Compaq Deskpro EN SFF

Configuration

Component Original Current
Processor Pentium III (Coppermine) @ 866 MHz
Memory 384 MB (3x128 MB) 512 MB (2x128 MB, 1x256MB PC133 SDRAM)
Hard Drive 20 GB Maxtor IDE 45 GB IBM Deskstar IDE
Graphics nVidia TNT2 RIVA (integrated AGP)
Sound AC'97 (integrated) w/ integrated speaker
Network Intel PRO/100 (integrated)

Why?

Personally, this is retro nostalgia for me because it was the system everyone had back at my first job in computers. I was only 15 years old back in 2000, but I got to work at a company that did IT contract work. Everyone had a Deskpro EN SFF on their desk with a nice Compaq CRT sitting on top of it.

I admire the system for its compact form factor and clever case design that makes working on it much easier than a lot of systems from that era.

I never had one of my own, but I've always had a fondness for them. I saw one on eBay with a great configuration and a steal of a price ($40 shipped) and I bought it immediately.

Notable Features

Integrated Speaker

One thing I love about this system is that it has an integrated speaker. Not just a "PC speaker" that beeps, but a properly amplified real speaker. This is great for simple alert sounds, listening to a message, a small video, things like that. These systems were mostly designed for use in offices where having a set of desktop speakers is expensive and a waste of space given what they're usually used for. As a retro machine I don't use often, it's pleasing to hear the Windows startup sounds and alert without having to hook up speakers.

Front panel audio

In the late 90s it was not a common thing to have front-panel audio jacks. This system has a headphone and microphone jack there and of course when you plug in headphones this cuts off the internal speaker.

Chipset

It sports the Intel 815 chipset which limits you to 512 MB of RAM, but then supports a Tualatin Pentium III up tp 1.4 GHz.

Integrated NIC with PXE (netboot)

As a business-oriented PC, it's got an integrated 10/100 Mbit NIC. This was not so common on PCs in the 1990s. Typically you'd have to buy a PCI expansion card if you wanted the luxury of LAN access. This has the Intel PRO/100 integrated. Handy.

It has a PXE boot ROM, so you can boot off your system off of your LAN if you have a PXE server setup. I do have one setup, and it works great. I can press F12 during boot, select the LAN as my boot device, and run Linux live CDs, memtest, install Linux.

Changes and upgrades

BIOS

I always like an up-to-date BIOS. This system supports flashing the BIOS via a Windows app which is very cool. So after installing Windows 2000 I upgraded the BIOS.

Memory

It looked like the system was upgraded by its previous owner from 128 to 384 MB of RAM. This was fine, but I wanted to max out the system. It has 3 PC133 DIMM slots, but because of the Intel 815 chipset, the system is limited to 512 MB of RAM. Of course I tried 768 MB anyway, but system refused to boot with an error message you don't see often: that there's too much memory installed.

Graphics

The Deskpro EN optionally came with an nVidia TNT2 Riva graphics chip embedded on the motherboard. I was lucky and my system had this. It's a pretty decent little chip as the predecessor to the GeForce 256. It's integrated as an AGP device, and this is the only AGP bus on the system so any graphics card upgrades would have to go into one of the three PCI slots.

Hard Drive

The system came with a Maxtor 20 GB drive. The first time I turned it on, it sounded like some rusted iron plates spinning around. I binned that drive immediately and replaced it with a spare IBM Deskstar 60 GB I had lying around.

I did buy a SCSI controller (Adaptec AHA-2940UW, naturally) for the system. The problem is that the interior is so cramped that I'd need a tiny SCSI cable to not completely obstruct airflow, and those seem to not really exist. The system has the IDE cables routed and folded nicely so that they don't get in the way. So, I'm sticking with that for now.

I have it in my mind to get a PCI SATA controller and 2.5" (laptop) HDD. That would give performance comparable to SCSI without making a mess of the interior.

CD-ROM

The system came with a bog standard CD-ROM drive which I would have happily kept. Unfortunately the drive tray has a really hard time ejecting. I had to use a paperclip to pop it open. I opened up the drive and the drive belt seems ok, so maybe the motor is just on its last leg? I needed a working drive to install Windows, so I put a Lite-On CD-RW drive in there. Works fine, but it's a bit yellowed and doesn't match the bezel.

Operating System

The system shipped with Windows 2000, as evidenced by the license and CD key sticker affixed to the case. As that's my favourite operating system, that's what I installed.

Just for fun, I also installed Linux. Some Linux distributions are starting to drop support for the i386 architecture which is understandable but a shame. Fortunately there's a community-maintained distribution of Arch Linux 32-bit. I've installed that using i3 as my window manager since it's so lightweight.

Modern browsers however do not work. They all hard crash with Invalid Instruction. My suspicion is that they're compiled expecting the SSE2 instruction which was not present until the Pentium 4.

lshw

H/W path           Device           Class       Description
===========================================================
                                    system      Deskpro
/0                                  bus         0680h
/0/1                                memory      128KiB BIOS
/0/5                                processor   Pentium III (Coppermine)
/0/5/6                              memory      32KiB L1 cache
/0/5/7                              memory      256KiB L2 cache
/0/21                               memory      System Memory
/0/21/0                             memory      128MiB DIMM SDRAM Synchronous 133 MHz (7.5 ns)
/0/21/1                             memory      128MiB DIMM SDRAM Synchronous 133 MHz (7.5 ns)
/0/21/2                             memory      256MiB DIMM SDRAM Synchronous 133 MHz (7.5 ns)
/0/22                               memory      Flash Memory
/0/22/0                             memory      512KiB Chip FLASH Non-volatile
/0/0                                memory
/0/2                                memory
/0/100                              bridge      82815 815 Chipset Host Bridge and Memory Controller Hub
/0/100/1                            bridge      82815 815 Chipset AGP Bridge
/0/100/1/0                          display     NV5 [Riva TNT2 / TNT2 Pro]
/0/100/1e                           bridge      82801 PCI Bridge
/0/100/1e/8        enp2s8           network     82801BA/BAM/CA/CAM Ethernet Controller
/0/100/1e/a        scsi0            storage     AIC-7870P/7881U [AHA-2940U/UW/D/S76]
/0/100/1f                           bridge      82801BA ISA Bridge (LPC)
/0/100/1f.1                         storage     82801BA IDE U100 Controller
/0/100/1f.4                         bus         82801BA/BAM UHCI USB 1.1 Controller #2
/0/100/1f.4/1      usb1             bus         UHCI Host Controller
/0/100/1f.4/1/2                     bus         USB 1.1 2 port downstream low-power hub
/0/100/1f.4/1/2/3                   input       IBM USB Travel Keyboard with Ultra Nav
/0/100/1f.5                         multimedia  82801BA/BAM AC'97 Audio Controller
/0/3               scsi1            storage
/0/3/0.0.0         /dev/sda         disk        61GB IC35L060AVVA07-0
/0/3/0.0.0/1       /dev/sda1        volume      19GiB Windows NTFS volume
/0/3/0.0.0/2       /dev/sda2        volume      37GiB Extended partition
/0/3/0.0.0/2/5     /dev/sda5        volume      36GiB EXT4 volume
/0/3/0.0.0/2/6     /dev/sda6        volume      508MiB Linux swap volume
/0/4               scsi2            storage
/0/4/0.0.0         /dev/cdrom       disk        LTR-40125S