Part one of a two part article covering the design and construction of a computer case.
First, a word about my setup: I use my computer for everything. It is connected to a large screen LCD TV and I use it to watch movies and TV programs, surf the internet, email, design new things and even write these articles. So, being as versatile and central to what I'm doing, it deserves some attention once in a while. I do regular upgrades, usually every 1-3 years, depending on my requirements. I've also built several cases to hold the guts over the years, trying to come up with a better solution each time. My last case was very good - a marriage of metal and wood (exterior) but is coming up short in a couple of areas now.
Meanwhile, a few years ago, I made a 6 channel amplifier to drive active three-way speakers (details on these projects are coming...). Having finished it, I didn't have a place to put it, so I made a "temporary" stand, constructed from scraps of particle board and nailed together. I figured this would be ok until I found time to build something better...
Three years later, that rough box is still there.
The stand, in all its glory. White arrow points to my computer in its 'naked' state - outer case was removed to upgrade and never reinstalled:
A recent computer upgrade had me thinking about a new case and I got the idea that the best place for my computer is inside that stand. It might seem a little out-there, but the more I considered it, the more I liked the idea. There would be several advantages to doing it, with no real down side (that I can see).
It could be built to fit a standard sized furnace filter, to clean the incoming air. Among the usual maintenance routines for my computer is to take it out to my shop and blow the ~1lb of dust out of it. This could be avoided if all of the incoming air was filtered first.
Also, there would be ample space to add components (like hard drives) and everything could be organized for better cooling and access. I like the dual purpose idea of using one thing for two tasks - a computer hiding in a table!
Some well spent time with SketchUp, to get the basic shape down and work out the details. This is the front view:
The square in the front panel is a door that opens to access the power switch, DVD drive and a card reader / USB port. Having these things hidden away cleans up the unit and since I rarely switch the computer off or use the DVD drive, it isn't an inconvenience.
The rear side:
The back panel has the regular computer outputs and a 140mm fan. The fan blows out, pulling air into the case through the filter, which slides in at the bottom.
The top is removable, for easy access:
This shows how the DVD drive is vertically installed at the back of the front panel. I did it this way to reduce the amount of space it takes up inside the case. The card reader is mounted in the same way, except at the bottom.
There is a hard drive rack mounted on the left side wall:
It has space for six drives. I figure this is the maximum I will ever need. The power supply is mounted to a shelf near the back panel. It will pull clean air from the inside of the case (unlike most, that pull air directly from outside the case). This will keep it dust-free as well.
Here's a cut-away, showing some of the details:
The furnace filter fits in a slot created by cleats that circle the bottom of the case. Cool, fresh air enters the case at the bottom.
The first thing I did after coming up with the concept was go shopping for a filter. The size would need to be standard, so that it could be easily replaced. I found this one, a 16" x 20" x 1" thick:
Good quality. About $17, but a small price to pay for keeping the inside of the case free from dust.
In the name of efficiency and economy, I used an old ATX computer case to salvage the motherboard tray and part of the back panel:
This is much easier than trying to mount the motherboard to homemade parts.
Also in the name of economy, I'm using more scrap material. Here are the four sides of the case:
This is 1/2" thick particle board, left over from some other project.
The box is built using butt joints and 1-1/4" nails, with polyurethane construction adhesive as glue. My old steel square (rusty, but still deadly square) says the box is true:
Glued butt joints are more than strong enough for this. Not much sense spending time on superior joinery if it isn't needed. This case will sit there, unmoving and there's nothing to be gained by making it bomb proof.
To wrap the top, I cut rabbets into 3/4" thick plywood:
The corners are mitered. This trim stiffens the top of the side panels, covers the edge of the particle board and provides a recess for the removable top. They are glued and nailed in place.
With the case flipped over, I can install the cleats that hold the filter:
These are 3/4" x 5/8" spruce, glued and nailed in place.
With the filter in:
This is a lot of surface area and I expect these filters will easily last a year or more before they should be changed.