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Scratch Build – In Progress Minimalist Carry-on Desktop / Laptop

Discussion in 'Project Logs' started by ChromAnomaly, 4 Jan 2015.

  1. ChromAnomaly

    ChromAnomaly New Member

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    Intro

    So I've been in China for the past 3 months, and I've determined that my old Asus G37 laptop just isn't cutting it any more. I'm still in the middle of a massive server rack desktop build which is now on hold due to the business trip, but I obviously cant take that beast overseas with me. I've been spoiled by my (multiple) Gen 3/4 i7 desktops at home, so I need a portable solution that can keep up. There's no way to upgrade the G37, and new laptops are bloody expensive. So I've decided to build the smallest full ATX i7-5930K system that I can, complete with portable monitor and keyboard. No corner-cutting here, this little guy will sport an i7-5820k with 32GB DDR4 RAM (upgradable to 128GB) and a GTX-780. Because there's no reason for me to build a portable computer if I can't add it to my render farm when I'm not porting it.

    I've got 2 weeks to get parts and build this thing, so emphasis will be on funcationality rather than aesthetics. It needs to be rugged with all components firmly mounted, and fit the size requirements of a carry-on (preferably smaller, just in case). This is a hard deadline, as I have a return trip to China that will last another 5 months . . . and bringing tools / buying parts over there just isn't an option for my hotel room.

    Since I've had one request already, I plan to post a full parts list and build instructions when I complete this in case anyone else wants to give it a try. I've focused on components and parts that require the least amount of cutting or custom work for the purpose of assembly speed. If anyone wants to take the design and turn it in to something beautiful please feel free. I may even tackle this myself at some point. Oh, and I'll also let you know how TSA reacts.

    Concept

    Should be mostly self-explanitory. Mocked this up in Blender based on dimensions I found online. Waited until I had some parts in hand to start cutting metal. I'm working in aluminum extrusion again because it's quick to assemble and sturdy. A bit heavy and expensive though.

    Carry-on Luggage Sizes:
    - 20"L x 17" W x 9" H - Typically the largest allowable carry-on size. Varies a bit by airline, but this is a good starting point.
    - 17"L x 14" W x 8" H - Minimum size of under-seat storage. They're usually a bit lenient on the length, but I have no interest in gate-checking a computer. In a pinch the following plans should fit under your seat.

    [​IMG]

    Test Fitting

    I'm still waiting on some fasteners from McMaster-Carr before I can assemble the frame but in the meantime I thought I'd check to make sure all the components fit.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    AsRock X99 MB and GeChick Portable 15" monitor

    [​IMG]
    GPU, PSU, and HDD all seem to fit OK.

    [​IMG]
    Keyboard may be a bit of a problem. It's 1.5" wider than I expected, and the USB cable is going to get in the way of the hinge. I think I can work around this, but it's going to add some steps.
     
  2. IanW

    IanW Grumpy Old Git

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    Have you considered using a TKL keyboard? :idea:

    [​IMG]

    This one is by Coolermaster, others are available.

    BTW, most airlines specify a max weight for carry-ons, especially for long haul.
     
  3. Vetalar

    Vetalar *learning english*

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    I'd go with shuttle barebone in this case. It's portable and ready-to-go. But they have only models with Sb-e. For monitor : is there tv set at the hotel? For keyboard try one without numpad. If one needs numpad there is separate one on the shelves.


    Отправлено с моего iPad используя Tapatalk
     
    Last edited: 4 Jan 2015
  4. ChromAnomaly

    ChromAnomaly New Member

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    Yeah, I could switch out the keyboard, but I had already bought this one expecting it would fit. And I do need my numpad. It's ok though, I think I have a solution at this point.

    I don't think I will hit the carry-on weight limit to be honest, but nobody really checks that anyway. Checked luggage always gets weighed, but they assume that if you're willing to lug the thing around the airport that it must not be too heavy I guess :)

    I'm not sure I know what you're referring to here, but I've never found anything in a small form factor case (pre-built or even just a case by itself) that will handle my system requirements. High end i7 CPU and 32+ GB RAM pretty much necessitates a desktop full ATX board, whereas all the small form factor stuff is build around mATX boards. If you know of another solution though please post a link!

    That was actually my original plan, and I will probably still use the room TV as a second monitor anyway. Unfortunately in this case the TV is at an awkward angle, and I know from past experience that using a TV as a computer monitor for a few months causes quite a bit of eye strain due to the pixel pitch. Additionally I may use this thing on other trips where I don't know if the hotel TV will be set up to allow external input, or at least I won't know what kind of cables I need to connect before arriving.

    My other consideration here was that airport security is occasionally requiring electronics (ipads, phones, laptops) to be booted to prove that they are actually the functioning devices they appear to be. So I want this thing to look and act as much like an overgrown laptop as I can to make sure I don't run in to any actual issues in the security line. Of course I fully expect to get a few extra questions, but that's just normal for me considering the quantity of electronics I typically carry. :)
     
  5. ChromAnomaly

    ChromAnomaly New Member

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    Frame Assembly

    Here is the basic frame put together. Still missing a few parts and of course had to place a second McMaster-Carr order (so much for planning). In particular after searching for hours for rigid casters I somehow managed to order swivel casters :duh: And I sort of forgot about motherboard standoffs.

    I hope you appreciate that I stood on my head to get these perfect angles for the frame photos. Honestly though, not sure why a couple of these photos are upside-down, they look right-side up on my server. Sorry about that.

    [​IMG]

    Closeup of the wheel mounts and HDD bracket. The smallest casters I could find are basically 2" wide, and I'm using 1" aluminum extrusion. So for parts that don't fit neatly in to 1" increments I'm using 1/2" angle aluminum. The angle creates significantly increased rigidity over just a flat sheet (like an I-beam), and all I need to do to fit it to the frame is notch out 1" of the angle section where it fits over the extrusion parts. One extra step over just cutting to size, but still pretty quick. 1/2" angles leave enough room to use the standard 1/4" hardware for the extrusion which saves some time and effort. With 1/16" thick angles though, the fasteners bottom out before tightening. I'm using rubber washers to add some spacing and also dampen any shocks or vibrations. Added perk for me, most of these parts are leftover from my modular server rack build.

    [​IMG]

    PSU mounting bracket. I made sure to apply the "measure once, cut twice" principle here :duh: Luckily no one will ever see my ugly holes once the PSU is installed, since I don't have time to re-cut these things.

    The PSU is the heaviest component in the computer, so it's supported on the bottom with an extra rail of 1" extrusion, butted to the back frame on 2 sides, and screwed in to a couple 2" wide plates. 1/16" aluminum sheet (also extruded, so fairly cheap) is not particularly rigid, so I went a little overboard bolting it down and minimized the unsupported spans that it needs to cover. Using 2 plates like this is WAY easier than trying to machine a single bracket (only had to cut 2 notches), and I don't think I lose too much stability.

    [​IMG]

    Adding Components


    PSU and HDD mounted. Clearance is a little tight for the power cables, but not terrible. These two heavy components are at the bottom of the case when it's on its wheels for transport, which increases stability. The overall frame is pretty rigid in this area as well, providing additional support for these items that I was nervous might try to move around.

    [​IMG]

    Keyboard mounted. You can see here that the keyboard actually extends past the front vertical columns of extrusion in the width direction, so these columns are actually inset a bit to accommodate the keyboard. This means the left and right faces of the keyboard are exposed outside the frame, but I'm not too concerned after seeing it assembled.

    I managed to get the rotation of these hinges set up so that the cable coming out of the back of the keyboard lines up with the T-slot in the aluminum extrusion, providing a little additional clearance. I think I will still cut a notch back there as well just to make sure I don't stress out the connection.

    Latches and hinges are 2" wide, so I used 2" wide aluminum sheet to support the keyboard. It's not supporting much weight, so I felt OK using 1/16" sheet by itself. The latches fit nicely in to the T-slot of the extrusion, so I only needed to mount a single component for the latch. Probably a bit more hefty than I really needed, but they were readily available.

    [​IMG]

    Next Steps

    - Mount casters (should arrive tomorrow)
    - Build monitor bracket and attach (parts arriving tomorrow)
    - Mount MB (parts arriving tomorrow)
    - Figure out how to build the extendable handle :confused:

    For the extendable handle, I was hoping to find something ready-made that I could attach (like a replacement handle for luggage or something), but I didn't have any luck finding one for sale. So I thought surely I can build something functional without too much trouble . . .

    I was originally planning on running 3/16" rods down the center bore of the aluminum extrusion, but I hadn't really figured out how to get them to stop when fully extended yet. I think I've determined that the best way to stop the extension is by partially keying the rods with a groove (ending the key ~2" from the bottom end of the rod), and putting a set screw in the extrusion to ride in groove . . . but finding 3/16" rods alone is a little challenging, and I have no way to key them accurately anyway.

    I'm going to ask a friend at work if he can machine something for me quickly this week, but if anyone else has a better (aka easier) way to make an extendable handle I'm all ears!
     
  6. Vetalar

    Vetalar *learning english*

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    Well shuttle has sx79r5 model with x79 motherboard a bit larger then mitx formfactor. Lga 2011 for sandy bridge e, 4 ram slots ddr3 and full size PCI-e x16. And support fx sized like hd7970.


    Send from iPad via Tapatalk
     
  7. Nexxo

    Nexxo Queue Jumper

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    Very cyberpunk. :)

    I'd use rectangular flat bars as an extendable handle instead (inserted in the side slots of the X frames), because you can put a pin in the end and mount a crossbar as a stop. Then you put a round handle bar across the top. Would be better anyway --I suspect that 3/16" aluminium rod would bend under the weight of that machine. You'd have to use silver steel instead and that adds to the weight.

    Alternatively the frame could include scratchbuilt parts. An bolt-on extendable handle array could be constructed very easily. I have a lathe and am getting a mill, and several other people on this forum have some good tools too. Although 2 weeks is a tight deadline... but if you want to perfect this design and pimp it up, let me know.

    By the way, the Asus Impact VI, VII and the MSI Z87I mini ITX motherboards can handle top end i7 CPUs and 32Gb of DDR3 RAM. Worth looking at.
     
    Last edited: 4 Jan 2015
  8. ChromAnomaly

    ChromAnomaly New Member

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    Ah, Shuttle is the brand name. Interesting, I haven't seen these before. I might have been able to get one to work, though I don't see one that actually has space for a full-sized graphics card (slots yes, but physically not enough room). They also don't seem to come with PSU's capable of handing a modern video card. Good to know for future reference, though at this point I'm a bit committed to my current approach :)

    Yup, had planned to use steel. Originally had thought threaded rod is easy to find, but no way I can key that stuff, plus loses some strength to the threads so it's a waste if I need a custom solution anyway. Using a pin in the extrusion channel is brilliant though, I might be able to make that work. Only challenge will be retaining the shaft in the channel with stock pieces, would be really easy with a custom extrusion or milled part.

    And as I was sitting here typing this I think I came up with a stupidly easy way to make this work. Wow. Thank you!

    Thanks for the offer, I am absolutely interested in refining this box once I'm back . . . but I'm now down to only 1 week before my flight leaves, so no hopes of getting custom work done, shipped to me, and assembled in time :D
     
  9. Nexxo

    Nexxo Queue Jumper

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    Let me know when you're back. I've already worked out some really simple but elegant ways to refine this design. It's a great concept.
     
  10. Cheapskate

    Cheapskate Insane? or just stupid?

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    PSU bracket fail: You used the Sketchup model too?:lol:

    Great concept. Reminds me of an upgraded Commodore64 portable.
     
  11. ChromAnomaly

    ChromAnomaly New Member

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    Actually I was going more for the Osborne 1 (I actually had one of these as a kid!), but yes that's the idea :D

    My PSU bracket was more of the failing to account for my own imprecision when cutting parts type of error. I usually model with rough blocks and leave hole positions, etc for when I have a physical part in hand to line up. I wish I could blame it on the model though!
     
  12. ChromAnomaly

    ChromAnomaly New Member

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    NEWS! (photos to come soon)

    I got in to a bit of a rush this past week trying to finish everything up in time for my return trip, so I didn't have time to post live updates. But as of this evening I have successfully completed the case (or at least enough of it to be mobile) and carried it to China. I'm posting from it right now :)

    Next Steps:


    - Post photos of the rest of the build from last week
    - Take photos of the build completed
    - Post details about traveling with such a crazy case
    - Write up complete build instructions for anyone else who wants to try
     
  13. Mockingbird

    Mockingbird New Member

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    Ooh, I'm looking forward to the rest of the log.

    It did seem like it was an ambitious build for the time even without documenting it. Glad you finished it in time!
     
  14. ChromAnomaly

    ChromAnomaly New Member

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    Update (with photos!)

    It's a bit of a pain posting on here from China as the forum seems to depend on google in some capacity, and google is completely blocked in China for the foreseeable future. And frankly my ability to access bit-tech is only a very small part of my irritation with not having access to google (no email, no calendar, no maps, no decent search engine, no app store for my android phone, no decent translation service since I don't speak mandarin, etc). But I promised photo proof that I finished this thing and brought it with me, so here it goes.

    MB Installation

    Since I'm wheeling this thing around on its side and carrying it on airplanes, I expect some bumps and vibrations. Clearly this calls for locking washers and anti-vibration screws for my motherboard standoffs. This thing won't be going anywhere without the rest of the frame firmly attached :)

    [​IMG]

    Attaching the motherboard here. Instead of a standard backplate I'm using more 1/16" angle aluminum. Should be plenty strong to hold the board and GPU. This is a significant weight reduction over a full plate, allows more airflow for what is essentially an open case, and allows me a little slop for drilling holes (which I am notoriously bad at). I can take care of small mis-alignments by just sliding the angles around in the t-slot framing.

    If you know the ATX form factor well you'll probably know that 3 half-inch-wide brackets cannot be arranged in any fashion to cover all of the mounting holes. I've opted to skip the lone mount under the PCI slots in this case. Since I'm only installing a single video card in the top slot, I won't need the extra support. And cutting another 9" long bracket for a single standoff seemed like a huge waste.

    [​IMG]

    Ah, and now for the fun stuff. The i7-5820k uses the new 2011v3 socket, which is absolutely massive. Luckily for this build, the heatsink mounting bracket uses the same design as the 2011 socket which means there are plenty of ultra low profile server heatsinks on the market. This was a life-saver, as there is no way to fit a decent full size aftermarket heatsink within carryon dimensions (and the 5820k doesn't come with a stock cooler). This little guy is the Dynatron R30. It's a 1.5U cooler that appears to be made out of a single massive block of copper (~1.5" thick). It doesn't look like much, but so far it works like a dream. I've been running this system at 100% CPU load for days at a time with completely reasonable temperatures, though I haven't OC'd it yet.

    [​IMG]

    Case Details

    Ok, time to put on a few of the finishing touches that make this a functional computer. First up are "case" fans. The CPU will be venting up to open space, the GPU and PSU are pretty well isolated with plenty of cool air draw and clear venting, so these guys just make sure air is circulating over the MB. They are tiny little 90mm Noctua fans. I hate the colors, but they run smooth and quiet (important for an open case that sits in my bedroom), and it's getting difficult to find high quality 90mm fans any more. I had intended to mount 120mm's here, but the brackets that hold my frame together took up just enough space that I couldn't fit them. Oh well, the 90mm's are working fine. Noctua fans also come with all sorts of wiring accessories which allowed me to gang these together off a single MB header with only 1 cable run. Priceless when you're in a hurry and don't want a tangle of wires to raise suspicion with airport security.

    [​IMG]

    Power button. I inset this little aluminum plate by mounting it on the backside of the vertical support frame. This way it sits underneath the keyboard completely hidden until you open the case. You know, like the rocket-launcher button inside the glove compartment of one of Bond's cars. Eventually I'll add a HDD indicator here as well, but no time for that now!

    [​IMG]

    Perhaps you can guess, but my biggest concern with this little beast (other than TSA and Chinese customs officers of course) was that the video card would bounce around during transport and tear up my PCI slots (or the card itself). I know a lot of people who transport desktops take the video card out and carry it separate, but what's the point of having a portable computer if you have to take it apart to carry it? Besides, I'm stubborn. And 1/16" x 1" angle aluminum bolted at each end and notched to butt in to the 1" aluminum frame isn't going anywhere. I had originally planned to add additional supports along the length of the card, but I couldn't get them to work out in the time I had. Oh well, this turned out to be plenty of support.

    [​IMG]

    Assembled!

    A bit like the Death Star, it's not really clear if this thing is fully operational yet . . . but it is. The monitor bracket took a bit of ingenuity that I sadly did not have time to photograph, but I'll provide details later. The monitor was intended to be a carry-along extra screen for a laptop, so it's extremely thin and lightweight with no brackets or other nonsense to keep it from folding neatly in to my case. I was pretty excited by this find. Quality isn't exceptional, but it's good enough, makes the right tradeoffs for this type of build, and gets the job done. I really need to get rid of the white finish though.

    [​IMG]

    I had quite a scramble to get a functional handle for this thing. I thought I had it figured out, but still needed a small bit of machining work . . . my usual contacts at work were on vacation, I finally found someone who could do it . . . and then the handle buckled under the weight of the case. Oops. Luckily this kindly co-worker happened to have an old luggage handle laying around which he donated to my cause. And some snazzy feet to hold the system up off the handle. Unfortunately this put the box a bit over the carryon size limits :sigh:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Next Steps

    - Experiences at the airport
    - Post arrival modifications
    - Instructions to build it yourself
     
  15. Kerroin

    Kerroin New Member

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    That's one nice suitcase! (well, it loses the black cool exterior case)

    I hope they will not keep it at the airport...

    Great job!
     

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