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WELCOME TO MY CUSTOM PC PROJECT LOG

THIS IS WHERE I WILL CATALOGUE EVERY STAGE OF MY FIRST MAJOR CUSTOM PC PROJECT.

PRO TIP: CLICK IMAGES TO SEE THE FULL SIZE VERSION

LAST UPDATED: 12/DECEMBER/2015

CONTENTS:

Introduction
Preparation Work
Priming & Painting
Modding
Air Flow
Cable stealthing
Chassis modding
Finishing touches
Cable sleeving & Trim work
Assembly
Lighting
2015 Upgrades


Introduction

For many years I wanted one of these cases, if not the whole system ( at the time they were top end systems, and even now current models come in a similar flavour of hardware to what I plan on using ). Anyway, fast forward several years and 5 computers ( 2 custom builds ) later and I finally managed to secure the case of my dreams; from Germany no less ( such is the difficulty in finding one- a money-can't-buy item nearly )...

IT BEGINS...



That's the bulk of the hardware I will be using ordered ( I will put a full list & links at the end of the project ); I went for an i5 2500k SandyBridge as opposed to the newer IvyBridge equivalent due to heat concerns- I do plan on overclocking & don't plan on watercooling so a cooler running CPU which is still powerful as you like is the order of the day.

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And in all her glory:

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Yes, I am modding an Acer Predator ( G7713 model ). It was completely gutted at some point in the last 2 years and found its way onto ebay; oddly most of the bare cases I found for sale were in Germany, very rarely do they come up for sale in the UK it seems. Now, I know this case has a habit of splitting opinion quite strongly- many guys love the unique styling, others loathe it with a passion. I love it however, hence.

Preparation Work

The Acer badges had to go as I wanted a smooth front cover, so out came Mr. Stanley to carefully prize them both off- wasn't sure how they were secured but it soon became obvious- small through-pins that were melted on the other side once inserted to lock both parts together. With the badges removed I mixed up a batch of car body filler to fill in the holes they left, a slight pain as unlike 2 part epoxy resin in syringe dispensers you have to mix up the whole of both tubes here, though I managed to just use half & half in case I needed any more later on. I did go a little mad with the amount I used- I was concerned it would contract and need another going over if I scraped it off level, so better to use too much and sand it down flush later.

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After that I went about stripping the rest of blue panels from the chassis & side panels, not too difficult as they are held in place mainly by small retaining clips which I carefully prized back and then unclipped. At this point I discovered the mechanism for slowing the opening & closing action of the front panel & arms; a spring loaded larger spur gear and smaller much stiffer pinion. Dreams of a motor operated front cover swirl around in my mind...

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Priming & Painting

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Unfortunately the left-hand side panel ( when viewed from above looking from the rear ) is fixed in place, and as such the plastic part of the side panel cannot be remove without drilling out the rivets & then replacing them afterwards. This is more hassle than it's worth so I elected instead to mask up the case and around the edges of the side panel and painted it in-situ.

I was planning on waiting until the end of the month ( payday ) until I purchased the Graphics card but it makes little odds really so I pulled the trigger a little sooner:

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Modding

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While the paint was drying I started work on the chassis, beginning with hiding the ugly plastic pattern on the top panel. I had chosen faux leather to work with as it has a nice textured finish & hopefully adds a touch of class. I started by making a cardboard template, then covering it with 5mm thick upholstery foam, then gluing & stretching the leather over the top to create a cushioned top panel of sorts.

While the glue was drying I broke out the Dremel* and removed the SAS HDD drive cage and mounting parts- a job made much easier by my recent purchase of a Flex-shaft so that I could get into hard to reach areas with the cutting disc. At this point I discovered the recess I had created was the perfect size for a standard HDD to hide in, though mounting it would be rather tricky, so I stuck with my original plan of putting it in the 3.5" bay beneath the card reader. I also ripped out the tin-foil PCI-E slot covers as I have some steel ones I plan to use.

Air Flow

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Since this case is rather lacking in ventilation ( a tiny mesh side vent & one exhaust fan ), I decided to open up the panel behind the front drive bay door to allow for better airflow ( I plan to mount an intake fan here too ). I dismantled the door and then set about marking up & cutting away as much material as possible without compromising too much strength, using the sanding drum attachment to tidy things up afterwards. It didn't need to be perfect as 99% of the areas I worked on are not visible under normal conditions- I did crack the clear plastic part but fixed it up again with some 2 part epoxy resin.

Cable Stealthing

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Now work on the inside of the chassis beings in earnest. Initially I had planned on mounting the PSU in the bottom-front of the chassis to act an intake fan, but due to the large number of unwieldy cables ( not willing to void warranty on it by removing unused cables ) it just wasn't going to work, so instead it'll be mounted in the stock location at the top of the rear chassis panel. The cables still need to be hidden away however so I decided to construct a compartment for them in the top of the chassis, mounting it at one end to the upper 5.25" drive bay for support. I used aluminium L-channel & some ABS plastic with Carbon Fibre print on one side ( originally purchased for an R/C project I never bothered with ), cut & shaped it as required using a hacksaw and Dremel*, then set about covering it in yet more faux leather. I'm using leather on the inside of the chassis since I started with a 140cm x 100cm sheet of the stuff as that was the smallest size I could order, luckily it's very cheap so happy days.

Chassis modding

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While that sticky mess was drying I got to work on the chassis again and ground down all the various little lumps & bumps that weren't needed any more & were getting in the way ( mainly quick-release related stuff, and since this case didn't have the quick release parts.... bye bye time ).

Went threw several of the non-reinforced cut-off discs in the process and made lots of dust, but in the end we have a much smoother drive bay enclosure & rear panel now. It doesn't look it of course, but where I have bent the small tabs back in line with the rest of the back panel & ground them down, they don't protrude on either side at all any more & with also get the leather treatment.

I also did a quick test-fit with the cable enclosure and it fits fine, very tight but it ain't going anywhere; I also had a brainwave and realised I could grind the upper edge of the rear ( PSU ) support it sits on in order to make it sit level properly, so that'll be for tomorrow along with making the drive cage enclosure hopefully.

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I'd been pondering for a while if a 120mm fan would fit in that opening ( originally for the SAS drives ), and as luck would have it with a little bit of dremeling they fit perfectly. Securing it in place required a little bit of thought but you'll see that later.

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Knocked up a drive bay cover using more ABS plastic & L- channel aluminium + epoxy, quick test fit & everything is fine there. It will be secured from underneath using a couple M3 ( 3mm ) dome headed screws and nyloc nuts.

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Now, the mounting holes for a M-ATX mobo were all in place, but not all were threaded, so I had to spend 5 quid on a 6/32" tap for the sake of tapping two holes ( tried just forcing the stand-offs to cut their own thread but no joy with a steel chassis- aluminium maybe.. ). One hole was right next to the back panel so I used a pin-vice & some pliers to turn the tap instead.

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Now for the last piece I had to construct for the inside of the chassis ( hopefully ), the 'sort-of mid-plate'. Not a true mid-plate as it isn't hiding the PSU or a radiator, but it does hide all the front panel wires and serves a more important purpose, that is, to channel the airflow from the front fan up towards the GPU & CPU cooler. As I ran out of epoxy making the drive bay cover, I had to use the next best thing I had which was JBWeld.... and some left over car body filler... The slot in the top is for the front panel connectors to feed up through.

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Test fitting all three interior pieces, worked out just great in the end. With the mobo & PSU installed there will barely be any bare metal exposed around that area, just the rear panel & front panel areas to cover mainly and I have plenty of faux-leather left. I purchased 3 different sizes of P-clips for cable routing, just got to plan my routes as it were and then drill & tap some holes for them.

Due to how the cover plates cover mounting holes and such, it has become apparent that I will have to assemble the guts in a certain order which will be loads of fun I'm sure....

Finishing touches

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Bit more leather work to fill in a gap- will need to redo the trim piece in one long strip though. Rear fan grill had to go too, mixture of dremel & hacksaw work which was surprisingly tough on a ~1.25mm steel chassis. New fan grill filter is rather nice- is made from magnetic rubber with a fine nylon mesh, so no need to stick it down ( easily removable for cleaning ).

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Remember that metal tab I bent back ( yeah you do.. ), well, that was for cable routing; no space behind the mobo, but just enough down beside the drive cage to feed the font panel connections. Those will also be held in place by the P-clips I bought, as will the power & data cables when I come to install the electronics later on.

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It's coming along nicely at the moment- few bits here & there to do & redo on the leather as I said earlier, and I had to tweak the top panel cover as I didn't account for the white plastic piece straddling it quite so closely at the rear end ( ooh err.. ). Fan was held in place with some carefully placed zipties; barely visible unless you look closely ( there is another magnetic fan filter placed behind the fan ).

Left to do:

(Re)apply leather trim where needed- rear fan hole, drive cage, front fan hole, slot in the sort-of bottom-plate.
Sleeve cables ( visible sections ).
Install cable routing clips- mainly on the fly depending on how compliant the cables decide to be.
Install components & cover pieces.
Hit the power button & hope for the best...

Cable sleeving & Trim work

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Sleeving, sleeving & more sleeving. Unfortunately the rear magnetic fan filter ( a filter on the exhaust?, seemed like a good idea at the time... ) was just a tad too big to fit with the side panel fitted, and trimming it would ruin it really, so I went with option 2 and a standard wire fan guard instead. I also gave up trying to make the leather piping trim go around the inside corners of the cut out ( outside bends are easy, inside bends is a no-no, especially 90° ones & where the flange of the leather is visible ) and went with rubber U-channel instead. Couldn't make the U-channel fit on the front intake cut out though due to there not being a large enough gap on the outside edge ( between the panel and the fan ), so a Sharpie was deployed to disguise the white edge of the faux-leather. Not quite what I wanted but no one will ever see inside this case once it's assembled, mores the pity.

Tomorrow I pull the pin & start fitting components, cable routing, and if it doesn't get too late ( early start required ) yank the heatsink & HDD + ODD from my current rig and transplant them over, then fire up the new rig and see what happens.

Wish me luck...

Assembly

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Remember what I said about needing to assemble this in a certain ( unknown ) order, in order to make everything fit? Yeah, took a lot of head scratching, cursing & a couple attempts to tame Electronic Lord Cthulhu before I figured that I had to install the PSU before the PSU-wire cover plate. With that fitted & sleeved extensions ( turns out I didn't have any sleeved sata power cables, so just using the lead on the Seasonic PSU ) routed down through the notch, I started tearing into my current rig to pull out the HDD & ODD, along with the mobo speaker. Next up I checked over the socket on the new mobo to look for bent pins with a magnifying glass ( none found ), then installed the lovely new ram, CPU & mounted the venerable old Titan Fenrir ( which does an even better job in it's new home.. ) using the new retention bracket thingy. The only odd thing there was that I didn't ( couldn't ) need to use a back plate for the CPU cooler, it simply held in place from the rear with screws and washers- very solid and no mobo flex so I'm happy enough with that setup ( forgot to take pictures of those steps unfortunately ).

Next up I had to wrestle the mobo into the case, whilst trying not to get hooked up on the various front & top panel connections sticking up through the sort-of bottom plate ( like trying to fit an ATX mobo into an mini-ITX chassis... ). I got that done and started connecting up the various leads, only to find I needed one more usb 2.0 header than the mobo had available, but I do have a usb 3.0 header to put to use so more on that later. As luck would have it, or not, I didn't need to use any of the cable routing P-clips since the leads seem to have organized themselves almost perfectly thanks to the very short runs they make from A to B; I'll be selling the P-clips and loads more stuff from the old rig i the next few days so keep an eye out in the Sales section.

Anyway, with everything connected & double checked, I plugged in all the external leads, turned on the PSU & hit the power button; she lives! I entered the UEFI Bios and had a quick poke to set up the boot options & what-not, then exited to see if she would start up normally. Alas, my fears were borne out as she kept blue screening as soon as the windows logo / animation began. So, fresh install of Windows 7 Pro x64 and several hours of updates & downloading programs and I'm back up and running with my shiny new machine.

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I've tested out the 670FTW graphics card by playing several sessions of Hawken with all settings turned up to Ultimate & set for 1920x1080, max temps are around ~75C with the fan not going over 40% ( barely a quite hum ), not too shabby really. Frame rates are kinda hard to track as it's a live-view chart in the EVGA Precision-X software, though generally looks to be anything from ~40fps upto 110fps+ depending on how much action there is on screen. I'm not a bench marker really so I'm more than happy with the image quality & frame rates I'm getting, well worth the cost. Windows Performance Index reports scores from 7.5 to 7.8 for everything apart from the HDD ( 5.9 ), so that's great too.

She isn't done quite yet though- still waiting on something special for the interior lighting ( which will be visible, despite the lack of case windows ), a few cables, and the side panel + front panel need to be repainted ( again, groan ) as they have magically picked up some nasty dirty marks from no-where whilst being carefully stored.

Once those 3 things are sorted I will take some final pics and post up a complete parts list break down for those interested.

Lighting
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There wasn't an awful lot I could do for interior lighting, given that the case is more or less sealed with only a small vent on one side panel. I could however do something with the 'grill' on the bottom of the front panel where the intake fan is located- I went to Ebay and grabbed a pair of 'Angel eye' LED rings intended for use as daytime running lights on car head lamps. I kept one as a spare, and the other I installed behind the intake fan to shine through the blades as they spin- worked rather nicely I reckon. They are connected to a fan controller on spare PCI slot on the back panel so that I can adjust the brightness- they really are rather bright on 12V so I turned them down a little to reduce the glare.

Now all I have to do is sort out some final pictures, but I'm kinda hoping Canon will release a/the 7D mkII ( in response to Nikons new D7100 ) before I do so, but I could be waiting months for that to happen, so I'll see what I can do in the next month hopefully to finally draw this project to an official close.

2015 Upgrades



I never did get any final photos, though I did give up waiting for a 7D MkII- took another year or more and wasn't enough of an upgrade to be worth getting, compared to a good used 7D which I did end up buying. Anyway, 2-3 years pass and I've been playing less Hawken, and started playing Space Engineers; anyone who has played SE knows it is a very demanding game, and my 'old' GTX670 card just wasn't cutting it. Therefore, I decided to upgrade to a GTX980Ti, and needed to get a new power supply to go with it. At this point, I decided to go with a Hybrid-Modular PSU, that way I didn't have to deal with the awful mess of power cables that I didn't need, just plugging in the ones for the HDD, CD-ROM, MOBO and Graphics card- so much tidier. The supplied power cables aren't all that sexy, being just plain black insulated leads, but they will do fine for me- the power rating is also a little higher, jumping from 620 to 750 Watts. Beyond that, I'm looking at maybe a Blu-Ray drive, and in the next year or so a whole new MOBO, CPU & RAM, since the 2500K is getting a little long in the tooth now.

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