DWPG.Com - PipeDream case mod
By: Alan Vincent

Shiny and inexpensive

In an effort to move away from the copper pipe theme, I decided to build something out of aluminum stock. Brass is too expensive and steel is too difficult to work with. Aluminum is shiny and relatively soft, while retaining excellent strength and low cost. Shiny and inexpensive, what more could you ask for?

Xeon badge

Xeon badge


In the garage

Since I needed to use a noisy table saw, I moved my project out to the garage. All of my previous projects were created on my living room floor, in air conditioned comfort. The bed of my pickup truck, inside a hot garage, is not a comfortable place to build a computer case. I could only work during daylight hours on weekends while taking frequent breaks to cool off. As a result, this project took place over several weekends and is still not complete. I could have finished it in a weekend...on my livingroom floor. That is, if my neighbors were deaf or away.

my garage

my garage


The heatpipe

A heatpipe is a device that efficiently moves heat from one end to the other using vapor from boiling liquid as the "carrier" of the heat. The liquid boils at low temperatures because it resides in a vacuum. Room temperature boiling is possible inside a vacuum using a suitable fluid...not necessarily water. Heat is applied to one end of the pipe and the vapor from boiling fluid carries the heat towards the cooler end of the pipe where it is dissipated by air, water, or some other method of removing heat. Capillary action carries the condensed vapor (liquid) back to the "hot" end where it is boiled and vaporized again and again. Sounds like a lot of trouble, doesn't it?

What if I said it was a thousand times more efficient than a similar sized length of plain old copper? Yep, it is a thousand times better at moving heat than copper. The heatpipes I'm using are made for Compaq for use in their 8000-series 8-way Xeon servers. They are a direct bolt-on replacement for the standard heatsinks. I found this pair of heatpipes on ebay for $120. I made a simple duct that allows one fan to blow through both sets of heatpipe cooling fins. Basically, it's a piece of angle stock clamped between two more pieces of angle stock with a small fan blowing from underneath. It works very well and looks interesting. Hey, that's exactly my goal when I build computer cases.

component layout

component layout


Lowe's Home Improvement Center

I started with a trip to Lowe's Home Improvement Center, as always. They have a decent selection of aluminum stock but their prices are high. The one-eighth inch by two inch angle stock used for the corners of the case cost $18 for an eight foot length! The two inch wide flat stock was about $2 per foot. The total cost of the aluminum used in this project exceeded $125. Check with a local metal supply store if there's one in your area. You could pay a LOT less for aluminum than Lowe's charges. My only goal for this project was the total absence of visible fasteners. That means no screws, rivets, etc.

The exterior would be completely smooth and very stark-looking. The CDROM drive and even the power and reset buttons would be hidden inside the case. The keylock and protruding heatpipes are the only exterior features.

aluminum stock

aluminum stock


Early production stage

The shell of the case is made from one eighth inch thick, two inch wide flat stock with two inch angle stock for the corners. The individual pieces are clamped into three eighths inch C-channel stock using brass machine screws. The close-up image of the lid shows how the C-channel is drilled and tapped for screws. The same principle applies to the construction of the case itself. The top and bottom of the case are C-channel frames. The result is a case strong enough to stand on....or throw off your second-floor balcony in a fit of rage (long story, different project).

I laid out the motherboard and other components in a manner that allowed the case to be as narrow as possible, so the heatpipes would be fully outside the case. The CDROM and powersupply are mounted beside each other at the top of the case, but they are turned sideways to save width. The CDROM is attached to the lid and pivots upward along with the lid when the lock is opened. A small gas strut is used to provide support and lift. The power and reset buttons are beside the CDROM attached to the lid, as well. You'll need the key, jigsaw, or a drill to access the buttons and optical drive. There are no pictures of the opening lid because it is currently not finished. I'll include those pictures in my next project, "XPipe", utilizing an overclocked mega-heatpiped Athlon 1900+. Project "Moonshine" will evolve from that concept, using a heatpiped 200watt TEC array, some laboratory glassware, and chilled-watercooling of the CPU core. This website is the exclusive showcase of my creations, so bookmark it or you'll miss out.

backside of lid

backside of lid


top of lid

top of lid


A slim full tower

Where was I? Ah yes, the internal components of the case are mounted on square aluminum frames that fit exactly inside the box. The motherboard is mounted in its own framed "cube" and is slid down to the bottom of the case. It is a friction-fit and no fasteners are used. The powersupply is mounted in a similar frame and sits on top of the motherboard's frame. The CDROM drive mounts to the hinged top lid and fits snugly beside the powersupply when the lid is closed. The "holes" for the heatpipes and the back panel are cut where needed and framed with (even more) C-channel stock clamped with screws. The case itself is merely a "sleeve" that covers the framed components. The case is not attached to the internal components because it's not necessary and would involve the use of fasteners that are visible from the exterior. The dimensions of the finished case on the copper stand are (LxWxD) 12"x6"x22". Slightly taller and just as deep as a regular tower case, but about two inches thinner.

case front view

case front view


Final result

There aren't many pictures of the case during construction because I didn't think about taking any pictures. I was too busy trying to align fourteen pieces of aluminum into a square box shape. I'll do better next time. By the way, this machine is for sale if you would like to buy it. As shown, unpolished, and equipped with dual P3 Xeon500 1mb on an ASUS XG-DLS, 512MB RAM (CAS2 Mushkin), 32MB GeForce2 GTS-V video, Lite-on 40X CDRW, and a 5400rpm 30GB IDE harddrive. $1150.00 US.

full side view

full side view


case rightside view

case rightside view



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