I did not plan this project and everything was spontaneous when I accidentally saw this motherboard in the online store. The first thing that caught my eye was the abundance of interfaces. Especially old type interfaces (just in case). Yes, this is ASUS AM1I-A:
Internal connectors include two memory DIMM slots, a PCIe x4 slot (that can physically accommodate a graphics card), and two 6Gbps SATA ports. External connectors include surround audio, a DVI port, an Ethernet port, an HDMI port, two PS/2 ports, a serial (COM) port, four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, and a VGA port. There's even a parallel header for connecting an external printer port and that's a lot of connectivity for such a basic board.
The AM1I-A is a mini-ITX motherboard aimed at miniPC and small-form-factor (SFF) chassis installations. I had an old computer case but it seemed too big for this motherboard. I was looking in online stores something for my taste but what I saw did not meet my expectations.
I was looking for a computer case in which all interfaces would be located on the front of the case and I have never seen such computer cases on sale. So I decided to cut my old computer case into two parts and make my own design according to my wishes.
It took me several months to tailor all the details and my free time was often taken by this process. The situation was complicated by the use of rivets which I had to drill several times despite the fact that I had previously fastened everything with screws and nuts.
In this project, I used everything that came to my hands and seemed suitable for this. Even knobs from old furniture have found a new use. Every day this computer case more and more resembled some kind of electronic device from the last century.
When I was 100% sure that all parts fit exactly (for this I had to pre-insert all the electronics parts inside to avoid the random error) I have again disassembled everything down to the smallest parts to prepare them for the final painting stage.
These two photos are one of the brightest moments of the project when scrap metal turns into something completely new. At such moments, you always start to enjoy what you do and this is exactly what is called the creative process.
The assembly process began after the paint has dried well and it took about a week after which I riveted the first part of the case and it was a ventilation grille which I cut out of the cover of the old VHS player that was lying in the garage for a long time.
To assemble the front panel and the side walls of the computer case I used the exact same rivets as before and the same holes for them. After that, the handles were screwed with the screws and it gave the construction even more rigidity of the connection.
Such design assumes removable top and back panels and the computer case in this position (when it is open) must have an adequate safety margin. To this end, I decided to use a thickened bottom that cannot be deformed and damage the electronic components.
Considering all the above requirements for the rigidity of the computer case, I used glass-cloth-base laminate with a thickness of about 10 millimeters as a material for the lower part of the chassis, which I screwed to the already fastened front and side panels.
This construction has many problematic moments and one of these moments is also the rear corners of the side panels which I fixed with a special crossbar. This place also has been strengthened by the brackets for a removable back panel and larger diameter rivets.
In the power supply circuit of a computer I made some changes that extend the functionality and usability of the device. For easy connection of an external hard drive I installed an Aviation Connector Plug on the front panel and brought to it the supply voltage of +5 and +12 volts through a toggle switch (2A/220V). This mode is also highlighted by a green LED.
I also added a forced hard disk cooling system which is turned on manually when the hard disk is heavily loaded with file system operations such as operating system installation or during data backup when the temperature of the hard drive rises noticeably. The cooler is turned on by the toggle switch and the yellow LED lights up.
Since the front panel looks too saturated with interfaces and controls I decided to use the power and hard disk LEDs as the backlight of the internal space of the system unit. I made a light diffuser from a transparent PVC tube and put these LEDs into it opposite each other.
On the front panel I had an unused place for MIDI/GAME interfaces and this place was perfect for the POWER and RESET buttons. I cut out two buttons from some old board, soldered them to the two pairs of wires and pasted them instead of MIDI/GAME connector.
While I was doing this computer case, the motherboard with an installed cooler and radiator lay in the box and over time, I accidentally noticed that too hard springs began to arch the motherboard, so I made the threaded racks with smoothly adjustable clamping force.
All motherboards come with special caps with holes that follow the configuration of the external connectors and these caps are usually not the best look for the front panel, so I decided to make my own plexiglass cap through which the inner space will be seen.
Above the motherboard, I had to make a special grid (for this I used old extension card slot brackets) to prevent the wires of the parallel and serial ports from falling on the blades of the cooler and to fix them at the same level between the motherboard and the power supply.
The motherboard ASUS AM1I-A has one PCI Express x4 slot that supports PCI Express x4 graphic card, or it can be used for example, for a sound card, and I needed to evaluate correctly in favor of which to make a choice, since both video and sound are supported by the built-in capabilities of the motherboard and processor. After reading the reviews on the Internet, I concluded that the sound is a weaker place, and therefore, to improve this parameter, I bought inexpensive sound card that provides better sound quality.
One of my friends doubted the efficiency of cooling with such a tightly package of internal components. But the power supply fan has a diameter of 120mm and it effectively sucks air through the side grate blowing all the inner space of the case. In addition, the processor's power is only 25W and its temperature even in the summer heat does not reach 50 °C.
So, my "black box" has the following technical characteristics:
● Motherboard: ASUS AM1I-A (sAM1, APUs, PCIe 2.0 x4) ● APU: AMD Athlon 5350 (X4 sAM1, 2.05GHz, 2MB, 25W) ● RAM: Kingston DDR3-1600 4096MB PC3-12800 (KVR16N11S8/4) ● Graphic: Integrated AMD Radeon R Series Graphics in the APU ● Audio: Manli C-Media 8738 PCI-E 5.1 (M-CMI8738-PCI-E) ● HDD: Toshiba 1TB 7200rpm 32MB DT01ACA100 3.5 SATA III ● DVD-ROM: ASUS DVD±R/RW SATA Bulk (DRW-24F1MT/BLK/B/AS) ● Power Supply: Aerocool VX-400 400W (ACPN-VX40NEY.11)
For this project, I spent all my free time during the year 2016. Maybe it's very long, but it was not easy. I'm glad that the result exceeded all my expectations and I got what I wanted.