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 Post subject: array of custom mini itx cases
PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2009 6:15 pm 
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update 18/10/11 : aluminium, versions 1 & 2

aluminium v1

With low profile sandy bridge motherboards now available I was tempted to ressurect my netbook project only this time it would be more capable, featuring a proper desktop cpu. Since the beggining I had thought about building a the case out of metal, most likely aluminium. Now I always put it off, because it would be costly and extremely time consuming, requiring a greater amount of accuracy in the design. Plastic made a great starting material, being almost disposable and easy to work with. An error in design was almost inconsequential while a mistake when building out of metal would have a significant cost in both time and money.

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It still remained at the back of my head as an ultimate goal. Besides, after two versions (plastic and wooden) most of the bugs were ironed out so the design phase shouldn`t be so hard. Eventually, I managed to justify the cost of the endeavor and a metalic version started shortly after the wooden one. Most of the parts were built for me in aluminium, the rest were hand built in plastic. If we ignore the plastics, the process was simple: the parts were modelled in 3d, exported to the right format and sent to the factory. External parts are anodized aluminium, plain brushed aluminium will do for the rest. It`s mostly a copy of the original design, adapted to the new material as I didn`t want to introduce new bugs (in spite of this, some bugs made it and I had to resort to hand built replacements). So far it has been tested with the Intel D945GSEJT and a slim 100x100x13mm fan but there`s enough room for the intel stock cooler plus a regular 25mm fan (stock fan removed).

These pictures should help you get a better understanding of how it`s set up. The underside you see here was intended for a D945GSEJT build so I still need to change the fan location to match the typical mini itx SB board.

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Wooden version juxtaposed to fill in the blanks:

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Aluminium v2

Here it took it up a notch, making room for a discreet dual slot gpu and a 1u power supply, along with a couple of 2.5 inch drives. The dimensions are 26x26x13cm, it was about as small as I could go and still get a servicable gaming pc. This is not necessarilly the sweet spot though, I would certainly consider using a more common sfx/tfx power supply and making more room for custom gpu ventilation. The form factor is somewhat influenced by the mini towers/desktops of some time ago. My goal was to make something with attractive proporsions which would also make efficient use of available space. One problem with the shoebox form factor is the large footprint. A Silverstone Sg07 on my desk would be problematic and after extensive use, I find the mini tower form factor less obtrusive.

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Currently configured with a socket 1156 dual core pentium and a hd4670 gpu. The power supply is a 250 watt flex atx Seasonic. While I could have fitted a more powerful video card, I didin`t really need to. With a more powerful card, a blower style cooler will most likely become necessary. I wouldn`t want the gpu cooler exhausting back into such a small case. The power supply could also become a limitation. It can provide around 210 watts @ 12v. A gtx 460 got me pretty close to this figure in games and exceeded it in furmark , so I settled for a 4670 I had around. As it is, it`s pretty quiet as I can get away with setting the case fans to 5 volts. Even the power supply fan is fairly quiet if a little buzzy, running more slowly than expected. There`s no denying though, that to get the most out of it, I`ll need a slightly more powerful power supply, and a 28mm gpu with a blower cooler.

The case fans might seem like an odd choice. I was looking to minimize the width of the case providing just enough room to fit a full height video card. The largest fan that I could fit was 7cm wide. Fortunaly, it seems I have overcome the largest problem with using small size fans: ball bearings. This one claims to sport an FDB, in practice it is perfectly smooth at all speeds, a welcome break from the usuall buzzy small fan. They are loud-ish at maximum speed but at the same time, the noise character is very benign almost pleasing. Inside the case, things get worse as expected but noise levels drop very quickly when lowering voltage. In my environment they become inaudible at around 7-8 volts, which is more than enough in the current setup.

Finally, some more up to date shots of the wooden model:

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update 8/5/10: wooden version

The very first time I thought about building my custom mini itx case, I wanted to do it in walnut. Unfortunately, I`m not very adept at working with wood so I ended up making a prototype out of plastic. I planned to have it made for me in wood, at a later time. Well, this time has come, and yesterday I received the finished enclosure. I`m planning to write down a detailed log, for now here are some first pics:

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update 25/7/09: finally done!

After a very frustrating week I have finally finished. Eventually I went for matte white to match the custom front of my main computer. Not much esle to say as you`ve already seen the interior. I`ve only changed the orientation of the hdd to make cable management a little easier. The bottom cover also got revised. I`m planning to switch to an ssd eventually, preferably in the mini pci-e format.

So, here`s the finished product..

just before the final assembly:
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and after:
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i/o ports:
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the revised bottom intake:
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and a couple of "lifestyle" shots:
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on my desk, installing windows:
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Thanks for watching!

update 20/7/09: still lapping

just a few pictures of the methods I`m using..

I`m using sandpaper mounted on a flat surface to do the sides. This will help me keep the edges crisp.
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To do the slits is use a smaller version of the above along with a pen cap dressed in sanding paper:
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Progress so far. There`s still some way to go.
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Taking a brake from lapping, I tried to improve the cooling of the motherboard. The northbridge/igp has the highest TDP at 5 watts so it gets a bigger heatsink. The stock one was moved to the southbridge (3 watts TDP). I also added some small heatsinks on the power transistors.
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update 16/7/09: the sleepless phantom of the opera.. I mean of silent computing

I have finally glued the pieces together so the case has reached it`s final form. A good time for a more throughout test fit.

The slides please....

testing the wiring of the power button:
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optical drive, usb headers and most cables assembled:
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motherboard in place
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guess how I`m going to mount the hdd..
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I had to find a use for that pci slot..
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The bottom of the case with the intake vent. Still needs some work though.
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1st boot!
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and a "mug" shot
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Having finished with my main computer (or have I?) I needed something to keep my hands busy. Right, like I haven`t been busy enough lately.. So, after my masochistic instincts took over reason, I thought it would be nice to build a stylish nettop with zero moving parts.

This build is based around the Intel D945GSEJT low profile motherboard. Not only is it only 2cm high but it also has a built in dc/dc converter which is going to make my job a whole lot easier. I also got a laptop optical drive and a pair of usb headers, something very useful but often missing from custom builds. I still haven`t decided on storage, it`s going to be an ssd nevertheless.

So far I`ve made a few custom parts out of solid polystyrene sheets with fairly good success, so it was an obvious choice. The design is fairly simple but it took a lot of planning to get the dimensions right: in a mini-itx build every milimiter counts.

Here`s a frontal section which should give a pretty good idea of the internal layout:
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The first step was cutting the shapes out of the plastic sheets:
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I used my drill for the round bits..
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and a stanley knife for the rest. Each side consists of three 2mm layers, 6mm in total. Needed to achieve a decent structural integrity.
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After a few filler/sanding cycles I got a satisfactoy finish:
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Those are the drill bit used to do the rounded corners. One of them has sandpaper attached on it to clean up the holes:
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A test fit showing the usb headers, optical drives and some of the bits used to hold them in place.
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Usb header closeup..
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and shot of what will be the exterior:
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Last edited by ntavlas on Wed Apr 11, 2012 2:36 am, edited 14 times in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2009 6:40 pm 
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wow, that's looking really nice...just out of familiarity i would have put the power button and ODD on the same side, but it has a nice look to it.

that hand drawn schematic looks really really neat, have you taken technical drawing courses before?

also, how are the vents going to work? is it all convection based cooling, or is there going to be at least an internal fan at work?

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2009 11:35 pm 
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Wow, nice piece of work - and nice humur too 8) If you continue, I'll really look forward to see the result :D

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 5:07 am 
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i like your work. and will follow the log

i was planing on building something similar but bigger for my BOXD945GCLF2 and 3.5 hdd but from wood.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 7:27 am 
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looking nice !
can't wait to see how it turns out !

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:16 am 
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Good stuff. A casemod, and this one is made out of sheets of plastic. I thought it was painted wood when I looked at the pictures before reading the text thoroughly. Good luck with cramming everything inside the small case.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 6:59 pm 
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I haven`t got much new in the way of pictures but I`d like to thank everyone for their kind words :)

Today I made some good progress and I`m pretty confident that everything will fit.

Quote:
wow, that's looking really nice...just out of familiarity i would have put the power button and ODD on the same side, but it has a nice look to it.

that hand drawn schematic looks really really neat, have you taken technical drawing courses before?

also, how are the vents going to work? is it all convection based cooling, or is there going to be at least an internal fan at work?


The laptopish ergonomics are not ideal but where necessary to achieve the clean looks I was after ;)

Indeed, drafting was an important part of my product design studies and working with those plastic sheets was the major model making technique we used back then.

There is provision for a slim kaze jyu fan but I`m going to have a go with passive cooling first. There`s going to be a large vent at the bottom while warm air will exit through where the i/o shield would be.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 2:08 am 
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Wow, that's looking pretty good, if you put a nice finish on, it would be slipperyskip level cool.

How well does that material take paint? Some nifty airbrushed design or something would look pretty sweet.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 2:16 am 
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that is quality mate.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 2:20 am 
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great job!

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 4:21 am 
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WOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Impressive :shock: 8) :shock:
Best thing is you still have room in there !

Me thinking out loud : a bigger CPU and CPU cooler (stock intel cooler maybe, without a fan, it's very low profile), and a little vent in the top or in the back... if needed, but it would ruin the fanless design, add a small low speed fan in the bottom of the case to force some airflow in there (60 mm ? but as big as it can possibly be to fit in the case)...

One of those days, I might copy your design. I think is brilliant (PCI disk holder quite a smart thing) !!

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 7:50 am 
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Simply amazing.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 3:50 pm 
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Again, thanks for your comments everyone!

I played a bit with the bios and I discovered that the board can set the fan in semi passive mode. Quite interesting. I took everything out of the case again as there`s still some work to do on it.

Quote:
How well does that material take paint? Some nifty airbrushed design or something would look pretty sweet.


I takes spray paint rather well. Indeed the next step is to treat it with some acrylic filler, sand it and then repeat as necessary until it`s smooth enough to be spray painted.

Quote:
Me thinking out loud : a bigger CPU and CPU cooler (stock intel cooler maybe, without a fan, it's very low profile), and a little vent in the top or in the back... if needed, but it would ruin the fanless design, add a small low speed fan in the bottom of the case to force some airflow in there (60 mm ? but as big as it can possibly be to fit in the case)...


Unfortunately, there`s only clearance for 40x40mm heatsinks and it`s hard to find something that is better than stock yet short enough to fit (32mm max). Whether I go for passive cooling or not I`ll use the following layout: big intake at he bottom, exhaust slit at the back.
I have a 100mm skythe fan that I could use in case passive cooling isn`t enough:
Image

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 4:25 pm 
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WOW! :shock: That is awesome indeed. Great work!

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 9:28 am 
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Nice work!


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 12:25 pm 
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very nice! :)
I have built a pc with the same board in a morex 350 case. The main advantage of your homemade case is that you can add that usb headers that don't fit in mine. I have only the three usb ports embedded in the board.

Where did you buy the power switch?


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 4:39 pm 
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Very cool looking. Like something Apple would design.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 6:09 pm 
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thanks!

I got the switches from kustompcs.co.uk though you will also find them at performance-pcs.com in the US.

I`m still in the early stages of sanding and it seems like it`s oing to take a while. In the meantime I experimented with a couple of racing stripes..

Image

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 8:31 am 
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Hurrah!

The project is now complete so I updated the first post. Now, what shall be next?

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 9:53 am 
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Wow looks nice--but where does the heat go now? You said it would be where the i/o shield usually is, but that looks pretty sealed up now?

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 9:57 am 
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Thanks! Well, the exhaust at the back is indeed narrower than I wanted it to be because of my slightly crude construction methods. Still, there is a fair bit of airflow felt through that opening.

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 Post subject: How are the operating temps?
PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 10:52 am 
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Very impressive.

Are you using a fan or just passive? (I know you discussed the fan option but it doesn't look as though it is in that final picture)

Can you give us some details of software and operating temps you are getting?

I have just got the same mb with a 1.5TB drive and 2Gb RAM and am about to go down the same route. I am debating between FreeNas and Ubuntu Server. Decisions, decisions..!!

Thanks for taking the time to detail the build.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 10:58 am 
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Stunning...

Seems to be a recurring theme with your work... ;)


My next build will sort of be half way between this, and your pioneer job...

Planning a custom aluminium case, 5050e-based htpc....

Having said that, it was going to be primarily for music listening via headphones, with a case for my amplifier to match... your mini-itx build is awfully cute, and more than powerful enough for music purposes, so I may yet cut the size down, and go mini-itx....

Build another machine as htpc when I have the inclination and sound system to go with the big tv...


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 11:09 am 
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It`s running fanless at the moment though it does get hot. I`m still installing windows... I though the installation was hung and restarted though eventually I realized that it was the vga cable that got disconnected. Im going to check temperatures first thing in the morning as I`m a little concerned. The hdd doesn`t help either, not to mention it`s noisy. Anyway I think I`m off to bed, it`s been a long day. Once again, thanks for the kind words..

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 4:10 am 
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Quote:
Having said that, it was going to be primarily for music listening via headphones, with a case for my amplifier to match... your mini-itx build is awfully cute, and more than powerful enough for music purposes, so I may yet cut the size down, and go mini-itx....

Build another machine as htpc when I have the inclination and sound system to go with the big tv...


It is possible to build a mini itx machine that could do both. A dual core atom on an ion board would make a fine htpc.

I did some stress testing today and the results were not as bad as I feared. Before testing I removed the bottom cover since I wanted to enlarge the rear exhaust.

I`m running xp sp3 and using real temp to measure temps. At the time of testing room temperature was pretty high at 34 degrees. The pc idles between 38 and 40 degrees c and 8000mhz. At load things were pretty different though as the cpu reached 76 degrees after about 40 minutes. Now this is a worst case scenario since this computer is not meant for cpu intensive stuff but I would have hoped for something better.

What`s worse, the semi passive mode is useless at this moment. The fan never turned on even though it was running at close to full speed at those temperatures (in normal fan control mode). It wouldn`t even start after I disabled fan control completely in the bios, I had to unplug the computer from the mains for the fan to turn on again. There are a couple of bios updates but there`s no mention of a fix for this bug..

Anyway, I think that fanless operation should be a viable option as long as the cpu is not stressed continously.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 7:25 am 
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ntavlas wrote:
It is possible to build a mini itx machine that could do both. A dual core atom on an ion board would make a fine htpc.


So it would seem... [has been researching madly... ;)]

Thankyou for the suggestion - muchly appreciated :)

Last concern is how much of a difference there'll be between onboard spdif, and spdif from a decent dedicated soundcard...
Not the sort of question to be answered here I think.

Perhaps I should build the DAC first, and compare...


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 Post subject: Why not use a usb dac?
PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 11:24 am 
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Why not use a usb dac?

For music playback latency is not an issue so a usb dac is fine.

There is a great thread on diyaudioDOTcom about linux audio and various other threads on dacs.

I use ubuntu, mpd and Relaxx as the remote player..works really well.

There are other ways of doing it of course but for me it was about getting something that was open source, reliable and wife/kid friendly.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 11:50 am 
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Both usb and conventional dacs can be a good option.
I can`t imagine the spdif of an addon card being any different compared to the onboard. The most important bit would be bypassing any filtering done by the os/driver. If you end up using windows, ASIO for all supports most recent onboard chips, it also supports many usb DACs.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 12:18 pm 
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Hi,

First of all thats is a really good quality finish I am really impressed with the work you've done there. I am planning on building a custom low-footprint HTPC and plan on making my own case. I have a few questions in regards to materials you used to build your case, if you don't mind can you provide some more information on the following?

1) What plastic did you use? Is it available for purchase online?

2) How did you 'glue' the sheets together? is there a specific type of glue used for these purposes?

3) Why didn't you just use 6mm plastic in the first place instead of 3 x 2mm layers? Was it to establish a seam for the sides of the panel to join on together?

Thanks.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 2:31 pm 
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I used solid polystyrene. You should be able to get it from plastics makers directly, try a google search, yellow pages etc..

Funnily, chloroform is the preferred gluing method because it gets absorbed by polystyrene becoming invisible. This is not so important if you are going to use filler in the end. A drawback is that it takes a while to work. More conventional glues labeled for use with plastic are much easier to work with. Examples are bison and uhu plastic, uhu power will also do. I used uhu plastic because I was lazy.

I used 2mm sheets because they are easy to cut with a stanley knife. I`m not sure if it`s realistic to use thicker sheets, the powered tools needed to cut them would probably melt the plastic. I would have liked to use 6mm sheets and cut them diagonically for seamless edges but that would require some more serious equipment.

Overall it`s a material that`s easy to work with but hiding the seams with filler and then sanding can take a long time. I think that if I did it again, I would at least try to sand the edges at 45 degrees. That would save me the trouble of using filler and sanding.

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