Log how to turn a game console into an SFF PC - or - the fastest APU build to date

REVOCCASES

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Introduction:

Have you ever heard something about the AMD FireFlight APU? Probably not, because this is a custom AMD APU made for a Chinese Game Console called the SUBOR Z+ which was supposed to compete with the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X on the Chinese market. Well, the SUBOR Z+ was a quite ambitious piece of tech but never really made it to the shelves. The most obvious reason might be that with a selling price of CNY 5000,- (about USD 750,-) people could just buy a Console from MS/Sony or build a normal PC.

Now what is interesting about this Console in 2020? First of all you can currently find some remaining stock of the Z+ for CNY 2000,- (ca. USD 300,-) on TaoBao and JD.com, but most importantly: Unlike the XBOX or PlayStation which also come with custom AMD APUs you can run a normal Windows installation on this SoC and turn the SUBOR Z+ into a quite powerful SFF PC which can beat a GTX1650 + Ryzen 2400 build. Considering that the Z+ SoC was developed in 2017 and is based on an earlier Ryzen / GCN 5.0 architecture, just imagine what kind of APUs AMD could bring to consumers these days if they wanted to...

But see for yourself:

SUBOR Z+ APU



4650G APU



GTX1050 Max-Q



GIGABYTE GTX1650 OC



OK, but now let's start with the build log. First I will look into the Software (OS/Driver installation) and in the second part I am going to show you the Hardware and trying to build a nice custom case around that custom APU motherboard.
 
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REVOCCASES

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Part 1: Software

I have purchased a Z+ from a vendor on JD.com. As SUBOR abandoned the Z+ and their semi-custom OS, the vendor already pre-installed an activated copy of Windows 10 Pro in Chinese on the internal 120GB SATA SSD. Changing the OS language to English or German was only partially successful. Anyway I wanted to replace the tiny 120GB SSD so that I decided to go for a fresh install. I figured that it might be difficult to obtain the necessary custom drivers, so the first thing to do was to back up all OEM drivers to a USB stick. Here is a good tutorial how to do this:

https://www.tenforums.com/tutorials/68426-backup-restore-device-drivers-windows-10-a.html

After the driver backup was complete, I took out the original 120GB SSD and replaced it with a fresh 1TB one. The Z+ comes with a custom INSYDE H2O BIOS but I didn’t figure out how to access it. To my pleasant surprise there is no firmware / OS lock and the boot-order is set to “boot from USB first” out of the box so all you have to do is plug in a Win10 USB stick and it will boot right into Windows Setup.





After Windows installation is complete, most hardware works out of the box. The few drivers that are missing are for the AMD Chipset, Graphics Card and HDMI Audio.



For the Chipset you can just download the Autodetect Software from AMD directly and it will install without issues.



The Graphics driver is a bit trickier. I have tried several drivers from AMD but none of these worked.



Luckily I had made the backup earlier. To install the missing GPU and HDMI Audio driver just go to the hardware manager and choose “update driver”. Then point to the folder where you made the driver backup from the original SSD and they will install just fine. If you need some basic graphics control panel, you can optionally install the AMD Catalyst Center 15.7.1 from the AMD website.



And that’s about all. If turning the XSX into a normal Windows PC was just that easy… :p



Next up: a look at the hardware and designing a custom case
 
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REVOCCASES

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Part 2: Hardware and Custom Case


Hardware Teardown

Internals of the SUBOR Z+ are pretty easy to access. Just remove a couple of standard Phillips screws plus the internal EMI shielding cover and we can see the massive cooling solution and a custom FLEX-size power supply.



WLAN antennas are one of the few things that are glued to the chassis. Most of the assembly uses screws. Really, a lot of screws!



REALTEK AC WLAN module



RGB LED Light-Bar, unfortunately I have no idea how to address / change the LED colors.



The PSU is made by AcBel, outputs 270W / 12V and keeps quite silent under load. Under full load the Z+ draws about 180W to 190W from the mains.



The Z+ uses two of these massive turbo fans made by SUNON



After removing the fans, the heatsink can be removed



The heatsink helps also to keep VRMs and the 8GB GDDR5 cool



The heatsink is about twice the size/volume of an AXP90



The motherboard comes with a 10-phase power circuit for the APU and 8GB SAMSUNG GDDR5. 2GB are reserved for the GPU. Originally AMD and SUBOR planned to use 2GB dedicated HBM for this chip but this plan was cancelled do to the higher cost.



And here it is: the AMD FireFlight APU



The whole motherboard is not bigger than my old GTX1080

 
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REVOCCASES

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I bet you're going to make a tiny little case, it looks like a really fun project!!

At least that's the plan. :)

My biggest concern is the TDP of that APU which is about 180W peak. The cooler which comes with the console is quite massive and I'm not sure if it's possible to find something smaller which would be capable to provide sufficient cooling. So I guess the final size of the build will very much depend on the cooling solution I am able to find. Maybe I can re-purpose some GPU cooler for this project.
 

REVOCCASES

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first update: hardware teardown

 

REVOCCASES

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Some initial thoughts about the custom case design:

The original components layout of the Z+ is already pretty space efficient. Considering that e.g. a MEANWELL RPS-400 is not much smaller than the original AcBel PSU it makes not much sense to replace this in order to make the case smaller. Same goes for the cooler: I could probably mod a old GPU cooler for this project but again this would not safe much space as it needs to have a certain size to dissipate the ~180W TDP of this APU.

What I do not really need are the two 2.5" drive caddies which are adding unnecessary volume to the case:



Luckily 2.5" SSDs are in fact pretty small once you remove the housing around them:



So my plan is to take these SSD modules out of their 2.5" housing and plug them directly into the Z+ motherboard.

That way I can shrink the volume by about 1.4L:

Original Size of the Z+: 55 x 280 x 325 mm (5L)
Planned Size: 50 x 230 x 315 mm (3.6L)
 

Goatee

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That’s a lot of performance. Well done on getting the drivers to work.

Have you tried leaving the light bar plugged in?
 
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REVOCCASES

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That’s a lot of performance. Well done on getting the drivers to work.

Have you tried leaving the light bar plugged in?

Thanks. :)

Yes, I will try to re-use as much as possible for this build, including the RGB light bar. Unfortunately I can't figure out how to change the color. Standard is green but I would prefer red. Maybe I could try just to flip the cables for R and G.
 
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REVOCCASES

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today I have started with the case design. my idea is to make it out of three aluminum sheet metal parts: the chassis, a cover and one flat part with (many) standoffs to mount the motherboard, PSU, fans, etc... the case will be sleek and simple with gaps all around for air intake (exhaust through the back).

probably I need to make several prototypes before everything fits and works as intended.

 

REVOCCASES

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finished the mounting part today. in total 16 standoffs are necessary to hold everything in position.



seems my measurements from the original chassis were accurate enough. all standoffs align well with the motherboard holes.



as I said, I am going to keep the original layout but just shrink it down a bit





the turbo blowers need some longer standoffs to fix. the gap below the fans should work fine for air intake. here you can also see the SATA SSD module plugged into the mainboard and there is still a second SATA port for future upgrades.



next comes the outer parts of the case...
 
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chromov113

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Jan 14, 2020
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May I ask why are you making a custom case in the first place? The original one may be not the most small or nice, but it is quite unique.
 

REVOCCASES

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some pictures of the case parts coming in...



putting it besides the original console you can see the size difference: with the new case it will be about the size of the Xbox One X



test assembly worked out as planned





guess my airflow-concept, using gaps around the case should work just fine



if not, I can still add some vent slots to the cover above the fans



but then.... crap!



I forgot to consider enough clearance for the front USB PCB cable...



and I also forgot to add the motherboard thickness to my measurements for the rear I/O



so, back to CAD and one more try!
 

jmarin

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Mar 8, 2018
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The back looks livable imo, if anything they aren't quite low enough/centered. Front is disappointing because it's so damn close, like 2mm. Case looks great, I can imagine how annoying it is to be that close. I've done that more times than I care to count when 3D printing stuff 😂😂😂