progress leaves a lot of victims behind. As software evolves incompatibility becomes a large problem, where games don't support the OS, the OS doesn't support the drivers, the drivers don't support the hardware ... if the hardware is old it is tossed away, alongside the chance to play many classic games. Unlike other forms of entertainment, media, and even as pieces of art, games cannot be enjoyed without the hardware and the software that it needs to run. There has been some restoration happening in the last 5 years, mostly remasters or even reworks of the classics, but it's been mostly financially incentivized, and if not successful enough other projects just die out or in some cases so poorly made they are a shadow of their former selves (*cough* Warcraft 3 Reforged *cough*). Some developers have moved on, some companies died out, some original assets were lost or destroyed and without them, the games cannot be brought back to life.
With so many games becoming platform bound for the likes of Steam, Epic Store, EA Origin, Blizzard's Battle.Net, UbiSoft's UPlay, Sony's Store, Microsoft's XBox Market, and Windows Market, Nintendo's Online Store if any of these company are going to disappear/die out (as unlikely as it may be it will be inevitable at some point) how likely is it that the service will still run and games will still be playable and accessible. Sony has, historically, shut down so many MMOs even with active players, AND just this week they announced that the Online Store will be shut down for PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and PSP.

This next part might not be advisable to read as it's very controversial:
I, for one, am willing to break (very old) law and pirate games that are no longer accessible on the market (in their original form) to save that piece of history. I can get access to some of the old image files of CDs and DVDs but I've seen many have disappeared already and some games can not be played anymore. I wish I have done this sooner (many years ago) but I had other pressing matters and high-capacity storage was out of my reach at that time. While the copyright laws are still active and enacting on these games I am willing to take the risk at least for my own nostalgia but hopefully to preserve their access and usage in the future (as long as it's humanly possible).
 

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

Dad Pun Joke Master Over Nine Thousand Meme Lord
Joined
Jul 31, 2013
Messages
1,108
Location
UK
Real Name
Ovidiu
Ooo myst riven and ..the 3rd one.
Exile?
I was never a fan of point and click games... The game logic for those back in the day was quite a mind screamer, where you combine some of the weirdest objects to get the item you need to advance the story.

Give me a slaughter house of maniac screaming heavy metal beast of Carmageddon any time of the day :p
 

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