The PiBox



Introduction: The PiBox

About: ME student at ASU

After seeing a million classic NES reprints, I was tired of the same old casing and wanted to make a RetroPie console with an original design. For this case, I wanted to make something sleek but functional: an air-cooled, overclocked, and completely enclosed Raspberry Pi 3 that could run all the games I would ever want from an old school system. I'm dividing this project into 3 parts:

1. Sourcing components and tools
2. Creating the PiBox
3. Overclocking the processors

While step 3 can be ignored, it somewhat defeats the purpose of air-cooling the whole thing and your pie will never cool!

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Step 1: Tools & Components:

When making this case, I was given access to a laser cutter at a local tech shop and some 3D printers provided by my school. These are the most critical tools for constructing the case; if you don't have access to either of them you may be able to cut parts using a dremel tool or some other more rugged shop tool for the panels but cutting the frame may prove more difficult. It should be noted that all the screws I used were sourced from various electronic devices (old printer cases, Arduino projects, etc.) so they are not at all the same. For a more cohesive final product I recommend buying a uniform set but it is not at all a priority.

final price


  1. 3D Printer
  2. Soldering pen and solder
  3. Wire strippers
  4. Screw driver set
  5. Laser cutter (highly recommended but not necessary)
  6. Computer

Sourced Parts:

  1. Raspberry Pi 3
  2. mircoSD memory card + adapter (32GB)
  3. 40*40*10 mm cooling fans (2)
  4. Cooling fan shields (2)
  5. CPU and GPU heat sinks
  6. LED Light
  7. momentary push button
  8. 5V ~2.4A power switch
  9. micro USB to USB male to male cable
  10. USB controller or reciever

- 3D printer filament
- Acrylic board 1/8" (for laser cutter)

Step 2: Printing the Frame

Nothing too complicated about it; here are the SolidWorks files for all my printed parts used in this build. Note, the button casing may need filing and can be a paint to solder to. I recommend soldering cables to the button before fitting it into the case as shown. But essentially for this step, all printed files must be appropriately sliced into whatever program your printer uses (I used my school's makerbot printers because they are higher quality than my own). The pictures I've included are of all the necessary parts as STL files:

a.) 1 x bottom frame
b.) 2 x rear corner supports (file labeled 'rear corner point')
c.) 1 x button case (file labeled 'button case 2')
d.) 1 x L bracket (file labeled 'front corner point')

These parts are all small but I recommend printing the lower frame by itself to minimize bending. The other four parts are pictured together and can be printed together without worry.

Step 3: Laser Cutting

This can be tricky if you've never used a laser cutter. This was my first project using a laser cutter and I had to use many reprints before getting the correct cut. The files included are for the final assembly and do not need to be modified. These panels were all measured using a real RP3 and a SolidWorks model as reference for sizing. I used Corel DRAW but Adobe Illustrator or inkscape (this program is free and mostly sufficient to handle all the functions required to modify such a simple project) are sufficient to archive a the correct dimensions if you would like to alter the files before cutting. The pictue included shows one of a few final prints I made in case I want to make more PiBoxes.

(NOTE: I have only included Corel DRAW files. Unless you have access to Corel or a program that can make use of .CDR files, I am unsure if these can be transferred to other programs. I may add .DXF and .PDF versions of these files at a later time in anyone is interested.)

Step 4: Assembly

With the panels cut and the prints fitted, it's time to assemble the box.. First thing I should repeat, you will need at least four half inch long screws these are the ones that pass through the fans to the printed case base. Beyond those, literally any screws that hide well enough in the 3D parts are totally fine. I have a bag of a complete set of screw pictured but I didn't even use those for my design. I sourced all my screws from old printers I tore apart after buying them from Goodwill on a sale day. The order things should be attached in for minimal hassle is this: RP3 to frame base, then the fans, then the L bracket 3D printed part and the ethernet panel. Then every other panel except the top one. The picture of the button in the case is discussed later in the tutorial but the two prongs of the button case will be inserted in the two free holes in the fan shells.

Step 5: Electronics

This is where things slow down. I was forced to modify some female jumper cables with a push button, an LED, two mosfets, and two fans. Rather than take blurry photos though, I will used the very advanced windows paint tool to demonstrate how things are to be soldered then wired. The wire lengths are not to scale, but there is plenty of space to fit extra wire if you make them too long. The wiring should be plugged in as follows:

LED: positive lead > pin 8
negative lead > pin 39

(NOTE: the button should be fitted into the 3D printed housing before wiring)
Start button: positive lead > pin 5
negative lead > pin 34

1st s5080 Mosfet: left end wire with female adapter > pin 6
center pin > pin 12
right end wire pin > will be connected to the negative lead of the fan 1

2nd s5080 Mosfet: left end wire with female adapter > pin 30
center pin > pin 31
right end wire pin > will be connected to the negative lead of the fan 2

1st fan: positive lead > pin 2
negative lead > connect to right pin of 1st mosfet (the only pin unsheathed with a female adapter)

2nd fan: positive lead > pin 4
negative lead > connect to right pin of 2nd mosfet (the only pin unsheathed with a female adapter)

Step 6: Sealing the Box

I should add at this point that the heat sinks and button case should be mounted as in the picture described. Though the electronics step is after this one, be sure to check the button before modifying it to the degree I have. There is nothing special about this step. Just print the case, chop two of the legs off the button, fit the button to the case, and solder it to modified female connecting wires as shown in the diagram below. You may need to drill out larger holes for your button case if the wires do not fit as soldering will melt the case before the solder. After it is fitted, I used a hot glue gun to seal the button in place.

Step 7: Programming the Fans, Light, and Button

I'm going to assume anyone who is reading this already knows how to flash an image to an SD card for retropie or is competent enough to use a search engine. This is also true for SSH through PuTTy, but that is covered in the highlighted videos. The fa
There are several codes and how to's covering this info, my two primary sources I will link in here:
How to add the button
How to add LED

How to add fans

For the button and LED wiring, the only difference between the videos wiring and my own is the ground pins used. As I said before, which ground pins you choose is arbitrary.
For the fan control, I did not bother with adding a simulated pwm control and instead opted to always run the fans when the pi is on. The reason for this is because I was having issues controlling the fan and found this to be the fastest solution. You are welcome to change the control as you please. the only important note for the article is how to wire the mosfet.

Step 8: Just About Done

Fit all the items in place and screw in the lid of your new PC case. You're done.

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