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Modding A Free Ghetto HTPC - Now with LEGO!

Discussion in 'Modding' started by Vo0Ds, 28 Feb 2012.

  1. Vo0Ds

    Vo0Ds Fake potato

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    OK, here’s where I’m coming from. (Apologies: this is rather long-winded :blush:)

    A mate of my wife came to me to save the data on his laptop after someone's foot had a disagreement with it, the screen was in bits, the keyboard was missing a few keys, the battery looked like it was about to explode and the whole thing was a bit of a mess. I threw the HDD into my main rig and it was 100%, so like a good little geek I told him to go buy a USB enclosure.

    [​IMG]
    An artist's rendering of the demise of the Advent Laptop

    Long story short; I inherited a knackered Advent laptop. Up to this point I was using my old faithful Dell Inspiron running Ubuntu and XBMC to play media on my TV; so I decided to retire it to occasional couch surfing and re-purpose this P.O.S. laptop as an HDTV. For free. :idea:

    Free is key here, the thing’s been kicked about so I didn’t want to go to any financial expense and have it fry. That means so save buying a HDD I’m using a USB Flash drive to run the OS. The laptop altogether shed its screen, case, battery, optical drive, webcam, WiFi aerial, keyboard, trackpad, speakers & microphone. It’s kept its mobo, processor, cooler, ram, activity lights and on-board gubbins. It has a Celeron T1600, 2GB RAM and Intel graphics, FEEL THE POWER!

    [​IMG]
    The bare-bones of the Ghetto HTPC (please excuse the phone pic)​


    So I want to run XBMC on an unspectacular computer from a pen drive, obvious answer; OpenElec. Unfortunately the P.O.S. bios won’t recognise an OpenElec stick and I don’t have the patience or knowledge to hax0r it. :grr:

    Fortunately around the same time, XBMC released Eden Beta3 which included XBMCBuntu; this the BIOS liked. :thumb:

    (Because I’m implementing a new install of XBMC, I wanted to take my library with me. I could have copied the library files from the application on the laptop but that irritated me, so I used Trakt and Trakt Utilities to sync my seen movies and TV shows between installs! It was still taking an age and a day to re-build the actual library, fortunately I realised you can run multiple copies of XBMC from the same library over your network, so now all it takes to make a (fairly) exact copy of XBMC on another machine is an XML config file! :))

    [​IMG]
    It's better side, complete with funky heatpipe​


    Right now I’m using a circuit board with wires coming out of it as an HTPC. It needs a case which will:
    a) cost me nothing, and
    b) that I can make with very limited tools

    ...but I’ve an idea for that... ;)

    So, do you think this is worth the effort or should I just stump up for something more slick and permanent? Or TLDR? :p
     
    Last edited: 29 Feb 2012
  2. goldstar0011

    goldstar0011 Well-Known Member

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    I thought you were fitting into the filebox too
     
  3. ninjaplease

    ninjaplease I don't know what I'm doing

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    Will you regret it if you throw it away?
     
  4. greypilgers

    greypilgers New Member

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    This is pretty interesting, and the polar opposite of all those mega-sponsored scratch built mods with lathe machines and hundreds of pounds and hours spent on them...

    Like!

    :thumb:
     
  5. Andy Mc

    Andy Mc Well-Known Member

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    Why not just buy some cheap perspex. Make it big enough to cut 2 bits that would cover both the top and bottom of the laptop innards and have a 2cm or so overlap. Then drill some holes on the corners/suitible locations and just use some nuts and bolts to fix it all together?


    Or failing that if the bottom half of the original case is still ok, keep that and mount the innards in it and just use a single bit of perspex as a top cover?
     
  6. Guinevere

    Guinevere Mega Mom

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    How about hacking it into a really useful box? You can pick them up at various places retail or order online

    Something like:

    http://www.reallyusefulproducts.co.uk/uk/html/onlineshop/rub/b02_5litre.php
    http://www.reallyusefulproducts.co.uk/uk/html/onlineshop/rub/b04_0litre.php
    http://www.reallyusefulproducts.co.uk/uk/html/onlineshop/rub/b06_0litre.php

    A bit more substantial than a cardboard box, will show off the guts, and if you hack the lid for cables / airflow you can even buy replacements when you want to return the box back... well into a box.
     
  7. dancingbear84

    dancingbear84 error 404

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    Do you have an old vcr, betamax, console, DVD recorder, sky box, pvr, stereo etc that you could gut and stealth the laptop gizzards into. I'm toying with doing a similar thing myself if I come across the right box. It would not look out of place under the telebox and you could easily add a remote function for added win
     
  8. Vo0Ds

    Vo0Ds Fake potato

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    @goldstar0011
    Fitting it into the filebox was actually my 1st thought! It's a bit mankey and flammable though.

    @ninjaplease
    I would be a bit miffed if I had to chuck it after spending time on it, but if I learnt something along the way I would make peace with it. :hehe:

    @greypilgers
    Thanks, it must be my Irish side that would rather cut my hands on sharp bits of dismantled laptop and curse at usb linux than spend money :D

    @Andy Mc
    A simple perspex sandwich was actually my 2nd thought! I've got all the bits I'd need lying around actually but I went for something slightly different, but still plastic. The computer ran fine inside the bottom of the laptop with just the screen removed, but it looked terrible.

    @Guinevere
    Sweet, I like the translucent purple ones; wonder do they come in Raspberry Pi size?

    @dancingbear84
    Wow, I actually thought about putting it into an old VCR; would have looked awesome sitting below my TV, but in the end I chickened out for something more simple. That means you HAVE to do it now:thumb:
     
  9. Mark_Skeldon

    Mark_Skeldon New Member

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    I did this back in 2003 (I think it was about then) with an old skool AMD Barton CPU and an old Sony VCR. Had twin tuners, working buttons and a functional LCD display.

    I'll have to go scratching round on my server and see if I can find the pics :)
     
  10. Dreamslacker

    Dreamslacker New Member

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    You can probably get a big flat plastic container like a tupperware type or perhaps an Ikea storage box (Trofast comes to mind).

    A dremel would be ideal but a sharpie, utility blade (penknife) and a file or sandpaper would work. Use them to make and clean out I/O port holes on the container.

    Some common standoffs (for mounting the board) can be epoxied to the plastic container and a bit of foam from packages can be used to raise and dampen vibrations for an internal HDD connected to the mainboard if so desired.

    It should cost next to nothing to implement with the box being the bulk of the expenses. For further tweaks, you can probably add a cheapo usb LCD and/ or IR controller unit to the front of the box.
    You can also solder a power button and LED to the power control PCB via wires if you can't find a way to mount it in a usable spot on the box.
     
  11. Vo0Ds

    Vo0Ds Fake potato

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    So what have I done?

    I've made a case using the only material I was ever any good at making things out of: LEGO! :rock:

    Lego is awesome; it requires no tools, I found a big box of it on top of a wardrobe, and if the computer dies in a few weeks/months, I can simply dismantle the case and re-use the pieces... maybe in a truck or a space ship...

    I started off with some of the big flat green bits to use as the base, and after setting the computer on top, filled in the rest of the base with smaller flat pieces. I then basically built around the outside of the computer in blocks, up to a height of two layers (I wanted to keep the whole thing quite low profile).

    Anywhere there was I/O I needed to use, I left blank after a height of 1 block to allow access. The fit is quite snug, you can connect cables without the board moving around.

    [​IMG]
    tadaa

    There are a few interesting details:

    The activity light circuit board has been sandwiched in the front and is visible through some translucent blue pieces, unfortunately they’re quite dim and don’t quite look blue. I’ll maybe swap for something a little more transparent.

    [​IMG]
    There are LED's in there, honestly.

    The fan exhausts through a couple of white fence pieces, they’re nearly the right size and look quite amusing :p

    [​IMG]
    The silly exhaust

    The power switch to the laptop is on the opposite side of the board to the cooler (as it would have originally been upside down) so it’s rather difficult to turn the machine on. I racked my brains for an age to find a solution and finally settled on a simple rocker which when pressed, pushes on the switch. It’s not exactly tactile but it works!

    [​IMG]
    Rocker power switch

    After the switch problem was solved, I decorated the front with a few flat pieces that I used to still think are awesome. (sorry kenco_uk ;))

    [​IMG]
    Ghetto Lego

    I’m left with a gaping hole in the top, and I don’t have enough flat pieces to fill it in, luckily I had some (quite thick) perspex lying around, so a few minutes later, I’ve got a roof window!

    [​IMG]

    What next?

    I think I’m pretty close to finishing the project, but the fan needs a bit more airflow, I planned to drill some holes in the Perspex over the fan, but can’t think of an interesting pattern. If I’m stumped or I don’t possess the skills for anything elaborate, I’ll just drill a radial pattern.

    Any suggestions for a pattern to drill? (Keeping in mind the fan's quite small)

    I also found a can of glass frosting, which might make a nice effect if I sprayed a logo/name on the window? May be a bit pointless without illumination though.

    It's not to everyone's taste, but there it is! :hehe:
     
    Last edited: 29 Feb 2012
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  12. kenco_uk

    kenco_uk I unsuccessfully then tried again

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    What do you mean, "used to think were awesome"?!

    Love it!
     
  13. ninjaplease

    ninjaplease I don't know what I'm doing

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    The win is strong with this one...
     
  14. Mark_Skeldon

    Mark_Skeldon New Member

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  15. Vetalar

    Vetalar *learning english*

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    NOW i know what to do with 2 tv boxes (crt tv if You ask) full of son's lego bricks... if i have laptop for free i'll definitely trow in at least fileserver and dc pumper :)
     
  16. greypilgers

    greypilgers New Member

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    Massive respect to you for this, mate. This is A-Team modding at its very best - no money spent, using whatever raw materials are lying around at the time.

    Fantastic - I really cannot say how actuall inspiring this simple build really is, and Lego?! Excellent!

    Makes me wanna crack out an old set myself, or even some mechano, and build a motorised PC case to house my 2500K in!

    :)
     
    Vo0Ds likes this.
  17. dancingbear84

    dancingbear84 error 404

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    Interesting use of lego! Not sure how well it would fit under the telebox in terms of blending in. Though it looks cool.
    I wish I knew what happened to my old Sony vcr that had the looks to pull off a vcr pc.
     
  18. Dave2010_TA

    Dave2010_TA Member

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    Very very beatiful work!
    I haven't ever see a computer in the "lego"! Very good man!!
     
  19. KidMod-Southpaw

    KidMod-Southpaw Super Spamming Saiyan

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  20. Vo0Ds

    Vo0Ds Fake potato

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    Thanks for all the positive comments! Wasn't sure how it would go down :blush:

    I haven't drilled ventilation holes in the perspex yet, looks like it'll be a simple radial pattern.

    The USB drive I'm running XBMCBuntu with was bugging me though. I've always thought it was far too wide and it was partially blocking its neighbouring USB port, so decided to do a classic LEGO USB stick lego mod!

    The board was too wide to fit into a simple 4x2 block, so I used two 4x1 blocks and two 1x1 blocks. I don't have a dremel, so I hollowed them out with a cordless drill and a knife. A few hours of drilling and scraping later, I squeezed the board in and sealed it up with some hot melt and super-glue.

    [​IMG]

    It ain't pretty, but it fits with the rest of the computer :hehe:
     

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