Installing Windows And Games, Conclusion
Image Credit: Geoff Parsons
You are going to need a few things when you first boot your system if it doesn't already have Windows installed.
One, obviously, is the Windows 98 installation disk. You also are going to need to have a CD that contains all of the drivers you need to install. It’d be nice if you had original installation disks, but you likely won’t have any at all, so you need to download those drivers on another PC and burn them. Don’t count on a USB drive. It likely won’t work until you’ve installed the proper motherboard drivers.
Installing Windows 98 is a shockingly simple process. It’s common to think of older computers as more arcane and complex, but there’s nothing difficult about this task. Just follow the on-screen instructions and you can’t go wrong. Installation may take an hour if you have a system of older vintage, but on the system I purchased the entire process took about twenty minutes.
Once you’re into Windows 98 you will need to install your drivers. You should move the driver files to the computer’s hard drive before running their installers. In some cases a driver installer will request additional resources from your Windows 98 installation disc and placing the driver on the hard drive will prevent you from having to dance the installation disc shuffle.
Once you have finished your installation I suggest that you download Firefox 2.0. It’s the most usable browser available for a Windows 98 computer. It is generally going to be a good idea to keep your computer offline because for security reasons (it’s not like you’re going to be firing up a multiplayer match of Warcraft 2, anyway) but if you do need to go online that browser is your best bet.
Installing And Playing Games
Now that you’ve finished installing the operating system and the drivers it is time for what should be the fun part. Installing and playing games.
Ah, if only it were that simple. You are going to be playing titles that were released before the days of Steam’s automatic patches. Yes, you have to find, download and install patches yourself! Crazy, huh?
Finding the patches can be a problem. I suggest that you look for the patches on a separate computer, download them and then either burn them to a disk or transfer them via USB drive.
Don’t expect to just find the patches lying around. Of the games I’ve installed so far (including popular 1990s titles like Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries, Baldur’s Gate and Myth: The Fallen Lords) I have not in a single instance found a patch on the website of the original developer or publisher. Fan sites are your friend.
You may have to troubleshoot games. Titles from the early to mid-90s often will not be compatible with a late-90s or older GPUs (DirectX wasn’t even a thing until 1995, you know) so you will need to run them with a software renderer.
A bigger problem may be sound drivers. Some early games will expect you to have one of a certain number of sound cards and, if you don’t, you could be in trouble.
One way of trying to fix it is to buy an old sound card, but that’s easier said than done because of cost and driver compatibility. Another option is to try a program called VDMSound. The project started as a way to make some older Windows games run properly on Windows XP and was then ported to Windows 98 to assist with running DOS games.
Conclusion: Worth Your Time and Money?
Image Credit: 401(K) 2012
Building the legacy Windows gaming PC was an experiment. I wanted to see how much it would cost, how difficult it would be, how easy games would be to come across and if the gaming experience would be enjoyable.
My verdict? While putting together an older computer is certainly more difficult than buying a title off Good Old Games the experience is worth the cost. As I outlined already, we’re not talking about a project that will clean out your savings account. You can find everything you need for about $100 – even less if you’re patient and jump on good deals.
And while finding the right parts and drivers may take some time it isn’t a monumental task. Most of my build was complete within a week. Hell, if you’re a hardware geek like me you may find the experience of finding and buying parts to be rewarding on its own.
The reward for this modest budget and effort is warm-and-fuzzy nostalgia and the ability to buy and play any older game that you'd like rather than just those available on GOG. I’m no longer reliant on digital downloads for my classic gaming experience. I can buy a 90s-era games and enjoy them. There are plenty of these at thrift stores for just a few bucks each.
And it’s not just about fun – it’s also about preservation. When I buy these games, they are mine, and I will always have them unless the discs are physically destroyed. This sense of ownership is something that I no longer obtain from modern games.
This computer, and the games I play on it, are like a family photo album. I may not open it every day or even every week. But I feel better knowing that I can revisit those memories whenever I want – and I think that’s worth a Benjamin.