By: Ross 'Tweakmonster' Wenger, Feb.2003

 

I love being a computer modder, and there is really no way of explaining that to someone that just cannot comprehend. For me, computers are more than just an electronic device that allows me to surf the Internet, send emails and play games. However, if I had to explain it to someone who couldn't understand, I would have to say that computer modding is just like restoring a classic automobile. For some, a car is just a means of getting from point A to point B. For others, it goes way beyond that. It is also an extension of their creativity and passion. I heard a saying once that goes "Your work is your love made visible". If this is true, then that explains why I get so much satisfaction when I finish a mod session that took some ingenuity and a whole lot of time and effort, and it comes out really nice. This article features my newest endeavor to mix together not only fast hardware, but also some flat out jaw-dropping aesthetics that can demonstrate just how far from the 'beige box' look I could get. With the plethora of aftermarket modding products these days at my disposal, this should not be too difficult to do. I have named it Project Blue Sun.

 

It represents almost an entire month of planning, outside processes, and final assembly before it came to completion. Aside from the usual peripherals that a computer requires, it also has some custom made electronics incorporated, but more on that as we come to it. First up, a few words about the case I chose to use for this project.

 

By now most people have seen atleast one of the clear acrylic PC cases that are available from numerous places around the Internet. Why would anyone want a clear PC case? Simple....IT KICKS MAJOR ASS!

Nothing says "look at me!" like a clear acrylic PC case. This one was supplied to me by Clearpc up in Canada. Granted, this is the first acrylic case I have ever worked with, but nonetheless I was very impressed with its quality and overall design layout. As you can see from the pictures above, this is a 'mid' tower case and comes with all hardware needed to install (1) 5.25 drive, (1) floppy drive, and (1) hard drive. Also included is all the needed hardware for installing the motherboard and power supply. The front bezel of the case unbolts and slides completely out allowing you to remove the entire drive area quickly and easily. This makes assembly super fast and allows for easy upgrades in the future. It gets 2 thumbs up for this feature. The inside of the case is accessed easily through the one piece panel that unscrews from the left side and allows unrestricted access to the entire case. When working with an acrylic case, it is easy to understand that unsightly fingerprints are going to be your worst enemy (seeing there are no sharp metal edges to get cut on) To eliminate this possibility, I required the use of latex gloves throughout the entire assembly of this case. Yes, it did take longer because of this extra measure, but having a clear PC full of fingerprints when you are done is about as ridiculous as putting a $1000 set of wheels on a Yugo. It just wouldn't be right.

 

Next up, we will look at the rest of the preparations I took before actually putting this beautiful case together.

 

Building a clear PC takes a bit more thought than most cases do because there is nowhere to hide anything unsightly such as loose wires, extra cabling, wire looms, etc. so to remedy this, extra steps must be taken to ensure a good job. One of my biggest pet peeves is 'ugly metal'. What the heck am I talking about? Ugly metal is metal that is either unfinished, or just plain ugly, such as cast aluminum or raw steel. There are many finishing processes that you can add to these metals which are relatively cheap, but for some reason I find more and more manufacturers are shipping raw products with little or no finish process on them at all. The main reason for this is probably cost, but regardless...it's ugly, and there is no way anything ugly is going into this case!

Above you can see what I call "ugly metal" parts that needed some serious attention. What we are looking at are the metal casings for both the CDROM and the floppy drive, a bare Volcano9 CPU heatsink, and a few steel laser-cut fan grills. You can see from the picture on the far right that the fan grills were in extra need of some attention, as they were not even deburred upon arrival. The Volcano9 and the drive covers needed finishing purely for aesthetic purposes. So the question is...what finish process will I choose? There's another old saying I remember that goes "Once you get bitten by the chrome bug, you will never recover!". Well, I was bitten by the chrome bug a long time ago because chrome just plain looks good with anything it is mixed with, and so that is the finishing process I chose for these parts. Now, chrome plating takes a little bit of time and money if you want a quality job, so these will be in the hands of the plater for at least a couple of weeks. Usually a good plater will put a very thin layer of copper over the parts before he chromes them, as this will help the chrome adhere better to the surfaces and come out more shiny and with less of an "orange peel" effect. We shall see later on how these parts actually came out, but for now we have time to iron out some other details of our project.

 

I had decided to build this case as a rock solid reliable and decently fast system, but I really wanted to keep the eye candy up to a maximum. I found this to be a somewhat challenging task when it came time to choose the hardware. It always seems that the different major hardware manufacturers use completely different PCB color schemes when it comes to their products. While this proves to be excellent for separating themselves from their competitors, it makes it hella difficult for me to color coordinate! Anyhow, I decided to go with an overall blue color scheme, and so off I went to gather some acceptable and matched parts.

   

For the Motherboard, I opted for the Gigabyte GA-7VTXE. It is a VIA KT266 northbridge based Socket 'A' AMD board that is about as basic as they come. There are really no extras on this board, but the KT266 platform is a great chipset, and (of course) this board is blue! Besides...about all this system is going to do is minor picture editing and play some music, so it doesn't really need all the extra features that some of the other motherboards may have. We just need good old fashioned reliability and from what I have heard, Gigabyte produces a great board in that area. This is my first time working with one, so we shall see.

 

The video card I chose is an Abit Siluro Ti4200 with 64MB RAM onboard and Yep, you guessed it, it is also blue! I have heard great things about the Ti4200 chip, especially it's overclockability, and the price was definitely nice coming in at right around $150 USD. Coupled with the Gigabyte board, an AMD Athlon processor and some good RAM, we should have one heck of a picture editing machine! The pictures above on the top right and bottom show the card during and after being fitted with some Tweakmonster RAMsink luvin'.

 

With that done, let's see if our stuff is ready to be picked up from the plater yet!