Platform Hardware

Building an AMD K6-based system nowadays is easy and hard at the same time. It’s easy because about any component can be found on eBay for cheap, although this tends to be less and less true with the years passing, but at the same time it’s hard to know which components to buy.

In 1999 there were lots of reviews about which motherboard to chose, which chipset to get, what graphic card to combine it with to avoid incompatibilities and so on…lots of these reviews and knowledge now point to 404 errors.

On this page I’m referencing some nice and working hardware one can buy to build a hobbyist K6 computer without too much trouble. For the sake of simplicity I’m going to stay with standard ATX hardware which fits in current PC cases.


Motherboard and Chipset

The first thing to chose when considering a Super Socket 7 system is the chipset. Back then there were numerous chipset vendors with very different characteristics and qualities…In the end the 2 most known and best chipsets were the VIA Apollo MVP3 or ALI Aladdin V.

I posted the ALI Aladdin V press release here and the VIA Apollo MVP3 there if you want to read them. They can swap your A and B drives, be prepared 😉

The ALI Aladdin V is probably the best “all-rouder” chip which was used by many good motherboard manufacturers like Asus on the P5A or Gigabyte on the GA-5AX. It was known to have the best AGP performance but a major complaint from the over-clocker community was the inability to desynchronise the FSB from the PCI/ISA/AGP bus which lead to instabilities if you went above 100MHz.

The VIA Apollo MVP3 was the “opposite”, it was loved by over-clockers for its ability to desynchronise the FSB from the PCI/ISA/AGP bus but had slightly less good AGP performance. I have to say that I never used a motherboard with this chipset.

There were also the VIA Apollo MVP4 and ALI Aladdin 7 which existed but they were not very widespread and are globally uninteresting nowadays. The VIA Apollo MVP4 had an integrate graphics chip we don’t care about and the ALI Aladdin 7 found its way on very few motherboards, had bugged AGP support and didn’t have any good BIOS support.

So, let’s talk about motherboards…as I’m not really interested in over-clocking my CPUs and only want a good retro-gaming PC I’m going to stay with the ALI Aladdin V based boards.

In 1998 I had the Asus P5A PCB rev 1.04 and it was just fine and stable with my K6-2 450 MHz. Later on I tried to run a K6-2 550 MHz on it and it was just unstable as hell…searching the web nowadays it seems like there is a fundamental design flaw with the P5A as soon as you exceed the 500 MHz barrier, probably some signal starting to leak where it shouldn’t. If you intend to build a PC running at 500 MHz maximum it’s still a very fine and widely available motherboard. Before buying one just take care to check the PCB revision, it should be a 1.04 or more. This is written between the PCI slots.

The other motherboard people are widely using is the Gigabyte GA-5AX with a PCB revision 4.1 or higher; again this is written between the PCI slots. It’s virtually the same as the Asus P5A from a features standpoint and it doesn’t seem to have the stability issues past 500 MHz. It’s a bit less available on eBay but still findable within a couple of weeks. I would recommend this board.

Gigabyte GA-5AX rev 4.1

Both motherboards have an AGP 1x or 2x slot, 2 USB 1 slots, 2 Ultra-DMA 33 IDE connectors and support 768 MB RAM.


Power Supply Unit

The Super Socket 7 motherboards are ATX 1.x boards with a 20-pin power connector. Nowadays there are still low-end Chinese power supplies sold in this format for around 20€; take care to chose an ATX 1.3 version so it delivers enough power on the 3.3V rail.

You can also use any recent ATX 2.x PSU if you want, the K6 systems don’t use that much power anyway compared to modern computers. The 24-pin power connector is backwards compatible with the ATX 1.x 20-pin power connector, the 4 remaining pins will just sit there doing nothing.


CPU

The K6 CPU choice is pretty much up to you, there are tons of them on eBay and it will depend on what you want to build…if you are cheap a good choice is the K6-2 450 MHz which was widely available.

K6-III 450 MHz chips are a little bit more expensive but sill quite available; remember that they often overheat quite quickly if you don’t have a good heat-spreader.

If you want the maximal performance I suggest a 0.18 micron K6-2+ or K6-3+ depending on the speed and money you want to throw at it. If the CPU requires a 6x multiplier and your motherboard doesn’t provide that in the manual remember that you can set your motherboard to 2.0x and the CPU will act as it is 6.0x; this is available with the K6-2 CTX cores and later.

Have a look at the specifications page and chose what fits your needs. Just don’t forget the power consumption as it is directly proportional to heat and CPU stability!


RAM

The VIA Apollo MVP3 or ALI Aladdin V chipsets could officially handle up to 768 MB of RAM and the high-end motherboards usually had 3 SDRAM DIMM slots; this gives us the opportunity to build systems with 256MB RAM modules.

On Super Socket 7 platforms you need PC100 memory if you want to run your CPU at the designed speed and PC133 if you want to overclock it via the FSB. This RAM is very cheap now so take PC133 modules anyway.

Also try to take Dual-Sided modules (DS), these RAM sticks have low-density memory chips which usually work better on older chipsets. If you buy Single-Sided (SS) high density modules you might end up with your motherboard only recognising half the memory, if at all.

256MB PC133 DS modules usually have 16x32MB memory chips, 8 on each side while 256MB PC133 SS modules usually have 8x64MB memory chips all on the same side. Chipsets from this period could only use 32MB memory chips.


Graphic card

At the time of the 400-500 MHz chips 3dfx was already dead and drivers unavailable for Windows XP so I don’t recommend going that way if you are not a bit adventurous. Matrox, S3 and SiS graphic cards are the same story…on the other hand, ATI (which is now owned by AMD) and nVidia are still around and have downloadable drivers for their cards of that time which is great.

So, what was available in 1999 from ATI or nVidia? nVidia hat the TNT 2 or GeForce 256 and ATI the Rage 128 GL or Rage 128 Pro (also named Rage Fury). Please, just don’t buy the Rage 128 or Rage Fury as the drivers were very very bad…the 2 nVidia cards are just fine if you are in the “keep all the components in the same period” trend. These graphic chips could still be the bottleneck of your K6 system.

In 2000 there was the GeForce 2 GTS/Pro/Ultra/Ti from nVidia and they were fabulously fast cards for their time. ATI had the first Radeon card at that time and it’s very nice too. These cards are pretty much the best a K6 can handle without becoming the bottleneck itself, in my opinion everything over that is nice but optional.

nVidia GeForce 2 Ultra without DVI

If you want the “best card that can go on a K6” you are looking at the 2001 cards which are about the last ones to support the AGP 2x connector. The ultimate ATI card is the Radeon 8500 but I found that it’s not easy to run in Windows XP due to driver problems. On nVidia’s side the GeForce 3 Ti200 and Ti500 cards are the way to go, this is what I recommend.

ATI Radeon 8500

There were also some GeForce 4 Ti and Radeon 9250 cards still supporting AGP 2x, but they are hard to find and don’t bring anything better in terms of performance as the CPU is the clear bottleneck at this point.


Hard Disk Drive and CD-ROM

The ALI Aladdin V and VIA Apollo MVP3 chipsets and motherboards provide Ultra-DMA 33 IDE connectivity which means you can connect about any IDE CD-ROM or Hard Drive up to 128 GB after a BIOS upgrade, otherwise they only see drives up to 32 GB.

The problem on these old chipsets is that a HDD connected in Ultra-DMA 33 is still very slow and gives the whole system a sluggish feel. If you are cheap that’s ok though…on the other side there is a much sexier solution: SATA.

Yes SATA like Serial-ATA, modern drives you can actually buy in stores right now with 10x the performance of drives from 15 years ago. To support booting from a SATA HDD you need a compatible PCI card that supports booting. The Promise SATA2 TX2 Plus works very well on the Gigabyte GA-5AX or Asus P5A and provides a significant performance boost for the applications!


Conclusion

So as you see years gave us the opportunity to chose good quality components to build a vintage system. The only problem you may face is ageing electronic components. Capacitors are notoriously bad at this and “swell”, so if you have an unstable system it may well be that you need to change them in a local electronics shop.

22 thoughts on “Platform Hardware

  1. “At the time of the 400-500 MHz chips 3dfx was already dead and drivers unavailable for Windows XP so I don’t recommend going that way if you are not a bit adventurous. Matrox, S3 and SiS graphic cards are the same story”

    This is not entirely accurate, the drivers for Matrox 2D cards going back to the G450 are still very much available. See: http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/support/drivers/

    Also the G550 is still being made. If it’s a used G550 AGP Dual Head, you can get one on Ebay for as little as $10.00, It’s still a very decent 2D card if you don’t do 3D. Now the SiS cards are no longer produced as the have retreated from the PC market, but I so believe they still supply older drivers on there site.

    By the way – Great Site! You got me going -Time to do a retro build with my Gigabyte GA-5AX rev 4.1, along with a K6-2+ 500, I’m lucky to have many of those K6’s..

    Hunter

  2. You’re messing info. Aladdin V and MVP3 both had synchronous PCI frequencies going over 33MHz when FSB was over 100MHz. The only difference was that MVP3 allowed a “-PCI” or “Mem=AGP” memory frequency mode making FSB:DRAM as 100:66. But having a PC133 memory module would make it useless. There weren’t any async chipsets back in those days.

  3. It would be also very good to clear the compatibility issues of the K6s with the modern soft, mostly the OSs. AFAICA, all K6s except for the K6-III+ family chips do not have the cmov instruction and thus modern Linux kernels would not then start on them. I am a bit lazy to check whether the cmov was really introduced in K6-III and K6-2+, but I think they are known as “fully 686” compatible, whilst K6-2 and the rest are “586” CPUs. I may be incorrect but hope that someone will confirm this and with real life tests as well…
    Great site! Somehow also feel like taking my old K6-2+ back up from the basement where it spent last 10 years and putting it to work… I know it will run W7, but not sure about W8 and nowdays Linux.

  4. Good job mate! And you will be happy to listen to my old system:

    – AMD K6III+ 450 ACZ @633MHz naked* (FSB115x5.5 Vcore 2.0)
    – Cooler Spyre full copper lapped, Arctic Silver hetskin compound
    – Gigabyte GA5-AX Rev.5.1 modded* BIOS rev. F4
    – 3x256Mb PC133 SDRAM CL2
    – GeForce FX5900-XT 512Mb DDR3
    – Promise SATAII TX2400 PCI controller
    – HD SATAII momentus 7200.2 (120GB 2.5″ format)
    – Sound Blaster Live! 5.1
    – LAN card
    – 5xUSB2 PCI card
    – fron panel with all back ports and 1 molex power plug
    -DVD+/-RW
    -FLOPPYYYYYYYYYYYY drive 2.88 Mb!!! XD
    -300W Power Supply
    -Ubuntu 10.04.4 LTS
    – Compiz Full Active with all graphics animations in random, when I rotate cube with windows and video running, CPU run at 380MHz Power Now! active.
    *naked: I took off the aluminium plate;
    *modded: look on your GA5-AX, there is a power transistor with a screw, take the screw off and rise up the transistor, then attach an alluminum haetskin with the same screw, use heatskin compound and close up the screw with force. This mod guarantee more power stability for overckloc.
    I could run the system also at 120FSB but I must disable the onboard L2 external cache (now is an L3 cache), with 115FSB I can let L3 enabled so the system is faster than without L3 and more stable ’cause of the lower PCI/ATX clock.

    My mobo has also ATA66 controller not 33 but all two channel are disabled in bios as the serials and parallel port. Only floppy is enabled but I thought many times to disable it and take it off but I must find a cover for the hole XD.

    I got another old PC with a Pentium166MMX@266 on intel430TX mobo with a Matrox MystiqueII with 4Mb (2Mb of expansion) and 64Mb SDRAM PC100.

    By now I’writing on my “new OC champion”:

    -Opteron180@3000 (FSB250x12 Vcore1.4) : )
    -Zalman CNPS9500LED cooler, Arctic Silver heatskin compound
    -DFI Lanparty SLI-DR Expert Venus!!! : )
    -2x1GB DDR500 3-3-3-8 : )
    -GeForce 8800GTX : )
    -Sound Blaster AudigySE

    Ubuntu 9.04 64bit to be upgraded but working fine…

  5. For the VGA we must pay attention to the connector cause for the current voltage, to not spend many words here just look at this link:
    http://www.intel.com/support/motherboards/desktop/sb/cs-009010.htm
    In the first picture we can see the correct AGP connector for our Super7 AGP2X slot.
    It must have two keys and NOT only one.
    The best VGA adapter we could ever get is a GeForce 7950 AGP8X with that two keys connector.

    For HDs I’m using a FastTrack TX-2400 that has SATAII 300 but if you want to be faster, you must get a SCSI UW320 raid controller and two SCSI UW320 10K rpm disks in raid0.

    I’ve the SCSI chain but the problem is that I need a bigger power supply to run also SCSI chain, by now I’ve a 300W and it’s not sufficient.

  6. hello guyz, nice to see your site and i would like to share some of my experience with ali5 and mvp3 boards.
    ali5: superb memory performance! enabling or disabling onboard cache has almost no impact on overall performance(about 1-2%), so its best to disable onboard cache to overclock the fsb. however, agp support seems buggy for me, and i have never been able to run it stable with agp mode enabled(nvidia drivers run in pci mode by default whenever it sees an ali chipset, you can force agp mode on in registry, but then it causes a lot of bsod). i was using win2000 though, and i am not sure if its fixed in winxp’s built-in ali5 chipset driver.
    mvp3: inferior memory performance, and relies a lot on its large onboard cache(over 20% impact). if you stick with the standard 100fsb, mvp3 would be a bit faster than ali5 thanks to its 2mb cache. but if you want to go for a higher fsb, you would have to disable onboard cache and then the performance simply suck. both agp and pci support has some flaws but they can be solved by installing drivers, and i don’t have many problems with it.

  7. I have to caution against the use of > 256MB ram on k6-2. The motherboard L2 cache cannot cache more than 256MB of ram. 512MB can perform worse than 256MB. However, the k6-2+ and k6-3 have an internal L2 cache. This L2 cache is smaller than the motherboard cache, but it faster, so it mostly balances out.

    I still have my k6-2 I built back in 1999:

    k6-2 450 mhz (recently upgraded to a k6-2+, overclocked to 100 FSB w/ 6x multiper)
    256 mb ram (recently boosted to 512, after I got the k6-2+)
    VIA Apollo MVP3
    Voodoo 3 2000 AGP
    I am using a ‘133x’ compactflash card with a CF to IDE adapter. (This is from before SSD was popular)
    Windows 98SE (w/ KernelEx) / lubuntu 10.04 dual boot

    It can run games ‘up to’ quake 3. Quake 3 engine games start to get a little sluggish. I suspect if I swap out the Voodoo 3 (which is CPU T&L) for a geforce 2 or 3 (hardware T&L), the cpu will keep up with newer games.

    Most websites are usable. Flash video is a no-go. I installed a youtube downloader extension in Firefox. Saving a flv or mp4 to disk, you can transcode it to mpg for playback. But a 10 minute video takes almost 30 minutes to decompress w/ modern codecs! Because it also runs ubuntu, I can do relatively modern stuff on it, just some things are painful. That’s what my high end desktop is for.

  8. Guys! Nice to see there are more people like me running older socket7/SS7 hardware. I have two K6 boxes running.
    -I still use my 1997 ASUS TX97-e (first owner) with K6-III+ ATZ @ 400MHz 2.0v and 256 MB RAM as a file server. Using a Sweex pu102 SATA card with 2x samsung spinpoint 2TB disks. The OS is the latest Debian running on a 2GB Transcend IDE Flashmodule. Runs very nice. No graphics, no sound. Just a file server.

    The second box is also a server hanging in a datacenter in Amsterdam (NL), Asus P5A-B, K6-III+ ATZ @ 600MHz, 2.0v and 768MB RAM, with 2x IDE 40GB Maxtor Diamond Plus 8 from 2001 in raid 1. It is my mailserver and webserver. See http://www.anomic.net.

    Both boxes are incredible stable for years!

  9. It was specially difficult to get a Linux OS which works with my K6-2 400.
    Finally, at my own country, I found a distro, it’s Kdemar, an educational project from Catalonia. I use v 2.6 Lyra, and works fine.
    http://www.kademar.org/en/
    Best regards.

  10. I remember reading about 3DFX working closely with AMD with their 3DNow Instruction sets for optimization of Glide based titles.One well known gaming title that works awesome with 3DFX and the AMD K6-2 and 3 family CPU’s was Quake II.
    Here is an old link that I have found here.
    http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/3dfx-voodoo-family-of-accelerators-optimized-for-amds-3dnowtm-technology-75007397.html

    I like your site a lot but I disagree with you about your assessment of (NOT) using 3DFX cards.3DFX’s heyday was right in there with the K6 and K6 2 and 3.
    Myself I prefer 3DFX cards over anything else for that era.Especially considering all the Glide optimized gaming titles which looked so much better than Direct X.
    Again this WAS during the era that the K6,K6-2 and K6-3 were sold.Yes 3DFX died but so too the K6 family as well.
    Win9.x is ideal installed on a K6 (1,2 or 3) type system.Hey I use Wary 5.5 Linux along with Windows 98 on one of my K6-2 systems and it works well.Windows XP just doesn’t belong installed on a K6 CPU family system.You can do it but it’s like installing Windows 98 on a 486 system.
    If you’re not going to game then Windows NT or 2000 but not XP.
    The old 3DFX cards sell for a higher price at eBay but are totally worth it.
    I do have a recommendation though graphics cards like the old Voodoo 3,TNT2 and other ones of that era run really hot and are passively cooled (not a good idea).I recommend mounting a Pentium or K6-2 CPU fan on the heatsinks of those 1997,1998 and 1999 graphics cards or else they won’t last very long (you will see strange colors on your monitor with intense gaming and the card will burn out much sooner).It reminds me of the Pentium systems that didn’t have CPU fans directly on their CPU’s.That’s why my 3FDX Voodoo 3 2000 PCI card has survived heavy use since 1999.
    My opinion if you’re going to build a vintage gaming system using a AMD K6 family CPU a 3DFX graphics card along with Windows 9.X is the way to go.The nVidia cards like the TNT2 are great but you will miss out on the numerous Glide enhanced titles of that era.There is something to be said about the nVidia cards they will run titles well in much higher resolutions.Who cares about 32 bit color precision though as it doesn’t really matter (Just wasted graphics processing power).But the other advantage about a used TNT 2 card is low cost.I picked up working and in great condition two Diamond Viper v770 Pro (32mb) graphics cards for $10 USD at eBay.Anyway these are my opinions

  11. Hello Steven!

    You mentioned the Promise SATA II 150 TX2plus adapter and also that it runs on an Asus P5A board. Did you put it on a test with this mainboard or is this an assumption?

    I ask because what I found out (promise-website) it needs a board (bios) supporting PCI 2.2 or 2.3, but the P5A supports only 2.1 (the GA-5AX 5.2 supports PCI 2.2, I can not say this about the 4.1-version because I have none).

    Also is there driver support for Win98? I could not locate one ….

    Best regards
    Peter

    • To be honest I didn’t even consider the PCI version issue and I’m running this card on my GA-5AX rev 5.2…so I just may had had pure luck. BUT I also ran it on a rev 4.1 without problem before that! And I ever used Win98, only 2000 and XP. Btw I have 2 of these cards lying around if you need one.

      • well, just to be sure: could you check whether win98 drivers are on the driver’s cd/disk. On the promise website I could not find any …

        and the big question of course – how much? how much is postage to europe/austria?

        • oh, and another question: did you ever try to connect a SSD to the promise adapter? Because the phenomenal access time of 0.x ms is what really makes a system zippy and that is what I am really after …

  12. Has anyone explored the possibility of running a modern PCI (not express) card as a second GPU for hardware accelerated video decoding? Would probably require linux instead of Windows.

    • If you are interested in mpeg2, have a look at the Sigma Designs Hollywood cards. Otherwise it’s stretching the k6 platform a bit too much 😉

  13. Hi there! I was obsessed with computers when I was a kid, I built my first system when I was 10 (a old 486 my dad had upgraded for a pentium), and probably built my K6-2 when I was 13 or so after asking for it for xmas. Recently we’ve had to clear out the loft (attic) at my parents house because they’ve decided to move, and among all my childhood stuff was a ton of old hardware. A TON. In total 7 motherboards, 10 graphics cards and about 20 HDDs (although I had about 8 to begin with, and 3 were pulled from laptops before they went off to the dump). This weekend I’ve been going through them all and finding what still works.

    Surprise surprise half of it doesnt work (specifically the half that got pulled out cheap prebuilt intel systems my mum would get, yet all my AMD hardware still does) but among those that do is an Asus P5A with a K6-2 333MHz. I’d forgotten all about it but I remember loving this chip, and it being one of the reasons I became an AMD devotee. I see I’m not alone! When I found it it had 2 sticks of 64gb but after testing the sticks I had scrounged out of other boards I found I had 2x128mb (mismatched 100/133, but hey). Nice. A few mins on ebay and I found another 128mb for £2.50 and thought why not, so soon it’ll be at 384mb – oh how my 13 year old self would have been giddy at the prospect!

    I did some poking around to see what I could do to get the best out of the system and realised a few things. First of all, I had assumed that I had near enough the best CPU in it based on what I could see in the manual (it lists 350MHz as the next highest). From what I’m reading though it seems like I could upgrade it if I wanted. Second, it seems that the K6-2 has an issue with >256mb ram, and the P5A has issues with speeds >500MHz so if I were to look for a CPU upgrade, I should try and go for a K6-III to take advantage of the cache right? For the time being I’ll have to stick to The board’s revision 1.05 so it would have issues with a K6+, even with the unofficial bios updates I found a link to in one of the comments here.

    Anyway, I need to decide what to do with this excellent piece of classical hardware. Given the RAM limitation, I’ll stick with 256MB for now, but at least they’ll be a matching 133 pair when the new stick arrives. I’m thinking one of two things, either turn it into a turn of the millenium gaming machine as it seems many others have done, or stick a few NICs in it and turn it into a firewall with IPFire. If I were to turn it into a gaming machine I’d prefer maxing out the RAM and getting a better processor – currently bidding on a 400MHz K6-III and watching another 450MHz one. If I win that, it’s getting a RAM boost and turned into a ridiculously overpowered gaming machine for the fun of it xD

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