|MICRO CENTER: COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS|
|In The Lab
The Penguin Palace Mod
How about a customized clear acrylic case with a frosty outlook and some ‘cool lighting effects’ for a holiday project? This case mod is the end result of what started as a vague idea that it might be interesting to run coolant through the side of the case. This was a "quick" case modification, meaning I spent only 40-50 hours from the time I started to pick up tools.
A friend donated the custom-built Plexiglas case he had from several years ago for the core structure. This case is a bit different from clear plastic cases on the market now. For example, the entire front bay assembly has to be removed to install drives, only part of the side panel opens, and it swings on clear plastic hinges. There were no covers on the rear, so I made some clear covers that attach to a couple of brushed aluminum slot covers. While the I/O port cover might fit in the rear opening, it cannot snap in and it leaves too much of a gap to attach cables, so it was left off. One construction challenge I had to deal with was that the case had numerous 90 mm fan openings in the front, side, top and rear of the case. Since a clear acrylic case with blue or UV lighting will create a cold appearance, it suggested the snow or ice theme to me. In turn, that meant that I wanted to use lots of blue, white and silver wherever possible during the mod and component selections. Oh, and one more thing to fit the theme - The OS is Ubuntu Linux - hence the penguins.
To create a waterfall effect, I built up layers of plastic on the side panel with openings that would feed the water back and forth. I had a concern that the waterfall effect would generate turbulence resulting in additional air bubbles flowing through the system. Air is not going to conduct heat as effectively as the water, so this is generally bad in a cooling system. Another issue I found during leak testing was that the water level in the reservoir will rise as high as the highest point in the system unless I can somehow restrict the water flow to prevent it from reaching that level. It's hard to have a waterfall effect if your display area fills up to within a few inches from the top of the case. I could use a valve system to limit the flow to the top, but the catch basin would still backfill from the rest of the system. My final solution was to use two pumps and keep the decorative system separate from the functional cooling system. Of course, using two pumps means that the waterfall does not show the flow activity of the cooling system. As a bonus, I can always turn it off if it gets too annoying.
I cut 1/4” plastic sheet to the various shapes and built it up in layers glued together with ‘general-purpose plastic glue’ (from the plumbing section of Lowes). This gives a slightly milky appearance and may have tiny air bubbles unless you use spring clamps to compress them or force them out between the layers. For most of the work, I cut out the rough shape using a band saw, and then shaped the edge using a flexible shaft with metal burrs. To carve the icicles along the bottom edges and cut openings in the center of the shapes, I used a Dremel tool with a high-speed rotary cutter bit. By building up several layers of 1/4” acrylic sheet and carving the edges with irregular scallops and gullies, I create the icy-looking surface that will catch and diffuse the lights in the case.
Top panel construction
Case feet construction
Waterfall side panel construction
Ripple effect lighting disk
I did not intend this to be my day-to-day system, but I still want it to be fully functional for whatever I choose to use it for. I kept the required components to minimum, not even installing a floppy drive, modem or other expansion devices. (If I need a floppy, I can always connect a USB floppy drive). I did install a DVD-RW drive, a single 250GB SATA hard drive, and a USB card reader. The video card is an EVGA nVidia 8500 and the system board has the usual 10/100 LAN, serial and parallel ports, USB and sound support. The Intel Core 2 6300 CPU is water-cooled as is the hard drive. Since the DVD and card reader were black plastic, I popped the bezels and tray cover off and painted them metallic flake silver. The Thermaltake hard drive cooler is brushed aluminum, so it did not need anything special to fit my designated color scheme. Instead of the typical black radiator, I used a blue one, and installed white Silverstone 120 mm fans on the radiator and in the front of the case.
System Board: ECS 570 SLIT-A
© Micro Center