Posted on July 6, 2003
I've always wanted a small portable PC for when I'm visiting my parents in Scotland (to be frank their PC is well past it's sell by date) and Mini-ITX seemed like the obvious solution, but what about the case, then I thought, why not just make one myself, out of Lego, so that's exactly what I did. The machine is base around the EPIA M9000 Mini-ITX motherboard at 933 MHz, with a slim line DVD-ROM drive and 30 GB laptop hard disk drive.
I'd like to apologise in advance for the quality of the images, they were taken with a Nokia 3650, the only digital camera I had available at the time.
The first thing I needed to do was to work out just how to layout all the components, I needed a plan before I even considered constructing the machine, so to this end I came up with the image to the left, the original was a multi-layer Paint Shop Pro image so I could view each layer individually and stack them properly, as you'll see the finished layout is pretty close to this design, which given the that I drew this layout up from dimensions from the Mini-ITX store, is pretty incredible.
My first prototype wasn't really a case (as you can see from the photograph), but it did give me a clear idea of how the components would fit together, the main reason for this was that I was awaiting my bulk order of bricks and was working with bricks I already owned to make this layout prototype. I did learn a few things at this stage (and one almost fatal mistake) I learnt that I needed 26x24 bricks for the case, that a slim line DVD-ROM drive is exactly 16 blocks wide.
The almost fatal mistake came because I couldn't fit the hard drive as pictured above, so I mounted it sideways, sitting over the Northbridge heatsink, now with hindsight I should have realised that this would be a problem, but when I'd put the components together and installed windows on it the hard drive hadn't got warm so I assumed it wouldn't run hot, and would be safe enough. As you can also see in this picture the IDE cables are a bit unwieldy, and have a tendency to want to be connected the wrong way up on the drive, meaning lots of twists and kinks in the cables. I was now sure that I could build this PC the way I wanted it, I was just waiting on the Lego bricks before I could start.
Well my Lego had arrived, I was almost ready to go, but being prudent I decided that I should build another prototype of the full case before going ahead and super-gluing the whole thing together, this was to prove to be a blessing without this I would have run into serious heat problems and ended up with an unusable machine. I don't have any pictures of this phase of the construction, but I do have some pictures of the machine up and running.
Notice the hole in the top this was supposed to be a vent for the processor fan, however this machine overheated not because of the processor, but the Northbridge heatsink, which as noted earlier I'd blocked with the HDD and IDE cable, this mean I needed a redesign, for which I went back to my original plan and mounted the HDD to the left of the case.
I started by taking my final prototype, turning it upside down and working from the bottom up, stripped the original case down and started building the new machine from the ground up, gluing as I went.
This was the easy part, a glued a bunch of plates together to form a base, and then built a 2 deep wall all the way around with space for the DVD drive, the DC to DC converter fits into bricks with a slot down the side, this has the dual effect of both moving the board half a block to the right, and holding it in place inside the machine. (Notice the big fan, I was thinking about using this for cooling, but decided against it since it was too hard to mount properly)
I'm rather pleased with this little construction, this is to hold the bottom right corner of the motherboard in place the corner of the board slides nicely into the slots in the two bricks, solving the problem of keeping the board in place very nicely.
And you can see it in place here, notice the four circular bricks just outside the case, those are the feet for the PC