When considering my career in vintage computer collecting, I focused more on expansion cards than systems. I had a hunger to acquire IBM PC ISA and to a lesser extent PCI / AGP cards. I recently thought about what I have acquired in my career, what I have kept and what I have lost or sold/traded away.
Graphics Cards :
My early graphics card collection is among the best in terms of its comprehensiveness. I have the following :
IBM Monochrome and Printer Display Adapter
It came with some system, and mine has a larger black bracket for IBM PC 5150 slots, so it will not fit well in other systems. I have used it with the next card for dual monitor action. However, only a purist would use it over a Hercules Card. I also have an IBM 5151 Monochrome Display, which has moderate burn-in. You can actually see images fade on the monitor, which is utterly unique. Its parallel interface, like the standalone parallel card, can easily be modified into a PS/2-compatible bidirectional port.
IBM Color/Graphics Display Adapter
I have two of these cards, one of which I somewhat clumsily installed a pair of pin headers so I could choose the thin font. I think it did something to worsen the video quality. However, unless you only play text adventures, this card is an absolute must for gaming on an IBM PC/XT. Other cards are not necessarily compatible or the speed becomes unacceptable. I am also of the opinion that 256KB is an acceptable amount of RAM for any CGA game that does not support a superior graphics adapter. There is no substitute for the IBM card, I also have an Epson CGA card that fails certain of Trixter's PC compatibility tests. One huge advantage that this card has is that it can display color through its composite RCA jack. While DOSBox, MESS and PCe Emulator can display 640x200 graphics as composite artifact color, they cannot do the same for 320x200 graphics, which usually display in color on a composite monitor or TV. Games exist that take advantage of this functionality.
Hercules Graphics Card
This is a long card with no additional support. Hercules later marketed a Plus card with support for user replacable text fonts and an InColor card with 320x200x16 color support. Some games support the latter, but also support EGA with one exception (Karateka). I had two of these cards, but sold one with a utilities disk from Hercules. Unfortunately, I did not have a 5.25" drive at the time, so I could not image the disk. I do not know if there is a software setting to turn the card into half-graphics mode, which only uses 32KB instead of the card's 64KB. There is no jumper on the board for this. The graphics tended to be a bit slow on IBM PC and XTs, however some games use the monochrome graphics well. Look at Sierra's AGI games for example.
IBM Enhanced Graphics Adapter
Not only do I have the base adapter, but also the RAM expansion daughterboard for a full 256KB. I have no desire to obtain a Professional Graphics Adapter, as no game I am aware supported it. The RCA jacks go directly to the expansion connector, and the functions of the switches are not immediately obvious. Unfortunately I have never owned a 350-line color TTL monitor, so the 640x350 mode is beyond my reach. This adapter will work just fine with my 5151 and 5153 monitors if the switches are properly set.
IBM PS/2 Display Adapter
This is IBM's only 8-bit VGA graphics card and probably its only ISA card with its own VGA chipset (as opposed to another manufacturer). It is a full length card with two rows of pin headers for some unknown purpose and a VGA feature connector. I am concerned that its EPROM may eventually die, but I dumped it just in case. It will even work in a Pentium II/III system with ISA slots, even if the system beeps. It will also work fine in an IBM PC 5150. It was designed to upgrade an IBM PS/2 Model 30 from MCGA to VGA, but it can work in many other systems. (It would not fit in a PS/2 Model 25).
Unusually, it only uses 24KB of a 32KB EPROM, which is mapped from C0000-C5FFF. It also has 8KB of sratchpad RAM, but this is mapped in a very weird way. 6KB of it is mapped from C6800-C7FFF and the remaining 2KB is at CA000-CA7FF. There are memory holes in between, so if you are using a card with an External ROM, make sure it does not start at C8000 if you are using this card.
My later acquisitions include :
Diamond Monster 3D Voodoo Graphics
I remember owning one of these back in the day, so I bought another for those early DOS/Win 9x games which do not work properly with a a later generation Voodoo 2 card. One day the card refused to display graphics, just some white lines on a black screen. Eventually I threw it away.
Diamond Monster 3D II 12MB Voodoo 2
I remember replacing my Voodoo Graphics with a Voodoo 2 back in the day, but I do not believe I ever had two cards for an SLI configuration. I am sure I replaced it by 2000 for a Geforce 256.
3dfx Voodoo 5 5500 AGP
This card was a replacement for the MAC card, but eventually it could no longer display graphical modes without severe corruption, so it too went into the trash.
3dfx Voodoo 5 5500 MAC PCI
I bought this card on eBay from a guy in China, and noticed that the card's faceplate was very rusty. Once I flashed the card with a PC BIOS, it worked well, even its DVI connector. Eventually the VGA output would not display the color green, and an unknown component in a set of three looked damaged, so I eventually threw it away.
IBM Cards :
IBM Printer Adapter
This card would have been used to add LPT1 to a system with a CGA card or LPT2 to a system with an MDA card. The usual address is 0x378h, but it can be hacked and I did hack it to be selectable to 0x278h.
IBM Asynchronous Communications Adapter
This card could reliably handle null-modem transfers at 9600 baud, whereas the UART on my AST Six Pak Plus could only do 4800 baud null-modem transfers. Has one jumper DIP block to select COM1 or COM2, another to select TTL or current loop communication. My card has a jumper to work in the IBM XT's slot 8.
IBM Game Control Adapter
This card may seem useless, as it has needs a Y-splitter for two joysticks and has no speed adjustment, but its useful to have a card, the compatibility of which, is assured.
IBM Diskette Drive Adapter
Has a card edge and can support 5.25" or 3.5" double density drives. If you need a custom cable because you installed a 3.5" drive with only a pin connector, you should be able to squeeze on an extra connector to a cable easily.
AST Six Pak Plus
This card came with my IBM PC 5150, and it can complete a PC if everything is properly installed. IBM even marketed it in some of their late brochures. It can add 384KB of RAM to the PC's Motherboard's 256KB for the full 640KB. It can also add a serial, parallel and game port. Each of these ports can be disabled. The parallel port requires a DB-25 female header and the game port a DA-15 female header, a N558 Quad Timer and a 74LS244 chip. The serial port has a socketed UART.
Sound Cards :
Adlib Music Synthesizer Card
There are two versions of this card, the 1987 version and the 1990 version. Other than an extra capacitor or two on the 1990 version, the only difference is that the 1987 version uses a 1/4" TRS output jack and the 1990 version uses a 3.5mm mini-jack. Output is mono, and the silkscreening on the YM-3812 and Y3014 OLP2 chip and DAC is scratched out on my 1990 version card, although by that time the secret of what chip Adlib was using was out.
IBM Music Feature Card
I originally purchased this full length card for a hefty sum on ebay. It came with a midi breakout box, which I acquired separately a year later. Later I traded it for something, a trade I occasionally regret. Only Sierra On-Line ever supported it in games, but they supported it for a four year period (1988-1991). It is a combination of a Yamaha FB-01 midi music synthesizer (using 4-op FM synthesis) and unique IBM midi interface. I put it in a PC and used the breakout box to try and replicate an FB-01, but DOSBox would not produce the correct sounds. That was about 3 years ago, but there are versions of DOSBox available on VOGONS that will transmit the MIDI properly to the card or FB-01. A Yamaha FB-01 works well with most games and a Roland MPU-401 interface.
Roland MPU-IPC-A + MPU-401
As I have stated previously in this blog, the MPU-IPC-A is merely a small logic card, and the MPU-401 is the external box where all the midi commands and data is processed. It makes no music unless attached to a midi synthesizer, whether a keyboard or a module.
I bought this, with its MCB-1 midi breakout box, from a seller for $25 + shipping. He did not know if it worked and this was a risk. This was back in 2006 or so before the price of an LAPC-I skyrocketed. I could put it in a PC and use it as an external synthesizer in DOSBox, but I needed a program that allowed sysex to pass through the midi interface to the synthesizer. The interface by default would block sysex, which would eliminate the synthesizer's ability to receive custom sounds from a game. I traded it for something good after I had acquired a CM-32L, which has the exact same synthesizer capabilities. My card had ROM v1.02, not EPROM, which was v1.00.
Creative Labs Game Blaster
My most recent acquisition came as a part of a trade for a Tandy 1000 TL. It came in its retail box with driver disks on 5.25" and 3.5" disks and the Sierra game Silpheed, also on both disk formats. I wanted this because there are games which I have confirmed will not work with a Sound Blaster with C/MS chips, they obviously are looking for something inside that big CT-1302 chip. The next widely-available CL card using RCA jacks would be the AWE64 Gold. It is a stereo card, but that was probably the only thing for which it was known.
Creative Labs Sound Blaster 1.5 w/CMS Upgrade
The earliest Sound Blaster cards came with a v1.xx DSP, but mine came with a v2.00 DSP. I added the C/MS chips, which are Phillps SAA-1099s. That is the only part of the card in stereo. With the v2.00 DSP (which adds auto-DMA support among other things), I have cajoled Trixter's 8088 Corruption demo to work with the card. I read that the v2.00 DSP was necessary for MPC-1 compliance with Windows 3.x multimedia features. I may keep it around only to check whether C/MS games will work with the card, but DOSBox now supports the Game Blaster.
Creative Labs Sound Blaster 2.0
I sold this card because I could not upgrade it with C/MS chips because it uses an extra PAL chip, a 16L8N, the programming for which nobody was able to replicate at the time. It would have worked as well as any Pro in any game except for stereo and mixer support. Its abilities are firmly encompassed by other cards.
Creative Labs Sound Blaster Pro 1.0
I kept this card because there are games that support its dual OPL2 chipset. It is also necessary if you wish to use a Sound Blaster with any Tandy system with a PSSJ sound chip. The PSSJ only works with DMA1 and if a Sound Blaster is also set to DMA1, games will freeze when playing sounds.
Creative Labs Sound Blaster Pro 2.0
Although I sold this, it has one big advantage over the Pro 1.0. The OPL3 chip on this board is not not particularly sensitive to system speed, whereas the OPL2 chip is (like the game port and a rev 0 MT-32). If you run an older game on say a Pentium system, the game may send the data to the OPL2 chip so fast that it cannot process all the data, and the music will be incorrect. However, the Sound Blaster 16s I have also have true Yamaha OPL3 chips. Although Windows 9x does support the Sound Blaster and Pros, their 8-bit limitations will show themselves in garbled 16-bit audio playback.
Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 MCD ASP & Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 SCSI-2 ASP
This card is the bare minimum which modern programs can use, since it can do stereo 16-bit playback at 44,100kHz. I originally got the SCSI-2 CT-1770, but I did not like the fact that the SCSI interface used an extra high IRQ and eventually traded it. I acquired a MCD CT-1760, and the proprietary CD-interfaces on that card can have their IRQ usage disabled. Both my cards have a soldered ASP chip (TFX uses it) and use DSP 4.05 for error free midi playback through the waveblaster or the external midi out. The waveblaster port does no favors for the output of a midi daughterboard.
Creative Labs Sound Blaster AWE32
When I bought this card, a CT-2760 rev. 3, I soon discovered that I had no case in which to put it. My Pentium II/III system uses a modern case with a hard drive cage going all the way down the case. This blocked the card, which is a full-length 13" ISA card. Also, the plastic tabs that held the SIMMs in place were broken. Gravis used much more durable metal clips in their PnP. I only used it once or twice by removing the motherboard from the case, which was unwieldy to say the least. I eventually donated it to a friend of mine who was interested in the rev. 3.
Creative Labs Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold
This card was superior to the 16s and the AWE32s in almost every way. I did not care about the lack of SIMM slots or waveblaster connector. However, ISA PnP is no fun and its FM Synthesis is lacking in quality. Unlike the early AWE cards, which used genuine integrated Yamaha OPL3 core, Creative was using its CQM substitute by this time. Although the sound is close, it is not the same and usually sounds harsh.
Gravis Ultrasound ACE
This card I picked because it had perfect GUS playback capabilities. My board came with driver disks and thick manual. It also came with the maximum 1MB of RAM. It has one soldered SOJ chip and one socket for an additional SOJ chip. Unlike an original GUS or GUS MAX, it does not support a daughterboard for 16-bit recording, but I have no interest in recording anyway with an ISA card. Its Adlib emulation, which uses I/O 388/389h can be disabled, which eliminates conflicts between the real thing. It does not have a joystick/midi to further reduce configuration headaches. Unfortunately, this is the 1.0 version, which means the output jacks have reversed stereo.
Gravis Ultrasound PnP
This card embodies the true 2nd Generation of Ultrasound sampling technology. Unfortunately, games did not really support the extra features of this card. Mine (v1.0) does not have any RAM soldered on the board but has both SIMM slots populated. 2MB of RAM is on my card, which ensures full Ultrasound compatibility and not much else. I prefer the ACE over this card because this is a dreaded PnP card and its RAM usage is far from unique in Windows 9x.
This is the official name of the marketed combination of a Roland MPU-401/AT ISA MIDI Interface Card + Roland SCB-55 daughtercard. It has these mini-DIN connectors which were always hard to find. Creative Labs had mini-DIN connectors for their Live! and Audigy breakout boxes which worked, but their support site did not always have them in stock. The daughterboard was almost as big as the card itself and the card hung off it. In fact, although the daughterboard had four standoffs, only two actually connected to the board. This did not seem like a stable long-term solution, so I traded it away.
I also got one of these, although the DB60XG is more common on eBay. The former is a retail product, while the latter is an OEM product. The former has the advantage of at least partial support for Yamaha QG300 synthesis custom voices. The Fat Man really expoused the virtues of this card, and some games either supported it or were attuned to sound good with it. I avoided the SW60XG because it had no external midi port. When I finally acquired a MU10XG, I traded this away.
Yamaha YMF-724/744/754 Cards
I do not talk about PCI cards much here, but these were a very good solution for backwards compatibility with the Sound Blaster. Most late ISA and PCI card emulated the Adlib OPL2/3 FM synthesis poorly or inaccurately, but these cards came from Yamaha and incorporated a true OPL2/3 core into the chip. They also supported the PC/PCI connector found on some TX/LX/BX motherboards or D-DMA for TSR-less digital Sound Blaster compatibility. Finally, some cards also supported S/PDIF output for crystal clear sound. Pure FM recording with these cards is quite possible. I have not tested it, but 4-speaker sound output is available in 744 and 754 cards. But there are some drawbacks :
While the digital sound blaster emulation is good, it is not perfect and only goes up to an SB Pro. Fortunately, very few games require a Sound Blaster 16 or better. Fallout for DOS had broken SB/SB Pro drivers, but I used drivers from another other Interplay game to get the SB/SB Pro sound working again. It will not emulate Sound Blaster ADPCM 8bit-3bit and 8-bit-2bit modes, which Duke Nukem II among others use for some sound effects. Since games use direct I/O access for the Sound Blaster and Adlib, the card may not work in Windows XP or other NT machine. The card supports DirectSound and DirectSound 3D and emulates EAX 1.0 through Sensura, but the surround sound causes system performance issues. Finally, most motherboards for the Pentium/II/III have at least one ISA slot, so why not use a true ISA Sound Blaster?
The ultimate card for A3D support, I picked it because it represented the last card to support a widely used but eclipsed technology. No other card except the Aureal AU8830 supported A3D 2.0, other cards only went up to 1.0. It supported 4-speaker output, but the rear speakers were not as widely used as the front speakers. Games that support A3D 2.0 include Half-Life, Descent 3, Unreal and early versions of Quake III. It also has a waveblaster header.
MIDI Modules :
My MT-32 was something of a late purchase as I did not fully understand the need for one or the unique character of the LCD display. It is very convenient to be able to reset the module by pressing Master Volume and R at the same time. Other modules require a shutdown or sending a reset command via midi. Viewing messages on the LCD which games display is always neat. Mine is a rev 0 ROM v1.07, which is the last ROM version before the 2.x versions, exclusive to rev. 1 boards. The MT-32 works great in DOSBox, which can easily adjust transmission speed to be slow enough for an MT-32. I would say 3,500 cycles is the limit if the game is transmitting custom patches. Since I am a big fan of Sierra games, I want to know how these games sounded, and some of them exploited bugs of the rev. 0 boards.
Being unhappy with my CM-64 and CM-500, I turned to this, simpler model. No slot, no mode switch, only an on button. Necessary for games that causes errors on the MT-32 regardless of speed or use the extra sound effects of the rhythm/percussion part.
After learning of the CM-500's vibrato issue, I turned to this module, a true combination of CM-32L and CM-32P. Unfortunately another issue reared its head. Sierra's SCI games music synthesis engine broadcasted MT-32 data on midi channels 2-10 and Adlib data on channels 11-16. The MT-32/MT-100/LAPC-1 and CM-32L did not care, as they did not use channels 11-16. The CM-32P does, and wrong sounds would constantly be heard. Later Sierra drivers eliminate the issue, but they will not work with the early versions of King's Quest IV and Leisure Suit Larry II. Also, this may occur in other games, although this is unlikely. Although the CM-32P was supported in some Japanese NEC-98xx and X68000 games, my primary interest is DOS, so a better solution was found in a simple CM-32L, and this got traded.
When I was first collecting vintage hardware, this module was seen as the Holy Grail of Roland LA Synthesis and expensive and rare even then (2005). It does support the Roland SC-55 GS (and later General MIDI) synthesis engine and the Roland CM-64 (emulating the CM-32P). Unfortunately, not only does it share the same issue as the CM-64, it was pointed out that it had annoying Vibrato. So it got traded.
This external synthesizer used the same synthesis engine as the DB50XG and SW60XG, so I knew it was a quality card. It was also hard to find, I guess it was not very popular. Unusual for an external module, it has a battery compartment. It also has two 1/4" audio input jacks to which the module can apply reverb and other effects. It requires a +12v adapter, so I used an adapter from something completely different that fit. It has not gotten much use because DOS games generally composed for Roland LA or GM.
This was a relatively recent purchase. It came with a remote control, which I have somewhere. Like the MT-32, it has a display and there are games that take advantage of it (Lands of Lore). Mine is a GM/GS module, which came later than the original, GS only modules. It makes no difference in functionality whether the module supports GM and GS or just GS. Also, there is the stargame.mid, which uses the equalizer to display graphics. Its only downside is the 24 voice polyphony, but the quality of the sounds with effects more than makes up for the deficiency.
I thought this was better than the original SC-55 in every way, but it turns out not to be the case. The original SC-55 had a Capital Tone Fallback feature that if a game tried to play a variation tone which the module did not have, the module would play the capital tone instead. Yamaha also used this technology and forced Roland to remove the feature from the 2nd and later generations of Sound Canvases. Unfortunately, there are games that use this functionality (Might and Magic IV & V, Space Quest V, Lands of Lore). It gets little use as a consequence, as the SC-55 has much more character.