Introduction: Desktop Pi Hardware Assembly

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I find the Raspberry Pi and the world of Single Board Computers (SBCs) fascinating. The integration of all of the basic components required for a typical home-use computer into a compact and standalone system has been a game changer for hardware and software hobbyists and tinkerers alike.

Likewise, the aesthetics of a beautifully designed and assembled gaming rig put on display the pride in the engineering and workmanship that went into creating all of the individual components which make the "magic" happen. Hopefully when your Desktop Pi is complete, you can feel proud at the beauty and simplicity of this little, albeit versatile and functional machine.

Step 1: Required Hardware

This project is a great demonstration of how something can often times be "more than the sum of its parts." It is largely a reordering of current Raspberry Pi accessories, centered around a custom designed and 3D printed framework. Here are the items I used in my case, as well as a few optional items which can be used as well.

Note: I am not sponsored and include no affiliate links. (No links at all actually!) I am simply showing you were I got my materials. What you use for your project should be a function of your budget and personal taste. Also, you will find multiple vendors for many of the seemingly identical products listed here. Choose what makes sense to you.

What I used:

1. Raspberry Pi 4 - 4GB

2. ICE Tower Cooler

3. Acrylic Set-Top Box + Extension Board

4. 128 GB SSD

5. USB 3.0 to SATA Adapter

6. Power Supply with On/Off Switch

7. MicroSD Card

Step 2: Optionals and Alternatives

The following are purely aesthetic choices. Performance may vary but for all intents and purposes, other than thermal testing the boards you should see no real differences in usability.

1. ICE Low-Profile Tower

2a. M.2 Adapter Board (2.5 Inch SSD Alternative)

2b. M.2 SSD (If you go this route, you won't need the USB 3.0 to SATA Adapter)

3a. Metallic All Surface Spray Paint of your choice

3b. Sandpaper or sanding block

3c. Masking Tape

Step 3: 3D Printing the Case

I used an original model Ender 3 to print the case. 3D printing is such a vast topic I will leave it out of this build other than to say that the file was sliced in Cura under standard settings for the Ender 3 at 0.2 mm layer height and 10% infill and took about 14.5 hours. The case was printed using black Hatchbox PLA onto the OEM Ender 3 build surface without the use of glue or tape. It is very important that the case and backplate are both printed in the orientations shown in the images above so that no supports are required!

The part was originally modeled in Solidworks but could have very easily been done in Tinkercad or most other free or browser based 3-D modeling programs. I have attached the STL files here for your use. I also made this case with larger tolerances in mind as filament types and printers can actually vary the final dimensions noticeably. Everything does not fit together super tightly but the back plate does go on with a satisfying snap and structurally it feels quite solid.

Step 4: Finishing the Case

This step is totally optional but gives the case a nice look. I decided to paint the front of the case and the backplate with an all surface metallic spray paint. If you go this route, don't forget to cover the vent holes with masking tape to prevent the inside of the case from partial spray. Also, rather than taping up all of the edges of the case, I recommend setting the case on its side on a paper towel, spraying the lower side of the case and then flipping it over and repeating. This provides a nice clean line along the longer corner edges without taping! If necessary, you can lightly sand the faces of the case you intend to paint and then wipe off with a moist paper towel to remove any filament dust from the surface. I found this made a significant difference in the texturing of the surface paint, especially along the front curves.

Step 5: Assembling Pi Extension Board

The kits include their own set of instructions for assembling the parts as needed. The first step is to plug in the extension board and using the provided standoffs, set both boards to the acrylic plate. Next, place the pink thermal pad onto the processor and follow instructions for the installation of the tower cooler. The red wire from the cooler fan will plug into the outer corner pin and the black wire should be spaced one pin away as shown in the image above. You can then plug in the wires stemming from the acrylic plate with the built in fan. I would highly recommend plugging in the power cord at this point. Both the tower and wall fan should light up at this point. When you are sure all of your connections are correct and working, go ahead and unplug the smaller fan embedded in the acrylic plate.

Step 6: Installing Board in Case

You can now slide the assembled board into the case by lining up the acrylic plate edges with the slots in the case as shown in the images. Make sure to slide it all the way down into the perpendicular slot.

Tip: If the acrylic plate is too loose in the slot, a dab of construction glue into the corner of the inner slot will hold the plate in place and be easy to break off if you choose to disassemble the rig.

Step 7: Installing Acrylic Cover

Repeat the previous step with with the fan embedded acrylic plate and plug in the red and black wires into the appropriate slots as done earlier. If you forgot the order don't worry, check the images above!

Step 8: Installing SSD

Now, all you have to do is slide the SSD into the shelf slot. Be careful not to knock the red and black fan wires out of their pins on the extension board while doing this! It should be a pretty tight fit so go slow, starting with the corner of the SSD and slowly maneuvering the SSD into place. Make sure the SSD is oriented in the direction you want it for the final rig. I like the branding side to be visible. Do what you think looks cool!

Step 9: Placing Back Plate

At this point we can now install the backplate. Line up the ridges on the backplate with the slots on the back of the case. It's much easier if you start at one end of the case with both ridges in their respective slots and apply increasing pressure on the backplate along the direction of the slots. The backplate will fit into place with a nice snap at the end.

Step 10: SSD and Power Cables

All that is left to do now is attach the SATA to USB 3.0 wire and the power cable. My SATA to USB cable was a little long so I put a nice curl in it. I like the unique aesthetic it adds to the case as well.

Step 11: Finished Product!

Voila! You're all done with the hardware assembly! Plug in and enjoy your sick new rig!

Step 12: FAQ and Comments

Q: Where are the part files?

A: The part files can be found in step 3.

Can I overclock my Raspberry Pi?

A: Yes, the tower cooler will provide sufficient cooling for overclocking.

Q: How does the embedded fan work?

A: The acrylic embedded fan pulls air into the case and through the honeycomb vent holes.

Q: Is the tower fan blocked from below?

A: There is a large enough gap below the tower cooler to allow air to flow through. Also, The honeycomb patterned vent holes are present on the bottom surface. You can apply the rubber non slip feet (from the acrylic case kit) to the bottom of the case if you'd like which will allow air to enter from below the case as well.

Q: Would you make one for me?

A: I am currently super busy between school and work but I will help you make your own as best I can! Send me a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

Q: Someone else is posting your pictures elsewhere/ taking credit for this project!

A: If you see this elsewhere, please feel free to support my work by attributing it to this instructable.

Q: What software did you use?

A: The Pi is running twister OS which provides a great desktop experience and makes overclocking super simple with included software.

Q: Is the lighting only coming from the fans?

A: Yes, the tower cooler and the acrylic embedded fan are the only light sources within the case. The SATA to USB cable also has some nice red and blue LEDs indicating data transfer.

Q: Can you do this for a cluster board?

A: I will check out other possible architectures and get to working on those when I can!

Q: What about water cooling?

A: Check out the last FAQ!

Q: Do the blue LEDs increase performance?

A: Yes, obviously.

Q: What next?

A: I am working on a super cheap and totally unnecessary closed water cooling system for this rig. My goal is to get this going for you guys to assemble for under $20.