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Case modding

Case modification (commonly referred to as case modding) is the modification of a computer chassis (often just referred to as the case), or a video game console chassis. Modifying a computer case in any non-standard way is considered a case mod. Many people, particularly hardware enthusiasts, use case mods to illustrate a computer's power (by showing off the internal hardware), and also for aesthetic purposes.

Another reason to modify a case is to improve the computer's performance, features, or cooling, when purchasing upgrades is not possible. Modified computers are often found at LAN parties where their owners display them. Case modding can be viewed as a form of self expression, resulting in some mods being built around a theme.

History

When personal computers became mainstream, the majority were produced in simple, beige-colored cases. This functional design was often referred to as a beige box. Although this served the purpose of containing the components of the personal computer, many users saw their computers as "tacky" or "dull", and began modifying their existing chassis, or building their own from scratch.

Case modification later became more accepted when the Apple iMac was released, which had a design in stark contrast to the beige box. As the price of computers fell and competition increased, system builders began selling PCs in black, charcoal, and other colored cases. A new market for third-party computer cases and accessories began to develop. Computer cases now come in a large variety of colors and styles.

Today the business of "modding" computers and their cases is a hugely profitable endeavour. Modding competitions are commonly held at gaming events and prizes are awarded for categories such as the most original mod. Some of the most non-computer related items have been used as housing for computers (usually called artistic modding, where anything goes). Most competitors attempt to make something unique, and consider their creations works of art.

Common modifications

  • Window mods: Putting a window within one of the panels of a computer case. This is most often done to the left hand side panel, and less often to the top panel. This modification is so popular that many of the major case manufacturers now offer cases with the windows pre-installed, or replaceable side panels with a window installed. Some companies even offer entire cases made out of transparent materials. A window kit may be modified to hold an LCD screen. Laser engraving can be done on acrylic windows to add a distinct look to a modded case.
  • Lighting mods: A lighting mod refers to lighting in or on the computer cases. This is usually achieved with cold cathode lights (CCLs), LED case fans, or electroluminescent wire lights. The lights are sometimes paired with sound controllers that make the lights pulse in time to sound. CCLs come in long tubes and generally produce a little bit of heat. LEDs come in many sizes and forms, most often seen in bars similar to CCLs or within fans, called LED fans. Electroluminescent wire, which takes the form of a small light rope, is often embedded in cables such as SATA cables.

Lighting modifications are often paired with window mods to help show off the components. Although not as common, they are also placed in cases without a window, allowing light to shine through any holes or gaps of the case which add subtle aesthetics to an otherwise plain looking case; this is also done for practical purposes such as to make a computer double as a night light.

  • Cooling mods: There are many modifications that can fall into this category. The most common one is simply drilling a mount for a new fan, or removing a restrictive fan grill. Others include air ducts, water cooling, filtering, sealing openings to promote better air flow, or even the adding of a tank of pressurized carbon dioxide or liters of mineral oil to the case. These modifications are often done by overclockers either looking for better cooling for hot components or sound reduction. Modding kits are available, and some companies sell pre-made cases modified for better cooling.

  • Spray paint: Painting a case is another method of distinguishing your work from others. Spray paint is the common method preferred among amateur modders. There are many spray painting guides for amateur modders. The finish cannot be compared to automotive paint or powder coating, but is a simple way to change the look of a case.

Less common modifications

  • Automotive paint & other finishes: Automotive paint refers to the paint typically seen on cars and trucks. This type of paint job requires an air compressor and HVLP paint gun. It is more expensive than a spray paint job but is better looking and much more durable. Other methods of painting can include powder coating which is highly durable though not quite as aesthetically pleasing to many modders as automotive paint. Electroplating can also be done on steel computer cases and parts. Aluminium cases are usually more expensive to plate. Other finishes can range from nickel to chrome and even gold. Fancier finishes can be had by using a combination of chrome plating and transparent powder coat.
  • Body filler Body filler (or Bondo) is a two-part putty often used to fix dents in automobiles. Case modders use it to fill and sculpt their own creations. When mixed the filler becomes rock hard and can be sanded to a desired shape. A stronger version of this filler is fiberglass resin. This is also a two-part resin that allows users to fill in larger holes using fiberglass sheet. Spot Putty is a less common filler used as a finishing topcoat over other fillers. It is a softer putty that allows small pinholes to be filled so the user does not have to use a heavy primer to do so. Typically, a case modder must use a combination of these fillers to obtain a professional finish. More often than not you will see fillers used on the front plastic bezel of a computer case to give the case a new look.

Types of case mods

  • Peripheral mods: Peripherals like the keyboard, mouse, and speakers are sometimes painted or otherwise modified to match the computer. Some system builders, in an effort to make their system more portable and convenient, install speakers and small LCD screens into the case.
  • Unusual cooling mods: Hardcore overclockers often install cooling systems for the sole purpose of achieving performance records. Such systems frequently include phase change, thermoelectric/Peltier and liquid nitrogen. However, some of these systems are noisy and expensive. They are rarely used for extended periods of time.
  • Case building: Some people even build entire cases from scratch. Some make it into a work of art. Others make it appear to be something else, like a teddy bear, wood cabinet, or a shelf mounted on a wall. Still others pursue a retro look, like a Macintosh Plus or an old Atari 2600 video game console. Case modders (or case builders) who create their computer cases from scratch are few and far between. These people put hundreds of hours into their work. The WMD case, Batman Begins case, Project Nighthawk, and Dark Blade case are a few examples of professional cases built from scratch.
  • Component modding: This type of modding, as the name suggests, involves modifying the PC components themselves. An example is the relocation of buttons on optical drives. This is often done in combination with "stealthing", which hides the drive's visibility by masking it with a blank face. A riskier modification involves installing hard drive windows. This is done in a clean room where there is little to no dust. Few people have attempted it and results seem to vary. Some hard drives, including the WD Raptor, now come with a window as standard.
  • Laptop modding: Laptops can be modified much like a typical computer case. While most laptop mods consist of new paint or other finishes, others have chosen to engrave or cut out designs into their laptop cover (behind the screen). Laptops may also be turned into digital photo frames. These types of mods will typically void the warranty of the device. To avoid warranty issues, skins or stickers can be purchased that are easily removable from the casing.

Case modding contests

Many sites and companies run contests for case modders, awarding prizes and accolades to the winners. Some of these contests are sponsored by computer enthusiast magazines and others by computer retailers.

Computer Console Modding

This refers to gamers who modify the case of their game consoles. The most common console to modify is the Xbox and Xbox 360, and this is because there is much more room inside to customise it with items such as lights, fans, etc. There are several companies that sell transparent Xbox cases and various cooling and lighting equipment for it. Console modifying started in the early 1990s when the NES, Sega Megadrive, and Sega Saturn were released, and many customers simply put pictures or stickers on them until the Playstation 1 was released. Many case modders started to change hardware, for example by altering them to play copied games (known as 'chipping' the games console). The most common modification for the PlayStation was the 'chipping' process mentioned above. When the N64, Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 was released, many chipped them, styled them, and cooled them down even as far as changing hardware itself. When the Xbox and Xbox 360 were released, many modders personally customised these too, for example using neon lights, transparent cases, fans, and PC hard drives (as opposed to Xbox branded drives). Many modders found modifying inside the Xbox 360 was difficult due to absence of a power cable which normally attached a standard hard disk Drive. Modders also found a way to power neon lighting and other powered equipment by using the DVD-ROM power supply, which caused freezing during disk access on most consoles due to lack of power to the drive.

See also

Case modding oriented sites

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