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Lego Computer Case

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Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through building a Lego computer, I gain hours and hours of sitting in a basement (lol)

Welcome to the Lego computer build instructable!  Through this tutorial I'll show you the general method for how to build a computer case of any style out of Legos!  To help with the instructions I'm going to use a Star Wars Imperial themed case that I put together.  The end goal should be to make a case EXACTLY how you want it though (i.e. custom colors, theme, exterior and interior shape, etc.) so you can accommodate whatever computer parts you want to use and whatever style you like.

This is a rather *big* instructable so I've broken it up into a few different sections to make it easier to follow. The sections are:

Basics of Lego Structures
Basics of Computer Building
Constructing a Computer Model and Design
How to Order Lego Parts
How to Build the Computer You Designed


Before we begin I'd like to lay out some of the pros and cons of building the case so that you have an idea of what you'll be getting out of the build.

Cons:
* Price (the case may be a few thousand lego parts and this could cost around $300 dollars, so it's pretty expensive but this varies depending on your design.)
* Heat (computers get hot inside and the abs plastic of Lego bricks is not good at dissipating heat)

Pros:
* Customizability (this case can be made to do pretty much whatever you want if you're willing to put in some time engineering it)
* Longevity (the case should last the rest of your life because you can add, subtract, or redesign Lego parts based on your needs)
* Awesomeness (you should be proud of your case and show it off a little because it probably looks cool and took a lot of time to make)
* Knowledge (if you didn't know much about computers when you started, you'll learn all kinds of things by the time you finish this project and don't worry, when I started I didn't know anything about how to build a computer)

I'm competing in the shopbot challenge so if you like this project don't forget to give me a vote!

Click this to check out my model designs(search the username "greenyouse" and click on the green arrow instead of hitting return. Note, I'm using an external optical disk drive for my case.  You'll need Lego Digital Designer from step 5 to view them in-depth.)
 
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N1TRO3601 year ago
could you please add the lego block list to this instructable
greenyouse (author)  N1TRO3601 year ago
Ok, I uploaded the spreadsheet to step 14. The LDD files I posted on the lego designer site are useful too (but their website is pretty clunky). I guess you need to register an account with them to download the files. It's probly worth trying though if you haven't already.
WOKANDWAL1 year ago
WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYY BETTER THAN OTHER ONES ON INSTRUCTABLES
valgard2 years ago
The first google server case was made out of Lego since they couldn't find a pre-built case to fit their hardware. That and it was google and they are known for thinking outside the box.
No it was not, but ok!
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You seem to be correct in that aspect. although the first storage solution they used was lego. http://www.techrepublic.com/photos/photos-a-time-capsule-of-computing/3929?tag=content;siu-container . I tend to associate storage solutions with servers as that is usually the primary use of a server tower.
baldmosher2 years ago
Practically, and keeping this explanation VERY simple, you want two bear in mind two key points. 1. more input than exhaust fans (creates positive internal pressure). 2. use as large fans as possible (150mm is ideal, 120mm is good enough). More detail to follow
More detail on 1. This is in order to drive dust out of the case (you then need to fit dust filters on your input fans only, and clean them periodically) and also drive heat out of the case (particularly as a Lego case will be purely air cooled - no conductive heat loss. Pay special attention to air flow inside the case, cabling, etc. and be prepared to use a temperature probe to check for hot spots. Don't forget your PSU will probably have a 120mm (or even 150mm) exhaust fan.
More detail on 2. The larger the fans, the slower they need to spin, and therefore the quieter they will be. For a general use PC sat on your desk, silence (or near silence) really is golden. Noise isn't a consideration for a server in a cupboard or the attic, but you'd be daft to build a Lego case for that purpose.
greenyouse (author)  baldmosher2 years ago
After running this computer for a couple days I've noticed that it may be slightly harder to get positive pressure in this case than in a conventional case.  The lego case isn't 100% airtight so some air leaks out, which creates a bit more negative pressure inside the case than normal.  Nothing too big, just thought it'd be helpful to mention.

BTW, negative pressure (pulling air out of the case) is kind of nice to have too because it cools the case more efficiently than positive pressure would.  Neutral pressure really is the best overall though because you'll get the cooling effects of the negative pressure and the dust blocking of positive pressure!  :D
You could always use PVA glue as cement? Strong enough to provide air tightness and some additional strength but still weak enough to snap off when dismantling.
MW0GKX2 years ago
Great idea BUT I would hate to live close to anyone who built one of these (and they would hate to live near me too) because a metal, grounded, case gives immunity to/from radio interference, as per legislation requirements, Plastic does not.

Just about all plastic PC cases I have seen have a grounded metallised coating on the inside for this purpose.

As a Radio Ham I can transmit up to 400 watts of RF which, if received by a PC in an unprotected box, could cause all sorts of problems. Also any interference radiated by the PC would, likewise, cause problems with radio reception.

Here in the UK if a complaint was made by a user of a plastic cased PC with no shielding about problems caused by "that HAM up the road" inspection of the equipment by the interference investigator COULD end up with the PC owner being fined for using non interference compliant equipment.

Personally I would build the Lego case around a metal case that the PC was built into, as a show piece.
Under the newer rules that are applied to computer and electronic parts, both for CE and C-tick testing, boards are tested NAKED. Therefore, theoretically, a naked computer constructed entirely of CE/C-tick approved parts should not present nor display any RF problems.

How this affects the relevant u.s. tests, I cannot speculate, but if you can get good reception on an AM radio sitting on top of a properly shielded PC, we'ld all like to see a post on YouTube that shows both devices operating simultaneously without the radio squealing.

I have plenty of acrylic cased computers that cause no problem and display none caused by others. Acrylic is one of the best working materials I have ever used.

Unfortunately, no matter how well shielded, I have yet to find anything immune to the only consumer device that is exempt from EMF testing: The $%^&ing mobile phone!

As for the lego approach, I like it. I've seen some before, but I don't have enough lego to make one, although I did make a charging stand for my (gak!) mobile phone...
greenyouse (author)  Treknology2 years ago
Yikes, I guess I didn't really think about radio wave interference when building the case. That said, I still get FM radio from my audio tuner (a couple feet from my case).  I can't really test the AM frequencies because I never picked up AM stations even before making the lego computer.  I hope this doesn't cause RF troubles but I can't think of a good way to test it.

@Treknology If the legos are the only thing holding you back you should try making your case smaller and ordering the parts you don't have (it may be much cheaper if you don't do lego mosaics and lots of tile pieces too).  This is super fun to make!
Admittedly, connecting ALL of the ground points would prevent interference better, because of the nature of the resistance in the wiring, but all the ground points are already connected. The ground points are more for distributions of static discharges, from my understanding. On a 24 pin power supply, pins 3, 7 and 15-18 (if memory serves me) are all devoted to grounding the machine, which grounds out through the 3-prong wall outlet...eventually (at least in the states) I know internationally, there are different power connectors, and I don't know what is standardized.

I was working on a piece of hardware at one point. I had two running boxes, one I was using to aid me in development, then the second was running...basically a fancy PSU monitor. I didn't realize I had the connections backwards, and set the piece of hardware on something that was groundded to the box that was aiding my Googling, and it shorted out the PSU box, *through* my researching computer. That's a horribly abridged version, but I hope it still makes sense.

The screw holes and other grounding points are still grounded, and will probably help keep static on the case down, as long as it's plugged in, and can connect to a true ground. I can't find any other reason my Lego box is still alive XD I didn't think it'd last for the years it has, and it's a half dead motherboard to begin with!
A layer of aluminum foil on the inside connected to ground would provide shielding.  Maybe a nice spray contact adhesive to attach to the blocks, and spring loaded piece of metal to make the connecton from the motherboard to foil.  I think a coil spring from an old AA battery holder from an old remote or broken toy would work great.
pricewatch.com and tigerdirect.com....they are you allies
TSC2 years ago
That's awesome man!
Treknology2 years ago
This is the exact opposite of a project I would have liked to try. If I could have afforded all the trucks and skips, I would have liked to have constructed a house using 5.25 floppy drives as the bricks...
Robot Lover2 years ago
This is awesome! You should change the title to Lego Computer Case or something like that. I came in the hopes of seeing a mechanical Lego computer! Either way, 5*.
The idea of a working duplicate of the Babbage Analytical Engine constructed entirely from Lego would present an amazing challenge. Even a Turing Bomb would be frustrating to undertake so congrats to some lateral thinking.

To see Lego and Computers working together do a search on YouTube for Lego Rubik's Robots.
greenyouse (author)  Robot Lover2 years ago
Thanks! I switched the title so it makes more sense now.
Jedrokivich2 years ago
Enormously awesome... Static electricity?
greenyouse (author)  Jedrokivich2 years ago
Now that everything is running in the case I was thinking of only touching parts with neoprene gloves on since they're electric insulators and cheap to buy (it's always fun doing cavity search glove snaps anyway, lol). 
Methinks someone wants employment within the TSA...
Shouldn't the ground through the PSU eliminate any static electricity? Your case ground really isn't the only ground, and shouldn't need to eliminate any more static electricity than the electrical common does unless something is really wrong... (I wouldn't call a lego case wrong, just awesome!)
I had done one of these years ago. It's running a linux build that I configured to boot faster, skip just junk you need for usual navagation, and launch straight in to Stella (atari emulator).
http://silntdoogood.webs.com/DSCN0381.JPG
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http://silntdoogood.webs.com/DSCN0388.JPG
I also re-wired a kayboard so I could plug a real Atari controller in to it to run with this game emulation.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymb5soohYA0
If I ever get around to it, I'll put up a video on the entire project.
ArtistZ2 years ago
Nice! I like your little Star Wars intro in the beginning! xD
Very ambitious project! What was your final piece count? A tip for Step 14: Using the Building Guide Mode (upper right corner of LDD or f7) would probably make counting a lot easier.
greenyouse (author)  sherrycayheyhey2 years ago
Nice tip, that makes step 14 way easier! I ended up using about 1900 legos for some extra stuff but the LDD file listed 1852 pieces. I'll try moving the link to the LDD files to the front page so people can check them out (they're helpful to look at   : p).
monsterlego2 years ago
Enormously awesome!