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Athlon Companion Cube

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade Worklogs' started by Pierre32, Jan 9, 2022.

  1. Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    I've been wanting to do an XP build for a while. Way back in 2020 GumbyNoTalent kindly sent me a GTX275, and I've been waiting for the right system to appear. That moment was today when I picked up this little number from Gumtree:

    s-l2000.jpeg s-l2000 (5).jpeg

    (They're seller pics, and you can see the rest of them in the pickups thread.)

    Mobo: ASUS M2A-VM HDMI with HDMI expansion card (adds HDMI/S-video/Composite/SPDIF and takes up the PCIe x16 slot)
    CPU: Athlon 64 X2 5200+ 2.6GHz
    RAM: Corsair XMS2-6400 4x1GB
    Case: Apevia X-QPack

    It would have been a sweet media & light gaming PC in its day, and will need a bit of work to turn into a retro gaming rig. There's only the one PCIe x16 slot, so the HDMI expansion card will have to go. The PSU is only 290W, and lacks the required 6 pin GPU power plugs, so I've already ordered a Super Flower Leadex III Gold 550W modular to replace it.

    I wasn't even going to open it up today, but I couldn't not do a quick test fit of the GTX275. Excuse the state of it; it still hasn't had its refurb!

    PXL_20220109_063929214.jpg

    To quote a tradie I used to work with, "like a finger in a bum." But this was when I realised that the 6 pin connectors on top of the card slide right under the drive cage, so I've ordered a pair of these 180 adapters:

    upload_2022-1-9_21-55-52.png

    Then I had to have a peek in the drive cage of course, and things escalated from there.

    "Ay Steve, can you move the Camira? I need to get the Torana out to get to the Commodore."

    PXL_20220109_063828613.jpg

    As is the way with cases like this, you're gonna need the keys to the Cortina before you can get to the Camira. The HDD cage had to come out so I could access the CD ROM screws, and before I knew it the whole system was getting stripped down and thoroughly cleaned. I wanted to get the model number off the CPU too, so that's been cleaned up and re-pasted already.

    It was only dust in there, but there was plenty of it.

    PXL_20220109_071637522.jpg

    I've also decided that the multi card reader will have to go. I wanted to keep it in there for its aughts cuteness, but check out that heaving mass of header cables. They're fighting for space in the box with all the stock cables which already give me audio, USB and Firewire on the front panel. I've got a black floppy drive I can put in there instead - probably even less useful than a card reader in this machine, but at least it won't gunk it up.

    PXL_20220109_064344451.jpg

    That's it for day one. Next step is to clean up the video card while I wait for the new bits to arrive.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2022
  2. GumbyNoTalent

    GumbyNoTalent Member

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    :thumbup: love how Zotac just stuck stickers on reference Nvidia cards in the day.
     
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    Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    Attacked the 275 today. Deep clean and new paste, but I'm sticking with the original thermal pads. She'll be right. Some Oomph goo cleaner and a plastic scraper made pretty light work of the Zotac sticker, without upsetting the Nvidia graphic beneath.

    PXL_20220109_230311782.jpg PXL_20220109_232311947.jpg

    Glamour shots:

    PXL_20220109_235141969.jpg PXL_20220110_002556036.jpg

    The card went back in the cupboard at this point, to await the new PSU and power connectors.

    I also addressed some white spots on the case, which look like some overspray. More Oomph and a magic eraser basically wiped most of it off instantly. There are a few stubborn spots left, which I'll probably leave alone at this point.

    PXL_20220109_233502346.jpg PXL_20220109_233825444.jpg

    Then I did a minimal re-assembly of the system to get XP installed. This was my first power up, and all went smoothly.

    PXL_20220110_040248585.jpg
     
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  4. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    That's a handsome case and doesn't look too bad to work with. A good opportunity to take your cable management to the next level :leet:
     
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    Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    I'm feeling intimidated by this already. The sliding tray presents a challenge - do I do a big loom that will move with the tray, or go for fixed routing that would all need to be unplugged before the tray is moved? I think I have my game plan and we'll see how it pans out.

    In other news,
    Famous last words. After the XP install I went and grabbed the drivers from Asus. (Sidebar: Is there a better website than Asus for legacy mobo support? Love their work.)
    upload_2022-1-11_7-16-37.png

    I thought it was strange that the chipset driver installer wanted to create a floppy. Almost like it was a RAID driver... which is exactly what it is if you read the description before hitting download. The actual chipset drivers are hidden behind the Show All button. None the less, I decided to create the floppy to test out the 3.5 drive I'd just installed. Unfortunately the drive was DOA. I stripped it down and gave it a clean and lube, but I think the motor is seized.

    I disconnected the cables, and left it in there to fill the slot. Then on the next powerup, nothing. I had fans spinning, but no POST beeps and no video output. Seems the PSU didn't enjoy this latest sequence of reboots, and had packed it in. I've thrown a spare in, although there's not much more to do here until the new one shows up.

    One thing I noticed after installing the chipset drivers (which include Catalyst for the onboard graphics) is that the ancient Dell 1024x768 monitor is reporting 75hz support. I don't know how common this was in early LCD panels, but hey, good for you little guy.
     
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  6. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    All I know is that every time I've said to myself "well, that's the last time I'll need to unplug that for a while" I'm back there unplugging it within the hour, so I'd go for the loose loom option personally :p
     
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  7. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    I absolutely love it. And that 275 is such a good match for that athlon. Can't wait to see you push out some benches. What games are you building for? We looking at dual booting?
     
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    Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    The motivation for the build was to handle stuff that stretches the PIII/MX440 rig. So it's probably going to be playing a lot of stuff way beneath its paygrade, like Motocross Madness 2, Grand Prix Legends, Vietcong, No One Lives Forever, GTA Vice City. Dead Space is a recent and slightly more spicy addition to the playlist. Happy to take suggestions of course.

    The Dell panel I'll be running (when I grab it from storage) is 1600x1200, and the golden rule is native res or don't bother.
     
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  9. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    That's a pretty high resolution - I was going to suggest FarCry but that might be a bridge too far.

    Dues Ex and System Shock 2 would run well, and you could have some fun with emulators with all of that brainpower - EPSXE, etc.

    Good times.
     
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    Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    I've hit a small sound card dilemma. The Audigy doesn't have an AC97/HDaudio connector. I want to enjoy some EAX headphone gaming on this rig, so front panel connections are important. Of course Creative's priority was on the Live Drive.

    There are some Audigy & X-Fi cards that can be hooked up with a custom adapter cable, but as far as I can tell none of the cards with that connector are the good ones (eg. lacking real hardware EAX). Worst case, I could extend the rear port to the front, but that's a bit rough.

    [edit] Bugger it, this will do until an Audigy Platinum Pro or X-Fi Elite Pro fall out of the sky.

    upload_2022-1-15_10-38-17.png
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2022
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    Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    New PSU is here. It "fits" but it's 20mm deeper than the last one. That ain't happening! Time to organise a return :rolleyes:

    PXL_20220118_015707208.jpg PXL_20220118_015717436.jpg
     
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    Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    A bit more fiddling while I wait for my replacement PSU. I plugged the 180 adapters into the GPU to see how the fit was. Not a great start - you can't even slide the mobo tray into the case!

    PXL_20220125_103128925.jpg

    The method required was to remove the GPU, slide the mobo tray in about 1 inch, weave the GPU in and lay it loosely across the mobo, add the adapters, then manoeuvre the GPU into its slot. And then, it's like a bought one.

    PXL_20220125_103504653.jpg


    While we're test fitting, let's see how the Audigy looks in here.

    PXL_20220125_100029968.jpg PXL_20220125_100058407.jpg

    Now, the Audigy is a handsome enough card. But I'm not sure how I feel about erecting a big brown wall in front of the shiny GTX275 that I so lovingly cleaned up. Not to mention how little breathing room there is. No, this won't do at all.

    That PCIe x1 slot might be the way out of this...
     
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    Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    Finally got my replacement PSU after waiting for the PCCG return process to complete. Ordering the wrong one cost me $36 in shipping and restocking fees. For a $100 PSU! Then I had to get the new one sent. Measure twice, cut once folks.

    PXL_20220207_060723532.jpg

    It all packs in ok. There is an extra 20mm room at the back of this PSU, and I needed every bit of it. The cables are much longer than I need, and I'm too lazy to shorten them. Thankfully there is plenty of drive bay space to coil them in.

    PXL_20220207_083904837.jpg PXL_20220207_082707882.jpg

    It's not award winning cable management and I'm not thrilled with that sickly spiral wrap but hey, scroll up to the first post so see how it was before. It'll do for now. Massively reducing the number of front panel cables has helped; I won't even be using the stock audio or firewire plugs there. I think the airflow is pretty good.

    Eagle eyes may spot the new case fan. I tested the old one for a while, and decided it wasn't green enough. The new one still matches the case brand, which is neat. You may also spot the lack of sound card. It's onboard sound for the moment, with more to happen in that area.

    I also did a bit more cleanup on the front, removing all the surface rust I could from the USB ports and adding some little port covers. That's a replacement floppy drive too, which I wired the right way around first time.

    PXL_20220131_045323823.jpg

    The temperature display is quaint. No onboard data being fed to this thing, instead it has little sensors on tails that you physically attach to your HDD case and CPU heatsink. I expect that to give approximate readings at best, but I can compare with the figures in HWinfo and see what the delta is. Here are the attached sensors:

    PXL_20220207_071233598.jpg PXL_20220207_071121701.jpg

    And here's the assembled rig, running its first game at 1600x1200 on the glorious Dell 2007FP.

    PXL_20220207_091316945.jpg

    SnapShot_220207_210135.png

    I've just installed Far Cry, so I can start with the worst news first.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2022
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    Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    Well this machine is exceeding all my expectations and I'm loving it.

    I know Far Cry is a bit old compared to the hardware, but still wasn't sure how far I'd be able to push it here. All the way, it turns out. With all settings maxed, and vsync and AA forced in Nvidia settings, it's locked at 60.

    I didn't expect much trouble from NFS 2 Underground, but got a little. Once it's in flight at max settings it's mostly locked 60, except at the start of races and the occasional other moment where it dips into the 30s. I don't really like all the eye candy and lighting effects at the top end of this game's settings anyway - call me crazy but setting the overall slider one notch below medium looks the cleanest to me, just a little jaggy. In tandem with forced vsync and 8x AA, it looks awesome and never dips.

    Dead Space. What a dog of a PC port out of the box, locked to 30 and you're dragging your mouse through molasses. Replacing the in-game vsync with Nvidia's and turning off all the blur and bloom junk transforms it completely, and maxing all other settings is no issue.

    Looks like I have to try a bit harder.

    Turns out the CPU temp is pretty accurate, reading only 2 or 3 degress below the internal sensor. It varies more for the HDD, reading up to 10 degrees below internal at idle, but matching it more closely under load.
     
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  15. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    I love this thing and it's rewarding you for the effort by the looks - if it can run FarCry then it run all sorts of great stuff from that era or before. Congrats on connecting the floppy drive correctly the first time - I gave up on that goal years ago.

    Looking forward to hearing about the sound option developments.
     
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    Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    Today's arrival, an Auzentech X-Fi Forte. Looks great installed! But I'd like it more if it worked.

    upload_2022-2-10_19-34-38.png

    At first it wasn't recognised by the system at all. A good clean of the edge connector & PCIe slot sorted that out, and the drivers installed without issue. At that point the card & software seemed to be behaving in every way, except that the output was dead silent.

    I've tried different drivers, all the outputs, even different headphones. Also completely removed the onboard audio drivers and disabled it in BIOS. As a final hail mary I've ordered a replacement op amp, since they're easily swappable and it only cost a few bucks.
     
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    Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    X-Fi Forte take 2, and we have a winner thanks to sanjay who spotted my WTB thread.

    PXL_20220224_010441890.jpg PXL_20220224_010501957.jpg

    You might spot another addition hiding behind the Forte. I mean why even get out of bed if you're not running multiple sound cards? In this case I just wanted to add a gameport, so I found the perfect little cheapie to sit in the PCI slot without cluttering the case.

    upload_2022-2-23_12-29-42.png

    The Forte does run warm, as they are known to. A later hardware revision added a heatsink, so I've got something on the way for that. I might even overkill it with a little fan. Handily there's a fan header on the mobo right in front of the card.
     
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  18. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    Noice. What's the gameport for?
     
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    Pierre32

    Pierre32 Member

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    Just to broaden input options, in case I want to use my UltraRacer or Saitek R4 wheel.
     
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  20. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    Love what you did with this box, I bet it's a lot of fun. Perfect for those older titles Lan parties too :)
     
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