‘Black Box’ casemod by Dr. Lex
Around July 2004, I was in need of a new PC, to replace an antique Pentium II laptop. Its purpose would be mainly to play games (for the more 'serious' work I had a somewhat more recent Apple iBook). But, I didn't want to spend too much money on it. On the other hand, I felt like making something original out of it, and also something small. Instead of buying a simple computer case and 'modding' it, I went for a somewhat more radical approach: I built a new case from scratch, mostly out of waste material. To be more specific, I started with the following ingredients:
- An old AOpen HQ08 maxi tower, condemned to the scrapyard
- Some 19mm MDF board I had, leftovers from speaker boxes I made a while ago
- A new Abit VA-10 micro-ATX motherboard with AMD Athlon XP 2600+ processor
- A new AOpen 300W power supply
- A second hand 60GB Maxtor HD
- A bar of 512MB DDR from eBay
- A CD-ROM drive which I also saved from the dump
- Two 60mm fans
- Synthetic corks from wine bottles
- Aluminium foil
- A piece of bicycle tire (yes indeed)
- A piece of plexi, remains from a dismantled electrical installation
- Leftovers from a zinc roof
- Some more small gizmos like screws, LEDs and push buttons from the electronics store
- Simple spray can paint
The result after combining all this ‘junk’ can be seen at the right of this paragraph. The dimensions are 25×25×34cm. If we make abstraction of the cost of the drill press I bought especially for this occasion (but actually should have bought a long time ago and which I'm going to use often from now on), the total cost comes down to approx. €350. This cost was to be multiplied by 1.6 soon, with the purchase of a decent graphics card.
One of the hardest things to do, was to ensure sufficient air flow inside the case. Due to the unusual placement of the PSU, the CPU's hot air isn't immediately sucked away like in a normal ATX case. Therefore I installed two extra 60mm fans nearby the CPU. A large amount of holes in the front panel and a few in the side panels, and some bigger holes in the bottom, do the rest. The temperatures are quite good now, the system temperature is lower than when the board was inside a tower case, and the CPU temperature is only a few degrees higher.
To saw the panels, I used an HSS metal saw, highly recommended for this kind of work. For the large holes (CD-ROM, fans, windows) I used a fretsaw and a combination of dremel+metal saw (for the straight parts). The fretsaw actually is intended for wood, but the little saw blades held their own while sawing through iron.
Update Jan. 7, 2005: the old CD-ROM drive has been replaced by a DVD writer for ±€60, the HD by a new 200GB HD for ±€115, and to top it off, a brand new GeForce 6600GT AGP has been installed for about €215 (in reality I got it almost for free, but that's another story).
Update Jul. 15, 2005: because the temperatures were running a little high with the hot summer weather, I made some drastic adjustments: the two 60mm fans now act as intakes instead of exhausts, and a piece of plastic prevents this air from being sucked out immediately by the PSU. I also reversed the CPU cooler's fan, and covered the top side of the cooling fins with tape to make air only flow into the cooler at the bottom. Now the CPU's hot exhaust air is sucked away immediately by the PSU's fan. All these changes caused the system temperature to drop by a whopping 10°C, and the CPU by almost 4°C!
Update Nov. 19, 2005: I replaced the GeForce 6600GT AGP's standard cooler by an Arctic Cooling NV Silencer 5. Yes, this is impossible by default, yet I managed to do it! Read the report here.
Here are some pictures of this mod's ‘making of’, comments included. Click an image to zoom in.
|The hardware: Abit VA-10 motherboard with Athlon XP 2600+, 60GB Maxtor HD, an old CD-ROM saved from the scrapyard, and a fancy AOpen power supply. To my big surprise, this one appeared to contain a fan with LEDs although it was nowhere indicated||‘Think first, act later’: in other words:, a good plan is essential for a project like this. All components in this plan are to scale, to see if everything fits. The ‘jagged edges’ in the bottom become extra air intakes, once the front and side panels are mounted.||The thing's ‘skeleton’ consists of MDF, leftovers from when I made some speaker cabinets. In this image you see a silly construction to put some pressure onto it, while the glue is drying.|
|For most of the metal parts, I demolished an old AOpen maxi tower which I got for free from someone who would otherwise have dumped it anyway (it didn't look as clean as on this image which I stole from the AOpen site). This tower has the interesting feature that the part on which the motherboard is mounted, can be slid out. Hence, I used this part as-is, only sawing off a bit.||This is what remains of it, after stripping all usable parts, being the motherboard-cradle, the panels, and the HD bracket.||These are the panels, ready to be sawn into pieces...|
|The panels were exactly the right width to saw two parts out of them. It was such a close shave, though, that I had to saw right where the double-folded edges ended. To avoid this I bent them open.||The HD-bracket had to go too, since in the case there's only room for one HD.||So this is the motherboard part from the AOpen case. The most exotic piece of material being used in this project can be seen here: a piece of bicycle tire, whose purpose is to dampen possible vibrations from the CD-ROM. This is because it's screwed directly to the motherboard panel, better safe than sorry.|
|All panels have been sawn (hail to the HSS metal saw) and everything appears to fit exactly, thanks to the plan. The next step is the drilling of holes, many holes. Not only to be able to screw the thing together, but mostly for ventilation.||To drill the more than hundred holes in the front panel, a drill press was indispensable. An improvised construction allowed to shift the panel to and fro, speeding up the drilling considerably and also ensuring that the holes were neatly aligned. The hole for the CD-ROM was sawn with the fretsaw, but in retrospect I could have done it much quicker by using a combination of the dremel and the metal saw (see next comments). At any rate, the thing could now be assembled. It looks pretty banal still, due to the boring beige colour which rather gives an impression of a modded dustbin||After a layer of black paint and some more sawing & drilling, it looks much better already… Painting didn't go as smoothly as expected, because there appeared to be specks of candle wax on the panels. This made me re-paint the front panel after scratching off the first layer (acetone softened the paint again). As you can see, I drilled some more holes to increase the airflow. Of course it would have been stupid to keep the case completely closed with such a flashy PSU. But instead of making a simple window in the top or sides, I did some extra effort to make it more original.|
|A top view. To saw the straight lines of the little ‘windows’, I first cut a slit with the dremel, through which I could stick the metal saw. Then it only took 30 seconds to saw the straight line. For the round parts I used the fretsaw. After painting, I glued a piece of plexi underneath with epoxy, and this is the result.||The rear, here you can see the two extra 60mm fans which I mounted to improve the venting of the CPU's hot exhaust air (initially, now they act as intakes). I had to saw two circular holes in the ‘motherboard cradle’ for this, a job for the fretsaw (hm, a job for me, mostly). The fans run on 7V.||A ‘night shot’. Although I've never been enthousiastic about useless lighting, I have to say it would have looked a lot more boring without light In the meantime I added an extra switch that turns off all lighting, to prevent the PC from acting like an insect magnet during summer. To be able to switch the LEDs in the PSU's fan, I had to half disassemble it...|
|Another frontal view. After taking these pictures, I mounted somewhat higher feet (read: rubber corks) under the PC, to make it easier to pick it up and put it down without crushing my fingers (in total it weighs more than 10 kilos).||An inside view. This was taken when I was still anxiously waiting for the new Geforce 6600 GT AGP, therefore you can still see the CD-ROM drive. A few earlier designs for the case were rejected because they didn't allow a full size graphics card to fit inside. Now it does allow a full size card, and even 3 additional PCI cards||With the thing being illuminated by the PSU anyway, I threw in some extra LEDs to accentuate the front panel holes. Three super bright LEDs that I had handy, did the trick. They are connected in series with a resistor, over the 12V.|
|After installing a new DVD writer and the graphics card, it was time for the ‘finishing touch’. I didn't particularly like the power & reset buttons, so I ordered two ‘vandal resistant’ push buttons, of the kind you sometimes see on public vending machines. To install them, I had to enlarge the holes in the front panel, which required some tricks due to the presence of the existing holes.||This is the result. While enlarging the holes, I managed to scratch the paint very visibly, forcing me to paint the panel for the third time. This also got rid of an annoying stain which I made during the second paint job, though. So, third time, best time.||Now the thing is completely finished, it's time for some gaming!|
|Finally, a picture of the PC with some familiar objects next to it, so you can get a better idea of the dimensions.|