Ten minute modding

Written by Brett Thomas

April 3, 2008 | 09:23

Tags: #cable-sleeving #easy #fans #quick

Companies: #ac-ryan

Panels and exterior

Ah, the side panels - the proverbial "blank canvas" of modding. We all know what it's like to stare at a side panel, top panel, or even front panel and start to wonder, "What should I do to this?"

Sadly, I think many people end up saying "Nothing, it takes too much time and I don't want to have to shut everything down for days on end." Some envision fancy paint jobs but don't want to spend the coin, and don't have the talent or tools to do it themselves. Others envision incredibly detailed cuts and windows, but don't have access to a laser cutter or skills with a dremel.

Cheap cases come with steel side panels that make it all the harder to cut through, and if they're pre-cut with windows then they end up looking like crap with the 3mm cheap plexi that's been haphazardly pop-riveted in place.

So, what to do with a panel like this in ten minutes? A lot.

A dumb suggestion...

There are a couple things that anyone can do and probably find a use for on a case. The first and seemingly most obvious is to swap out the exterior screws for nice thumbscrews.
There are all sorts of little screws that can make nice additions to your mod.

There are all sorts of little screws
that can make nice additions to your mod.

I know this sounds absolutely amateur, but it's so easy and makes all the difference in the world when it comes to accessibility and even a little bling factor. Try contrasting colors for a nice accent, or use the case color to make it a little more seamless. Either way, get rid of the old!

Anodized, coloured thumb screws are available at pretty much any modding shop online, though you're not likely to stumble on them elsewhere. AC Ryan has pretty much every colour in the rainbow. And while you're at it, you should pick up some of the fan screws to add that one next step of customisation.

Silence freaks

For those of you who are silence lovers, the side panel is a good place to start. Most cases have bunches of holes in the panel that let tons of noise through and generally wreak havoc on your quiet environment. If you're really curious about silencing via a kit, you can check out the good old Be Quiet! PC Noise Absorber Kit that we reviewed a while back.

Not interested in wasting a bunch of money on black foam? There's always the option of DIY-ing it with some egg crate or padding foam for briefcases. Both work wonderfully for the task, even if they're not the most attractive things to look at. They won't do quite what acoustic foam does, but they're also very, very cheap!

Looking for more? Start with the rattle and hum of your side panels and their loose attachment! You can take a tube of silicone caulk and run a bead down the corner. Then, while it's still wet, put the side panel on to press the bead into shape and carefully trim off the excess with a razor blade or hobby knife. This should assure a good fit, without looking too unsightly. I've done this in a couple of my own very small boxes (Shuttle and the like) to very good effect, even if it's not the most professional edge you'll ever find.

Finally, don't forget to put little grommets on your fans. You can find them at the hardware store for practically nothing - you may have to drill out the screw holes a little wider, but aside from that you should be able to slip bolts in nice and easy!

Lovers of Bling

Oh, the bling. There's just so much to choose from....but what's fast and easy? Well, when we're looking at the outside of a case, we're looking at one of a few things - venting, windows, switches, and fans. But there are a couple other tricks that can be done!

First, let's cover the basics - windows. It seems like every cheap case nowadays has a window, but most are bog standard plexi and don't really look all that good. So, how do we fix it to look a little more custom and a little less sucky?
EL Lighting has some rather unorthodox uses, like using it to edge plexi.

EL Lighting has some rather unorthodox uses,
like using it to edge plexi.

  • Switch the plexi - plain old clear plexi is boring. How about some tinted stuff that matches the colour of your mod? Or maybe a two-way mirror?
  • Trade plexi for mesh - Modders' mesh, the de facto standard, comes in a variety of styles, and can be found around in black and silver. It cuts with a pair of tin snips and attaches easily. To be honest, I've even seen a mod with window screen that's looked awesome, so the sky's the limit!
  • Spice up the window - If you are a bit handy, you can cut your plexi to proper size for your window and add some accent by mounting it with rubber H-channel.
  • Light it up - Using LED fans to brighten up a window is alright, but here's a different idea - Pick up a kit of EL wire (2.2mm for 3mm acrylic windows) and run it inside of the window channel. ELwire can be cut to the length you need, and the brighter kits will be enough to give a gorgeous "edge glow" on the plexi without having to resort to brighter CCFLs on the inside - or you'll be free to use a different colour. It's a look that isn't seen very much at all, with EL wire seeming to fade from popularity as of late. However, because of that, kits are also really cheap!

Switches are also fairly straightforward. Oddly, many people seem to stay away from them due to having to wire them - it seems like most don't envision soldering and heat shrinking as a ten minute process. If you're one of those, you're in luck - companies like FrozenCPU sell a whole variety of switches pre-wired to plug right in. Just take off the old power button and make sure you drill a hole the right size! You can even get them pre-sleeved with cable sleeving of your choice.

As for fans, well...there are more brands, types and styles to choose from than I could ever be bothered to list in an article. For those looking for serious bling, my personal favourite still sits with AC Ryan and its Blackfire 4 brand. Why? Well, there are lots of little reasons, but the biggest one is that it's dual powered - meaning that the light power source isn't tied to the fan. So, it's possible to put the lights on one rheobus and the fans on another. Or, you can volt-mod the fans, without dimming the light. It's a simple fix, but it's a big improvement when you're going for a certain look. As well, AC Ryan is really big on dual-colour fans, which can fit a multi-coloured mod a lot better than a single coloured fan.
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