Behold: The 5×86 System Build Is Complete!

Back in November I became inspired by the knowledge that my favorite old school DOS MODplayer had “recently” received an update, and expressed my intention (part 1) to more-or-less recreate the 486-class DOS PC upon which I enjoyed many, many hours of MOD music, scenedemos and games back in 1996 or so.

Well, it was a long road (part 2) getting everything together, but a few weeks ago I finally completed the build. I took a detour or two from the original plan but, for the most part, the PC is the same machine I was using nearly 20 years ago:

  • AMD 5×86 133 (overclocked to 160MHz, making for a 40MHz bus)
  • ASUS PVI-486SP3 motherboard (VLB, PCI, ISA slots) w/ 256K L2 cache, 32MB RAM
  • Cardex Tseng ET4000/W32p-based VLB video card w/ 2MB DRAM
  • Adaptec 1542 SCSI controller
    • Seagate Hawk 1GB SCSI HD
    • Toshiba 32x SCSI CD-ROM drive
  • Gravis Ultrasound (“Classic”) w/ 1MB sample DRAM
  • 3Com EtherLink III Ethernet adapter
  • The same Focus FK-2001 mechanical keyboard and Logitech serial mouse from my original, 1996 PC
  • MS-DOS v6.22, Windows 98 OSR2.5, Norton System Commander 7

Some of the more interesting drills were trying to get a SCSI drive to work with my original DPT SCSI card (I ended up jumping over to a more widely supported, if less mighty, Adaptec card), sourcing SRAM chips to upgrade the motherboard cache as well as the oddball 24-pin DRAM chips needed to upgrade the video card to 2MB RAM, getting Ethernet networking running under DOS (with mTCP), and fixing the CMOS battery well after I snapped part of it off…

A number of twitter pals urged me to film the build, so I did, but it’s a pretty rough production, I must confess. Still, those wanting to see this system come together, here it is.

I’ve actually had more fun with the completed system than I imagined I would. I’ve got it loaded with demos and games and MOD/S3M/XMs. It’s been great fun seeing what more or less the highest spec “486” system you can build is capable of. In fact…I’ve had so much fun with scenedemos in particular that I have decided to build a second PC designed to chase down the next era of productions, the ~1997-2001 DOS demos that run in high res, high color VESA framebuffers. Socket A Athlon Thunderbird 1400C, here I come! (And, of course, I’ll bring a full report as that project unfolds.)

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21 Responses to Behold: The 5×86 System Build Is Complete!

  1. Derek Etnyre says:

    All set to play some Kings Quest and Leisure Suit Larry :$

  2. Carlos Bragatto says:

    Blake, what about running NextStep/Intel on it?

    • Blake Patterson says:

      I ran NEXTSTEP for Intel v3.2 on the original 1996 machine. In fact, the 1996 5×86 was an upgrade to the 486 66 that it started out as, which I got in 1994 specifically to run NEXTSTEP for Intel. It had a pretty interesting gfx architecture, that first motherboard, I must say. (Search this site for “Wingine.”)

      Maybe I’ll install it at some point…

  3. StiGGy says:

    Such a cool project, glad you managed to get it all done. I’m already rummaging in my spares parts box to see what I might be able to put together.

  4. Pepe says:

    Very nice!

    A couple of yeas ago I got myselft a 486 desktop machine too! They are really great machines to play with.

  5. That is one awesome project. You got me inspired to set up such a computer myself! I was an Amiga user back in the middle of the 90’s, but some demoscene people I knew had PC’s. Often watched demos with them and we always argued which had the better demos.. Amiga or PC.. :D Things got quiet when The Black Lotus won The Gathering 1996 demo party with their Amiga demo Tint.. hehe.. ;) Anyway, enough rambling from my side.. great job on this project dude!!!

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  7. Dinis Oliveira says:

    What demos do you recommend to watch?

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  10. Tane says:


    Have you started second (1997-2001) PC project?


    • Blake Patterson says:

      I purchased a Thunderbird CPU but halted there for a while. I need to get it done, but the lack of space and $$ has me waiting a bit. That Thunderbird might be faster than I want, as well. Maybe a P3 would be better…

      Stay tuned…

  11. spanner says:

    where can i buy a Asus PVI-486SP3
    looked everywhere even ebay

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