Introduction: Briefcase PC
My name's Cole Cooper and this is my first instructable. I run a mobile DJ service and serve as the event coordinator of a non-profit called Project Orphans (www.projectorphans.org)
As a mobile DJ, I use a MacBook Pro for all of my music, but I needed another computer to control all of my DMX lights as well. Unfortunately, the program I like to use to control my lights (Freestyler) is only available on Windows, so for a while, I used a virtual machine on my MacBook Pro to control the lights, but switching between OS's during gigs got old very quickly. I have a bunch of old computers/parts laying around and I knew I could just use one of those, but I didn't want to have to carry an unwieldy PC tower to every gig - if only PC cases had handles built in..... then I realized that a PC with a handle built in is (basically) just a briefcase.
Step 1: What You Will Need:
- An old PC you have laying around
- A briefcase (try to find a pretty sturdy one that's pretty deep)
(mine was ~19" wide, ~14" tall (front to back) and the main compartment was ~5.5" deep while the lid was ~ 2.25" deep)
KEEP THIS IN MIND: Your briefcase should have pretty sturdy hinges because they will have to hold the weight of the screen. At first, I didn't think this would be a problem, but over time, you'll realize that the extra weight on the hinges will slowly start to loosen/weaken them - they may need to be replaced with bulkier hinges or you may want to add some sort of wire on the sides to hold the weight of the screen.
- Basic tools (screwdrivers, pliers, etc.)
- Craft knife (VERY helpful)
- Box knife (also VERY helpful)
- Fine Sharpie/pencil
- Square or level (straight edge used to help guide cuts)
- Thin (about 1/8") plywood (just enough to border the screen and cover the components underneath)
- Dremel with cutting disk (You could probably get by without this, but it makes things a lot easier)
- Hot glue gun
- Drill with metal step-up bit (if you don't have a step-up bit, a normal bit may work - it's just for drilling holes in components' housing to fasten them down
- Small screws and nuts to accompany them (for fastening things down)
- Soldering iron and solder
- Wireless USB dongle (if you don't already have one or your computer doesn't have it built in/a wireless PCI card)
- Arduino Uno (optional)
- 3 RGB LED's from RadioShack (optional)
- Computer speakers (optional) - here's what I used:
- 2 large marshmallows (just kidding)
- Whatever else you can think of to make this project your own and unique
- If you are not experienced with computers or electronics, this may not be the instructable for you. Because different briefcases have different dimensions - as well as computer components - please do not expect this guide to explain how to install YOUR computer into YOUR briefcase. This instructable is simply here to give you an idea of what can be done and a general explanation of how I did mine.
Step 2: Prep
- Before we can put a computer into a briefcase, we must first take everything OUT of the briefcase.
- Be sure to remove all padding and/or whatever is inside your briefcase - Typically, this kind of stuff is glued in there and shouldn't be too difficult to tear out.
- Now, you'll want to take the PC you intend to install in your briefcase and remove ALL hardware you want to use from it's original case. This includes:
-Additional headers you'd like to use (this is usually stuff that you find in the front cover of your PC such as USB ports, additional audio connectors, the power LED + HDD LED + Power button module)
Step 3: Lay It All Out
Next, you will want to take all of the components you will be using and place them in the briefcase. Take a little while to mess with the configuration of components and adjust their placement to your liking.
- Personally, I decided to place the power supply in the back left corner because that's where I'm used to plugging in my MacBook Pro. I placed the motherboard in the front right section of the case so I would have room to connect things in the back of the board and also because there was a large space on the right wall to place a hard drive.
- KEEP IN MIND: Your components still have to be connected to one another - plan ahead and make room for connectors to fit before you start drilling holes and fastening things down. Measure twice, cut once.
Step 4: Fasten Down Your Components
Now you will need to drill holes in your briefcase to mount your components. I think it's easiest to start with the power supply and then take care of the motherboard next.
- Power Supply: I decided to take the top/side cover off of my power supply for better ventilation and to make it easier to mount. I actually ended up having to remove all of the components from my power supply to drill the holes in it and mount it to the briefcase - I then reinstalled all of the components into the housing after it was mounted.
WARNING: THE POWER SUPPLY CONTAINS COMPONENTS THAT OPERATE AT VERY HIGH VOLTAGE - BE CAREFUL WHILE HANDLING THE POWER SUPPLY. NEVER TOUCH ANY OF THE INTERNAL COMPONENTS WHILE IT IS PLUGGED IN AND REMAIN CAUTIOUS EVEN AFTER IT HAS BEEN UNPLUGGED - SOME COMPONENTS (CAPACITORS) WILL RETAIN ELECTRICITY AFTER THE UNIT HAS BEEN UNPLUGGED. I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY INJURIES OR ACCIDENTS ASSOCIATED WITH THIS PROJECT.
- Motherboard: Next, I mounted the motherboard. This should be pretty easy to do - just align it exactly where you want it and then use a sharpie to mark through the preexisting holes in the board so you know where to drill the holes in the briefcase. Just insert some short screws and then if available, try to put some kind of non-metallic spacer between the briefcase and board (to give the bottom of the board a little "breathing room") - next, place nuts on the screws after you've placed the motherboard onto them and tighten them down. Don't tighten them too much - you could damage your board. Tighten them enough that they won't come off, but you really don't need them super tight.
- Hard Drive: Next, you will want to mount the hard drive into the case. I chose to mount mine to the right side wall because it fit there pretty well and would be out of the way. It may be difficult to know where to drill the holes in your briefcase for the drive - here's a little trick I used to mark where the screws should go.
- Most hard drives will have four holes on the sides, and four holes on the bottom (see picture for example) I chose to mount my drive using the four holes on the bottom of the unit. To mark where the holes were on the case, I just inserted the screws I was going to use into the hard drive screw holes and pressed the hard drive up against the briefcase firmly - just enough to make small indentions where the screws were. Now just drill holes where the indentions are and they should line up well!
- Additional Hardware: For additional hardware such as the extra USB ports, audio ports, Power LED, HDD LED, Power Button, etc. they shouldn't be too difficult to install - USB ports tend to be the most time consuming to install, but they're definitely worth installing into your case! I actually ended up de-soldering four USB ports from an old, broken USB hub I had laying around. I then took four old iPhone cords and cut them in order to use their USB plugs. Next, I soldered the wires of the iPhone cables to the USB ports I had and plugged the iPhone cable USB into my motherboard. (Later, I cut the USB connectors off of my iPhone cables and converted them into USB headers that could attach directly to the USB headers my motherboard provided - this was to free up the USB's directly on the motherboard to plug other components into them) If you need help or don't understand what I mean by the term "USB header", check out this instructable I found - it will help explain this more.
Fans: You will definitely want a couple of fans to keep this thing cool and I personally think two in the back of the case looks pretty cool. I used a couple of fans I had laying around and just wired them into the power supply. I used a craft knife to cut the holes. It helps to find a circular object about the same diameter as your fans to trace as a guide here.
USB's: To cut the holes for the USB's, I basically just free-handed it with a craft knife. Be careful while doing this!! You may want to trace around your USB's first, but if you think you can cut out the right size, go for it. After you cut the hole big enough to fit the USB into, press the USB port into the briefcase so that it is flush with the case and smother the thing with hot glue on the inside of the case to hold it in place. You may need to hold it in place for a while to make sure it glues in the right position. I was a little worried that the hot glue wouldn't be strong enough to handle people jamming flash drives and other devices into them constantly, but they seem to hold up pretty well.
Audio Ports: For the audio ports, I just drilled three holes that were the right size for the jacks and held them in place while I hot glued them inside the briefcase to hold them in place. The audio ports I used were already had motherboard header connectors on them, so I didn't have to modify anything, just plugged them into the motherboard.
LED's: For the LED's I bought a couple LED housings from Radio Shack (http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2062559). Just drill holes where you want to put them (it's better to drill a hole that's too small since you can always drill it a little bigger. Drill a hole too big and you're stuck with that - again, measure twice, cut once.) You don't necessarily NEED to have LED holders, but it makes the project look more professional and clean in my opinion. If you want, you can just drill a hole, place the LED in the hole from the inside and hot glue it in place. Depending on your motherboard, you may have labels on the headers for your LED and power button, but if you don't, you should be able to find them in the manual for your specific motherboard (check the manufacturer's site) Once you know which pins are which, connect the LED's accordingly. Originally, I used a UV led for my power indicator and a white LED for the HDD indicator, but decided to swap the UV LED with a multicolor RGB LED (more on this later)
REMEMBER: LED's will only work when they are connected with the right polarity. If your LED light doesn't work, you likely have the polarity reversed - try switching the wires and you may have better luck. Also, if you choose to use a power source other than the headers specifically for LED's, make sure you do not go over the maximum voltage rating of the LED you are using. Typically, an LED runs at about 3.3V.
Power Button: The power button is simple to install, make sure you purchase a momentary switch if you use a different one than the one that came with your PC. An On/Off switch likely will not work. After mounting the switch, just solder on a pair of wires and connect to the correct pins on your motherboard.
Ethernet Port: For the Ethernet port, I de-soldered an RJ-45 jack (that's the actual name of the connector on an Ethernet cable) from an old network card I had laying around and then took an Ethernet cable, snipped one of the ends off and soldered the wires onto the pins of the Ethernet jack. Be sure to solder the wires to the correct pins. To determine this, find out whether you are using a "straight" or "patch" Ethernet cable and solder the wires in the same order as they are on the Ethernet plug - you basically are just making an Ethernet "extension cord" Next, cut a hole for the female Ethernet jack, put it in place and hot glue it inside the case. Now, just plug the other end of the cable into the Ethernet port in your motherboard.
Power Connector: For the power connector, I ended up taking a female IEC plug from an old computer power supply I didn't need and cut a hole for it using the craft knife. Once I got the hole the right shape and size, I just pushed it in and screwed in a couple screws to hold it in the case. You'll notice that I also hot glued the wire connections on the inside of the case - don't do this until you're completely done, you'll most likely want to solder on additional wires to power other components (speakers, iPhone chargers, etc.) I snipped the male end off of an IEC cable and soldered the wires onto the female IEC plug mounted in my briefcase in order to plug into my power supply.
As you'll see, I also installed a FireWire port in the front left of my case - I didn't have to modify anything for this either since it already had a header connection to my motherboard.
Additionally, you will notice the female XLR jack mounted on the left side of the briefcase - this is for a USB to DMX controller I made using an RS-485 serial converter (if you don't know what DMX lighting is, don't worry about this - if you do and want to know how to make your own USB to DMX converter, check out this guy's tutorial. He's a genious.
If you're putting speakers in your case and your speaker system has a subwoofer, go ahead and remove the subwoofer from the enclosure it was in previously and cut a hole for it in your case. You'll also want to mount the amplifier board to the inside of your case. Originally, I chose to remove the existing potentiometer (volume knob) from the board and wire up a couple of linear potentiometers (volume faders) to control the volume, but ended up not doing anything with them since my keyboard had volume buttons built in. I just turned the volume all the way up and set the faders in the case.
You may notice the "Charge Only" USB's on the front left of my case as well - I put these in because every time I DJ somewhere, there's always "that guy" that comes and asks if he can charge his dead phone on my computer. It's very irritating to deal with iTunes asking if you want to update Jimbob's iPhone while you're trying to DJ an event, so I hot glued two iPhone chargers to the bottom of my briefcase and soldered 12AWG wire to the plug blades and soldered the other ends onto the power connector.
Step 5: Mount the Screen
Next you will want to take apart your monitor (hopefully the screen dimensions are somewhat smaller than your briefcase)
Depending on your monitor, you should be able to remove some screws and pull the back plate off. Others may require you to pry loose some clips or something else - I can't really help you with that. Once you have the back plate off, the front plate should come off easily as well. All you really need from the monitor is the actual screen unit and the electronics that power and control the screen. Typically a monitor will also have a large metal plate that the screen actually fits into - make sure you keep this - it will likely help ALOT when trying to mount your monitor.
Most monitors will have a standardized mounting plate on the back - this could come in handy when mounting the monitor to your briefcase lid. If your monitor will fit inside the briefcase lid with the mounting plate attached, go ahead and drill the holes for it and simply mount it like that. Unfortunately, my screen stuck out too far when trying to mount it with that plate so I had to scrap the plate and figure something else out. Luckily, the metal plate that housed the screen on my monitor had four holes near the corners, so I used those. I just inserted some long screws from the back, put a nut on the screws and tightened the four nuts down equally until it was pretty snug. Be careful not to crush the electrical components from your screen while doing this! Once you have found how you want to mount your screen, go ahead and un-mount it, plug in the power cable and VGA cable and then mount it back up.
Step 6: Make the Connections
Next, you need to connect all of the components together. Go ahead and start connecting everything together. I chose to cut the end of the monitor power cable and solder it on to the power jack I had installed in the briefcase. Remember to install the data and power cable to your hard drive as well as the power cable(s) to your motherboard and anything else. You don't want to forget something here.
After this, you'll want to use either a piece of scrap plywood or basically ANY hard surface that you think will work well to hold the keyboard and mousepad/speakers. I ended up finding a plastic tray and just removed the sides and then measured and cut accordingly. make sure you don't cut it too small - it's best to have a snug fit.
I then used some "L" brackets mounted on the inside of the briefcase to hold up this tray.
Step 7: Cover Panel
Next, I put together the cover panel with the keyboard, mouse pad and speakers. Deciding where to place all of these things was tough - I originally was going to mount the speakers on the upper portion of the panel and put the keyboard near the bottom but figured the mouse would be difficult to use if I had to reach over the keyboard any time I wanted to use it.
Speakers: Depending on the speakers you have, you can either use a hole saw (if they're circular) but if they're oval like the ones I bought, you may have to freehand it with a craft knife. If so, BE PATIENT - take your time cutting the holes or you'll regret it later when you've messed it up. After the holes were cut, I trimmed some of the plastic on the back of the speaker grilles so they would sit flush on the panel. Next, I placed the speaker grilles on the top of the panel and fastened the speaker drivers to the back of them on the other side of the panel. After you've done this, just wire the speakers back to the amplifier.
Keyboard: The keyboard can be tricky, depending on the one you'll be using. I somehow got lucky and happened to have a keyboard that was the PERFECT width for my briefcase. To fasten the keyboard down to the panel, remove the screws in the back and lift off the top cover of the keyboard - you may want to turn your keyboard upside-down and lift the back panel off in case the keys aren't secured into the front plate permanently - better safe than sorry. Next, remove the big rubber strip(s) inside your keyboard. Once you've removed that, you should be able to pull back some of the clear printed circuit paper stuff to drill a couple holes for mounting screws. After you've done this, you will want to use a sharpie to mark where the holes are located for the screws that fasten the two keyboard panels together. Use a drill to drill out the holes you just marked. This is so we can reassemble the keyboard after it's been bolted onto the cover panel. You'll want to drill a hole for the cord to fit through as well. Feed the cord through the hole, and reassemble the keyboard.
Next, if you have one, cut a mouse pad to fit on the panel and use hot glue to glue it down. You can now place your top panel on the briefcase computer. (I recommend not fastening the panel down)
After you've run all wires in the case lid (I had some wires for LED's and my wifi antennas) carefully measure the space that you'd like to cover and cut a thin plywood panel to the right dimensions - BE PATIENT. The more time you spend doing this, the better it will look. After you have it cut to just the right size, paint it any color you'd like and hot glue the edges to the border of the screen. Make sure not to hot glue this to the screen itself.
Once you've done this, you're pretty much done. Go ahead and load an OS on your hard drive and modify it in any way you'd like to make it your own! I'm incredibly tired (thanks narcolepsy) so I'm going to upload the pics and go to bed. Let me know if you have any questions! I'll try to respond quickly. I'm open to ideas for improvement as well! Thanks for reading