Yearly Archive: 2002

Locust gets a woody

Background:

Locust is my Frankenstein’s monster, an amalgamation of spare parts collected over the years to make a fourth computer that I could tear down and reformat to suit whatever I wanted to test at the moment, without losing any settings or data.

You can find it’s history here, but what has always bothered me was the ugly, worthless $30 case I bought from CompUSA to house it. It was cramped, hot and I’ve been meaning to get rid of it for some time, but never managed to find something fun to house it in.

It originally looked like crap

 

Then along comes the idea to build a wood case for it.

My design concept was constrained by a few things:

– It had to be small enough to fit with my other cases under my desk, yet large enough to be able to build the same design for all of my other computers, giving my computer pile a uniform look.
– I wanted the case to be properly cooled, but I didn’t want it to be a howling tornado. In fact I wanted the case to be as silent as possible, as I wanted to be able to leave all four of my computers on all the time and not go deaf.
– It needed to be functional but stylish.

So I set to work measuring components and playing around with them using Visio to create a blueprint of what it would look like:

 

For this design I used the motherboard tray and PCI card holder from the old case. I used the 3.5″ hard drive rack from the case as well to hold the two drives in front of the fans. In my next cases, I’ll be using parts from the Addtronics parts list found here.

I used 5/8″ pine laminate which is essentially strips of pine glued and pressed together to form a stripe effect found in chopping block tables and counter tops. It makes for a good looking case, and is relatively easy to work with and not all that expensive (about $15 for a 24″ x 48″ piece). The only problem with the laminate is that it tends to crack along its seams while drilling fan holes, so one must be careful about that.

 

 

 

The inside is set up as per the visio layout. The only real trick was in mounting the brackets for the CD-ROM and floppy. That involved some dremel work and drilling new screw holes in the brackets to line them up with the holes in the units themselves. The L bracket on the upper right corner was necessary to keep the CD-ROM in place, as I cut a U shape in the bezel for the CD-ROM instead of a hole.

 

To make the case quieter, I removed the outer casing of the PSU to remove extra passages for air to make noise through. Instead, I mounted an 80mm fan directly in front of the heat sinks to channel case air along the heat sinks and then out of the case.

Likewise I cut holes in the back of the case to allow air to escape, but I didn’t add fans, figuring that the massive amount of air coming in from the front would find its own way out the back.

 

A shot of the two hard drives in a three drive rack, allowing air from the fans to blow between them for added cooling.

 

The wiring of the case was the most fun part of the project. I used two momentary toggle switches for the power and reset buttons, and a two-position switch for my 7v-12v mini fan bus.

I ended up using a 1″ drill bit to drill positions for the switches through the thick wood, making sure not to drill all the way through. I then finished the hole with a smaller bit to allow room for the threaded tip of the switches to poke through the bezel.

The four LEDs on the right are, from left to right: Power, IDE activity, SCSI HD 1 activity, SCSI HD 2 activity.

 

All in all, it took me four evenings to complete this project:

1. Evening one was to cut the pieces and assemble the case.
2. Evening two was to sand everything and stain it.
3. Evening three was to mount the drive bracket, motherboard tray and PCI card holder, CD-ROM and floppy in their brackets.
4. Evening four was to do the wiring and mount the rest of the hardware.

The case meets my expectations in that it looks nicer than the old beige piece of crap, it runs quieter with only three fans running at 7v, and much cooler than it did.

In fact, with both 120mm 102cfm fans running at 7v the K6-2 processor with the stock heat sink posts the following results:

Low fan setting @ 100% High fan setting @ 100%
Old Case 50 degrees C 48 degrees C
New Woody 46 degrees C 42 degrees C

 

Earthquake notes to self

I wanted to make sure to document what temp probe monitored what in Earthquake so here’s a short list, mostly for my own use:

1. Water temp from radiator
2. Processor temp
3. Ambient room temp
4. Top HD (HD 0) temp
5. Bottom HD (HD 1) temp
6. Case Temp (measured in bottom half)

BayBus switches (from left to right)
1 Off
2. 2x80mm fans in upper rear
3 Bezel 80mm fan
4. Radiator 120mm fan

More Headcrash modding

I modded the Headcrash case to have four green LEDs on one of the 5-1/4″ bay covers indicating activity on each of the four hard drives. It’s an easy mod that involves cutting holes in the bay cover and connecting LEDs to the “busy out” jumper on the drive.

Unfortunately somehow when I was hooking up the LEDs I shorted out one of the drives. Thank god for warranties. The adventure begins when I receive my drive.

It turns out that Maxtor has stopped production on the Quantum Atlas IV drive, so they shipped the newer Atlas V. Normally this would not have been a problem except that the replacement drive was 6 bloody megabytes too small, preventing me from sticking it back into my RAID array.

After going back and forth between the RMA people and tech support a few times (one suggestion was pretty funny: the sales folks said that there was a firmware update that would change the number of sectors on the drive, making it a bigger drive. That’s like saying buying supreme unleaded instead of regular will turn my 4-cylinder Golf into a 6-banger!) my options ended up being wait three weeks for them to send me an 18gb drive to replace my dead 9gigger or rebuild my array with the slightly smaller drive capacity. Bleh. I wiped my array, losing 18mb off the total.

The good news is that I downloaded the latest drivers for everything, including the latest 4in1 drivers from Via, and my system is running a lot more stable by a long shot. It looks like this batch of 4in1’s cleared up whatever was causing the lockups I mentioned below.

Well, I now have four flashing LEDs that look pretty boss on my bezel, a more stable machine, and an array that’s 18mb smaller.

Diamond Viper v330 R.I.P.

I finally got around to rebuilding Locust, and in the process fried my v330 vid card (hence the crappy 2mb PCI graphics card in the specs). I was switching the blow direction of a fan while the machine was on and dropped a screw onto the v330. As I picked it up, it must have shorted out the card, because the screen suddenly blacks out and starts to flicker all weird-like.

I cycled the power, and the machine wouldn’t boot. Dead vid card for sure. Bummer that.

At any rate, Locust is now a SCSI machine with a 9gb drive for system and a 2.5GB drive for swap. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this machine just yet, but it’s fun to have.

Water cooling an Earthquake

In the Beginning:

Last Fall I decided to build myself a new workstation and spent some time looking around for parts to build myself a cool-looking and awesome-performing machine. After poking around in various hardware and tech sites, I decided on the specs and parts listed on the Earthquake Page.

What gave me trouble, however was what was to hold all these goodies with attention paid to roominess, cooling capability, and of course mod potential. I eventually stumbled upon this review and then this article and this one over at Virtual Hideout and I made my decision. The Aopen HX08 would be my new house.

Water, water everywhere…

In building this case I also knew that I wanted to make my first foray into the wild, wacky world of water cooling. I had heard all the reasons why water cooling was the way to go, what with increased cooling performance, lower noise and what have you, but in all honesty, I did it because it seemed cool to have a water-cooled PC.

The Victim:

When the case first arrived I was in love. For some reason, this case has some much more je-ne-sais-quois than some of the other cases like some of the Antecs out there.

Disclaimer:

Yes, I know the photos are crap quality. I took them with a disposable camera, got them developed on matte photo paper and then scanned them at the amazing resolution of 150dpi. Someday I’ll be rich and be able to drop wads of cash on a digital camera that I’ll use to only take¬†photos of my cases. Until then, tough luck.

Dremel Work:

After some planning and figuring out how I was going to layout my case, it was time to put tools to case. The first tasks were to cut a hole in the front for the radiator and to cut away the stamped fan grills in the top rear. I’d be replacing them with chrome grilles that allow more airflow with less noise and would look nicer.

I also cut away some flanges where the lower 3.5″ drive cage sits underneath the 5-1/4″ bays. These flanges got in the way of the shelf I would be building to hold my reservoir to get it out of the way. I also measured and drilled holes in the floor of the 5-1/4″ bay cage to hang some bolts that would be the supports for the shelf.

 

Adding the water circuit:

Which parts to buy for my cooling loop turned out to be the hardest part of this project. There are as many discussions about cooling methods as there are discussions about Intel v. AMD chips. Since I was (and probably still am) a cooling newbie, I opted for a kit that did most of the choosing for me. I went for a submersible pump and heater core radiator with 1/2″ fittings. I opted for the fan shroud option for my rad to optimize airflow. I never did get around to seeing what the difference was with it or without it, but I had it, so I used it.

If I were to do it again, I would probably pick and chose my components from many different vendors, and probably save a little bit of money, but at the time I wanted to jump into the watercooling game as fast as possible.

The five pictures below show my cooling setup as it comes together. I was originally hoping to put in a 4″ PVC elbow joint over the fan to duct the heated air out through the side of the case, but I ran into space issues. The duct wouldn’t fit between the fan and the tails of the PCI cards once the motherboard was installed. Instead I added an 80mm fan between the rad and the pump shelf, hoping to introduce unheated air into the bottom of the case to minimize the effect of having the heated air from the radiator pass into the case.

Pictures three and four show the red rubber matting I used to dampen vibrations from the pump. I went for rubber sheeting used to pad

linoleum floors and is available at most hardware stores for like 10 cents a square foot. Needless to say I have gads of this stuff now.

The wiring:

The first wiring I’d ever done of cases was for the two switches on the floppy drive cover of Plague. I wanted to do a better job on this case and had all my parts purchased from my local Electronics Plus. However after I’d added up all the parts, I found that I could buy myself a 7v-off-12v baybus from PC Mods for less money and I’d get a higher quality product for far less effort.

I ended up wiring the dual 80mm exhaust fans in front of the upper drive cages, the 80mm intake fan and the 120mm radiator fan to the first three switches. The fourth is currently unused but I’m planning to install a chimney fan on top of the box which will be wired there.

The rest:

The finishing touches were wiring the temperature probes from the DigiDoc to various places and installing the hardware. Nothing really special about that that’s worth mentioning here.

The last two pics are of my system as it looks now. It turns out that the case is just barely big enough for all of my components and appears rather cluttered. At least you can see how all the components fit into the case.

The top pic shows the drive cage with the 80mm fans and two SCSI hard drives, the 5-14″ cage with a CD-ROM, a CD-RW, a 12/24GB SCSI tape backup, black wires from the DigiDoc, the air bleed off tube and power leads out the wazoo.

The bottom pic shows the rat’s nest of 1/2″ tubing, the fan-duct-radiator combo, SCSI and CD-ROM ribbon cables, the pump shelf and the rest of the PC hardware. The bolts have since been trimmed to length but I have yet to wrap my cables.

What a mess, eh?

Headcrash wiped

I wiped Headcrash for the umpteenth time last night to install and configure a new drive subsystem. I broke down and bought a SCSI RAID 2100s drive controller from Adaptec on ebay the other day and four 7200rpm Ultra 160 SCSI drives to go with it. I’ve got a some games set up on it in dedicated mode, but I’m behind a firewall, so it’s not accessible just yet.

One thing to remember: The latest VIA 4in1 drivers play havoc with Win2000 server. I don’t know why. I wiped it and reinstalled everything, but kept off the VIA drivers, opting to go with the stock MS ones and things seem to be much more stable.