Monday, 21 September 2009

Ammo Case HTPC Mod

I've always wanted to build my own custom PC case.
Ever since I randomly stumbled upon the website I got hooked. I saw all of the mods that other people submitted over the years and I wanted to build my own. I specially liked the army themed ones such as the Ammo Box and the AmmoLAN. I had an ammo box lying around that I used to house all of my audio cds. It was about time it got a new purpose.

The new system would act as a Home Theater PC (HTPC) and keep company to my new 32" Full HD TV. For that it would have to be powerful enough to play Blue-ray and some video games. I read some positive reviews on the new Zotac ION ITX-A, plus it has an external brick-type UPS for space economy and less heat.

Featuring the Intel Atom 330 and the Nvidia GeForce 9300, they say zotac Ion is up to the task, and pretty friendly to the pocket.

So the configuration goes like that:

Main Components
Zotac Ion ITX-A -------------------------->175 euros (Delivery costs included)
Sony AD-7670S Slim DVD --------------->46 euros
Seagate Barracuda 320GB ---------------->39 euros
Kingston PC6400 800Mhz 2GB ---------->27 euros
Trust Wireless Keyboard & Mouse -->27 euros

Bits & Pieces
2x light bulbs ------------------------> 2 euros
Valdal-proof Switch ---------------->7.40 euros
Key-switch -------------------------> 4 euros
2x Flip toggle switches -------------> 2 euros
Tiny reset switch ------------------->0.60 euros
Cables ----------------------------->0.15 euros
2x 40mm Fan Guards ------------->1.2 euros
80mm Fan Guard ----------------->2 euros
4x M3 Stand-offs ----------------->1 euro
mini-sata to sata cable ------------->5 euros
HDMI v3 Gold cable -------------->7 euros

Solder Iron ------------------>8 euros
Solder Flux ------------------>1.6 euros
Hot Glue Gun --------------->3.50 euros
Masking Tape--------------->1 euro
Dremel-Type Rotary tool --->30 euros
Set of Dremel bits ----------> 7 euros

I started by measuring the mobo and the ammo case. It seems it could fit. the height of the mobo matches exactly the height of the box. 17cm. It's gonna be a close fit. I made a paper mock-ups to arrange all the parts inside the box and figure out where to put each part.

Next step was to plug everything, cross my fingers and hope that everything works out of the box. A very critical step to the overall success.

And yes it works just fine. Notice that the original plan was to include a full-sized DVD drive. More on that later.
Here is the ammo box in it's original un-modded beauty.

On the side it's marked: "Fuze PD M557 Boostered" and on the top: "Explosives Class C" a little bit of googling revealed that it's purpose was to store fuses for 105mm artillery rounds.
In the past, (Before 9-11) I had a lot of fun at airports with this thing as carry-on baggage. The stares I would get from security staff...

Now lets get that dremel working. For the ports on the back, I didn't want to use the I/O shield that most of mods use because it would look too much like a PC. I just cut enough steel for the ports to slip through.
The I/O shield came handy to mark the spot for cutting.

Here's my workshop setup. I got exiled by my GF to the balcony so I wouldn't mess up the house with steel trimmings. That was a BAD idea. More on that later.

I started off by cutting the front handle. It was the first time I was handling a dremel tool so I needed the practice. The front handle was totally useless and it was making a clinking noise when moving the case around, plus I needed the space, so it had to go.
The carbon cutting disk cut it like butter.

Largo from Megatokyo webcomic says that you have to hack naked so who am I to defy him?
I also own (or should I say p0wN) this awesome t-shirt

Here are the first holes my dremel skillz are improving really slowly.

Now for some soldering skills. Again, It's my first time with a  soldering iron. I needed to wire fans, Switches, and status leds. Starting from the fans, the system is ment for my bedroom so it has to be extra silent. It will also be permanently on, so good air flow is a must too. At first I thought of putting 40mm fans. 2 on the back and 2 on the lid.
The disadvantage of 40mm fans over bigger ones is that they produce more noise, so instead of 2 + 2, I used one 80mm on the back, blowing air in, and two 40mm on the top, blowing hot air out.

I don't have a multimeter and don't even know how to use one, so a peek under the label reveals the polarity. (At the time I didn't think about cables color coding)

So as you probably suspected, the red wire is the positive, and the black is negative or ground. The blue one is the RPM sensor that I don't need it at the moment, so off it goes. All 3 fans are 12v and they have the small 3 pin connector. The one that connects to the motherboard so that the system controls the RPMs. Off with those too. Now... where to solder them? The sata power molex is basically the same as the standard molex. yellow is +12V, red is +5V, and the 2 black cables are ground.

At first I connected all of the fans in series, but that didn't work very well as the voltage was reduced with each device I added. Makes sense to those who actually paid attention in physics class.
So I de-soldered everything and connected them in parallel.
I then wired 2 flip-switches to kill the power to the inbound or outbound airflow individually.

Everyday I could only cut for 4 hours from 5pm to 9pm so I wouldn't annoy the neighbors with all the noise. Add to that the much needed planning time, and it took me weeks to cut and sand everything.

Next stage was to cut 3 blow holes. I started with the 80mm one on the back.
The hole saws were too expensive so I had to do it with the dremel.
I masked the area with masking tape to protect it from random "oops" slip-offs. (I learn from my mistakes)

I started by drilling guide holes with the drill, and then worked my way circularly with the dremel and carbon cutting disk. The steel was thick and the job took me quite a while to finish.

Next was the lid 40mm holes. That was a royal pain in the 4$$ ! ! !
The steel on the lid was double! I don't mean just thicker, it actually consists of 2 steel plates. That made it super tough to carve a proper smooth circle. I should have bought the hole saws after all.

The rubber molding covers perfectly the imperfections. I had to force the 2 metal plates together with a pair of pliers otherwise it wouldn't fit.

Here you can see the HDD mounted on the side, the holes for status LEDs, flip switches, reset switch and the rubber molding DVD slot. The batteries are hot-glued to the bottom. I needed some way to line up the drive with the slot because of bad measuring. Also I had to place the DVD-drive upside-down because its right side corner would touch the motherboard. Amazingly it works even upside-down.

Everything plugged-in. The motherboard upper side sits just on the edge of the box. They have the exact same height of 17cm. It was a gamble but it fits. I tried to manage the cable-spaghetti a bit to get better airflow and that's the best I could do. It's breezy in there.
That was the point where I got so excited with the project that I forgot to take pictures of the process.

When I trie dto close the lid I realized that the lid hits the motherboard screws and stops it from closing. I remedied it with a little bit dremeling.

I wanted to mount the mobo, HDD, DVD and fans with M3 screws so I cut them to appropriate lengths. I later found out that M3 doesn't work with internal components. It's a good thing I had a bunch of spare screws from random PCs. I used the M3 screws and M3 nylon nuts to mount the fans. It was very had to keep the nut in place while screwing. (This doesn't sound right...)

I hot-glued most of the cables to tide them up and improve the air-flow. That's the top fans connected and ready to go.

Perfect fit for the wifi antenna. I've got some regular sized antennas that I could use, but I'm planning on installing a huge one just to get the military-specs style

I added a key switch. I order to power-on the PC, you have to turn the key to on, and then push the start switch. The key disables the power switch by opening the circuit. I wanted to imitate the 2 key-safety feature of nuclear weapons. If the key-switch is off, you can't power-off the system either.

Close-up view of one of the top fans with its fan guard.

Rear view

Fron view. In that hole you can see the reset switch. I put it there to avoid accidental resets. On the left we got the fan flip-switches, and on the right the HDD activity status and power-on status. I used 3v light bulbs instead of LEDs to give a more old-school look. When inserting a disk you have to remember to put it upside-down

I wanted to mount a regular sized DVD drive vertically, but unfortunately it didn't fit, and it wouldn't look good anyway with a tray protruding even with the bezel removed. So I opted for the much more expensive slimline slot drive. I was hoping to cut a thin line on the front of the case to eject the DVDs and stealth the drive behind it. Turns out dremel tools aren't that precise. At least not in my hands. The line ended up being quite thick so I had to resolve to rubber molding around the edges to make the slot appear thinner, and protect DVDs from getting scratched.

I then bought a cheap PC remote control from ebay for basic control while laying lazingly on the bed. It is an HTPC after all.

Some close-up details

And finally the finished product

I also added XBMC to enhance the home theater experience. Works like a charm.

Why it's a bad idea to cut steel on the balcony:
All the metal trimings that graciously lie on the balcony floor, once they get wet from the rain, they start to rust. And boy do they rust FAST. I got rust everywhere on the floor and the GF went mental so I had to scrub and scrub with acid solution.
Next time I'll do it in the basement and vacuum the place real good.

Feel free to leave comments negative or positive, or suggestions.


Darwin Survivor said...

You might want to swap those battery-spacers out for something else. I have seen old batteries leak (strong acid) when stored unused for long periods of time.

Rodney said...

Just wondering how that power supply was working for you. Does it seem to be enough power? Build looks great been thinking of doing something like this myself. Any info on that MOBO Power supply setup would be great.

chiefcrash said...


John said...

did you use rubber mounts for the HDD to keep noise down - is there any HDD noise?

chris said...

That, sir, is a fantastic job!

... how do I order one :)

Ilias Theodoropoulos said...

@Darwin: The batteries are covered by hot glue which should slow-down the leaking, and secondly I'm planning to replace the DVD-drive with a blue-ray once their price drops so I'll get rid of the batteries too.

@Rodney: The PSU works just fine with 3 fans, 1 HDD and 1 DVD-drive. The mobo has very very low energy consumption so I bet you could add even more devices.

@John: No rubber mounts. The lid has a water-proof rubber seal, so hardly any sound gets out. If I switch-off the top fans, It's totally silent. (Ninja style)

@chris:I'm thinking of opening my own PC shop someday and if I do I'll sell case mods as well.
Thank you all for your comments!

Yongyuth said...

Excellent, I learn from your guild, It's work, man, Cheer !!