How to Create Cool Custom Case Mods

Maximum PC Staff

Modding tips from the masters

A truly custom computer case is a work of art (See our awesome reader submitted rigs here for more proof). It is a one-of-a-kind unique statement that stands out among mass-market boxes, and pushes the aesthetic of the creative ‘case mod’ (adapting an existing case with paint and trim) to the edge.

Most importantly, a custom case can be as different as its builder desires. Take the Cor Leonis built by Attila Lukas: Its sleek lines and polished grills are more sports car than computer case. The uber-thin Tenius2 case by Peter Husar is again quite different: Its tall finished wood and black metal shell looks more like a top-end Bang & Olufsen audio component, rather than a PC.

Blowing them both out of the water – at least when it comes to radical design -- is Mohamed Metwally’s Project Performer. With its flexed metal robotic legs, hydraulic rams and swivelling machine gun, Metwally’s Project Performer looks like a weapons droid from some futuristic war videogame.

Despite the substantial differences between all of these custom cases, they all share some qualities in common. First, each case was built within the limits of each builder’s skills and available tools. Second, each one houses a functioning PC with sufficient room for all components and cooling; plus ways to easily access the controls and I/O jacks as needed. Third, each of these custom cases highlights the particular taste of each builder, and expresses it in a way that demands attention. Here’s how they did it.

Project Performer

We start with Mohamed Metwally’s Project Performer; a case whose shape was inspired by “a pic I saw on the Internet,” he says. Known as “Momed,” Metwally is an accomplished case modder who has won numerous awards (you can see his various creations at www.ModsCases.com ). Motwally started by using the onscreen image to work up a design on paper. He then made the central part of the design large enough to accommodate the guts of a high-powered PC, and scaled all of his other parts from there.

Despite its apparently complex metal design, Project Performer’s case is actually made from lightweight foamboard. This is a readily available, easy-to-cut material that Matwally was able to fashion into all the parts he needed. He just worked out the design on paper, then cut the foamboard to match his drawings.

“I used ½-inch foamboard for the legs, and put it together with hot glue, with strips of wood added for support” he says. This created legs that were stout enough to hold Project Performer up. The rest of the case uses slightly thick 3/16" foamboard, cut into whatever shapes suited Matwally’s design.

The CPU and all other components are housed with Project Performer’s central case, which measures 14x13x5-inches. “I cut the front of the case and added three clear acrylic pieces for showing the hardware inside,” Matwally says. It contains an Intel Core i7 2600K processor, 4GB of G.Skill RAM and two Kingston SSDs. The cooling is achieved using a ThermalTake Water 3.0 Pro Water/Liquid CPU Cooler.

The upper section was built from foamboard and eight pieces of PVC pipe cut into 7-inch lengths to form the hydraulic rams; again held together by hot glue. Once assembled, Matwally painted Project Performer with gray spray paint, and used an airbrush with black paint to texturize and bring out the details of his 3D design. He added plastic bullets in the units’ side-mounted ‘carrying pockets’, and his case was done.

Click the next page to read about the Tenius2.

Tenius2

Peter Husar is another accomplished case builder, as can be seen by his work at www.gtek-computerdesign.com/projects.html . Unlike Matwally, Husar’s tastes are geared towards the elegant and understated. His PC cases are literally works of art sculpted in fine varnished walnut and hand-brushed, black hard anodized aluminium.

Husar’s Tenius2 fits this mold. On the outside, Tenius2 appears to be a tall (2.5 feet), impossibly thin case that could sit discreetly beside a desk, or serve as a media center. Yet it can be packed with a decent amount of firepower. Tenius2's case can hold a Thin-ITX motherboard, a range of CPUs from i3 to i7 with up to 16GB RAM, a dedicated sound card (or TV tuner), an SSD, a full-size HDD and a Blu-ray/DVD optical drive. The motherboard is attached to Tenius2's black aluminum side (the other is aluminium with walnut attached to its exterior) to provide semi-passive cooling.

“The overall design of case was dictated by the components I was planning to use,” says Husar.  “For example, the case is less than two inches thick, because it was designed specifically for an Intel Thin-ITX motherboard and Intel cooling solution.”

Husar made the Tenius2 case out of aluminum sheeting. “It's relatively easy to work with, even with a few basic tools like a bench drill, jig saw, tapping kit and screw drives,” he says. “As well aluminum is durable, strong enough for something like a PC case and can be painted easily.”

To get the dimensions right. Peter Husar laid out his components on a large measuring square. Using the dimensions he found there, Husar determined the size and shape of case parts he needed to cut from the aluminum sheeting.

“The next stage was manufacturing all of the aluminium parts,” he says. “The easier ones I had laser-cut. The more complicated parts I cut out, machined, drilled and tapped by myself.” Husar tapped (drilled holes into) the case so that he could countersink the screws flush with its exterior surface; both to assemble it cleanly and attach the components on the inside.  (The only visible exterior screws are on the back of the case.) He also sanded and brushed the aluminum, before sending them to a finishing shop for black anodizing.

As for the wood? “I bought all of the walnut panels at the right thickness, so I just cut them to sizes I needed, glued them together using high adhesion glue, then sanded them down and finished the walnut with seven layers of clear satin wood lacquer,” says Husar. The finished wood shell was then glued to the appropriate aluminum side panel.

The other side panel serves as the plate onto which all components are bolted. Husar attached the CPU cooler directly to the side panel, adding lots of thermal paste to draw as much heat from the CPU and into the case for passive heat dissipation. Husar also reworked the CPU’s blower so that it blows heat out of the case. “I covered the blower with a custom-made cover to create low pressure chamber, which forces air through the heat sink and out,” he says. “The whole set-up resulted in absolutely quiet operation even under full load.”

Because he built his case using actual component measurements and layout, Peter Husar had a simple and easy assembly process. Once everything was in place, he hit the ‘On’ button and Tenius2 fired up without a hitch. Loading the O/S and software went without any serious problems. Today, his first Tenius2 runs at 62 C at full load, without any issues.

Click the next page to read about the Cor Leonis.

Cor Leonis

Of the three cases profiled here, Attila Lukacs’ Cor Leonis ( www.stillthinking.com.au ) looks the most like a conventional PC case. However, it is anything but: This case was built from the ground up using hand-machined aluminum pieces and sheets, in an attempt to create something as stylish and sleek as a luxury automobile.

“Very basically, I wanted to build a case with super car styling,” Lukacs says. “The original idea was to have a 'flat' shape, with the top opening a la auto hood, to reveal the 'engine' ... Looking at lots and lots of photos of many types of cars, various design ideas were used and adapted to suit my needs. So, in the end, the front and rear grilles, the curving and flared out top, the side panels and the support struts and feet all have the flavor I was looking for.”

Lukacs has detailed his construction process at forums.bit-tech.net/showthread.php?t=204512&viewmode=author. He began by creating a computer-generated layout for his ‘engine’; namely an Intel i7, GTX 480 graphics, 650 watt PSU, 128GB SSD and a 500GB hard drive. From there, he built the case around the computer; designing and specifying every single part that he made from rough aluminum slabs and sheets.

As the photos show, Attila Lukacs cut, ground/sanded, and polished every element of this PC’s case by hand. This meant that he had to work out every single element of his case beforehand, and then keep comparing his work against that design to ensure that he was indeed making the parts properly.

For folded pieces, Lukacs ground v-shaped grooves in the fold lines, so that the aluminum could be folded by hand. He then assembled the parts as he went along – inside first, then the outside. In some cases, Lukacs sent the metal out for professional; finishing, using black anodizing

For the gun metal case exterior, Attila Lukacs did everything he could to create a surface worthy of a luxury car’s glasslike skin. To achieve this effect, “body filler was used to smooth everything off,” he says. “The trim is polished aluminium ... Power and reset switches are incorporated into the ‘headlights’ at the top front.”

Clearly, the work involved in making Cor Leonis means that this is not a beginner casemaker’s project. But you can’t argue with the results; Cor Leonis is as smooth and elegant as custom cases come.

The Bottom Line

The three custom cases represent a range of skill levels, with the Project Performer design being the most accessible to case-building newbies.

The good news is that custom case building is within the reach of the average computer aficionado, as long as they figure out the component layout and requirements first, and then create enclosures that meet those needs while delivering true ‘Wow!' appeal.

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