Vanilla IsBoring

By Team Digit | Published 01 Nov 2005 17:44 IST
Vanilla IsBoring
Vanilla IsBoring
What is the first thing that grabs your attention when you look at a computer? The monitor that looks and behaves very much like its idiot sibling, or the bulky, staid-looking cabinet that is ugly and unaesthetic?

Most would be attracted to the monitor. If it's a flat screen LCD, you might have to wipe some drool off the computer desk. Yes, even older people find it difficult to control that aspect of instant infatuation. But the solid cabinet that houses all the essential parts of the machine will be treated as a non-existent piece of hardware-its bulk notwithstanding.

A few companies do try to jazz up the cabinet by adding a few extra LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) in the front and on the sides, or a few extra fans on the side to give it a supposed "space age" feel. But that's just about as far as it goes. None of the cabinets available in the market will actually grab your attention. At best, you'd have a choice of a black over the normal white ones.

But there are a bunch of people out there who want to customise every single aspect of their machine. Though small, this tribe is near fanatical in their approach and goes to great lengths to modify (or mod) their PCs.

For the uninitiated, to mod a PC means customising the cabinet or case. This could be as simple as adding a few extra LEDs along the sides of your PC case to more complex things like cutting a window into the side, adding fans, UV tubes, and in extreme cases, water cooling your PC and redoing your mouse and keyboard.

Working with tools such as glass and metal cutters, acrylic paints, LEDs and soldering tools, these guys take great pleasure in ripping apart the cabinet and adding their extra two bits, anything to have their own signature style.

One such mod warrior is Nimish Thacker. This 24-year-old engineering graduate has always been fascinated by the thought of customising his PC cabinet. "An article that appeared in Digit back in 2002 is what enthused me to give modding some serious thought," says Nimish.

The thought stuck and Nimish was soon hunting around for the tools that would make his cabinet stand out. He points out that computer cases are the most neglected component of a new buy. "This trend is prevalent especially amongst the first timers. The general concept is to buy the cheapest, decent looking cabinet and save money for the rest of the hardware," he adds.

Mod Star
So what is the first thing that a wannabe Mod Star needs to keep in mind? Nimish has a few tips: "First, you need to make sure that the cabinet should be spacious and well built. A spacious cabinet means there will be ample air flow and a sturdy one will lend itself to be cut and drilled."

Whoa, did someone talk about cutting and drilling? Who would take a whirring blade close to their precious motherboard? Well it's not as difficult and macabre as it sounds. As Nimish puts it, all you need is some creativity, freakish experimental streak (things do go a little awry sometimes) and a small bit of moolah to stock up all the standard equipment you'd need.

Tools like a soldering iron, cutting blades and sandpaper can be bought from any hardware shop. Cutting tools like a circular rotating blade are slightly more expensive. Most modders like Nimish swear by Dremel. This North American manufacturer churns out some of the best cutting tools.

Equipment List
Equipment  Cost (Rs) 
Soldering iron with solder  250 
Dremel  1600 
Blades  20 
Diamond blade      50
Sanding paper      20
LEDs  3-5 for white and blue LEDs 
LED lighting tube   
800
UV lighting tube   
1000
General Purpose PCB      8
Can of acrylic paint      250 (depending on the colour) 
Acrylic sheet for window  30 for each 

Other necessary equipment for any mod such as PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards), LEDs and can be bought from any electrical store. The most common LEDs are the red ones but if you want your case to be cool then you can get either blue or white ones. These however come at a premium. In case your case design requires an LED tube then you've got to be ready to shell out a lot more.

Putting the tools to work, Nimish went ahead and modified his new PC case.

Adding a transparent window by cutting out the sides of your case is perhaps one of the most common methods used by first time modders. "My case mod consists of a custom LED lighting with switching panel that switches between white and blue lighting. It also has two exhaust fans at the back and the top and two intake fans over the heatsink," claims Nimish.

He found the experience very enriching, and doing bits of designing and modding after a hectic work day and in between gym sessions didn't deter him. "This is what I like. The picture of a modded case with a window at the side is what got me going. I started making a design and also surfed the Net for a little bit of research," says Nimesh. To top up the experience of doing something different, Nimish recorded every modding session on a forum, he also managed to take pictures using his mobile phone and post them on the forum. 

One common problem faced by modders is that tinkering around with the case disrupts the airflow in the cabinet. This results in overheating and we all know what happens when our machines decide to toast! The art, according to Nimish, is to place your fans at strategic points, "I have an exhaust placed at the top of my cabinet. This has improved the heat dissipation from my system and it now runs at a range of 34-36 degree Celsius."

With all the designing and sweating, Nimish is now the proud owner and creator of his own customised PC cabinet. The most logical development from this would be to start off a case modding business. So does Nimish have any such ideas?

Well not as yet. "As of this case mod I think I'm done. My next mod will include a white cabinet and UV lighting options along with cable wraps.
Another project that I'm mulling over is a custom Linux box for routing and data centre purposes. This is where I could make some money. However, for implementing this, I would need substantial funds. Part of the plan is mount a 7-inch touch-screen for the monitor and interface it with the parallel port. The system will be administered remotely. So as of now, I'm currently working on the newer designs and also on ways to generate funds for the Linux project," says Nimish.

With ever-increasing awareness about computers and with people ready to explore their creativity beyond the normal canvas, case modding might move away from being just a hobby for a few geeks to a proper art from.

Interesting Links 
Here are a few links that Nimish         www.xoxide.com
suggests for fellow Digit readers        www.x-trememodz.com
interested in case modding:               www.case-mod.com
How to mod a case                             Cool Case Mods
http://snipurl.com/iqyz                     Hypercube: http://snipurl.com/iqz0
PC and Mod Tools                              Black Mesa Half Life 2:
www.crazypc.com                              http://members.home.nl/gis/
www.pcsforeveryone.com                   Doom3 Mars City
www.pctoys.com                                 http://snipurl.com/iqz1

Moreover, as a cabinet occupies the prime place on your desk, it makes sense to have your signature on it. A PC is after all a 'Personal' Computer.


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