First post, by badmojo
I've been putting this thing together over the last few months as the mood strikes me - a nice way to do things compared to my usual rabid push to get things done ASAP. It came about because I spotted an AT flip top case locally and I've been on the lookout for a replacement for years after an attempt to paint my last one ended in tears.
Hey, that rhymes.
This one is just another classic early 90’s clone. Cheaply made, functional, and sent to landfill in droves when the WWW took off and people upgraded to Pentiums. They’re getting hard to find around here these days and the condition of this one was a little rough, so it took some patient cleaning-up to get into a useable state. The drive bay covers - which I suspect aren't original - were the only yellowed plastic but came up OK with some sanding / respraying with clear semi-gloss.
The PSU was a challenge because where I'd usually just toss the old one and install a new StarTech AT unit, this case is a side-switcher (one of the reasons I bought it)(nostalgia), so I ended up gutting the original unit and switching in the contents of a StarTech unit instead. That worked well in the end but was fiddly, with some removal of components / soldering required.
The motherboard is the mighty ASUS VLI-486SV2GX4 rev. 2.1, which is almost too easy to work with to be considered a real 486 board. Still lots of jumpers, but they're clearly layed out and the board works like a charm with all 486, 586, and POD CPUs I've thrown at it over the years. For this machine I went with a POD83 I've had sitting around for a while - I already have an SX33 machine so I was looking for something a little more exotic here. The CPU fan was noisy which was dissapointing considering it's new-old-stock, but opening it up and giving it a lube sorted it out.
The VGA card is another NOS item I've had sitting around - it's a no-name S3-805 based VLB number which I upgraded to 2MB of RAM. I've been really impressed with this thing so far - VESA 1.2 out of the box (3.0 with SDD) and the image quality is beautiful in VGA and low-res SVGA. I need to copy the driver off the 5.25 floppy and max out the resolution in Windows 3.11 to see how that image quality holds up, but this is a DOS gaming machine so it's perfect in that context.
For sound I've dropped in an AWE64 Value that I've been avoiding for years for no reason other than it's just too easy. The AWE64 sounds amazing I think, the drivers / software are great, and CQM sounds really good with some reverb and chorus added. The AWE side of things is OK - not a patch on a half decent GM device in most titles but easily holds its own when it's used properly; X-Wing is a good example of how good it can sound. And just in case I'm in the mood for loading up some sound fonts in Windows 3.11 (very unlikely!) I've snuck in a 32MB memory expansion (28MB useable) via the amazing SimmConn, which is out of production now I think but used to be available for 20 bucks or so.
I'm using a period correct HDD for the boring stuff like OS, etc, but I always like a IDE->CF adapter for games, machine specific drivers, etc so that I can easily transfer files and back it all up. I usually use an externally accessible unit but I didn't have one handy, and given it's so easy to flip the lid on this thing I thought the internal option was just fine. There's a 50% chance that these things don't work in my experience but I got lucky with this one.
Performance wise it's pretty impressive for a "486". DOOM runs smoothly and Duke3D is quite playable, though you can notice some slowdown even in VGA mode. C&C is OK-ish but Warcraft II doesn't feel playable to me - I played all of these games and more on my trusty DX2 66 back in the day but it's hard to un-see everything that's happened since the mid 90's. Pixelated graphics I can do, low frame rates are a bridge too far.
Life? Don't talk to me about life.