A useful case mod for plug-a-holics...
I'm sure there must be plenty of tecchie types out there like me, who are forever
plugging things in and out of their PCs and don't want to be groping around the back all
the time. For a long time, I've been frustrated by how essentially identical most PC cases
there are, and that nobody to my knowledge has ever made a case which has all the drives,
IO connectors and PCI slots on the same side. (There may be a few industrial cases, but
these are usually very expensive.)
Whilst building a couple of PCs for friends & family recently, I realised that there is now almost no variety in the shapes & sizes of PC case available. Take a look through any PC case catalogue, and apart from one or two horizontal "desktop" cases and some huge server boxes, the only difference seems to be the proportion of 3.5 and 5.25" drive bays - they are almost all exactly the same size. OK, you can get all sorts of fancy decoration, transparent side panels, pretty flashing lights etc., but this doesn't change the fact that they are essentially all the same once you ignore the cosmetic trimmings.
This recent session of building PCs for other people made me decide
it was time to build myself a new PC, and I now faced the regular chore of finding a case
that I could adapt to my requirements. The similarity in sizes of current cases was very
frustrating, especially as the 'standard' size was just slightly too small to fit two
5.25" drives in the PSU bay - by "just slightly" I mean literally a couple
of millimetres too little height. It also didn't help that many manufacturer and reseller
sites don't make it clear whether dimensions include feet or not, and rarely show pictures
of the rear panel, which I needed to see how much space there would be for drives.
They describe this as a "super Mid Tower", and is about 30mm taller than the "standard" ATX case. When the case arrived I was pleased to find that it had room to fit two 5.25" drives, and also a 3.5" floppy on top. It also had a very convenient "shelf" that the drives could be fixed to.
The floppy drive is horizontally spaced using a pair of 3.5-to-5.25" drive mounting brackets.
Unfortunately, ATX power supplies are typically about 3mm wider than a 5.25" drive, and so need to be mounted vertically in the drive bays.
Also included here is a combined IEC inlet and 4-way outlet for powering printer, monitors etc.. These outlets are switched using a relay (right) operated by the 12V supply.
Two illuminated pushbutton switches combine power-on switch , power LED, Reset
switch and HDD LED functions.
An earlier incarnation of this idea in the now-defunct mini-tower format - CD drives were external SCSI ones so only the floppy needed to be on the "front". The black rectangle is a filtered air inlet.
One thing that seriously limited my choice of motherboard for this PC was that I need to use an ISA card to run my Picmaster in-circuit emulator system. After some hunting I found three Pentium 4 motherboards with ISA slots ( there was one other but it didn't have an AGP slot):
Soyo SY-P4I 845PE ISA (Price about GBP125)
Having seen some comments on Usenet about poor ISA support from Soyo, I settled on the MB820, which had more PCI slots, supported 800MHz FSB, 8x AGP and had four COM ports.
Update : More ISA motherboards listed here
I also took this opportunity to upgrade from Win98 to 2000, and needed to use a neat utility called direct-io to allow the Picmaster software to access the ISA card hardware under Windows 2000 (it also works in XP).