My Retro PC Systems

Like many computing geeks, I have a warm place in my heart for the computers I grew up with. Some of these still live in my parents’ house – too old to be used as primary machines, but too dear to just get rid off, especially when they were still (mostly) functional. I spend a few hours tinkering and using them whenever I visit, but most of the time they just collect dust.

Right before my parents remodeled a few years ago, I took some photos of these retro systems and their desk setups, for preservation. These are now presented here for no reason other than nostalgia.

System 1: AMD K6-II Desktop, Windows 98SE

(built early 2000)

Current components

Motherboard DFI K6XV3+/66, 256MB RAM
CPU AMD K6-2+, 500MHz
Video Voodoo 3000 AGP
Audio Yamaha Audician 32 Plus + DreamBlaster S1
OS Windows 98 SE
Case Unbranded
Monitor MAG 786PF
Speakers Maxxtro (white-label)
Keyboard IBM KB-8923
Mouse Genius Optical 3-button

This computer was assembled in early 2000 (too late for a K6-II system, I know) and served as a primary PC for a few years, for DOS and early Windows gaming, as well as basic office / internet browsing. The motherboard had been replaced once or twice due to failures, and it went through and outlived a few 15″ and 17″ CRT monitors (you can read some about its history on the Super Socket 7 page). The current components were selected for that all-beige retro look, including the keyboard, beige-bezel optical drives (one is a 52x CD-ROM, the other a 32x12x48x CD-RW) and the speakers, which are surprisingly nice (for a ‘generic’ set), as their huge size gives them a rather deep bass. I think I’ve had them for more than 15 years and they sounded so good to my ears compared to most of the generic crap I was used to growing up, that I insisted on repairing them when they developed a faulty cable connection. Couldn’t ask for anything better on such a legacy system.

After losing its “primary desktop” crown, this computer was still used for basic word processing / browsing for several years, but in the last decade it’s largely unused, except for my hobby of tinkering with old hardware and DOS gaming, and whenever some discussion on VOGONS forums inspires me to run a few specific tests. Most of the tinkering in recent years involved trying out various sound cards (e.g., see the discussions here and here).

Trivia: The hard drive in this computer (an IBM Deskstar 80GB) is so loud when powered (even if not accessed) that it drowns every other ambient sound in the computer or the environment.

System 2: Pentium 4-HT Desktop, Windows XP

(built mid-2004)

Current components

Motherboard ASUS P4C800-E Deluxe, 2GB RAM
CPU Intel Pentium 4 HT 3GHz (Northwood)
Video GeForce 6600GT AGP + VIVO
Audio Creative Audigy 2 ZS
OS Windows XP SP3
Case Thermaltake Lanmoto (Silver)
Monitor DELL 2007FP, IPS 1600×1200
Speakers Creative Inspire T7700
Keyboard Silver Line Multimedia (white-label)
Mouse Logitech MX310

This system was assembled in 2004, to replace the previous one as a primary desktop (a Compaq Evo N610c laptop with a 1.8GHz Pentium 4-M had been used as a stop-gap solution since 2002). It was pretty good for its time, although the first AMD Athlon64 CPUs were stealing the lead from Intel’s P4 architecture that was just about to hit a wall (again, some of the history of this computer is available on the Socket 478 page). Currently, the setup is silver-themed, using the silver variant of the Lanmoto case (also came in black, blue and red), an uncommon silver version of DELL 2007FP IPS monitor, and a keyboard and mouse which also have a touch of silver.

The case is the only component here which has not been replaced/upgraded at some point. It was also my first non-generic PC case, and I thought it was awesome, being partially tool-less, with a built-in fan controller and temperature gauge, front door, side window, and three fans (which I upgraded to Thermaltake’s original 92mm/120mm blue LED versions). By today’s standards, it’s nothing special, but I still appreciate that it’s made out of plastic and aluminium (rather than steel) which makes it fairly light. The case is 15 years old now, and I tinkered with this system a lot, so I can say it weathered rather well (with the exception of the power button, mounted on some flimsy plastic mechanism; the plastic broke and had to be mended at one point).

The speaker set, which has been with the computer for most of its lifetime, also deserves a special mention. It is the Creative T7700 – a 7.1 analog set, which I was crazy enough to actually wire around the room (you can see the cords to the side and rear satellites going up the wall). It took me some time to realize that more speakers ≠ better sound, especially as there are virtually no 7.1 sources out there, and even 5.1 is not very common. Most of the time I was listening to stereo duplicated to all 3 speaker pairs using the ‘Stereo Surround’ option in the Creative drivers, and I probably would have been better to invest the same money in a better 2.0 or 2.1 set.

Trivia: Creative deliberately uses 3 mini-jacks instead of 4 for 7.1 output on Sound Blaster cards, because only Creative speaker sets come with the proprietary 3-to-4 mini-jack cable; Creative just loves customer lock-in.

The system has been used for a mix of gaming, web-surfing, scientific programming and general office applications for several years at its prime; probably the most interesting use was digitizing several dozens of old VHS tapes, by means of a VCR connected to the proprietary video input on the 6600GT, the line-in on the Audigy, and VirtualDub doing the encoding. Now it’s mostly a light browsing + early Windows XP gaming machine.

System 3: Pentium M Thinkpad T42 Laptop, Windows XP

(bought early 2005)

Current components

Model Thinkpad T42, 2373-F7G, 2GB RAM
CPU Intel Pentium M 1.8GHz (Dothan)
Video Mobility Radeon 9600
OS Windows XP SP3
Dock Thinkpad Mini-Dock
Monitor DELL 2007WFP, IPS 1680×1050
Speakers Logitech S120
Keyboard Silver Line Multimedia (white-label)
Mouse Logitech MX310

The T42 was the first laptop I bought with my own money (boy, was it pricey), and was my primary companion through grad-school. This is the larger 15″ version with the 1400×1050 IPS screen, which was a rarity on laptops back then. I didn’t know about IPS at the time, and was lucky to end up with this unit after reading an online recommendation praising the screen. A few days of comparing the LCD on this T42 with other laptops got me hooked on IPS technology forever, and I avoided laptops and desktop LCDs with TN panels ever since. The fairly high-end configuration, with the discrete GPU allowed me to play a few moderately intensive games on this laptop.

Eventually I got a docking station and an external monitor – the DELL 2007WFP (IPS, of course), but shortly after upgraded to a Thinkpad T60. The T42 went to my sister, and served her for a couple of years before going full circle back to the parents’ place, complete with the dock and monitor, where it is occasionally used for light browsing / multimedia / office work. The keyboard, mouse and speakers complete the traditional Thinkpad black-colored setup.

Trivia: In the era of IBM and early Lenovo Thinkpads, IPS screens were offered on A30p, A31, A31p, T42, T42p, T43, T43p, R50, R50p, R51, T60 and T60p, and only in 15″ 4:3 SXGA+ (1400×1050) and UXGA (1600×1200) flavors. The Thinkpad X-series Tablet convertibles used IPS screens almost exclusively, but they did not come to regular X-series until the Thinkpad X220.

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