We have built a number of these Cube machines now and have been really impressed with the amount space available inside.
Although not as compact as some of the SFF (small form factor) Computers such as the Biostar and Shuttle ranges they are still smaller than a standard sized Mini Tower PC. They offer internal space for a mATX motherboard, 2x 5.25″ Optical Drives and 2x 3.5″ hard drives. There’s a large system fan which is virtually silent and with the right choice of CPU Fan and PSU you can not only have a very quiet but also a very powerful PC.
‘Please note this case as shown here will accommodate a full ATX motherboard’
This type of case we have found provides the customer with a genuine platform for future upgrading. There is space to accommodate high degree of future proofing as it uses standard size components, for example the power supply is standard ATX, the motherboard standard mATX or full size ATX in this example.
What this means that as the Cube PC becomes older and appears out of date or unable to run the latest software versions, it is possible to update all components within these Cube PC’s to keep abreast of new technology advances. We actually have some customers who are extremely reluctant to replace their Cube PC’s and have replaced and upgraded the internal components several times over the years. Some have even customised them fitting neon style lighting, elaborate CPU fans and illuminated case fans. Some even go to the expense of specifying specially designed cabling, purely to enhance the look of the internal components visible through the transparent panels.
When we build for a Media Studio or customer from a Media company we find that the look of the Cube PC is as important as the performance. For these customers we usually specify a highly polished Piano Black or Silver Aluminium finish to match their large screen monitors or to compliment the design of the MAC’s which they usually also have sitting on their desks.
Typical build cost for an entry level machine (i3 processor) is around £450 + vat, adding a more powerful i5 processor, graphics card and WiFi etc still means a good Cube PC can be had for around £550 + vat, giving you a unique and desirable PC for not much more money than an off the shelf PC from the big retailers.
New website for LifeStyle Computers to go live in the next few days.
We are just finalising the design and then we shall be moving the new website to a Dynamic Hosting Platform which you will still be able to access using http://www.lifestylecomputers.co.uk .
We also plan to keep this WordPress site running in the interim for testing new designs and ideas.
At some point we plan to run a design competition to design us a New Logo and Branding for the company so watch this space for an update.
** Refurbished Laptops and desktop PC’s available, call us for latest stock list or with your requirements and we will check the current stock for you. Latest stock include Acers, HP, Toshiba and Dells.
** We have a New range of School or meeting room PA Systems which we supply and install, from a small portable system to a fully installed wireless Theatre communications setup.
** We are now getting in refurbished netbooks – ideal for taking notes in class or surfing the internet while on the move.
** We have moved from Christchurch to offices located in West Moors, Ferndown, Dorset call us on TEL: 01202 868890 for a complete local service. We will deliver your computer, install and provide an internet setup service. (Subscription to a broadband service is required)
The previous post hinted at future upgrades and some of these have now been completed:-
CPU Fan: ZALMAN 7000B ALCU Ultra Quiet CPU Cooler
The Zalman fan turned out to be as good as we had expected although this is the first time that we have specified this particular fan for a Media Center PC we usually install one of the larger versions. As you can see in the picture it fits extremely well although there is no space at all for anything bigger. The fixing point on one side actually touches one of the capacitors but importantly does not apply any force against it. The top of the fan clears the power supply by just millimetres. The good news is that due to its design the hot air is forced sideways through the heat sink and so there is no hot air blown directly against the power supply. In fact the design seems to be cooling the surrounding components as well which is a real benefit. The CPU temperatures are much more reasonable, with the side panel shut the temps are 40C at idle and the highest we have seen is 48C at high loading. The fan seems to be running at 1800rpm and cannot be heard above the case fan (which may have to be changed again to a speed controlled version to reduce noise).
Audio: Sound card Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Music OEM
The standard onboard sound was to be honest not that good especially when hooked up to a state of the art 5.1 sound system and playing MP3’s but adding the creative X-Fi brings a whole new dimension to the audio experience (Sorry to sound like an advert for them) this card is a must buy for a Media Center and we will be fitting this into all our systems from now on. WARNING – remove your onboard sound drivers and disable in BIOS to avoid conflicts when installing this card and drivers.
This is most probably as far as we are going to take this project unless we suddenly get the urge to go for a full HDTV setup but watch this space as we seem to be under a lot of pressure to build more or a similar setup to this for some of our current customers.
The CPU Fan is really noisy especially now that all the other fans have been replaced with quieter versions. The problem with changing the CPU Fan is the lack of space, the standard Fan sits only 5mm from the PSU so height is crucial no replacement Fan can be higher than the standard Fan we estimate the maximum height available to be 65mm. The other problem is diameter and clearance above component including memory and North Bridge heat sink. We are fans of Zalman products and they have one which is low profile and the fan sit’s inside the heat sinks so air is expelled to the sides which should help cool the the CPU and stop the PSU from getting hot. Watch this space to see how this goes.
HD DVD drive: Pioneer Blu-Ray Reader & DVDRW – SATA
The cheapest way to get HD content on your HD Ready TV is most probably by downloading it but there are HD OEM DVD’s drives out there and we plan to install one – most probably a Blu-ray drive in the future. One which is of interest is the Pioneer Blu-Ray Reader & DVDRW – SATA which with the SATA option will help to clear up the cable confusion we currently have in the case. As it’s also a Combo we do not loose the ability to read and write standard DVD’s.
This is an ongoing project so we expect the spec of this machine to change as new technology is tried and tested, the obvious next step is to upgrade the basics so a new motherboard, processor and hard drive will be on the cards. To keep the build as close to original the choice of motherboard again will be key and so far the most promising appears to be a Dual Core ready Gigabyte motherboard based on layout and features including HD ready graphics.
Finally: Not quite! see next page for project update
We acknowledge all Trademarks, copyrights etc. used in this article and make no actual recommendations in regard to any of the technology that was used in the making of this project. There are also no plans to offer this system for sale although requests to do so are high but watch this space in case we decide to offer a future kit for you to be able to build your own.
As we plan to turn this into Media Center noise in particular fan noise will be an issue. So for now we have replaced the case Fan with an Akasa version and this also has the benefit of a standard motherboard connection so we ditched our modified setup and plugged the case fan straight onto the motherboard. With the case Fan noise dramatically reduced it was clear that the PSU Fan needed some attention so we dismantled the PSU and removed the stock Fan and replaced it with the Akasa equivalent with in this case a small switch to control the speed. This switch exits nicely through the blanked of hole in the PSU which must on some models contain an on/off switch.
3.5″ drive space:
The drive caddy has space for an external 3.5″ drive which we used to add a card reader and front USB and Audio outputs. You could also use it for a floppy and combined card reader. You do need to cut the front panel for this unless you are lucky en ought to get a case with the optional Zip drive fitted. Our panel was cut to size very carefully – to prevent the plastic splitting we covered it with masking tape first and drew the outline of the cutout on this. The best tool for this job turned out to be hand jigsaw the dremel tended to melt the plastic when a test cut was made. Oh the Apple logo is illuminated we drilled a hole in the case to allow the blue illumination inside the case to come through.
Graphics Card: MSI GeForce 7600GS 512MB AGP
We chose this card for many reasons one for the heat pipe technology so there’s no Fan and two it claims to have HDTV output which may come in handy if we decide to upgrade the optical drive for a HD drive eg. Blu-ray etc. We’ve not tried this card before so it’s a bit of an unknown quantity but we have high hopes.
We’ve added two blue light mini fluorescent’s for case lighting. One we’ve glued under the case the others mounted internally at the top of the case. We love the effect of the blue light coming through the case and being picked up by the external plastics, especially around the door release, Apple logo and the case handles.
What comes next? see part 7 for future developments
Like all first power ups on new builds it pays to re-check connections before applying power. It’s also a good idea to use a standard PS2 mouse and keyboard connections as USB wireless keyboards and mouse may not be recognised by the bios initially so you’ll be unable to setup the basic settings. As we have already tried our setup before assembly we expected it to work on start up which it did. We are not using a SATA drive so no drivers need to be installed but if you are you may have to temporarily fit a floppy to upload them. The great thing about this case is that you can open the side panel to see it working when it’s powered up – please note we know exactly what we are doing and we would never advise anyone working on a live PC with the case open.
For a new build like this we generally and in this case decided to use the onboard graphics saving the installation of a graphics card until after the operating system is installed. Picture shows graphics card installed after first power up and O/S installed.
Setting the bios:
This is where you need your manual unless you know what to set here, usually though the default settings are ok and you only need to set the Clock and Number Lock etc.
Installing the operating system:
I suppose this is the final insult installing windows although I suppose you could be installing Linux but in our case we decided to go for Windows XP Media Center edition on the basis that this may well end up as a media center rather than a games machine.
Too good to be true ? :
It all works, we are still surprised that everything went as well as it did especially after reading on the internet how many problems others experienced in doing a similar conversion.
Part 6 will look at the modifications we have made since the original build and what happens in the future.
Purchasing a power supply that fits the case pays dividends here as it’s a straight fit and uses the original fixings. The only change that was needed is to lengthen the ATX cable, fortunately you can buy a 15cm extension cable which is long enough to connect to the mother board connector with the case fully open. As it’s an Intel board you will also need to lengthen the separate 4 pin 12V power connector, while you can buy extensions for these we just extended the existing cable by inserting some extra length using in-line barrel crimps. The stock PSU fan was a bit too noisy for us so we swapped it for a low noise Akasa, the white lead hanging out the back is the speed controller.
The case fan:
We used the original case fan which draws air in from the case rear and blows cold air over the motherboard and importantly the graphics card. The bad news is that this is a 12V fan with an incompatible connector so you have to cut this off and either make up a 4 pin Molex to connect to the wiring loom or in our case look in the parts bin for a spare lead and connect using barrel crimp connectors.
We used round IDE cables because they look so much better and they can be routed much easier in such a complicated case as this.
We planned for this so this was a fairly straight forward fitment using the original fixings although we did find it easier to fix the IDE cable and power connector to the drive before pushing the complete assembly into position.
Again thanks to forward planning we were able to fit the hard drive into it’s original caddy and it’s original position. The cables should be fitted to the drive first before fixing in position as the hinge can get in the way.
Power On/Reset Switch:
Warning – We used the original front panel (see manual) but even though the original connector fits the ASRock motherboard panel connections don’t be tempted to just plug it in as the pin outs do not match up. You need to identify the power switch connections and match these up to the pin outs on the mother board. We also traced out the other connections to give us a reset etc. but could not get the power led to light so ours maybe dead.
With the assembly complete it’s was time to fire it up and see if it works ok see part 5 for details
One of the things we believe in is re-using old components so whenever we dismantle an old machine we tend to keep the bits so a quick look in the parts bin gave us a chassis for mounting a mATX board. This saved us from having to drill new fixings for mounting posts for a motherboard all we had to do was drill 2 fixings for the chassis itself. The other benefit was that we could manoeuvre the chassis within the case before drilling the fixings to make sure we had enough clearance to be able to close the case without anything hitting against say the power supply or optical drive. (Sounds good but we nearly came to grief at the last hurdle – see later on for details). Another thing this allowed us to do was to do a preliminary installation of the motherboard cpu and memory etc. (we actually fired the computer up before assembly to prove the hardware before installation.
If you are unlucky enough to have a separate chassis for your motherboard then you’ll have to trial fit your motherboard and then mark out fixing points using the holes in the motherboard as a guide. What I would do though is make a cardboard template and use this to mark out your drilling points for the fixing posts. I’d use those small brass fixing posts but the plastic push fit type are probably easier to fix.
Orientating the board: Custom PC
Using the chassis it was easy to trial fit the motherboard and assembly in position before final fixing. We installed temporary PCI and Graphics cards to line up the rear panel fixings (This is important – allow space for when the plastic goes back or your connectors will foul). We ended up cutting away the join between the two sections of the rear panel to clear the Audio connectors but some motherboards may not need this.
Card fixings: Custom PC
Thanks again to the chassis we only needed the top rail from the old I/O panel to be able screw the top of the cards to the rear panel the chassis provide the bottom fixings for the cards. The top rail was hack sawed from the rear panel and fixed back onto the case using self tappers. We actually did this at the same time as orientating the board so that the cards lined up perfectly. If you are not lucky enough to have a chassis then you will need the bottom fixing points as well so just hacksaw down the middle of the I/O panel and fix once again with self tappers.
Optical Drive caddy: Custom PC
At the last hurdle just as we thought we were home and dry on closing the case the ATX power connector was found to catch on the drive caddy. Fortunately it was not catching on the drive itself so with the application of the hacksaw again, 1.5cms was removed from one corner of the caddy. Unfortunately this was still not enough because we found that the retainer for the ATX cable itself was catching on the back of the optical drive – the only solution was to cut this off using a knife. It was a tight fit but the panel closes.
G4 Manual Download:Custom PC
We were lucky enough to find the official manual for the G4 available for download unfortunately we found this after we had completed the project – unfortunately it’s 8Gb pdf file so I’m unable to host this here but a search on Google should let you find a copy to download. This could prove invaluable for this Custom PC build, but you could manage without it.
Getting Started:Custom PC
The external plastics should be removed and safely stored before any work is carried out on the steel case itself. The manual will tell you how. You’ll also need to remove the plastic from beneath the motherboard for which we could not find any use for although it seems to be part of the door mechanism.
Removing the old components:Custom PC
We ended up with a fair sized box of metal and components after removing everything from the case which may end up on ebay at some point unless we get exited about building them into a PC case to balance up the equation. Don’t forget to remove the wire and fixing brackets on the case’s exterior which we think was for the wireless network or Airport as it is known.
Cutting the old motherboard fixings out:Custom PC
You have to remove all the existing fixings for the old motherboard the easiest way we found was to drill them out from the exterior of the case which leaves you with some holes but the exterior plastic will hide these ok.
Rear panel removal:Custom PC
We thought it best to remove the entire rear panel which they call the I/O panel. This is held in with pop rivets and so you need to drill these out remember that you are only removing the inner panel the exterior to which the plastic is attached has to remain. Keep this panel as you will need part of it to make up for fixings for your AGP Graphics card and PCI cards etc.
You will find various metal plates held in with screws which seem to have no purpose except to hold down cables, those also went into the large box of components except the hard drive caddy which will be re-used for the same purpose later in the build.
In part 3 we will look at what we need to put back, modify or fabricate before installing the components.