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Keatah

What were your first PC upgrades?

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For those of you that got into the PC platform in the 8086 - 80486 era, what was your first aftermarket upgrade(s)? And were they worth it back then? And in retrospect today?

 

I recall I immediately got the standard SoundBlaster 16 CT1740, and the Micronics custom-to-the-motherboard memory expansion card.

 

Shortly thereafter I would get a PM1440FX modem, a bios patch card to allow bigger disks, and various 1MB SIMMS piecemeal to bump the memory now and then. Also got

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Mine was a 256 color VGA card and a Mitac monitor for my 8088. After seeing Wing Commander in an issue of VG & CE, amber Hercules/CGA didn't cut it any more. Not long after I got an 8 bit Soundblaster card for Christmas.

 

Dang good memories of that boat anchor of a computer.

Edited by Gamemoose
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I remember getting a soundblaster pro. In retrospect it wasn't worth it, should have gotten a cheaper soundblaster or adlib.

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My first PC was an IBM PS/2 80 (until that point I stoically stuck with my Commodore 64 way past the point where it was remotely viable), and it came with no sound card, so my first upgrade was the unfortunately extremely expensive sound card that used the proprietary expansion slot on that series of computers (MCA I think).

 

HELL YES it was worth it, the card I got was 100% soundblaster compatible, and going from PC speaker to that was completely amazing. I then went on a shopping spree and picked up Ultima 6 and 7, Quest for Glory 3, and Legend of Kyrandia, and was in Adlib/Sound Blaster heaven. The Legend of Kyrandia, by the way, has one of the greatest Adlib soundtracks of all time (though the MT-32 version is killer). Between the beautiful VGA graphics and the amazing soundtrack, Kyrandia is the first game I played where I really felt that I was justified in finally retiring my C64 and moving on to the IBM PC/compatible world (in terms of gaming, I mean).

 

[EDIT] I was always curious about the "ROLAND MT-32" and "SOUND CANVAS" options when setting up my sound card for games, and only a few years ago I managed to get my hands on both an MT-32 and SC-88 (later, an SC-55), both of which work fine with DOSBOX. I can only imagine how I would have reacted to these devices back in the day, when they were hundreds of dollars PLUS you needed to buy an interface card just to get them to work with your computer. These things are simply amazing, and it's quite a trip to play EGA games like Quest for Glory and Space Quest 3 with near CD quality music playing in the background on an MT-32. It's also mind blowing to find out that the redbook audio soundtrack for the CD version of Warcraft 2 is basically just MIDI music recorded off of a Sound Canva (likewise, the music that plays during the FMV intro to System Shock is just recorded straight from a Sound Cavas).

Edited by newtmonkey
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Soundblaster Pro + a CD-ROM (a Panasonic drive, IIRC) for my 386DX-40. The CD-ROM wasn't SCSI and interfaced directly to the Soundblaster Pro with a ribbon cable. It was also the first and last CD-ROM drive I ever had that used a "caddy".

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Cool recollections.. Looks like I didn't finish the post.. So I also got a 2nd parallel card at one time to allow me to use a vintage dot-matrix printer, a Zip drive, and a Snappy digitizer all at once. The Snappy digitizer was from New-Tek and was the PC equivalent of Digi-View for Amiga.

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I started with a 286/12 with 1MB RAM and a VGA monochrome monitor. In college I managed to score a 386/40, 4MB and a used VGA color monitor (interlaced, but 1024x768 really wasn't bad) for just north of $300. Kept my old 40MB MFM ("Made From Mold") hard drive, so I barely had room for anything.

 

But the piece de resistance was my first ever sound card. I'll steal the story from an older thread:

 

"1994...the year I took 3 buses in San Francisco to get a (mono) Sound Blaster 2.0 card. Found the "shop" operating out of a tiny public storage unit in an alley, paid cash, and made it back alive. Thus began my addiction to Sam & Max Hit the Road, Microsoft Arcade, CANYON.MID and Dr. Sbaitso."

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Our first SVGA card was an Tseng Labs ET4000 and new Thompson SVGA monitor. 1024x768x256 colors non interlaced on a home computer was just awesome for the time.

Edited by thetick1
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I started building PCs around 1988. My first was a 12MHz 286 with (I think) 2MB of RAM, in a generic beige desktop AT case. I bought the parts from a secondhand computer store called Second Byte Computers in Dover, NJ; my father worked there in the warehouse, and I worked for him part-time pulling EPROMs and other resalable parts from scrap electronics. I was about twelve years old and very short on money, so I initially settled for a Hercules-compatible graphics card and a 9" amber monochrome monitor (both used). I'm pretty sure I had a used MFM hard drive (probably 20MB) and controller, too.

 

After about a year, I saved up enough money for my first big upgrade: a 14" Samsung VGA monitor and a 16-bit Oak Technology VGA card with 512K of video memory. It was the first time I had ever seen VGA graphics up closeother than the display machines that were set up in the store, which I enviedand I was blown away by the high-resolution graphics (in 640x480 mode) and the colors (in 320x200 256-color mode). Not long afterward, I added a sound card to the mix: an ESS ES488 card which was compatible enough with Sound Blaster to finally give me sound and music in games that I'd gotten used to playing without them, which was another mind-blowing upgrade. At the same time, I upgraded from DOS 3.3 to DR-DOS 5, which I used with Windows 3.0.

 

As humble as it was, that PC served me well for the next few years, and I have many fond memories of it. At some point I replaced the motherboard with a 386 board that I must have picked out of the garbage, but that was the last upgrade I could afford until about 1997, when I was working full-time and could afford to build a whole new PC (a 166MHz Pentium MMX).

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My First PC was an XT class machine. The first upgrades were a larger Hard Drive followed by Thunderboard (no driver needed), VGA card, Monitor and game port. I grew out of it almost immediately.

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For our family IBM PC 5150, it was probably an AST Six Pak, then a Western Digital Paradise VGA card (we bought it with a monochrome and a CGA card).

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I remember getting a soundblaster pro. In retrospect it wasn't worth it, should have gotten a cheaper soundblaster or adlib.

That soundblaster pro came with midi cables which I never used. The other thing I did was a ram upgrade. My 386sx-16 took loose chips not simms. I think I went from 1MB to 2MB which I needed to run Desqview. It was probably a worthwhile upgrade. Desqview was very handy for multitasking, copy/pasting, and macros for dos programs. I remember upgrading the hard drive from the original 40MB in order to fit Windows 3. That was a waste, should have waited. Edited by mr_me
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Well my first upgrade on my very first computer (286/16mhz) was to install a separate Paradise video adapter that I believe had 512k ram on it so I could go into the world of SVGA in 16-bit. Then I installed an Adlib card (Replaced with an SBPro like a year or two later), maxed out the ram to 5mb and had a 4x CD-rom running in it before it was replaced out with my 486/25sx. That would go on to receive several upgrades of its own in the 5 years I owned that computer.

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My first upgrade to my philips p2230 12.5mhz 80286 was a 256k vga card. The monitor i needed i bought half a year later. Next upgrade was a adlib compatible soundcard. The last upgrade to this pc was a 40mb harddisk, that had bad sectors between 20 and 30 mb. So it had 2 partitions. One 20mb partition and a 10 mb partition.

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Changing the course of the thread slightly.. Which do you think are the most valuable ISA - VLBus - PCI cards of the 486'ish era? By "valuable" I mean the ones most important to you, gotta-have, or even costwise/expensive. Or perhaps phrase it as, "What were the most expensive and exotic upgrades you did?"

 

Choices don't have to be limited to one card. Choices can also be a class of cards, too. A product series or line-up.

 

My personal fav would be the bog standard SoundBlaster ASP16 CT1740 with WaveTable upgrade. To me it was the card that kept giving and giving, and when I got tired of just plain'ol 16bit sound I could experiment with the DSP in the ASP chip. And when I got tired of that I could play all my games all over again with the WaveBlaster daughtercard upgrade.

Edited by Keatah
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I would say that it's hard to top the Roland SCC-1 for most valuable ISA card of the 486 era (or any era, ftm). I recently acquired one, but there was no way I could have afforded one BITD.

 

A bus you didn't mention was MCA. SoundBlaster cards for MCA are quite valuable.

 

For me personally, my two most valuable cards were my Diamond Stealth VLB that could handle my 486DX-50's 50 MHz bus speed without glitching and my Gravis UltraSound ACE.

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I totally didn't think of MCA, because in my circles and experiences it was proprietary and I didn't like proprietary stuff back then and neither did my bosses. So I never had direct hands-on time with those rigs.

 

I couldn't afford any Roland stuff BITD either. But I was quite taken with OPL3 FM synthesis and 16bit digital playback. Just transitioning off the Amiga and into PC, SoundBlaster games were quite the big deal. And then I got a WaveBlaster and was taken yet again to a whole new arena of soundscapes. Never mind everyone said WBs sucked compared to Roland's stuff. I probably wouldn't have appreciated an SC's sound quality back then anyhow.

 

IMHO MIDI, to me, tends to have different flavors of sound rather than varying levels of quality of electrical/wave output. One implementation tends to get certain instruments "right" compared to the next. Each has a distinct tonal landscape. IDK. I grew up with Creative WaveBlasters and variants and that's the sound I like.

 

BTW I wonder how the Dreamscape X2 sounds? Anyone care to comment on that?

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I totally didn't think of MCA, because in my circles and experiences it was proprietary and I didn't like proprietary stuff back then and neither did my bosses. So I never had direct hands-on time with those rigs.

 

I couldn't afford any Roland stuff BITD either. But I was quite taken with OPL3 FM synthesis and 16bit digital playback. Just transitioning off the Amiga and into PC, SoundBlaster games were quite the big deal. And then I got a WaveBlaster and was taken yet again to a whole new arena of soundscapes. Never mind everyone said WBs sucked compared to Roland's stuff. I probably wouldn't have appreciated an SC's sound quality back then anyhow.

 

IMHO MIDI, to me, tends to have different flavors of sound rather than varying levels of quality of electrical/wave output. One implementation tends to get certain instruments "right" compared to the next. Each has a distinct tonal landscape. IDK. I grew up with Creative WaveBlasters and variants and that's the sound I like.

 

BTW I wonder how the Dreamscape X2 sounds? Anyone care to comment on that?

 

Here's a thread I started on Vogons with links to samples of all the wavetable cards and daughterboards I own.

 

https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=62&t=50552

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Adlib for a 286/12 that had EGA graphics. My first PC. The Atari ST delayed my getting into earlier PCs which seemed pointless by comparison with their CGA graphics and internal speakers.

 

My favorite upgrades would be an ATI VGA Wonder card and a Roland LAPC-I.

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I was distracted by the Amiga. I went with it because I couldn't afford a PC. And there was little in the PC to entice a 20-something home user/hobbyist anyways.

 

But eventually I started choking on the Amiga and needed to get a real computer. Something that was used in real businesses and something that had parts/systems available at the 10+ local shops & department stores.

 

Upgrading beyond the Amiga's 640x400 max resolution seemed like an impossibility, let alone finding software and games that'd use it. But there were tens and hundreds of cards providing 800x600 and 1024x768 and higher for the PC.

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We held onto our 486/SX 25MHz much longer than most I think. Pentiums with MMX were all the rage when we took our system from 4MB to 8MB of RAM and added an ISA 33.6 modem for dial-up internet in 1997. My parents kept that system until 1998 when they got an AMD K6-2 and I inherited it. Added a Pentium Overdrive and took the memory up to the max 16MB it would support. Used that system another couple years through college. Installed Win95 on it right before 98 came out. It played Warcraft II just fine.

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I went from the 486 to a Pentium II, but that wasn't like till around 1998 too. I didn't want to do granular updates - a trap I eventually succumbed to in the 2000-2004 timeframe. But never again.

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Most expensive upgrades I did was the same Keatah. I had an original SB16, installed the DSP chip in it and played around with the Q-sound demos..etc for a bit. And then before wavetable really caught on, I had a Turtle Beach Maui alongside it. It was cool, but still a pain in the butt to work with since it took forever for the PC to boot. The Maui had to load its wavetable data each time on boot and that took a while to load into the card. I then purchased and still own an SCB-55 that I attached onto the wavetable header. I don't use that combo anymore because back in about 2004 I found my holy grail of sound upgrades at a local goodwill for $10. My LAPC-I that is still in that old tower today. That LAPC-I and my SCB-55 are easily my most valuable cards today given the current market and the SCB-55 wasn't a cheap upgrade when I got it back in the day either.

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I got a Gravis Ultrasound ACE. This was a cheaper Ultrasound that worked along side an existing sound card. (Soundblaster 16 in my case). This was a win-win. It added the Gravis Wavetable synthesis which made game music sound a hell of a lot better than the OPL3 on the SB16, but still having the SB around meant 100% compatibility with everything (even though most things supported the Gravis). It was also designed to be daisychained, so it all played through a single pair of speakers.

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