The primary purpose of the Borg modifications was to explore and compare some case mod techniques, including window cutting, light kits and water cooling. These procedures are fairly basic in terms of modifying or altering a plain vanilla computer case. If you ignore the glued-on toy and printer parts, no significant changes were made to the chassis or to its overall construction.

After the Borg assimilation project, I started thinking about various other case modification designs that might be fun to do. I think that some of the more interesting computer "mods" are ones that result in a chassis that no longer looks like a computer case. This does not mean that you have to build a case from scratch, or that you need extensive experience in sheet metal forming, fiberglass, or plastic work (although it never hurts if you do have such hobby experience). Instead, consider how you could stylize a case using some simple craft techniques such as with foam, hot glue, or paper-maché. Keep in mind that any project you come up with needs to work within the environmental requirements of the computer system. You will need to keep air vents unblocked to maintain a cool environment for the system. You need to consider ways to make your design modular or at least give you a way to access the inside of the case, not just for maintenance, but to be able to install components.

One thing I like about water cooling is that the resulting system is very quiet, even if you aren’t trying to overclock or improve cooling of the CPU, video, motherboard chipset or hard drives. For this case mod project, I could probably get away with standard air-cooling, and it might even be slightly quieter because I will end up building a secondary shell around the existing case. But I really like the dramatic noise reduction I found from the water cooling setup, so I will be installing a water system, once again based on Danger Den components.

Raidmax "Virgo" ATX case
Raidmax "Virgo" ATX case

For this project, I chose the Raidmax "Virgo" ATX case which has both a front and rear 120mm fan and was wide enough to hold one of the smaller radiators "sideways." My first step was to remove parts that will not be used, including the plastic front bezel and the side window. This case design does not involve windows and fancy internal lighting this time, so the side case window and fan are removed and replaced with a solid panel. A piece of thin sheet steel is cut to fit the window opening and attached with sheet metal screws. I will be mounting two radiators inside the case, one will fit in the front air-intake area, so the 3.5" drive bay assembly had to be removed. After drilling out the pop-rivets and then using a diagonal grinder, I removed the lower portion of this assembly. Folding the sides over to form a bottom plate, I reattached the top two-bay section with sheet metal screws. I was disappointed to find that a second radiator was too large to fit inside the case where the rear fan is located, so I mounted it to the top of the case between the power supply and the optical drive. Once drive bay modifications were complete, I mounted the optical and floppy drive, but covered them with paper and masking tape to keep dust, metal filings, and other craft-related debris away from their openings.

To position and drill holes for the top radiator, I took a 120mm fan and scanned it at 600 dpi, then adjusted the gamma until I could easily identify the mounting-hole positions. While I had the image in the photo editing software, I added white circles in the center of the mounting holes, and drew two diagonal lines between the corners to identify the approximate center point of the fan. After straightening and trimming the image, the result was a ready made pattern to print out for a drill-hole template. Using a small drill bit, I made starter holes at each corner of the fan, and one in the center. A 120mm fan has a blade opening of almost exactly 4.5" across; a general purpose wood and metal hole saw from the local hardware store cuts a very neat, clean, centered opening. Use a half-round file to remove metal burrs from the inside of the opening so you don't get sliced up on sharp edges.

Template
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Starter Holes
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Drilling the Hole
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Finished Hole
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Print the fan picture actual size to create a template. Drill starter holes for the mounting screws and to center the hole saw. Use a 4.5" hole saw to cut a nice neat fan opening. File the sharp edges and vacuum out all the metal dust.
Fan Hole Cutting Tip:
To mount a fan in a case where you have to cut new holes, scan or make a photocopy of the fan as a template for positioning and drilling the mounting holes. You can use all-purpose or metal hole-saws available from your local hardware store to cut the large opening for air flow. A 120mm fan needs about a 4.5" air hole, and a 3" hole-saw is just about perfect for an 80mm fan. Use a sheet metal deburring tool or a half-round metal file to remove sharp edges left from the cutting process. Mounting a fan grill or filter over the hole keeps fingers away from any sharp edges as well as out of the moving fan blades. A copy of my 120mm fan template is available as a JPEG or PDF. To print this at the correct scale, set your printer page setup for 600 DPI (or so that the image size is about 4.75 inches across on the page). For the PDF file, make sure to set the page scaling to "none."

Right-angle brackets were anchored to the side panels and front of the case body with rivets. Panels of PVC plastic were then riveted to the brackets with a section of piano hinge. The hinge creates an adjustable angle between the base and the sides of the case and allows a way to gain access into the cavity to insert air filter material, lights or switches as needed. Two sheet metal screws anchor the top of the plastic sheet to the side panels of the case; and I used small magnets to anchor the front panel. To allow air flow into the front and sides of the case, I used some pierced sheet metal and pop-riveted it to the brackets and unused hinge holes along the bottom edges. This is done in sections so either of the case side panels can be removed for interior access.

Piano Hinges
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Aluminum Mesh
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Front Panel
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A piano hinge is riveted to brackets and positioned on the side panels of the case. Brackets are then riveted in place. Pierced aluminum sheet is trimmed and riveted through holes in the brackets and hinge sections. Two small magnets are hot-glued to the inside of the front panel to hold the front section closed.

For the top of the case, I used pop-rivets to anchor a thin PVC plastic sheet in a curved shell, leaving the back open to vent hot air from the top fan. Over this I formed a piece of steel hardware cloth, folding the edges under. Two pieces of adhesive-backed Velcro hold the hardware cloth to the plastic shell. Coating the back of the Velcro with hot glue anchors it firmly to the wire mesh. Once the foundation was complete, all of the components were installed in the case, along with the CPU cooling block, and the radiators and pump were attached to the case. Hoses were cut to move water from the radiator to the CPU block, from the block to the pump to the hard drive cooler, and then into the radiators again. While almost any order could have been used, this flow should move the cooled water from the radiator across the CPU first, before being pushed on to the hard drives and back into the radiators. A fill-port reservoir was attached outside on the rear of the case, and the hose tied in just before the pump intake. I connected a drain hose to the lower radiator hose using a "Y" adapter with part of an aquarium hose valve for easy draining of the system. After adding some water and anti-freeze coolant to the reservoir, I used an external power supply to run the pump to check for leaks and to remove as much air from the system as possible.


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PVC sheet is riveted to the top edge of the case; steel hardware cloth forms a removable shell. The rear of the curved opening allows hot air from the top radiator to escape. The motherboard, drives, and other components along with the radiators and pump are installed. Coolant hose is measured and cut to fit between the various connection ports and a fill port reservoir and drain hose are attached.

The Quetzal case modification is not an experiment or designed to enhance a system, unless you count the thermal and sound insulating effects of the foam and additional layers of the shell. The idea for this project is one of an "arts and crafts" approach to computer case modding, and to point out that you do not need to go all "high-tech" or have extensive experience building computers to do your own case mod. The reasons for modifying a computer case only need to be your own.

Why choose the Raidmax case for this project when I have stripped off or covered up most of the features? The main reason was because of my component selections and my choice to water-cool the case. I could not fit the two Danger Den radiators inside of several other cases I checked out before starting the project. To mount the radiators inside the case, it had to be at least a certain width; several of the cases I examined did not have the extra clearance. Of the ones that did, almost every one had a 120mm fan mounted in the rear of the case as well as the front. I had to have a minimum number of drive bays to mount dual SATA drives in the Danger Den HDD water cooling kit, and still be able to have the top drive bay available for the DVD drive. None of the cases I examined could handle a radiator mounted to the rear 120mm fan either inside, where it was blocked by card slots or system board components, or outside, where it overlapped the rear I/O connections or video slot. For the top-mount radiator, there had to be a minimum clearance between the power supply and the front drive bay where the DVD drive is mounted.

Last month, I outlined the process I used for modifying the side panels, adding a top air duct, and adding a hinged front panel. A metal mesh "hardware cloth" screen was bent to fit over the top of the case, and held in place with a strip of Velcro tape; hot glue over the back of the sticky side of the Velcro tape anchors it firmly to the screen. I covered the inside of the screen around the Velcro with duct tape. The tape creates a barrier when I hot glue foam to the outside of the screen, and at the same time anchors the hot glue through the mesh. I use single-edge razor blades to cut long strips of closed-cell packing foam. Hot glue is run along the sides and the foam is then positioned in place. I'm using up some dark pink hot glue as well as some clear. The darker color is low-temp, and does not melt the foam like high-temp glue does. Once a solid shell of foam is constructed, I can then start to carve away the edges and shape the foam into the final form. Fine detail is not important, since I will be covering the foam with a layer of paper mache.

Pieces of packing foam are hot glued to the mesh. Duct tape keeps the back side clean and smooth.
Openings can be left in the foam, as long as the surface can still provide support for the shell. This is the slippery "plastic" foam that does not soak up water easily.
For paper mache to stick to the foam, the surface must be rough. Any shiny, slick, exposed surfaces are shaved with a razor blade to expose the open cells.
Once the general shape is "roughed" out, start carving with razor blades or hobby knives. Save the larger scraps of foam to fill holes or add detail.
Smaller pieces were cut and glued edge-to-edge to form the radiating "feathers" of the mane.

Borders cut from a thin Styrofoam sheet are glued to the side and front panels. A row of "steps" help disguise the combo flash card reader and floppy drive that extends through the front panel. The DVD drive is located inside the mouth. To create a surface that the paper mache will adhere to, a thin cardboard sheet is hot glued over the Styrofoam.

The time to think about any lighting effects, switches, or other connectors you want to make available through the modified shell is during its rough construction. If you wait to run wires after you start finishing the surface, you may have problems getting the wires concealed or run where you want them to come out. The best solution is to plan wire runs while you are still gluing the foam or add tubing or channels to run wires. For the power switch and reset switch, remember that you do not need to limit yourself to the momentary contact switch buttons that came with the case. As long as your switch is "off" in its normal position, you can use it as a replacement for the typical computer buttons. Playing around with some different styles of buttons, I decided on using a set of generic square-keyboard button style switches, and then hot-glued some additional key caps to the front panel to repeat the pattern. To make the switch caps all the same color, and to fit in with the new case style, the caps have been touched up with a little acrylic paint.

Pictured are an LED-lighted pushbutton, the original front panel buttons from the RaidMax case, a keyboard style switch, and a doorbell switch. Any of these could be used to power-on or reset the computer.

I am using a commercial paper mache product called Celluclay, which is available in a grey (unbleached) or white (bleached) from most hobby and craft stores. To color or tint the material, add some tempera paint to the mixing water. Add the paint and water mixture first then add additional water while mixing until you achieve your desired clay-like consistency. Work the material to break up any lumps or dry spots, and then start spreading small amounts over the foam. Try to keep the thickness down to a quarter inch or less to improve drying. At this thickness, the material should dry almost completely overnight, and be ready for another coat the next day. You can store any mixed Celluclay you have left over in a zip-lock bag for perhaps a day or two, after that you risk it getting moldy. You can build the material up slightly thicker for shaping or work detail into it using standard plastic, wood, or metal clay sculpting tools. Dip them in water and then wipe with a paper towel to remove any mache that dries out on the surface. Once the material is dry, you can drill, carve, sand and paint the surface.

Water-based tempera paint can be added to the water to color-tint the mixture. You can easily paint the paper mache when dry, but this way the color goes clear through, and not just on the surface where cracks or scrapes could show.
Spread the paper mache mixture over the surface of the foam in a thin layer, working it into the cracks and surface of the foam.
The foam head and base are completely covered with the tinted Celluclay mixture and allowed to dry. A thin coating of un-tinted Celluclay whitens the teeth.
Glyphs for the side panels of the case are formed from more Celluclay on a sheet of plastic. Once dry, these will be hot glued to the sides of the case. (These are tinted with brown to vary from the grey of the panels.)

After gluing the glyphs onto the side panels, I installed some LED lighting and effects, and then sealed the paper mache shell with a coat of epoxy. Several coats of spray-on clear coat might work as well, but the epoxy adds some additional rigidity to the surface and binds everything together. (Scrubbing it with a steel brush restores some of the matte finish.) Two large red LEDs are installed in the eyes to signal hard drive activity. Inside the mouth, I installed a single red LED Meteor Light kit that had been removed from its plastic tube and reconfigured into three side-by-side segments. The control circuit for the mouth light and the wiring for the eye lights are embedded in the back side of the head, with a removable cable running into the case for power and the HDD pin connection. Inside the bottom of the side panels, I mounted two of the red LED Meteor Lights with their connections extending out the rear of the panels to connect to a second control circuit. Mutant Mods Red Meteor Light Kits are case lighting kits that use low-voltage LED lights (12 in a tube) with a electronic controller that can generate multiple lighting effects such as sequential fading or blinking.

After all that, here is the final product:

System Configuration:
Case: Raidmax VIRGO ATX Case with 420W Power Supply
Danger Den cooling components:

  1. Black Ice Xflow Xtreme Radiator
  2. Copper TDX Socket 775 Water Block
  3. Aqua Drive-2 Hard Drive Cooler
  4. D5 12V Water Pump
  5. 10-Foot PrimoFlex Red UV Tubing
  6. Adjustable Hose Clamp
  7. Polypropylene Y Fitting
  8. Red Cooling System Fillport
  9. Fillport Reservoir