The Cardboard Computer




About: 1/3 Kansas farm girl, 1/3 computer geek, 1/3 nobody knows yet:)

Hey everybody!  This is the cardboard computer case I made.  I had an old ancient Dell Dimension 2400 that was in serious need of a make over, just in time for the Cardboard and Duck Tape contest! Even though it seems like it would be very hard, taking apart a computer and putting it back together again in a cardboard box, really isn't to hard.  There is no soldering involved, just a lot of patience:)  If you aren't sure whether or not you can do this, Google a disassembling guide for your particular computer.  It's a ton of fun and the results are very rewarding:)

I considered painting my cardboard box or somehow making it look like it isn't cardboard, but then I decided it would be pretty cool if it really just looked like a cardboard box, so that is the design I went with.  I hope you like it:) 

If you like this 'ible, Please vote for it in the Cardboard & Duck tape, Up! 3d printer, and the Make-to-Learn Youth Contests.

For the Make-to-Learn Youth contest I have to answer four questions about what I learned doing this project:

What did you make?
I made a case for my computer out of cardboard.  The case the computer had was big, ugly, and weighed a ton!  So I decided to make a smaller better looking case for it.  In fact, the whole computer in its new case weighs less than the old case alone!  I wanted it to look cool, but also be obvious that it was made of cardboard.  That was why I didn't paint it.  The case is made entirely of cardboard, except for the catch I used to hold the lid down, it is a magnetic snap that was supposed to be used for a purse.  I used an Xacto knife to cut out the parts, and used mostly hot melt glue to hold it together.    

How did you make it?
I came up with the idea of making a case out of cardboard when I was looking through the contests on Instructables a few days ago.  I saw the Cardboard contest and knew I just had to make something for it, and I came up with this!  I made this without any help, and it took me two days:)  Some of my ideas for it changed as I went along, for instance at first I was going to cut all of the holes in the cardboard sort of squiggly, but then I decided straight lines and geometric shapes would look better (and curved lines are WAY to hard to cut;).  

Where did you make it?

I made it this completely at home.

What did you learn?
Wow. I learned a LOT from this!  I never thought I would be able to do it!  It was much easier than I thought, the hardest part was remembering where everything went.  It was also a challenge to fit everything into the cardboard box, and mounting the parts in the box so that everything was sturdy enough.  I learned a lot about how computers work when I was looking up guides for taking the old computer apart.  I also learned that the only time super glue sticks to ANYTHING is when you don't want it to.  Like sticking my fingers together, for example;)  Seriously, though I had a great time with this project, and learned a lot:)


Step 1: What You Need

You will need:
  • A computer in need of a newer, awesomer, case, or the parts to build a computer if you are making one from scratch
  • Misc. cardboard boxes and pieces of cardboard - My box was 11.5 x 9 x 10.5 inches
  • peice of white cardboard or painted cardboard for the accents
  • Skewers
  • Hot melt glue gun and glue
  • Super Glue
  • Magnetic purse snap or two small round magnets
  • Pliers

Step 2: Disassembling the Old Computer

If you are building your computer from scratch you can skip this step.

 Disclaimer: There is the potential for harm either to you, or to your computer.  I am responsible for Neither!  Do NOT disassemble the power supply, as this can shock you across the room, or kill you.  Don't open your computer case until you have unplugged your computer and let it sit for 20 min.  Pay attention to what you are doing so you know how to reassemble your computer when the time comes.  Be gentle! these are fragile parts, treat them as such!

There is the risk of fire since this is made of cardboard.  Make sure the computer stays cool.  There should be a vent on the side like I made in mine.  If you notice it getting hot, turn it off and add another fan.  Also, make sure you cover the empty power supply plugs like I did.  If you do this you'll be fine:)

     There, that's it for the disclaimer, just use common sense and you'll be fine;) Now back to the cool part.  Unplug your computer and leave it for about 20 minutes.  After that unlatch the removable side panel on your case and slide it off (picture 1), yours may unscrew.  Unplug all the wires going to the power supply, a metal box either on the upper or lower back side of your case, picture 2.  If it isn't obvious were each plug goes, take a picture, make a note, whatever.  My favorite method is marking both halves of a plug with the same color of sharpie, picture 3.  Just make sure you know where each plug goes so you aren't reduced to yelling "stupid wires!" later on, people will look at you weird;)  Unscrew the power supply (picture 4) and lift it out.  

Next unplug all the wires from your mother board (picture 5), and then unscrew it.  There may be hidden screws.  If it doesn't just lift out, and you can't find any more screws, google how to remove your computer's motherboard.  Mine had four screws under the heat sink that I NEVER would have found without looking up a guide.  Set your motherboard in a safe place that won't cause static electricity.

Unscrew then remove your hard drive and any other drives your computer may have.  Mine had a hard drive, floppy drive, and an optical drive, although I left the optical drive and floppy drive in the case, because they were very heavy and I couldn't figure out how to fit them in the cardboard box I used.

Pop off the front of your computer case.  Mine just snapped out, but yours may unscrew so take a good look at it:)  You can now remove the power switch, picture 6, and the front ports, picture 7.  These should snap out easily.  If you can't get the front ports out its not really a big deal, but its kind of a problem it you can't get the power switch out...... Mine just clipped in so it was easy to get out, hopefully yours will be to:)

Next, unscrew the nuts that held the motherboard in and away from case wall (picture 8).  Keep them in a safe place, we will use them to secure the motherboard into the cardboard box.  That's it! your computer should be completely disassembled now, time to move the parts to their new home!

Step 3: Fitting the Parts in Your Box

Ok, pat yourself on the back.  You took apart your computer without losing your sanity:)  Now let's see if you can put it back  together again.  That' the hard part;)  Ok...... fine it's not that hard:)  Take the your mother board, hard drive, optical drive if you decided to use yours, front ports if you got them out, power supply, and fan, and arrange them in the box how you want to have them.  Most fans just screw or clip in on top of the cpu heat sink, picture 2.  If that's how yours is you can either leave it like that or mount it on the back wall of the box.  I had to mount mine on the box, it was mounted on the back of the old case and I couldn't figure out how to mount it on over the heat sink.  I mounted the hard drive up right to one wall, the mother board to the other wall, and the power supply in between them, with the fan over it.  I couldn't fit in my optical drive or floppy drive, so I decided not to use them.  Make sure you know where the screw holes are on everything you are going to mount.  You MUST mount the power supply, hard drive, and mother board with screws, everything else can be hot melt glued in.  The first picture shows how I decided to arrange my components if you need ideas:) The view is from the top.

Step 4: Mounting the Mother Board

To mount the mother board, first gather up the small nuts that held the mother board in to the old case.  I had twelve screws for my mother board, but only five nuts.  I had to use two of them to hold on the heat sink catch, (picture 1), them I used the other three for the top left corner, bottom left corner, and the bottom right corner.  Decide were they must go, then hold your mother board against the side of the cardboard box you will be mounting it on, and use a pen or pencil to mark screw holes in the mother board, like I'm doing in picture 1.  

Set your mother board back in it's safe place, then press the screw part of the nuts into the cardboard box where you marked, picture 2, then use hot melt glue to secure them in, picture 3.  Measure and cut out a hole on the back of the case for the mother board ports.  I originally cut a squiggly hole but later on I decided that a rectangular hole would look better:)  
Screw in your mother board (picture 4), taking care that anything that needs to be screwed in with the mother board, in my case the heat sink catch, is.  That's it for the mother board!  Next trial of your patience: The hard drive!

Step 5: Mounting the Hard Drive

Next up on the list: the hard drive.  The hard drive must be mounted securely with screws, because it has moving parts.  I mounted mine with the screw holes on the back of the hard drive, screwing through the cardboard into the holes in the hard drive. 

So to get started, we are going to cut a view hole though the side opposite the mother board, the side that we will mount the hard drive on.  Decide where to make the hole, outline it (picture 2) then put the hard drive where you are going to mount it and make sure it doesn't cover where the hole will be.  Go ahead and cut out for the hole, picture 3.  Later we will add skewers to it to keep hands out, but for now it's nice to leave it open so you can reach in from that angle if you need to.  

Measure where the screws will need to go for your hard drive, poke holes for the screws then screw in the hard drive, picture 4.   That's it for the hard drive!

Step 6: Mounting the Front Ports and Power Switch

It's time to mount the front ports to the front of your case.  Decide where they should go, then measure, mark, and cut out a hole for them and use hot melt glue to attach it to your case, picture 1.  

My power switch had small indicator LEDs attached to it with a piece of plastic, picture 2.  Pop the power switch out of the plastic, picture 3.   Poke a hole where the power switch will go, big enough for the larger end of the switch to sit in (picture 4), then mount the power switch so that the actual button is about a quarter inch out of the cardboard.  Use a dab of hot melt glue to secure the power switch, picture 5.  

Next, poke holes for the LED indicator lights, then hot melt glue the plastic LED holder to the cardboard, picture 6.  Now connect the wires coming from the power switch and front ports to their sockets on the mother board.  That's it for the front ports and power switch! Now we just need to mount the power supply!

Step 7: Mounting the Power Supply

Next we are going to mount the power supply unit, or psu.  It should be positioned so it is sitting on the bottom of your box with the fan and power socket against the back wall.  Measure and mark where to cut the cardboard for the psu fan and power socket hole, then cut them out, picture 1.  

Measure for the screw holes on your psu, poke holes in the box for the screws to go through, then screw in the psu, picture 2.  Ok, so now that the power supply unit is in, plug all the wires coming from it into their sockets.  Hopefully you can remember where everything goes......;)

If you have any wire coming from the power supply that don't plug into anything, cover the plugs with, everyone's best friend, Duct Tape!  (insert applause here;)  See picture 3.  This is to keep them from shorting anything out, and, while it's probably fine, better safe than sorry, right?  The next step is mounting the fan to the back of the box, if your fan mounts over the CPU heat sink, you can skip the next step.

Step 8: Mounting the Fan

If your fan mounts over the CPU heat sink, you can skip this step!  Ok, if you are still reading I assume your fan either mounts to the back of your case, or you just like making more work for yourself.....:)  Cut out a hole for your fan in the back of your box.  I cut mine out too far to the right and the fan wouldn't fit because of the hard drive...:/ (picture 1) But the solution I found actually looks better anyway:)

First, cut out a hole that is big enough for the fan clips to clip on, picture 2.  Mine is extra wide since I had messed up and made the original hole to far too the right;)  Don't worry if the hole you cut isn't pretty, we'll take care of it:)

Next, cut out a piece of the cardboard you decided to use for accents, I used white cardboard, but you could also use painted cardboard, or cover some cardboard with Duct Tape, etc, about a quarter inch bigger on all sides than the hole you made.  Line it up with the hole and then outline a small hole for the fan to show through, then cut out the hole, picture 3.  Poke holes in all four corners of the piece of cardboard then push a screw through each hole.  I used screws that originally held in the mother board, but that I didn't use.  The screws are just for decoration, they don't actually hold it on:)  Now hot melt glue the piece of cardboard over the where the fan goes, picture 4.  That's it for the fan! Next step: Decorating the case!

Step 9: Finishing Touches

Right now, if you plugged in the computer it would run just like normal, but it wouldn't look very pretty, now would it?  It's time to make it look Good.  First, take the piece of cardboard you want to use for accents.  I used white cardboard but you could paint a piece, cover it with Duck Tape, or whatever else you think would look cool:), and cut it to the width of the front of your box.  It must be longer than the front of your box and the top of your box combined, so if the front of your box is, say, 10 inches tall and the top of your box is 20 inches long, then your cardboard should be at least 30 inches by the width of your box.  Make sense?  If it doesn't, refer to picture 1:)  Cut off the excess so that the piece is exactly the length of the front of the box + the length of the top of the box long, and the width of the box wide, picture 2.  Draw a line on the backside of the cardboard dividing the section that is as long as the front of the box from the section that is as long as as the top of the of the box, and as I'm still not making any sense, picture 3 might:) On the lower section that is the length of the front of the box, trace the accent pattern you want, mine looks sort of like the letter "I", see picture 4.  You could really have any design you want though:) now cut out the parts of the design that you don't want, picture 5.  Measure and mark for the holes for the front ports and power switch, then cut them out, picture 6.  Next, score along the line dividing the cardboard so that it can fold over the top of the box, picture 7.  Don't cut all the way through!!  It should just be scored so that it can fold there.  Line it up with the front of the box to make sure everything fits, then hot melt glue it on.  It should look like picture 8.  

Now take the magnetic purse snap and flatten with the pliers it so that the prongs that would hold it onto the purse are flat, or if you can, just break them off, picture 9.  If you don't have a magnetic purse snap you can use two small round magnets.  Set the big half of the snap on the back flap of the box, then mark the side flaps so that you know where to cut to make them lay flat, then cut them out, picture 10.  Now glue the big half of the magnetic snap to the back flap, picture 11.  snap the little half down on top of the big half that's now glued to the box, put some hot melt glue on the little half(picture 12), then fold the accent piece of  cardboard where you scored it down on top of the box so that it sticks to the snap.  The box now has a great looking lid that is easy to open for hardware upgrades and the like!

Next, we are going to use skewers to make a grill to keep hands out of the view hole on the side of the box.  Take one skewer and break it so that it is about 2 inches longer than the hole is tall (picture 13) then break it at that length.  Stick it down in between the pleats of the cardboard on the bottom edge of the hole, then up between the pleats on the top edge, picture 14.  If you want to, you can use a dab of super glue to keep it in place, but mine didn't need it.

Now all that's left is adding a power button.  Sure the little switch would work, but it doesn't look very good.  To make your power button, cut out a piece of plain cardboard 1x1 inch square, then you can write on/off on it like I did mine, picture 15, or leave it blank, You could really decorate it any way you want:)  Put just a tiny dab of super glue on the power switch then press on the button and hold it for 30 seconds, picture 16.

That's it!  Your computer is fully functional and looks great!  In fact, I'm writing this on my cardboard computer right now!

Step 10: All Done!

That's it! your cardboard computer is now complete!  All that's left is to take some great pictures of it.  If you make one be sure to post pictures in the comments.  I would love to see what you come up with:)  If you have any questions or get stuck on something be sure to post a comment and I will help you as best I can:)

If you liked this Instructable please vote for it in the Cardboard contest, Up! 3d Printer contest, and the Make-to-Learn Youth contest! :)

 Have a great time using and showing off your no-longer-boring-looking computer!  Thank's for reading!

Cardboard and Duct Tape Contest

Runner Up in the
Cardboard and Duct Tape Contest

UP! Contest

Participated in the
UP! Contest

Make-to-Learn Youth Contest

Participated in the
Make-to-Learn Youth Contest



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    42 Discussions


    7 months ago

    Pretty sure that POS Dell is worth less than the box.


    1 year ago

    Kind of just bulks it up & in the age on "micro", "nano", etc., I personally couldn't imagine a reasonable use for this but I do commend you for all of the time you put into it. Kudos.

    1 reply

    Reply 1 year ago

    Hey your comment just made my day. I made this in middle school just for the hell of it and totally forgot about it. Now I'm in college majoring in engineering and you reminded me how I got started that direction, so thanks!


    2 years ago

    Thats a really cool idea bit its easy to fire up D:


    4 years ago

    What if the computers motherboard fries up and starts sparking then the box would be on fire and start a fire.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Im putting a pc together right now for my car I just need some standoffs and a platform for the board to sit on. Ill have to get an optical card to run my digital to analog converter and put windows and linux on it with my solid state hard drive and the board is a quad core j1900 baytrail that is very low power and doesnt need a fan just the heatsink and comes with the processor and heat sink already assembled. The board is like 70 dollars. im going to hook the pc up to a 12 volt cig adapter and im good to go. Oh and my digital to analog converter runs on 5 volts so ill use one of my usb ports on my dual cig adapter. For 70 for the board plus the ram and 20 or less for the dac and like $1.50 for the chinese dual cig with dual usb and a optical card and a small monitor you have yourself a car pc. I have more things in mind.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Not sure I would remove a working computer from a good case. Can't see how this is "better looking". Heaviness of the original cas is only qa problem when you move it -- usually not often in most 'cases' <pun>. You trade heaviness for flimsiness or less stability at least.

    Heating to the point of fire should not be a problem. Remember that Ray Bradbury book FAHRENHEIT 451? The IGNITION point of cardboard is 427 and the FIRE point is 496.

    You probably won't have a problem because if your operating temp gets near that high It won't be running anymore. The danger would come with the occasional problem where something goes wrong in the power supply and the system's power supply becomes a fire hazard. I worked Dell phone tech support (6 years) and IT tech support over 20+ years and fire hazards are a (very) small percentage possibility with DESKTOPS. Generally the system won't operate anymore and you can smell the problem when it has happened. BUT IT CAN HAPPEN and a more flammable case increases the danger.

    Interestingly enough, most Dells have that fan + hooded plastic funnel over the cpu/heatsink to facilitate proper airflow with a quieter fan. (I've been told) Removing an expansion card spacer at the back can actually degrade proper airflow. So a more open design defeats some of that strategy.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    that is a cool idear but take into account that it will set on fire!!!! if you put it in a home made metal source which is safe but small or you could put it in a special type of plastic which will be better... just please mate don't put yourself at risk!!!!

    I hate how everyone is saying this will catch fire, there is a fire hazard but it is very small, I'm not gonna explain it because so many others have, but i did the same thing with an old PC my brother gave me, i took it out of the case and built it into my desk, my mother and step-dad saw it and flipped saying "you're gonna burn the whole house down!" which no there was no fire hazard, as the PC had an open front and was very well ventilated, had to remove it from my desk, but once I am able it is going right back into it, cause it just looks awesome.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    This would be a really cool project. To speed up the old Dimension, maybe you could put a 30GB SSD in it. That would run you about $50, but it would make a world of a difference. Anyways, I really like this idea, too bad I just got rid of two Dimensions at a garage sale :P

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! Putting in an ssd is a really good idea, I might just do that:) I use it for a media center so any speed I can get is great:) I already added a GB of ram and that helped alot too.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I wouldn't worry TOO much about the flammability of the cardboard. The most hazardous part of a PC is the power supply. It is enclosed in it's own steel box. Any flames from a short or failed component are likely to occur & stay within the PSU case. They would generally not last long enough to ignite the cardboard, anyhow. A PC is protected by quite a few fuses other than the main AC power input fuse. Many of these fuses are tiny, surface-mount components that we don't even recognize as a fuse.

    I've seen several catastrophic PC failures. Smoke & heat, perhaps a spark. Never seen flame. The heat generated by the components of a PC generally don't go higher than the inside of a car on a sunny day. Does your car ignite? In fact, you can bake cupcakes at 350 degrees F, yet the paper cups do not burn up. This is TWICE the temp of most CPUs.

    A steel computer case DOES serve a very important function. A PC generates a lot of radio frequency noise. The case limits this noise. It also serves to keep all the components properly grounded.  Grounding & RF are much more of a concern than fire with this project.

    1 reply

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Why does everyone complain about the cardboard catching fire.
    The fact is cardboard has a flash point of about 225c and ABS is only about 300c.
    Cool project, I wouldn't use it for my own, but for a cheap kid's computer why not.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Exactly! It was just an old computer I had lying around, so I decided to do something cool with it:)