Windows XP gaming setup

Not quite modern, not quite retro. To me the windows XP gaming era still seems like a pretty recent modern phenomenon. However, the OS itself and the hardware that was running it are quickly fading into history, along with an enormous software catalog that is most of the time compatible(ish). But there are plenty of outstanding games and features already slipping through the cracks. (EAX anyone?)

Over the years I’ve slowly put together the rig that I’ve comfortably setup in my upstairs getaway corner.

The specs:
Intel Pentium4 Northwood 3.4ghz.
4x1gb Corsair DDR-4000 CAS3.
Intel D875PBZ motherboard.
Soundblaster X-FI elite pro
Sapphire Radeon X1950 pro AGP 512mb
2x 500gb western digital 7200RPM SATA hard-drive
1.44mb sony floppydrive
Samsung 8x DVD-combo drive

Currently hooked up to my old philips BDM4065UC 40" 4k monitor.
Cheap microsoft keyboard/mouse combo that I’ll replace eventually.
Original microsoft xbox 360 wireless receiver + controller.

Not in picture:
{almost} every sidewinder released by microsoft.

Anyone else that has an old pc tucked away somewhere?


Awesome setup. With DOS emulation and GOG becoming so good at preserving the DOS era of games, I find that the Win95 to XP era is quickly becoming the most difficult to play on a modern system.

That said, I would love to build myself a system like yours, probably aiming for the best hardware available around 2000 or maybe 2002 at latest. I just don’t have the room to set one up right now, so it seems a little bit of a waste to buy one when lots of the parts are still so readily available.

There are so many great games from that time, just when the 3D capabilities on the PC really started to shine with advanced graphics and dedicated GPUs being the norm. EAX was really cool, too.

I built a PC to play Windows XP games a few years ago but I really didn’t end up using it. The games in that era are just generally not in my interests, and the notable exceptions like UT2004 run great on modern systems.

The machine I built currently has:
AMD Athlon XP 2600+ (running at 1530mhz due to mobo)
Gigabyte GA-7VKMP-FA Rev 5.1 w/ VIA KM266
Yamaha XG YMF754-R PCI
Quadro FX 1100 (FX 5700 Ultra equivalent)
64GB SD Card via IDE
External DVD-RW via USB 2.0 occasionally hooked up
Jonsbo C2 case

I ended up re-purposing this system as a high end Windows 98 system, which the specs are great for. Because of the MicroATX board and no front panel peripherals + the small case it’s a tidy setup to add onto a crowded setup with uh 4 other vintage PCs. Here it is running Final Fantasy VII Windows 98 ver with a Yamaha MU90 XG/Midi module:

I think if I ever come around to XP I’ll probably make use of my old general purpose PC as a high-end XP system:

i7 3770K (would likely lock it to just 1 core in the bios)
Radeon HD6950
24GB DDR3 1600MHz (lol 3.5gb Windows XP cap)
Fractal Design Define R2 case

I’ve got a bunch of old computers, another option would be to use the Dell GX270 I have though it’s limited to half-height AGP graphics, and an FX5200 is anemic for post-2004 XP. I’ve also played around with Bootcamp and VMware Fusion 2 on a 2nd generation Intel Mac Mini, not the best video there but it’s neat hardware to run XP on.


Wanted to ask here instead of starting a new thread.

Thinking of building an XP gaming PC to add to a decent Win98 machine and a 2500k/6770 rig for early 2010s Win7 gaming.

I have a cheap pre-built PC to salvage some parts. I am wondering if they’re worth using.

Here’s what I have so far:

CPU: Athlon X2 220
GPU: Integrated only - I would need to find a cheap (<$50) card
RAM: 5GB (4 is max for XP right?)
Sound: Integrated only, I’d plan to add a sound card
Storage: I’d add a 128GB SSD and WD Raptor 74GB (for kicks)

So would this build be okay for XP games up to say 2008? The CPUs struggled with Vista and 7 but I am hoping dual core 2.5+ GHz processors would run XP pretty darn well.

Would the Win7 rig do just as well with most games?

I’d also appreciate any recommendations on cards around $50 that would do well with games like Far Cry, Rome: Total War, and Oblivion. If they don’t exist I will just hold off!

Couple of things here.

  1. Pretty much xp era software was single threaded and heavily dependent on high IPC and high clockspeeds. The athlon X220 was a very low end part in the amd lineup, with a very low clockspeed to boot. On the intel side, a relatively cheap E8400 or 8200 could be clocked at 4.2 to 4.5ghz quite easily. The performance difference in staggering. Silky smooth on the intel side, half or less the frame rate with that amd chip, and due to the unfortunate architecture choices amd made, plenty of continuous stutter and frame rate variability in a lot of games from the era. Do yourself a favour and grab a cheap socket 775 board while theyre still easily available and a good cpu. They’re still cheap as chips.

  2. As for videocards, you’re in luck, also still affordable. if going Nvidia, gtx280 or gtx285 would be perfect high performance choice that fits in your budget. On the amd side, I’d grab a 6950 or 6970. 5000 series cards are a bit slower and run much hotter due to larger manufacture process, and the 4850/4870 are quite a bit slower and suffer from dying due to the board vrm design.

  3. As for ram, ddr2-800 is what you want, 4 sticks of 1gb with the best timings you can find at a reasonable price. Diminishing returns set in quickly here, and the performance divergence is only about 5% max. When it comes to good/bad timings.

  4. Grab a cheap Sata SSd if possible. They’re cheap enough these days. XP lacks trim support so you want to grab one from a manufacturer that has a tool available that can manually run trim once in a while. If you go for a HDD, make sure it’s a 7200rpm drive. New modern Sata ones will work fine as well.

  5. As for sound, directsound3d and eax 4/5 were still king at the time. Look for a cheap creative x-fi card. You get all the positional audio and effects processing, all without increasing CPU load. The positional audio with headphones on those is great and immersive. I personally use the x-fi elite pro, which has an external dac/headphone amplifier in the breakout box and still sounds sublime in this day and age. Milage may vary on price on these though. I got lucky and got mine for 15.- each.

This is all assuming you’re aiming for that 2008 mark, where plenty of games that you target were also released on the 360/PS3. You should be able to match 1080p/60fps with the above setup with the bulk of games without much issue.


Wow, thanks for the detail! I’ll forego the pre-built mobo/cpu and grab some different parts. I’ll look into the parts you mentioned and see what I can put together!

Enter the Matrix for XP was… not good. However it makes for an interesting Digital Foundry video: Enter The Matrix: 2003 Retro Time Capsule PC vs Original Xbox - A Truly Hilarious PC Port - YouTube