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Treble's Retro Gaming PC challenge... v2.0


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Sounds like its either the mb or CPU. Both need to be tested individually. If you've got the means to return the box, I'd try and do that first. If not you could probably pick up a cheap socket 1155 CPU for peanuts. I don't think the PSU has popped but it makes sense to test that on a working system too 

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Cheers, that's what I thought. Returning the unit will be a pain (and costly) so I might try and get a cheap, later version CPU like the 3470. Then if that fails it's the mobo, and at least I have an upgraded chip to stick in any replacement I buy.

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:lol: I think you've misunderstood what I was trying to say. I know that sandy bridge and ivybridge CPUs will work on the same MB. But if that mb was issued before the ivybridge CPU came out and has never had its BIOS updated there's a good chance the CPU won't be recognised. I've been in the situation myself and in my case a cheap CPU was sent to me so I could flash the board 

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;) I gotcha. Its a moot point now, as I got a deal on a different solution. I'll put all the 2400 build back in its original case and try and return it if I can. 

 

So, with the games tested and working so well, my next steps will be to write a rough buyers' guide. I also want to try and do a 'which emulation machine shall I get?' flowchart or similar, if I get time. 

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PC Emulation - a Quick eBay Buyer's Guide

 

1) Set an overall budget. Recommend approx. £100 to £120

  • £60 for PC, £30 for Graphics card (must haves), £6 for Windows 10 (if required), £20 for an SSD and/or extra RAM (nice to haves)

 

2) On eBay, go to the Computers category and narrow it down to PC (not Apple!) desktops. Then, set a maximum price you’re willing to spend, in the FILTERS option.

  • A computer based around the Intel ‘Sandy Bridge’ processor (CPU) or above is recommended. Some of the CPUs from that era and above I recommend (in ascending order of power) are below.
Spoiler

 

Recommendations (not exhaustive):  

  • Sandy Bridge | Socket LGA 1155 [lower/mid budget]
    • Core i5-2400 
    • Core i5-2500 or 2500K
    • Core i7-2600 or 2600K
    • Core i7-2700K 
  • Ivy Bridge | Socket LGA 1155 [mid/high budget]
    • Core i5-3340
    • Core i5-3450
    • Core i5-3470
    • Core i5-3550
    • Core i5-3570 or 3570K
    • Core i7-3770 or 3770K
  • Haswell | Socket LGA 1150 [highest budget]
    • Core i5-4440
    • Core i5-4460
    • Core i5-4570
    • Core i5-4590
    • Core i5-4670 or 4670K
    • Core i5-4690 or 4690K
    • Core i7-4770 or 4770K  
    • Core i7-4790 or 4790K

 

Note: only go for CPUs with the suffix ‘K’ or with no suffix at all. K means it can be overclocked, which is something you might look into down the line. Most other suffixes mean the processor is gimped/underclocked for corporate use, or low power (cool) for laptops. See here: https://www.urtech.ca/2017/06/solved-suffix-letters-intel-processors-mean/ 

 

 

3)  Check the motherboard to ensure it supports modern graphics cards. You are looking for PCI Express x16 (often written as PCIe x16).

 

  • If the listing doesn’t mention whether the motherboard has this, take the name of the PC and Google it, adding ‘spec’ or ‘motherboard’ to the search. Check the manufacturer’s website and it will be stated there, usually under a section called ‘SLOTS’. Example.

 

4) Check that the PC is physically the right size! Generally, avoid small form factor (SFF) computers as you can’t fit regular-sized components into the cases. However, if it looks like a genuine bargain, consider buying it anyway and a cheap ATX (often called 'mid tower') case and putting it in there afterwards. If in doubt, ask the seller for the dimensions, then ask on the forum if you’re unsure. Here's a search result for you.

 

5) Most of these sales will come with Windows installed. If the PC doesn’t come with an operating system, Download Windows 10 from here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/software-download/windows10. (If it doesn't come with a hard drive, see point 9!).

 

Then buy a serial code from this place for £6: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Windows-10-Pro-Product-Key-for-Activation-32-64-bit-Instant-Delivery/323810137554

 

6) Providing the PC has a decent CPU, a minimum of 4GB of RAM and a power supply of over 300w, make a bid and don’t exceed it. 

 

7) Graphics card: for an inexpensive, low-powered but high-performing card, I highly recommend the GTX 750 1GB, or GTX 750Ti 2GB, from Aliexpress. They are between £30-£40 and (as tested myself) not knock-offs but genuine products. Example.

 

8) Optional but recommended is to replace whatever hard drive (HDD) the PC has with a solid state drive (SSD), or choose it as your primary drive if the PC doesn't come with one. This is by far the best upgrade, bang for buck, you’ll ever buy for an older PC. Plus, you can re-purpose the old HDD for storage!

 

SSDs are incredibly cheap these days, and we don't need to look at high-end stuff for a cheap build.

  • Copying everything over form the old drive to the new is simple and fast these days. Check out this guide.

 

9) ...and you are done. By this point you should have all you need to start running the most demanding of modern emulators, and even lots of PC games through Steam!

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

After more fiddling around and play, here's some more feedback on what's good, what's not-so-good, and how to maximise spend. I might get stuff wrong here and there, but this is based on actual experience so fairly trustworthy(!)

I'll try and get some charts/benchmarks to show you, as well.

 

------

 

It's best to go for the fastest CPU (in terms of raw clock speed) you can afford. Emulators go like this in terms of priority:

Clock speed > system RAM > cores & threads > graphics card power > graphics card RAM

 

That's very different from what you'd focus on for modern gaming, which is better at sending the grunt work to your expensive graphics card, and better utilize the multiple cores & threads that modern CPUs have.

 

Emulators tend to use a couple of cores/threads max (with the exception of some of the really modern/experimental stuff like RPCS3) so sheer grunt is preferred. To maximise VFM, look at fast i3 and i5 processors, particularly ones that overclock well, i.e. with the 'K' suffix. I still use a Core i5-4670K in my main gaming PC, overclocked to 4Ghz, and it's only now just about showing its age! Still perfect for higher-end emulation, provided it's coupled with a motherboard that supports overclocking.

 

Some emulators really chew through system RAM (whilst barely touching the graphics card's VRAM) so make sure you have 8GB or more installed. I'm not sure if offloading instructions to graphics cards is tougher to code or what, but emulators tend to use their resources sparingly.

 

As long as it can support DX11 and Vulcan APIs, you are pretty much set as they are generally used for rendering the screen image at HD resolutions. They are not, as a rule, used for up-scaling the internal resolution of the system emulated. For example: using Dolphin, when you set it to display at 1080p this uses the graphics card to render the Wii's 480p output fullscreen on your 1080p monitor or TV. When you use the emulator to upscale the internal resolution to 1080p, this will then primarily use the CPU to display 1080p on your 1080p screen. All the hard work is done by the CPU.

 

Stuff like AA (anti-aliasing) is rendered by the graphics card in most emulators but, as you're basically supersampling the image anyway, AA is arguably far less important than in regular PC gaming. If you want to do some PC gaming on the cheap, look to incorporate a card from ~£100 into the build, e.g. GeForce GTX 960 / 970 / 980 or Radeon RX 570, rather than the GTX 750 Ti 2GB that I generally advise picking up for <> £30.

 

We're in a sweet-spot for emulation right now, in that you can emulate everything up to and including the PS2 for under £120 easily, plus Wii (Dolphin) and Wii U (CEMU), and that build will also play games of the PS3 and 360 era through Steam. Emulating the PS3 and 360 requires a huge amount of grunt right now - we're talking top-end gaming rigs, here - but the machines themselves are still cheaply available, and worth picking up sooner rather than later if you're clamoring to (re)play their exclusives...especially now you can rip the disks to hard drive.

 

The other reason we're in a sweet-spot is because, from the PS3 era onwards, there are far fewer oddities, exclusives and Japan-only games that we didn't get to play, or that didn't have superior remasters, remakes or updates. The PS2 era was the last one with tons of 'lost' exclusives, particularly on that machine, the Gamecube and the Wii; the seventh and eighth generations' best games are far more generally available. That means their emulation is still important, but far less vital, than with older machines.

 

------

 

TL;DR: For a 'super emulator' machine that doesn't cost much (say, ~£200) get a PC with a Core i5-4670K or 4690K CPU and overclockable motherboard, paired with a GTX 970 graphics card. If you're patient, wait 4-6 months whilst people invest in the new range of super gear from AMD that everyone's going bananas for, and it'll be even cheaper than today! Stick with PS3 and 360 hardware and forget emulating those right now, as they're intensely difficult to emulate and need a Cray to run :)

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I've been a PC user who's built my own machines going back 20+ years but it's only these last couple that I've really took the PC's Swiss army knife towards gaming to the next level. It's absolutely mind blowing the amount of quality games you can run, even on what would be thought of as low spec these days. Saying that, anything from the past 6-7 years has grunt that would have blown minds back in the day.

 

Love the stuff your'e doing, only had a quick scan over mind. I'm set for running the emulators but would be great to read a few tips on the software side. I fancy a bit of redream but am I right in thinking it can't run Windows CE games? Any plans to have a bash at Supermodel?

 

Keep it up.

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Cheers @amc. I'm planning to do some thoughts on specific emulators, yep. It's just finding the time :)

 

What I have been working on is a guide for which device to use for your individual emulation needs. Hoping to get that up soon, then I'll dive into things like PCSX2, Dolphin, PPSSPP and the like. 

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A caveat for anybody looking at major OEM PCs designed originally for office usage, you may wish to get gud about the vagaries of both the bespoke connections these can have (especially on newer gen machines) and the PSU type they use and what particular GFX cards they like as not all major OEMs provide good compatibility for AMD especially.

 

Most of these problems generally only become apparent if you decide to transplant the innards or do some upgrading of parts.

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Hope Treble doesn't mind the slight hijack, but I have an old HP Elitedesk with a i5-4570 that I'm looking to turn into an emulation box. I've tried Batocera which is a nice front end but accumulating all the ROMs is a pain, especially when for Raspberry Pi you can get retropie images like Nacho's, etc.

 

I was wondering if anyone knew of a equivilent of the retropie images for PC? If not, is there a good guide to building a decent front end yourself? Currently N64 doesn't work on my Batocera install, for example, and I can't find any info as to why not...

 

image.png

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6 minutes ago, donkeyk said:

Hope Treble doesn't mind the slight hijack, but I have an old HP Elitedesk with a i5-4570 that I'm looking to turn into an emulation box. I've tried Batocera which is a nice front end but accumulating all the ROMs is a pain, especially when for Raspberry Pi you can get retropie images like Nacho's, etc.

 

I was wondering if anyone knew of a equivilent of the retropie images for PC? If not, is there a good guide to building a decent front end yourself? Currently N64 doesn't work on my Batocera install, for example, and I can't find any info as to why not...

 

 

image.png

 

If you want to use coinops there's a few big images on arcade punks that will basically do everything for you.

 

As a front-end it is great but I need to figure out how to use it without the videos really, as it does slow it down a little

 

 

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On 19/07/2019 at 15:31, amc said:

I've been a PC user who's built my own machines going back 20+ years but it's only these last couple that I've really took the PC's Swiss army knife towards gaming to the next level. It's absolutely mind blowing the amount of quality games you can run, even on what would be thought of as low spec these days. Saying that, anything from the past 6-7 years has grunt that would have blown minds back in the day.

 

Love the stuff your'e doing, only had a quick scan over mind. I'm set for running the emulators but would be great to read a few tips on the software side. I fancy a bit of redream but am I right in thinking it can't run Windows CE games? Any plans to have a bash at Supermodel?

 

Keep it up.

 

Thanks for the kind words! I don't like to parrot things off the Internet, so tested Sega Rally 2 personally to see about the CE side of things. 

 

Sad to report that, even with the latest build of ReDream (1.3.1), a licence key for RD and an official Dreamcast BIOS in use, its a bust. 

 

I hear the creator of ReDream is working on Windows CE compatibility, but obviously don't hold your breath. 

 

Of course, on the positive side, not many DC games use CE and of the ones that do, very few are what I'd say were Dreamcast essentials. That's a personal taste thing of course, so take a look at what you're missing and see if it's a big deal for you:

https://segaretro.org/Windows_CE

From that list, Sega Rally 2 and Urban Chaos really leap out for me personally. 

 

I'll go into Redream's performance stats in detail soon, but at the moment the only drawbacks are the lack of CE support, and save states. I personally think the disc-based systems with memory cards rarely let you save often enough - something the Xbox with its HDD and apeing the PC immediately improved - so save states are as important to that era's games as they are to MAME, and systems with no saves (or where they're rare, or password-based). 

 

Apart from that, Redream is a... dream. It has a simple front end, it's attractive, it's easy to navigate, it spots your controller instantly, it doesn't really need you to supply a BIOS, its menus are uncomplicated and its UX makes mock of its stablemates and their multi-layered, monochromatic, inpenetrable options screens. 

 

Efficient, powerful and easy to use, it has the potential to be the best of the best once its features mature. 

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FYI, the current test version of redream is trying out savestates. They should be in the next release. 

 

Win CE compatibility is more tricky. The CE software stack needs emulating on top of the base hardware. I wouldn’t hold your breath over that one. That said I think demul does win CE. 

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3 minutes ago, Ninja Doctor said:

FYI, the current test version of redream is trying out savestates. They should be in the next release. 

 

Win CE compatibility is more tricky. The CE software stack needs emulating on top of the base hardware. I wouldn’t hold your breath over that one. That said I think demul does win CE. 

 

Sega Rally 2 does run in demul but the quality's a bit dodgy- unstable framerate and the audio is all over the place

 

Dont know about every CE game in general, but the arcade version runs a lot better in Supermodel. 

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I've never played the arcade version. It's meant to be significantly different, isn't it?  Edit: just watched a quick vid, looks pretty similar although the Arcade handling model looks better. 

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39 minutes ago, Treble said:

I've never played the arcade version. It's meant to be significantly different, isn't it?  Edit: just watched a quick vid, looks pretty similar although the Arcade handling model looks better. 

 

Isn’t the main difference just that arcade is a lovely 60fps whereas the DC version has a pretty shocking framerate and is generally a shoddy port? 

 

Sega Rally 2 was released on pc back in the day too. But I don’t know how that compares or if it works on modern PCs.

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As @amc requested, I've made a start on descriptions of individual emulators, with an obvious PC focus.

 

I'm not an expert, so feel free to suggest adjustments, although bear in mind I'm trying to keep it as a 'lite' guide so adding detail/complexity is probably counter-intuitive. So, here we go...

 

image.thumb.png.3904b138d23a63087cf3b7f4004ff753.png

 

Screenshots with Rivatuner stats top-left. This is running on my Pontiac Bandit build: LGA 2011 mobo, i7-3930K CPU @3.2Ghz, 8GB RAM, GTX 970 graphics.

 

Final Fantasy X-2:

PCSX2_Fa.thumb.jpg.8dad8e837514a2dc4ed50609d4d18af9.jpg

 

NiGHTS: Into Dreams:

PCSX2_Na.thumb.jpg.7e89116f354cdfd071963bebef7a0c43.jpg

 

Gradius V:

PCSX2_Gb.thumb.jpg.06b3db6dcf43fdd557fb761b876cb534.jpg

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Cheers @Bluejam :)

 

Definitely get rid of Vista! Check my advice upthread for getting a Windows 10 key. 

 

I had a Core 2 Quad which had a slower clock speed than that, and it could do PS2 games at original resolution (ie not all that pretty) just about. 

 

Everything earlier than that was fine, but you're probably looking at up to and including PS1 and little else, I'd say. 

 

So yeah, spend 6 quid to get the key, get rid of Vista so it performs better, then give it a whirl and see how it behaves! 

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Cheers @treble 

 

The amount of shite the previous owner had on the desktop made my eyes bleed and deffo getting rid of Vista :) 

 

ironically a PS2 and PS1 came with the pc in a ‘ you might as well have these as well’

 

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1 hour ago, Bluejam said:

Cheers @treble 

 

The amount of shite the previous owner had on the desktop made my eyes bleed and deffo getting rid of Vista :) 

 

ironically a PS2 and PS1 came with the pc in a ‘ you might as well have these as well’

 

 

 Score! 

I'd have a good go at running BSNES, then. It's really nice to see the old games looking so polished and sharp in HD (hats off to @Ninja Doctorfor the original recommendation).

 

PPSSPP is also undemanding but attractive, much like my wife. Give it a spin. 

 

Of course, get an all-in-one retro kit job like Lakka / Batocera / Coinops 8 for ease of use and breadth of coverage, too. 

 

 

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I’m familiar with coin ops (on the Fat Xbox) so that might be an option.

 

The administrator login is password protected so tempted to get the hard drive out, put it in my other pc and format it. There is so much shit on there a fresh start might be best.

 

However, It’s been so long since I did a ‘fresh start’ I’m a bit worried about drivers and stuff. Is it easier these days?! 

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With Win10 particularly, yep. Although obviously drivers for old devices may have disappeared. 

 

Unless you're hooking up a serial printer, or determined to carry on using Office 95, though, I think you'll make out OK :)

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On 03/08/2019 at 17:55, Treble said:

Cheers @Bluejam :)

 

Definitely get rid of Vista! Check my advice upthread for getting a Windows 10 key. 

 

I had a Core 2 Quad which had a slower clock speed than that, and it could do PS2 games at original resolution (ie not all that pretty) just about. 

 

Everything earlier than that was fine, but you're probably looking at up to and including PS1 and little else, I'd say. 

 

So yeah, spend 6 quid to get the key, get rid of Vista so it performs better, then give it a whirl and see how it behaves! 

@Treble Windows 10 key, eBay link no longer works. Have you got the sellers name? 

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