This is a home theater PC I built from mostly spare parts. It was designed to be as compact and quiet as possible, given the parts I used, and also not look intrusive in a living room setting.
First of all, you will need all the hardware required for a fully functioning computer: A Motherboard, CPU, RAM, Video card, Power Supply, Hard Drive, DVD Drive, and an cooling components.
To build the case, you will need:
1/4" sheet of marine mahogany
3/4" sheet of birch veneer plywood
12' of 3/4" aluminum angle bar
"L" brackets and screws
Lots of machine screws and nuts
Scrap of sheet steel- I cut mine from an old CD player
Perforated aluminum sheet, "Modders Mesh"
2 large momentary push buttons
This slot loading DVD drive was pulled from an old ibook, and I soldered leads on it for the eject button
Mini-ITX motherboard, 1 Gb Ram, 2.6 ghz Celeron CPU
To mount the cpu cooler, I cut out the outer fins, drilled holes lining up with the holes in the motherboard, and bolted in the cooler.
I built my motherboard tray out of a scrap bit of metal cut out of an old CD player. I used this, because the height of the folded up part on the left happened to be almost the exact height of the video card I used. The motherboard needs to be raised from the surface, so I mounted standoffs in the proper positions. I also cut a hole for the back panel out of the side of the metal. To secure the video card, I drilled a hole in the top lip of the metal. The video card is bolted to this through the hole in the low profile back panel adapter.
Metal with standoffs attached.
Backplate hole cut:
The video card is secured by being screwed into the lip in the top of the metal.
To save space, I decided to mount the DVD drive directly to the bottom of the motherboard tray. To do this, I just cut the aluminum drive bracket out of an old laptop, and screwed it to the bottom of the motherboard tray. I glued sheets of felt to the top and bottom of the slot in order to eliminate vibrations.
I decided to build the internal frame of the case out of aluminum angle bars, because it is light, versatile, and easy to work with. The design had to be as compact as possible, but the case also had to be well ventilated and parts had to be relatively easy to install. All the parts were drilled and bolted together with hex nuts- the same ones used in erector sets.
The motherboard trey was screwed into the frame:
Test fit with spare CD drive:
To mount the hard drive, I added another bar of aluminum along the bottom, and drilled it to fit the holes in the HDD.
I cut holes in the motherboard tray adjacent to the 24 pin power socket and the IDE socket, to make routing cables easier. Once your frame is finished, take some time to practice installing the hardware, as there will probably be some installation quirks with your case. For example, you have to screw in the hard drive in mine before you screw in the PSU, because if you don't, the screw holes on one side are inaccessible. These are not big issues, but it is good to take note of them. Especially practice routing cables, as this is probably the most difficult thing to do in a cramped space.
All hardware installed:
Cable routing is pretty tricky:
Most of the outside of the case is made of birch plywood, but the front is a strip of marine mahogany left over from the boat I am building. I cut notches in the plywood, so the mahogany just slides in. The plywood is held together with brass "L" brackets.
The case needs to be well ventilated, especially since I am using a passively cooled GPU, so I made the top of the case out of aluminum modders mesh. I cut the sheet a few inches wider than the case, and folded in the edges. To fix the aluminum to the wood, simply screw it in from the inside with a few wood screws. Make sure you can remove them though, as it is best to fix the aluminum after you sand and finish the wood.
I designed the exterior of the case so that the aluminum frame, and all the computer hardware, can slide out of the case, giving easy access to the hardware.
All the metal edges were folded in:
If you have been paying close attention, you may have noticed that the intake fan on the PSU is facing directly into a solid piece of plywood. To fix this problem, I cut a series of slots in the side panel of the case using a jigsaw and the router dremel attachment, and cleaned them up with lots of sanding.
There also needs to be a way to mount the switches to the outside of the case. I did this by simply drilling two holes of the same diameter as the switches in the mahogany front panel.
The wires on the switches lead to a molex connector, so that I can disconnect the switches if I need to remove the hardware.
One of the downsides to having a cool slot-loading DVD drive is that you have to cut a slot in your case that is perfectly aligned with your DVD drive. I marked the drive by removing the aluminum from the case, installing the frame with the DVD drive, and inserting a CD part way into the drive before hand. This lets you see where the CD touches the mahogany, so you can mark it to be cut. The cutting was done with a Dremel. Be very careful when you do this and go very slowly, or it will probably look bad. Finish the slot out by sanding the inside edges.
The particular motherboard I used only had 2 back panel USB ports, so I decided to mount the wireless card to the internal USB header. I started by stripping the wireless card of its casing, and screwing it into the bottom corner of the aluminum frame. I insulated it with strips of electrical tape along the bottom, and I drilled a slot that served as a hinge for the antenna. I mounted a two port USB panel from the front of an old case next to the wireless card, and connected it to the motherboard's USB header and the wireless card using an extra short USB cable I made.
To finish the wood, I chose to use gel varnish, which gives the mahogany a fantastic color. I also sprayed the aluminum with a coat of clear acrylic, which evens out the color and prevents oxidation. This would also be a good time to add rubber feet to the bottom of the case.
Install all your hadware into your internal frame, and then install the frame into the case. To attach the DVD and Power switches from the front of the case to the motherboard, I wired the switches to a spare molex connector. This way, whenever I need to remove the hardware, I simply unplug the switches and pull out the frame with the components. I also added a metal lip to the bottom of the frame, so it can screw into the base of the wood and prevent the hardware from sliding out by accident.
The hardware has now been upgraded, so streaming playback has been significantly improved.
I had do some modifications to the new optical drive to get it to work. I pulled it out of a macbook, so it did not have any eject button. I opened up the case, and found the pin for ejecting it, and soldered a wire to it to connect to the eject button.
New hardware installed: