So when I drafted this post, I had forgotten about my previous post. This is essentially a more detailed version of the last thing I posted. Hopefully there’s new information.
This summer has not been great for me, which is why I haven’t been blogging or vlogging as often–too much stuff going on, too many inconveniences, and less incentive to get online.
But here’s the real post
3… 2… 1…
So, there’s something special about this blog post:
It was typed on my latest retro PC.
But first, you might be asking, “What happened to Mazinkaiser?” Or at least, you should, because its actually related to why I have a new retro PC to begin with.
Part 1: Mazinkaiser Gets Sick
At the beginning of June, I somehow became addicted to a game I never thought I would: Unreal Tournament. Funny thing is I was playing it solo, on a PC with no internet capabilities. It was all botmatches. I didn’t care.
My copy was from the “Totally Unreal” collection, and for some reason Tournament had two discs… even though the entire game seemed installed from just Disc #1. So after awhile I wondered what was on Disc #2, and tried to install it.
Then I got a Blue Screen of Death. It was one of the most terrifying Blue Screen messages ever:
“Unable to write to Drive C:\
Files or Folders may be lost.”
You couldn’t terrify me more if you tricked me into having a one-night stand with an octopus, and anyone who knows anything about PCs will understand why.
I tried everything, re-seating the cables, making sure everything was hooked up properly, I even formatted the drive and re-installed the operating system–only to wind up getting the same message now from the main Unreal Tournament disc!
Finally, I turned to the classic computing forum Vogons.
Amid various suggestions, someone said they looked up my particular motherboard (an Epox-8KTA model) and noticed that Epox used a brand of capacitors known for going bad, and that likely this was related to my problem, if not the cause outright.
After getting more information, I decided there was only one thing to do… I contacted a repair service (Badcaps.net) that focused on precisely this sort of thing, and arranged for Mazinkaiser’s motherboard to be sent off for repairs, a process that wound up taking over a month. I’m finally about to get Mazinkaiser back, and I can only hope that guy on Vogons diagnosed the problem correctly. Evidence seems to indicate he has.
Part 2: Michel Delving Fills the Void
Before sending off Mazinkaiser though, I had actually considered simply replacing the motherboard. This led to two purchases, one of which turned out to not be worth it, but the other one…
First, I bought an Epox-8KTA2, which was functionally identical to Mazinkaiser’s 8KTA+, but when I got it, its capacitors were in even worse shape than Mazin’s. I never even bothered hooking it up to see how it worked, and when I sent Mazin off for repairs, this motherboard was sent along with it.
So now I was obsessed with capacitor quality, and one night on Ebay I did a search for “recapped.” Just “recapped,” not limited to any specific field or anything. I wound up getting like 800 hits if I remember correctly, for all sorts of electronics and in one case, a Sega Genesis.
One that caught my eye immediately was the motherboard for a Dell GX260, which came with a 2ghz processor and 512mb of RAM. It was sixty dollars shipped.
Now, part of what inspired me was I had actually wanted to build a second PC to stand alongside Mazinkaiser anyway, because I kept finding games I wanted to play that Mazin couldn’t handle, like Doom 3, Warcraft III, or later games in the Myst series. I had made baby-steps towards this, securing a Geforce 4 ti4200 and two Soundblaster Audigy 2s (these were actually sold together in a listing for twenty bucks shipped), but it was only now that I was taking the next step and getting an actual motherboard.
Part 3: Bumps on the Road
This was a classic case, however, of leaping without looking.
Right now, I’m thankful for my impetuousness, as it all worked out and I’ve got a second fine desktop computer by my side. However, there were things I hadn’t known about the Dell GX260 motherboard that, if I had known beforehand, might’ve steered me away from it.
See, I went in thinking it was just gonna be like any other PC motherboard: you put it in a case, you hook it up to hard drives, disk drives, you plug in your video and sound cards, you do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around and that’s what its all about, right?
Turns out, no, not all PC motherboards are the same. Especially not ones from Dell.
Dell, it turns out, likes (or at least, used to like) proprietary configurations. Their motherboards were not generic or made to fit in any old case, rather they were purpose-built to be used in specific configurations provided by Dell. The most obvious sign of this right off the bat for me was that the GX260 motherboard didn’t have the standard places to plug front panel connectors into, instead it had one big rectangular area simply labeled “frontpanel.” The motherboard itself also came attached to a metal mounting tray, which was designed specifically to fit a particular Dell-model tower case.
The “frontpanel” thing was a hiccup from the get-go as it meant there was no way to turn the computer on without the right connector.
Fortunately, someone in my family knew more about this stuff than I did: My dad used to work with computers and in fact used to own this exact model of Dell (one that had been scrapped by a place he used to work at, which he simply brought home since the business was throwing it out anyway), and had somehow come across various parts and pieces for it. One of these was the PCB that plugged into the “frontpanel” plug, which included a power switch!
A week later, it turned out Dad also had an actual GX260 complete with case that he hadn’t been using and which he had been about to junk, just like that business he got it from years ago. However, he instead gave me the case and the majority of the internals (including the original power supply and some IDE cables), allowing me to slide my motherboard in, perfectly snug, just the way I like it!
Part 4: As It Stands Right Now
So, after a week of running the comp as a motherboard sitting naked on a wooden shelf, it finally has a proper case and is a real PC.
I had, early on, given it the name “Michel Delving,” though I debated this internally as during the days of Mazinkaiser I had believed all my PCs henceforth would have a mecha-themed name (I very nearly named this comp “Megazord”). The name “Michel Delving” occured to me primarily because of the motherboard being a Dell, and the previously-mentioned issue of everything being designed around Dell-proprietary parts, so I just felt “Dell” or a variation thereof needed to be part of its name.
And yes, “Michel Delving” is a Middle-earth reference. You know I loves me some Tolkien!
Earlier today, I got in contact with the person repairing Mazinkaiser. The repairs are complete. I had to do some selling on Ebay to make payment, but now that is done. There are a few more things I’d like to have to make everything perfect, but, well… I’ve got a good “new” PC, I’m about to have my favorite old PC back, life is good.
Michel Delving’s Specs
So here’s the part I’m sure most people just skipped to.
Okay, first, the processor: Michel Delving was sold to me as being 2ghz, but in actual fact its 2.80ghz! It’s a Pentium 4 though, so single-core, though this was actually another thing I was specifically looking for because of the operating systems I intended to use.
The RAM is currently at 512mb, and I’ve read that it takes a special sort of ram specific to this motherboard (said special ram is easy enough to find, however). I’ve also read that this motherboard maxes out at 2gb (two 1gb sticks), and while I’m honestly tempted to do that (an investment of less than ten bucks), I’m still weighing the pros and cons.
The graphics card is an AGP Geforce 4 ti4200, with (I think) 128mb of video ram.
The sound card is a Soundblaster Audigy 2 (not a 2 ZS), in the PCI slot. This motherboard has no ISA slots, but for as fast as this comp is, I’m not worried about true DOS-mode compatibility–I’m sure its possible, but on a comp this fast I might as well just use Dosbox. True DOS is what Mazinkaiser is for.
The hard drive I’ve got in there is 120gb, which I divided into three partitions and have it set to dual-boot Windows XP and Windows 98SE.
Funny thing… when I was researching dual-boots, I got all sorts of mixed information. Some people said its impossible, others said it is possible but only if you do it on a harvest moon while offering blood to the Easter Bunny (pretty sure those are completely different times of the year, but hey, Microsoft products). Others said it could only be done with old, outdated commercial software.
Once again, Vogons to the rescue, except this time I didn’t have to post a question–I simply searched their previous discussions and someone brought up a thing called Plop Boot Manager. I went to that thing’s home page, and it turned out to have example instructions for how to do an XP/Vista dual-boot. I simply followed these instructions, but installed 98SE instead of Vista (really the part about Vista amounted to “install Vista at this point”–there were no OS-specific instructions, so the substitution was easy to perform).
The way I’ve got it set up is this: There’s three partitions. Two for the Operating Systems which are deliberately set up (using Plop) so they can’t see each other–this is just good practice so both think they’re on the C: drive and thus you avoid headaches later down the line. The third partition is a “Storage” partition that both operating systems can see, and thus contains things beneficial to both, or for if I want to be able to access a file (like, say, this here blog entry) in both operating systems.
It’s been suggested to me that I should image the two install partitions, but at the moment I don’t really know how, nor am I sure of the potential benefits. Michel Delving, like Mazinkaiser before it, was never intended to get online and doesn’t even have a modem or any sort of internet drivers or capability, so its not like I’m ever gonna have to worry about viruses or things like that. The worst that could happen is my needing to reinstall an OS (which I actually had to do to the 98SE partition once already) but that’s honestly not such a bad deal, all things considered.
The one thing I am concerned about is… well, now that I can play games from late-Win98SE or early-to-mid Windows XP, I’m also aware this is the period where DRM methods started getting obtrusive. Some games, including some of the afformentioned Myst sequels, have DRM such as SafeDisc or SecuROM. On Mazinkaiser I never had to worry about this, but on Michel Delving I now might.
Right now, I’m simply not installing any game that has SafeDisc, SecuROM, or StarForce on it (at least, not from the original disc… the Myst games all have DRM-less GOG releases thankfully), while I consider my options. I currently see two: one is to create a “Quarantine” boot partition (a second XP install, which would be unable to see either of the two existing operating systems) just for DRM-laced games… the other is to get a swappable hard drive bay (if those even came in IDE) and a second, small IDE hard drive, again for a quarantined environment.
I’ve started a topic on Vogons asking what they think. The consensus seems to be that I should have some kind of backup/means of protection, but that I shouldn’t live in fear of SafeDisc or SecuROM (StarForce, on the other hand, is the freaking devil).
… The hardest question, every time, is “what games should I play now?”