Probably not a good sign for my stress levels that I’m back to looking at the TinyBox, but eh.

So, TinyBox.  For those that are unfamiliar with the concept, here is my previous attempt.  In short, I was really only working on it to distract myself from stress, but it was a DOS gaming machine designed to be as small as possible.

Well, times and technology has changed.  MiniITX motherboards are no longer ridiculously overpriced, processors have become a lot faster (not that it matters so much for direct DOS gaming…), and emulators have come a long way.  I mean, I can play Daggerfall at full speed now upscaled even.

So, I return once more to thoughts of a TinyBox.
First, there are a few choices.

  1. Original Design – namely, a DOS-only machine running off of some variety of miniITX motherboard design.  Unlike the previous version, which was looking like it would cost upwards of 500 USD, you can buy a nettop that does exactly this (although it’d be on a laptop HD instead of a CF card) for under 250 USD, or a barebones machine for 125.  Hell, the proc+mobo can be had for 70 USD.  I’ve even built a similar machine to this in the past now, only without the awesome software to match.  The problem here is the sound card – I have no idea which of these integrated adapters would work with DOS, and the answer is probably ‘none of them’.
  2. TinyDOSBox version – Basically, running something like DamnSmallLinux and running DOSBox inside of it, but otherwise identical to the hardware above.
  3. Advanced/SmallBox/GogBox version – namely, one running Windows for some light gaming on top of everything else.  Or, as it were, a GogBox.  You could even pull this off in a MiniITX form factor now, with the advent of AMD’s APU thingy, and be able to play relatively recent games (read: Oblivion would be playable, although maybe a bit slow loading). Wouldn’t cost too much more than the original design even, although again I’m losing some of the coolness factor.
  4. IttyBittyBox – namely, going with a PicoITX motherboard and an SD-to-SATA adapter.  This version would be roughly the same performance as my original design (faster, but not by much), a bit cheaper (but not much), and a hell of a lot smaller.  I’d almost certainly want to do the TinyDOSBox version of software, due to almost certain incompatibilities with audio.  The spec says 10cm x 7cm, and with that adapter I’d only be adding a bit of vertical headspace for its ‘drive’.  Since 32GB SDHC cards aren’t all that expensive, it is a bit better of an option than the old CF card combinations I was going to use.  For a size idea, this entire computer would be about half the size of a XBox 360 controller.  Sexy, no?

I’m honestly not sure which one of those sounds more appealing.

  • I’m generally sure #1 is off the list – sure, it’d be nice to have a machine that you can simply turn on and off and boots ludicrously fast, but it is already easier to run DOSBox and play anything you wanted than it is to run FreeDOS – trying to chase down a sound card with real DOS drivers is a royal pain now a days.
  • #2 is definitely the cheapest of the builds, running as low as 160 USD if I scrimped a bit on parts (and as high as 250 USD if I wanted to go with a SSD and gobs of RAM; not that I would, as at that point I’d rather go with #3), but that’s about all that is going for it.  I’d end up running DamnSmallLinux + DOSBox and that’s about it – the physical hardware build is really simple.
  • #3 is an interesting idea – basically, making a really small gaming machine that can play 99% of everything I currently play – but would require some version of Windows.  Win7 boots fast, but not that fast.  Still, it is at least theoretically attainable to get a Win7 boot time to be around that of a Wii (if you include the time to hit the button for the stupid warning during startup), so this makes it a good target for “consolification”.  Again, wouldn’t be a super complicated build, and would end up being around 300 USD (around 250 with a HD instead of SSD, but I’d rather the SSD) not counting the Win7 license.
  • #4 sounds awesome from a geek perspective (and really #2 is just a cheaper version of #4).  I can imagine going back in time to my gamer self back in the DOS days and claim that this machine that easily fits in the palm of my hand does the same thing my goliath of a 286 did – oh yeah, and it runs over 100 times faster, has more RAM than it had HD space, doesn’t need to screw around with High/Upper Memory, and doesn’t need a HD.  I don’t have a price for that SATA to SD adapter, but assuming that I instead used an IDE to CF adapter, I could get away with spending 260 USD on parts not counting the case – or, in short, 10 USD more than the GogBox.  The hardware build is a lot more complicated, given that I’d have to make the case.  Still, lots of charm.

So, either cheap (160 USD), powerful (300 USD), or tiny (300 USD assuming 40 USD for building the case).  Three interesting options.

If anyone is interested, I can put up the build plans for any of them.  Really, these are thought exercises for me – I’d probably not waste the money on building them, since they don’t give me anything more than what I already have with my gaming machine.  All I ask for is a cut of the profits if you end up making an awesome gaming platform with this.

I’d love to make an official GogBox.  I somehow doubt that’ll ever happen though, especially not given these prices.

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