MICRO CENTER: COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS
Random Access   chris, kp & rob
In The Lab
Extreme Case Modding Part 2: The Outer Hull
by chris

For those of you just tuning in, last month I started an "extreme" case-modification project and attacked a defenseless double-wide server case with sheet metal nippers, air-powered shears, grinders and even a plasma cutter. Consider the cliché "a picture is worth a thousand words" and see if this doesn't explain my concept:

The Equation
Old Simon & Shuster game + Server Case = Borg Cube?

The power supply side of the case. Note the übercool plasma disc
The power supply side of the case. Note the übercool plasma disc
On the power supply side, I tried the Case Nibbling Tool and air-powered metal shears. For small jobs the nibbling tool works reasonably well, but both of these tools messed up the paint job and resulted in a slightly warped side panel and holes that needed the edges to be flattened before installing the Mutant Mods Case Window Kit.

On the system board side of the case, I used a plasma cutter to easily pierce three holes through the side panel. No distortion, just a really wavy cut when done free-hand. As a result, I had to grind the holes square and take the resulting burrs off with a 4" angle grinder. You could probably use cut-off wheels with this type of grinder and do a quick and decent job, but the rounded corners are tricky no matter how you do it. Safety Tip: Be sure to use both safety goggles and ear protection - grinders throw a lot of grit and metal, and are really loud!

The window on the system board side gives a nice view of the coolant reservoir and tubes
The window on the system board side gives a nice view of the coolant reservoir and tubes

For the window on the second panel, I took a sheet of 1/8" DuraPlex, a brand of "impact modified acrylic" safety plastic used for window replacement. You could also use Lexan or polycarbonate plastic if it is available, since both are more flexible and resistant to breaking than plain acrylic or Plexiglas. After sketching the general shape of the window, I used a steel square to make the edges as close to uniform as possible, then cut the shape out with a scroll saw. There is no rubber gasket on this window, just file the edges, drill some small holes and screw it directly to the side panel with small sheet-metal screws. To decorate, wires, jewelry boxes, toy and printer parts were glued or screw mounted to the window or to the sheet metal panel.

I discovered that the water-cooling kit for the CPU has a neat little installation trick. The pump and the small shampoo-bottle style reservoir both have flat steel brackets mounted to them. The Thermaltake water cooling kit includes a number of small, extremely strong magnets that are to be placed between the bracket and the case, holding the pump and reservoir to a steel case without mounting screws. (If you don't have a steel case, there are several thin steel plates and some mounting dots to hold them on aluminum or plastic.) I liked the concept so much I took the idea and applied it to holding other things in place. Do you have problems with the little foam mounting-tape pads failing and your lights falling off? Grind a shallow hole in the end block, and epoxy glue small magnets in place. Snap -- and the lights are in place; but they can still easily be removed or adjusted anytime you want. For the plastic panels and assorted parts inside the case, I just hot glued a number of small magnetic "feet" to the back, and then dropped the whole thing into the chassis. I repeated the process with plastic drive bay panels by grinding the tabs off and then using hot glue to attach magnets to the back. On the inside of the side panel, an ultraviolet LED was hot glued to a small magnet then positioned to shine on the water flow indicator. (Thermaltake includes some water additive to prevent mold and algae from growing in the tubing and pump; they also recommend adding regular automotive antifreeze 1:10 to the water. This gives it a nice fluorescent yellow-green glow under black light CCFT and UV LEDs.) I started with the Thermaltake Aquarius II kit and replaced the CPU block with a newer model that works with the Socket 775 processors and mounting holes; I also added the flow indicator and a drive bay reservoir (which required hose barb adapters, and larger tubing than the 1/4" silicone tubing that came in the kit).

Case Front
Case Front

Case Rear
Case Rear

The front of the case is a hinged plastic cover with a small door over the floppy bays and a large door over the row of 5 1/4" bays. Using a metal saw in a Dremel tool, I cut the front louvers off of the large drive bay door and glued a rounded vent panel down into the opening. I glued some pieces from a toy gun over the ends of a Spiral Liquid Cold Cathode Light and recessed the entire thing down one side of the door. More panels cover the inside of the door to conceal the chewed-up plastic edges. More toy parts, some wire and an old Cyrix 686 CPU with the pins ground off and the core exposed add some interest to the fan side of the case front vents. I mounted a double-plug USB connector in the plastic block, with the cable threading back through the case front to the system board. For the floppy drive door, I created a Borg "logo" from 1/4" Plexiglas and mounted a piece of red electroluminescent film behind it. This is held to the panel with double-stick carpet tape, and the inverter mounted on the inside of the cover. Both the CCFT tube and the EL panel use 12volts with a common cable running inside to the power supply. For the green cold cathode tube under the chassis (between the wheels), I attached the inverter to the rear of the case with Velcro, and ran the power plug to a Mutant Mods' 3 Port External LP4 Modding Backplate; the tube is held to the bottom with magnets. One note of caution here, don't use magnets to hold the inverters to the case. A strong magnetic field can interfere with the tiny transformer used in these, and could cause it to overheat or do strange things.

All of the front drive bays are full: The two 3 1/2" bays hold a floppy drive and flash media card adapter. The 5 1/4" bays hold a DVD+/-RW drive, a CD-RW drive, two SATA hard drives (in mounting brackets), an Internal 5.25" Bay PC Stereo Speaker, and controllers for the fans and lights (Aerocool Gatewatch 4-fan controller and a SunbeamTech Lightbus controller). Both controllers were silver, so - a little silver model paint, and so are the rest of the front panels on the speaker, optical drives and bay covers. Once all of the plastic parts have been attached, some flat black enamel paint helps to assimilate them into a uniform whole. Some gold and silver model paint on select panels and box covers completes the case mod appearance.

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