Despite recommending and reviewing several high-end cases for clients and friends, I have never really invested a lot of money or time in my own personal case. It has been several years since I even had something resembling a case. Keeping up to date with case developments, the one case that I really liked was a Lian-Li full tower cases, but at R6,000 it was a tad bit heavy for the wallet. My argument was that a second graphics card (for similar cost) would do a lot more for my gaming than a new case. That was when I decided screw this, why not design and build something myself.
The following is a summary of my current rigs transformation from this:
Some of these components are a bit out dated, but this is what is currently (2011/12) making up my gaming rig. I will be happy to accept donations or sponsorships of any kind to upgrade my rig…
Motherboard = Asus Rampage 3 Extreme
Memory: 6GB Corsair Dominator 1600MHz
PSU: Corsair 1000HX
CPU: Socket 1366, i7-950, Stock speed / or overclocked
CPU Cooler: Corsair H70 water cooler
GPU: Asus GTX580, DirectCU II edition, Stock speed / or overclocked
SAS Controller: Adaptec 6405
SAS Expander: Intel 6 Bay hot swap SAS Expander (AXX6DRV3DEXP)
Game Drives: 6 x VelociRaptor, 150GB, 10,000 RPM
Game Array: RAID 5, Read = 400MB/s, Write = 400MB/s
OS Drives: 2 x OCZ Vertex 3, 60GB
OS Array: RAID 0, Read ~ 800MB/s+, Write ~ 400MB/s+
System fans: 6 x Coolermaster 120mm fans
System fan controller: Zalman ZM-MFC1 plus
Optical Drive: LG DVD re-writer
Headset: Corsair H1
Keyboard: Logitech G19
Mouse: Logitech G5
Mouse pad: Roccat Taito
Monitor: Samsung T260
Case: Custom build, solid mahogany full tower case
The case design
The design of the case was with the following in mind:
• The design should be suitable to host any future upgrade I may consider, at least for the next 5 years.
• It need to fit underneath my desk, but should not look out of place if I decide to put it next to my monitor.
• The design should be capable to mount dual socket server boards such as the EVGA-SR2 board.
• The space and cooling should be sufficient if I ever decide to mount two CPU’s.
• I would also like to be able to mount dual water coolers, such as the H100.
• A positive air pressure is required inside the case for dust removal.
• I do not want any fans or metal protruding from the front, sides or top. This is the reason why the power button is located on the back of the computer.
• I want to have the Optical drives open up on the side of the case, not the front as is the norm.
With the above in mind, my final dimensions for the case are:
Height = 650mm
Width = 330mm
Depth = 580mm,
With the maximum size motherboard that I can mount being:
Height = 388mm
Width = 528mm
Putting that motherboard tray dimensions in perspective, an ATX motherboard measures:
Height = 305mm
Width = 244mm
While an HTPX (i.e. an SR2) measures
Height = 345.44mm
Width = 425.4mm
In other words, I can mount any motherboard on the market and still have room to spare, into that case. The picture below demonstrate an XL-ATX board, the Rampage 3 Extreme which is about an inch wider than normal ATX boards.
The case allows six 2.5” drives, which just slide into precision cut grooves out of a mahogany board.
Despite precision cutting, 2.5” drives are not all the same thickness. The groove was made using a 3/8” router bit. This produces a cut that is 9.525mm in size. The thickness of 2.5” drives varies between 7mm and 15mm. The way to get around the varying sizes is to simply increase the thickness of the drive using a very small strip of insolation tape where it slides into the groove, which means it is not visible at all. Doing that has the added benefit of protecting the SSD from any scratches made from the wood as well. The thicker 15mm drives are more focused on large capacities, which could be mounted in the 3.5” bays if needed.
The case has two 5.25” bays, one dedicated to the optical drive, while the second is for the fan controller. All my 3.5” hard drives are installed into an Intel six bay SAS expander requiring two SAS connectors from the Adaptec 6405 RAID controller.
Note the dedicated 120mm fan located underneath the SAS Enclosure.
Air flow is taken care of by four bottom mounted low revolution 120mm Coolermaster fans with dust filters installed, an exhaust 120mm fan, and a dedicated 120mm fan for the SAS enclosure thus making up 6 additional case fans.
The H70, is mounted as an exhaust fan despite what the manual say. Therefore, I have four intake fans, and three exhaust fans. (Remember the H70 uses two 120mm fans). The picture below have the right side door slightly opened.
Note the red power button between the PSU and the exhaust fan, it is surprisingly how well the power button works when it is located there. Those astute readers amongst you will notice the lack of a reset button. A reset button should only be use when a system hangs or crashes, which generally points to unstable hardware / software. When you have an unstable system, I will suggest you get that fixed, any event, doing a cold reboot is sometimes more dangerous than switching the PC off, wait a couple of seconds, and then switch it back on.
The long slot located below the standard PCI slots is the slot used for the removable dust filters.
The cavity between the motherboard tray and the side panel has 55mm space available. A 3.5” hard drive requires 26mm, which means I can install several more hard drives behind the motherboard tray if I need to. This large cavity enables one to keep the front cables tidy, unfortunately due to the length of standard cables, I was unable to keep the cabling between the motherboard tray and the side panel very neat.
The business end of the cable management is performed by making special cut outs in the motherboard tray. Should I ever install an SR2 type motherboard, new slots could just be cut into the motherboard tray. Most standard ATX boards will use the same spacing as what I’ve allowed for.
You have to admit, individually sleeved cables just looks much better.
I originally envisage that all the panels will be solid mahogany, but after seeing the case taking shape, and the insides of the case looking so good I decided that it would be a crime to hide that workmanship behind another solid panel. As such, the left hand side of the case is covered with a piece of 5mm acrylic plastic which have a slot cut out for the DVD writer and the fan controller. The right hand panel though is still from solid mahogany.
Using all this wood does increase the weight of the case, which is why you can see some small 30mm casters in some of the photos.
The front, top, right side panel, and certain key pieces inside the case is made from a darker Mahogany, the heartwood, whereas the back panel, and the motherboard tray is made from slightly lighter colour, being the sap-wood. I like the different colours especially since it is the same wood. Over time, the wood will darken, but the back will always be that tad bit lighter.
I used a round-over router bit on all the edges to smooth it over. The case was sanded down with 120 grit sand paper and then 240 grit. You do not want the wood to get too smooth at this stage of the process or else the oil will not take so well. I applied several coats of Danish Oil, and cut it with 0000 grade steel wool between each coat. Apart from the cutting of the oil, I also sanded the case down again after each layer, first with 400grit, 600grit, 800grit, 1000grit, and finally 1500grit paper. The case is smooth as glass now with a very low sheen. Unfortunately, using oil, I will need to reapply the oil every other week or so for the next month, thereafter, about every month or so, and finally, only once every 6 months to ensure that this case will last me a long time.
I have allowed the wood to move as time goes by. As such, you will observe that most of the joints are dry joints, i.e. no glue, and that I have undercut most of the pieces between 0.5mm and 1.5mm just to allow the wood some breathing space. I will observe the characteristics of the wood as time goes by and will make my next case using joints that are more traditional such as dovetail joints. As this is my first proper wooden mod, I am already planning the next and have taken away the following lessons from this one.
- Spend extra time to ensure that the stock is square and flat (which is the reason I’ve invested in a thickness planer during this build)
- Rethink the position of the H70, the current position doesn’t allow a lot of space above the I/O back plate
- Rotate the back panel, especially the PCI slots, so that the grain runs horizontally, a vertical cut that fine has a tendency to split.
- Buy 120mm fans that has a rounded corner, or else grind the corners till they fit in the cut outs, don’t try to adjust the hole since all brands of fans are different.
- Make extensions for all the motherboard cables
- Make the fan controller easier accessible
- Increase the length of the PCI spacer inside the motherboard tray
Actual PC build
Building the computer into this case was a dream of some sorts, sometimes a nightmare, and other times a pleasure. Several of the things that I have incorporated into the case should in my view be standard in any premade case, such as cable management solutions, the side mounted PSU, side mounted optical drives. Dual 120mm exhaust fans, and smarter HDD solutions.
The large motherboard tray made it very simple to mount the board. The one criticism that I have with the case is the H70 need more space between the I/O back plate and the motherboard, not that it will hamper any installation, but it is a bit inconvenient to work in that area. The lack of decent length tubes on the H70 makes installation in any other area very tricky so for the next case, I will need to rethink its final position. Perhaps move it higher, or further away from the case, alternatively, just get another cooler.
When I started with this built, several people warned me about heat etc. I can clearly state that the airflow in the case works great, the dust filters are doing their job, and the fans are barely audible.
I enjoyed this build, the case and get great joy each time I reach behind the back to switch the pc on, mark my words, one day more PC’s will have their power on buttons located out of sight … I suppose the real test will be if I am still using this case by 2017, all indications for now is that I will indeed.