So I found that my Windows 98 gaming PC got very little use in recent years. Not because I didn’t like Win98 games anymore, but mostly because I got annoyed by the noise emanating from the machine. The box in question was a generic 90s beige/grey mid-tower case with an old wheezing PSU. I put that PC together somewhere in the early 2000 from various left-over parts for 0$. This was during my university years where the budget was tight and I needed some PC as a Linux sandbox (it was later re-purposed for Win98 to put my trusty old Voodoo2 in, to be able to play Glide games).
One day it struck me that now with a regular day job and some disposable income, I was no longer held back by budget considerations and could rebuild that machine to my heart’s content.
So online shopping I went with the intent of creating a nice and quiet machine. When going for a quiet PC build one can either try to soundproof the case to keep the noise in the box, or try to avoid generating the noise in the first place. I went the 2nd route and tried to remove the
This thread is not (just) to show off my 1337 build, but to share the things I learned during this project, since I know there are some people here who keep similar machines around.tl;dr:
If you just want to see pretty screenshots of old games, keep scrolling down.
So lets's get started. The main components (which I wanted to keep) of the machine are:Mainboard:
Asus P2B (a pretty common board from 1998 based on the Intel 440BX chipset)RAM:
128 MB CPU:
Intel Celeron 500 MHzSound card:
Creative SoundBlaster AWE64 GoldVideo Cards:
- GeForce 2 MX (Hercules 3D Prophet II MX), 32 MB RAM
- 2x Voodoo2 in a SLI setup (Diamond Monster II), 12 MB RAM (one my own, the 2nd one donated from a friends who had an identical model)
The new stuff I bought or modified: ATX desktop case:
Period-correctness is not something I care about and I was never particularly fond of the beige/grey boxes of the past. I knew I wanted a desktop case and ideally something compact. But it turns out that there are not that many cases available anymore that are both compatible to the ATX form factor and can accommodate a Voodoo2. So I settled for this
. It’s a nice all-metal case with excellent build quality and a cleverly designed mechanism to remove drive bays and other components. Power supply:
I put in a brand spanking new PSU with a big temperature-controlled fan. And since this system is drawing modest amounts of power (by today's standards) the PSU remains inaudible even when the system is under full load.
As you might know, modern PSUs are missing the -5V output line which older mainboards are expecting for the ISA bus (the -5V was removed in ATX revision 1.3). But this is not really an issue for this machine, since only some very old soundcards and things like RS-232 serial interface cards actually need the -5V. The BIOS checks all voltage levels during POST and dutifully stops with an error message complaining about the faulty -5V rail, but this monitoring function can be enable/disabled for each voltage level separately in the BIOS settings.SSD:
The old screeching HDD got replaced with a new SSD using a bidirectional SATA/IDE adapter
. As the name implies, such adapter work both ways. I think the main application for this device is to be able to use an older HDD in a modern PC, but it also works nicely to put a new SATA based drive in an old IDE based system. So looked around for a reasonably small SSD and ended up with a cheapish 40GB model. The mainboard only sees it as a 20GB disk (not sure if I would need to patch the BIOS or use a something else than FDISK to partition it), but it's more than enough space anyway.Keeping the Voodoo2 cards cool:
As you might know, the performance of 3dfx cards scales nicely with available CPU power (up to a certain point), which also means that the amount of dissipated heat depends on the CPU speed. When I first bought the Voodoo2 I had a Pentium 133 and the card was barely getting lukewarm during gaming (as it was severely bottle-necked by the CPU). But in this machine it was getting seriously hot, I measured 74°C on the chip surface. While this is within the nominal operating range, it puts unnecessary strain on the hardware and is not helping with longevity.
So to help heat dissipation I added a generic heat sink to each of the 3 main chips. I attached them using double-sided adhesive tape with high thermal conductivity (something like this
). This kind of tape is a great and clean way to mount heat sinks on devices which were not designed with heat sinks in mind.
Together with the big case fans this brought the temperature down to 36°C under load.CPU cooling:
The stock heatsink was a integrated heatsink/fan combo that was standard back in the Pentium II/III days. It was a unregulated noisy affair (the fan bearings thoroughly worn out). So I replaced it with a new generic socket 370 heat sink (you can still buy those) and a new fan. CPUs back then didn't come with integrated temperature sensors, instead many mainboard manufacturers provided connectors on the board to external temperature sensors, which they might sell as proprietary add-ons. Same is true for my Asus P2B board, but that temperature sensor is of course long out of stock.
But some googling brings up all the info one need to make one for yourself: http://web.archive.org/web/20000824165239/http://www.3dhardware.net/features/thermistor/index.shtml
As it turns out, this sensor is a simple thermistor (a resistor with a temperature-dependent resistance), so one just has to find a thermistor with the correct temperature/resistance characteristic and solder it onto a suitable pin connector. The thermistor itself is embedded in a small drop of some epoxy-like substance, which I mounted on the backside of the heat sink as close to the CPU as possible (again using the adhesive tape). You can see it as the red/blue wires below which change to very thin dark wires going behind the heatsink. The temperature value itself can be seen in the BIOS or with the little ASUS PC Probe tool that comes on the original driver CD.Case ventilation:
To keep some air flow going over the heat sinks of the video cards, and also keep a steady flow through the whole case, I used the two 120mm fans that came with the case, mounting them vertically in the case to push air out of the back of the case. To have control of the fan speed (including the CPU fan) I added this fan control panel
It's basically a fancy front for 4 potentiometers to control the supply voltage for up to 4 individual fans that is mounted in to the 3.5'' drive bay. It was cheap and the installation was super easy, since it comes with plugs and adapters that fit to the standard plugs used on all fans, so no soldering was required.
Put together the finished machine looks like this now (sans the top cover):
Booting into Win98 SE is blazingly fast (thanks to the SSD) and it's a very quiet machine; the only thing I can hear is the CD-ROM (which can be silenced with a slow-down tool) and a faint hum from the CPU fan. It could be further silenced by mounting a bigger fan on the CPU, but that would require some customized adapter, because the RAM sticks are in teh way to mount a standard adapter