I’ll admit it: I tend to upgrade more than I should. I spend money on parts for minor gains and then re-run my benchmarks, hoping to have bumped my scores up a little bit. I have a problem.
However, that’s only on my “main” machine that sits in my office. I’ve always had a lower powered machine in the living room for couch co-op games or games that are best suited to a gamepad. Sometimes this machine has been WOEFULLY out of date, so slow that only streaming was practicable. I recently gave away the machine I had been using, so it was time to buy another. Then, I had a thought: what if I could build a machine that was capable of AAA gaming for the price of a PS4 (standard, not Pro)?
I’ve talked to a fair amount of people in the retro gaming scene that would love to get into retro PC’s, but think it’s too expensive. Interestingly, one of them was a gentleman who was selling me one of his NeoGeo carts. If you’ve got NeoGeo money, you’ve got retro PC money. Heck, if you’ve got Sega Genesis money, you probably have retro PC money.
I know it can seem daunting. You’ve got people on eBay selling Pentium 100 machines “fully loaded” for $1000. You don’t want to try to build your own, though, right? I mean, the rules were different back then and who knows what goes together?
While it’s true that going back too far can get you into a world of compatibility nightmares and jumper switches, there are some retro systems that anyone who has built a modern system would have no problem cobbling together.
Every year around Christmas or New Year’s, I make a trek back several states to the north to the home of my fore-bearers for a little holiday cheer. In between bouts of merry making (read: drinking) and consuming mass quantities of treats, my younger brothers and I will typically engage in a little LAN-based revelry.
Ten years ago, this meant I had to devote a significant amount of space in the vehicle to a large tower, replete with monitor, keyboard and mouse. Since their house was not wired up with Ethernet, I also needed to bring networking equipment, cables, and various other accessories so everyone could play. We’d set all the PC’s up in one room and spend an hour or two plugging everything in and then spend another hour or two trying to get everyone’s games to work. This was in the earlier days of Steam: without an internet connection, games usually just weren’t going to start. Still, hours later and a few hacks having been applied, we were up and running, joyfully blasting away at each other.
So, it was rapidly approaching Christmas. This year, we had been doing a lot of homemade stuff because last year we were stupid and spent far too much. As I pondered what to make for my cohort (and brother), it occurred to me that he doesn’t own any vintage PC hardware. Well, perhaps his 780 Ti qualifies as vintage now.
But he doesn’t have a classic DOS/Windows machine of his very own. Then, I thought making it a “budget” build was a neat play on the idea of saving money in the here and now. So, I picked an arbitrary year and sorted through my parts bins in an effort to build the most badass budget rig that the end of the 90’s could offer.