A couple of times, I have had old computer parts turn up at my house, and nothing to build it in. Sure, you can leave it lying over a bench (and I’ve done that countless times), but when bench space is at a premium and you have to move things around – nothing beats having a case of some sort.
My first improvised case was for an Asus A7N8X-X Deluxe, which was donated to me by Michael. This thing was to be my TV recording box for a few years – with Wi-Fi remote control. So, it was built inside …
a Logitech box which was given to me by MSY. Who knew, they were giving away sturdy cases after all! I called it boxpc! This wasn’t its final form – the top was “designed” to be sealed together with packaging tape.
Designed with stanley knife and scissor, holes punched by screwdriver. This is the side view where the power comes in – I was so careful as to craft a cut-out for the IEC cable, and the power switch. It’s detail which, I’m afraid to say, is not part of my more recent designs.
Inside, it’s as basic as a computer gets. Asus A7N8X-X Deluxe motherboard, AMD Athlon XP 2800+ CPU, overclocked, 1Gb RAM (under PSU), nVidia MX440 AGP graphics (from Richard, claimed dead but working), C-Net Ralink RT2500 PCI Wi-Fi card, Seagate 7200.10 250Gb Hard Drive, Lite-On JLMS 166s DVD-ROM drive. See that piece of cardboard near the generic PSU? That’s to prop up the PSU supporting the weight on the motherboard.
The motherboard? Secured to the cardboard box with cable ties through holes punched in the thick box by screwdriver. The drives, PSUs and fans were secured by screwing through the box itself. It took longer than an average build – but it was “low-to-no cost”. It lasted 2 years before we scrapped the case and rebuilt it in a proper box for my Dad. A funny advantage is that all the ports are “front-panel” in this design :).
Another need for ad-hoc cases came up when I needed to recompress a load of videos – the motherboard, CPU and RAM were cheap (AMD stuff was, at the time) – but cases weren’t in the budget. It was either two machines, or one machine and a case. So I chose to have more machines to get it done faster – welcome the …
.. in-tray boxes, which are motherboards in in-trays!
Things were easy since mATX motherboards (Asus M2N8-VMX) fit quite easily in the mouth of the tray, leaving the PSU (a Delta SFX small 350w) to sit in the back and the HDD belly-up on the PSU. All fastened by blu-tack for quick rebuild, but sturdy enough for transportation from place to place.
Here’s one with a full size ATX power supply, reconfigured for testing a re-capped Albatron KM-18G.
You could even start racking these things in plastic shelving units! This one was reconfigured for hard drive qualification testing – hence the Silicon Image Sil0680 PCI to IDE adapter!
Or you could just place them side-by-side when render-farming, in your garage – like so:
They’re pretty quick and easy solutions for mATX – especially when made of plastic and blu-tack fastening.
And just recently, my good friend Liong left me some of his old gear – a Core 2 Duo era system (almost entirely – motherboard, PSU, CPU, RAM, GPU) – so I went about and built it in the motherboard box it came in –
Tools required – cable ties, stanley knife and screwdriver for punching holes. Only one size of cable tie was in my box, so I built it all using that – sometimes multi-linking cable ties to keep things under tension. The added challenge was keeping the 8800GT from moving around – I added my own hard disk and sat-card. Take Gigabyte box, cut off the top on one side, and go nuts with cable ties. I also used it to reinforce the rear box corners – and to cable tie heavy components on the back (PSU, HDD) – it does hold it enough for transportation but not rough-handling.
So, who needs to wait for “environmentally friendly” cardboard PC cases to come out? Not me. And probably not you either. You can build your own from almost anything – including the box the motherboard came in! Of course, it can be challenging, but boxes are cheap and cable ties are too. Cooling of motherboard components can be a bit of an issue – nothing an angled case fan can’t fix – especially with some duct tape or more cable ties.
The one thing that does go wrong is RF-wise – the metal case on most PCs serves to hold the interference generated by high-frequency digital circuits “in” and prevent it from escaping. With a box-PC of this sort, you’re not keeping it in a shielded containment – so interference to reception could be a problem – but in practice, rarely is too bad.
[I hope you enjoyed this – I’m quite busy over the next few weeks so it looks like blog postings will be “slow” like they have been in the past week. But still, stay tuned – there’s a universe of posts which await the time required to compose them.]