VOGONS


First post, by blougaville

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So this was a fun and fairly unnecessary project! The PC on the right has become my retro workhorse. It has the CD drive, floppies, two sound cards plus the intelligent mode MPU401 clone, I'm using System Commander to quad boot different OSes...basically, it's pretty well equipped to handle any bit of retro computing I might "need" to do.

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I don't have any romantic attachments to spinning drives so all of my builds utilize SSDs and few have optical drives at this point (with the help of Vogons user doogie, I've spend a lot of time setting up a PXE environment so I can boot any floppy image or install any vintage OS over the LAN). So, with an extra Asus P5A board sitting around, I got to thinking about how far I could slim down a SS7 system to the bare minimum of what I consider important in a retro gaming PC without any filler. For me, this meant the smallest case possible, a video card with good DOS compatibility, an actual ISA sound card with wavetable header, and a NIC card in lieu of any removable media.

I really like the Fractal Design Node 202 Mini-ITX case for modern builds, so I bought one and started hacking it apart. Here's a random photo of how it's intended to be used with a Mini-ITX mobo and a full sized graphics card:
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After a lot of cutting, brainstorming, making stupid mistakes and going back to the drawing board a few times, here is my cluttered end result:

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You may notice lots of strange things like how the SFX PSU had to be rotated in an unintended way in order for the board to clear it, or the fan shroud made of foamcore, or the custom made ISA extension ribbon...I'll post some more pictures detailing the process below but first here are the specs for both systems!

SS7 MID-TOWER:

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Asus P5A rev 1.03
AMD K6-III+ 450Mhz
Single 128MB PC133 CL3
3DFX Voodoo3 3000 AGP
120GB Samsung Evo 850 SSD w/SATA-to-PATA Adapter (DMA Mode)
SB AWE64 Gold ISA (for DOS)
SB Audigy2 ZS (for Win98)
Intelligent Mode MPU401 ISA Clone (MIDI)
DVD/RW Drive (IDE w/SPIDIF CD Audio-Out)
3.5" Floppy Drive
GoTEK 3.5" Floppy Emulator
3Com 3X905C-TXM NIC
Syba SD-V2-5U (NEC 720100 Chipset) PCI USB2 Card
NOTE: All front USB ports work by mounting a USB hub inside the case and connecting it to the inward facing port of the USB2 PCI card!
DOS+WFW311/95/98SE/NT4 (Managed with System Commander 2K)

SS7 CUSTOM MINI-ITX:

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NOTE: I didn't have an I/O shield so I dremeled a blank one, only mangling it a little bit. The USB cable protruding out the back and series of adapters running through the inside of the case is simply so I can have one front accessible USB 1.1 port in case I ever need it.

Asus P5A rev 1.03
AMD K6-III+ 450Mhz
Single 64MB PC100 CL2
NVIDIA Quadro NVS280 (According to other Vogons users, it's essentially a GeForce4 MX440)
120GB Samsung Evo 850 SSD w/SATA-to-PATA Adapter (DMA Mode)
ESS AudioDrive 1868F w/DreamBlaster S1 on Wavetable
3Com 3X905C-TXM NIC
Windows 98SE

Last edited by blougaville on 2019-04-01, 16:37. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 1 of 13, by blougaville

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Here is the mini-ITX case after I hacked out some metal and put in my own standoffs for the full sized ATX motherboard:

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I didn't take a lot of progress pics, but the SFX power supply had to be rotated and screwed to the outside of the case with some plastic standoffs to hold it in just the right place so the board would clear it (the PSU intake fan still sits right over a air filtered vent).

I utilized bus extension ribbons in order to mount the graphics/sound cards perpendicular to the motherboard. PCI extension ribbons are easy to find, but after many hours of searching online I gave up looking for an ISA ribbon and ordered the parts to make one based on information I found in this thread: https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=41599 . My friend Jason who is more proficient at soldering than I am helped me to create this beast:

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And here is how the cards got mounted into the case. I had to pull a PCI bracket off of another video card that had a video connector that was physically higher up...this allowed the graphics card and sound card to be offset so that the two extension ribbons wouldn't be stacked directly on top of each other. Here's the graphics card mounted offset so the sound card ribbon is able to clear it:

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And then the ISA sound card going in:

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Cooling is definitely a concern which is why I chose the cool running NVidia card as opposed to something like the V3 that I have in my main SS7 rig. I got out my craft supplies and made a little fan shroud out of "foamcore" which is intended to draw cool air in from outside of the case and blow it across the graphics/sound cards.

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Reply 2 of 13, by blougaville

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A slim 15mm deep 120mm exhaust fan is mounted on the inside of the case cover directly above the CPU. I haven't done extensive testing yet, but during general usage the CPU is only running a few degrees hotter than the one in the mid-tower case with more conventional cooling.

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Figuring out how to fit a NIC in this already packed case was my final challenge. I tried a few different PCI NICs with PXE boot ROMs before I figured out that the 3Com 3X905C-TXM would BARELY line up with a blank spot on the top of the I/O shield with a rightward facing 1U PCI riser I found through Amazon. I actually had to shave the corner of the NIC's PCB off with a grinding wheel to make it work and hold it in place with a few dabs of 100% silicone caulk (I know, super sketchy), but it works and actually feels sturdy when plugging in an ethernet cable!

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Finally, a picture of me booting off of my network so I can FDISK and start installing 98SE:

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This was super fun and I'm still pretty shocked that not only does it all work, but it seems to be working well and actually feels solid despite looking pretty cluttered in these pictures. I'm definitely inspired to dream up some more small form factor retro PCs and hopefully this post can be of some help to someone else trying to cram parts in a case that they have no business being in.

Reply 3 of 13, by badmojo

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I’m not usually a fan of retro hardware in modern cases but these two have real style, excellent work. The mad scientist-cramming if parts into odd places is a big part of that I think 😀

I have spinning disks in all of my machines but have been thinking about trying an SSD in my main Windows 98 machine at least, the slow grinding is nostalgic but not the good kind.

If it's broke, then fix it!

Reply 4 of 13, by Revolter

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blougaville, wow, dude, this is awesome! Finally something in "System Specs" after my own heart (see signature) 😀

I wonder though, why no Wi-Fi through USB, or a pico-PSU? That sure would free up some space. Also a regular PCI ESS Solo-1 is basically the same as ISA SBPro clone cards compatibility-wise on a mobo chipset like this.

The mid-tower case is also nice, looks very stylish without going overboard.

Celeron 800, 512MB, GeForce2 MX, ES1938S/DB S2, 128GB SD, Windows ME/DOS 6.22

Reply 5 of 13, by blougaville

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Thanks for the kind words badmojo and revolter!

Badmojo, I'm happy that someone who is more of a purist about vintage parts than me is into this! I think I've just worked in IT and dealt with way too many failed drives to have any patience for them when it comes to my hobby computers!

Revolter, holy crap, I searched around for SFF builds a while back and did not come across your MASTERPIECE! Any idea where I could look for one of those unusual AGP risers? Also, I didn't know the ESS Solo-1 existed! My original intent was to use an extra AWE64 Value ISA I have in this but decided to switch it up with the ESS for some variety since I already have an AWE64 Gold in the mid-tower. It was also definitely a bragging rights type of thing to find a solution to horizontally mount an ISA card. Plus I think I'd feel like I was wasting the potential of a board from this era if I couldn't make use of the ISA slots at all! As for the NIC, I need to be able to PXE boot and I've never looked into doing this over Wi-Fi. The pico-PSU is a great idea and I'll definitely consider it for a future build (especially after seeing yours, sheeh!), but I'm familiar with this case and it was pretty easy to make the SFX PSU work.

Reply 6 of 13, by Revolter

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blougaville, thanks for your even kinder words as well!

Any idea where I could look for one of those unusual AGP risers

I've bought this left-angle riser from a fellow Russian guy, and I've no idea where he got it from, unfortunately. This looks like a very case-specific stuff (I can't imagine normal use for it), maybe from some long-forgotten case manufacturer's experimental product that nobody liked 😀 I believe these guys can make those, but not sure if they're still in business.

A word of warning about the flexible AGP extenders from China (like the one pictured in your other thread): they don't work on any of my Y2K-era boards for some reason. Don't know if some resistors are required for proper initialization, but even the bare slot extender itself - after desoldering it from the cable - prevents the mobo from recognizing the AGP card. Otherwise, trimming it to ~5cm would make a killer substitude.

It was also definitely a bragging rights type of thing to find a solution to horizontally mount an ISA card

I believe it works! You're probably the only one I've seen with such a setup 😎

Celeron 800, 512MB, GeForce2 MX, ES1938S/DB S2, 128GB SD, Windows ME/DOS 6.22

Reply 7 of 13, by appiah4

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Respect.

A500:Rev6|+512K|ACA500+|C1084S
i386:Am386SX25|4M|GD5402|ES688
i486:U5S33|8M|GD5428|YMF719
i586:P133|32M|T64V+/MX2|V1|CT3980/32M
i686:K6-2/500|256M|i740|V2/SLI|CT4520/32M
S370:P3-1200|384M|GF4-4200|MX300
S754:A3700+|2G|X800XTPE|SB0350

Reply 8 of 13, by blougaville

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Revolter wrote:

A word of warning about the flexible AGP extenders from China (like the one pictured in your other thread): they don't work on any of my Y2K-era boards for some reason.

I actually did manage to find one of these earlier on in the project when I planned to use an AGP video card and had the same experience! I checked the connections with a multimeter and the extender seemed legit but cards would not post. By this point I had already changed my plan to use the PCI card, but it was still a bummer.

Reply 13 of 13, by chinny22

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The 2 are nice contrasts, nice clean simple appearance of the mini atx vs the every panel filled in the other.
Don't even have any recommendations, both are perfect builds IMHO