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Friday, May 18, 2012

TRON Case Mod: Part 2

Last time, I started a case modification project inspired by the movie "TRON" and the "TRON 2.0" game. I covered modification of the side panels, added glass tile to the top, and installed a brighter LED ring in the front panel assembly. Since then, I have moved on to the inside features and finished up the drive bay door.

Build 1.1 - The Core

[System User: TRaceON]

Imagery from the TRON movie included a transition from the real world to the
digitized world.

To create a similar effect inside the case, I did something really nasty to a motherboard - I painted it black. (Because I was not sure if this would work, I pulled a system board out of one of my previous units that I was using a couple of years ago. I was not going to do this to a new, high-end system board.) My reasoning was that flat-black paint needs a high pigment content to achieve the appearance when dry. If the manufacturer used a plastic-based pigment, there should be no issues; if the pigment was an inexpensive carbon-based material (i.e. "lamp black"), then the resulting paint could be slightly conductive. It seems to me that the idea of spraying a conductive paint over the complex
electronics of a system board would probably be a bad thing.

If you examine most circuit boards, you may see a protective lacquer over the surface of the copper traces. However, there are usually many exposed solder pads, diagnostic points, and exposed circuit pins that could still short out. Before painting the board, I used masking tape to cover all open sockets, card slots, and pin headers. As an added precaution, I first coated the circuit board with a couple of coats of clear, non-conductive paint, and then I applied the flat back paint.

The system board masked out with painter's tape. Paint it black (Done to Black
is Black by Los Bravos?), and the board with masking removed.

The next step to recreate the appearance is to coat each of the chips on the
board with UV reactive paint. I used some of the AC Ryan reactive paints, although
about any day-glow paint should work. The water-based paints tend to dry slightly
translucent, allowing the black undercoating to show through. Several coats
had to be applied to get a reasonably uniform coating. For viewing in normal
light, a base coat of white or silver would probably be recommended. Under ultraviolet
lighting, the paint appears much more uniform then in daylight. A dry-brush
approach was used to lightly coat the tips of the heat sink fins. All of the
chips were coated and many of the small surface-mount components also received
a tiny dot of paint. Blue for the rear connector shields, green for the larger
chips, and orange for the surface mount components or other enhancements like
the parallel printer port and corners of the system board heatsink.

AC Ryan UV reactive paint set.

A Thermaltake Blue Orb CPU cooler.

The painted system board as it appears under "normal" and ultraviolet
light. (UV reactive slot covers were installed for the picture.) Before mounting
the Blue Orb CPU cooler, I attached the fan to a power supply and added some
rings on the central hub and little paint on the fan blades while spinning.
The tips of the cooling fins also receive a touch of blue UV paint.

Adhesive-backed LED strip. This came as a single 24 inch long strip, but can be cut down in shortened segments of three LEDs with a resistor. Copper foil had to be exposed to solder the wire, and hot glue covers and secures the wires in place.

The paint effects are interesting, but I also want some bright points of light  mixed in. I replace the memory slot covers with memory, installing four 1 GB Corsair DDR2-800 modules. To contrast with all of the blue and green paint, I cut some surface-mount red LED strips down to the fit the top edge of the memory. LED strip typically comes with double-stick tape on the back, and can be cut into smaller lengths as long as you stick to the marked segments of three LEDs and a resistor. Two groups of three LEDs are just about the same length as the DDR2 modules. This particular strip came with a clear, waterproof covering that I removed. Using the exposed end to identify the location and polarity for the wire attachment, I scraped through the coating to expose bare copper, and then soldered wires to the points. Black hot glue covers the solder and anchors the wires to the strip for strain relief. Three LEDs are wired in a series in each segment, with a current limiting resistor. These can operate with an input voltage from about 5v to 15v DC. (Remember the power connection on a Molex style connector is either 5v for red-black, 12v for yellow-black, or you can be sneaky and connect between the red and yellow to get around 7v DC. -- treat the red as negative and yellow as positive to get a resulting 6.5-7v.)

For the PCI slots, I picked up a black slot protector kit and ripped apart
some LED night lights for the acrylic diffuser. The diffusers have three indentations
in the base, so I soldered three blue LEDs in series, and added a 150 ohm resistor.
Hot glue holds the LEDs in place. An opening for the diffuser is cut out of
the slot cover using a jeweler's saw and then the LED assembly is inserted in
the opening. Hot glue prevents the assembly from getting knocked out, and anchors
the wire for power in place.

The system board set up for POST testing. (Cool! I didn't kill it!)

At this point, the system board looks pretty - but is it still operational?
A quick POST (Power On Self Test) should find out. With the CPU installed, and
the CPU cooler attached (with thermal compound applied!), memory and a video
card are installed to give us the minimal configuration necessary for POST.
(Drives are not required just to test the electronic portions of the system.)
The 24-pin power connector and 4-pin Auxiliary power connector are attached.
The BFG Geforce 9800 GX OC uses a single 6-pin PCI-E power connection, so this
is attached as well. For a POST test, the system board does not need to be installed
into the case, and if there is a problem, you would just have to remove it anyway.
Place the system board on a non-conductive surface, such as the cardboard box
that it came in. With power connected to all necessary parts, short the two
front panel power switch pins to power on. A few system board manufacturers
have a tiny board-mounted power and reset button near the front panel connections;
these are very handy for this type of pre-test. If you want to verify the different
stages using system beeps instead of a display, you can do a POST without memory
installed (usually resulting in a long beep followed by two short beeps or a
series of long beeps.), and then test without video (beeps can vary by vendor,
but you should get something for a "no video" condition.)

The Silverstone Kublai case includes a hinged dual fan assembly along the bottom
of the window panel. The pierced openings reminded me of a control-room scene
in the movie, and of the transfer gates that appear in the game. Since I replaced
the side panel with a solid acrylic window, the fan bracket will not be used.
I made two disks from UV reactive Plexiglas and attached them to the fan grids.
There was not enough clearance between the disks and the side of the case, so
they have to be moved to the inside of the bracket.

Cutting concentric rings in a piece of UV-orange Plexiglas with an adjustable
hole-cutter. Checking the appearance of the completed disks in the case. The
circuit board pattern (a common theme throughout the movie and the game, is
a piece of "neon" (AKA Day-Glo) paper with the pattern scaled and
printed using a laser printer. It is then attached to the side of the power
supply with some contact cement. A similar method is used on the top surface
of the video card (slightly visible through the lower-left disk.)

Still more LED lighting: After building the TRON logo out of layers of acrylic
and painting it black, small burrs are used to cut trough the paint to allow
light to shine through. To illuminate the logo panel, I will mount a series
of LEDs behind the figures and lettering. Starting with the letters, three sets
of 3 ultraviolet LEDs are assembled and hot glued into some shallow channels
cut in the back of the panel. I mounted these at an angle to cause the UV-blue
letters to glow slightly brighter at the bottom, and to diffuse the light more.
Two sets of red LEDs are placed behind the rings, but more will have to be added
to illuminate the rings across the width of the panel.

Carving through the paint to expose clear plastic. Channels are cut in the
back, and groups of LEDs are hot-glued in place. Once all LEDs are positioned,
the +/- power connections are made to each group connecting all groups to a
single power cable.

Groups of LEDs are formed by connecting three LEDs in series. Two groups of
three are joined by the negative connections, and a current-limiting resistor
attached to each of the positive connections. The resistor leads are twisted
together, soldered, and then clipped to place the connections close together
for wiring. Since there is very little clearance between the LEDs and the steel
mounting plate for the system board, I covered the entire back of the assembly
with hot glue as an insulator. (The pale-white glue also happens to be glow-in-the-dark
hot glue, which should provide a subtle glow to the carving after it "charges

The final LED count for the logo panel:

  • 12 ultraviolet LEDs in the "TRON" letters and the disk.

  • 12 red LEDs across the rings.

  • 87 blue LEDs around figures and along the disk trail

Because the bay door is extruded aluminum and has a curved surface, attaching
tiles or other shapes did not seem practical. I finally settled on carving a
design into the surface of the aluminum and then adding some surface-mount LED
"ribbon". The hexagonal Silverstone snowflake is removed and a piece
of blue Plexiglas cut to fill the shallow hole. Masking tape is applied over
the surface of the door, and a pattern drawn on the tape. Using a cylinder-shaped
burr, I cut through the tape into the aluminum to transfer the pattern. The
tape was then removed, and the traced lines are carved deeper and wider. Small
holes are drilled to feed power wires through from the inside of the door to
the LED strip. The LED strip has a yellow-orange pattern, so I gave it a coat
of clear red enamel paint, and then cleaned the tops of the LEDs with acetone.

Two dual-tube, 12 inch ultraviolet CCFT lighting kits were installed to make
things glow. The tubes were installed below the side window on the base of the
case, at the top edge of the side fan bracket, behind the horizontal support
brace, and a fourth tube inside the top edge of the case. Putting it all together
involves many power connections for the LEDs and other lighting. Two power distribution
blocks are installed inside the case and the different connections made. Drives
are installed in the front bays and connections made to power and the system
board. Once everything is in place, the power cables are bundled and strapped
down with wire ties. After everything is strapped, glued, bolted, or tied down,
it's on to the pre-boot and OS install...

[System User: TRaceOFF]

Finished Project TRON

[System User: Logoff]

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