Playing Early 3D Games

The nineties was a time of major change in the PC gaming industry. In this article I take a little look at some of the critical points that began the 3D gaming industry and investigate what is required to build a PC that will successfully play these titles.

In 1993, 3D gaming really arrived with the launch of iD Software's Doom. This marked a huge leap over its forerunner, Wolfenstein 3D. Whilst Wolf3D would happily run on an 80286, Doom really required a 486 with a decent VGA graphics card to play smoothly (although its claimed minimum system requirements were a 386 - yeah...right).

In 1997, AMD launched the K6-2 microprocessor to compete against the Pentium II, as well as the Super Socket 7 standard to extend the life of the aging Socket 7 motherboard format, offering up to 100 MHz FSB speeds. This same year, nVidia launched their 3D offering to target the 3D performance gaming segment - the Riva 128.

 

Games Titles (in chronological order)

Listed to the right of each game are its claimed minimum system requirements.

Title Year Minimum System Requirements
Strike Commander 1993 (Apr) 386, 4 MB
Doom 1993 (Dec) 386, 4 MB
System Shock 1994 486DX, 4 MB (8 MB for SVGA and full speech)
Star Wars: TIE Fighter 1994 (Jul) 386DX, 2 MB
Doom II 1994 (Oct) 386DX, 4 MB
Star Wars Dark Forces 1995 (Feb) 386DX (486DX-33 rec.), 8 MB
Screamer 1995 486DX2-66, 8 MB
Descent 1995 386DX, 4 MB
Need for Speed, The 1995 486DX2-66, 8 MB
Duke Nukem 3D 1996 (Jan) 486DX2, 8 MB,
Screamer 2 1996 486DX4, 8 MB
Destruction Derby 1996 486DX, 8 MB
Quake 1996 (Jun) 486DX4-100, 8 MB
Descent II 1996 486DX2-50, 8 MB
Carmageddon 1997 Pentium 75, 8 MB, 1 MB VRAM
Need for Speed II SE 1997 Pentium, 16 MB, DX5, 1 MB VRAM, Win95
Quake II 1997 Pentium, 16 MB RAM, DX5, Win95
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II 1997 (Oct) Pentium, 16 MB, DX5, Win95
Falcon 4.0 1998 Pentium, 32 MB, DX5, Win95
Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now 1998 (Nov) Pentium 166, 16 MB, DX6, Win95
Half-Life 1998 (Nov) Pentium, 24 MB, DX6, Win95
System Shock 2 1999 (Aug) Pentium, 32 MB, DX6, 4 MB VRAM, Win95
Unreal Tournament 1999 (Nov) Pentium, 32 MB, DX7, 8 MB VRAM, Win95
Quake III Arena 1999 (Dec) Pentium II 266 or AMD K6-2/350, 64 MB, DX7, 3D Accelerator, Win95

Building a 3D Retro Gaming PC

Scanning through the list of games above, you're probably thinking the same as me - there's no way we can build a single system that can run all of those adequately. And you're probably right, but I'll give it a try. I'll be happy if we get some 1997-1998 titles playing well, which usually means all previous titles will play even nicer.

For the CPU, Quake III Arena needs a Pentium II 233, or an AMD K6-2 350. Both provide similar performance on their respective 100 MHz FSB motherboards (Slot 1 for the Intel or Super 7 for the AMD). Sadly, none of my Super Socket 7 motherboards have an AGP slot, and all of the graphics cards I've chosen are AGP.

Check my rough comparison chart to identify what cards are similar in performance, and what might suit you.

For the CPU, I'd like to run my AMD K6-2 500, as it gives me fantastic performance generally, and it's relatively straightfoward to slow down for the games that may need it. The motherboard I have doesn't support 100 MHz FSB, only 95 MHz (it's a PC Chips M590), but running it at 95 x 5.5 multiplier seems to give me close to a K6-2 500 MHz performance.

** This article is a work in progress. More to come shortly... **