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Full alphabetical archive on right hand side of page...
Perkins - Posted on May 23, 2003
We've all been there; you're at the LAN party,
quietly reveling in your own smugness as you sit comfortably
at the top of the UT scoreboard. You're wading through a seemingly
un-ending procession of newbie cannon fodder, when all of
a sudden your ping goes into orbit, and your top-of-line beast
of a gaming rig is reduced to a pathetic shadow of its former
self. After a hasty sniff of the air to make sure your peltier
cooling element hasn't toasted your CPU, you realize that
some wretch has discovered the 5GB of Jackass episodes that
you'd inadvertently left shared on your machine and is in
the process of leeching the lot while he pops outside for
a quick nicotine fix.
I recently decided that it isn't much fun
having to sit waiting for massive file transfers to complete,
what I needed was a dedicated file server. Not just a file
server, but a highly portable mini-PC with massive storage
space and a 10/100 NIC. I have always liked the idea putting
a PC in an ammunition box, but the complexities of transferring
a full size ATX system are somewhat daunting. When I came
across the mini-itx format, things fell into place. Smaller
parts plus smaller enclosure equals reduced complexity.
Break out Mr Plastic
After what seemed like an exhaustive search,
I found an online army surplus
store willing to sell me .50 ammo cans at a reasonable
price. I bought two, anticipating the usual first round disaster
that accompanies this kind of project. It seems to be pot
luck as to what kind of labelling you'll get on your box,
I received one .50 round box (4:1 tracer no less) and one
Fragmentation Grenade box.
I had originally designed the installation
to make use of a full size ATX PSU, but it was pretty big,
and I was concerned by the amount of noise and heat it would
produce. That left a 150W 1U PSU or 55W external PSU as a
suitable power source, there are other options, but all but
these two were unavailable at the time of building. The 55W
PSU limited my drive options quite a bit, I was concerned
that it may not be able to cope with the two full size IDE
drives I intended to hook it up to. The 150W option had plenty
of poke, and has its own extraction fan which would definitely
come in handy..
I retrieved a spare 20GB HD for the boot drive
and a power switch from an old server box. From the start
I had not planned to have a CD drive in the system, but as
it turns out there is plenty of room in the box should it
be required. Anyone who's transferred files on a laptop knows
that those pathetic little 2.5 IDE drives are damn slow, so
I went for a 20GB 3.5" 7200RPM drive, which just storms
Early on, I made a decision to spoil the external
look of the box by drilling holes all over the place for mounting
components. So I obtained plenty of my secret weapon, sticky
back Velcro! The glue side bonds like a demon on a properly
prepared surface, i.e. one that has been scrubbed clean with
alcohol (Isoclene), and the Velcro isn't going to let go with
out a fight.
I'm lucky enough to have a fully stocked workshop
at the office, so all the tools required were already to hand.
Realistically though all I used was a Dremel and a file to
de-burr the edges. After measuring and marking up the areas
to be cut, the Dremel came into play; I used a type 409 cutting
disk which I believe is fairly standard. It took me a while
to get the right speed and force to cut the 2mm steel box
material, but once I got it sorted it ripped right through.
Keeping a straight line was a bit tricky, but I assume it'll
come with practice. Be warned this is a very noisy operation.
I used up about 10 cutting disks making the I/O panel cut,
the power connector cut and some slits for the exhaust fan
to breath through. By including the I/O panel, rather than
just cutting holes for the various connectors, flexibility
was provided for future mini-itx boards.
Once the cuts were made I just fitted the
parts in. The motherboard is Velcro'd to a plastic stand-off
which keeps it locked in the I/O panel and away from the metal
sides of the box. The IDE drive went in next to it, two strips
of Velcro on its back and one on the end due to its weight.
And the PSU went in last, two strips, one on the back and
one underneath. I had a few problems getting all the connectors
on securely, and most of the parts went in and came out a
few times, but I got there in the end.
At present the power switch is internal, but
as soon as a suitable toggle switch crosses my path I'll install
it in the back near the power connector, maybe along with
some tasteful LED's.
Moment of Truth
I checked and double checked to make sure
there were no obvious shorts or dodgy connections, and fired
it up, to my immense surprise it worked first time! I temporarily
connected a spare CD-ROM to load on Windows 2000 and got it
networked straight away. Since then it's been sat on the internet
leeching files 24/7, for about 2 weeks now. I'm quite concerned
by the operating temperatures in the box, I'm not sure I have
enough airflow running through it. It seems OK for leeching
files, but it does get hot quickly under load, although it's
never failed from thermal rise.
I should point out that this box is very much
the prototype, and I plan to do another to a much high standard
of quality in the next few months, probably when the new 1GHz
boards become available, coupled to a fat 120GB drive. There's
not really much to this machine, just a cunning assembly/integration.
But it does the job and looks damn fine while it's doing it.
Total cost, about £150 (GBP) but I used a spare HD and
RAM I had lying around. A cynic would balk at my Velcro based
assembly, but I stand by my cheapness and shoddy workmanship.
Via EPIA 800 Motherboard
150W 1U ATX PSU
20GB Quantum 7200 3.5" IDE
128MB Crucial PC133 SDRAM