Planning Your Case Mod

Written by Peter Dickison

March 23, 2007 | 17:40

Tags: #badassumption #cutting #drawing #feature #guide #macro-black #orac #plan #sketchup #vapor #wmd

Companies: #bit-tech #dremel #mod

Gathering Materials

Now that you have an awesome mod on paper and, if you've jumped the gun, you've posted nice rendered pics on your favourite forum. If you're sensible, you'll be going through the next stage of planning before you announce your project to the world: sourcing materials and costing your project.

It might seem a tedious and boring thing to gather materials and work out your budget, and, well, it usually is! I've found that getting together all the components, sheet-metal, plexi, fasteners, and other parts required, can be the most time-consuming part of the whole project and one where good planning can save you both time and money.

Working out if you can afford to build your dream mod before sharing your concept with all and sundry, can save you from becoming the latest vapor-modder, as it's a simple matter at this stage to go back and refine your design to fit your budget.

From a well thought-out design, clear concept and good set of drawings, it should be possible to list practically everything you're going to need for the project. From this you can find suppliers, work out the total cost and start ordering. This can take a looooooong time; especially when you have unreliable suppliers, or have to order parts from abroad. You may already have some parts at this stage, thanks to a wee dilemma I call "the chicken and the egg".

The Chicken and the Egg

Sometimes, in order to design a case you need to have the actual parts in your hot, sweaty paws, to measure and get the dimensions right. This can lead to several problems that you should consider when planning: if the project is likely to be a long build, the expensive, state-of-the-art components you buy today, may be less than stellar in 12 months time when you finally finish your project. You want to use your 'new' computer and technology will undoubtedly change. The ATWhatever form-factor or GeeWhiz-ForceGoFaster SuperXtreme2100 card you've exactingly built your fancy custom case around, to .01mm tolerances, may have been superseded by something larger (or smaller) when it's time to upgrade in a couple of years.

The best way to avoid these sorts of issues is to either mod a commercial, larger-size case with plenty of room for whatever components you might use, or if designing a custom case, to allow plenty of space for future upgrades.

Sizes of many standard components are available from manufacturers sites or via standards documents (like the ATX standard), or useful forum threads often discuss them (use the search). This may obviate the need to buy the system components until you've nearly finished the mod. With 3D software, like SketchUp, there are whole collections of computer components available for free online, thanks to the hard work and enthusiasm of modders who have used this software for years. For those working in 2D, it can be useful to build full-size cardboard or foam-core models of components, from online dimensions, and use these to check fit and clearances.

There are dozens of free, ready-to-use models available for SketchUp created by fellow modding enthusiasts

A Word on Cardboard...

Many modders have discovered the magic of cardboard mock-ups. If you're not designing in 3D, cardboard models of various parts, or even of entire cases, can be built at any stage to check various aspects of the mod. It's really a matter of how much time willing to invest. Some modders use them all the time and others never have the need.

If I have to make a cardboard mock-up, I find it useful to print out a 1:1 scale drawing, paste it onto the cardboard and cut out the part. If you do it neatly and include hole positions, cardboard models can double as templates for drilling or cutting not only the actual modelled part, but also the parts of the case it attaches to.

Well, by this stage you've got a clear idea of the concept, you've drawn it, worked out you can afford it and have the tools and skills to build it. You have started gathering components and may even have mocked-up a few things. It's at this point where some modders fall over: yes, it's time to mod!
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