VOGONS


First post, by ShovelKnight

User metadata
Rank Oldbie
Rank
Oldbie

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:

epia - 1.jpg
Filename
epia - 1.jpg
File size
712.83 KiB
Views
1180 views
File license
CC-BY-4.0

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.

Performance scaling

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.

Screenshot 2020-04-16 at 12.37.49.png
Filename
Screenshot 2020-04-16 at 12.37.49.png
File size
55.14 KiB
Views
1180 views
File license
Public domain

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:

Screenshot 2020-04-16 at 12.19.23.png
Filename
Screenshot 2020-04-16 at 12.19.23.png
File size
146.53 KiB
Views
1180 views
File license
CC-BY-4.0

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.

Misc notes

  • 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.
Last edited by ShovelKnight on 2020-04-16, 13:06. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 1 of 14, by wiretap

User metadata
Rank Oldbie
Rank
Oldbie

The VIA EPIA boards are great for a cheap SFF retro build. I ended up using an EPIA CN10000EG for my Voodoo II SLI mini-ITX portable machine (for retro LAN parties), since the dual PCI riser ended up working great with it. 2D graphics are taken care of by the onboard S3 Unichrome Pro passed through the pair of Voodoo's.

Circuit Board Repair Manuals
My Project List

Reply 3 of 14, by matze79

User metadata
Rank l33t
Rank
l33t

Connect a USB Floppy, the BIOS supports USB Floppy as A: Drive in DOS.
You can also find these EPIA Type with Floppy Connector.

Adding a Yamaha PCI Sound Card gives you nice OPL Sound too 😀

Biggest Downside is you can`t slow down the CPU and use onboard Sound for SBPro.
Because disabling Caches and Slow it will tamper FM Emulation.

https://dosreloaded.de - The German Retro DOS PC Community
https://www.retroianer.de - under constructing since ever

Co2 - for a endless Summer

Reply 4 of 14, by ShovelKnight

User metadata
Rank Oldbie
Rank
Oldbie
matze79 wrote on 2020-04-16, 16:20:
Connect a USB Floppy, the BIOS supports USB Floppy as A: Drive in DOS. You can also find these EPIA Type with Floppy Connector. […]
Show full quote

Connect a USB Floppy, the BIOS supports USB Floppy as A: Drive in DOS.
You can also find these EPIA Type with Floppy Connector.

Adding a Yamaha PCI Sound Card gives you nice OPL Sound too 😀

Biggest Downside is you can`t slow down the CPU and use onboard Sound for SBPro.
Because disabling Caches and Slow it will tamper FM Emulation.

Hmm, thanks for this information, I didn't know that slowing down the CPU breaks the FM emulation. I will evaluate it later.

Reply 5 of 14, by matze79

User metadata
Rank l33t
Rank
l33t

yeah also set cpu speed down in 100Mhz steps, if you change a too big step it will freeze.. at least on my epia

https://dosreloaded.de - The German Retro DOS PC Community
https://www.retroianer.de - under constructing since ever

Co2 - for a endless Summer

Reply 7 of 14, by ShovelKnight

User metadata
Rank Oldbie
Rank
Oldbie

Ok, I tested it and the lowest setting at which FM emulation works seems to be 300 MHz full speed (with all caches and processor features enabled). Digital audio still works at lower settings, but who wants to play Ultima VII without background music?!

Reply 8 of 14, by Damaniel

User metadata
Rank Newbie
Rank
Newbie

How compatible are the various EPIA boards with Windows 98? I'm not interested in hardcore gaming (my interests are more in retro development/tinkering than games) but do want all of the onboard hardware to be natively supported.

Reply 11 of 14, by ShovelKnight

User metadata
Rank Oldbie
Rank
Oldbie
kolderman wrote on 2020-06-29, 03:37:

> the integrated Trident CyberBlade video core is good enough for all but most demanding DOS games

Like what? How badly does it perform?

Well, as you can see, I got max 31.7fps in DOS Quake at 640x480.

If I install Matrox Mystique, this improves to ~41 fps If I install PCI Matrox Mystique, this improves to ~41 fps if the CPU is clocked at 1 GHz. If I use S3 Savage 4, I get ~37 fps.

Reply 12 of 14, by MKT_Gundam

User metadata
Rank Member
Rank
Member

Because the FM onboard dont working at lower clocks, i see theses EPIA more for late DOS and early windows 95 games. Good enough for a very compact rig .

Retro rig 1: Asus CUV4X, VIA c3 800, Voodoo Banshee (Diamond fusion) and SB32 ct3670.
Retro rig 2: Intel DX2 66, SB16 Ct1740 and Cirrus Logic VLB.

Reply 13 of 14, by betamax80

User metadata
Rank Newbie
Rank
Newbie

OVERVIEW: I would class the EPIA-800 as really a 1998 average family PC in a small form factor - the video card is at kind of S3 Trio level (It is actually a Trident Blade 3D with an added chip to enable TV-Out) - It has an odd VESA VBE feature set of VBE 2.0 @ 640x480 and 800x600 only, the Audio is AC97 so there is no Windows 3.1 support, its best to think of the CPU as a 400mhz AMD K6-2 class processor. It is basically 586 class because it lacks CMOV, SSE2 which limits even the version of Firefox that you can install! The FPU on the C3 is also at half-speed which is why it feels like a K6-2. (If you try to run Windows XP this will start to matter - for example only Firefox 35 ESR works), and it's BIOS has a very limited 32-bit LBA limit which means it does not natively work well with anything over 40gb - however it is an ATA-100 controller (with 2 IDE channels - NO floppy support). The chipset is pretty much a more integrated Apollo PLE133 (VT8601A northbridge + VT8231 southbridge). Keep in mind that on the EPIA-5000 and 800, the C3 CPU has a half-speed FPU, meaning that even on the 800, some processing is occuring at 400mhz. I would not recommend the EPIA-800 for any kind of disc-recording, I have found the bus just does not cope - a DVD-ROM drive is a good fit. There is an odd little Zommed Video (ZV) port header. It would appear to be something almost exclusive to the RealMagic 8300 board and you would need to find an example bundled with the cable to use that feature. There is also ECP / EPP Parallel (LPT) and 9-pin Serial port which makes it quite fun for things like terminal emulation or attaching an LPT audio device.

BIOS: I uploaded a modified BIOS to vogonsdrivers which has the most recent RPL / PXE boot firmware added to the v2.07 bios. (taken from the network driver package v6.00). The chip is a Rhine-III 10/100 variation, and it has a full boot-ROM built in (part of the BIOS) and Wake On LAN built in I believe (there is a Wake on Modem header too).

AUDIO: I would also like to say the jury is still out regarding Analogue CD Audio and the FM Synthesis.... I have very variable luck with these on an EPIA-800. VIAFMTSR is not in any of the driver packs on the VIA sites... not for that board! There are various places that have the file - it is very small and likes to say "Have a nice day!" when it is loaded! (Audio is a VT1612A - the early one with SB Pro compatibility). You need to enable EVERY audio option in the BIOS to use the SB Pro compatibility in DOS - this includes enabling the non-existant gameport. The BIOS is basically so "opened up" in VIA's final release that options that deserve to be hidden are not. On the EPIA 800 - you have an on-board S-Video port, and the yellow composite port is jumper-set between composite video and AC-3 digital audio.

USB: There are 2 USB 1.1 ports on the back. I highly recommend a VIA-chip USB 2.0 controller for the PCI slot - you can get ones which are combos with FireWire 400 as well if that suits your needs. Startech do a nice VIA-chip 7-connector USB 2.0 PCI card, be aware that it has an inbuilt hub, but it works - Win98SE with nUSB 3.6e). The front-panel USB 1.1 is a mini-header which needs an annoying (to obtain) little header board to convert to a normal USB 1.1 header - irritating! I think it is the VT1211.

EXPANSION: The board has a single PCI slot. A 2-slot PCI riser is available (it needs to be an EPIA specific one as it has some voltage regulation). However its not so easy to find an appropriate case for that config. (VIA EXT-PCI... EXT-PCIG should also work - RS Components 678-4559). If you are less bothered about later game controllers or file transfer, another popular addition is a card based on the 3DFX Voodoo2 to take the 3D graphics workload of the integrated chip. Some people have managed to use a PCI-EXT riser and actually have Voodoo2's in SLI!

CASE: I personally recommend a "cube" ITX case (Novatech do one which is £28 and is an amazing fit) as I have found fewer headaches using a standard 3.5" hard disk and DVD-ROM drive. It looks like the Mini-Box M200 and M300 cases were designed around the original EPIA boards. They are still produced but are very expensive and not sold in the UK (around $170 - $230 shipped).

Oh yes... the CPU fan. Absolutely replace the pre-installed CPU fan. You should keep the heatsink and the 4 screws from the existing fan. I see the photo is of a noise blocker which I am sure is excellent.
I can also recommend the Noctua A4x10 FLX which is 3-pin PWM - seems expensive when you dont need the mounting hardware, but well worth it.

Game controller - honestly games that have force-feedback are too modern for a VIA C3.... I have found the Logitech F310 - it is still available new on Amazon (UK) for £24, has an Xbox360 compatible layout, and if you use an old version of Logitech Game Software (v3.30, v3.65) this has native Windows 98 support! Be aware that the EPIA-800 does not have a native Gameport - this is a wired USB controller.

The PC Speaker is a nasty built-in piezo unfortunately. I do wish it had a PC speaker header to be honest!

I'm very pleased with this... thanks to some research and archive.org, I have been able to get the ISO for iMedia Linux 6.0.4 from July 2008 (fits on 1 CD).
This appears to be the later development of the "Freepia" distribution.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1m5PvuFN_MUHj … iew?usp=sharing

This Linux is clearly a late build to work with VIA C3 and C7 CPU's but was build especially around compatibility with them.
It appears to be a "full desktop" on which the MythTV linux appliance build was based.
It is optimized for a VIA C3, VIA C7 CPU with a Hauppauge WinTV-DVR 150 / 250 / 350 PCI card for MythTV functionality.
I havent yet tested on my build but all drivers are supposed to be built in for EPIA boards of the time and popular compatibles such as those from Jetway.

Please feel free to host this elsewhere, it was very difficult to get functinoal downloads.

I was able to get:
- ISO image (with md5 checksum) of 6.0.4 - the last release
- package updates for touchscreen devices
- VMware pre-built image (of version 6.0.0 - last release)
- the manuals (installation guide is for 5.0.0 but was the last release)
- installation videos + website captures.

Unfortunately none of the source files would download, nor would the USB-boot image.

Last edited by betamax80 on 2021-07-01, 15:01. Edited 13 times in total.

Reply 14 of 14, by ragefury32

User metadata
Rank Oldbie
Rank
Oldbie
ShovelKnight wrote on 2020-04-16, 12:20:
This forum has multiple mentions of VIA Epia 800 as a suitable platform for a Mini-ITX retro gaming PC, however there was no sin […]
Show full quote

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:

epia - 1.jpg

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.

Performance scaling

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.

Screenshot 2020-04-16 at 12.37.49.png

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:

Screenshot 2020-04-16 at 12.19.23.png

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.

Misc notes

  • 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.

Oh yeah, if you want a cheap/prebundled Epia in a smallish case, consider picking up a Wyse Winterm WT9450XE or WT9455XL - it’s basically an Epia in a single case and list for about 55 USD on evilBay.