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  "Asrock eBox"...

[April 2023] Almost a year ago (I'm somewhat baffled that this much time has passed) I purchased this system off ebay:

The 'eBOX' square lights up; there is an on/off button for this hidden under the USB flap.

In addition the the AMD64 label, the one on the right is for 'NASCR' which as far as I can tell was either the system builder or some sort of PC builder's "alliance".

The main reason I bought it was because of the motherboard I spotted within:

It's an ASRock K8 Combo-Z, a peculiar motherboard from around 2005 that catered for the crossover period between AMD's Socket 754 CPUs and their 939 CPUs. I was in the business of building PCs at the time and I remember these boards from then. They didn't make that much sense unless you were an "enthusiast" who happened to be building a PC for yourself and either the 939s weren't available yet, or were too expensive; the idea being that you could build your PC with a 754 and then upgrade it later. There was a cost impact though, which otherwise made this board a little pointless (you're essentially paying for a board with two architectures/CPU sockets/sets of RAM slots) in one, with sets of jumpers to switch between the two. You also get fewer PCI slots for an ATX board due to the space taken up by the 939 mode's RAM slots.

I would consider the quirkiness of these boards to land them at the somewhat "desirable" end of the "retro enthusiasts" spectrum, allowing me to justify the cost of the system (the board alone being worth more than what I paid).

From the stick-on cover on the 939 socket of my board that it was originally shipped with, it was obvious that my board has only ever seen a 754 CPU and was never upgraded.

There was one main issue with my purchase though, which I could see from the seller's pictures: leaky caps.

These boards are prone to experiencing leaking capacitors, and I've even seen one seller of "new old stock" claim theirs even suffered. Fortunately I was able to successfully replace the 3300uF 6.3V capacitors which were the ones most obviously shot.

My capacitor removal process:

I pulled off the capacitor with a pair of pliers and compared the orientation with the print on the board ready for the replacement.

I added some flux, and perhaps some fresh solder to the capacitor legs at the back of the board. Then with the soldering iron at the back of the board, I pulled out the remaining capacitor leg from the top side with the pliers (not pulling too hard, rather, letting the soldering iron do its work).

I cut the legs to length (approx. 5mm) on the replacement capacitors and added some flux.

I fluxed the "holes" at the back of the board, although most holes were closed up with solder and I find it a lot of hassle to try and open these up, so I don't really bother about this too much.

I tinned the soldering iron and heated up each of the two "holes" at the back of the board whilst pushing the cap's legs into them from the top side; as things heat up you can hear the flux sizzling on each side and I work each leg through, alternating the pressure and iron from one pin to the other (this is made easier because they were cut short so they are less prone to just bend against the closed up hole). I push the cap flush with the board and add solder to finish the job.

I check my work by putting a finger to the back of the board where the legs protrude whilst gently rocking the capacitor on the other side to see if I can feel any pin movement. I clean the flux from the back of the board with IPA and visually inspect my work to ensure there is no short or damage.

This process worked well for me with this board.

Which OS to install?

With the motherboard tested and reinstalled in the case I next proceeded with the OS install.

The system case had no Windows COA attached, nor a hard drive included, but assuming this system was built around 2005 (the BIOS version date) I would guess it originally had Windows XP Home or possibly XP Media Center Edition installed on it. I had another idea though...

Even though I've been installing Windows operating systems since the Windows 98 days, I have never installed a 64-bit version of Windows XP, and given that this system has an AMD Athlon 64 2800+ CPU, I decided to give this a try.

I found a download on for the ISO (be sure to get the x64 version for AMD CPUs and 64-BIT for Intel), (along with a product key) and burnt it to a CD.

The challenging part was getting the OS to recognise the SATA hard drive (the system had previously had an IDE drive since those cables were still present). Thankfully ASRock are one such manufacturer to keep driver's on their website; I just had to download the SATA ones... and transfer them to a... floppy disk!

I tried to take a shortcut here and only put the Windows XP x64 ones on the disk, but for some reason the second part of the install was calling for other files so I gritted my teeth and put all of them on the floppy.

Other than that the Windows XP x64 install went smoothly. There's not much point to it over the standard version of XP Home, other than perhaps being able to install more than 4GB of RAM, but this system only supports up to 2GB, but I like seeing that "x64 Edition".

Other jobs:

Once in Windows I took the opportunity to flash the BIOS to the latest version. Again this required the use of a floppy disk as the system needed to be booted from an MS-DOS boot disk (this was created from within Windows XP itself).

I downloaded and installed the LAN, Audio and CoolnQuiet drivers for the motherboard (the included Nvidia FX5500 installed automatically).

With the Ethernet socket working I tried to activate Windows online but that resulted in an error about servers (no longer) being accessible but surprisingly I was able to activate it by telephone (I worry for the day when Microsoft no longer support this).

I then downloaded and installed Service Pack 2. I was a little confused buy this; I have copies of the standard versions of SP2 and SP3 for Windows XP Home, and while these weren't compatible with the x64 version, it transpired that there is no SP3 for XP x64 (SP2 for this is essentially THE service pack for x64, and SP2 and SP3 are THE service packs for XP Home).

I have copies of the 'latest versions of Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player for Windows XP but again these are for the standard version so I will have to have a dig around online for the most recent compatible versions of these.

The graphics card's tiny fan needed some attention (a spot of lubricant) and since the PSU's fan is an 80mm variant running at full pelt, I added a resistor to each of the fans to slow them all down and make things quieter.

I'm not sure what to do with the system now, other than watch a movie on it...

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