Monday, April 18, 2016

Last M.A.M.E Standing part 13: A long list of casualties (RIP)

Oh dear, so close to completion and things just keep...ah...dying.

We might have to go full engine transplant if this stuff keeps going on.. (EDIT: No no, I have now, it was inevitable..)

What my system looks like at the moment..

The latest walking wounded added to my silicone graveyard is the Hard Drive that contained not only Windows 7 but all my roms and gaming systems. Erk. While it's not completely done and dusted, it takes an age to be recognized when attempting to load up in POST and then never loads at all. Not ideal at all considering I'm only a couple of joysticks and encoders away from actually finishing this thing off.

However it's in good company of things in this project either stone cold dead or at least a couple of steps away from it.


Rest in pieces

- The original capacitors. Blown like most of your money a couple of days out from payday.

- The power wires. Not sure if it's the wires, the switch or the pins on the board (or all three) but now the power switch doesn't switch things on and off anymore. The reset wires work well as a replacement but now of course I have no reset button..(Edit: The power wire is loose. I probably should get on that..)

- 3 leds. One end of one of the LED strips have stopped working. Not sure why. Not vitally important but still...

- One of the sticks of DDR2 ram. Dead on arrival...or just not compatible with my system. Still, useless to me so into the graveyard it goes.

- The board's original cooling fan. One off the blades snapped off and all of a sudden it developed a rattle that sounded like a diesel engine. Quickly replaced by a spare and thrown in the bin.

- The SATA connection. Stopped working all of a sudden rendering the SATA drive useless. Could be a bios problem, god only knows. (Edit: Working on new motherboard, all is good.)

- The power supply. Attracts static like crazy and a pain in the ass to resurrect when unplugged for a time. (Now exploded in a shower of sparks. Best not ask about this one..) Now enjoying retirement in the bin.

- The onboard BIOS. Not currently helping to boot from USB. Possibly can be solved by fire..

So after much deliberation I decided to quit banging my head against a wall, spend the money and grab another motherboard to start all over again. After a bit of shopping around on local Facebook classifieds I netted a pretty decent overkill for a M.A.M.E system, all for a low $65:

Gigabyte GA-EP45-DSP Motherboard
8 gig ram (2 x 4 gig sticks)
Alien looking Gigabyte cooler
120gb Raptor Hard Drive
Xeon X5460 3.16ghz CPU

(Yes that's a modified 771 chip in a 775 socket, akin to a Mazda engine put into a Subaru. Both impressive and problematic at the same time - read on)

After connecting it all up it started, then stopped. So I started it up again and it stopped again. This would be a common theme all night as I experimented with taking bits out, putting them back in, using one stick of ram instead of two, pleading with it to stop shutting things off randomly, getting into the Bios once every 100 shutdowns to try scaling things back. After a week (yes seriously I have tried so many different online solutions to fix this..) I finally discovered what was going on...

The solution!

It seems the engine of this thing (the Xeon X5460) was heating up ridiculously quick before racing off at top speed into the nearest wall and shutting down. God only knows why and so much for having this twin turbo chip doing all the work. I found this out by substituting it's slower half cousin E8200 in its place and incredibly everything worked without a single shutdown. Not one power down, not one random reset. Not only did it work, it also revealed a previously installed and stable version of Windows 8.1 on the Raptor! Score!

The non turbo Supra engine of the computer world..

(Plus the previous dying hard drive? Seems to have developed a new lease on life apparently. Must be the change of scenery...)

So now after using my office computer power supply (nice and quiet) and it's GPU (8600GT) things are up and running. Now to get it to talk to the control panel and we might finally be on our way to actually playing a game and not having 20 million parts strewn across the living room trying to work out why nothing seems to be working properly.

A few days later..

I've found that while the bargain priced zero delay encoders themselves work really well, the usb cord they came with leaves much to be desired. The connections at the board level are flimsy at best: 

I've already had a friendly engineer mate resolder in the ground wire after it popped out during transit and before you could say 'Oh god, not again!' the red and white wire quickly followed suit rendering half of the controls completely useless. Rather than try to stuff everything back into the original connector (and hoping it stayed there) I used a pair of spare red-black wire duo plugs that came with the encoder and wired/soldered/clamped/taped them up to the usb wires. I used a rotary tool to slightly grind down the edges to fit the plug socket and I'm happy to report that everything works just fine. After assigning the buttons through mame (a couple of times because there was always something I'd forget..) we finally got to this point: 

Oh god, it's working!!

It's up, it's running and my son absolutely loves it. (I'm really enjoying his reactions playing everything.) While there's still a lot of tidying up to do (a lot - there's wires and crap everywhere) it's going really well - the joysticks and buttons work fine, almost all of the buttons light up and nary a reset has been since I installed the cooler properly. For now I'll leave you with these pics til the next update: 


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