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[Professional] Project: Blue Moon

post #1 of 123
Thread Starter 

2010 was pretty special, we had two blue moons.
The first one was in January, right around when I decided to enter the contest.
We had another in March, as the work on this case really began in earnest.

We won't see another one until summer of 2012.

Welcome folks!

The target for this case mod will be a Lian Li A71F. The wife chose the color scheme, and subsequently the name of the mod. That's only fair, since I'm building this for her.

Since this is a case mod contest, I won't being showering you with too many hardware shots (at least, not until they're installed).

In lieu of pics, here is a list of some of the major components for the rig:

CPU: Intel Core i7-860
MOBO: MSI Big Bang Trinergy
RAM: Corsair Dominator (4 x 2GB) DDR3 1600
GPU: MSI GeForce GTX 470
HD's: OCZ Vertex 30GB SSD (3 in RAID0)
PSU: Silverstone ST-1000-P
CPU: EK-Supreme LT - Nickel/Acrylic
GPU: EK-FC470 GTX - Nickel/Acrylic
Radiators: HWLabs GTStealth 280's
Fans: Noiseblocker XK2's 140mm (push/pull)
Pumps:Swiftech MCP-355's with EK DDC X-Top V2 - Acrylic tops
Reservoirs: Bitspower Z-Multi 150's
Fittings: Enzotech (compressions) and Bitspower (misc.)
Tubing: Primochill Pro LRT (3/8" x 5/8")

As you might have guessed, "Blue Moon" is the theme, and the overall objective for this build is ease of use. I have dolled up this same Lian Li chassis before, but it turned out to be a real bear to work on. Learning from my mistakes, the objective for this mod is to be every bit as practical as it is attractive. The cooling hardware will be configured into two isolated loops, all internal, and all feeding on cool external air.

That's enough talk for now though. I'll leave you with a teaser pic...

...I guess it's really not made out of cheese.

For your convenience, a "view single post" Table of Contents:

a random collection of pictures; initial parts and shop shots.

initial tear down on the case, brushing aluminum, and plexi sub-floor

vent cuts in top and front door, and an improved front filter system
Back Panel:

black brushed rear trim, dual 120mm exhaust, custom top filter
Reservoir Mount:

Custom work begins in earnest, plus bitspower pr0n
Pump Mount:

more custom work, and triple vibration isolation
Drive Cage Cover:

a little frivolous thematic bling

push pull and shrouds, thumbscrew mounting

blue tubes and bitspower power

mod everything

HDD cage and Exhaust fans
Night Shots:

44 LED's in total
Final Photo Shoot:

That's all she wrote!
An Addendum: Screenshots of temps
Now, on to the build!
Edited by Warfarin88 - 7/6/10 at 11:23am
post #2 of 123
Thread Starter 
To really get hip deep in a casemod, I have found I need three things: the case (obviously), a power supply (to play with fans and lights and such), and something thematic. For this build, the only thing I had at the moment for a theme was the color blue, so some tubing and fans fleshed out my initial order.

Here's where it all began:

Now, if some of you have seen my logs before, you may notice a new workspace as well. I have new digs, and I allotted a 6' by 14' section of the garage for my shop.

The new space includes an island I have since dubbed the "modding bench of awesome":

I bolted 1.5" of particle board to the top of the tool chest for a mounting surface; and then fitted it with a 24" finger brake, a 10" drill press, a belt and disc sander, a dual hub grinding/polishing station, and a 5" vise:

There isn't much to the rest of space, but I tried to make the most of it. Try to ignore that naked little A05, she's a little shy and won't be making any more appearances in this log:

Now, for a little artsy fartsy photography session to get the ball rolling and help me figure out what I'm going to do with my new shop:

Another thing I did very early on was come up with some rough ideas for how I was going to incorporate extra blue into the mod, and blue transparent plexi fit the bill. I went ahead and had some stuff laser cut by Delvie's Plastics:

The shrouds are only a 1/4" thick, so I had eight of them cut so I could double them up for half inch shrouds on either side of the rads:

It was about here that my better half came up with the name for the build, and project Blue Moon began in earnest.

First up, tearing it apart...
Edited by Warfarin88 - 3/28/10 at 2:41pm
post #3 of 123
Thread Starter 
Here's what I started with, your basic factory fresh Lian Li A71F:

Here's about how far you can get with a screw driver:

Wasn't quite where I needed to be though, so out came the 1/8" drill bit for a little de-riveting:

The non-removable mother board tray was a real let down on this case. I had just assumed all mid range Lian Li's these days had them. I was wrong, but it's nothing eight M3 pem nuts couldn't fix. I drilled out the rivet holes to 4.2mm, and then pressed these into place with a c-clamp:

Eight Lian Li thumb screws in total hold the tray in place, where the rivets used to be:

There's three at the bottom:

... and three more at the top:

There's also two in back, but I had to add a couple more notches in the side panel's back lip to accomodate them:

That's a few more thumb screws than I would prefer to get the tray out, but at least it is possible to remove it now, and I figure I won't need to pull it all that often. Poor form regardless Lian Li.

Back to the chassis... I then took to it with a jigsaw, dremel, and files, and liberated some excess metal on the front and rear:

It's kind of tough to see in that pic, but I'll go into more detail later regarding what was removed and why.

I also drilled out and mounted scads of extra M3 and M4 pem nuts. They all have a purpose, but I'll reveal what they're each for as the log progresses. Here's an M4 one on the bottom of the case:

Finished off the process with a good cleaning and once over with green 3M scouring pads. Not much of the original chassis will be visible when it's complete, but the brushed effect left by the scouring pads is pretty nice:

Believe it or not, I only made 4 additional holes in the bottom of the case:

I really wasn't liking the semi-perforated look, so I cut out a 1/4" thick clear plexi cover plate and then frosted it with 80 grit sandpaper on an orbital sander:

Better, but still not quite where I wanted to be. So Then I cut out this piece:

This trim panel, for um... well... for the trim panel, is 1/8" thick blue transparent plexi:

If you're wondering what the round hole is, that's for a single MNPCTech "beefy" case foot, upside down, to support the PSU:

For once, my measurements didn't fail me. Clearance for the side panel clips is perfect:

You might also be wondering what the rectangular notches (a few pictures up) on either side are are for. Those are to allow clearance for the pump tray brackets, but more on that later...
Edited by Warfarin88 - 3/18/10 at 5:31pm
post #4 of 123
Thread Starter 
Before I go any further with the interior mods, I want to show you where this project is headed on the outside.

As mentioned, the cooling for this rig will be via two Black Ice Stealth 280 radiators configured in separate loops for CPU and GPU. One will be mounted in the top of the case, while the other will be mounted in the front. Both will be set up to intake cold air from outside the case.

I wanted to do something different than the usual rad grill style treatment on the roof however, and I settled on a psuedo "racing stripe" style for the vent holes.

After taping everything up, a little jig sawing, a little filing, and a little sanding, I had the top of the case and the front door opened up for some proper breathing:

I then assembled the parts I would need. The blue plexi trim pieces I had laser cut, some black mesh I scavenged from a donor ABS Black Pearl that I got on the cheap from newegg a while back, clear silicon adhesive to fix the plexi to the case aluminum, and 3M VHB "modding tape of the gods" to fix the mesh to the plexi:

Here's a broad shot of the underside of the assembled top:

and a closeup of the glue and tape method for fixing. It's very solid, and comes out pretty clean:

Here's a couple views from the outside:

The front door gets a similar treatment, with a little extra. This case comes factory with dust filters in the front, but to access them, you need to remove the door and unscrew the front trim panel of the case. Seriously Lian Li? Is that the best you can do?

I decided I could do better; what follows is my solution. After giving the front door cut outs a similar treatment as the top; I fabricated a bracket to hold a filter element. The bracket is cut and bent from an old Li Li side panel mis step from a previous mod, and the filter element is 1/4" think 30 ppi (pore per inch) open cell foam that I bought by the roll from McMaster Carr (part: 2195K52). I also cut some small plexi pieces to fix the filter bracket to:

The plexi brackets each have an M3 pem nut embedded into them:

I drilled through the bracket with a 4.2mm bit, and then counter sunk the back side of them. I then used a soldering iron to heat up the nut and melt it into place:

I planned on using Lian Li thumbscrews to fix the filter in place, but ran into a clearance issue. I remedied this by tossing the thumbscrews into my drill for a makeshift lathe. Here's a shot of the end result, with a couple factory screws for comparison:

3M clear double sided tape was more than adequate to hold the plexi brackets into place:

And the finished door assembly came out like so:

One thing to note for any Lian Li owners out there with a front door case. Blue "clean release" masking tape bonds with the grey weather stripping they use. I managed to tear mine up pretty good trying to get the tape off.

I decided I didn't really like the grey anyway, so I ultimately removed it and replaced it with some black stuff I picked up at the local big box hardware store. The Lian Li stuff was a bear to get off, and I ultimately ended up repainting the brackets that the weatherstrip adheres too; but in the end, I like the way it came out better:

(Note: This weatherstrip didn't end up working either. After a fair amount of trial and error, I finally found some half round stuff (McMaster part# 93085K673) that worked out. Moral of the story: do not remove the factory grey stuff if you can at all help it).

Now, all you have to do to clean the front filter is open the front door and pull two thumb screws. Much better.

I am also going to carry this layered plexi theme to the window side of the case as well, but Delvie's cant do laser cutting that large in house. So, I ordered a fresh sheet of 3/16" blue plexi and I'll have to do it the old fashioned way.

More to come on the side panel after I get those materials in.
Edited by Warfarin88 - 6/14/10 at 5:19pm
post #5 of 123
Thread Starter 
While I'm waiting for the rest of the plexi to do the side panel, I'll show you what I did to reinvent the back plane of the case.

First, I further cannibalized my donor Black Pearl and fashioned these plates out of 2mm Lian Li black brushed aluminum:

Note the grommet-ed holes. I use these a lot. Lian Li gives you a ton of these little hard drive grommets with every case, and I love using them to isolate vibrations. They're also great to give you a little "fudge factor" on your drilling, in case your holes don't line up quite right.

They're mounted in a 5/16" hole:

Below you can see what the new back panels look like on the case. This isn't the greatest picture, but the overall effect is similar to the higher end Lian Li cases that are all black brushed anodized.

The panels aren't all cosmetic though, they each do serve a purpose. This case does support two 120mm exhausts stock, but since I removed one of their mounting points to make way for the top radiator, the new plate serves to mount two fans instead of one.

I attached all the new plates to the case with M4 black oxide button head hex drive screws into M4 pem nuts mounted to the chassis:

This little panel acts as a back plane to hold the tool-less PCI gizmo on. I re-tapped the threads on it to M4, so the mounting hardware would match:

I think this thing is a little over engineered, but it works well and the wife likes it. It's her rig, so it stays:

Here's the PSU mounting plate. Again, I used the rubber hard drive grommets to isolate the mounting points:

Coupled with the rubber support "foot" underneath, the PSU should be vibration free, and it has a nice floating effect:

Last but not least, back at the top, this little rectangle covers my filter solution for the top radiator intake:

Here it is off the case, with the frame I built for the filter element using 1.6mm aluminum:

and assembled:

At the far end, I attached a bit of self adhesive neoprene that came with the case (for use as a HD dampener):

That pad rests on this bracket that I fashioned. I used 2mm aluminum for this piece, since it is going to ultimately support a radiator as well:

2mm is a bit thick for my finger brake, but it managed pretty well:

Here's the radiator bracket mounted in the case:

As usual, 4mm button head screws and pem nuts anchor it down:

from the top:

The filter slides right in from the back, and fixes with a single thumb screw:

And, since this will angle will never be seen from the inside once the build is complete, a couple of interior shots:

I've seen the how well these filters work in my current case, but I'm pretty stoked with how easy these will be to access. Since this is the wife's rig, easy maintenance was a particularly high priority. She likes to take care of her own gear, and I want to make it as easy as possible for her.

Now, all intakes are fully filtered, and unscrewing three thumb screws is all the time it will take to have full access to both of the filter elements.

So far, so good.
Edited by Warfarin88 - 3/18/10 at 10:08pm
post #6 of 123
Thread Starter 
Continuing with the inside, I wrapped up the pieces necessary for the reservoir mounting today.

If you recall the rectangular shaped notches in the sides of the floor plexi; they were to make room for these brackets, which will support a tray for the pumps:

Attaching to one of them is a dual purpose cable management cover / reservoir mounting plate I fashioned out of these bits:

The three layers are sandwiched together and held by four M4 button head screws. The odd projecting bit with all the holes in it will support the res's from below:

Here's some closeups of the Bitspower pass through fittings:

These are not actually part of active loop; but rather the facilitate the system fill lines. Confused yet? Hopefully it will make more sense as this post progresses.

(Note: The permanently installed fill tubes you'll see later in the log ended up not working out. In the end, a couple of stop fittings that I could pull to temporarily install (longer) straight fill lines greatly eased the filling/bleeding process, and left much more room for cable routing.)

Here's a couple shots of the pass through fittings from the back side of the bracket (everyone loves Bitspower porn, right?):

... one more for good measure:

Here's a shot of the bottom of the assembly, from the back. The oval hole is there for cable management, the small rectangular plate is the back side attachment point for the reservoir support:

...couple angles of that area from the front:

To make way for this assembly, I had to modify the motherboard tray a bit:

In addition to brushing the tray like I did the rest of the chassis; I cut the long slot on the right side to make room for fill tubing. I matched the 3/8" radius of the factory CPU cutout on the corners:

I also had to make one small notch in the top to make way for a mounting screw on the primary res plate:

Here's the recipient of the case, modeling her hand for you all while she demonstrates how her newly-removable mother board tray inserts into the chassis:

And, here's a broad shot with everything installed:

from the back:

Here's a close up of the clearance for the fill tubes through the mobo tray slot:

I didn't want fill ports breaking up the clean lines on the top of the case, so I needed to come up with a different solution. The fill tubes will hang down in that slot normally, and I'll cap them with Bitspower drain line plugs. When we want to horse around with a loop or top off a res; We'll just need to pull the back side panel to expose the fill tubes. They will lift up (to be the highest point in the loop) for easy filling.

Down at the bottom, the whole contraption ties into the pump tray mount through rubber grommets, to isolate it from any pump vibration:

... I warned you about me and these grommets:

This is just a random shot of the fold for the res support bracket:

And here's the res's with the fittings needed to accomplish all this. Don't mind the blue on the res's, I'm just protecting the acrylic:

The res closest to the back plate will feed from the front rad, and fill from the top port of the Q fitting. The outside res will feed from the top rad, and the elbow assembly will go to the pass through for the fill:

Here's a front angle, showing the barb that will lead to the front rad:

Underneath, the downward barbs will give a straight and short shot to the pumps below:

The barbs on the 90's will lead to drain ports in the bottom of the case, in between the pumps and the PSU:

To wrap it up, here's another wide shot, with BP temp sensors installed, plugging the last of the holes in the top Q fittings:

(Note: I later changed most of the Bitspower stubby fittings out for Enzotech 5/8" x 3/8" compression fittings.)
Edited by Warfarin88 - 6/8/10 at 2:24pm
post #7 of 123
Thread Starter 
Next up, something for those reservoirs to feed.

First, some gratuitous hardware porn of the pumps, Swiftech MCP-355's with EK tops:

You've already seen that the pump tray brackets are isolated from the chassis with rubber grommets. You're about to see that the tray will be isolated from the brackets in a similar fashion. Finally, underneath the pumps, I used some 1/16" rubber sheet and fashioned gaskets for third layer of vibration dampening:

Next, I made this assortment of bits for the tray:

M4 pem nuts pressed into place with a soldering iron again for mounting:

... and a passel of HD grommets I massaged with a nail clipper:

This allows them to nest neatly in the holes to mount the tray, while still allowing the layers of the tray to sandwich tightly:

Shot from the bottom with the pumps mounted up:

Then I just stack the layers:

... and install them on the brackets:

Everything lines up nicely (whew):

Shot from the top, not quite the "floating" effect I was hoping for, but still pretty cool:

And a quick current progress panaroma to wrap up this installment:

Edited by Warfarin88 - 3/23/10 at 9:33am
post #8 of 123
Thread Starter 
Next up is a fairly small addition to the build, but it has a lot of style.

In the first post, I gave you a teaser of my aluminum tribute to the moon. I cut this from 3mm thick aluminum plate with a jig saw, and then free handed the etching with a rotary tool. Many hours later, this was the result:

I took a few liberties with the topography to get the visual effect I was looking for, but overall it came out pretty neat.

Then I added it to the pile of bits I had already crafted:

I didn't have these pieces laser cut, but I did bring the same style of the exterior vents in to the exterior. The whole assembly bolts together, with the mesh and moon affixed with 3M tape:

It bolts into the case with four M4 screws. Three in the front:

and one through the reservoir backer plate:

that one ties into a small "L" bracket I fashioned:

The small notches in the vented piece are to correct for a measuring oversight on my part. They allow clearance for the plumbing:

Hard drives will be handled by this EX-332B bay cage from Lian Li:

Clearance is snug, but should be adequate with right angle wiring:

In the event we want to swap out an optical drive or other device, access is simply a process of removing four M4 button heads, rather than the whole assembly:

and... a parting shot of the whole rig:

Next up, the radiators.
post #9 of 123
Thread Starter 
Ok, time for the radiator mounting.

This one took a pretty big pile of pieces:

You'll note the reappearance of the floor panels there. I needed to notch the front for clearance on the front rad, as well as install the drain plugs, so it's redux is piggy backing on this installment. After the primary assemblies were complete, I ended up with this:

The pass through fittings for the drains weren't deep enough to pass through both layers of plexi, so they only affix to the blue layer:

The rest of the pass through's drop through larger holes in the frosted layer, and the case floor. Here it is in the chassis:

From the bottom:

Here's an in-case shot of the notch I made for the clearance up front:

Which brings us back to the radiator assemblies:

I don't anticipate these shrouds will make huge performance differences, they're mostly for looks. They can't hurt though, and I do like the way they came out:

The aluminum plates these are fixed to are 2mm thick, and fitted with the rubber HD grommets:

I went with separate plates, in the event I ever wanted to fix a different (120mm) radiators. This way, I'll only have to make a new plate, rather than modify the chassis or fabricate a whole new bracket.

Broad shot of the real estate they take up in the case:

Both assembly plates mount to the chassis with six M3 Lian Li thumbscrews. here's the front one:

Clearance was really tight for that front rad, but it fit (it's pretty much touching the case floor as well):

And here's the top rad, mounted to the 2mm bracket (shown earlier in the top filter post), again with 6 thumbscrews:

From inside:

Gettting closer. Now, on to the plumbing.
post #10 of 123
Thread Starter 
This is probably the part of the build I was dreading the most. I took great pains to make sure everything lined up nice while I was fabricating the various brackets; but you never really know for sure until you hook her all up.

First, I got my workspace ready:

Normally I go for a "trial and error" method for this process, but I was going to need to be spot on for some of the straight tube runs, so I pulled out a few more tools to assist:

First was the fill ports. If you recall, they're situated in the "off" side of the case:

They'll work like so (sorry, my hand model was unavailable, so you'll have to deal with my ugly mitt):

(Note: These fill tubes didn't end up working out. As it turned out, a couple of simple stop fittings that I could quickly pull to temporarily install straight through fill lines (in lieu of the permanently mounted 90 degree fill lines) greatly eased the bleeding process, and left much more room for cable routing.)

Here's the pumps. Those short connections from the reservoir's were a real beach:

Drops from the bottom of the res to the drain ports:

This is the front rad hookup. The straight lead is a return to the res, the one that drops down is the return from the GPU:

It threads behind the main res plate here with this mess of fittings, but I may swap this out for a Danger Den delrin "T" fitting later:

This is the top rad. The straight drop down is to the res, the other is the return from the CPU block:

Here's a broad shot with a couple of junctions subbed in for the hardware (that I don't have yet), in preparation for a preliminary leak test:

At this point, I thought it would be fun to get some shots with the drive cover installed, but I ran into a clearance issue. I had to remove the top rad assembly to get it in:

At first I was discouraged by the fact that I didn't plan out clearances better. "Ease of use" was a priority for this build. Then I thought about it some more. It only took me a minute to drop the whole rad assembly and toss the cover on. Actually, each of the main assemblies (pump, res, rads, and mobo) can be pulled as a unit in less than a minute. Really that's not too bad. So, I decided to stop feeling bad, and called it a success.

To celebrate, I'll leave you with some parting shots of the case as she sits now:

Edited by Warfarin88 - 6/4/10 at 2:39pm
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