VOGONS


First post, by wbahnassi

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Hi guys!

I decided to make a DOS build with Lego. I know it's not a new idea, but I'm sure the look, structure and specs are unique to any Lego PC built so far 😀

Goals:

  • Middle-ground specs for DOS and early Win95 games
  • Smallest footprint
  • Both floppy disk drive sizes, and a CD drive
  • Unique and have personality. I chose to model it after a traditional Damascus house theme (I'm Syrian).
  • Fun to work with. The case keeps evolving as I tinker with it and add/remove pieces.

Photos:
These photos are from the first build. I will take newer photos too to show how it looks now.

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Dimensions:
Centimetres: Width 25.5, Depth 26, Height 16
Inches: Width 10, Depth 10, Height 6

Specs:

  • Pentium MMX 233Mhz: one of the most flexible processors in terms of speed control. Can slow down to a 286 12Mhz speed with BIOS settings.
  • M571LMR mobo with TX-Pro II chipset (SiS 5598).
  • Internal VGA from the SiS 5598 chipset with 4MB. Great DOS compatibility+SVGA.
  • Sound Blaster 16 ASP (CT1740). The last model just before the hanging note bug.
  • 64 MB RAM.
  • 4GB CF-Card HDD (CF2IDE adapter).
  • Epson combo drive (3.5"+5.25") - SD-700/SD-800.
  • TEAC DVD-R slot feeding.
  • Power LED + HDD LED.
  • Power button + Reset button.
  • Internal PC speaker (not a piezo buzzer).
  • 120W PicoATX DC PSU.

Challenges:
I faced many challenges while designing the build. Here are some and how they are handled:

  • Ventilation: the PC is very well ventilated. You can feel the warm air blow out through the sides and the roof since the roof is open and the windows allow air to pass through.
  • Sturdiness: I found certain Lego pieces work great to pass screws through them. The entire PC is one big sturdy block that's holding very well to itself. It's heavy though!
  • No harm: No Lego pieces were modded or drilled or glued. Everything can be disassembled back down to the last block and rebuilt again.
  • CPU heat: The motherboard rests on Lego pieces. This plastic can melt under the CPU's heat from below the motherboard. Thus, the stand pieces are located away from the CPU to avoid overheating and melting.
  • Organization: It's extremely tight inside the case. I used the shortest cables possible and kept them as tidy as possible.
  • Power: Initially I used a 160W Pico PSU (used in version 1 of the build). Currently I use 120W and it's working great without any issues.

Peripherals:

  • PS2 keyboard (uses a PS2->AT adapter)
  • PS2 Microsoft Wheel mouse.
  • MT-32 connected to SB16's Midi port.
  • LCD with VGA in.

Software:
MS-DOS 6.22, Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, and Windows 95. Drivers for both versions of Windows are properly installed. Lots of games!
SoftMPU to cover for UART mode of SB16, and SetMul for fine control of speed. I have a batch file that controls SetMul switches behind a nice CHOICE selection of simulated processor speeds (286 16/386DX 33/486 DX33..etc).
617K conventional memory available (using EMM386).
All in all, a dream DOS PC!

Costs:
Prices in Canadian dollars. Lego pieces cost me about 100$ to gather from BrickLink. There's quite a few pieces. It's not cheap of course, especially considering that many of those pieces are second-hand. The PC internals are the real deal breakers, if I estimate them I think the whole thing adds up easily to 400$, the most expensive parts being the Epson combo floppy drive, and of course the Sound Blaster 16 ASP. Honorable mentions are the picoPSU and the Pentium MMX processor. It's not cheap overall, but hey! It's tons of fun and very functional.

In the next two posts I will show photos for the architectural inspiration, as well as some of the build steps.

The current theme is very nice. But I also plan to switch to something else every few months. This will keep the PC fresh and interesting. I'm still enjoying this theme though, so I haven't started to think what would be the next one 😀

Reply 1 of 17, by wbahnassi

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Alright, here are some photos of inspiration. The main inspiration is from a very well-known 18th century palace in Damascus called Al Azm Palace. See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azm_Palace

I also added a few elements prominent in traditional Damascene houses like the Mashrabiya (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashrabiya).

All this adds another dimension of nostalgia to me. These places are still standing today, so I visit them everytime I get to travel there. Really awesome sights!

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Reply 2 of 17, by wbahnassi

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Here are some intermediary build steps that also show the internal components.

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This photo shows ALL the pieces used in the build just before starting assembly 😀

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That's it for today! 😀

Reply 3 of 17, by Warlord

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it's a really cool idea. I never would of thought to do that if I hadn't of seen this. I guess somone could get real creative with this and make a castle or any kinda thing out of legos. if it were me id probably add some kinda airflow and a fan besides the one on the cpu.

Reply 4 of 17, by H3nrik V!

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Nice build! Didn't even notice the Optical drive on the very first image 🤣

Did you design it in LEGO Studio (or whatever that software is called) beforehand, since you have all the pieces ready at hand?

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

Reply 5 of 17, by BraveToaster

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Very nice work, I'm impressed all around!

wbahnassi wrote on 2022-11-28, 06:43:

I have a batch file that controls SetMul switches behind a nice CHOICE selection of simulated processor speeds (286 16/386DX 33/486 DX33..etc).
617K conventional memory available (using EMM386).
All in all, a dream DOS PC!

That sounds like you put quite a lot of work into nice configuration. Any chance of you sharing those batch files and/or AUTOEXEC.BAT / CONFIG.SYS? I also have a P233MMX, but didn't put quite as much polish into my DOS settings yet. 😀

Reply 6 of 17, by wbahnassi

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H3nrik V! wrote on 2022-11-28, 20:10:

Did you design it in LEGO Studio (or whatever that software is called) beforehand, since you have all the pieces ready at hand?

Yes I designed as much as possible in Studio 2. Though there is a limit to what you can do there. It would have been great if the software allowed adding arbitrarily sized objects (to represent the motherboard, floppy disk drive..etc). That would have allowed even better precision in the design. I represented them with more Lego bricks and designed around them, but it was clunky. The biggest advantage of course is the automatic catalogue generation for the needed pieces. So overall, it's a great way to design your Lego PC if you can workaround some inconveniences.

Reply 7 of 17, by wbahnassi

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Warlord wrote on 2022-11-28, 07:45:

it's a really cool idea. I never would of thought to do that if I hadn't of seen this. I guess somone could get real creative with this and make a castle or any kinda thing out of legos. if it were me id probably add some kinda airflow and a fan besides the one on the cpu.

Thanks! For the fan, I think that makes sense for standard cases which are much deeper than this little thing here and have a full-size PSU. Here we have a picoPSU and air flow side to side and via the top. If I place my hand above the roof I can feel the CPU's hot air vent out through there, and I can also feel the air pull from one side of the PC. But I agree, if the design didn't have as much opening as this one, I would have to add a case fan somewhere.

Reply 8 of 17, by wbahnassi

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BraveToaster wrote on 2022-11-28, 23:06:

That sounds like you put quite a lot of work into nice configuration. Any chance of you sharing those batch files and/or AUTOEXEC.BAT / CONFIG.SYS? I also have a P233MMX, but didn't put quite as much polish into my DOS settings yet. 😀

Sorry it took a while. Got busy in life. I've attached my AUTOEXEC/CONFIG.SYS files, and also the batch file I wrote to setup speed. The speeds were figured out using a combination of the benchmarks from Phil's benchmark suite. There are two possibilities: BIOS cache on vs off. Each setting will result in a different set of possible speeds. The batch file will ask whether you have BIOS cache on/off, then show the possible speeds for the case at hand. I haven't gotten to do fine-grained sets as Phil demonstrated in his MMX speed control video for a couple of reasons. The speeds I have now are what I use 99% of the time. And 2nd, for some reason my machine setup wasn't able to replicate the numbers from his tests. Particularly at high speeds! When the machine is at full speed MMX 233, 3DBench2 is giving me a mere 69.7 score, which is a ~DX4-100 according to Phil's reference machines. I think the bottleneck is coming from the VGA setup, but I'm not sure how/why.. as I don't actually have any perf issues on neither old nor "new" SVGA games.

As far as memory goes, I just have all drivers loaded (DVD, MOUSE, SB) with EMM386 RAM mode. I get 617K conventional memory free. This is simply the result of running MemMaker after I decided on all the drivers I want to load. BIOS has several areas in memory reserved for shadowing, but it didn't seem to affect the situation with conventional/upper memory.

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Reply 9 of 17, by dunzdeck

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My goodness, that is awesome. I'm heartened to see some crossing over between my interests of retro computing and history&architecture, wow!
I had the good fortune to visit Damascus in 2009 and would love to see it again!

Reply 10 of 17, by wbahnassi

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dunzdeck wrote on 2022-12-05, 22:31:

My goodness, that is awesome. I'm heartened to see some crossing over between my interests of retro computing and history&architecture, wow!
I had the good fortune to visit Damascus in 2009 and would love to see it again!

Thanks! Alright here is a newer set of photos with some updates done (particularly access to power/hdd LEDs amd buttons).

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Reply 11 of 17, by wbahnassi

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And here are some photos for the drives and their activity:

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Gotta say I really like this slot-loading DVD drive. If only it had CD audio output 😅

Reply 12 of 17, by Bruno128

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wbahnassi wrote on 2022-12-08, 02:29:

If only it had CD audio output

JAE-50 to IDE + MPC (CD-audio) output interposer is a thing.

Flex 845 (September 2023)

Now playing:
The Dig: My VLB 486 (120/8/9440/PAS16)
Deus Ex: Bridging compatibility gap in this year 2000 build
Arcanum: Acrylic 2003 build (January 2024)


Handy:
SBEMU compatibility reports list | Navigation thread

Reply 13 of 17, by wbahnassi

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Bruno128 wrote on 2024-01-10, 17:39:

JAE-50 to IDE + MPC (CD-audio) output interposer is a thing.

Flex 845 (September 2023)

Hmmm. This TEAC DVD has a Slim Sata connector from behind (sata data and sata power very close to each other). How can I convert from this to IDE+CD Audio? I don't think there exists a slim sata to JAE-50?

Cheers

Reply 14 of 17, by Bruno128

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wbahnassi wrote on 2024-01-10, 18:44:

This TEAC DVD has a Slim Sata connector

Similar slot loading laptop drives exist in IDE / JAE-50, like: DV-28SL, CW-8124, and others.

Now playing:
The Dig: My VLB 486 (120/8/9440/PAS16)
Deus Ex: Bridging compatibility gap in this year 2000 build
Arcanum: Acrylic 2003 build (January 2024)


Handy:
SBEMU compatibility reports list | Navigation thread

Reply 16 of 17, by wbahnassi

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Thanks guys! Very happy to hear you like it 😄

I will try to hunt down another slot loader drive with JAE-50 and regain CD audio in this build.

I'm in a bit of a dilemma now as I would like to make a different design but I also like the current design very much and got attached to it 😅

I'd probably go for another mobo but the Pentium MMX is indeed an all-rounder for my needs. Perhaps an XT-class build would be useful to cover the very early range of DOS apps and games? But XT motherboards are typically huge compared to the footprint of this machine, and I prefer to have the smallest footprint build as possible for both space and cost reasons.

Reply 17 of 17, by Bruno128

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wbahnassi wrote on 2024-01-12, 05:04:

but I also like the current design very much and got attached to it

I also think it looks great, the history background and the theme.

As for next project being XT-class PC, thanks to your Lego skills, a proprietary form-factor motherboard shouldn’t be a problem then.

Now playing:
The Dig: My VLB 486 (120/8/9440/PAS16)
Deus Ex: Bridging compatibility gap in this year 2000 build
Arcanum: Acrylic 2003 build (January 2024)


Handy:
SBEMU compatibility reports list | Navigation thread