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Thread: PC for CGA/EGA gaming and GEM

  1. Default PC for CGA/EGA gaming and GEM

    Back in the day I had an Amstrad PC1512 with 20MB HDD and 640k RAM. CGA for video, DOS 3.3 and GEM desktop.

    I was thinking about getting another one, but they have quite limited expandability and I'd like to try some other software out. Also the 1512/1640 are a pain to use with 3.5" floppies which makes data transfer a pain.

    I was thinking about maybe an XT 5160, but I have some questions.

    The XT doesn't seem to be that common in the UK, so I'm wondering if there are other good computers to look for. There were lots of clones. Were there any good options for faster CPUs, with a turbo button to drop down to XT speed?

    And will an EGA card be okay for CGA gaming? I never used composite mode, it was always 4 colours.

    And what about monitors? EGA high res is 21kHz so I guess I need a multisync or a converter. I'd love to get a CRT multisync but they are rare to say the least.

    Oh, and GEM desktop. Always ran it on the 1512 which I think used some special video mode to do 640x350 in 16 colours. It looks like it could run on EGA I think.

    Any advice would be appreciated!

  2. #2
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    Welcome to the forums. EGA was not as common as CGA (and the 16-color modes the Amstrad systems had) so the system you pick up may ultimately be the system you can actually get your hands on. EGA monitors are uncommon.

    What compromises are you willing to make? For example, you can put a VGA card into most systems easily and then use any VGA monitor you like, and you'll be able to play CGA/EGA/VGA games (speed permitting).
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  3. Default

    Thanks Trixter. I was reading about VGA compatibility with EGA and CGA. Some people say it's fine for games, is that generally the case?

    And for monitors, if you use a VGA card will it display EGA and CGA modes at 31kHz?

    Which makes me think that a 286 system might be okay, as long as it has a turbo button.

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    In terms of using CGA, personally I've always felt CGA looks best on a CGA monitor. CGA on a VGA monitor to me has always looked awful because the monitor is so sharp.

    The PC1512 was generally very compatible with an IBM CGA (including alternate palettes and the undocumented 160x100 16 colour mode) although it was electrically incompatible with a standard CGA monitor (it used composite sync rather than separate H/V sync). The extra mode was 640x200 with 16 colours. It's comparable with the PCJR/Tandy graphics but it's implemented in an entirely different way and was supported only by GEM, a couple of Sierra games and not much else. For the main it's going to be normal CGA all the way on a PC1512. The PC1640 uses a standard EGA chipset which will free you from CGA only gaming (although some were sold with low resolution monitors which could only do 640x200 - you need the PC-ECD monitor to get 640x350 resolution).

    Personally, as a fellow UK Retro-er I think you could do a lot worse than getting another Amstrad 1512/1640. For one thing, they are the most common half decent XT clone you can get in the UK (although even they have got noticeably more scarce in recent years).

    Expandability is actually pretty good. Yes they do only have 3 card slots but they have everything you need to run them on the board so I don't see the 3 as being that much of a hamstring. If you get a PC1512 it is easily expandable to 640KB RAM on the board without needing to take up a slot for this (you can easily source the chips on eBay, then it's just a matter of fitting them and changing a jumper).

    Although the monitor, mouse and keyboard are proprietary, hardware and software compatibility with a genuine IBM is otherwise excellent, as long as it comes with a full set of (working) peripherals you should run into no problems at all with regards to compatibility.

    If you want to convert them to use 3.5" floppies this is easily doable - unlike many other Amstrads the original 5.25" drives are totally standard PC style drives, you just need a couple of adaptors for the data and power cables and a drive bay converter to fit a 3.5" drive into the larger bay. Then use DRIVER.SYS to over-ride the BIOS reporting them as 360K drives and you're good to go.

  5. Default

    Hmm, that's an interesting thought. I was looking for a 1640 for a while, just waiting for a suitable one to appear with the ECD monitor. I'm familiar with the system so there is that.

    So was the ECD monitor multi-sync? It's a shame about the silly connectors and PSU being built in, as it would be a pretty nice monitor otherwise.

    I suppose realistically I'd only want to install a sound card maybe to play with AdLib audio.

    It does seem hard to get other machines in the UK. I'd love to get a Tandy, I remember always seeing Tandy mode in games.

  6. #6
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    TBH, it's getting very hard to get any PC-class equipment that old in the UK these days. Most of it was sold to businesses, and a combination of WEEE regulations and paraonia over data protection laws (not helped at all by GDPR last year) has led so many to exclusively dispose of old computers through an IT recycler that will issue a certificate to confirm it has been taken off the hands of the owner. That's pretty much killed sourcing old computers from businesses, who are the most likely to come across old forgotten things in storerooms and/or chuck them out in a dumpster. The Amstrad machines are likely still relatively common as they were economically viable for the average home user to buy in a way that most other PC-class hardware wasn't in the UK of the 1980's.

    Quote Originally Posted by kuro68k View Post
    So was the ECD monitor multi-sync? It's a shame about the silly connectors and PSU being built in, as it would be a pretty nice monitor otherwise.
    I don't think the ECD was multi sync, AFAIK it was just a fixed-frequency standard EGA monitor and relied on the backwards compatibility with CGA that EGA has to display CGA modes. I don't think it could display an actual CGA signal in the way an IBM 5154 could. It may still make a nice monitor with another system - I've never tried it but a PC 1640 monitor (ECD, CD, MD) should work with other hardware as they had normal 9 pin D-Sub connectors and separated sync so were electrically compatible. They of course do still carry the PSU for the computer but it will do no harm leaving it unconnected.

    Only the PC 1512 monitors (CM and MM) are proprietary AIUI.

    Oh, and on GEM - that will run well on pretty much anything. Far better than Windows of the time would (although in fairness GEM had no multitasking). If you get hold of the normal release version rather than Amstrad's bundled version that includes drivers for Hercules, CGA, EGA and VGA. It looks really good in VGA mode.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by cwathen View Post
    Oh, and on GEM - that will run well on pretty much anything. Far better than Windows of the time would (although in fairness GEM had no multitasking). If you get hold of the normal release version rather than Amstrad's bundled version that includes drivers for Hercules, CGA, EGA and VGA. It looks really good in VGA mode.
    And because it's been open-sourced I've been able to write drivers for video cards / modes that weren't supported at the time (such as VESA 1024x768 mode). Windows 1.x / 2.x drivers are a much nastier proposition.

  8. Default

    Maybe I should just stick with 15kHz modes then. Am I right in thinking that the EGA modes used by most games are 15kHz anyway?

    I agree about CGA/EGA not looking good on monitors designed for VGA, or via a VGA card. Might as well use an emulator if that's what you want. I was looking at a Sony GDM-5010PT on eBay which I think will do 24kHz EGA as well as 15kHz and 31kHz, but I have a feeling that it will look bad with lower resolutions.

  9. #9

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    I think you could do a lot worse than getting another Amstrad 1512/1640 is very good

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