VOGONS


Intel 440BX Slot 1 on wheels

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First post, by GrafWasili

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I have been registered at this forum for some time now for reading and downloading stuff.
Now I just completed my first retro PC build (with a lot of help from existing threads in this forum) and figured why not say hello and share some impressions 😀

Since I worked a lot on this build and wanted to include some picture I will split this into several posts.

Motivation

I always played old games on my modern PC with the help of emulation (dosbox, wine, scummvm, VMs). I also added as much backwards compatibility as possible to it, with a bootable PCI-e IDE controller card and a LS-120 drive, PC-speaker, OPL2LPT module, Joystick adapters, installing Free-DOS, you name it...

But all this only gets you so far. I often spend more time trying to get games to work than actually playing them. Which is fine but sometimes I didn't even have success with that. Especially games from the Windows 95 era seem almost impossible to run nicely on a modern computer.

So it was time to assemble some real old hardware with a focus on this era, good backwards compatibility for DOS games and support for classic hardware like 3dfx graphics and OPL as well as Roland MIDI sound.

Mainboard

I was looking for mainboards that gave me lots of options and found a Chaintech 6BTM0 (Intel 440BX chipset) which has three ISA, four PCI and an AGP slot as well as an onboard USB controller. I didn't know about the Slot 1 architecture before but found it quite charming - being able to switch CPUs without going through the trouble of applying thermal paste and mounting fans. With the overclocking options available in the BIOS (which has all the features one could wish for) it's possible to run CPUs with clock speeds between 133Mhz and > 1Ghz.

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The voltage regulator at U9 needed for Intel Coppermine support
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The Mainboard came with a Pentium II 300Mhz CPU with a weak, but noisy fan and some 128mb PC-133 SDRAM.

The case

After ordering the mainboard it was time to look for a suitable case - what turned out to not be that easy. New PC cases are either ugly (seems like everyone wants a Death Star with Christmas lights as a computer these days), didn't have enough external drive bays or were sold out. Used cases were mostly ugly in another way (having "this computer runs Windows XP" written all over it), too old (supporting only AT mainboards) or way too expensive.

Finally I came across a good deal for an old server case. Was it too big? Maybe.... But it had swinging doors, two 3.5" external drive bays, eight 5.25" external drive bays, lots of non-blue LEDs, an important looking lock mechanism and *wheels*!

So I just could not resist....

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It just looks so nice...
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It came with an ATX power supply that had enough juice and was silent enough for me (no -5V but I have no need for this as of now). It also came with a beefy PC speaker and 3 fans powered by Molex HDD-Connectors that could chop off your fingers... I put those into the spare bin. Finally an assortment of drive rails and brackets was included.

Reply 1 of 31, by Doornkaat

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Hell yeah! I have a very similar case (if not the same!) in much worse condition. Does yours have the plastic cover still on the back? I'm not even 100% sure if there's supposed to be one; mine doesn't have one but there appear to be mounting holes for one.

Reply 2 of 31, by GrafWasili

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Doornkaat wrote on 2022-03-09, 09:10:

Hell yeah! I have a very similar case (if not the same!) in much worse condition. Does yours have the plastic cover still on the back? I'm not even 100% sure if there's supposed to be one; mine doesn't have one but there appear to be mounting holes for one.

Cool, maybe you can make it pretty again some day 😀

Indeed it still has the back cover, but it's missing all but one of the hooks that attach it to the case, so it's not on there right now 🙁
The second lock at the rear end of the top panel is for preventing it's removal and thus access to the side panels. I can post a picture later!

Reply 3 of 31, by GrafWasili

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Storage and Drives

From what I already learned about building old computers today, an IDE CF-Card adapter would be the way to go for the primary "hard drive" - because of compatibility and reliability, but also because it makes for an easy "multi-boot" solution and allows easy manipulation of the file system from another PC. For getting started I hooked up a 3.5" floppy drive I had lying around. I used the LS-120 drive on my main PC to get some boot disks going, and dug up a Windows 95 ("with USB support" 👿 ) OEM disk.

I installed DOS 6.22 on a 1GB CF-Card and Windows 95 on a 8GB CF-Card. The latter would format C: as a 2GB FAT16 partition, but using the CF-Reader on my main PC running Linux I expanded it to a 8GB Fat32 partition and reinstalled the windows boot loader by executing >sys c: from the Win95 boot floppy.

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Time to boot!
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I also tossed in an old 20GB IDE spinning disk which again I formatted on my main PC as follows:

||------8GB-extended-DOS-partition------------||-----12GB-primary-DOS-partition-(FAT32)----||
||-2GB-FAT16-logic-partition-|-6GB-unused-----||

...ending up with an extra 2GB data partition for DOS-usage and an extra 8GB data partition for windows. The only oddity is that there's another inaccessible drive of 12GB size shown in Windows Explorer as drive D: 🤔

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Drives as shown in DOSSHELL
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Drives as shown in Windows Explorer
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For optical media I installed an old school 4x CD-ROM drive and a modern-ish DVD reader from my parts bin.

To speed up the hard drives and free up IDE-ports for future expansions I later got a Promise Ultra-133 IDE-Controller and some quality (80 wire) slightly overlength (60cm) IDE ribbon cables. After fiddling around with the right BIOS settings it booted up nicely.

For the sake of completeness I also had to buy a 5.25" floppy drive. Boy are these things expensive now. I did some cleaning and lubrication on the one I got before hooking it up and fortunately it seems to run without a flaw.

The fact that all 5.25" drives are inserted on rails, makes it easier to swap their position later for aesthetic or cable length reasons....

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All the drives
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Behind the scenes
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Last edited by GrafWasili on 2022-03-09, 11:18. Edited 2 times in total.

Reply 4 of 31, by GrafWasili

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Audio and Video

I already had a Matrox VGA card and a TFT-Monitor for testing the mainboard and getting started. But to get my dream setup going I also ordered a Vodoo 3000 AGP card and a CT2230 Soundblaster16 that I identified - again with the help of this forum - as a suitable option for all retro gaming sound requirements.

To treat my ears with some quality MIDI sound I also got the X2GS waveblaster daughter board from serdashop. Probably spend an hour running >playmid monkey.mid over and over again 😀

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I also wanted to connect both of my optical drives to the sound blaster so I rigged up the simple passive mixing circuit which was linked somewhere here. It worked but unfortunately the noise level introduced by it was not worth it. I don't know if the circuit layout or the bread board is causing this or if it's a general flaw of the circuit...

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Passive CD audio mixing circuit
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In general I realized the noise level of the soundblaster board is not too convincing. CD-Audio has some noise, but wave audio seems to be very noisy, for example the Windows 95 sounds. I don't know could this be a failure of the board? Or is it just the low quality of wave files used at this time? I need to do some more testing there....

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The drive & power supply compartment
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Reply 5 of 31, by GrafWasili

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RAM and CPU Upgrades, Cooling

Despite reading that the mainboard is supposed to support up to 1GB of memory I couldn't make it happen with the modules I had available and bought online. Right now it's running with 2x256MB PC-133 modules. When I added another 2x128MB PC-133 on banks three and four, the memory was initially registered at boot but made the computer really slow, especially when performing file operations and finally it refused to reboot with a memory error beep code.

A 512mb PC-133 module on the other hand made the machine totally refuse service when used on it's own and was registered as another 128MB of RAM on boot used in conjunction with 2x256MB modules, but Windows was freezing on startup using this setup.

CPU-wise I upgraded to a PIII 700Mhz that came without a fan but a huge heat sink. Testing the BIOS-Options it runs stable when overclocked to ~800Mhz via an increased FSB-Speed and still stays way cooler than the PII. With a little fan I installed at the back of the case constantly running ,the sensor readouts never went above 37°C. Without any fans the temperature goes up to ~47°C and seems to stay there even after some hours of playing games, so it seems I won't need any additional cooling with this Setup.

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Pentium III with big a** heatsink
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The motherboard compartment
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Connecting to the Interwebs

To connect our new pet to the internet (so i don't have to shut it down for every download or try to squeeze it onto a floppy disk - and of cause also just for fun) I added a Intel Pro 1oo+ Network card which boosts more LEDs both physical and virtual!

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Green across the board
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First contact
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PCI expansion slots
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Reply 6 of 31, by GrafWasili

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Software

Installing all the required drivers, updates as well as DirectX and some handy tools in Windwos 95 probably was the most time consuming part of the build. I did manage to get everything working - despite the onboard USB-Controller which still remains with the dreaded exclamation mark in device manager 😩

But now for some games. I installed and tried what I had lying around on floppy or CD. Every game worked flawlessly with optimal sound and graphics options. For Indy 3 I needed to use the at-slow tool to slow down the CPU.

The only exception was American McGee's Alice (based on Quake3 engine). With highest details at 1024x768 resolution it was skipping a lot of frames.

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Reply 7 of 31, by GrafWasili

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Bill 🤠 of materials

I figured it would be interesting how much I ended up spending for building this PC to give an idea how expensive building a system from that era has become if you don't already have a lot of components lying around and don't want to wait for bargains to show up (tough I did try to find the more reasonable offers for each part).

Server case: € 60
Mainboard: € 60
Pentium 3 700: € 35
2 x 256MB PC-133 RAM: € 10

Vodoo 3000 AGP: € 140
SB16 CT2230: € 80
X2GS Waveblaster board: € 100

IDE CF adapter (new): € 30
Mitsumi D509V3 5.25" FD: € 55
Promise Ultra133 TX2 IDE controller: € 25
Intel Pro 100+ network card: € 5

PS/2 Keyboard: € 25
Logitech PS/2 Mouse: € 10
IO-Shield (new): € 5
2x 60cm 80 wire IDE cable (new): € 10
SB CD-Audio cable: € 5

8GB Industrial CF-card: € 20
1GB Industrial CF-card: € 10

-------------------------------------------------

Total € 685 (most parts also included shipping)

That makes it more expensive than the initial cost of my main PC I build back in 2016 😶

Future Upgrades

I already have some plans and ideas for future upgrades:

  • install Windows 98 and some Linux distro on additional CF-cards
  • adding an IDE SD-card reader for non-network file transfer needs
  • adding a secondary floppy controller via ISA bus to accommodate more floppy drives
  • replace the spinning disk with some IDE SSD solution
  • add a MT32 replacement, like the McCake or MP32L from Serdashop - though I would like to keep General Midi support and don't know how to solve this yet
  • connect all those LEDs to various points of the system to make it all blinky
  • maybe try to get an add-on PCI USB controller working
  • maybe add some kind of fan control or at least a switch should I ever need more cooling in the future

Conclusion

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It's a portable system as long as you don't leave the room
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So far I'm not regretting going for this chipset and motherboard and I really like the big case - it's just really convenient to work with all the space available. The only downside is the cable length required to reach from the motherboard side to the disks side of the case.

Reply 8 of 31, by chinny22

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Love me a slot 1 rig They handle Dos and WIn9x gamming pretty well.
512MB is perfect for 9x and way more then dos will ever need, I wouldn't worry about upgrading .

A lot of people will use 2 soundcards in such a setup, the ISA card for dos, Creative cards are pretty bad but no ISA card is noise free.
For Windows you can use a cleaner PCI card, typically either an Aureal Vortex card and gain A3D or SBLive or newer and also benefit from EAX.

Plus, you need to fill that massive case with something right 😉

Reply 9 of 31, by GrafWasili

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chinny22 wrote on 2022-03-09, 12:21:

A lot of people will use 2 soundcards in such a setup, the ISA card for dos, Creative cards are pretty bad but no ISA card is noise free.
For Windows you can use a cleaner PCI card, typically either an Aureal Vortex card and gain A3D or SBLive or newer and also benefit from EAX.

Aha, thanks!
The shopping spree for this project is put on hold now but it will go into "if i find something cheap I'll pick it up" mode. So I will definitely keep an eye open for one of those.
Any idea how both cards could work together without too much reconfiguration when switching between DOS and Win9X? Could I just plug the line out of the SB16 into the line in of the PCI card? And would that work in a DOS environment?

EDIT: Such a timing, there just happened to be a new thread on this exact topic: ISA Soundblaster OPL3 Card and PCI Sound Blaster Live!

Reply 10 of 31, by H3nrik V!

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GrafWasili wrote on 2022-03-09, 10:31:

RAM and CPU Upgrades, Cooling

Despite reading that the mainboard is supposed to support up to 1GB of memory I couldn't make it happen with the modules I had available and bought online. Right now it's running with 2x256MB PC-133 modules. When I added another 2x128MB PC-133 on banks three and four, the memory was initially registered at boot but made the computer really slow, especially when performing file operations and finally it refused to reboot with a memory error beep code.

A 512mb PC-133 module on the other hand made the machine totally refuse service when used on it's own and was registered as another 128MB of RAM on boot used in conjunction with 2x256MB modules, but Windows was freezing on startup using this setup.

i440BX supports up to 256 MiB per slot, but it needs to be "dual sided", which is not meant as having chips on both sides of the PCB, but electrical organization of the chips. You may get more knowledge by searching for BX memory comptatibility.

Was the slower experience with 2x256 plus 2x128 using a Pentium II processor? Some of them are only able to cache the first 512 MiB of RAM.

Please use the "quote" option if asking questions to what I write - it will really up the chances of me noticing 😀

Reply 11 of 31, by shawnhell

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I just had to take a moment to give props on the wheeled rig and point out how it capitalizes on the wood floors I see pictured 👌😉

I can totally imagine rolling this beast from easy-chair to easy-chair in my living room!

I remember back in the day seeing some builds at Best Buy on display complete with wheels... Didn't commit to one, but can imagine having one today...

EDIT: Velocity. Impressed me at the time.

Last edited by shawnhell on 2022-03-12, 07:36. Edited 2 times in total.

Reply 13 of 31, by GrafWasili

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H3nrik V! wrote on 2022-03-09, 14:28:

i440BX supports up to 256 MiB per slot

Thanks, the manual for the Chaintech 6BTM was a bit obtuse about this. Maybe 512m Modules were not yet available or common at this time so they didn't feel the need to explicitly state this...

H3nrik V! wrote on 2022-03-09, 14:28:

Was the slower experience with 2x256 plus 2x128 using a Pentium II processor? Some of them are only able to cache the first 512 MiB of RAM.

Now that you mention it, i think it was. I will try again with the P3 to see if the modules are OK and if they are double sided or not.

Also thanks for the reminder that those memory sizes are MiBs not MBs 😄

Reply 15 of 31, by chris2021

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Op where do you live? I want that case and will have it. You can make things easier by emptying it (hey I'm not entirely bereft.of morals) and leaving it on the porch/in the lobby. It's not right, not fair, that one so in love be deprived. Do tbe right thing.

Reply 16 of 31, by Tetrium

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That is one strange looking case. It's not my taste but I still like it 😜

I've always liked the Chaintech 6BTM, even though some of the earlier board revisions didn't seem to support Coppermine.

Whats missing in your collections?
My retro rigs (old topic)
Interesting Vogons threads (links to Vogonswiki)
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Reply 17 of 31, by Tetrium

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The Serpent Rider wrote on 2022-03-13, 15:30:

Vroom vroom.

Time to roll out the retro gear! 😜

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Interesting Vogons threads (links to Vogonswiki)
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Reply 18 of 31, by GrafWasili

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Thanks for the appreciative comments.

Doornkaat wrote on 2022-03-09, 09:10:

Hell yeah! I have a very similar case (if not the same!) in much worse condition. Does yours have the plastic cover still on the back? I'm not even 100% sure if there's supposed to be one; mine doesn't have one but there appear to be mounting holes for one.

As promised here are some pictures from the back with and without the cover. You might see it's just dangling there because of the missing plastic hooks.

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A look at the back shows there's room for a second PSU and there's also a sticker on the back saying P2 400 Mhz.

shawnhell wrote on 2022-03-11, 23:02:

I just had to take a moment to give props on the wheeled rig and point out how it capitalizes on the wood floors I see pictured 👌😉

I can totally imagine rolling this beast from easy-chair to easy-chair in my living room!

That's pretty much how I do it 😄 No real wood floor though, it's the plasticky stuff but that makes it roll even better.

Reply 19 of 31, by Doornkaat

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GrafWasili wrote on 2022-03-19, 12:05:
Thanks for the appreciative comments. […]
Show full quote

Thanks for the appreciative comments.

Doornkaat wrote on 2022-03-09, 09:10:

Hell yeah! I have a very similar case (if not the same!) in much worse condition. Does yours have the plastic cover still on the back? I'm not even 100% sure if there's supposed to be one; mine doesn't have one but there appear to be mounting holes for one.

As promised here are some pictures from the back with and without the cover. You might see it's just dangling there because of the missing plastic hooks.

back1.jpg
back2.jpg
top.jpg

A look at the back shows there's room for a second PSU and there's also a sticker on the back saying P2 400 Mhz.

shawnhell wrote on 2022-03-11, 23:02:

I just had to take a moment to give props on the wheeled rig and point out how it capitalizes on the wood floors I see pictured 👌😉

I can totally imagine rolling this beast from easy-chair to easy-chair in my living room!

That's pretty much how I do it 😄 No real wood floor though, it's the plasticky stuff but that makes it roll even better.

Oh man, I wish I'd never asked. I like that look so much I got to figure out how to get some back cover for mine. Otherwise what's the point in resoring any of the case?😅
Thanks for the pictures still! 😃👍