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Building a Retro Gaming Rig – Part 5

In Part 4 of this series, I took a look at some sound card options. I’m now getting a lot closer to having this build finished, but there is still one key piece missing – storage.

When dealing with old hardware, hard drives simply don’t age well. Anything with moving parts is prone to failure and degradation over time. Not only this, but as the bearings wear down, the drives begin to have an annoying whine and droning noise that can be heard rooms away.

I’m all for the genuine nostalgic experience, but slow and noisy drives with 20 years of wear behind them are not something I’m particularly interested in. That said, I knew that I wanted to retrofit a modern storage solution to work with this machine.

Challenges and Limitations

Having worked with older hardware before, I was prepared for some challenges along the way. There are numerous drive size limitations and other BIOS quirks that I’d need to navigate around. Below are just a few:

  • Most 486 and older systems are limited to a 504MB hard drive due to a limit of 1024 cylinders being supported in the BIOS.
  • Many systems in the late nineties simply didn’t support drives larger than 32GB due to other BIOS limitations.
  • With a newer BIOS, some IDE systems can support drives as large as 128GB, which was the LBA limit with an ATA interface.

Clearly there are newer IDE drives with capacities beyond 128GB, but these drives require newer Ultra ATA 100/133 controllers. After doing some testing, I discovered that the Asus P2B that I outlined in Part 1 of this series had a 32GB drive limitation with the latest production BIOS and a 128GB limitation with the newest beta BIOS. The MSI MS-6160 that I covered in Part 3 was limited to 32GB. Since this was the board I wanted to use, I could only consider IDE solutions of 32GB or less if I wanted to stick with the onboard controller.

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