the Factory case

The case, finished and running


After being unable to get my High End Stereo Case quiet enough for my ears, I bought up a VIA EPIA 5000 to use as my desktop computer. It was put into a small case that was recycled from an old Sony CD-Rom drive, and it worked out pretty well, but eventually I got tired of not having my 1600sw monitor on my desk, so I scrounged an Oxygen VX1 PCI card from ebay and tried to wedge it into the case. It didn’t fit, so I had to build a new case.

Inspiration strikes

At the same time, my son and I were mocking up a factory building for one of our model railroads. This factory building is being made out of Design Preservation Models modular building pieces, and about halfway through our construction I realized that these pieces would be almost the perfect size to make a computer case out of. The original plan was to have it be a one story building to contain the motherboard with a tower along one side to hold the video card.

This case doesn’t have a CD-Rom drive or a floppy, because I’ve got more than enough USB connectors to attach everything I’d usually wire up inside the case and still have a couple left for other purposes. (And it doesn’t help that all the slimline CD-Rom drives I own are very loud, even when doing something as sedate as reading an audio CD; I’ve got a few quiet full-height CD drives, but they wouldn’t fit into the case.) Most of the operating systems I intend to run support USB floppies and CD-rom drives, and I figured that I could always open up the case and attach an IDE CD-rom if I needed to install an operating system that didn’t understand USB and couldn’t install over the network.


Mocked up walls Taped together Computer-side view

The sides of the building were glued up flat, and I cut panels out of the (blank) back wall to provide openings for the ATX backplate and the Oxygen VX1 card before assembling the walls into the building. The motherboard is mounted onto a piece of wood and is pressure-fitted into the bottom of the case, and held in place by plastic rails along the side of the case and a couple of plastic latches at the front; they hook over the front of the motherboard panel, which is forced against them by the springiness of the ATX backplate. A second piece of wood is used as part of the roof so I could have a rigid surface to attach the power supply.

Latch detail

I’d not want to hold the case by the roof and swing it all around, but it keeps everything from falling out when I pick up the case.


Assembled for testing

I did a test-assembly of the computer to make certain that it worked, and discovered, to my intense dismay, that the Morex D2D didn’t produce enough power to drive the EPIA and the Oxygen VX1 card. So I needed to remove the power supply and replace it with an Ituner PW-60, which (barely) has enough power. The PW-60 didn’t fit under the roof, so I relocated it to the front wall of the case and installed the hard drive where the power supply used to be. And while I was at it, I chiselled off the obnoxiously loud fan on the Oxygen card and replaced it with a ThermalTake Blue Orb fitted through a Zalman fan throttle.

The case with a Morex D2D The case with an Ituner PW-60

Around this time, I realized that it would be just about impossible to fit the internal cabling under a low roof and still have enough ventilation around the CPU, so I changed my plans and added a second tower section to hold the power switch, the front USB connectors, some of the internal cabling, and the power light (a Radio Shack dashboard LED from the local store). The power switch (which is almost invisible against the roof) is mounted in the roof just above the power light.

Top view of the second tower showing the power switch Everything crammed into the box

The additional tower section opened up enough room in the case so I could put an additional IDE cable in (so I wouldn’t have to open the case if I needed to install an operating system that didn’t understand USB or the network.)

Final details

The walls of the case were painted with Floquil Boxcar Red, the doors and windows were painted with Depot Green, and the roof was painted with Engine Black. After the paint dried, I reassembled the computer parts and fitted the case back together.

To finish off the computer, I added some Walthers roof vents and a nameplate made from sheet plastic and Slater’s Plasticard 3mm letters (left over from a trip to the UK in the early 1990s).

Ground-level view

The computer is not quite silent – In the wee hours of the morning I can hear the whirring of the Blue Orb and the chirping of the hard drive as the operating system scribbles around on it, but it’s a lot quieter than anything else I’ve worked on since I stopped working on computers with serial terminals.

Up and running

Parts list

  1. The case is built from Design Preservation Models modular wall pieces, sheet plastic, Slater’s Plasticard lettering, Walthers roof vents, Model Die Casting steps, and scrap wood, switches and LEDs from the parts bin.

  2. The systems board is a VIA EPIA 5000, which is a fanless VIA C3 board running at 533mhz.

  3. The video card was a 3dLabs Oxygen VX1 PCI card retrofitted with a Thermaltake Blue Orb fan. I have since given the SGI 1600sw monitor away, so this video card has been removed and replaced with a Broadcom wireless PCI card.

  4. I’ve outfitted the system with 384mb of memory (128mb + 256mb) and a Fujitsu MHS2030AT hard disk.

Postscript: Apr 28, 2004

Since I finished the case, it’s been sitting in my office humming away. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that when I was working on the machine the ear closest to the box would start to really hurt, and today when I went into the office after a week, I could hear a fairly loud whwhwhwhwh from the Blue Orb. Not the most encouraging sign, so I’ll have to pull the box apart pretty soon and replace the thing with a no-moving-parts copper heatsink (cheaper than replacing the Oxygen with one of the custom #9/1600SW cards, and hopefully the heat it generates won’t warp the building roof.)

Postscript 2: Jan 17, 2008

We rearranged the house in 2007, and as a result I vacated my office and reverted to using a notebook computer as my terminal device/workstation, so the SGI 1600sw was given away and the factory case is now being used as a tiny server box.