Gaming Like Its 1999: Building A Legacy Windows Gaming PC
My Build, Buying Tips
Here’s the hardware I purchased for my legacy gaming PC.
Monitor: Sony Trinitron Multiscan 200sf 17” - $25
My first computer was a Sony Vaio that came complete with a Sony Trinitron 15” monitor. It was a beautiful piece of equipment and I was overjoyed to find that a similar 17” monitor was available on Craigslist for just $25. I immediately went over to look at it and found it to be in mint condition with the exception of some marks on the top of the monitor where something hot obviously touched and melted the plastic.
The 17” size worked for me, as well. It fits on my desk besides my other monitors. I may have been able to squeeze in a 19” but I am not sure it would have been comfortable.
Computer: Custom Built Used PC - $40 + $10 (For Windows 98 SE)
Portland has a computer parts thrift store called Free Geek that, according to its mission statement, believes “reuse is the highest and best form of recycling.” They take old computer parts, refurbish them, and re-sell them. It’s hardware geek heaven.
There I found, after about a week searching elsewhere, a system that would be perfect. It was a no-name build in a no-name case that someone had obviously put together themselves. And they apparently knew what they were doing – it had an ASUS K8V-XM motherboard with an (unused) AGP slot, an AMD Sempron 2400+ processor, 512MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive.
Yes, this is a newer system than I had aimed for and you don’t need hardware this fast. But the price is what sold me. Forty bucks. What a steal! The only problem was that it ran Ubuntu, so I had to track down a copy of Windows 98 SE on Craigslist. Most computers will already have a copy of Windows installed.
Video Card: Nvidia GeForce 5600 MX 128MB - $5
This fell into my lap while I was at Free Geek hunting for the PC. What sold me on it was the fact that Nvidia still had drivers compatible with Windows 98 available for download. Older video cards that are more accurate for the era are often hard to find drivers for.
Sound Card: Onboard
I picked up a Sound Blaster Audigy that supposedly had driver support for Windows 98 SE via an .iso available on a Sound Blaster fan site, but I could not get the card to produce sound. Fortunately the ASUS motherboard had a decent onboard solution and the official drivers were still available. I’m still on the lookout for a dedicated card, but the onboard solution will do for now.
Joystick: Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 - $5
Having a vintage joystick is an important part of this era’s gaming experience. Many titles only worked well if you had a joystick to play them with. I had originally wanted a Sidewinder 3D Pro, but I decided to give the Force Feedback 2 a try. Despite its 13 years of age the joystick’s force feedback motors still work, as do all of its buttons and inputs. I picked this Joystick up as Free Geek as well, but any Goodwill or other large thrift store is likely to have a few joysticks sitting around.
Keyboard + Mouse: $10
A simple Microsoft mouse and a IBM keyboard - found both at Goodwill, which usually has a ton of old perpherials in stock.
Total Cost Of Hardware
I ended up coming way under budget for the build. Let’s review.
- Monitor - $25
- Computer - $40
- Operating System: $10
- Video Card: $5
- Joystick: $5
- Total: $95
For less than one hundred dollars I had everything I needed for a vintage gaming machine. This figure may not impress you, but if you decide to go hunting for your own parts, your perspective will change quickly.
You’ve Gained Experience! Purchasing Tips
Image Credit: Jeff Kubina
When I first decided on this project I thought that hitting my budget goal would be a cakewalk. The real issue, I imagined, would be getting the computer to work properly.
Reality quickly humbled me. Some of the people who are in possession of old hardware seem to know what they have. At any time you can purchase a ready-to-go vintage gaming PC on eBay. But you’ll be looking at prices that range between $100 and $400 for the computer alone. And that’s before shipping. Vintage components are often at least $20 each.
It turns out that going local is your best bet. You don’t have to pay shipping, which automatically cuts money out of the budget. Prices are usually lower, as well. While you have access to fewer sellers, they have access to fewer buyers, and this balance seems to work out in your favor.
Patience is required. While I lucked out on my monitor, I had to check Craigslist every day for a week and check twelve different shops (a combination of Goodwills, pawn shops and computer thrift stores) before finding an acceptable system at an acceptable price. Don’t let your impulses get the better of you.
The Driver Tango
Sniping hardware at the right price is half the battle. The other half is sniping the right hardware – and driver availability is often the difference between right and wrong.
Manufacturers understandably discontinue driver support for old products. Unfortunately, they often take the drivers off the Internet and close relevant product support pages. And hardware is useless without the right drivers.
Sometimes you will have to download a driver from a third party because the driver is no longer available on the official site and sometimes you won’t be able to find a driver at all. Checking for this issue before you buy will save you from wasting money.
Be Prepared For Trouble
When I set out on this project I wanted to keep it within a certain budget. However, I also knew that I was dealing with older computer components with limited or no driver support. This meant it was likely that I was going to have to deal with hardware that isn’t working properly and may need to be replaced. There needed to be room in the budget to cover that.
I was right. The sound card that I purchased, a Sound Blaster Audigy, would not function after the drivers were installed. I simply could not get it to produce any sound or provide any indication that it was working. It was detected, and listed in the device manager as functional, but wasn’t doing its job.
Since I had bought the Audigy at a thrift store I was able to return it. But I could have just as easily experienced a problem with the $25 monitor sold on Craiglist by a guy preparing to move across the country.