‘Black Box’ casemod by Dr. Lex

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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 The result after combining all this ‘junk’ can be seen to 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. smile

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 is not 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.

Below are some pictures of this mod's ‘making of’, comments included. The images link to larger versions.

©2004-2005 Dr. Lex