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How To Mod a Case

by David Ross on 31 August 2001, 00:00


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How To Mod a Case

How to Go About Modding a Case........
When will they learn? Why is that practically all case manufacturers insist on producing housings that are uglier than a Taiwanese lady-boy after a heavy night on the town..............? I can accept that a lot of these find their way into work places but still............I mean its not like every car manufacturer produces white cars is it? What ever happened to variety is the spice of life? Its true that on cost grounds a beige case is the best but I'm sure that many consumers wouldn't mind paying a little extra for the choice of something a bit more vibrant or at least a little different in the colour department.

The problem isn't just the off beige colour though its also the fact that in this crazy time of ever increasing clock speeds machines are becoming hotter and hotter which tends to hamper the possibility of squeezing those extra few Hz out of our chips when overclocking them. Most cases do very little to alleviate this and those that do often only provide a minimal, non-ideal solution in the form of one or two fan mounting spaces (often without the fans themselves).

I bought a GlobalWin 802 from OcUK back at the beginning of the year and after perusing the VH case galleries 'till the wee hours and staring at my sorry looking case I decided it was time to do something about both these flaws and so embarked on a mission...................a mission for classy looks, a practical way to move it (being as I'm student it gets shifted a lot) and above all some way of keeping those temperatures nice and low.

To begin with I wasn't sure what exactly I wanted to do so I looked around at loads of case galleries and modding sites in general to get some ideas as well as learning more about how to actually go about carrying out the individual bits. A good idea is to have a rough plan of what you want to achieve be it cooling or just good looks and then to browse away until you see something you like that satisfies that or to even think up something new if you're feeling imaginative. You can then use this as the basis of your mods. A word of warning though - there are a heck of a lot of possibilities out there and its all too easy to take on too much at once, try and keep a realistic picture of how you're going to achieve it and what the finished case will be like, if you're anything like me the last thing you want is to end up with a case that looks over-worked or just plain ugly.

Personally I started out by looking at case windows but came to the conclusion that it wouldn't offer the cooling I wanted unless I had fans mounted in it plus I didn't think they looked that good, instead I chose to go for a clean symmetric layout of a lot of fans. After some careful measurements (depth as well as width and height) I found I could just squeeze four 120mm fans on the side in a square plus one on the top between the PSU and DVD drive, there was also enough room for a 92mm fan above the drive itself. I also found a pair of really nice handles from West Hyde which I felt would look great so had that in mind for fixing at either end on the top. By this stage I was happy with the functional side of the mods and so moved on to the aesthetics, more specifically the colour scheme. By chance at around this point I visited Faraday Cases for the first time and stumbled across a gorgeous looking anodised Lian Li by Stiltner that was royal blue on the outside with gold inside and decided that would look great, especially with the silver fan grills and handles. The last major thing I decided on was the addition of some switches in order to control the fans and also some lighting which I planned to add later. This would give me the flexibility of having either a cold case or a quiet one depending on what I wanted it for, I settled on the idea of having two switches for fan control and one for the lighting. By now I had a plan of what I wanted the final case to look like which, in my humble opinion, is essential before actually carrying anything out.

Once you know what you want to do its time to start thinking about how you can achieve it, this very much depends on what it is you're doing and the tools you have. At the time I was living in University halls and so had very little space and no tools available, it was because of this that I chose to use the UKs only modding company Cool Case Mods for the hole cutting and the painting itself. This is cheating somewhat but I was more interested in having a top notch paint job (which I was looking to have done by a car body shop anyway) and not having to wait a month or two longer to be able to do it myself. Of course for those of you in a more suitable environment could easily do this yourself if you're willing to put the time in, I wont try to cover the specifics here as there are numerous guides out there by people with more experience than myself that offer much more detail and tips. Needless to say if you use you common sense and are careful you shouldn't have too many problems.

Anyway I collected a variety of pictures in order to specify exactly the color I was after and then set about marking up the case for them so as to make sure it was right. This again is essential when doing it yourself in order to get things lined up correctly and also in the right place. To do this I used a ruler, a dark pencil and a fan grill to be able to mark both the main hole as well as the fixing points, I didn't just judge the position however, I measured the distances from the edge of whichever panel I was working on and made sure it was constant to ensure a straight fixing. Again common sense and attention to detail makes this relatively easy. The only thing I would mention is to be aware that most panels have to slide on and therefore need a certain clearance distance to be careful of when seeing whether it will fit. The only other thing I asked them to do was to cut the metal away from the intake and exhausts of the regular fan fixings to improve the airflow and also to paint the fascias of the drive covers/blanking plates to give a uniform look. So off went the case..............

Meanwhile I was thinking about the materials I would need in order to implement the switches, to change the boring green and red LEDs to funky blue ones and finally to have some more general lighting in the case. For the switches I felt I wanted the possibility of altering which fans were attached to which switch so decided to have a terminal molex connector which they could plug into instead of straight wiring to the fans, this would also allow me to get the side off without having wires trailing everywhere. For this I bought some 4pin molex splitters which I could hack up. The rest of the bits I bought from Maplins which included the snap in switches, blue LEDS (hi bright 3mm and 5mm), some wire, heatshrink tubing to cover the joins and finally some zip-ties to tidy it up. The only other things I needed were a soldering iron, solder and some 470ohm resistors. The latter of which I got from a friend who works in the Physics Department but you may be able to find some in a local store and are necessary if you intend to have LEDs attached directly to the PSU.

A week or so later the case arrived back much as I had hoped and I fitted the fans to their positions. This included using some rubber grommets to reduce the fan vibrations and theoretically the noise they make. The next step was the electronics, I started by replacing the standard case LEDs (the ones which plug into the motherboard) which is simply a matter of cutting the old ones off and soldering the new ones on as they often have much the same voltage tolerances. One thing to watch out for however is the polarity of the legs you attaching, make sure the positive and negatives are the same as on those you removed (black wire is usually ground/negative and the coloured one positive). As for the LED the positive is the longer leg and the diagonal filament inside goes from negative to positive as the line goes from the bottom to top (relative to the legs pointing down), there is also often a flat edge next to the negative leg. Don't worry if they are the wrong way round - it wont kill the LED it just wont work you simply need to swap it round! Connecting LEDs directly to a molex connector is much the same except you need to solder a resistor into the circuit somewhere otherwise you'll blow the filament because the voltage is too high. The final electronic part was the switches, to do this I cut the 12v (yellow) line of the splitter and soldered one end to one of the switch contacts and the other end to the other contact, its that easy!! To do the LED indicator for the switch solder some wire to the LED legs then attach the negative to one of the black (negative) lines of the splitter and the positive to the switch contact FURTHEST from the PSU i.e.. follow the power from the unit and make sure its attached AFTER the break otherwise you'll have shorted it and it will be on all the time!!! Simply repeat this for each switch then plug whatever you want into the molex. There actually weren't enough LED holes in the case for me to have three switch indicators, a HD activity light and the main power LED so I bored a hole in the center of the reset switch and relocated a 3mm LED there for the power on light which worked out quite well in the end.

To finish the case off I replaced the north bridge HS and fan with a blorb and put some heatspreaders on the RAM as well to allow a slightly higher overclock. I also decided to improvise a bit with the main HS by making a chute out of card to direct the rear 80mm Delta (which is actually sucking in) over the HS fins, there is also a 60mm Delta aiding this from the other side. These are attached to one of the switches so if I want it quiet I can have just the stock Taisol fan running but can also have the option of having them all on for reduced temperatures. The second switch controls the five 120mm fans and also the 92mm, the final switch is for lighting and turns on a neon tube inside as well as some LEDs behind the plastic front to give the case a general blue glow in the dark.

The very last thing I did was to tidy the cables up as much as possible, keep the IDE ones nice and flat and zip-tie any others together as this can improve airflow through the case (and also looks better).

You may be wondering why? or is it worth it? Having now finished the case and being able to compare the before and after the reasoning becomes self explanatory to me - I now have something that not only can I be proud of but in fact has become a focal point of my room!! As to its worth......well that's down to personal opinion really. It certainly wasn't cheap getting the holes and paint done plus the finish is far from blemish free but using CCM served me well at the time and are certainly useful for those in difficult circumstances. However there is a large saving to be had by doing it yourself with some very impressive designs being achieve at minimal cost.

So that was how I went about modifying my case, nothing too life changing and on the whole relatively simple to do. Its not difficult to improve or individualise your case even a small amount, all you need is the confidence to do it and a bit of spare time. It needn't be expensive either - changing you LEDs would cost less than a fiver so there really is no reason not to have a go.........