The "Deco Box"
By Dave Benz
Posted on December 15, 2004
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I had been wanting to set up a new Linux server for a while. Here were the goals for the finished product:

1. Fanless EPIA Mini-ITX system.
2. Ducting and foam insulation to make it quiet.
3. Minimal cabling and hidden jacks.
4. Suspended and decoupled laptop hard drive.
5. Art Nouveau/Art Deco look.
6. With neon.
7. and legs.

Check it out.

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Parts List

* Via ME6000
* Seagate 40 Gig laptop hard drive (which, BTW, is extremely noisy)
* Enermax micro ATX power supply unit (PSU)
* Blue EL wire and inverter
* Couple of LEDs, cables, and switches
* Plastic sheet and rod for the body
* Plastic tubing for the neon
* Foam padding to dampen sound
* Wood for the legs

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Here's a picture of the original design with the side panel off. I envisioned the intake and cables all going in through the bottom (hence the legs) and the power supply exhaust going through a muffler duct built into the top and then venting out the back. The front would have something like a neon sign hanging off the front. The neon sign thing was inspired by a sign on a hotel I saw during a road trip my girlfriend and I took recently though Northern California.

The design shows how the jacks on the motherboard don't stick out of the case. Instead, there is a removable panel which you can pull off to uncover the monitor, keyboard, and mouse jacks. The power and ethernet jacks are built into the bottom. I made extension cables from the PSU and ethernet jack to get the outlets to the bottom of the case.

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Some of the plastic for the case.

It still seems incredible to me, but a person can call Tap Plastics and have them cut up a ton of little plastic pieces for you and they still only charge you for it by the square foot. The white stuff is Sintra - which is a brand name for PVC sandwiched foam. It's lightweight, relatively tough, and easy to work with. It doesn't pick up scratches and fingerprints the way acrylic does. I used a lot of Sintra back when I was building robots. Check my site at to see those.

The little pieces were that part of the design that I scrapped and that never got used.

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Here's a side panel with the main hardware laid out on it, checking for the size of everything. When I started putting it together I was worried that there was going to be a lot of extra space. I wanted to take some advantage of the fact that the motherboard was so compact and worried that the case was going to end up being too big. In the end, however, the extra space turned out to be a good thing because the internal wiring, cables, and the inverter for the EL wire all take up more room than one would expect. I even have enough space to stuff in another hard drive if I want to. Bonus.

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Originally I had wanted to get one of those tiny fanless 12V to ITX power converters, but was put off by the cost. It's bad enough paying more for the RAM than for the motherboard & CPU. The Enermax PSU is amazingly quiet, and I would definitely recommend it as a cheap alternative. It's like you get an inexpensive power supply that also happens to come with a free whisper-quiet exhaust fan. It's just bigger is all.

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The frame and some of the panels. The item that looks like a tuning fork is the hard drive mount. Behind that you can see the mount for the motherboard.

The exhaust muffler chamber on the top is framed in, and you can see the exhaust vents in the back. More on the muffler is coming on the following pages. I put this all together with acrylic glue. For putting pieces of Sintra together I used generic plumbers PVC glue.

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The foam part of the hard drive suspension system.

Now is as good a time as any to mention that I used three kinds of foam. A) A sleeping bag pad made from 1/2 thick green foam which has something of an egg-crate wave to it. B) 1/2 inch foam from a children's puzzle floor mat. C) 1/8 inch thick sheet hobby foam.

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Here's the hard drive suspended. I did this to decouple it and prevent drive vibrations from spreading to the case. It's too bad that the drive still has a high-pitched whine that decoupling can't do anything about. Fortunately, the foam sound-proofing I used on the case stops it.

So that's it for the main case building. The next page is about the muffler system. Pages three and four are about the EL wire neon lighting (what I call "poor man's neon"). The last page wraps it all up.