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In The Lab
The Quetzal Case Mod, Part 1
by chris

The Borg Case
The Borg case
The primary purpose of the Borg modifications was to explore and compare some case mod techniques, including window cutting, light kits and water cooling. These procedures are fairly basic in terms of modifying or altering a plain vanilla computer case. If you ignore the glued-on toy and printer parts, no significant changes were made to the chassis or to its overall construction.

After the Borg assimilation project, I started thinking about various other case modification designs that might be fun to do. I think that some of the more interesting computer "mods" are ones that result in a chassis that no longer looks like a computer case. This does not mean that you have to build a case from scratch, or that you need extensive experience in sheet metal forming, fiberglass, or plastic work (although it never hurts if you do have such hobby experience). Instead, consider how you could stylize a case using some simple craft techniques such as with foam, hot glue, or paper-maché. Keep in mind that any project you come up with needs to work within the environmental requirements of the computer system. You will need to keep air vents unblocked to maintain a cool environment for the system. You need to consider ways to make your design modular or at least give you a way to access the inside of the case, not just for maintenance, but to be able to install components.

One thing I like about water cooling is that the resulting system is very quiet, even if you aren’t trying to overclock or improve cooling of the CPU, video, motherboard chipset or hard drives. For this case mod project, I could probably get away with standard air-cooling, and it might even be slightly quieter because I will end up building a secondary shell around the existing case. But I really like the dramatic noise reduction I found from the water cooling setup, so I will be installing a water system, once again based on Danger Den components.

Raidmax "Virgo" ATX case
Raidmax "Virgo" ATX case

For this project, I chose the Raidmax "Virgo" ATX case which has both a front and rear 120mm fan and was wide enough to hold one of the smaller radiators "sideways." My first step was to remove parts that will not be used, including the plastic front bezel and the side window. This case design does not involve windows and fancy internal lighting this time, so the side case window and fan are removed and replaced with a solid panel. A piece of thin sheet steel is cut to fit the window opening and attached with sheet metal screws. I will be mounting two radiators inside the case, one will fit in the front air-intake area, so the 3.5" drive bay assembly had to be removed. After drilling out the pop-rivets and then using a diagonal grinder, I removed the lower portion of this assembly. Folding the sides over to form a bottom plate, I reattached the top two-bay section with sheet metal screws. I was disappointed to find that a second radiator was too large to fit inside the case where the rear fan is located, so I mounted it to the top of the case between the power supply and the optical drive. Once drive bay modifications were complete, I mounted the optical and floppy drive, but covered them with paper and masking tape to keep dust, metal filings, and other craft-related debris away from their openings.

To position and drill holes for the top radiator, I took a 120mm fan and scanned it at 600 dpi, then adjusted the gamma until I could easily identify the mounting-hole positions. While I had the image in the photo editing software, I added white circles in the center of the mounting holes, and drew two diagonal lines between the corners to identify the approximate center point of the fan. After straightening and trimming the image, the result was a ready made pattern to print out for a drill-hole template. Using a small drill bit, I made starter holes at each corner of the fan, and one in the center. A 120mm fan has a blade opening of almost exactly 4.5" across; a general purpose wood and metal hole saw from the local hardware store cuts a very neat, clean, centered opening. Use a half-round file to remove metal burrs from the inside of the opening so you don't get sliced up on sharp edges.

Starter Holes
Drilling the Hole
Finished Hole
Print the fan picture actual size to create a template. Drill starter holes for the mounting screws and to center the hole saw. Use a 4.5" hole saw to cut a nice neat fan opening. File the sharp edges and vacuum out all the metal dust.
Fan Hole Cutting Tip:
To mount a fan in a case where you have to cut new holes, scan or make a photocopy of the fan as a template for positioning and drilling the mounting holes. You can use all-purpose or metal hole-saws available from your local hardware store to cut the large opening for air flow. A 120mm fan needs about a 4.5" air hole, and a 3" hole-saw is just about perfect for an 80mm fan. Use a sheet metal deburring tool or a half-round metal file to remove sharp edges left from the cutting process. Mounting a fan grill or filter over the hole keeps fingers away from any sharp edges as well as out of the moving fan blades. A copy of my 120mm fan template is available as a JPEG. To print this at the correct scale, set your printer page setup for 600 DPI (or so that the image size is about 4.75 inches across on the page).

Right-angle brackets were anchored to the side panels and front of the case body with rivets. Panels of PVC plastic were then riveted to the brackets with a section of piano hinge. The hinge creates an adjustable angle between the base and the sides of the case and allows a way to gain access into the cavity to insert air filter material, lights or switches as needed. Two sheet metal screws anchor the top of the plastic sheet to the side panels of the case; and I used small magnets to anchor the front panel. To allow air flow into the front and sides of the case, I used some pierced sheet metal and pop-riveted it to the brackets and unused hinge holes along the bottom edges. This is done in sections so either of the case side panels can be removed for interior access.

Piano Hinges
Aluminum Mesh
Front Panel
A piano hinge is riveted to brackets and positioned on the side panels of the case. Brackets are then riveted in place. Pierced aluminum sheet is trimmed and riveted through holes in the brackets and hinge sections. Two small magnets are hot-glued to the inside of the front panel to hold the front section closed.

For the top of the case, I used pop-rivets to anchor a thin PVC plastic sheet in a curved shell, leaving the back open to vent hot air from the top fan. Over this I formed a piece of steel hardware cloth, folding the edges under. Two pieces of adhesive-backed Velcro hold the hardware cloth to the plastic shell. Coating the back of the Velcro with hot glue anchors it firmly to the wire mesh. Once the foundation was complete, all of the components were installed in the case, along with the CPU cooling block, and the radiators and pump were attached to the case. Hoses were cut to move water from the radiator to the CPU block, from the block to the pump to the hard drive cooler, and then into the radiators again. While almost any order could have been used, this flow should move the cooled water from the radiator across the CPU first, before being pushed on to the hard drives and back into the radiators. A fill-port reservoir was attached outside on the rear of the case, and the hose tied in just before the pump intake.I connected a drain hose to the lower radiator hose using a "Y" adapter with part of an aquarium hose valve for easy draining of the system. After adding some water and anti-freeze coolant to the reservoir, I used an external power supply to run the pump to check for leaks and to remove as much air from the system as possible.




PVC sheet is riveted to the top edge of the case; steel hardware cloth forms a removable shell. The rear of the curved opening allows hot air from the top radiator to escape. The motherboard, drives, and other components along with the radiators and pump are installed. Coolant hose is measured and cut to fit between the various connection ports and a fill port reservoir and drain hose are attached.

Shop Online:
Case: Raidmax VIRGO ATX Case with 420W Power Supply
Danger Den cooling components:

  1. Black Ice Xflow Xtreme Radiator (916718)
  2. Copper TDX Socket 775 Water Block (916437)
  3. Aqua Drive-2 Hard Drive Cooler (916767)
  4. D5 12V Water Pump (916536)
  5. 10-Foot PrimoFlex Red UV Tubing (917005)
  6. Adjustable Hose Clamp (917286)
  7. Polypropylene Y Fitting (916957)
  8. Red Cooling System Fillport (917088)
  9. Fillport Reservoir (916627)

Next month: The Quetzal Case Mod, Part 2: Computer case sculpting with packing foam, hot glue, and paper-maché.

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