Extreme Mods

Published Date
22 - Sep - 2009
| Last Updated
22 - Sep - 2009
 
Extreme Mods

Digit created a monster!
Digit Created a monster
 

It was a day like any other, and that’s where the problem began. I was bored out of my skull. Same old chair, booth, meeting room, canteen food, you name it... I’ve been here long enough to be considered furniture. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but it’s the surroundings that never seem to change. I asked my CEO if he’d considered re-modelling the office; the reply was loud guffaws, very similar to what I heard when I asked for an Alienware rig. Oh well, it was worth a shot.

As usual, I used the lunch break to bitch to my colleagues about how boring everything was.
A few pats on the back, the occasional jibe and comments about mid-career crises later, I wasn’t feeling any better. I had to do something different.

While surfing, I came across some extreme case mods online, and lo, a voice said unto me, go forth and mod. I gathered the troops, told them my plan, and... well, apparently, we geeks bore easily, so I had volunteers crawling out of the woodwork.
 

What Should We do?

Someone asked that. There was silence. Here we were, a group of men (all little boys at heart) aching to start cutting up something, but with no plan in mind. “If we do a case mod, it has to be something practical, something of purpose,” said Robert. “It better be for an article,” said Deepak (Ed). “Let’s use your new LCD,” said Nimish. Nooo, anything but that! My new 17- inch LCD was my latest office gizmo, and I had just fallen in love with it.

After a day of fighting over the details, here’s the logic that emerged: We figured that a lot of people will be buying LCDs, or have already bought one. They probably have an old CRT lying around, or will want to sell it for a pittance. So we dediced to use an old CRT monitor and our New LCD and do our bit of geek stuff.

Usually, case modding is considered the gamer’s realm, or at least an area where only people with money to blow dare tread. We decided we wanted to break this myth, and do a case mod that would cost as little as possible— something that anyone with a few basic tools and the will to use them could achieve. We decided, with vehement arguments from me, to use my system, LCD and all, for the case mod.

The system is an old AMD 64 3200 on an MSI RS480M2 with 1 GB DDR 400 and 80 GB Seagate Barracuda SATA hard disk. My new monitor was a Samsung 740N 17-inch LCD, and I still had my non-functional Samsung 793s CRT lying about.

Our first thought was to build the world’s first AMD-Mac—something that looked like the older CRT-based Macs, but would run Windows and be AMD-based. A lot of disapproving noises by both Apple fans and those well-versed with legal issues put an end to that thought. The idea stuck though, and we decided we wanted to build a complete system into the CRT monitor casing, using the LCD as the display.

The idea is simple: instead of replacing the CRT on your desk with an LCD, make the CRT casing the entire computer... In what follows, we will help you do this at home.
 

Stuff You Need

All we could find when rummaging through the office supplies were one metal file, a very flimsy hacksaw, a soldering iron, a screwdriver set, a Swiss army knife, a hand drill, and tonnes of nuts and bolts. We decided to use only these implements, because you should have all this at home, and we wanted to keep this strictly low-budget.

Apart from this, you will need a CRT, preferably non-functional. You can always approach your local computer hardware store and ask him to get you an old 17-inch CRT casing. We enquired, and you can get one for anywhere between Rs 200 and 600, depending on the condition of the case.

You will also need an LCD (duh!), your existing PC (which you should completely dismantle before beginning) and a lot of free time and energy.
 

Breaking It Down

Nimish was the one who volunteered to do all the muscle work (I always knew he was just a destructive little boy at heart), while I was made “Project Manager” by Ed. You have to love all the corporate speak, which means all I am doing is writing this, overseeing the minions team, tch-tch-ing away to glory and barking orders! Now this is the life... the ultimate cure for office boredom.

First things first: we had to dismantle the CRT. If you’re doing this at home, do so carefully, because CRTs are filled (or is that emptied?) with vacuum. A little heavy jolt or dropping it will result in a rather nasty implosion. The boys dismantled the CRT in the presence of Ajay, our much-hated systems admin—getting hardware out of him is like attaining Nirvana. Very many opened screws later, we picked out the CRT and handed it over to Ajay. Now we finally had what we wanted—the CRT case.

Next, my pretty new LCD had its stand removed. And we found that a 17-inch LCD (non-wide) fits pretty well into a 17-inch flat CRT casing. Just a little cutting and filing required (none by me).

Apparently, a 17-inch CRT has a circuit board holder identical in size to an ATX-size motherboard!

All we needed to do was cut the metal container a little on one end to make the back of the motherboard accessible.

We had to get rid of some of the CRT case’s internal side supports to get the LCD to fit well.
We used the soldering iron to melt these away. It’s not pretty, because it leaves little uneven melted masses, but it does reach those corners easily, and cuts through the plastic casing like butter.

Once we had the LCD seated, it was time to find out just how much screen area was being cut off by the CRT bezel in the front. We found that a good half an inch on all sides was un-viewable, so we drew a few lines and went at it with our little flimsy saw. If you’re doing this at home, make sure you don’t cut too much off, because you’ll never be able to compensate for that. Nimish was a little over-enthusiastic in the beginning, and hacked a little too much away from the top. Our advice: be conservative. It’s a lot easier to file a little more of the plastic away than worry about how to cover up faults later.

We had already decided we didn’t want the LCD’s bezel to be visible, as that would spoil the effect of making our mod look almost like a plain old CRT. We cut it accordingly.
This took a whole day to complete, what with all the precise measurements and loads of conservative filing and cutting, after the initial mistakes.

If you’re doing this alone, it could take considerably longer.

After all this was done, we needed to find a way to fasten the LCD securely in place to the front panel of the CRT case. It’s easy to go out and buy something that will do this, but we were determined to use only what we had. Luckily, the old CRT had earthing that ran around the back of the tube, and also acted as a rope that held it in place.

Since it was made for this case, it fit perfectly. It even came with a spring, so you can pull it as tight as you require. We screwed in four screws at each corner and literally tied the LCD to the front panel.

Our very next challenge was to make the LCD’s controls accessible. Our CRT had its buttons on the right, while the LCD had it’s buttons on the front. Quite a dilemma! We then decided that we could use the little holes of the CRT’s buttons as front panel USB and audio, and decided to just cut away the CRT’s plastic bezel to reveal the LCD’s controls. If you’re lucky enough to have both an LCD and a CRT with approximately the same button placement, you can rig the same holes in the CRT’s casing to be used.

We put the power/reset and HDD/power LEDs on the other end. Just a little cutting and melting with a soldering iron is required to achieve this.

This completed the front panel, which now held the LCD monitor, front panel audio and USB, and the power switches.
 

Component Input Time

The next thing we had to do was fit the motherboard into where the CRT’s circuit board once was. Now the problem with the circuit board’s holder was that it’s made of metal.

One very important thing to remember when fixing your motherboard into a case-modded system is insulation. Never seat your motherboard flush against a metal back. If you look carefully into your cabinet, you will see that the motherboard actually sits a little higher than the back on which it rests. This is done using little elevated screws, which prevent any of the soldered- on contacts behind the motherboard from touching the metal. All it takes is two contacts to touch some metal, and then you power up your computer, hear a terrible pop sound, smell something burning and realise that it’s time to buy a new board—and maybe even a new CPU and RAM as well, if you’re unlucky enough. So, remember, you’ve been warned!

We found that none of the screw holes made for the circuit board lined up with those of the motherboard. Oh well, can’t win everything. We used the hand-drill to drill a few holes into the metal board holder, and pinched a few of those elevated screws from our cabinet and then screwed the motherboard in. We were satisfied that it was well held in place—which, incidentally, isn’t too much of a worry, because in a CRT, the board sits parallel to the table, unlike in most cabinets, where the motherboard is fixed vertically.

Next, we took the motherboard out again, used generous amounts of cellophane tape (you should use insulation tape) to cover any areas that the board seems to be touching the metal and checked by frequently seating and unseating the motherboard. Once we were satisfied that there was no way we’d fry the motherboard by turning it on, we prepared to cut away some parts of the metal holder to allow access to the inputs that are behind the motherboard.
Once the motherboard was seated, we attached the metal board holder back to the CRT’s front casing. Now all we had left was the back casing to take care of.
 

Back Breaking

The back half of the casing is where we planned to house the power supply, the hard disk and the DVD-Writer. Our biggest worry thus far had been where we’d seat the DVD-Writer, and to be honest, we were stumped. One very good suggestion we got along the way was to buy a laptop DVD-Writer, remove the casing, and then fix it to the front panel of the CRT casing. Though this would work well, and look a lot better than any of the other options we had, we decided against it because we had started this mod on the premise that this would be the cheapest case mod ever.

If you’re OK with spending a few extra bucks, and want to try this at home, you should seriously consider buying a laptop optical drive, and integrating it into the front casing of the CRT.

These drives are really thin, and will fit well into the space between the LCD and the CRT bezel.
Besides, the finished product will look a lot better than what we ended up with.

Since we insisted on using our favourite Plextor DVD-Writer, we had no choice but to attach it to the top of the CRT case. This means our mod looks like a CRT monitor with an optical drive lying on top of it, but at least we didn’t spend any extra money!

In order to fix the optical drive to the case, we would have to drill holes, but how? Luckily we had a cabinet with a vertical holder for optical drives. We detached this and used it to mark our holes. At home, if you don’t have access to this, you will have to very carefully pencil the outline of the drive onto the case, and then use precise measurements to mark the holes. You should also check each hole as soon as you make it, so that you can correct it immediately, or compensate accordingly.

We just used the soldering iron to make the holes—it’s just the easiest way. You can just knock off all the little extra bits of melted plastic using your screwdriver, and find that you have a very neat hole. The one thing you need to remember is that the optical drive needs power and an IDE cable coming to it. Because we decided to place the drive on top, we had to make an opening to get power and IDE cables out to the drive. We did this using the soldering iron and the file.
Once that was done, we then looked for space to put the power supply. The little extra bulge that the CRT case has on the back is perfect. It’s far enough away from the processor and RAM to allow decent cooling and airflow. We suggest you attach it as high up as you can to get as much distance between the motherboard and power supply as possible. This is exactly what we did.

With the power supply, it’s not as easy as drilling a few holes, because you also have the fan and connectors to account for. This means that you’re basically going to have to make a rather large opening behind the CRT case, and you cannot use a saw. First things first: we drilled the holes for the screws. Mark them carefully as instructed before, and then check them thoroughly.
Once done, you know that those screw holes have to be there and well-supported, because they will bear the load of the power supply.

What we did was roughly mark out an opening in pencil (conservative estimate again), making sure to stay as far away from the screw holes as possible. We then used the soldering iron to melt away the plastic along the line we had marked. Once we had our opening, we kept using the power supply as a reference (attaching and detaching it), and marking new lines and curves that were needed to free access to the connectors and the fan. Then we just used the metal file to shape the plastic, filing it down carefully till we were satisfied. A very common mistake people will make at home is just assuming that the power supply has its screw holes symmetrically placed. This isn’t true: if you look at the power supply behind your cabinet, you will see that the screws are asymmetric. So be very careful and precise when marking these screw holes.

Next, it was the hard drive’s turn. This was the simplest bit of the mod, because we had already decided to attach it to the side of the CRT case. Most CRTs have a lot of ventilation holes on their sides, and we used these to screw the hard disk into place. Because we wanted to give it some distance from the motherboard, we did make two holes (again, with the soldering iron) and attached it to the inside of the case.

Finally, we had to shape the back of the CRT case to accommodate the back of the motherboard.

This we did using the file, and though it was a laborious job, it was much neater in the end. We also had to make an opening for the LCD’s power and display cables, which need to come out of the case and connect from the outside.

These cables are what make the mod look ugly, but it cannot be helped. Let us know if you have suggestions. If you have a graphics card, however, you can reduce one cable by connecting the card to the LCD internally itself, but will still have the power cable sticking out.

Once this was done, we connected everything up—power, SATA, IDE, etc., and prayed that we wouldn’t hear anything blow. We didn’t, thankfully.

There we had it, a case mod that literally cost us nothing but beads of sweat and a drop of blood or two (no tears; we’re men here). It’s easily achievable, and you can start building one tomorrow.
 

To The Extreme

A day after we were done, some of the designers dropped by to look at our proud feat. Now designers are a hard bunch to please, and the looks they were giving our mod said it all. “Give it to us for a few days...” said Pradip. “...With permission to do as we please,” continued Vijay.

Now obviously, the designers were willing to spend a little money to beautify the mod, so there went our whole “almost free” concept. They did promise to keep it as cheap as possible though.
For those of you at home who fancy yourself as artists, you can do something along the lines of what our designers cooked up. This is where things go into extreme case modding territory, and though not necessary, it does add that extra something that you can show off to your friends.
The design guys decided to use clay and Plaster of Paris (PoP) to build a monster PC—literally. After drawing up some sketches—a very important step if you want to do something like this—they began their work. Amrut, one of our photographers, volunteered to lend us a hand (literally) and we used his hands to make the casts for the hands that you will see in the finished product. He also has some experience working with sun-board—used to build props—so he offered to pretty up the bezel.

First the guys put Amrut’s hands in a clay cast, in the desired position. Once it was hardened, they removed it and then used that cast to create another hand made of PoP. The trick is to oil the surface of the clay cast and then add the PoP. Once it’s all hardened, you have to carefully break away the clay to get at the completed hand.

For the head of our monster, they decided to camouflage that “ugly looking DVD drive” and also include the webcam that we had as its eye.

Now there is no cast being used here, just the skill of a designer like Pradip. If you’re doing this at home, make sure you can draw straight, or get one of your artist friends to help you out. After doing the necessary sketches, Pradip began sculpting the head. He used PoP to make the head and made the lower jaw separately, and then fixed it together.

The CRT case we had used was also painted to give it a mouldy, moss-covered look. The guys used spray paint for this.

Once everything was done, the hands and head were also painted. They were then attached in place using screws and more PoP.

In just four days (with five people working on it), we had our very own monster PC. At least for this month, we took care of our collective boredom. To be honest, I can’t wait to see what our boredom drives us to do next month. Overall a very interesting five days, and the best bit is that because my office computer was used for the mod, I get to keep this monster PC as my own!

 

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Agent 001Agent 001

I have a keyboard and I'm not afraid to use it, because I have a license to quill.