Emulators are easy and convenient, but for some retrocomputing enthusiasts nothing comes close to running classic software on actual era-appropriate hardware. This can become a problem, though, for those into vintage PC gaming: old PCs and their monitors are notoriously large and heavy, meaning that even a modest collection will quickly fill up a decent family home. There is a solution however, as [The Eric Experiment] demonstrates in his latest video. He designed and built a 3D-printed mini PC that runs on an actual 486 processor.
An ordinary desktop motherboard would have required a rather large case to begin with, so [Eric] started his project by buying an old industrial PC board. Such a device has the processor and all main motherboard components sitting on an ISA card, which then connects to other ISA cards through a backplane. This way, a complete system with expansion cards can be made way more compact than even the sleekest desktop PCs of the time. An SD-card-to-IDE converter makes for an extremely slim hard drive replacement, while a Gotek floppy emulator allows the system to boot as if there’s actually a floppy drive present.
All of this is pretty neat to begin with, but by far the most impressive parts of the Tiny 486 project are the enclosures that [Eric] designed for the PC and its accompanying monitor. Both were modelled off real-world examples and are accurate down to the smallest details: the tilting stand that clips onto the base of the monitor for instance, or the moving latch on the faux 5.25″ floppy drive. That latch operates a cleverly hidden door that reveals the USB connector for the floppy emulator. The compulsory seven-segment LED display on the mini tower’s front panel now finally serves a useful purpose – indicating which floppy image is currently active.
Sporting an Intel 486-DX4 100 MHz processor, 32 MB of RAM, a Tseng ET4000 video card and an ESS Audiodrive for sound, the tiny 486 can run DOS or Windows 95, although performance in the latter is a bit limited due to the lack of a local-bus video card. It’s perfectly fine for most DOS games though, and a lot more practical than a full-sized desktop PC.
There are several ways to make a tiny game PC, like using PC/104 standard boards or repurposing old network equipment. The crucial part needed to turn it into a gaming machine is a proper sound card, which you can even build from scratch if needed. Thanks for the tip, [Nathan]!