VOGONS


First post, by xjas

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Welcome to my first build thread on Vogons!

[Edit: unfortunately all the pics in this thread were hosted on photob^ck*t & have had to be removed. Due to the way they MONUMENTALLY screwed over their hosting 'service', I shut down my account there and don't want to leave them a bunch of free advertising. Thankfully I started using the forum's attachment feature not long after this.]

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^^ So a couple years ago I bought this stylish black 4U rack-mount server case, mostly because it looked vaguely like a Virtuality SU2000 control PC. For those of you who were sadly deprived in the '90s, that was a full-size arcade VR demo system that toured malls and fairgrounds where you could pay a few dollars and immerse yourself in a world of flat polygons and 8-bit stereo sound for a few minutes. It ran games like "Dactyl Nightmare" and "Zone Hunter" and looked like this:

[...]
...in other words, it was the best thing ever. The hardware within those sexy enclosures was either a 486DX or an Amiga 3000, depending on model, with a ton of custom interface boards.

Anyway I got my case from a recycling facility who advertised it as "case & working PSU, no internals." When I got it I discovered the bog-standard ATX PSU didn't work at all (who cares) and "no internals" meant a complete, working, dual-P3/1000 system with all the bells and whistles you'd expect of a server in the early 2000s. Naturally I was pleased; I threw in a sound card and built a DIY 3D shutter glasses interface, added a big black CRT monitor and had my own ghetto "VR" (well... stereo 3D) rig for next to nothing.

A while passed, I moved a long distance, and things happened. I attempted to convert the black server to a Linux machine for music recording but hit a few roadblocks. A flawed Grub install left it unable to boot (I wiped out the DOS partition because it was just mirroring stuff on my *other* 4U rackmount DOS machine), and it didn't have SSE2 & I was completely unable to get it to recognize a DVD drive which meant I couldn't put my preferred distro on there anyway. Then I got a G5 tower to do the job I was intending it for, so it sat at the bottom of my rack unused. I made a couple attempts to bring it back to life and was going to replace the dual-P3 board with a dual-P4 setup I found until *that* board hosed its BIOS for no reason. Then in my last attempt to set it back up it failed to POST.

In the meantime I'd gotten my hands on a minty Oculus Rift DK1 and was toying with a few options for driving that. It went "ok" on my Macbook but I really wanted something with a dedicated graphics card for it, and an AGP-based P4 wasn't going to cut it - mostly because the Oculus runtime won't run on a 32-bit system, not because I buy into the "you need ALL OF THE HORSEPOWERS for ALL OF THE DOLLARS to run VR games" schtick.

A couple days ago I got my hands on this nice Socket AM3 setup, so I put 2 and 2 together. It's time to (re)build the VR machine up to the glory it deserves. I'm bringing black back.

[...]

Incidentally, since this board has a real COM port exposed, and it'll be on my CRT through the master KVM, I'll still be able to use my shutter glasses on it too. If I find anything that runs on a 64-bit multi-core machine and uses shutter glasses. 😉

SO... today disassembly commenced:

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^^ the hardware that came out. Some of that will be going back in, like my beloved M-Audio 2496, and I'll try to find why the Asus board wasn't POSTing anymore. Maybe it was just bad RAM or video or something.

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^^ it was running an ATI Rage Mobility on a desktop AGP card. WTF?

Somewhat bare-er chassis:
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...and here's what's going in:

Foxconn A6GMV (Socket AM3 / Hypertransport 1.0 / ca.2009)
AMD Sempron 140 (secret bonus unlock: Athlon II X2 4400e)
2x4GB DDR3
Radeon 4670 1GB *or* 4850 512MB (recommendations appreciated here!)
160GB IDE HDD, for the OS and games and whatever
4x2TB SATA drives, for backing up every other machine on my network (this thing is going to have more than one job)

Incidentally, if you're looking at the tiny RAM modules in the above pic and saying "but those are DDR-twooooooooo", yes, I realized that. They went in my G5 instead and I got some proper DDR3 for this.

Last edited by xjas on 2019-05-23, 14:52. Edited 1 time in total.

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Reply 1 of 8, by Scraphoarder

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Nice build! Im fond of theese 4U rack cases and have two Chiefteks much like yours. Mine also have one AT keyboard connector in the front so its an early revision. Later models (UNC-410S-D-OP) didnt have that and also came with two USB ports under the power button.
I got my systems in the basement and use 5m exension cables to upfloor terminated in wallplates. Nice with a dead silent computerdesk. Also have enabled Wake on keyboard so no problems turning them off and prevent running downstairs to turn on.

Reply 2 of 8, by xjas

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^^ Thanks! I didn't actually know the brand until you mentioned it. I'm not doing anything that complicated, it will happily live in a rack under my desk. Even with the CPU fan, GPU fan & two front case fans, it's still pretty quiet... Not like my Advantech case which sounds like a metal band playing on a hovercraft.

Short update today 😉

This case is pretty cool - it supports a bunch of different formats by moving the little standoffs around (it even has some extras stashed along the sides in case you need them!)

[edit: photob^ck*t pics removed]

You didn't think I was gonna use that moldy old P3 power supply did you? Not when I had this bad boy lying around:
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Put it all together and it looks pretty good! The compact mobo leaves me a few extra header slots, but don't worry, I'll find a way to put them to good use.
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So at this point of *course* I had to try it - and it works! Aside from, you know, not having a boot drive or any peripherals installed.
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Next step: update the BIOS, install some mass storage, and figure out a decent expansion card loadout! (I can easily fill every slot on this little board, just you watch.)

Last edited by xjas on 2019-05-23, 14:54. Edited 1 time in total.

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Reply 3 of 8, by mmx_91

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A really neat system! The case looks very curious and flexible for me, have you tried to unlock the second core on the Sempron? It's (almost) a safe bet and doubles the performance 😀

Reply 4 of 8, by xjas

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^^ Definitely intending to! My board needs the latest BIOS to be able to do that, which means making a boot drive first. Will get to that next... 😉

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Reply 6 of 8, by xjas

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kanecvr wrote:

I would have kept the dual P3 in there. It's more interesting than the AM3 sempron.

...yeah, except for the part where it stopped POSTing. 😜
Really I hadn't used it in over a year; I just didn't have a job for it. It's a cool setup but I have software that needs SSE2 and x86_64.

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Reply 7 of 8, by xjas

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Hit a small snag with card placement - the GPU coolers on these things are big enough to block off the next slot over, even on the 4670 which is supposed to be a "single slot" card!

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Note the black fan surround is basically touching the card next to it. The fan takes air in through the top so this essentially seals it off. Not good.

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Surprisingly the 4850 is a tiny bit better, but it needs a whole second slot all to itself so the point is moot. Still not much room for airflow. Why did they design these this way??

I want to have my cake and eat it too - in this case, that means install both my Audigy 2 ZS (more or less decided on that over the M-Audio) and Adaptec 29160 SCSI in both PCI slots. I have a couple options here:
- ditch the sound card for onboard audio (mmmmeeeeeehhhhhhhh)
- steal the PCIe SCSI out of my PowerMac ( 🙁 )
- find another PCIe SCSI card somewhere ($)
- grab something like this passive-cooled, one-slot Radeon HD5450 (that card seems to be even less powerful than the 4670 - I still haven't figured out how these Radeon model numbers work!)
- use a PCI slot extension cable (or even a small 2-3 slot expansion backplane??) to bump one or both cards over a couple spaces; after all, the last post showed I had plenty of room.

Has anyone done something like that last option? Does it cause problems e.g. latency, signal self-interference, crosstalk, etc? It would either drive the SCSI card or the sound card, and as I'm planning to use this machine for audio/video production work among other things, having low latency & accurate timing in those cards is kind of essential.

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Reply 8 of 8, by xjas

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I hope you guys are enjoying this thread! I know it's not exactly a rare or vintage motherboard+CPU setup, but I'm trying to make the writeups interesting & I figured some of you would be into seeing one of these ex-server get repurposed for fun uses. Besides, there are loads of tualatin & K6 builds on here already. 😉

Here's the front end of the case with all the drives removed. Looks a little empty.
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So I filled up the drive caddy:
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Oh yes, I went there.

And yeah, I know the brown 5.25" floppy bay adapter bezel thing looks like crap. It's borrowed from my 386 where it's much more suitable in a period-correct way. The important part is I had it now and I wanted to use it now. I'll return it to its proper home later. Fortunately black ones are still easy to get (a couple online retailers sell them.)

The WD Green in the above is 1TB. I decided to scale back my backup-system plans and just use two of the 2TB drives I have for now; made it easier to figure out the drive loadout. I only have 4xSATA and 2xIDE (one channel), and already every one is occupied.

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4TB on the top-mount bracket.

At some point I got a BUNCH of factory sealed SATA cables from a dumpster. Time to put some of them to good use:
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Never underestimate what gets thrown away in a university environment.

All together!
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Okay, I'm not exactly artisan in my cable-routing. I did make an effort with this though. Look at the zip ties!

twitch.tv/oldskooljay - playing the obscure, forgotten & weird - most Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 6:30 PM PDT. Bonus streams elsewhen!