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Thread: What would your custom designed chassis include?

  1. #1
    Yuk it up Monkey Boy! Airbozo's Avatar
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    Default What would your custom designed chassis include?

    OK, I am working on some projects and while talking with the owner of a computer case manufacturer (they do other non computer case and metal work as well), the subject of "custom cases" was put on the table.

    On the way home, I had time to reflect on this meeting and I thought;
    "What would _I_ want in a computer case and what would I call it?"

    This brought up a whole line of thinking and some tangent ideas. I know I have several uses for computers, from my tablet (yes I am starting to really like this thing), a gaming rig, an HTPC, workstation and server (which can also be broken down into several items like a compute node and a storage server).

    Here are a few requirements I would have:

    General (applies to all systems I would design)
    • Noise. I would want a design that is as quiet as possible, with the ability to ramp up those fans to cool during heavy use. For servers, this would limit the chassis size, due to fan size, or completely re-imagine the entire cooling system (more on this in another post).
    • Visual appeal. No one wants a butt ugly case.
    • Indicator LED's. The type and ammount would depend on the function of the chassis. If the system were an HTPC sitting under your TV, then that bright green power or red HDD LED might be a little annoying.
    • Cost. Someone has to pay for the parts...
    • Modular. In an ideal world, many parts would be interchangeable from model to model to reduce tooling and production costs.
    • Finish. Different from visual appeal, only as far as protecting the chassis (it doesn't make sense to powdercoat the parts of a server or storage chassis that will never be seen when an industrial finish would look good and last a long time).



    Desktop Chassis / Gaming Rig. This is one system that would showcase the design creativity and "features" that your name brand would be known for. This is the open ended project that is never done, never enough visual appeal, never enough hidden secrets. A single socket multiple GPU beast that shatters the limitations of gaming performance
    • Bling!
    • Water cooling.
    • Targeted for SSD's, with room for legacy HDD's and DVD ROM's (floppies? this aint no windows XP box...).
    • Expandability.
    • Room to store and connect all your goodies! If I was a LAN Party kind of guy, this would also incvlude places to hide all my pheripherals and transport them with the chassis as a bundle.



    HTPC
    • Size
    • Visuaol appeal (has to sit with the other high end audio/video gear).
    • Completely silent. No one wants to hear the whine of a fan or BlueRay Player during that quiet moment in the movie.
    • Controlability. IR or...?



    Workstation
    • Support for larger dual (or quad) socket motherboards.
    • Room for lots of HDD's and SSD's, with a primary focus on SSD's.
    • Modular drive bays for storage media.
    • Hot swappable (this has been an issue with some workstations I have built).
    • Option for water cooling. (goes back to my modular approach).
    • Some Bling. Not as over the top as the gaming rig, but similar possibilities in a larger more refined approach that would appeal to engineering departments (I have provided a couple of blinged out workstations to VMWare, ILM and some other Hollywood based companies).
    • Dal PSU option.
    • Accomodations for a second, much smaller computer to be installed (think NUC sized), with seperate PSU, and IO connections.



    Server (this is a tough one for me since I have different views on what this should be. I could envision a whole line from 1U to 4U systems, all sharing similar qualities.)
    • Branding. (I want _everyone_ that sees my server in the data center to know about my system).
    • Hot swap drive bays. Not a must for all servers, but no-one likes dismantling a server to replace a failed drive.
    • Size. Space is money in a data center. 1U would be optimal, but it would depend on the guts of the system.
    • Cooling and power useage. Again, this is all related to costs of running a data center.
    • Dual PSU's. (for obvious reasons).
    • (I will stop here as I have hundreds of ideas on this category)



    Storage box (similar to servers, I could design a whole line from SFF to 4U behemoths)
    • Bult around SSD technology (another model could be built around flash storage as well, but that would be a different design)
    • Hot swappable SSD's. This would mean a complete redesgn of the current sled technology. Thinner sleds mean more drives. This would also involve a backplane design (something out of my realm).
    • Maximum density for eah form factor.
    • Redundant psu's.
    • Branding (see above).
    • Optional redundant computer. This is a tricky one since space will be used mostly for storage. I can envision the sotrage box being drives and possibly controllers only, with the compute resources in the server. This would solve the HA issue.




    So that is my basic list (I could go on an on with features and was not specific on a few items).

    The question I have is this:

    If you could have your own chassis produced and sold on the market, what features would you demand and what would be the name of the chassis?

    I know I listed several different types of chassis, but focus on one or two specific models and what would make them uniquely yours.
    "...Dumb all over, A little ugly on the side... "...Frank Zappa...

  2. #2
    Anodized. Again. Konrad's Avatar
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    Default Re: What would your custom designed chassis include?

    Dual PSUs is a worthy option in any system, not just servers and storage boxes. If only one PSU is installed then at least you get some extra space in a useful location for putting stuff like watercooling hardware.

    Drive bays and racks and fan/radiator mounts are always easier to use if already integrated within the chassis.

    Thoughts about thermal optimization can be streamlined if various preformed chassis inserts/intakes/exhausts can be used to channel airflow in smart ways. Perhaps checkout the defunct BTX specifications to get some ideas about how changing physical layout away from tradition can offer promising advantages in thermal management.

    It's always helpful to have nice little grooves and brackets and grommets for stringing all the cabling.

    Soundproofing can be built directly into the chassis panels, although my experience is that it turns the box into an oven. Perhaps isolated soundproofing compartments for the "noisy" components could work.

    I would be interested in seeing some sort of UPS+PSU combo integrated into a chassis (ideally, lol, with an externally-accessible power bar full of AC receptacles for servicing other items), it seems to me a great way to remove all the needless clutter, complexity, and inefficiency (and harmonics) of having AC-to-DC-to-battery-to-AC-to-DC-to-computer approach ... but PSU engineering is a sophisticated dark art in itself which doesn't directly involve chassis design. Still, it might be nice to see a case with built-in fan intake & exhaust ducts (or heatpipe/radiator craziness) dedicated specifically and only towards cooling the PSU.

    Different thicknesses and geometries of different metals, of course, have different RFI-/EMI-shielding and different thermal dissipation characteristics. Not really a concern for the most part, but the right decisions can make a significant difference when it does matter.

    And option I would like to see but have never seen integrated within a PC chassis: electrically isolated/fused/shielded connector ports (USB, LAN, audio, whatever). Just a little bit more confidence that it'll work (and nothing will fry or blow up) when plugging strange self-powered junk into your valuable dream PC, can be useful for us technician types with half-undocumented old device programming and test equipment, can even be useful at ye olde LAN party when you don't want your neighbour's sparky computer volting into your new graphics card.

    Physical lockouts on connectors or panels are also good stuff. No unauthorized USB gizmos, no adding junk hardware or stealing your peripherals, not even a chance of installing hardware keyloggers! Maybe that's just the paranoid part of me trying to get even with the cowardly little punk who stole my G502 gaming mouse last month.
    My mind says Technic, but my body says Duplo.

  3. #3
    Why must hard drives fail together? TheMainMan's Avatar
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    Default Re: What would your custom designed chassis include?

    You've covered most of the key points IMHO with the general category. In fact, that's pretty much how I pick a case (though I typically swap out the stock LED indicators, it is a good consideration for non-modded machines).

    For any case with the potential for a fan or lights on the actual side panel itself, having a built in connector would be great. Thermaltake had it on their Element S chassis to power the side panel fan for an example.

    The other thing I would love to see is lighting for I/O ports. How often are computers located where the ports are somewhere dark and/or awkward to access? If the Dell machines we use at work had even a few LEDs on the back it would make crawling under a desk to check cables WAY nicer.

    Haven't actually seen a NUC in person, but if they would fit in a 5.25" bay that would allow for the option of having a module that goes into a bay and connects to a second I/O blank in the back of the case. Then you could have different model NUCs or even a Raspberry Pi insert and just need to swap the I/O plate and cables.

    As a Datacenter Ops Tech, my biggest complaint for servers is mounting rails. 1U servers are great for density, however very few rail systems provide tool-less easy-to-use mounting methods in 1U. HP's rails are great for 2U and larger but are really hard to take out if you remove the middle server in a stack of 1Us. Find a solution to that and I don't really care what the rest of the chassis looks like
    TheMainMan

  4. #4
    Undead Pirate d_stilgar's Avatar
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    Default Re: What would your custom designed chassis include?

    I've spent a lot of time thinking about this. Most high-end cases deliver on quality construction, materials, aesthetics, but fall short on high end features. My list isn't in any particular order, so rank it however you like.

    Internal Battery Powered Lights
    Place lights inside the case and at the I/O plate so you can see where stuff is when you are working in the case and when you have to plug something in.

    Software Interface
    3D models are made when these cases are designed. Render out some common views, and make 3D versions of basic MB layouts of lots of common chipsets to add in there as well. Make it easy, intuitive, and beautiful to label hardware and view temperatures as well as control fans/lighting.

    USB Controlled RGB LEDs
    As part of the interface, there should be RGB LEDs. Just make them RGB. That way you can program to respond to temperature, do whatever silly thing you want, or just change according to your mood.

    Insanely Good Cable Management Built In
    You know where hard drives are going to go, you know where the PSU mounts. You more or less know where all this stuff is, so I don't know why cable management is so bad in so many cases. I should be able to install a fan, plug it in right next to where it is mounted, and then have internal wiring go to the motherboard. No more need to get cable extensions, no more fishing wires in and out of places. Just do it for me from the start.

    Hot-Swap Hard Drive Bays with Dot-Matrix Displays
    Hot swap bays should face the side of the case for easy removal/swapping. On the front of, or adjacent to the hard drives should be a dot-matrix display lit by RGB LEDs to match the rest of the case. The displays could show information like temperature, capacity, brand name/logo, custom whatever. Since the displays would all be controlled by the software interface mentioned above, they could also all work in tandem like a tiny eyefinity setup to show animations, etc. There should be at least five drive bays. I still use 3.5" spinning drives for their crazy huge capacity, so the unit should accommodate those, or have the option to switch out the entire unit for one that accepts 2.5" drives instead.

    All Aluminum Chassis
    I get so bummed when there's a mostly aluminum chassis that then has large portions of molded plastic. Just make the whole thing aluminum. Either design it in a way where you can easily shape sheet aluminum to spec., or machine/mold the complicated parts. Plastic cheapens the build.

    Vertical Motherboard
    It's better for thermal management, and allows you to have a blank front and back of your case. It makes it easier to get to the I/O ports instead of blindly groping at the back of the case. You can put a shroud over the whole thing, then place all the wires in a loom for a single fat cable exiting the case at the back instead of a nest of crap. The Silverstone Fortress FT02 does this pretty well if you want an example.

    No Windows
    I've talked about a lot of bling going inside the case, and of well-thought cable management, but I still don't want to see it. If there are any windows at all, they should be only large enough so that you can see the dot-matrix displays without having to open the case. This way you can still see the information given, but you don't have to see inside. Let the case be a sleeper. Let people be impressed with its design, then blown away when you take the cover off. You can see a version of the dot-matrix windows here: http://www.million-dollar-pc.com/sys.../murderbox.htm
    Last edited by d_stilgar; 10-02-2014 at 11:43 AM.

  5. #5
    Yuk it up Monkey Boy! Airbozo's Avatar
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    Default Re: What would your custom designed chassis include?

    Great responses guys, keep them coming.

    BTW: I think I have posted this before, but has anyone looked at these guys:

    http://www.protocasedesigner.com/?ut...eid=234a50b867

    I have used a previous version of the ProtoCase designer to create a custom 2U chassis for prototyping. That chassis was used to house some HDMI->DVI->HDMI converters and IRTrans units with an internal USB hub. Not pretty on the inside, but only a prototype (might go into production next year).

    Plus the people at Protocase are really great to work with.
    Last edited by Airbozo; 10-03-2014 at 02:57 PM. Reason: Added Protocase info
    "...Dumb all over, A little ugly on the side... "...Frank Zappa...

  6. #6
    Anodized. Again. Konrad's Avatar
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    Default Re: What would your custom designed chassis include?

    I'm a no-window guy, too. I like having a solid metal Faraday cage enclosing my giganano sensitive digitals. I'm fine keeping it all closed up - that's what all those LEDs and gauges and fluid indicators are for, anyways. No need for powered bling bling to blink and burn inside the chassis, burning power and producing a little more heat. When shopping for a case, I narrow selections considerably by crossing off every model which only comes windowed. The window fad was all the rage last decade, it still has a strong following, it's great for certain projects - but it's not my preference and unsuitable for some applications.

    My low-budget and infinitely useful chassis lighting approach: I buy a cheap LED flashlight (in whatever colour matches the theme, lol) at the Dollar Store, and while there I buy a similarly-coloured pack of velcro straps. Stick inside case, near top or right inside removable side panel, et voila! Kinda ghetto, maybe, but it's handy and it works.
    My mind says Technic, but my body says Duplo.

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