Introduction: Choosing a Retro Gaming Computer
Retro games are lots of fun. Tetris, DOOM, SimCity and more are so much fun! The problem is, how do you play retro games? Emulators often have issues, and nothing beats playing games on real vintage hardware.
Step 1: Desktop or Laptop
A desktop is great if you need expansion or better serviceability. However, desktops are heavy and bulky. If you don't need special hardware a laptop is fine.
Step 2: What Games?
If you want to play earlier DOS games a 286 or 386 based computer is great. I have a 386 desktop and I can press the TURBO button to slow it down if it is too fast. For newer DOS games, a 486 is good. For early Windows games. Windows 95 on a 486 DX2 or early Pentium is good. I have a 75 MHZ DX2 486 laptop.
Step 3: Random Stuff You Need
To copy files to your old computer, you need disk image writing software (RawWrite for Windows works good, dd for UNIX based systems). You will also need a USB floppy drive and a pack of disks. You can often download disk images off the internet for things like the OS and you can download games too (usually as a file archive). For a desktop, you will also need a VGA monitor and possibly display adapters. A keyboard and mouse is needed too.
Step 4: Buy Your Computer!
Check out a thrift store to look for an old computer. You can also check companies and schools. I got a 386 desktop from my school for free, and a 486 laptop from my Mom's work for free. When you buy your computer, do not buy it if it has the following things: Excessive yellowing, major cracks or dents, rust or other signs of misuse or neglect.
Step 5: Inspection and Battery Issues
Open the case of your new retro computer and blow out the dust with some canned air. Fix any loose connections. Check the motherboard for a battery. On my 386, there is an external lithium battery (attached with wires to a connector on the motherboard). If this type of battery dies, replacement is simple. Some computers use DALLAS RTC modules, which are also easily replaceable and the RTC module is about $5. Other boards use lithium button cells, which are easy to replace. Some cheap computers use Ni-Cd or Ni-MH batteries soldered to the motherboard. If your board has this type, cut it off with side cutters and use a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol to clean up the PCB. I have never dealt with this type of motherboard before. If you leave a Ni-Cd or Ni-MH battery in place it will leak all over your motherboard and ruin it. If you have a retro laptop, open it up and remove the clock battery. It is usually easy to remove (plugged into the motherboard). Also, disassemble the battery lack and remove the batteries, then seal it back up.
Step 6: Set It Up!
Find a table or something sturdy to put your computer on. Make sure to use a UPS battery backup and a surge protector! If you have a modem, get a surge protector for your phone line too. Plug all the cables in (I am sure you know what goes where).
Step 7: Install the OS and Games.
Download disk images of your operating system of choice and flash them to floppy disks with RawWrite and a USB floppy drive. You can also download games and copy them to a floppy disk, then to your retro computer.
Step 8: Retro Game Time!
Enjoy some nostalgic moments of watching your favorite old games load up, or create some DOS gaming memories of your own by trying new games!
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