My Experiments with Case Modding

Introduction

Case modification is all the rage these days. Until only a couple of years ago, only the truly hardcore would endeavor in case modification; if not for bragging rights, then for added overclocking functionality. Before then, those who wanted to modify their cases did it themselves, and very rarely would you find case modification parts in mainstream stores. Nowadays, drop by a CompUSA store and you will find an aisle dedicated to modified computer cases, lighted fans, and other case modification accessories. So what drove case modification into the mainstream? One possible reason could be the increased desire for one to personalize his own computer, to separate it from everyone else’s. Another could be that people became tired of the plain old beige-colored box sitting on their desk and wanted something a bit more lively. These reasons, in addition to being able to look inside my computer, were my own reasons for experimenting with case modding.

Case Windows

If you ever want to catch my attention, wave a motherboard in my face, because I love looking and marveling at computer components and electronics. Thus, when I learned of the “case window”, I wanted one of my own. A case window is literally a window in the side of a computer case. It allows you to peer inside your computer and, like myself, marvel at the components inside. Of course, if you are a patron of LAN parties, it also allows you to show off all your latest top of the line components to your friends. Finally, since a case window offers a view into the case, one can add features like lighted fans, cold-cathode lighting, or neon lights that will project lights and colors out of the case, therefore adding a further touch of aestheticism.

Most case windows today come in two varieties: do-it-yourself and prefabricated (as shown above). The do-it-yourself version requires you to measure and cut a hole in the side of your case, apply a molding, and then insert a piece of plexiglass, glass, or clear plastic into the hole to be your window. Prefabricated is of course the type that is manufactured at the factory and is a feature of the case. The first method requires a bit of work, because you must use tools to cut the metal side-panel of your case. If you are not careful, you could end up damaging the panel or even cutting yourself. The second method is a little more costly because the window is pre-made and you have to buy a completely new case. There is also another method, a combination of the two, which is to send your panel to a company that will do the modification for you. Depending on how you ship and the company, this method could conceivably cost a bundle as well as take a while to complete. Because I lack the necessary tools as well as the necessary budget to modify my own side-panel, I decided to try my own version of a side window modification.

My own side window “modification” technically was not a modification at all, but rather a side-panel replacement. Instead of modifying my existing side-panel, I would replace it completely with a piece of glass. I had some initial difficulties with this modification because I lacked planning and did not have an understanding of the properties of glass. Ultimately, the mod was successful and I was able to learn a few lessons from it. Here, then, is the story of my experiment with a case window.

My Own Case Window

Having read about and seen so many examples of case windows online and at stores, I decided that I wanted one of my own. As mentioned before, I did not wish to spend a great deal of money, nor do the modification myself. Buying a new case with a case window was not feasible. Thinking deeply, I recalled that there was a discount glass store nearby, and I realized that I could purchase a custom cut piece of glass, fit it onto my case, and finally have my own case window with a minimal amount of money spent and without using power tools. I began to draft my plan.

Because the original metal panel of my case had an opening for a case fan (see below), I wanted my glass panel to have an opening for a case fan as well. Therefore, I did some measuring and calculating and came up with a plan (see below) to have the fan opening in the lower right corner of the panel, and use that opening as an intake for cooler air. Unfortunately, my plan was overambitious as I did not realize that drilling and cutting glass non-linearly requires a highly skilled and precise hand. When I brought my plans to the discount glass store, the manager informed me that they could not produce a piece of glass to my specifications. He suggested that I try another, more expensive, glass store nearby. Following his advice, I submitted my plans to the other store. The estimate shocked me. The price of producing a piece of glass to my exact specifications would be $95. With that amount, I could buy a new aluminum case with a side window, and not even need to make my own! Thus, I learned my first lesson: glass is not easily drilled or cut in a circle. So much for having a fan opening in my new glass panel.

Now, all I needed was a regular rectangular piece of glass, and the discount glass store happily provided me with one. The exact measurements of this piece of glass were 16 and 11/16 inches long, 15 and 9/16 inches wide, and 1/8 inch thick. After the craftsman spent less than ten minutes measuring, cutting, and polishing the piece of glass, I rushed home to fit it onto my case. A perfect fit! The only thing left to do was to find a way to mount the glass onto the case. Unfortunately, a means of mounting the glass was not part of my planning, and I would soon learn another lesson.

Broken Glass

Since I do some mild overclocking on my computer, my case is equipped with several case fans that draw in and exhaust air. Because I have more exhaust fans than intake fans, the air pressure causes the case to act like a vacuum cleaner. That is, any holes, openings, or vents in the case will suck air in. When I first mounted my new glass side panel, the case fans were running, and so the panel seemed to “stick” to the case without any additional adhesive. I was quite satisfied with the results and left the piece of glass “stuck” to my case so I could pat myself on the back for such a great idea. When I turned off the computer, however, the air pressure inside the case and in the room equalized, negating the vacuum effect and causing my brand new glass panel to crash onto my desk and shatter into several pieces. Lesson learned: never leave a piece of glass unattended!

I embarrassingly returned to the glass store to purchase another piece of glass. After hearing my story, the owner took pity on me and charged only $5. This time, the first thing I did was to mount the new panel with mounting tape. I lined the entire perimeter of the case with the tape, and then mounted the panel. To make a long story short, lining the entire perimeter was a mistake. The mounting tape was too strong, and I could no longer remove the glass panel by hand, and I had a cold cathode light on its way! It was time to make another mistake: attempt to pry off the piece of glass with a flat blade screwdriver. The second I applied a little pressure, the glass cracked. I returned once again to the glass store, and the manager concurred that glass is very sensitive to sharp, pointy metallic objects. Lesson #3, and another $5 lesson: glass and metal don’t mix.

Determined not to make the same mistake thrice, I thought about how I could mount the window but still be able to open and close it to access the innards of my case. I went to my local hardware store for ideas, and found a set of hinges that would work. I could mount the window on three hinges, use a small piece of mounting tape as a “lock,” and still be able to open and close my case for maintenance and upgrades. The hinges were also bronze colored, matching the fan grille of my power supply (see above). Perfect! Lastly, I purchased some black felt pads that I would cut into strips and use to cushion the glass from the metal and prevent any vibrations or damage (remember lesson #3).

Success

My new glass case window was finally nearing completion. I installed all the parts, and the window was now fully functional. I opened and closed it a few times, and then I turned on the cold cathode light. Simply beautiful! For less than $20 and without any tools, I achieved an effect similar to the ones you see at CompUSA. If not for my lack of planning, I would have completed the project in less time and with less money. Here is the theoretical cost breakdown:

Glass: $8
Hinges: $3.24
Felt: $5.40
Mounting Tape: $3.24
Total: $19.88

And you get to keep the remainder of the mounting tape, too!

Air Vents

Computers these days run hotter than ever before, and additional cooling and ventilation is always beneficial. A good way to add additional vents to your computer is to drill rows of holes in unused drive bay covers. To obtain neat, straight, and level rows (unlike my bottom-most 5.25″ cover), use a pencil and ruler to divide the length of the cover into equal parts, then repeat for the width of the cover, thereby creating a grid of intersecting lines. Drill holes at the intersections and then erase the pencil marks with an eraser, re-install the cover, and you will have added some additional airflow to your computer.

Air Ducting – A Failed Experiment

I had read about homemade air ducting as well as seen ducting used in retail computer systems, and thought I’d try it myself. The theory is that without ducting, hot air that is a byproduct of CPU cooling is re-circulated inside the case. If said air could be directed outside the case, then the air required to cool the CPU would be drawn from vents and intake fans, and not from re-circulated hot air. Therefore, the duct would have the requirement of fitting tightly onto both the CPU fan and the output, with no hot air escaping back into the case. In my case, the output would be the rear case fan outlet with no fan attached, because for one, I did not have another fan with the exact specifications of my CPU fan, and for two, because stacking fans doesn’t necessarily create more airflow. The material I used for the ducting was aluminum foil.

In order to fit aluminum foil onto the fan outlet, I needed something there for the foil to hold onto, since the outlet is a flat piece of metal with holes in it. My solution: removing the mechanical parts of an old power supply fan. In this case, any 80mm fan can be used, but since the fan will be taken apart, a cheap fan might be more appropriate. Once I had this piece, I proceeded to wrap aluminum foil around the “fan bracket” to form a duct, and then I screwed the bracket onto the outlet just as I would a case fan. Because the CPU fan is at a right angle to this outlet, I also had to partially cut out one side of the duct, so that when I curved the duct to fit onto the CPU fan, there would not be too much foil sticking out and touching the motherboard and possibly causing a short circuit. Finally, I curved the duct towards the CPU fan and crimped the foil around the edges to make it airtight. I had finished my new CPU air expulsion duct.

The results: increased CPU temperature and increased case temperature. Placing my hand at the duct outlet, I could feel that the air was hotter than anything I had ever felt coming out of a computer air vent. This meant that the duct was working as it should, as it was moving used CPU cooling air to the outside. So why the temperature increases? I have a few theories. First, computer cooling is not simply a matter of temperatures. Forced air cooling is dependent on the constant movement of air, and the duct reduced the amount of air moving through the case. Second, the duct concentrated warm air inside itself, air that normally would be distributed throughout the entire case (remember, air is always moving inside a case). Third, the duct was comprised of aluminum, a relatively efficient material for transferring heat (most heat sinks are made with aluminum). Because of the concentrated hot air, and because of the duct material being aluminum, the duct acted like a heater inside of the case, causing both CPU and case temperature to rise higher. That is my unproven theory, and although the duct failed to lower temperatures, I did learn a bit about computer cooling.

Spare Parts and Conclusion

If you have spare parts lying around, you might want to use them to modify your case. As mentioned before, I drilled holes in my drive covers to act as vents. Since I currently do not have any drives in my bottom two 5.25-inch drive bays, I mounted a spare fan with (what else?) mounting tape to blow air into the case while drawing air through the vents (above left). As for the fan part I ripped out from its bracket, I again used mounting tape to mount it on top of another CPU heat sink to blow air onto the sink (above right). It works quite well, and is quiet to boot.

Well, there you have it. My experiments with case modding. I hope you found these pages entertaining, informative, and useful, and were able to gain some inspiration for some case modifications of your own. Have fun, and thank you for reading!

Bonus – More Pictures!

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