• Please review our updated Terms and Rules here

One IBM PC/clone gaming machine or two for covering 1980's and 1990's games?


Experienced Member
Nov 16, 2011
I'm thinking of possibly building or getting a vintage IBM PC/clone/descendant just for playing 1980's and/or 1990's game titles. If I did, would I be best off building or getting a separate machine to just cover the 80's and a separate one just to cover the 90's, or is it possible to have one machine that covers both decades equally well? What would be the optimum build/buy specifications and operating system/version(s) should I look for in the machine(s)? Thank you
You will want something with a Turbo button for compatibility.
A fairly meh-spec 486sx machine will do that with no issues. Even a 25mhz 386 will be completely fine.
Do you have a list of games you wish to try? That would make it easier to determine if a single machine could play all of them at a reasonable speed. Many of the clock multiplied 486s have a huge range of potential performance by some combination of turbo, or turning off cache, or adjusting bus clock, or even not using the multiplier but even combining all of them to make the machine as slow as possible might still be too fast for a game targeted at the IBM PC.
Making a list of games I'd like to try is a good idea. I was initially thinking in terms of 2D and isometric overhead view role playing games. Not so much true 3D games which showed up more and more in the late 90's (which would probably require it's own separate, dedicated machine.)
25mhz 486SX
8mb ram
Your flavor of hard and floppy drives
Your flavor of 16-bit ISA VGA card
Basically any Sound Blaster you can find. I bet you the low-cost Vibra cards will do good enough for SB + Adlib emulation in DOS.

The gross majority of DOS games don't even need a 486, much less 8mb ram (The 2.5D/3D games like Doom/Quake are an exception) and there was at one point a time when these machines were the most common things you could find in the trash because they were super discount boxes that were the step up from the XT clones that sold well into the early 90's.
Gaming on a PC compatible in the 90's was so much different from gaming in the 80's, my advice would be to just get the 90's machine or get two:

For a decent 90's period-accurate experience I'd recommend a 486 DX2-66 w/8mb ram. The CPU came out in '92, so fits your timeline. Doom in '93, Doom II in '94 and Duke Nukem 3D was in '96. It was a great processor that should give good performance on the games of that era, and it was available at the time when (in my opinion) PC gaming really took off.

For the mid-80's, a 286 with monochrome monitor (Can't beat that amber glow...) would fit the timeline and give an accurate early PC experience, though I think most people were gaming on Apple II, C64, Atari 800XL, etc at that time.
Last edited:
I second the recommendation to get just the 90s machine however as you're not targeting 3d games (duke 3d, doom etc) I would go for a 386. I have both a 386sx-25 (4mb ram) and a 386dx-40 (8mb ram) and I think both are suitable for early 90s and 80s games.

When building such a system make sure your case has a turbo button. Unfortunately the only AT case I had doesn't have one so if I want to run slow I have to swap a jumper.
80s to 90s is huge range in PC gaming. Even without 3D games, a 486 can't cover everything. Some early games only run correctly at 4.77 MHz. And then there's games like Diablo, Age of Empires, etc that really need a Pentium.
Maybe I should narrow the timeline range down a bit. Say, 1985 to about 1995 (11 years, not 20!).
1990s were very changing. We passed from what most people could buy in 1990, i.e. a Turbo XT 8088 10 Mhz with CGA/Hercules upgradable to VGA, to Pentium III with Super VGA and graphics accelerator in 1999, with too many steps in between.

Fortunately, things look to slow down now. Writing this on an HP laptop with an Intel i5 bought in 2014... In 1998, the 8086 my father bought in 1990 was utterly unable to use not a single piece of up to date software. Not the case this days.
One setup I use is a Pentium 2 with a bios that has the option to disable the L1 and/or L2 cache.

If I disable the L1 cache the machine slows down to about the speed of a fast 386 or a slow 486 and plays really early PC games just fine including monuments of mars, commander keen, etc.

Also, some of these earlier games have an issue where if you try to run them on a Pentium you get a "Division by 0 error" when trying to launch them, but again with the L1 cache turned off that doesn't happen and the game runs fine.

With the L1 cache on you can run later games that run much more smoothly on a Pentium than they would on a 486 such as Descent, Quake, Indycar/Nascar racing etc...

So far there really has only been one game I've found that, on this machine, runs too slow with L1 cache off and too fast with it on, this game is called Continuum and it seems to only run at the correct speed on a 486, otherwise this Pentium 2 system pretty much covers all the bases from early DOS days to win98se. I have experimented running XP on this as well but it was a little under powered to do that effectively, it would run XP okay but XP era games needed more speed and ram than this system has.

In my case I am using a CF adapter in place of a spinning hard drive and I have two CF cards, one with Dos 6.22 and one with Windows 98 SE, I switch between them depending on what era of software I want to run, but I could probably get away with just using the 98se card provided I made an autoexec.bat/config.sys configuration to jump straight into dos without loading windows.
Defender is an early game that is very speed sensitive, and is too fast even on a 286. But excluding games prior to 1985 should rule out most games like that.
Defender is an early game that is very speed sensitive, and is too fast even on a 286. But excluding games prior to 1985 should rule out most games like that.
Ah yes that is a very speed sensitive game I just tried it on my p2 with L1 cache off and it ran way too fast. Well there'll always be outliers I guess for the OP you'll have to decide which era of games you'd spend the most time playing.
For Pentium II era machines, ideally ones with VIA or Intel chipsets, you might be able to use power management options to assist in slowing down your machine, like this one:
that software also turns off the L1 cache so you don't have to go into the BIOS everytime to turn it on or off.
interesting that didn't work for me. I didn't get an error message but it didn't slow down my machine at all, in-fact it doesn't seem to have even turned off my L1 cache. Well I guess it depends on the system.
For games, 1982-1985 needed IBM PC XT (5160). 256kb ram video CGA MS-DOS v 2.
For games, 1986-1988 needed IBM PC XT (5160). 512 kb ram video EGA MS-DOS v 3.30.
For games, 1988-1992 needed IBM PC AT (5170). 1mb ram video VGA MS-DOS v 4 or v5
For games, 1982-1995 needed 386 or 486 MS-DOS v 6
For DOS games, 1996-1997 needed Pentium I and Voodo 3Dfx for Quake.