View Full Version : My Atari Mini-ITX PC Project

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08-12-06, 12:17 AM
Alright guys, my brother and I have been working on this quite a bit for about a week and a half now. We did a lot of research and we've been doing mostly wiring and soldering work for the past few days. It isnt much yet, but its really getting there. I figured I should probably start documenting the progress here. If you dont feel like reading a lot, I'll have some pictures, so go ahead and look at those :p. For everyone else, I'm typing all this just to share the experience of our first crazy attempt at creating the best damn mini ITX computer we could "from scratch".

Basically, what we wanted to do was build a mini system capable of playing any game emulators we could find. It'd be portable (ie, small, compact, easy to hook up) and above all, fast enough to do anything we ever need to do with it.

Another big thing is cost. There are always people online and on Tech TV showing off some slow but tiny $1200 system they crammed into a nintendo or something... but we wanted to shoot for a tiny system with a low price point (with us splitting the costs), plenty of power for movies and emulators, and unique looks.

We thought about the different kinds of objects we could use as a case. We thought of hard metal briefcases, military ammo boxes, different game consoles, coolers, lunch boxes... heh, we were both walking around for like a week staring at any boxes or small objects we saw, looking for the perfect ITX case. After a lot of talking it over, we decided that the Atari 2600 really is the most meaningful console we could use. I know its been done before, but we both played the 2600 a LOT and have lots of great memories of it. Any other system just wouldnt be as good (though Intellivisions and Colecovisions were also possibilities).

Luckily, a friend of mine recently purchased an entire stock of video game systems from a pawn shop. Hundreds of consoles and thousands of games and controllers... I'm talking over a dozen huge plastic totes full of sega and nintendo systems, ataris, playstations, games, controllers... it was truly a sight to behold. I contacted him and he set me up with the bare shell of an Atari 2600 and a bunch of paddles and a joystick. For free! :)

So that was a great start.

We didnt get the internals for the 2600 and that means no switches. We wanted that classic "metal stick" look for the switches, so we had to do something... it just wouldnt be the same without them!

So, we went ahead and started ordering parts and looking around online and in stores for everything we would need. We finally decided on some automotive metal toggle switches (Thanks Infinity666 for the tips on using car switches in a PC!). One has a blue LED in the tip, and one has a red LED.

We would need them to be momentary switches though. This means the switch is only "connected" for a split second to turn the PC on. A toggle switch would act as if the button was being held, and that would make the PC turn off 3 seconds after being turned on.

After a LOT of trial and error work, and quite a bit of frustration, we eventually mixed some ideas and thought up a relatively easy way to "convert" one of these toggles to a momentary switch.

I'm not going to get into the meat of this because its very hard to describe, but basically, we just stuck some tiny tiny momentary switched I picked up at radioshack into the side of the casing for the toggle switch. After cleaning out and removing all of the insides of the switch, the "stick" part (the part we want) was free to move back and forth to press the button, and the button would spring the toggle back into place.

After a few hours of some intense soldering (Soldering things to $5 switches that have half inch long wires that break easily? not fun...) we finally got both a reset and a power switch ready. Complete with clean soldering, 2 layers of shrink wrap and a fully tested and working switch.

What was amazing throughout this whole job was the LUCK we were having as far as having the perfect parts and pieces for the job. With my mother pulling out rolls of brass sheeting from a box of my grandmothers old craft supplies (who has rolls of metal laying around their house??) and us reusing all of the tiny bits of the switches we mutilated... I have to say, the luck we have had with this project has helped a ton. Its taken quite a bit of creative "rigging" and problem solving, but all the pieces we've needed have been right here.

Anyways, we thought it was going to be a huge problem mounting the 2 buttons and 2 LEDs (to go in place of the two "mode" switches on the atari), but it turned out that the extra bits from the switches we dismantled fit perfectly as mounts inside the atari, so all we needed to do was sand them down to get rid of the shine on them, and then super glue it together. The great part is, all of the assembled LEDs and switches can be easily unscrewed from the chassis of the atari if anything ever needs replaced or fixed. I dont think most of the home built ITX projects I've seen have taken longevity into account this way, so we've been patting ourselves on the back about that. :D

Enough talk though, here are some pics of the atari after getting the LEDs and buttons in. It looks pretty rough, but I assure you, its very strong, very reliable, and cheap as dirt... Between all of those LED car switches and lights and all of our trial and error it was maybe $12.



08-12-06, 12:22 AM

08-12-06, 12:46 AM
Ok, and heres something a little more interesting for you guys.

Here are the specs of this little machine, along with the costs. The parts are all on their way here and we should have them all by the middle of next week.

*Migrus 845GVD Mini-ITX Socket 478 P4 motherboard with 6 channel audio, USB 2.0, Intel Extreme Graphics with S-Video and TV-Out connections and onboard 10\100 LAN - Got it off of eBay, comes with the manual and a low profile copper heatsink. $103
*512Mb Corsair Value PC-3200 - I had this laying around from a previous upgrade so... $0 :p
*Pentium 4 2.4Ghz Northwood with 533Mhz BUS - like-new off of ebay. $45 (shipped!)
*Morex 150W power supply kit with compatible 19v power adapter, and 150W PSU board - $80 - Update: This PSU solution doesnt have enough amps on the 12v rail for this setup, so we are going to have to get a different PSU board.
*Samsung Slim 8x DVD Burner - $45
*Samsung Spinpoint 60Gb 2.5" laptop hard drive - $60
*IDE Adapters for slim dvd burner and laptop hard drive - $15
*Direct connection USB 2.0 cable - We'll use this for quickly transfering files to the atari without having to find a network cable for it or burning CDs - $12
*Wires, switches, buttons etc... - Around $25 so far

Total of around $385 USD for a very nice computer that will fit inside an atari 2600. Not bad :D

We are going to be getting some EL Wire and some other nifty stuff to do some really crazy modding to the inside of this thing, but I'll save that for later... if we can do what we want to do, its going to be sweet. ;)

Here are some other pics I took yesterday. I had an old broken case from a compaq and we thought that there would be no better way to mount an ITX case, than to use the top corner of an existing ATX motherboard tray (they have the same screw mounts). So, out came the grinder...


08-12-06, 12:51 AM
... And out came our new motherboard tray :D



Thats my brother doing the cutting.

Afterward we went and used a dremmel tool to clean up the edges to prevent any accidents and to make it look nicer. I'll have some pics of the new tray inside the atari once we get that in... thats our next step.

We still have a long way to go, but I hope youre enjoying the ride so far... I know we are :D

08-12-06, 02:33 AM

Keep us posted on this one, I love these sorts of things.
I know a dude who has an arcade cabinet with old skool arcade stick and button controls but it's actually running Neo Geo ROMS off a PC inside.
Cracking fun after a few beers.

08-12-06, 02:44 AM

Keep us posted on this one, I love these sorts of things.
I know a dude who has an arcade cabinet with old skool arcade stick and button controls but it's actually running Neo Geo ROMS off a PC inside.
Cracking fun after a few beers.
Yeah we have a few thousand SNES, NES, Genesis and Sega Master System roms, as well as a crap load of MAME arcade roms. This is really going to be one hell of an emulator PC.

We have 2 Thrustmaster Firestorm II gamepads to use for controllers too. We are going to attach some USB ports to the holes where the atari controllers went too :D

Eventually I want to modify one of the atari paddles and swap the internals with those of a small trackball mouse... then you can use an atari paddle with a ball on it as the pointing device to navigate through the emulator screens :D

If anyone knows of a very small and flat trackball mouse (inexpensive would be good), please post a link or a name... I've been having trouble finding anything thats a similar shape to one of these:

08-12-06, 02:49 AM
you look like mad mod mike! :D
Thats my brother :p

I look more like a pencil with long hair.

08-18-06, 02:49 PM
Ok, we finally got the motherboard (Staples screwed up the shipping so it ended up taking a week).

I'm having a problem though.

I have the motherboard and power supply hooked up to a monitor and keyboard, just sitting on a piece of cardboard on the floor to test it all out.

Its very very rarely posting. I've had it work three times so far out of like 100 power ons.

It seems to be related to RAM, but it isnt a compatibilty thing because its posted with either of the two sticks I have. Something is just not right here. I'm hoping its something I can fix.

I noticed on the back of the motherboard, where the RAM slot is there is some strange gray-ish film around some of the pins and on some of the little tiny square things (maybe transistors? I dont know). Its really strange. Its sort of gummy when I scrape it.

I used a hard brush and scraped on it a bit and it actually posted another time. I restarted a bunch of times with CTRL-ALT-DEL and it worked fine. But as soon as I shut it down it wouldnt post again.

Is there some way that something can build up on contacts and then cause a problem? I'll take a picture of the area in a second and post it... I really hope theres something I can do here. This just sucks. :(

EDIT: When it doesnt post, the fan just comes on and I get no beeps, and no other noises.
When it does post, I can hear the speaker click on and then beep and its fine after that. I can go through the BIOS settings and check the temps and its fine. But as soon as I shut down (power switch), its back to the no posting thing.

08-18-06, 05:56 PM
Ok guys, we cleaned all of the crap off the board (not sure what it was) using rubbing alcohol and a soft toothbrush and tried a few other things and its still doing it.

Itl work perfectly fine ONCE, then after shutting down, no post...

Whats a common cause of intermittent posting? I've just done too much of this crap over the years... I know I've seen something like this before, but I just cannot think of what the hell to do. I reaaaaally dont want to have to send this thing back if I dont have to. When its on, its perfect. Its quiet, compact, runs cool... no other problems except for this.

If anyone can think of anything, let me know. :(

08-18-06, 09:25 PM
Hate to say it Mobo is proably bad.

08-18-06, 11:26 PM
Well, we figured it out (sorta).

For some reason, it ONLY does this when a VGA monitor is connected when the computer powers on.

If its connected to a TV (through S-Video or RCA TV-Out) it comes on with no problems. Since thats all we plan on using this for, that isnt really a big deal. If we need to run it on a monitor, just plug the cable in after you hear the post beep... after that its fine. You can reboot a dozen times with a monitor connected and itl be fine as long as you dont shut it down and cold boot (then youll have to take the cable off again).

I dont see us ever even using this on a monitor so at this point we're just going to stick with it. I'm going to test the rest of the components on the board by installing windows and running USB devices... but I think itl be fine.

The minor hassle of having to plug the monitor in after the post beep is deffinitely worth waiting a month and spending an additional $100 for a similar board.

Right now everything seems to be running fine. Im happy. :thumbsup:

08-19-06, 12:43 AM
Keep us posted and try to keep posting pics!

08-19-06, 01:52 AM
Would like to see who this come out.

08-19-06, 01:55 AM
lol @ Mad Mod Mike comment

08-19-06, 02:30 AM
I'm having a hell of a time getting this thing to install windows XP... :(

08-19-06, 02:50 AM
What is happening when you are trying to install it?

08-19-06, 03:23 AM
What is happening when you are trying to install it?
Well, for some reason the first time I installed it I came back in the room (was watching the Southpark movie on Comedy Central... heh :p) and the screen was black. It wasnt in standby... it was black. Any time I rebooted, thats all that would show up after the post screen.

I did a FIXMBR in the recovery console and the installation continued after that, but it would give some random error.

A little while ago I ran setup again, this time with a full format (rather than a quick) and I've been watching it very closely... its gotten farther this time and I think its probably going to work. I'm not sure what would have caused the problem before, but I think its gone now.

*crosses fingers*

If this works, I'm going to be reaaally happy. :p

08-19-06, 04:20 AM
Well, its officially working! :D

We still have a very long way to go as far as "adapting" an atari 2600 to take a 2.4Ghz P4 system with a DVD Burner and a 60gig hard drive... but the system itself is up and running windows XP!

Time for some pics :D

Here is the setup:

Yeah, thats everything! All of the main components of the system are in that picture and its running right now.

Heres a picture of my "work area". :lol:

Its installing windows right there (cant see it from the glare). Yes I know my room looks like a train wreck. :p

More pics coming...

08-19-06, 05:06 AM
Here is a little magical device that has completely blown me away:


The color may make it look like a Barbie jump rope, but its actually one of the sweetest little gadgets I've ever seen.

Its a USB 2.0 direct connect cable. It doesnt require any drivers, and it will transfer files from another system with no set up at all.

I realized I accidently used an old Service Pack 1 install CD, so I went and downloaded SP2 on my main system. While it was downloading, I took this USB cable out of the box, plugged it into my itx board and plugged it into the front of my main rig... instantly, explorer windows popped up on both screens. Inside them, all of the drives on both computers. No installation, nothing!

I copied the entire 266Mb SP2 file from my system to the itx system in a matter of seconds. I didnt have to use another network cable (which isnt available in this room), I didnt have to use wireless (which, thanks to a concrete pillar, isnt available in my room either) and I didnt have to do any network configuration.

The sparkly pink EZ-Share cables arent available at Geeks.com any more (thats where I got mine just last week). But they have a very similar item here with a less gay color scheme:

I highly recommend that everyone pick one up if they do a lot of work with multiple computers. It'l save a ton of time, and its just really freakin cool. :p

That said... SP2 just totaly borked that itx computer, so it looks like I've got some more work to do. 6AM and Im still going. What the heck am I thinking? :p

08-19-06, 05:31 AM
Here are some more pics.

Here's the 60gig laptop hard drive with the adapter and some mounting brackets we're going to use to hold it securely into the case:

Here's the motherboard with 512Mb Corsair PC-3200, P4 Northwood 2.4Ghz (533BUS) and low profile copper heatsink... also notice the nice sturdy backplate its mounted on. Courtesy of mad mod m... err... my brother :lol: :

Well, I'm off to bed... I've been up for about 20 hours.

I still havent fixed the borked windows (thanks SP2! :wonder: ) but I'll tackle that tomorrow.

Hope you enjoy the pics. :thumbsup:

08-19-06, 04:26 PM
Ok guys... its not SP2 and its not the board.

Its the power supply :p

When I use a normal PSU, I have zero problems. It runs perfectly (and its fast!). I can even leave the monitor plugged in when I turn it on and it works fine.

So this sorta simplifies things. We just have to figure out how we're going to get a replacement PSU for this thing now.

Im very relieved that it wasnt any of the parts we bought off of eBay. This will be a lot easier to replace I think.

08-19-06, 07:06 PM
Maybe PSU wasn't giving system the amount of power it need it, only look like you are using a 90w PSU. P4 can't run on that, you need at lease a 250w.

08-20-06, 01:26 AM
Maybe PSU wasn't giving system the amount of power it need it, only look like you are using a 90w PSU. P4 can't run on that, you need at lease a 250w.
I'm using a 150W. P4 doesnt need anywhere near 250W to run.

I used a PSU calculator and all of the components should use under 120W.

I'm guessing theres just something wrong with the PSU.

EDIT: I did find a guy online that said he had a migrus P4 board and it seemed power hungry... but these guys are putting the same boards in prebuilt systems with 120W power supplies:

I'm still not sure what to do yet...

Is there any way I can find out exactly how much power my system is pulling?

08-20-06, 02:21 AM
Ok, I think I figured out what the problem is. The freaking PSU we bought is only rated at 4 (yes *4*) amps on the 12v rail. According to the power calculator, I'll need around 6A on the 12v to get this running properly.

Its reaaally hard to find a PSU with decent power ratings that will fit in such a small space.

08-20-06, 02:35 AM
This is quite possibly the COOLEST thing EVER done on NVNEWS. It should have a front page posting. Good job man, and keep us posted. I think you have just given me a reason to start mucking around again. Very good idea (atari + emu). I'll be checking this thread every day now. I would say though, that you should post this in the "Open" or "General" forum..I don't think alot of people see it here and it DESERVES to be seen!!!