Ok, so I've read many of the instructables on here about building a PC using a Nintendo NES as the donor for the case. I've built quite a few PCs over the last 10 years but am always looking to make something a little different that will still be useful in the real world and stay useful for some time.
A lot of people have built NES PCs over the last few years using Atom processors or very small boards that are realistically not powerful enough any more to do anything other than run old emulators, so this is an effort to build a moderately powerful mini gaming PC.
MSI A88XI AC mini-itx motherboard
AMD A10 7870K quad core APU
8GB Corsair Vengeance 2400Mhz RAM
Anker USB3 panel
160W pico psu adapter
180W DC charger (both sourced from mini-itx.com)
Ok, so now to put it together! I wish I had taken more photos along the way, but hopefully I can explain what I have done! This project, and many like it, is never 100% finished, as I have discovered things that I would improve and might do some more to it in the future, so will add to this instructable over time.
Step 1: Get Your Hands Dirty Cleaning Out the Old NES
Ok so this bit is easy enough... until you find the 80s security screws! These are a right pain and you either need to buy or make a special screw driver to remove them easily. Some say you can melt plastic pens (didn't work just smelled really bad), others say use pliers but as I have several old Nintendo consoles about, and needed the money for paint and parts, I ground down an old screw driver using a Dremel. It should look a bit like a two pronged fork, as shown in the picture. Helps to have a screw to test it on.
BE WARNED!!!! THIS CAN CREATE HEAT AND SPARKS SO USE SAFETY GOGGLES AND AVOID FLAMMABLE MATERIALS.
Another tip - buy decent tools. I bought a cheap rechargeable dremel via eBay and binned it after breaking most of it over the course of a fortnight. Spend a few pounds/bucks/rubles extra and buy mains powered tools. Also find a good work space that you can leave set up. I use a utility room as it has a sink, window, solid counter and easy access outside when painting so fumes don't build up.
Ok, so now you've made or got your Nintendo screw driver, gently open up the case. Be aware that plastics age differently and can shatter easily. You should keep ALL screws and fittings, they will come in handy later.
Step 2: Cutting and Sanding - Tough to Be Smooth
Now you have completely stripped your NES case internals by basically unscrewing everything in sight, it's time to take a look at removing some of the external bits as well. Take the lid and turn it over. You should see some tiny screws and two silver coloured clips.
Remove those as well.
Now you can remove the top fascia and cartridge slot cover. Here's my finished one on the left and a standard NES lid on the right.
Step 3: Gasping for Air, Time to Cut Our Way Our
Ok time to break out the tools, and a packet of plasters if you're clumsy like me. You need:
1 X craft/Stanley knife
1 X dremel with disc attachments and sanding stone
Nice sharp wire cutters for the less patient out there
A very steady pair of hands!
The trick here is to TAKE YOUR TIME! I started to get fed up and nearly snapped my last rib in the grille here as my hand slipped when rushing. Go slowly and cut away the lower half of each rib/cross bar all the way down the grille on the lid. This will massively improve ventilation and allow heat to rise from the case.
When you're done dremelling or cutting them away, they should look like the picture. Now sand them (gently, the plastics here are thin, old and fragile) to as smooth a finish as you want.
Once that's done, patiently cut the edges so they are straight and in line. Shape wise, they should look straight as in the second picture when you down on the case from above. It's the fine details that catch the eye, so worth getting this right.
Step 4: Gonna Need a Bigger Back Door
Ok that's enough rear end jokes. My motherboard is packed with sockets and features, absolutely none of which line up with the case openings.
Now I'm going to cut a hole big enough to house a HDMI 0.2m extension (male to female) so I can plug a HDMI lead straight into the case when I love it and not worry about opening the case or having cables permanently dangling out.
I got mine from Amazon:
And it was an absolute bargain. Make sure you don't buy the wrong size by mistake. The cable is also very wide and tough, so takes some shaping to get right.
Ok this time as am cutting fairly brittle plastic I reloaded my now blunt knife was rubbish. Good tip for the brave (or stupid like me) is:
Hot knife through butter
Yep heat your knife up using a gas burner (AT YOUR OWN RISK) and it will melt right through that old plastic, removing all effort. It does smell, cool down very quickly and can easily burn you so do this at your own risk. Otherwise use a dremel with a very fine bit or disc.
Step 5: Prepping the Case for Building and Painting
Ok so time to find where you threw all the bits that you took out. There are a few jobs in this step that are long, boring and induce wrist and ear ache:
1. Get your NES base
2. Cut away ALL sticky up bits/standoffish/mounting points EXCEPT the ones under the front switch panel (pictured post cutting) and the 4 corner points that hold the base and lid together. They are kinda important!
3. Some time later after much swearing, dremelling, cutting and more swearing, sand the inside of the case to your desired level of finish.
As most of the interior is hidden from view once the PC is installed, I didn't get to fussy.
Now you can paint your case inside (if you want). Please don't paint it if you haven't FULLY disassembled it.
Painting tips learnt the hard way:
1. Cover any standoffs or screw holes with tape. You'll thank me later.
2. Slow, lightly and many times when spray painting, leaving a gap in between sprays. Don't rush it or blast it CoD style.
3. Don't leave it outside to fry in the rain.
4. Electrical tape and a sharp thin knife are great for preserving features like old Nintendo labels you can't peel off (pictured). By taping the label out then cutting the tape to fit you can get a nice finish.
Step 6: Painting the Lid
I decided to not paint the inside of my lid at this point as I found through trial and error that I needed to cut the old cartridge slot away in order to fit the CPU cooler, even though it's low profile.
This is because I decided to retain the original floor. You may see a guide online for NES 3.0 where the guy fits a proper GPU and makes a new floor - yeah I tried that with modelling cement and cut Perspex. Didn't work. At all.
So I thanked myself for having two donor NESs and broke out my second base. I got my motherboard, fitted double height stand offs and dabbed paint onto the screw bases. This marked the inside of the case and I drilled pilot holes with my dremel. You can see these in some of the photos, such as behind the SSD and front panel switches.
I added a little modelling cement and/or gorilla glue to help them stick in place once I screwed them in as the motherboard and cooler are pretty heavy.
Anyway, back to the lid. You can cut most off the insides away, but you need to leave enough to fit the retaining clips that hold the front flap in place. Cut and dremel carefully here as you are working with quite thin pieces! Use the side by side comparison to guide you, I drew lines with a sharpie to help me remember where to not go past.
Step 7: Wiring Up the Front
Ok this almost has several steps so we can start with the easy one, well almost easy - USB 3.0 NES!
After a bit of searching I found this:
Anker® 3.5 inch Front Panel USB Hub with 2 USB 3.0 Ports
The cable's a bit long but I'll worry about that later. Buy it, unscrew the metal bracket (that's the easy but and go find this NES bits you ripped out earlier. You need:
2 X controller ports
Ok I deliberated and researched for a long time over using NES controllers and concluded it wasn't worth it as this will be a modern PC not a NES, so a 2 button controller would be insufficient. I do want USB access though so I want USB front ports.
Hot knife, gritted teeth and ready access to first aid time again!
1. Cut all the wires away with your trust cutters
2. Hot knife or dremel the INNER section of the port.
All we want is the other shell. Make sure the cuts are smooth and regular.
3. Gorilla glue the rear edge of the now tunnel like ports. Affix the USB cables by ensuring that only black plastic sticks to black plastic. Use extra glue SPARINGLY around the outside to create a seal.
Stand there for a few minutes hoping it bonds.
Realise you've glued your fingers to it.
Swear a lot.
Realise you needed to feed the USB cables though the holes in the base before glueing. Seriously it was very late in the process that I realised this bit as the cables come from within the case but the ports slot into the front of the case from the outside.
Step 8: The Big Switcheroo
Ok so most modern motherboards allow you to change settings, like making them turn on automatically after power loss. Nice, but not everyone has or wants that so power and reset switches are needed.
Handily I had a junk PC case spare so I ripped power and reset switches, as well as power and HDD LEDs out of it. I then glued the original NES buttons EXTREMELY CAREFULLY onto these, taking care that no glue leaked into the switch itself. If it does, throw it away as gorilla glue will last far longer than a 10p microswitch.
I also fitted the red LED inside the original transparent NES light fitting. Glue the LED in place, then slot the plastic into the small hole on the left. Screw the supporting metal bar tightly into place so your switches line up. I had to stick a few washers under mine to line it up again.
Tuck the cables out of the way and tie them up. We likes tidy cables we does.
Step 9: Power, Lots of Power!!!
Ok PSU time.
Break out the pico PSU 160 XT or your chosen variant from mini-itx.com and plug it into the motherboard ATX socket. Get a washer and affix the DC to 4 pin adapter to the rear of the case. I tried a few different gaps and angles until I was happy with tension/solidity/chance of contacting the motherboard etc
Step 10: The Big Bit
Ok top tip
TEST YoUR BUILD!!!
then install it.
I did my windows install before I even started cutting plastic as it was an easy job and meant I wasn't waiting around at the end.
All I did was press a few of the stand offs to a side to better line up with the motherboard holes, route my cables and plug in the SATA cables. Easy!
Oh yeah - wireless keyboard/mouse USB dongles and any Ethernet/wifi connections need fitted too. Tip - Ethernet fits through the side holes without any cutting. Most wifi antenna will not stretch from this particular motherboard to the case edge. Am working on a solution to that but soldering may be involved.
Step 11: Boot It!
Or place the lid on first if you prefer but is easier to catch errors or led cables plugged in backwards if the case is open..
And set up your system! Make sure to check temps at idle and full blast. Maybe add a 40mm fan to the top vent to pull air out of the case and open the cartridge slot if needs be
Step 12: Improvements
During making this guide and PC, I've identified a few changes, developments and things I'd do differently:
1. Painting - take longer, use more paint and spend longer sanding to prep surfaces better.
2. Parts - order in advance of doing the work otherwise those days spent waiting soon add weeks to your build
3. Ambition - I don't have access to a 3D printer but this would have been much easier with a custom printed case. That way I could have easily added vents, not worried about legacy plastics and modified the floor. Might look into this for future builds.
Step 13: Living With It - Heat Dissipation and Further Improvements
Ok, so a few months down the line it still runs brilliantly with the exception of some awful Windows drivers for AMD crashing it in Windows 10 so have moved to Linux (Ubuntu).
Another issue mentioned in the comments was that of heat dissipation. AMDs aren't famous for their efficiency and whilst running at 4Ghz this one cooks itself in about 3 minutes! To that end I had to do something about expelling the hot air from the CPU so I decided a roof vent was in order due to a lack of space on the right hand side above the controller ports.
Safe to say whilst this is a dramatic change to the look of the NES PC, it was made a lot easier by having a donor PC ATX case lying in the garage that had metal mesh grilles on the front, so I cannibalised it for pretty much everything and used this larger 4 x 4" panel cover that i just levered off. It was a tricky fit cutting to fit but made a lot easier by drawing around it first, then subtracting 2mm from each width to allow for cutting and then sanding to fit. I did have one slip of the dremel and over sanded one edge slightly but I can fill that in and re-sand/paint accordingly when i get time.
I also binned the pearlescent white paint for some matte white after re-priming (the grille was black so spray very gently to avoid clogging up those tiny 0.5mm holes) and often to get a better finish. I might come back and re-sand again and try a better pain finish.
Ok, that's me done. I am working on some more projects:
- Atari 2600 with Intel i3 and Nvidia 750Ti inside
- Sega Dreamcast with Intel i3 and M2 SSD/Wifi using Thin ITX
- N64 with Raspberry Pi 3 (yep got one of those to go with my 2 PiZeros)
- Oh and someone asked me to fit a Gamecube into a popular 80s cartoon van.... more on that later!
Thanks for the great comments and views, way more than I expected. If you have any suggestions for projects then do get in touch!