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Developer's Notes

HTPC 001

Heinz Traub Personal Computer


This is what happens when you crossbreed a PC, a TV and a toolbox...this is what happens.
"Mutant and proud."

This project was featured in Tek Everything "Mini-ITX PC Showcase - Episode 2".

Briefing

The main idea was to transform my PC into an easy to transport device, spending as less money as possible. No stuff ala Ben Heck (laser cutters, 3D printers, etc), just bare hands.
I'll be doing some traveling in the near future so I went the AIO briefcase route.

Disclaimer

  • Photo quality is garbage. I took them with a Nokia Lumia 620 cell phone.
  • I'm not an electronics expert. I'm making this project knowing half of what I'm doing. Kids, don't try this at home.

Features

  • All-in-one PC, Monitor and TV in an aluminum toolbox.
  • 13.3" LED Panel with high contrast and sharpness.
  • Built-in 5w stereo speakers.
  • Built-in Wi-fi antenna (dual U.FL connectors).
  • Built-in microphone (3.5 mm jack).
  • VGA, HDMI, RCA (video and audio), 3.5 mm audio in and 3.5 mm audio out.
  • Tri-norm TV decoder: NTSC, PAL-N and PAL-M.
  • USB 2.0 for music and movie playback (provided with TV firmware).
  • F female connector for cable TV.
  • Remote control (for TV).
  • And more...

PC Specs

  • CPU: Intel Core i3 4330 @ 3.5 Ghz.
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-B85N-WIFI (ITX form factor).
  • RAM: 8GB Crucial Ballistix Tactical Low Profile DDR3-1600 1.35V (BLT2K4G3D1608ET3LX0).
  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti.
  • Storage: 2 x Crucial M500 240GB SSD (One m-sata and one 2.5"), 1 x 2.5" WD Blue 320GB HDD.
  • PSU: FSP 300W 80 Plus Certified Model FSP300-60GHS (SFX form factor).

Cost (USD)

  • Toolbox: $20.
  • TV-Monitor: $60.
  • Tools and Materials: $30.
  • Total Cost: $110.

Upper Part

The TV

I picked up the TV from the local electronics shop. I've seen this model under different brands and with many variations (color, inputs, DVD drive) but I chose a generic brand with no DVD at a much lower price. This is what my TV looked like before I ripped it apart:

Here are some other references:

If you ever find one of these, just buy it. They are of great quality, take little space at stock form and may finally be a good base for a project of yours.

I/O

I messed it up by not taking a photo of the TV i/o ports. Here's a reference:

Mines were a bit different: The power supply is internal so there's no power connector but a power cord that goes straight to the outlet, no S-Video port, one USB port for media consumption and finally the RGB jacks are in top of the composite and stereo RCA jacks. I'd wish the RGB would have that flat layout, this would have save me up a lot of work (you'll understand later when I picture the modified inputs board).

Internals

Here's what you find when opening up the TV. As you can see it is a very compact and flat design:

Here is the power supply unit:

At first I thought it would be a good idea to use the PC power supply as it can provide the 12v needed by the TV, that would have saved a bunch of space and little weight but then I realized that this device won't always function as a PC, it would be used sometimes as a regular TV to watch movies or hook up video game consoles. By removing the original PSU I'd have to keep the PC on all the time to properly power the TV and I didn't want that. Besides, you don't always get to find these flat power supplies just to bump them, they may prove quite useful in space restricted situations.
The TV power supply also has 2 free pins which provide 12v, I could plug a small fan for cooling but I don't want the fan to be on all the time, I'm no electronics expert and I don't know how to bypass power unless the TV is turned on. The pins are there but I better do not abuse the PSU, who knows how many amps it provides.

Here's the i/o board at a closer look:

It has a LVDS interface to the LCD panel, just like any other notebook panel.

Is this the power inverter?

The Toolbox/briefcase

It is a toolbox and a briefcase so I'll keep calling it one or the other way. You can find these toolboxes at your local hardware store, these are pretty much everywhere. I grabbed a chinese model made of Aluminium (Aliminum for the American folks) and EVA foam inside. It is one of those with a set of spacers for making little compartments. It was a blind pick hoping it would fit all the parts.
This is how mine looks like:

I got that 70's? Jaegermeister ad plate from a friend. I haven't done anything with it yet but I was thinking of using it as a top cover for the PC. Just an idea, don't complain.
Very lucky I was because if you stack the LCD panel at the center, the speakers at the bottom and the control board at the top, they fit EXACTLY in the upper part of the toolbox! You'll see...

This is just a reference of how the interior is like:

Dimensions and Specs

  • Outer: 37cm x 26,5cm x 13cm.
  • Inner (Upper): 35,5cm x 25cm x 3,5cm (Without removing EVA foam).
  • Inner (Lower): 35,5cm x 25cm x 8,2cm (Without removing EVA foam).
  • Weight Capacity: 9 Kg.
  • Internal Volume: 4,8 L.

The Build

Rules

  • In-house only: I will not drill a single hole to the toolbox, except for the power plug maybe. Everything must be protected inside the case.
  • As a prototype for future optimizations, only light and cheap material will be used as of right now. Reclycling old stuff is valid.
  • No tools: I do not have access to advanced tools, not even Dremel or the likes. All I have is my bare hands and a standard cutting knife, oh and a standard drill I lended from my brother. I'm ready to travel and there's no point buying right now expensive tools that I'll have to throw away after the project is done.

I chose chipboard as the material for the frame and structure as it is very easy to work with (easy to cut and paste), lightweight and cheap.

I also use simple wooden ice cream sticks for aligning, spacing and pasting things in place.

I did a leap here without taking any photos. To resume: I cut out a rectangle from the chipboard and made a proper frame for the LCD panel. With the remaining parts of the chipboard I made a back "plank" to hold the panel in place, I also intend to attach the electronic boards to this back plank. I also made a rectangular hole at the bottom-center of the frame where I intend to stick out all the cables. You'll see in the next photo that both pieces are being hold together by a couple of tighteners while the glue dries:

Before I could continue I had to chop the RGB jacks because as mentioned before they were on top of the RCA jacks and with the height of all those connectors the upper piece didn't fit in the toolbox. Don't worry, I left the pins accesible so later I could install custom RGB plugs to connect those old gaming consoles. This is how the i/o board ended up:

Making another leap ahead just like Intel, you'll see here that I made the remaining back plank to cover the entire back of the LCD. After that I mounted all the circuit boards on the back in a similar layout to the TV using 3M's double sided adhesive tape. You'll also see the Wifi antennas, one on either top corners. The speakers are there just for measuring, they are temporarily sticked with electrical tape.

At this stage in those days I got a call from a friend for a LAN party invitation. Of course I went and took my mutant project there without telling anyone what I was working on. I hadn't even tested the thing and didn't even know if the PC was ever going to fit but I just throw everything in it, closed the thing and rushed to the LP. Upon arrival they were all like "dude, where's your machine...it is a LAN party not a drinking party" and without saying a word I put the toolbox on a desk and opened it up: I did surprise all the nerds. Then I tested the TV and it worked fine, then assembled the PC as I could, some parts had to lay outside the case. Anyway we had a great gaming night and this is what Frankenstein looked like that night:

Working on, I drilled the holes for the speakers, 3 holes for each of the drivers. Nothing special, just tried to align all the holes horizontally. They are 10 mm wide but should have been more, I didn't have bigger tips, the drill is borrowed:

Next, I drilled one more 10 mm hole for an F connector (cable TV):

Also as you can see in the back side photo above, I settled the speakers by making triangular pads with double sided tape and ice cream sticks. Here is a better close up:

Moving on, I made a square hole with the cutting knife at the bottom of the frame to reuse the TV's power cable holder:

Here I made a custom short coaxial cable that goes from the F connector to the TV. Here are some photos before and after installing it:

Here is some TV testing:

To finally finish the speakers part, I decided to cover the holes with a couple of small rectangles cutted from a black pantyhose. I expanded and pasted these two pieces with glue:

Prematurely I decided to work on the aspect part and still knowing I would have to drill some holes later, I rushed and made a frame cover with EVA foam and sticked it with glue:

How did I make the round holes in the EVA foam for the speakers?
I had to use my imagination in this one and it came up pretty good: I used to work in a gun shop and became friends with the owner. He gave me used bullet cases from several calibers. If you push the top of one of these cases against the EVA foam and rotate it a few times then the foam will pop out by itself, easy cake. I've actually used in the project 9 mm Luger and .22 LR cases so far:

Again for the aspect part I sticked an EVGA metallic badge that came with the GeForce 750 Ti I bought. Looks good in that black frame:

It is time for some internal cabling: A VGA and HDMI cable seems to satisfy my PC. Here you have photos of the VGA, HDMI and both put together:

At this stage I received a call from another friend for another LAN party. I did the same thing: Didn't say anything about my project and came with the thing. My friend is a very talented graphic designer and was very amazed with my work and was much more surprised that I did it with no tools. This is what Frankenstein looked like that night with some make up:

As for the IR module, I made a few wooden pads and attached the IR module to the pads and then the whole thing to the main frame with double sided tape. But first I drilled a couple of holes at the front: One for the power LED and the other for the IR header:

Later on I made some depth spacers for the main frame. This will prevent the frame from going to the bottom of the case. I bought wooden sticks used for models. I have not worked with these since school many years ago and forgot how easy it is to cut them with a saw.
Anyway, you'll see how I pasted them on specific points on the back:

What if I loose the remote control? Then everything is fine because I was able to install the manual control board at the top of the frame. This required nothing more than drilling holes.
Please note in the photos that I also put depth spacers behind the control board so that the buttons can be safely push.
For the time being, the buttons are too short for the actual frame and even if they can be seen in the front of the frame, they can not be pressed (you'll be able to see this too in the photos). Extensions need to be made but since I am not using them right now, I'll leave them as they are and use some other thin object to reach the buttons in case I need to:

As mentioned in the specs, this thing has a microphone built in. Yes, there is one.
Please take a look at the next photo:

Did you notice two big holes, one on each side of the control buttons holes? I made two of them to look symmetrical: One is acting as a venting hole and the other one is a disguised microphone.
The mic is a simple Genius desktop mic that I ripped apart and attached to this mutant project thing. The cable goes to the bottom as with the other cables and it uses a standard 3.5 mm jack.
A 10 mm hole is exactly what this mic needs. I simply stick the mic with a drop of glue. This is how it looks in the back:

Adjustments

Now, a minor adjustment I had to do along the road: I'm no longer using the TV's power cable holder. I did not removed it, just took the cable, put the holder inside the case, patched the remaining square hole with EVA foam and now the power cable goes out from the bottom along with the other cables. This way it will be easier to manage cables in the lower part of the project.
Here are photos of the adjustment, also notice in the back photo that I also put two depth spacers next to the IR module to better reinforce the lower part of the frame:

And finally here's a view of the upper part done:

Lower Part

The PC

To begin with the lower part of the project, I reinforced the case by making a structure with wooden sticks. This structure will have a bottom frame and a removable top frame, acting as a cage for the components.

Just to show you here how lucky I was with the toolbox, it fits an mATX motherboard perfectly, in case you would be wondering what other project you could do with a toolbox of this size.

And here is the bottom frame. It is designed to hold any motherboard 17cm wide.

The idea is to install the storage drives beneath the motherboard, this will leave the rest of the case clear. The sticks are 10x10mm so the space is there to be used.
This project can hold a maximum of 3 drives: One at the bottom and two at the top as shown in the next photos.
The drives are protected by a transparent plastic film (that's why you'll see a glare/reflection in the photos), this protective film will prevent the motherboard of shorting to the drives. The protective film has a 3 mm clearance to the right to allow cables to pass by.

The motherboard is installed above the drives with a 3mm clearance to the right to allow the cables to pass by. Steel washers are used to give some extra milimiters of spacing above the drives. The bolts I used to secure the motherboard are recycled from the TV, their thread is perfect for wood.
That power supply you see there is a broken chinese SFX one, it is used for measurements purposes only but it will be replaced for a better quality and working one (Update: Just got a high quality FSP power supply).

Now lets play with some power, the power socket to be specific. I recycled it from that broken chinese power supply I had:

First I cut out a rectangle with the cutting knife in the case:

Then I insert the socket into the hole I made, secure it with glue and then to make sure it is not going anywhere I stick it with hot glue:

And here's the final result, looks good:

To improve usability and to easily change components, I installed this power strip to the socket so instead of soldering and desoldering cables I simply insert and screw them to the power strip:

Soooo, after presetting all the components and now that the power supply has arrived, I think it is time to put up all the pieces in place. Along with the PSU, I bought a 24 pin plus a 4 pin, 8 inch both, power extension cables from StarTech, an USA based company that makes high quality and hard to find components for projects -- and even if we are talking about cables here they are no exception, these cables feel really thick and well made, also I'll let you know that they include these "clips" that you can use to snap the connectors into a custom hole in your project to utilize an external power supply (I already said I'll be doing no holes to the case so I will not be able to show you this modular functionality).
Now, to supply power to the drives that are under the motherboard I also bought a Y-SATA cable (6 inch) from the same company, installed it to the two drives and finally sticked it with double sided tape to the case, this way I can plug and unplug the power cable from the PSU for service without having to remove the motherboard:

About the power cables, I cut the power cable from the TV and reinforce the tips with soldering tin. Then made a custom short cable for the PC by cutting an L shaped cord and reinforcing its tips with soldering tin. Finally I connect both set of cables to the power strip. Here are pictures in that order:

Without further delays, here is a testing overview after seating the PSU, GPU (temporarily), plugging all accesories/cables and finally doing some cable management:

What's TODO next: PC cover with vents and EVA foam finish, USB bracket, power and reset switches/LEDs, HDD LED.
I'll decide what I'm going to do with the VGA card, this form factor is not suitable for it, maybe a PCI-E riser but I'll have to make another frame for a different layout...there is not enought room for it. Will also consider a low profile card but I'm guessing there is no room for it too.

(2017-02-12) To be continued...