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Reaperman

Beige4Daze, the Beige-puter.

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I have a bit of a 'thing' for gaming as hard as possible with office-grade Dells and am expanding my weird D-series fetish into other Dell machines. Dells are fairly durable, super easy to work on, and at least their office machines generally have good driver support with OSes older than they are (except for this time). I also have an additional layer of Dell-nostalgia, since I spent years suffering with government-issued versions of these same machines.

 

Let me introduce my newest build, and the oldest of my Dells, an Optiplex GX1 I've named 'Beige4Daze.'  I recall having a GX1 on my desk back in my Navy days when I was attached to a patrol squadron, but Beige4Daze has a more interesting history I'll get into in the next post.

 

GX1 cases are a dream to build in BTW. The front, sides, and top all come off as one unit with the press of two side buttons, in the case that maybe somebody wanted to de-beige it with retr0brite (but why?).  Also the entire ISA/PCI expansion section lifts out with a lever, and the dual HDD caddy comes out with one screw--it's just so nice to work on.

 

OjGyIzQ.jpg

Trivia Fact: Screamer's setup program has a (neat chipset detector) which can help identify which brand of drivers you need to bodge.

 

Beige-Specs:

  • Dell Trinitron CRT Monitor
  • 500mhz Pentium III
  • 128mb of ram
  • MSDOS 7.10 from win98se boot disk for larger drives and long filenames
  • Soundblaster Live! PCI sound card using (these dos drivers) which give SB16/waveblaster/mpu-401 emulation
  • Onboard ATI graphics using (these drivers) which were fortunately forward-compatible
  • 80gb SATA HDD with IDE-SATA adapter (single partition thanks to DOS 7.10)
  • Windows 3.11 using (w3xstart) (win3 hates everything but dos6 normally)
  • various beige-cessories.

 

b0mtGvM.jpg

Here's it windowsing (mostly)

 

It games great, but I'm having trouble getting ANY sound out of windows (as well as two much-loved dos games, tyrian and wc privateer).  If anybody's got some tips on getting a pci sblive getting recognized as anything in win3.x, please let me know.  I may have to buy a different sound card for a second option. A few 'budget' ISA Awe64's seem to be going cheaply, so maybe I'll roll the dice.  I also have to get another quickshot analog flight stick--I have a black one now, but obviously it can't be in the photos because of its lack of beige. Also on the to-do list is getting USB working, and maybe replacing that 80gb SATA drive with one of the SD to IDE adapters.

 

Tie Fighter is every bit as good as I remember it. And I'm finally back off of DOSBOX, and back on real steel. I think I need to get a 'Beige4Daze' logo/decal made up ;) 

 

vIV9b6R.jpg

Edited by Reaperman
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I have a little hobby of recovering data off of old computers to see where they've been. It's a cross between voyeurism and gambling.  No bitcoin yet, but since I'm into office dell's, it's probably unlikely.

 

Anyway, it turns out 'Beige4Daze' has a pretty interesting history. Per the silver stickers on the desktop and monitor, it was originally a Dell Financial Services leased computer, which spent ~2001-2004 in a local nuclear power plant--(Entergy's Waterford 3 plant).  As near as I can figure, its user was a manager(?) in the radiation protection/training division.

 

It contains a lot of stuff: pictures, emails, training, budget, planning, mishap, and HR stuff. Pictures included a lot of family Christmas pics, with a heavy focus on miniature Christmas villages, Mardi Gras 2001 loot/haul pics, seems the owner was also involved in the local toastmasters.  But the most interesting to me are pics of what appears to be a refueling operation, or a waste removal operation. I've included some pictures below.

 

wpqujybm.jpg WFwUEtVm.jpg F3Tm1A1m.jpg

 

bNrjJv1m.jpg Zq5AeFKm.jpg ADS79DWm.jpg

 

tarNXEBm.jpg

 

Because it spent *at least* 4 years 24/7 in a nuclear plant, I did buy some dosimeter pens/charger because I wanted another toy and to try and make sure I'm not totally going to die.  No reading over several days, so it seems fine (still probably the most radioactive thing in my house). 4 years at 24/7 is about 17-years worth of dose for a 40-hr/wk person. And that's assuming the thing didn't spend another decade rotting in a store room after 2004.

 

I don't know exactly what happened to it after Waterford 3, or why Dell didn't want their beiged and slightly irradiated computer back, but somehow it wound up on facebook marketplace, where a guy sold it to a coworker of mine who wanted the trinitron for his MiSTer.  Somehow in the process the monitor got dropped, and he thought the damage was why it wouldn't sync to the MiSTer--but obviously something else was going on there, since the damage seems cosmetic.  Anyway, this isn't a very interesting portion of its history, so I'll leave that be.

 

When I got it, it had an install of win95 on the first 2gb of it's 10gb drive and the rest was unpartitioned space, which is part of why I got just so much data off of this thing.  Also when I got it, it had one playing card shoved in the floppy slot (a queen) and two more in the CDROM drive (both twos)--those last two were a real PITA and involved me removing the drive and shaking it upside down.  Yes it still works. somehow.

 

UWIaFvk.jpg bfbEch9.jpg

Edited by Reaperman
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1 hour ago, The Usotsuki said:

I used to basically have the tower version of that, a Celeron/700 model.

I've seen those around, but never had one. There's also a slicker, slimmer version of the desktop GX-1 that's only got one external 5.25 drive bay.  I'd want to see inside or behind that slim one first, to make sure it doesn't only take low-profile cards, which would be a big downer.

 

By the time they started giving me towers, it was the Optiplex GX280 from the p4 era, which is actually pretty neat too.  It also clamshells open, but being a tower it still wants to be on its side for that, which takes half the convenience out of it. I want one, but not too badly, since my stack of core2duo D-series laptops basically cover that era and are a bit beefier. (and more compact)

 

One of my current coworkers (not the one who sold the gx1 to me) worked at Dell in texas during this era and thinks I'm absolutely crazy for liking these.  He's probably right.

 

Misc tip: dell serials and service tags can be looked up (here) to get original specs. It doesn't work with the GX-1 era, but most everything from the last 15 years or so works, and it really helps identify those rare office lattitudes that come with nvidia cards. Some of those ebay $20 laptops actually don't suck. :)

 

The Optiplex GX280--knowing me, I'm probably going for one of these someday too. 

 

tvLqmXqm.jpg

 

 

Edited by Reaperman

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After a few more days, I'm really enjoying my return to real MSDOS gaming, especially 'Whiplash' which I remember not being impressed by the demo of when I was a kid. Also Daggerfall--holy cow.  I tend not to like Elder Scrolls games, but what they made here is just fantastic---aaaaaaaannd then *gamecrash* ;) 

 

The SB Live works great when it works.  It's my first taste of midi/wavetable action using 8mb worth of soundfonts. (all these new terms I'm just now learning) The MIDI occasionally seems to have volume or instrument weirdness, but I think that's part of the experience, and when it's on it's game, holy cow is it ever on its game.  And when the MIDI is off, the adlib/OPL support seems very good, and picks up that slack.  SB16 emulation though, that's a problem. It works great most of the time, and doesn't work at all occasionally.  (like wc privateer, tyrian, or windows 3.11) 

 

The spotty Sound Blaster support out of the official SB card just won't stand! so today I ordered a present from Thailand, that's my first ever non-plug-and-play board.  An ess audiodrive es1688f.  Since it's non-pnp, it has neatly labelled jumpers that allow me to set it to other address/interrupt/dma values, hopefully letting these two sound cards coexist and chain into each other.  With a non-pnp card, no drivers seem required, so oddly, it appears I can just plug it in and play(??).  This seems nicer than hunting down drivers or documentation that may not exist.

 

v6w6MtK.jpg

It's a real beauty. 

 

I also bought it a white quickshot that's NIB for ~$25--which seems a huge a bargain, and the guy has more if anybody's interested.  I'm mostly interested in this one for the color, and the fact that I won't have to clean 20 years of hand-cheese off of it.  New suction cups are a highly attractive feature too.  My current black quickshot is an especially bad model, with switches on the bottom to disable centering spring--those switches make the whole stick a bit floppy in the center, and fortunately this new one does away with that feature.

 

EtNf8Cv.jpg

Edited by Reaperman

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Simplistic sound drivers would be built-in to each piece of software/game. Complete opposite of PNP or Windows drivers as we know them.

 

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Lovely machine. Getting a proper sound out of them can be a bit of a 'mare. I have a FM 801 based card, which is supposed to be totally compatible with DOS/Win, but it took a lot of fiddling to get it to work anyhow. In retrospect, probably I should've got some ISA Blaster, even if though they cost a bit these days.

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SoundBlaster was a DeFacto standard;  A limited subset of hardware IO ranges, IRQ and DMA addresses, etc-- for a specific configuration of sound hardware, and what that hardware expected.

 

Things outside that sound hardware specification, however-- such as a CDROM interface, would still need drivers, even with a jumpered card. 

 

As for a legit soundblaster clone... If you can find one, you could invest in a Snark Barker. :)

(you can always make one yourself too.)

Edited by wierd_w
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Wow...I haven't seen one of those beige buggers in years. I worked with similar models back when I worked IT for a local software/service company. We got a bunch of them from the home office after the company was bought and merged. They really were nice to work with.

 

And love the CRT's! I do miss them.

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Mardi Gras is next Tuesday, but being 2021, it's freaking cancelled :mad: leaving me with a four-day-weekend for MSDOS excitement. 

 

Not wanting to wait for my above Thailand-sourced non-pnp soundcard to arrive, I also bought an OPTi 82c931 PnP soundblaster clone with windows sound system support, and perhaps more critically a cable which I can hopefully use to pipe pc speaker sound externally.  If I can get any two of these three sound cards working happily together, I should have some solid options for fixing my trouble games.

 

For those wondering, OPTi drivers are (here) and a page with an extensive list of everything completely wrong with it (and the SB Live! I've come to love for that matter) is located (here).  Admittedly, I have very much lower standards than the guy in the link--once I get sound working everywhere, then I'll start getting more picky.

 

Zz1FoUfm.jpg

 

I also did a pretty bad unboxing video of the Super Warrior before I trashed the box.  Surprisingly, the only "manual" in that box is a one-sided quarter sheet of paper. Ah, 90's computer products--where "just fiddle with it until some of it works" ruled the day.

 

 

I also ordered an S/PDIF connector for the SBLIVE, and one of those fancy sd card adapters.  I'm guessing it's going to take a month for either to arrive from china, though.  This is rapidly turning into an expensive hobby, but that's the PC-master-race tax, I suppose ;)

 

yPVNEEhm.jpg t1GCU09m.jpg

Edited by Reaperman
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Something to keep in mind with that SDCard adapter:

 

Stick with cards that are under 128gb in size.  Very very important! Nearly all of them are clones of the same CF->IDE chipset with hacks on top of hacks. As such, they almost never support 48bit LBA, and so putting a very large card in will have... Undesirable... effects.

 

Some cards need to have the MBR recreated as well before they become bootable. Use fdisk /mbr to do that.

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19 hours ago, wierd_w said:

Stick with cards that are under 128gb in size. 

I think that's my partition size limit in DOS 7.10 anyway--it's why I built with an 80gb hdd, rather than something more exotic.  I also don't see any of the sd adapters coming with a master/slave switch, which would be useful.

 

I'm currently using a sata->ide adapter on the 80gb, which seems to introduce more initial delay than I recall from BITD.  Calling up edit.com, for example, gives me a good second of black screen before it comes up.  I'm hoping this SD solution reacts quicker, while also giving me a faster/better way to transfer files (without them going read-only when I burn them to CD, which is hugely annoying).

------------------------------------

That second sound card works and solves my windows no-sound problem--it doesn't seem to solve my trouble dos games for whatever reason. I have no idea why sound in privateer seems screwy, music's fine, but sound is a loud garble--I've even tried my retail copy.  My trick of running the output of one sound card into the line-in of the other only works in DOS (not win3.1), so I need some kind of physical stereo mixing solution.  currently shopping for one of those that doesn't suck/cost too much/look like a DJ tool.  It honestly might be cheaper/better to just run two sets of speakers.

 

I totally forgot sim tower was a win3 game--and had to "test" it for probably 2 hours...

Edited by Reaperman

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Posted (edited)

So rather than sending me the beautiful non-pnp ess audiodrive I ordered from Thailand in a previous post, they instead decided to send me a Yamaha OPL3-SAx PNP card with onboard wavetable.  Honestly, despite being the complete 'wrong' card, it's not actually a 'bad' card, so they must be terrible at ripping people off. It has a really nice setup process, fantastic FM and doesn't make me choose between SBPro and WSS. (Phil's got a review of the non-wavetable version)

 

The onboard wavetable comes in the form of an AdMOS QS1000, which is either a 500kb or 2mb unit that unfortunately sounds worse than the board's (excellent) FM just about 100% of the time.  As a bonus, the QS1000 likes to fail to initialize sometimes, and outright crashes the computer others.  (as seen in this video

 

So of course, today I did what I should have done in the first place.  I ordered a downgraded OPL3-SAx that has a wavetable header vs an onboard, and then I pulled the trigger on the Dreamblaster S2 now that serdashop sells outside europe again.  That'll fix my wagon.

 

One surprise that has hit me over the last few weeks was the MSDOS version of super cars--I'd never heard of that version, and it's fantastic!  A world better than I remember on the ST.  Of course for a 1996 release, it'd better be.

 

 

Edited by Reaperman

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Finding a proper home for this computer has led me to purchase cabinetry to house many of my CRTs and related gear.  They were installed today, DOS machine was the first to get set up, and I took that opportunity to upgrade the rig and show off a bit.

 

Sound card swap, again. Out with the old OPL3-SAx (w/ onboard crap-midi), & in with the new OPL3-SAx, with a wavetable header for the S2 to use.

obYHngVm.jpg

 

Also here's the GX1 case being modular 'AF' with its expansion bay removed, and power supply that swings out of the way.  Getting to this point is entirely tool-free.

WlBctmEm.jpg

 

Finally, an old, fat man excitedly talking about some cabinets for two minutes straight. I've been wanting this for a while--and of course they cost way more than what I intend to put on them, but what's new?

 

 

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I got my CRT corner built up enough to show off. I'm actually on a bit of a WinXP kick now that I have that D-Series so accessible in the setup.

 

 

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