What a stench: the Sleeper PC case

What a stench: the Sleeper PC case

Kevin Hofer
Zurich, on 02.07.2019
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook
It's finally here. Freshly arrived from Germany: The tower for my Sleeper PC, which I'm going to raffle, of course. Before getting down to planning everything out, I'll first have to closely inspect this thing.

I enter the office on a rainy Thursday morning. There's a package on my desk. That can only be the old computer I plan on turning into a Sleeper PC. Now I'm positively gleaming, quickly forgetting about the horrible weather rain outside. As a reminder: A Sleeper PC is a retro case containing the best modern components. Find out how to win it at the end of this article.

The sleeper PC project: *true beauty** is in the eye of the beholder
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I can't wait to rip the box open and take a closer look at the case. I rip and tear at the box. Everything needs to happen very quickly. I absolutely destroy the packaging. There it stands, the Big Tower, something that's sure to give me plenty of sleepless nights. Optically, it's quite pleasing. In all its grey ugliness and imposing size it represents a really fun 90s retro charm. Exactly what I was looking for. Two fallen floppy discs lay inside the case. This thing's really shabby. Awesome. I'm in love.

Bye-bye floppies, I guess there were some loose screws.
Bye-bye floppies, I guess there were some loose screws.

The AMD Athlon XP logo is emblazoned on the front of the tower. Cool, I used to have one of those – always having been a proud member of Team Red. Underdogs are just better. Still, I'm a little disappointed. Athlon XP ran from 2001 to 2004. I'm afraid the case for my Sleeper PC isn't as old as I would have liked. But hey, it's still filled to the brim with 90s charm.

I immediately try to switch the PC on, of course. There's no hard drive, but maybe I can get into the BIOS settings. I connect the power cable and press the ON button – nothing happens. Yeah, the salesman did say: for tinkerers. On resale platforms, this is basically synonymous for «no longer working».

A wealth of waste

Now I really want to know what's in this thing. As I go to remove the side panel, I notice that there's only one out of the three screws left that it was shipped with. I'm starting to like this thing more and more, it's definitely got quite a story to tell.

The dust only enhances the retro charm.
The dust only enhances the retro charm.

Once opened, I do a double-take. On the one hand due to the absolute magnitude of dust, on the other hand due to how the interior actually looks. Ketchup-mustard cables are strewn around like vines. The flat ribbon cables remind me of long hard hours of toiling away and the many bloody fingers I got way back when while working around the sharp-edged drive bays. To us modern PC geniuses of the future, the inside is anything but nice – and that's not even mentioning the task of fiddling around in there. You can forget about cable management. No wonder side windows weren't widely adopted back then already.

Cables as far as the eye can see.
Cables as far as the eye can see.
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What I also immediately notice: the power supply is more or less directly mounted on top of two metal poles. It won't make my job easy, on top of taking up too much space. I'll have to move it. The best location for it is at the top of the case. Not the best place for ventilation, but if I mount it at the bottom I'll have to redo the entire back of the case. A Sleeper PC should remain as unchanged as possible on the outside – this is on top of me not wanting to put in unnecessary work.

Four PCI plug-in cards and one graphics card are mounted unto the mainboard. As was customary around the turn of the millennia. Mainboards didn't have as many on-board features as they do today. Now, I don't just want to see retro, I also want to smell it. I take a nice big whiff and immediately jump backwards. Wow that stinks. The lovechild of faeces and vomit. My colleague Martin Jud happened to walk past just then. I think we all know where this is going. After also pulling back from the devilish stench, he's a little more reserved: «It smells musty. As if the thing had been laying around an attic for a long time.» Come on Martin, I worked really hard on that metaphor. He's right, it smells more like an ancient cupboard. And, to be honest, I quite like that smell.

The insides at a glance.
The insides at a glance.

Time to screw... screws, I'm talking about screws

First, I opened up the drives. They include a DVD-Rom, a DVD burner, a floppy and a Super-Disc drive. And there's even something special included: a CD ROM storage system. It does exactly what it says on the tin. You can store up to ten CD format discs. What wonderful things exist. By the way, I'll be holding on to all the drives for the moment. I've already got a plan for both DVD devices and the floppies. I'll tell you what I'm doing with them in the next few articles in this series.

CD storage in a case, who needs that? You can see the stylish green control buttons at the top there.
CD storage in a case, who needs that? You can see the stylish green control buttons at the top there.

What I can already tell you is that these drives definitely won't be in the final Sleeper PC. However, I will remove the panels and install them in the front. To preserve the retro look.

I gradually remove the other components. These include a modem, network, sound and IDE expansion cards as well as an MX440SE Nvidia Geforce series 4 graphics card. The part was released in February 2002, clocks in at 250 Mhz and has 64 MB of video memory. You could use it to play «Battlefield 1942», «Doom 3» and «Max Payne».

GPUs didn't need giant fans yet.
GPUs didn't need giant fans yet.

Time to find out what kind of a processor is even in this. Emerging from underneath the fan, I see an AMD Athlon XP 2200+ from 2002. The 462 socket processor clocks in at 1.8 GHz. Now, what does this mean from a pure performance standpoint? Luckily, wonderful tools such as UserBenchmark exist. I compare the Athlon XP 2200+ to the Ryzen 7 2700X. The Ryzen is 1375 percent faster than the XP. This results in a yearly performance improvement of 85 percent. You can find further differences between both processors here.

Even the CPU cooler is tiny compared to today, not to mention the die.
Even the CPU cooler is tiny compared to today, not to mention the die.
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More screwing

Even though this is the perfect case for a Sleeper PC, I'm still a bit disappointed in the included components. I'd have liked to sniff a bit more 90s retro air. After all, I was practically raised on those PCs. On the positive side, however, the case comes in the ATX format. At least I'll be able to install the mainboard without any large-scale modifications. I like modding, but reconstructing the entire back wall on my first project of this scale is still a bit too ambitious for me.

The gutted case.
The gutted case.

As I'm in the zone, I continue loosening all other possible screws. I also remove the front panel as well as the mainboard and floppy mounts. Unfortunately, the mount for the power supply is riveted in place. I'll have to undrill it if I want to move the component to the top of the case. Still, I've done a good job, and I'll be able to start actually inserting some components soon. Next time I'll tell you exactly how I want the conversion to work, and above all I'll tell you what new components are entering the box.

The old components at a glance.
The old components at a glance.

You can win like this: Over the coming weeks you can read about the sleeper PC project on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At the end of the articles I'll ask you a question with three possible answers. You can find the correct answer in the article itself. You get one point for every correct answer. Answer as many of the questions as possible correctly and you will make it into the final draw. The draw will decide who wins the PC.

What kind of graphics card was installed in the Sleeper PC?

The competition has ended.

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Kevin Hofer
Kevin Hofer
Editor, Zurich
From big data to big brother, Cyborgs to Sci-Fi. All aspects of technology and society fascinate me.

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