VOGONS


First post, by havli

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I have a new project here, this one was rather quick - only took about two months to build. The goal here was to build as small as possible DOS PC with good overal compatibility. So I started looking for some VIA based ITX boards in order to have chipset compatible with ESS Solo. Initially I planned to use Pico PSU... but later I found this nice Epia board that is powered directly by 12V power brick. Also I like the chipset heatsink design, that allows me to use right angle PCI extender and connect the ESS Solo and still keep the machine very flat.

Here are the specifications:

  • VIA C3 1.0A GHz (533 - 1666 MHz)
  • VIA Epia-TC 10000 (CLE266 + VT8235)
  • 512 MB DDR
  • S3 Unichrome IGP
  • ESS Solo-1 + DreamBlaster S2 (will be replaced by X2GS later)
  • Kingston 30 GB SSD
  • Windows 98 SE + DOS 7.1

The CPU is Nemeniah-based. So quite good performance (similar to PIII at half clock), not very hot and power hungry and also unlocked multiplier. The lowest possible clock is 533 MHz (4x 133) which will be perfect for for most games. And it is possible to slow it down even more if needed. As it turned out, this CPU also overclocks very well. Even 1666 MHz (12.5x 133) is perfectly stable. Probably this is overkill, but might prove useful for some win98 games.

The integrated GPU is S3 based, so it should provide good compatibility with DOS games and also good performance for 2D Windows games. The 3D acceleration is there... but probably not very useful (I will build different PC for 3D anyway).

The sound card was very easy pick - for PCI bus it is hard to find something better than ESS Solo, especially when paired with VT8235 couthbridge. This particular piece is a cut-down model. Every non-essential component was missing. 😁 But I don't really need amplifier and such. The wavetable header was also missing - that bothered me a lot on the other hand. Fortunately soldering the 26-pin header was very easy. So now I can have good midi, yay 😀

And photos of the key components. In case you are wondering where the RAM slot is located on the MB - it is on the back side 😀

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Last edited by havli on 2022-04-07, 20:13. Edited 2 times in total.

HW museum.cz - my collection of PC hardware

Reply 1 of 17, by havli

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And now the hardest part. I really like to design and 3d print my own case. This way I can make it much smaller than regular cases you can buy and it still fits all the needed HW. This time I decided to take a different approach and the "box" consists of only two pieces (instead of six). It is more difficult to design it this way and there is no room for an error. Some time ago I bought wood PLA which I wanted to use for some computer case. In the end I chose this one. Warning for everyone about to print from similar material. It is not that easy to print and takes ages to postprocess the print to make it look at least somewhat decent. I definitely won't print any other "wooden" case 😁

As it turned out, everything fits perfectly (to my surprise 😜). On the front panel, I added one USB... because there is just enough room for it, so why not. Also the board supports USB 2.0, which means it is reasonably fast.

The board has 12V input and it genereates all the other voltages in the area next to the CPU. As you can imagine, it runs quite hot. To be on the safe side, I added 60mm fan directly above that area. Now the temperatures of both VRM and CPU are perfectly fine, however the whole PC is not as silens as I hoped. Maybe I will tune it a bit later. Also for those that are familiar with this particular board, on the photos the power wiring of the SSD and IDE->SATA adapter is connected the wrong way, I fixed it later. 😀

The outer dimension is 200x185x77mm, so about 3L volume. Not that bad for the amount fun it packs 😀

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Last edited by havli on 2022-04-07, 20:14. Edited 1 time in total.

HW museum.cz - my collection of PC hardware

Reply 3 of 17, by havli

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Thanks, I am glad you like it 😀

Yes, I played Stargunner for a while and about hour of One Must Fall 2097. And also some quick testing of Duke 3D, Doom and Wolfenstein 3D to test the audio system. I am still waiting for the X2GS, which I will plug in soon and then I will enjoy the perfect MIDI.

HW museum.cz - my collection of PC hardware

Reply 5 of 17, by janih

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Nice build! I have the same Epia motherboard in storage (of old hardware) . There are also headers on the motherboard for a DVI output adapter (VIA DVI-01G part number), but that seems to be hard to find.

Where did you get that PCI riser? Is it some generic model? It has to be taller model I guess to have enough clearance.

Last edited by janih on 2022-04-08, 19:27. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 6 of 17, by Cuttoon

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havli wrote on 2022-04-07, 12:33:

And now the hardest part. I really like to design and 3d print my own case.

🤣, dude, with all due respect, you remind me a bit of Louis C.K. and his eternal rant "everythings's amazing and nobody is happy".

You mean like, you'd merely have to envision a certain item, manifest your thoughts via a GUI and it would magically appear in physical form before your eyes?
Boy, WHAT A DRAG!!!!

Oh well, how terrible you didn't get the chance to use a precisions saw, home CNC array or really fancy jigsaw on raw materials from some remote store, then slave away for countless hours with a power drill, dremel, various files and bolts or blind rivets? Having a custom computer cases used to be so easy!

But, sincerely, where tf did a PCI riser just magically appear from? Is it from your Lucas-Arts-adventure-style inventory, right next to the old bubblegum and the chainsaw fuel?
And, not so sure if I like the idea of using a mini-BSX or anything modern like that any time soon voluntarily, but I do own a really, really minute Zida Tomato SS7 and was planning to turn it into something similar some time. So, many thanks for the additional inspiration!

I like jumpers.

Reply 7 of 17, by havli

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Yes, DVI is possible with this board. But As you said, most likely impossible to find that addon. PCI riser is one of these generic chinese ones. But there are multiple types and you must get the right one - the taller type. Also wach out for left and right risers. Luckily for you, I can point you in the right direction. Mine is a perfect fit for this board. I am not sure if ebay links are allowed here. Well, try this magic number 😁 164965601338

Socket 7 is cool, I once had plans for custom made baby AT case. But that one was scrapped in favor of MS-6168 based build. That one is mostly complete by now... but the case design simply didn't turn out that well and is considerably bigger. So this one won 😀 Soon I plan to make scaled version of this design for full ATX board. Wish me luck - that one will take ages to print.

HW museum.cz - my collection of PC hardware

Reply 9 of 17, by janih

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havli wrote on 2022-04-07, 21:15:

Yes, DVI is possible with this board. But As you said, most likely impossible to find that addon. PCI riser is one of these generic chinese ones. But there are multiple types and you must get the right one - the taller type. Also wach out for left and right risers. Luckily for you, I can point you in the right direction. Mine is a perfect fit for this board. I am not sure if ebay links are allowed here. Well, try this magic number 😁 164965601338

Thank you for the number. I might order one for future Via Epia build 😀

Reply 10 of 17, by RandomStranger

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havli wrote on 2022-04-07, 12:33:

The integrated GPU is S3 based, so it should provide good compatibility with DOS games and also good performance for 2D Windows games. The 3D acceleration is there... but probably not very useful (I will build different PC for 3D anyway).

Yeah, the Achilles heel of ultra compact rigs. That's why I never went below uATX. My small W98 box is thus (W×H×D) 325×140×335mm which is still small, but I could add a full height graphics and sound card, a full size optical and a 3.5" floppy drive.

Maybe it is possible to make a sacrifice on the height and add a dual PCI raiser card like the MSI MS-6958 and also add something like a PCI Geforce MX for 3D acceleration and decent W98 speed?

sreq.png retrogamer-s.png

Reply 11 of 17, by havli

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Zeerex wrote on 2022-04-09, 04:09:

Wondering about S3 unichrome recently as several thin clients seem to have them. If you have them in shareware even, does Jazz Jackrabbit and Commander Keen 4 run on it ok?

There seems to be some kind of horizontal scrolling problem with Commander Keen 4. Jazz Jackrabbit doesn't run at all (runtime error 200 at 0009:37F2). This is the first time I run these games, so I am not familiar with them at all.

RandomStranger wrote on 2022-04-09, 12:37:

Yeah, the Achilles heel of ultra compact rigs. That's why I never went below uATX. My small W98 box is thus (W×H×D) 325×140×335mm which is still small, but I could add a full height graphics and sound card, a full size optical and a 3.5" floppy drive.

Maybe it is possible to make a sacrifice on the height and add a dual PCI raiser card like the MSI MS-6958 and also add something like a PCI Geforce MX for 3D acceleration and decent W98 speed?

Nice! Do you have some photos?
I plan to make similar case to this ITX one, but scaled up to support regular ATX with all expansion cards (up to 25cm length), SFX PSU, one 3.5 HDD and one 3.5 SSD. No floppy or optical. Dimensions could be 325x286x150mm. But maybe it will need to grow a bit 😀

Dual PCI riser is possible (in theory, I didn't try) but I would be affraid the onboard VRM (especially the 5V) is not strong enough to power a GPU.

HW museum.cz - my collection of PC hardware

Reply 13 of 17, by Cuttoon

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RandomStranger wrote on 2022-04-09, 15:42:

You can check for some tiny cases here: Re: Help me find the perfect case

Sorry, bit off topic, but has someone by any chance tried out this thing:
https://www.ebay.de/itm/294086265607
?
It's not that tiny and certainly not great quality, but really dirt cheap and should house any average baby AT with some modifications, custom backplates and low profile cards. Think later S7 systems should be easy to assemble.

I like jumpers.

Reply 14 of 17, by Zeerex

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havli wrote on 2022-04-09, 15:17:

There seems to be some kind of horizontal scrolling problem with Commander Keen 4. Jazz Jackrabbit doesn't run at all (runtime error 200 at 0009:37F2). This is the first time I run these games, so I am not familiar with them at all.

First of all, huge thanks for trying this! Ok bummer about Keen 4. I am aware of a scrolling fix for Keen out there in the wild so i'm hopeful, but I'm far more interested in Jazz Jackrabbit! The error you have about Jazz is easily fixable. Download ttppatch here: http://www.ipnet6.org/tppatch.html

Then to patch JJ, just drag the Jazz.exe executable on top of tppatch.exe within Windows, or within command prompt run tppatch <path to >.exe. That will allow it to run, it's common on PC's that are too fast (over 200mhz).

Reply 15 of 17, by havli

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After patching the Jazz Jackrabbit runs. The scrolling looks a bit funky... but As I have never played that game, I can't tell what is normal and what is considered wrong.

Also I have the X2GS connected and running. So from hardware point of view, I consider this build finished. 😀

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HW museum.cz - my collection of PC hardware

Reply 16 of 17, by Almoststew1990

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I've got a similar system going at the moment.

VIA EPIA-SP which is 800MHz C3 and 1 slot of DDR1 (I've put 512mb of DDR1 400 in there on the illusion it will help with the graphics chip). It has Via / S3 Unichrome graphics. It's got a single PCI slot that's currently housing a Sound Blaster Live SB0100. I did have a Yamaha YMF724 or 44 card but I sold that as I never used it. I set it up with Windows 98 with a loose CD drive and then just have it set up without any drives. I use a CF card so add my games via the card or USB stick. Having it in this case is neat because it uses a giant 140mm fan spinning slowly so it's silent but also cool. The case isn't exactly tiny, usually it holds an ITX 4770K build.

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A while back I was on a hunt for the holy grail of weird VIA ITX 98/DOS boards, i.e. one that has natively soundblaster compatible audio, so I could put my PCI Voodoo 3 in the PCI slot. And I found it, except it was a 500MHz C2 model so the CPU was simply too slow for any 3D gaming. The 800MHz + Unichrome isn't too terrible to be honest, it can play games like UT99 and Driver just fine.

Honestly they're pretty fund DOS/98 builds to do.

Ryzen 3700X | 16GB 3600MHz RAM | AMD 6800XT | 2Tb NVME SSD | Windows 10
AMD DX2-80 | 16MB RAM | STB LIghtspeed 128 | AWE32 CT3910
I have a vacancy for a main Windows 98 PC

Reply 17 of 17, by Zeerex

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havli wrote on 2022-04-17, 20:37:

After patching the Jazz Jackrabbit runs. The scrolling looks a bit funky...

Thanks for trying, that’s too bad - Jazz has an infamous graphics mode (from what I hear) that would appear to be to blame.