First post, by ShovelKnight
This forum has multiple mentions of VIA Epia 800 as a suitable platform for a Mini-ITX retro gaming PC, however there was no single place with all the relevant information about this motherboard.
This thread is my attempt to create such a place.
This is the motherboard itself:
As you can see, I have a Noiseblocker 40mm fan installed because the stock fan spins at something like 50,000 RPM and it is literally the noisiest fan I have ever heard. It could be heard from the other end of my apartment through 2 closed doors. The Noiseblocker, on the other hand, is completely silent (I can barely hear it with my ear next to it) but still provides sufficient airflow - the CPU still runs as cool as ever.
Sound options: the integrated AC'97 codec has a very good SB Pro compatibility mode (easily enabled from the BIOS Setup). FM synthesis is not the greatest, but passable. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a MIDI/Gameport connector which means that if you want to add a wavetable-enabled MIDI device, your only option is to use either a PCI sound card (and probably lose a great deal of DOS compatibility) or a parallel port device like DreamBlaster S2P.
Video options: the integrated Trident CyberBlade video core is good enough for all but most demanding DOS games. DOS compatibility is very good. Commander Keen games run perfectly as well as smooth scrolling in Prehistorik 2 which is probably the most problematic DOS game in terms of VGA compatibility.
This motherboard is incredibly picky about PCI video cards. It doesn't even POST with Riva TNT2 M64 PCI or GeForce 2MX PCI. Matrox Mystique works, but the POST screen is completely corrupted with flashing characters all over the screen (although DOS and Windows are fine). S3 Savage 4 runs perfectly in DOS but freezes in Windows 98 (it works fine on an i440BX motherboard). The only PCI graphics card I have that seems to be 100% compatible with this motherboard is S3 Virge/DX. There are reports that Voodoo 3 is also a very good match in terms of both compatibility and performance.
The motherboard is equipped with a jumper block for FSB clock selection. 66, 100 and 133 MHz FSB is supported. It would be easy to wire four SPST switches to the jumper block and switch FSB frequency without opening the PC case.
The CPU is easily overclocked/underclocked with SetMul by changing the multiplier on the fly. This particular motherboard seems to be rock solid at frequencies from 200 to 1000 MHz, above 1000 MHz things get wonky pretty quickly (severe instability at 1066 MHz and immediate lock up at 1133 MHz).
By changing the FSB speed and toggling various CPU options with SetMul, I was able to obtain the following results:
On the top end of scale we're limited by the integrated graphics quite a bit. By installing a PCI video card, I was able to improve my DOS Quake score from 31.7 fps to 37.2 fps, while Doom went from 68 fps to 89 fps. However, I still think that the integrated graphics are good enough for 99% of DOS games out there. And for pretty much all 2D Windows 98 games. Just before writing this post I was playing Planescape: Torment on this machine without any performance issues.
- There is a DOS packet driver available for the integrated Ethernet controller. I tested it with M. Brutman's mTCP and it appears to work well.
- The biggest downside for me personally is that there is no floppy connector on this motherboard.
- The upside is that it was able to boot from any USB device I threw at it (USB floppy, USB CD-ROM, USB stick)...
- VIAFMTSR (FM synthesis driver) doesn't like UMBPCI and crashes the machine if loaded high with UMBPCI. Works perfectly fine with EMM386 though. However, its memory footprint is a bit large and this makes it slightly challenging to have enough conventional memory for games like Ultima VII.