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Building a computer case

By CMH ยท 36 replies
Feb 4, 2010

    Okay, I have decided that my next computer is going to be a mini-ITX. Ever since PC makers decided to embed a LAN card and sound card onto a motherboard, and put in a graphics card slot into a wee 'lil motherboard, I don't really need anything bigger.

    Anyway, I set out looking to BUY a mini-ITX case, but kinda came up short. They are really REALLY small... Most of them don't even use ATX spec components. Slim optical drives, slim heatsinks, flex-ATX PSU....

    So I decided to build my own mini-ITX case. Gonna be an Aluminum frame, and aluminum/fibreglass cover and front. Fibreglass because its much easier to work with (IMO), and doesn't cost a bomb (like carbon fibre).

    My list of spec:
    1. Fit a mini-ITX board.
    2. Fit a full, tower size CPU cooler. For overclocking, and quiet operation. (which is why I started the Venomous X thread)
    3. Fit full ATX sized PSU. I've set the length of this PSU to 14cm, which is the length of my current 650W Antec PSU.
    4. Fit my current graphics card (GTX 260). From my proposed layout and calculations, I should be able to fit something a few cms longer.
    5. Fit 2x 3.5" HDDs.
    6. Fit 1x 5.25" Optical drive.
    7. Fit a 120mm exhaust fan or bigger.

    I did some calculations, designed a layout by researching what works and what doesn't, and came up with this sized box (excluding the front bezel): 230x200x340mm.

    That seems to be the smallest I can make it to fit everything in. It is bigger than any mini-ITX box out there that I could find, but I'm basically getting an ATX box with a mini-ITX mobo. And it will still be much smaller than mATX boxes out there.

    For comparison, Lian Li has a PC-Q07 case 193mm x 280mm x 208mm which doesn't have space for a massive heatsink, no space for dual slot graphics card, only 1x 3.5" HDD, and the overclockers nightmare, no exhaust fans! In fact, no case fans at all!

    And another comparison case would be the Lian Li PC-V351 which is a mATX case, measuring a whopping 279x262x373mm. And even then, I have doubts about that massive heatsink.

    I've started the planning stage by building cardboard replicas of every internal component in the PC, and seeing if it will fit, with enough margin for assembly space, as well as holding structure itself. And I'll also be building a box to those dimensions, and seeing if everything will fit as planned. Thank god most stuff in the computer are box-shaped.... Anyways, since I have other things to do around the house as well as given the number of items, I'm gonna take a few days to put this together.

    Now, I would like some feedback about this little project of mine. Assuming I've figured out how to put it together, does anyone foresee any issues with the size? I can see 1 huge glaring issue here, I'm hoping someone will be able to point that out :D And at the same time, point out some other issues I haven't seen....Or maybe, have I missed out some important component?
  2. Technochicken

    Technochicken TechSpot Paladin Posts: 716

    I do not see any issues in size. In fact, I have seen a shuttle system with a Core i7, 3 HDD's, and an HD5970 in it:

    If you are building an aluminum frame, I recommend using right angle pieces. They are very easy to work with, and very strong and light when you are done. Also, remember when you are making the cardboard replicas to leave space for the cables. In a cramped environment, they take up a lot more space than you might think.

    Here is the worklog for an ITX HTPC I am building right now. It does not meet your specifications, but it does use a full ATX PSU, and it might be helpful for ideas, and for working with the aluminum.

  3. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    I must say I'm very impressed with what you've shown me.

    First, the Shuttle. I've seen the shuttle before, but that was before I decided to build this case, and after I thought about building it, I totally forgot all about the shuttle :D I'm still impressed with it, although I have no need for SLI. My last PC can support SLI, but I still haven't seen the need to add a second graphics card, and I don't think it'll ever make more sense to buy a second one down the road instead of buying a whole new one.

    As for your project, its amazing! For one, it incorporates everything I was thinking of doing for my own case. The main difference is that I will be using rivets on the frame (other than the layout). Will also be using mesh if I can source it at a reasonable price, although it'll be incorporated with the cover at specific points. Given that my layout (which I haven't yet revealed) will have 2 exhaust fans (3 including graphics card), I am going to put mesh at input points at strategic locations where I need some passive cooling (HDDs, back of m/b). These points will be either 80mm or 120mm large, and possible to put a fan on the external side (but I like a nice flush box, so I won't), and put a fan filter on to reduce dust internally.

    I was also thinking of using felt, but for a wholly different reason. I was thinking of lining every contact point between the covers and frame to reduce how much dust/sound get through. However, I'm rethinking that whole idea, since I don't think it'll make a significant difference.

    One last thing you made, which would be immensely helpful, is your track design. Nice, simple, effective. I will have to modify my own design a little to have the whole frame slide out, as opposed to just the motherboard tray (problems with cables there), as my covers might not be strong enough to support itself with my current design....

    Then again, I was going for a 2-piece removable cover. I might instead go for a whole single piece slide in cover....

    Also, thanks for that thought about cables. I did think about it, and was factored into my design from the start. I actually calculated the amount of space I had after bending the cable as far as it'll go XD. I've also opened up a PSU before, and have no qualms about cutting/soldering cut-to-fit power cables, especially if I'm going to be using my old PSU.

    WARNING: Before opening up a PSU, make sure you know exactly what you're going to do, and have all necessary precautions. That includes at the minimum protecting against shocks and a fire-extinguisher, and easy access to the main switch (when you test it, obviously shouldn't be plugged in when you're messing around with the components). I've had wires going red hot before.....

    Anyway, my main size problem is the fact that I've decided to have only 14cm of space for the PSU (just the box, cable "bend" space factored in already). A quick check showed that most PSUs are at least 15cm long.... although 14cm ones are available. Maybe this issue isn't all that glaring after all :D
  4. Technochicken

    Technochicken TechSpot Paladin Posts: 716

    Thanks for the compliments on my project.:)

    I would be careful about using rivets. During the assembly process, I had to take apart the frame a number of times, which would be a pain with rivets, since you would have to drill them out each time.

    About mesh, here is a place you can get it for a reasonable price:

    Good luck on your build- I hope to see some pictures.
  5. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9


    good point about the rivets, I didn't think it would require so many tries....

    Can I ask why you needed to take the frame apart so many times? Maybe if I can avoid the mistakes you made....
  6. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    By the way, I'd probably post up a full worklog once I actually finish the project lol. Knowing me, there's a 50% chance it'll either be a complete and utter failure, or I don't even start because I think it'll be a complete an utter failure :D

    Did I mention that I have minimum tools and no experience working with metals? I've got a drill.... and a couple of old computer cases as a work-area......

    But I've got a good feeling about this, as long as I have a reasonably good plan going I can make it work. I doubt it will come out looking very pretty, but if it looks as good as a beige box I'm happy :D
  7. Technochicken

    Technochicken TechSpot Paladin Posts: 716

    Now that I actually think about why I had to disassemble it, the only reason was to drill holes in the metal, which you will not have to do. As for the tools, all I used on the frame was a drill, a file, a hacksaw, some pliers, and a Dremel. The Dremel is not required, but it really comes in handy for small cuts and grinds.
  8. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    I was just thinking about how to make the back look kinda professional....

    Your link doesn't seem to have any pics of the back of your completed case. Do you mind posting some up here?
  9. Technochicken

    Technochicken TechSpot Paladin Posts: 716

    The case is not quite finished, and that is why there are no pictures of the back finished. This is the most complete picture I have at the moment:

    The large section on the left will be completely filled by the PSU. The top section, which still needs some filing, will be filled by the motherboard/video ports. The bottom section will probably be covered with some more aluminum mesh. And the GPU is a low profile, passively cooled 8400gs.

    The only reason I have not finished yet, is because I am still waiting for my switches to get here from Hong Kong. I'll be sure to post better pictures of the back once I finish.
  10. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9


    Looking for some nice switches myself lol. Are you going to bother putting in a HDD light?

    Also, how are you filling in the space between m/b and graphics card?
  11. Technochicken

    Technochicken TechSpot Paladin Posts: 716

    No, no lights, as they would be distracting in a dark room. And the 120mm CPU fan fills the space between the board and the graphics card almost perfectly.
  12. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    I built the cardboard model halfway, ran outta cardboard, decided I've got enough info.

    Plus I got a week off, so I'm going to start the project before I change my mind. Gonna buy some right angle aluminum pieces now, and I'll be ordering in a motherboard tray (because someone in the household decided all those spare cases were useless and threw them away :S)

    I'm still wondering if I should increase the length of my case by 1cm, so I can fit in 15cm depth PSUs.... but as it is, its LONG by comparison....
  13. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    I've changed my mind about using fibreglass, and decided to mix and match aluminum and acrylic instead....

    Now, I'm wondering what color scheme I should use.... I'm thinking dual color, with one color being black (since everything else about my setup currently is black), but I can't think what the second color should be.

    Blue seems boring, but my keyboard has blue lights.... (original 18-key G15) I won't discount blue, but I'm open to suggestions at this time....
  14. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 14,347   +3,583

    Ooooo......, Pretty........

    Due to the fact I'm an aged juvenile delinquent, and am still captivated by bright lights, I adore these red LED feet from Logisys; http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811994015 Besides, they mix well with whatever blue light that is present to a very pretty magenta.

    Oh, and spare yourself the company of fools. don't bother with the product reviews. (Even the good ones).
  15. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    Yeah, although I can't get them from newegg, I'm sure I can get them elsewhere....

    I was thinking of red/black, since I was going to put a (were)wolf theme on the case. I'll see if I can change the LEDs on my keyboard to fit XD
  16. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    I just put together the base and top of the frame.....

    I decided to double check my work, and found that I've miscalculated :S


    First, an explanation of my layout.

    Motherboard sits on the bottom/back of the case (like alot of mini-itx cases). In front of the motherboard is the PSU unit (yes, PSU sits in front). On top of this PSU is the optical drive. HDDs sit on top of the motherboard (there is space for 2 next to each other)

    Was thinking of having a power cable run from the front to the back WITHIN the case, so I don't have to plug a power cable in front. PSU will exhaust hot air via the front, and another 120mm (or 140) fan at the back right on top of the I/O ports of the motherboard.

    Cool air and come via the bottom (which will be made of perforated aluminum), and maybe the top, where a 120mm fan hole (without the fan) will be sitting, right on top of the HDDs (so the HDDs get a little cooling, or hot air can blast out, either way is fine).

    This means that the height has to be the minimum of the motherboard + HDD thickness + height of the CPU cooler. Width has to be wider than the optical drive or motherboard, whichever is wider. Depth has to be depth of PSU + motherboard + head of the power extension.

    Now for my booboo

    1. I forgot to calculate the thickness of the aluminum. At 1.5mm each piece, thats immediately at least 4.5mm gone. This wouldn't really be a problem, since I did factor in some "wiggle space", of at least 5mm. However, I calculated the thickness of the motherboard, BUT NOT the height of the LGA 1156 socket. Nor the motherboard risers. Or the space between the motherboard tray and the bottom of the case. Either way, either I add another 1.5cm to the height of the case, or I wouldn't have enough space for the HDDs.

    2. I kinda assumed that the PSU and optical drive would take up the whole of the width of the case. As this is not the case, I found some space available for 2 HDDs next to the PSU. Probably not the best place to put HDDs, but wth. I'll put some aluminum mesh bewteen the two, hopefully that'll take care of any potential magnetic forces from the PSU from screw|ng up my HDDs.

    Getting to this point has been really tough, with god knows how many hours, so I'm not going to throw in the towel so easily.

    Right now, I've got a 1mm aluminum sheet ready to be picked up from a supplier, and I'm still trying to locate some cheap hex-perforated aluminum sheet. Once I get all these together, I'll worry about power and reset switches (which would probably sit in front of the HDDs....
  17. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    Btw, trying to steal some ideas from shuttle, I found the dimensions for the shuttle mentioned earlier.

    325(L) x 208(W) x 189(H) mm

    Which makes my case at 340x230x200 mm slightly larger, despite having a smaller motherboard. The shuttle mentioned has a proprietary flex-itx motherboard. For more information, click here for the newegg link.

    Price at time of post is USD 589.99 (free shipping), which includes a 500W PSU, case, mobo and a heatsink.
  18. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    Trying to figure out something, can someone confirm for me that all SATA HDDs currently have bottom mounting holes in exactly the same place?
  19. Technochicken

    Technochicken TechSpot Paladin Posts: 716

    All the holes are in the same place. For that matter, all 3.5" HDD's, not limited to SATA, have all their mounting holes in the same places.
  20. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    I was just looking at some Toshiba specsheet, and I got really confused lol.

    Anyway, really needed to know, since I'm gonna be deciding where to place the HDDs now. Thanks

    Also, my cheapa$$ rotary tool died on me today. The guy at the store (Bunnings Vermont) wouldn't let me return/replace it because apparently I "used it too much". The warranty does mention that it doesn't cover "overuse" but the Tools manager decided that a rubbed out on-switch in 17 days constitutes overuse.... This is on top of the fact he diagnosed the problem as a faulty switch (had to hold the switch down to keep it going). Gave me some crappy excuse about needing to change his car's "brake switch" every year costing him 95 bucks from use....

    People who overuse their brakes should stay off the road I say! (I personally never even knew its possible to wear such a thing out, given I've never needed to change it)

    Anyway, I just hopped over to another Bunnings (Clayton) where the Tools manager gave it a little rattle, diagnosed the same problem, and immediately offered a replacement or store credit. Took the store credit and purchased a real Dremel instead (which cost 3x the old tool)

    Btw, its a "Ozito" branded rotary tool that died. Checked their site and I believe its available only in Australia through Bunnings, so any Aussies out there, BEWARE.

    Or at least stay away from the Vermont South Bunnings.
  21. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    Almost done with this project.

    HDDs have been placed, PSU holder has been made, the dreaded front panel has been moulded.

    Whats left now of this project is the optical drive holder, and the case would be fully functional.

    And when thats done, all I gotta do is cosmetics, which includes fan mounts, vents, painting, putting on the vinyl I already bought, and front panel.
  22. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

  23. Technochicken

    Technochicken TechSpot Paladin Posts: 716

    That's looking really good. The aluminum angle joints cut at 45 degree angles look very professional. I'm interested how you will be mounting the motherboard tray in the frame, and what the whole internal layout will look like when assembled. Also, what did you end up molding the front panel from?
  24. xietianhua001

    xietianhua001 TS Rookie

    what did you end up molding the front panel from?
  25. CMH

    CMH TechSpot Chancellor Topic Starter Posts: 2,038   +9

    I haven't finished yet with the front panel.

    Not sure if I mentioned it earlier, but I've given up on the fibreglass part of the case, and decided to use aluminum for everything. As it is, I've got a lot to learn about working with aluminum, and to learn how to work with fibreglass with it.... means more time and money, both of which are running out.

    Right now, my idea of a front panel would be something really simple: curved aluminum sides, roughly 1.5cm radius, and then the usual flat bit for the optical drive.

    However, my optical drive will end up sitting on one side, instead of smack center, due to the graphics card taking up the left side of the front panel. It doesn't come all the way to the front, but there just isn't enough space (about 7-8cm short) to fit the graphics card, and still have the optical drive centered.

    edit: the curved sides are made by wrapping/bending the sheet around a 1.5cm radius pole. Clever calculations were done to ensure that we end up with the correct width. But it still got it wrong, so clever un-bend and re-bend techniques were used. Pictures will be posted when I finish cutting the piece to size.
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