I thought I'd post my recent adventures with an Athlon XP. This system is comprised of various bits and pieces and all modding was done with spares that I already had hence it was silenced entirely for free. Some of these components were actually being thrown away!
In keeping with the decade old hardware, all pictures were taken on an early camera phone at 640x480, not in focus and with really bad lighting so they're very fuzzy as was the style of the times. For the full retro effect it is recommended this thread is viewed on a 17" CRT monitor in Internet Explorer 6 over a 56k modem.
CPU: Athlon XP 2000+ Palomino, undervolted to 1.70V vs 1.75V
Motherboard: Asus A7V266-E retrofitted with Zalman NB47J northbridge heatsink
RAM: 768Mb (512MB+256MB), running 266MHz with tightened up timings
CPU cooler: Silverstone NT-06 Lite modded to fit socket A with 92mm fan@5V loosely fitted
Graphics card: Leadtek Geforce FX5900 'LX' 128MB, BIOS modded to FX5950 Ultra, GPU shim removed, Arctic Cooling Accelero S2 fitted
Hard disk: Maxtor 40GB
Optical: NEC 20x DVD-RW drive
Ethernet: SiS 900 PCI card
Case: no idea who made it but it has a nice removable motherboard tray
PSU: NOT a Modu82+, it's an ITC 250-A
It's been a very entertaining build so I thought I'd give more details on a few areas.PSU:
It's not an Enermax Modu82+ for a start. It's actually inside an ITC 250-A, a 250W ATX PSU built in December 1996. It's more of a family heirloom now than a PSU. It was expensive at the time as a very early ATX PSU and had a 92mm fan suspended underneath it expelling air downwards as was the case for some early ATX designs to aid CPU cooling. It's been through a few fan swaps along the way and a bit of rewiring. It is very good for it's age in terms of silence as it includes variable fan speed control which was very uncommon at the time.
After my Modu82+ blew I throw out the internals as they were beyond repair. The shell I was very interested in as it is of a high quality and has nice clean air flow through the rear. I also kept hold of the modular cabling harness as I was tempted to use this also although as it turned out this would not be possible. However, I was still determined to move the ITC PSU across and allow it to take advantage of the 120mm fan possibility of the Enermax shell.
Here's a comparison of the 2 shells, it's obvious which allows more airflow:
Moving the PSU across required some modification. I had to resolder the mains live and neutral inputs, modify the mounting a bit, mount the voltage selector switch at the back of the PSU, install a 120mm Silverstone fan on the standard header and then cable in the existing cables in a tidy fashion.
Here is the finished result testing outside of the system. I did do a fair amount of testing with a multimeter before I even powered it on and then a load more before connecting it to the system - PSU modding is not to be taken lightly:
I did by the way cover up the modular connector holes shown there with the label from the ITC PSU so that it is nice and safe!
So what I now have:
- A high quality 250W ATX PSU from the mid nineties
- A well ventilated shell that allows low temps without fan spinup and has reduced turbulence noise
- A modern Silverstone FN121 fan spinning at something around 600rpm (estimated, the motherboard won't pick up from the sensor channel that I wired up) which is practically silent and does not noticeably start up, even when running at close to 80% power - It's over cooled compared to the original 92mm fan which was sometimes noticeable.
- All of the advantages (redundancies?) of the Enermax mains filtering circuitry on the input connector
- A voltage selector switch wired up anyway even if I don't need it
- A nice modern look to a really old component, I even sleeved up some cables too
It doesn't match my X-400 in any way but will match many other PSUs I've tried. On a par with the Modu82+ I had at least, the difference is this one is still going after 16 years rather than blowing up after 4. There were no real problems with voltage control although on a cold start the NVIDIA card can sometimes complain about power, this is more down to the NVIDIA card being on the edge though.CPU cooling:
The Athlon XP was known to get hot and this is one of the initial Palomino's which were hottest of all being 180nm. This one is mildly undervolted from 1.75V down to 1.7V. Coolers in those days were noisy unimaginative heatsinks using 60mm fans spinning at 5000rpm+. It was computers like these that really gave the whole SPCR movement something to do!
My initial attempts at silencing involved putting a 92mm fan across the heatsink. This made things bearable but still idle temps were 51C and load 64C! Aluminium simply can't draw 65W of heat away from a small die fast enough. Looking for alternatives, the Socket A cooling products started drying up back in 2005 so there are few available and what is doesn't really match modern silencing standards. The Zalman CNPS7000 and Thermalright SI-97 are about as good as they got.
Looking for a solution I got out my discarded Silverstone NT-06 lite. It was never the best Socket 775 cooler but it was running free and potentially moddable. Socket A coolers generally used a clip mounting which was only rated for 300g. This is much heavier. Some more expensive coolers used a 66x36mm bolt pattern on the motherboard more popular for server heatsinks. The Asus motherboard was actually quite high end for the time so had these holes, the only thing to work out was how to screw the NT-06 down. Zip ties don't work for 600g so I found some M3 nuts and bolts and had a go at drilling through the mounting plates of the NT-06. Unfortunately even borrowing a pillar drill from a friend didn't get anywhere as they are stainless steel and way to strong. This could have been a real blocker.
Then I started looking for potential other metal and found by chance that two parts of the discarded ITC PSU shell (that almost got binned!) happened to have 36mm holes already drilled in it AND they were ready tapped for M3 bolts!!! This is such a coincidence that it couldn't be resisted. I measured and cut out two sections of the PSU shell and drilled appropriate holes to mount it to the HS base allowing it to hold the NT-06:
Ready to fit to 66x36mm bolt pattern!
I then installed the set of m3 bolts through the mobo with nuts to hold them in place but still allow the bolts to turn:
The heatsink was then a bit of a faff to install as is common for large top down coolers but the result is much more secure than any bolt fitting I've ever found on a retail heatsink. Threading the heatsink mounting itself allows this. Balancing pressure is difficult as this is not a design that anyone has ever used before!
Assembling the rest of the system to test this went well and the system was initially powered on passively. I did not expect the heatsink to cool well passively as it has very tightly spaced fins which do not allow much natural convection cooling. What it does however demonstrate is good thermal contact as the heatsink gets hot. At idle it very slowly climbed to 63C before I aborted, accepting that the heatsink base was doing it's job but that airflow was needed to get the heat out of the heatsink.
Unfortunately I didn't have a decent 120mm going spare (this is a free project remember) so in the meantime I used a 92mm Silverstone FN91 running at 5V. RPM sensing off this is patchy but it is doing ~880rpm, equating to perhaps 15.5cfm airflow. This gives an idle temp of 50C and a load temp of 63C so matching the previous situation but much, much quieter. The mounting isn't ideal for getting what little air there is through the heatsink and a decent 120mm fan doing 500rpm would definitely beat it for cooling and noise.GPU:
This card has quite a story. The Leadtek Winfast A350LX was launched as an FX5900 (normally 400/850MHz) but with lower memory speed at 400/700MHz. It was renowned for being a card that could automatically be BIOS flashed to an FX5950 Ultra (475/950). Unfortunately in some ancient silencing attempt of removing the stock cooler the heatspreader came away from the GPU core, thus giving 117C temps as the heatsink wasn't connected to anything. I still blame this on the crazy epoxy they insisted on gluing the stock heatsink down with. I ended up pulling the heatspreader off entirely to fix this which also allows better contact with the core. For many years it functioned with an old P3 heatsink attached to it at the FX5950 Ultra speed. It will overclock much further and I have had 542/996 out of it.
For this project I wanted it totally silent and having a spare (well, after I peeled it of an FX5600) Accelero S2 I put this on along with the memory heatsinks. It idles around 32C and maxes at 65C under Furmark. Job done.
With everything assembled in the case I did a bit of work on airflow. Using an 80mm fan at the rear added no real cooling and much more noise so instead this area was taped up. Now the system works in negative pressure with all air being drawn in through vents around the graphics card area, the lower front panel, small vent holes around the hard disk and a vent on the lower right hand panel. This means it is very much bottom to top cooling.
This has been a thoroughly enjoyable modding project. Researching all of these components from 2002-2003 has been an amazing retro experience. Sticking more modern cooling components on older hardware also shows just how much easier things are for cooling nowadays. Modding them to fit things that they just weren't supposed to fit also shows that it's all possible and had very good results.
- A 120mm fan for the CPU cooler
- A bit more cable tidying
- Something to dampen the hard disk noise, it's quiet but not as quiet as the fans
- Hardware upgrades with anything anyone is throwing out!
Now dig out your old computers and silence them!