Gaming PC that is good as both a modern and retro setup?

It’s been a very long time since I owned a gaming caliber PC. I think it’s been nearly 20 years now. Since then I’ve been using laptops and am now using MacBooks as my main computing devices.

I’d like to jump back in with a budget PC that will allow me to initially target 1080p for modern games while also allowing me to play old school games in native resolution on my PVM 20L5.

Is something like this possible without emulation? Or is it better to just have a separate classic PC setup and modern rig for different games.

If it’s possible, how do you do it? What would you recommend?

For PVM output I think you would need something out of the ordinary

Do you have to have it on a crt? Seems like it’d be easier to use a vga monitor. Also how retro are you going with pc gaming.

I think back to windows 95/98.

Maybe I’ll grab a VGA monitor. But I don’t see why I can’t convert the VGA into SCART.

You either need an hdmi-component converter or a sync combiner to join the H and V syncs into a single. You can just put them both on a T tap and it’ll work but it’s not recommended.

Do you have a Toro box for Dreamcast ? It’ll also work as a sync combiner.

Here’s my PC hooked up to my BVM @240p

1 Like

PVM will require a 15Khz signal, while your computer will output a 31khz signal, so there’s some workarounds that need to happen before you can make it work.

VGA monitors look absolutely beautiful, there’s no reason to use a PVM with a PC IMO. A VGA monitor will work with your computer out of the box (might need a DVI to VGA adapter), and it will do higher resolutions than a PVM. Playing old PC games in 800x600, 1280x1024 etc at high refresh rates on a PC CRT is just awesome.

That said, if you absolutely want to go that route and use a PVM, you’ll need a video card that will output such a low resolution. There are some older cards that can be run with custom drivers to make that happen, and they can be a bit of a pain to set up.

There’s some more information about it here:
And here:

I have a box from behar Bros that will do the trick. I think it’s a garo (I forget the exact name).

My PVM accepts 31khz. No worries there. I would be surprised if the 20L5 couldn’t do 800x600 for example.

It goes up to 720p / 1080i

1 Like

One thing to consider is why so many older games from that era are bundled with DOSBox when sold on Steam or GOG, it’s because modern Windows compatibility is pretty damn awful for that stuff. I can’t see how you would adequately service both, even modern CPU’s can break stuff that is designed around the original lower clock speed. Personally I think you have to go one way or another really, be it focussed around modern gaming with emulation / compatibility layers for older PC games or build a machine based around older components and OS.

Oh nice, so you just have to get a 240p resolution out of the PC. Still something that’s not going to be supported on any modern graphics card, but that opens up your options significantly.

There’s a list out there of GPUs that are compatible with 240p with the right drivers, but I’m struggling to find it right now.

I did find this, though… I bet this would work nicely, it’s based on the HD5450 AMD chipset.

Yeah, if @Peltz wants to play old PC games versus outputting 240p for console emulation, there’s a lot to consider with that. Unfortunately there’s not real catch-all solution that would work with modern titles as well as older games from the DOS era. Many would argue that DOSBOX is the best solution, so you don’t end up with 4 different PCs from different eras lying around the house.

I’m not interested in console emulation. I’m only interested in PC native titles at standard PC resolutions from back then.

You could try one of those HDMI to Scart boxes.

Seems like gaming PCs from the late 90s/early 2000s are really cheap on eBay. I may just snag one st this point.

Retro PC stuff is as complicated as you want to make it. No matter how you set things up there will always be stuff that doesn’t work.

Like most DOS/Win95/Win98 games you can get working on a modern computer. Does it work natively? Maybe? If not try looking for fixes, they might help. If not try DOSBox. If your game is too much for DOSBox try a VM. That will probably work but you’ll have other issues like frame tearing or judder to deal with.

And of course there are ways to run this all out to a PVM if you want to but running analog video natively out at 0 lag is something old PCs are great at.

So conversely you could get a small Dell Pentium 4 box (or a thin client, or any number of other configurations), install Windows 98, and most stuff would just work out of box even without a complicated video card or real sound card. Again you can go more complicated by needing to run in true DOS mode where you need to figure out sound, mouse, potentially CD, and more. Or higher end games would require a better video card, which adds complications of its own wrt drivers and compatibility.

Personally I prefer with dealing with the latter to the former.

I may just grab a dell pentium 4 then. Any ideas of what an ideal GPU/CPU/ram setup would be?

If you want to go down that rabbit hole, I really recommend checking out PhilsComputerLab on youtube. He has a lot of great build ideas and setup guides with prebuilt systems.

For example, turning an HP thin client into a retro gaming PC:

Windows 98 tutorials and guides:

Building a system with just some random affordable parts:

Building a system that can step down CPU speed to handle mid-80s to late-90s with good compatibility:

Thanks for the tip

You might considering going to your local thrift stores. There are tons of Pentium 4 boxes out there you can get for basically nothing. you could then put a cheap graphics card in it and have a nice retro gaming machine.

The best video card that still has a native VGA output is the 980ti. This will absolutely get you modern gaming at 1080p.

Regarding retro, a little known fact is that modern computers can still boot MSDOS and are usable that way. You can use a USB floppy drive to boot. You will need a properly set up hard drive too. The main problem will be accessories: you definitely won’t have ISA connectors for old sound cards, and you would need a Parallel connector for the Serdaco equivalents. Not very practical, but fun to consider.

The better way is to use DOSBox. Through your VGA port, you can have it set to output the original, native resolution of old DOS games: you wouldn’t notice a difference with a retro PC, even games that switch resolutions like that pinball game I forgot the name of work flawlessly. SCUMMVM on the other hand doesn’t work that way any more; even with a VGA CRT you won’t be able to get an unscaled output, which is disgusting.

This is my recommendation. Get a modern PC with a VGA output, use it with a real CRT and DOSBox. This will give you everything you need.

If you want to use your Professional monitor, you will need a Sync merger as explained, but that way you might even be able to use console emulators with a 240p output. I’ve never tried that as I don’t have such a setup, but I was able to set some crazy resolutions with my 980ti, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you could.

Building an old PC is an exciting project, but for another thread. Also, expect to make concessions or build more than one; there is no one build fits all the first 20 years of IBM-PC compatibles.