First post, by cde
After building a retro PC for the purpose of compatibility with games from a large period (late 80s to early 2000s) using the Abit KT7A (see Abit KT7A (KT133A/VIA686B), Athlon XP Mobile 2500+, ESS AudioDrive ES1868F, GeForce 6800 GT) I wanted to build an equivalent PC for the purpose of playing games from the early 2000s to ~2016 in a compact form factor (micro ATX).
With that in mind, I chose Ivy Bridge Z77 as a chipset, with the following rationale:
- Skylake and newer dropped USB 2.0 ports, and might require ACPI patches to work with Windows XP ;
- Haswell/Broadwell are not that much faster, less easy to delid/overclock, and lack official XP drivers from Intel ;
- Ivy Bridge is the newest platform that officially supports XP, and the oldest that officially supports Windows 10.
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77M-D3H 1.1
Compared to other Z77 mATX board, this one has several advantages:
- COM and LPT header ports available ;
- True Intel 82801 PCI Bridge instead of buggy Asmedia ASM1083/1085 PCIe to PCI Bridge ;
- Up to 32 GB of memory, compatible with LPDDR3 ;
- SATA ports placement does not conflict with the GPU ;
- Atheros Gigabit Ethernet compatible with all operating systems ;
- Very good internal audio with low noise ;
- Solid capacitors.
One drawback of the BIOS is that CPU voltage cannot be configured, so overclocking works as long as the power drawn stays within the predefined power envelope (in my case, up to 4.3 GHz). Presumably the GA-Z77MX-D3H does not have this limitation but lacks COM/LPT ports.
Motherboard: ASRock Z77M
A very good alternative to the Gigabyte Z77M. It is limited to 16 GB however, but offers the possibility of raising the CPU Vcore, and also provides more fan connectors (5 instead of 3). Here I've been able to attain 4.5 GHz with an increase to 1.17V. This motherboard features an ASM1083/1085 PCIe to PCI Bridge revision 3 which is supposed to be less buggy than revision 1 often found on Z68 motherboards.
EDIT: further testing shows that unfortunately as soon as the 77W TDP is exceeded, the CPU gets downclocked to 3.5 GHz every so often, and the BIOS offers no option to raise the turbo boost power limit, so pretty disappointing. Even at 4.3 GHz the frequency drops regularly when running Prime95, which is not the case with the GA-Z77M-D3H where it stays at a constant 4.3 GHz.
CPU: Intel i7 3770K
This CPU is easier to delid and overclock than Haswell as it does not feature CMS components underneath the IHS. I used a delidding tool bought on eBay to remove it, cleaned up the default thermal paste and the silicon rubber, and applied Coolaboratory Liquid Ultra. Then I relidded with silicon red RTV and let it cure for 24h. The result is excellent with a temperature drop of 10-15C (same cooler and fan profiles).
Sadly a number of drivers have been removed by Intel, with seemingly no good reason, including the USB 3 C210 driver for Windows 7 🙁. So I've been using the following website to locate XP/7 drivers in the archive, in addition to Gigabyte's driver page:
https://www.gigabyte.com/fr/Motherboard/GA-Z7 … v-11/support#dl
https://www.touslesdrivers.com/index.php?v_pa … e=12&v_code=379 (latest versions of the drivers)
https://www.touslesdrivers.com/index.php?v_pa … e=26&v_code=379 (archive of previous versions)
https://www.touslesdrivers.com/index.php?v_pa … 371&v_langue=en (last USB 3 PCH 7 driver for Ivy Bridge)
Please note, the V1.1 BIOS is not compatible with V1.0 boards. Be careful when updating your BIOS!
Atheros AR8161 drivers can be found at:
https://www.ath-drivers.eu/download-driver-fo … wsXP-32bit.html
https://www.ath-drivers.eu/download-driver-fo … ows7-64bit.html
GPU: MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 4GB
The 960 is the latest and most powerful GPU that is officially supported by NVIDIA on XP, up to the 368.81 driver (2016-07-14). The 970 and 980 would have worked with a modification to the INF file, but I appreciate the low power draw of the 960 and the fact that this MSI card is extremely silent under load, while staying relatively cool (66C max when running FurMark). It is also very well supported by the nouveau Linux driver, with full 3D acceleration.
A small issue with the Maxwell line of GeForce cards is the lack of compatibility with FreeSync/Adaptive Sync (contrary to Pascal and newer). It will only support G-Sync displays on Windows 10. That being said, it does support 1920x1080 @ 144 Hz without issues.
Operating system compatibility
I've run on this build Windows XP/7/10 as well as Debian 10 and macOS 10.10.5.
EDIT: although this was not the goal, many non speed sensitive DOS games run fine with OPL3LPT sound, and a USB keyboard/mouse (the BIOS provides excellent PS/2 emulation). In this case the VGA ouput of the internal HD4000 is used instead of the GTX 960 (which provides 1920x1080 instead of 720x400). The monitor I'm using, the AOC G2590PX, provides a 4:3 ratio option and can handle 70 Hz without frame dropping which is great.
Overall, this is another very good build that should stay useful for a long time.