The zbox project

Since i bought a big screen TV i've been thinking about how to game with it. I don't want to add to microsoft's coffers so the xbox was out, in fact the whole idea of consoles didn't appeal at all. So i decided to build a game 'console', that is a small PC that would sit on top of the subwoofer and connect to the VGA input of the TV. I used to have a pc hooked to my 29" zenith pro with vga and i still have the remote keyboard.

First try turned up a book pc case and motherboard. This was the original small pc, about the size of a hardcover dictionary. IDE controlled, onboard vga, sound and ethernet. I found a celeron 533 which is the max for this unit and added 128mb of ram and a 20gig hd. The problem was the motherboard was flaky and kept locking up.

Moving onward i researched small pc sizes and discovered two options the barebones shuttle pc, which is somewhat expensive for a project like this but does allow you to add your own components. It is also large and ugly. Then on my fav web site for old stuff ( i saw a compaq sff pc - about the size of a 3" binder with a stand. Perfect form factor and very sharp looking. 4 usb ports on back and a very reasonable price.

When it arrived it contained a P4 at 2ghz, 40 gig hd and a cd-rom. Put in the ubuntu live cd and it booted up fine - even picked up the network and the video card. Way to go! One option is to keep it as a bootable device and use the linux games project CD. Will have to download, burn and test it out to see if it will work with the 2 logitech atak3 usb joysticks i picked up for a buck at a yard sale.

Added a DDR stick to bring it up to 512mb. Then i thought of installing XP for some windows games. XP installed but did not detect anything! 4 bit color, no network, no audio...nada. Went to the hp site and after figuring out the exact model downloaded all the drivers and the windows patches to a cd and installed each one...rebooting as we went.

Now everything is running. Time to test out some windows games first and then move it upstairs. oops - just hauled out the remote keyboard and it is ps/2. I have usb to ps/2 adapters but no ps/2 to usb - can you do that? Else i need to find a remote usb keyboard which could be $$$. The usb adapter is female - if i can find a m-m usb cable i can test out the ps2 to usb idea.

and get the linux games cd - also look thru the box of old distros, i think there is a games one, goblinX? there...


coius's picture

I got one! cost me around $9 from rat-shack. It's got a little controller that translats from the PS/2 device and makes it USB. I have even used it on an XT keyboard (with adapter)!

head to some place like NewEgg. Oh, and as a side note, using a USB -> PS/2 adapter won't work, since there are no "Smart" electronics in it to translate it to USB. Sorry, you will need to get a smart PS/2- USB. just head to RadioShack or NewEgg or even eBay!

EDIT: here's one:
SABRENT USB to PS/2 (Dual PS/2) Converter Adapter Cable

Well, i must say i'm rather disappointed. Haven't played computer games on a pc for many years (since doom). While the logitech attack 3 joysticks are really great most of the games graphics are really not very good, except a couple that used GL. So i hauled out a G4 800 mac and tried it out. The graphics are much better for most games and the joysticks were detected but very few games seemed to use a joystick.

This is odd as the mac mini would make a really good games console. So i'll put this on hold for a but while i decide what to do - go with a console with HDMI, find a PC & games with better graphics? This would start to cost $$$ and the whole point is not to spend $$$ - maybe i'll stick with the N64 i got for $5 at a yard sale - it seems to be about the same level of graphics. I really like the look of games on the mac 'tho. Someone is missing a market here...

i sold this machine but they seem to come off-lease regulary - the one i really want has an agp slot on a riser - that means you could put in a good video card to solve the poor graphics quality of the onboard intel graphics

Found a nice EVO with AGP slot, 2 usb in front for the joysticks, and ps2 connectors for the remote keyboard and mouse. Also found an ati radeon video card in the card box and it has a DVI out. so i could run a DVI to HDMI cable into the TV and this should provide a nice digital signal. Will be interesting to see how the upconversion to 720p looks. The farajouda line scaler in the oppo cd player does a great job on dvds - wish i had an external unit.

The machine has arrived and is running XP quite nicely. Has 512 of DDR ram on 1 stick with a spare slot so i'll get it up to a gig. It has a low profile agp slot so i've ordered a XFX nividia card. Problem is it does not come with the adapter kit for the low profile card edge but i found a kit at tigerdirect. Jaton's low profile cards include the kit, a good idea. It also has 2 pci slots so i can put in a surround sound card. Leaning towards using the hercules game theater as it has a nice breakout box with usb, joystick, headphone jack and it would bring the controls close to the couch. Having it hooked into the home theater sound should give games some oommph. I also need to get a DVI to HDMI cable which drives up the cost a bit.

One neat thing about the unit is no screws are needed, you press 2 tabs on each side of the machine and take out the riser card and everything opens up, like an 8600 or beige G3. The optical and hard disk can be disconnected and slide out. The screws go into slots...which gives me an idea - you could swap in a DVD or CDRW or different hard disks depending on need. One HD with DOS 7 and oldskool dos games, a HD with linux and linux games and a HD with XP. Since the bios auto detects at startup it should all work with a keypress. The remote keyboard mouse should be not problem as they do not use drivers.

The price point for this is < $499 which is the cost of an xbox with hdmi. So far we are < $300 which is the ceiling for this project.

Well i like the machine fine but i finally found a shuttle pc at a good price. This means i can put in a full size video card as well as a u160 controller and a big fast scsi drive. If the 510 does not sell i'll try the low profile 6600 256mb card in it can see how it goes. I must say the machine is quick - took delivery of a stock dell today at work and i was NOT impressed with the speed - even after downgrading to XP it still seems slow. I had a similar experience with a dual p3 1gig HP box with u160 drives and a 64bit pci video card - it seemed so responsive, particularly compared to the dual dell box. I'll have the shuttle pc tomorrow so will set it up and see...

The shuttle xpc SB61G2 V3 arrived and i installed 1 gig of ram and a 250gig SATA drive and the XFX nvidia 6200 video card. I had installed a adaptec scsi controller and a 36 gig u160 drive but the heat seemed a bit much.

The only other problem was the DVD drive was too long and butted right up against the fan. I replaced it with a 7" long 52x CD for now. Machine runs quite nicely and has front usb, FW, back usb and onboard 5.1 sound. Nice video quality but since it has a full height agp i ordered a better video card that supports directX 10 (and hdmi with hdcp) and moved the 6200 into the compaq EVO using the low profile bracket adapter to replace the onboard intel graphics. The screens really snap into place now. The windows start menu appears instantly. I had added 256mb of additional memory. I really like this machine - it is so quick and quiet. Tempted to keep it but since the shuttle will now be the games box there is no need for it.

Changed the 6200 to a 512mb ATI 2400 HD and quite impressed. Very nice graphics. Played some quake 3 arena and very smooth. However the ATI card did not work with ubuntu 7 live cd.

Last piece is the DVI to HDMI cable - $69 at rat circuit city but $24 at tiger direct.

Found a good games store with reasonable prices on used games so will stock up and do some gaming over the holidays...

Total project cost $399

Shuttle xpc case and motherboard
1 gig DDR ram
Intel Pentium 4 3.0 ghz HT cpu with heat sink/fan
250 gig SATA drive
52x CD-ROM
ATI 512mb 2400 pro video card
2 Logitech Atack3 USB joysticks
Remote keyboard w mouse

So this is about the same as a console and a bit more than i originally projected. The 'savings' in building a gaming PC over a console will be cheaper software costs....

Project is finished at xmas 2007 with the addition of a pci eSATA card to run the 7" LG DVD burner and for future expansion plus upping the ram to 2 gig. Also added a 5.1 cambridge soundwords amp/speaker set. Fairly pleased with the result. Not state of the art but small, quiet, transportable, and fast enough.