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[Scratch Build] Custom built Thin Mini ITX HTPC case

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
Welcome to my first shot at building a case from scratch. First a little background as to why I am building a case. Ever since about 3 years ago when Intel announced the Thin Mini ITX form factor I was excited to shrink down my HTPC which I coincidentally built the year before. So needless to say I wasn't ready to run out and upgrade it. I have been watching the Thin Mini ITX scene for the past 3 years and it really has gone nowhere. Only about 4 manufacturers make boards and just as few make cases. Needless to say I never saw a good looking case that supported a blu-ray drive and a PCI-E card of any kind. I unfortunately spent $400 on the InfiniTV 4 CableCard tuner when it was released in 2010 which I don't regret (now sold for $180), but it has been the main consideration of any HTPC build since. If I had the network based InfiniTV 4 then I could use almost any of the cases on the market.

So there here are my goals for this build
1. Smallest footprint possible. right now the design is estimated to be 30x30x3cm
2. must support 1 low profile PCI-e card
3. must support 1 slim blu-ray drive
4. low power consumption (runs 24x7)


Optional features I would like to cram in
1. front panel LCD/VFD display would be cool, but need to find a decent one that is also small. currently the 30cm depth on the case includes heat sink right up against the front of the case where an LCD display would go so every cm of depth on the display adds to case depth
2. controller IR receiver built into the case, probably crammed under the DVD drive somewhere, or at least the eye there and the innards somewhere else because I need to keep that area relatively clear for CPU cooling
3. I would like to set a second blower fan just under the PCI-e card blowing across the motherboard for 2 reasons. 1, the InfiniTV card runs hot as it is in my current case as it is passively cooled, and second the Thin Mini ITX specs suggest a second fan blow over the system to cool it. see pics below
4. The SSD is really optional at this point as I plan on just splurging on a small mSATA drive eventually, although probably while building the case I will start with a spare SSD

I have done one other case mod to retrofit a 420 Rad on top of an old Antec P180 case . I am relatively new to trying to build from scratch, and while I know my way around a dremel and a soldering iron, I am no expert at piecing metal together so I will be looking for some advice there.

So lets get started:

Component list (Open for discussion)
  1. GIGABYTE GA-H81TN LGA 1150 Intel H81 Motherboard
  2. Intel Core i3-4130T Haswell 2.9GHz LGA 1150 35W Dual-Core Intel HD 4400
  3. Intel HTS1155LP CPU Cooler
  4. G.SKILL 8GB (2 x 4GB) 204-Pin DDR3 SO-DIMM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800)
  5. Kingston SMS200S3/60G mSATA 60GB SATA III Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
  6. Silverstone Slot Load 6X Blu-Ray Writer (SOB02) (looking for a slot-load drive and this was just the first one I saw, would like to find one under $100)
  7. DC power brick 19v - I have a couple floating around including a universal one with multiple tips that will hopefully work, if not will look to add one here.
  8. Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe (already own)
  9. StarTech PCI Express Riser Card - x4 Left Slot Adapter (maybe I just go with a ribbon solution, but still to early to say how I am going to mount the low profile card.
  10. A second blower fan. I would like to use the same Intel fan but I cannot find the fan sold separately from the heat sink, so I will have to find some laptop fan maybe.
  11. LCD display for front open for suggestions
  12. small IR receiver model for use with Logitech Harmony. I currently use a rather large receiver that sits on top of the HTPC.

Case Material (Open for discussion)

So right now everything under my TV is black, including the stand, so ideally I am going for something black. It would be cool to have a solid wood case, but I dont really have any woodworking tools currently to say carve out the inside of a block of wood. I therefore decided to start with some metal. I was looking for some aluminum sheets to work with when I came across these:
29cm x 44cm "Brushed Aluminum" Blank Pickguard Sheet

I get the sense based on the name in quotes that it might not actually be aluminum, but at $36 for 2 sheets I am taking a shot with them. Note they are only 29cm so I am really going to have to stick to my goal of 30x30 if I want these to work. Ideally It is somewhat bendable metal and maybe I can find a way to create two similar U shapes that form together into a box. So trim it down to 29x36 and then fold down 3cm on each side.

Case Layout Rendering

Here are some 3d renderings of the initial layout inside the case. I am no pro at 3d rendering and basically just grabbed SketchUp and learned enough to create this model

First Image is an overhead angled view looking at the front with the fan/heat sink and Blu-Ray drive at the front. Second picture is head on to try to show the goal of the clearance under the Blu-Ray drive as the CPU blower will blow under it. I really am not sure how high the PCI-e card is going to sit, that was just a guess.



This last picture is taken directly from the Intel Thin Mini ITX system design guide. This is the basic cooler layout I am doing but the Exit duct is replaced by the blu-ray drive and the second blower fan over the motherboard may or may not make it into my build.


So there you have it. Open for suggestions on anything at this point, but mostly on Case materials and Build techniques. As I noted, I am initially going to try my hand at metal working. if anyone has any suggestions on how one might bend the metal I ordered (which should arrive mid next week), please speak up. If you have other thoughts on building a black case out of some alternative material, let me know.
    
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120gb OCZ Solid 3 GTX420 420mm Radiator Swiftech MCP35X Swiftech Apogee XT (R2) 
CoolingCoolingOSMonitor
Swiftech Komodo™ HD6900 140mm Yate Loon D14SL-12 Windows 7 Ultimate 3x Dell U2311H 
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post #2 of 5
Thread Starter 
So I got the "Brushed Aluminum" sheets on Saturday (it just happened that the Amazon storefront was a place not 50 miles from me). As suspected they are not actually Aluminum and are a composite of 3 sheets of what might be aluminum-plastic-aluminum or some other metal sandwiched around a plastic core. I think I could have worked with them if they were a solid sheet of any metal, but this combination of materials does not work well. I bought a 18' Bending Brake for roughly $40 to form the case out of my sheets. Because they are not solid metal, they tend not to bend as metal should. I was able to bend it, but the bend did not make the 90 degrees I needed to and even after bending it to about 105 degrees (the limit of the bending break) it springs back to maybe a 75 degree angle. I will post some pictures later.

I am going to attempt to play around with the sheets a bit more and see if I can bend in the 90 degree angle I need, but if not I am open to suggestions for places to buy some cheep steel or aluminum sheets to assemble this case out of. I will probably check out Home Depot later in the week.

Edit, pic added

Edited by Mr.Sakamoto - 3/3/14 at 5:40pm
    
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
i5 2500k P8P67 Pro XFX 6970 4x2gb Corsair 1600 
Hard DriveCoolingCoolingCooling
120gb OCZ Solid 3 GTX420 420mm Radiator Swiftech MCP35X Swiftech Apogee XT (R2) 
CoolingCoolingOSMonitor
Swiftech Komodo™ HD6900 140mm Yate Loon D14SL-12 Windows 7 Ultimate 3x Dell U2311H 
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G510 Antec HCP-1200 custom modded P180 Mx518 
Mouse PadAudio
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CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
i5 2500k P8P67 Pro XFX 6970 4x2gb Corsair 1600 
Hard DriveCoolingCoolingCooling
120gb OCZ Solid 3 GTX420 420mm Radiator Swiftech MCP35X Swiftech Apogee XT (R2) 
CoolingCoolingOSMonitor
Swiftech Komodo™ HD6900 140mm Yate Loon D14SL-12 Windows 7 Ultimate 3x Dell U2311H 
KeyboardPowerCaseMouse
G510 Antec HCP-1200 custom modded P180 Mx518 
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post #3 of 5
I have a couple parts suggestions that might help.

First, for an SSD, Crucial m500 series mSATA SSDs are the best value for mSATA right now. NewEgg has the 120gb model for $80

That CPU cooler looks large and cumbersome. I have this Dynatron k199 blower picked out for a mini-ITX PlayStation mod I'm working on with the same CPU.

As for a secondary blower, my inclination would be to have a large, slow (quiet) exhaust fan above the InfiniTV card. Then just make sure that the sides of the case are ventilated (and filtered with some foam mesh). You can probably mount the slim BD drive directly above the CPU cooler and still stay under 3" in height with a footprint of about 7"x10"
post #4 of 5
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the suggestions. I hadn't even thought to look for an alternative cooler and was just going with the default Intel designed cooler. You have opened me up to a whole new layout I will have to investigate. I like your idea of PCs in things. When I originally wanted to build this a computer years ago I wanted to build it in a DVD player but couldn't find one that would work with the above layout, specifically the DVD drive on the right. It's weird if you ever look at DVD players, the drive is almost always on the left or centered.

120gb is rather big for just OS, but you are correct I can do much better on the price per GB it seems. Current HTPC is running on a 40gb drive fine with a second 2tb for recorded TV and media (will move over to a NAS or server once this PC is built). I am in no rush and an avid slickdeals.net browser. Just going to pick up pieces as I see them on sale. Also having second thoughts on the Blu-Ray drive. I will probably build it into the build but just stick a used dvd drive in the space for now. I used my old media center as a Blu-Ray player but now I have an xbox1 so it seems like a waste of $100 unless I find one dirt cheap.

Goal at the moment is try to make use of the "brushed aluminum" sheets I bought work for this build, or find something else to use to make the case. I will also try mocking up a new layout give that current CPU cooler you mentioned lowguppy. maybe you could take some measurements on your board once you have it installed. you mentioned 3 Inches, but originally my build was 3 millimeters. Although cutting the footprint down and raising the height may be a worthwhile tradeoff.
    
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
i5 2500k P8P67 Pro XFX 6970 4x2gb Corsair 1600 
Hard DriveCoolingCoolingCooling
120gb OCZ Solid 3 GTX420 420mm Radiator Swiftech MCP35X Swiftech Apogee XT (R2) 
CoolingCoolingOSMonitor
Swiftech Komodo™ HD6900 140mm Yate Loon D14SL-12 Windows 7 Ultimate 3x Dell U2311H 
KeyboardPowerCaseMouse
G510 Antec HCP-1200 custom modded P180 Mx518 
Mouse PadAudio
X Trac Asus Xonar DG 
  hide details  
Reply
    
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
i5 2500k P8P67 Pro XFX 6970 4x2gb Corsair 1600 
Hard DriveCoolingCoolingCooling
120gb OCZ Solid 3 GTX420 420mm Radiator Swiftech MCP35X Swiftech Apogee XT (R2) 
CoolingCoolingOSMonitor
Swiftech Komodo™ HD6900 140mm Yate Loon D14SL-12 Windows 7 Ultimate 3x Dell U2311H 
KeyboardPowerCaseMouse
G510 Antec HCP-1200 custom modded P180 Mx518 
Mouse PadAudio
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post #5 of 5
For interior height the bare minimum is going to be between around 1.5" You have flexibility with where the optical drive and secondary fan goes, but slim fans and optical drives are only about 15mm tall. I'll also note that the cooler on the CPU pushes air out of the case it will pull air towards the CPU, this will generate some airflow and in a small space that might be all you need.

The more I think about it, the more I think the secondary fan should be below the InfiniTV card pushing up. That way you have the bottom and sides vented but can use that "brushed aluminum" material for a solid top. It might not bend to sharp corners, but it probably makes nice gradual curves along the lines of this Sony BD player:


I should note that I don't know how loud that CPU cooler is. It's designed for servers and might not be suitable for an HTPC. Then again the Intel recommended layout appears to use a similar style of side blower. If you're willing to go up to 2.5" interior height then a bigger, fanless, low profile cooler like a Prolimatech Samuel 17 and a vented top might be better.
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