This is a tale of my new daily-use computer. It's a full-function pc, running Windows XP Pro, with an amd athlon xp 3200+ cpu, 768 mb of ram, 3 monitor ports, plenty of usb ports, and a built in 10/100 switch. And it's a suitcase. It has a handle. It has two latches. I take it to work with me every day, and take it home every night. All it doesn't have is a CD Drive. Here is its story.
I wanted a new computer, but was tired of having to upload and download my songs, preferences, etc. And running windows so I know what the clients are seeing means keeping updated. So I can run linux as a server at home so I still can access everything and actually... *use* it and only have to patch 1 windows box. And my music, and preferences go where I do. It's reasonably rugged, and cool as hell. This is also my first pc mod, so it's a little rough around the edges.
I started with a case I'd been seeing at Menards for a while. It's made for holding tools and the like. The inside is all padded with foam, and came with plenty of extra foam for the inside. My co-worker got one and uses it for a laptop case, complete with space cut out for peripherals. So the last time I saw it on sale ($15) I picked it up. Over the next few weeks, I assembled the basic computer with low-end gear. The motherboard that's in it now, plus some parts I had laying around. Originally, this entire pc cost less than $100. Now, with the pretty decent parts I'm using, it's right at $400 which isn't bad at all.
The motherboard is mounted using machine screws from Lowe's. The bolt goes through the bottom, and there is a nut directly on the other side, on the inside. The motherboard then sits on these nuts and there is another nut on the top. It works pretty well, the nuts are the same size width-wise as the normal screws one would use for mounting a motherboard. When I'm 100% sure this won't be moving again, I'll use loc-tite on the nuts and bolts, but there was no reason as they haven't loosened yet. The PSU was mounted using wood screws. The fans used much longer versions of the same machine bolts. The HDD used the same bolts (same threads!) but with a nut in between. I had to shorten them so it wouldn't hang too low, and it worked well. The LED's were hot glued in place, the cpu fan screwed in nicely. The usb hub and ps2 ports were also hot-glued. The audio-in jack was simply screwed directly into the case. And finally, the monitor ports were simply screwed in using some tiny screws I had laying around. Everything is secure and has gone through the grind of plugging and unplugging at least 2-3 times per day for a couple months now.
I'm using two 120mm antec case fans with aluminum grilles. One blowing in, one blowing out. For a while, I had just one in because of clearance with the ginormous cpu fan, but when I re-orieted the motherboard, it cleared nicely. So at this point, there is one blowing in directly over the cpu jet, and one blowing out, directly over the back corner which is where the psu exhausts. The cpu cooler is a Cooler Master Jet 7+ which was on sale through the computer geeks. It sucks in air through the jet and blows it through the cpu heatsink. (This is why the fan here blows in. The cpu is by far the hottest component and I wanted it nicely chilled) The chassis runs at 38C and the cpu hasn't gotten over 48C. I set the onboard heat warning very low just in case, and it hasn't gone off yet. At first I just ran the output fan, and the same thing happened. It is interesting to note that the cpu and chassis temps are cooler with the lid closed than open. You can definitely feel the heat coming out the output fan.
Case fans - interior:
The power supply is a AOpen fsp200 power supply, sitting on its side. It was opened and some of the wires re-routed. This way, the fan could be on the inside of the case, and I could use four approx 1/2 to 3/4 inch wood screws to screw directly into the grating. The exhaust for the psu is also right under the exhaust fan for the case, a nice side bonus. In order for the exhaust to have room to exit, there needed to be a gap. At the office, I found some what looked to be right angle adapters for computer cases. At about two inches long, it left enough of a gap for the heat to get out and up, plus it makes a nice plug for the outside of the case. The atx connector was a barely long enough, and it wasn't pretty, so I got the extender which lets it route along the bottom front under the video connectors.
There is a netgear FS608 8-port 10/100 autosensing switch built into the lid of the suitcase. Six of them go to a six-port patch panel mounted on the left side of the lid. The eighth port goes to the ethernet port built into the motherboard. The seventh is reserved for the times I put a netgear wireless bridge into the case for use on-site. The patch panel is 1/4 of a 24 port I have in the basement. Since it uses 7.5vcd, I couldn't just tap off the psu like I did for the wireless. So I did the next best thing. Went to radio shack and got a cheap adjustable 12 volt adapter, took it apart, set it on 7.5 volt, and attached it all. Works like a charm! A nice side-note is that since Windows XP won't complain if shut down via unplugging, I can use it like a switch if occassion arises. Which I have on several occassions. Usually though, I remember to hit the power switch so it'll turn itself off...
With wireless in:
The Geforce is in the agp slot and is my primary video display. I picked this model because 1-no fan and 2- it was really cheap. The Radeon is dual head, using a DVI to VGA adapter. For a while I would just unplug the radeon and leave it on my desk when going home at night, but we've since solved that problem with the external jacks. About the jacks. I was looking all around for some cheap, short ended vga cables, and a gender changer I could just mount on the outside. Finally, looking at Radio Shack for the headphone jack, I came upon the 15 pin vga connectors. At $1.89 each, it was under $4 per cable. At the office, we had some extra 25 pair cable and in a stroke of genius I decided to use that. So, 5 minutes unraveling, a few hours soldering, and I had a working custom made vga cable. Upon testing it worked, I then ran to two Radio Shacks to get the extra adapters and spent Friday night soldering with my girlfriend. Despite my fears, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The keys: clean, well working soldering iron, and the right solder. i.e. not too gigantic.
Interior of monitor jacks:
The usb hub is just glued in place, and I had to use the 1 foot extender to connect it. It works pretty well.
The two ps/2 ports are connected via a usb adapter to another port inside. I usually use a usb mouse anyway, so was plugging the keyboard in through the lid. Not an ideal situation. Plus, sometimes I like to turn it on and then plug the k/b in later but it doesn't always work. Hence, the usb adapter. It solved all the problems and works with anything. Plus it's hot-pluggable.
The power and activity LED's were mounted on the front and everyone loves them. The wires were plenty long, too. I just drilled a hole, plugged them in, applied a little hot-glue and slid them back. When it dried, they were in place, and not going anywhere.
The audio port is on the side with all the other input/output connections. It's a little 1/8" Radio Shack connector, the super-mini kind. Just soldered the 3 taps to the correct wires from a "donated" headphone cord and plugged it into the output built onto the motherboard. For mounting, the jack itself wouldn't reach through enough to screw it on like it was meant to, but I found that when trying to take it out that I had simply screwed it into the case. So that worked quite well, and a lucky break.
The cpu fan has an external speed control. I ran it through the front, as that was where I was working at the time. It looks pretty good there, but I've never needed to use it. The thing stays so cool that I just always leave it turned all the way down.
Yes, there are bolts sticking out everywhere. Just the heads though. It looks kind of industrial that way. They are all round-headed machine bolts, so they don't scratch anything and the only ones that stick out beyond what the case would anyway are the ons on the top. Which you shouldn't leave face down anyway, because of cooling issues.
The case lid does a nice job of muffling the Jet engine that is the cpu fan. I haven't done any testing, but I sleep with it on every night. Normally if I notice it, it's because I bumped the control and it got turned up.
Note: If you can 1-find a girlfriend who can solder, 2- find one who you can solder with, and 3- find one who doesn't mind spending Friday night crouched over your kitchen table doing so, you're incredibly lucky. I'm incredibly lucky!