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Case Mod - In Progress Project: "Constellation" Desktop Cluster, Nov 10

Discussion in 'Project Logs' started by kahm, 7 Nov 2008.

  1. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    I've been sitting on a pile of parts for almost a year now - not a healthy thing when it comes to motherboards and CPUs, so when my vacation rolled around I figured I'd better start materializing the ideas I've had banging around my head.

    "Constellation" is a bit of an atypical mod. It isn't going to be built to be pretty - just practical. The base I'm building on is beige, and it will remain so. The only lights that will be installed are indicator lights, and all the fan grills are wire.

    Instead, what I'll be building is a desktop cluster computer. Four independant systems in a single, self contained box.

    I've been dreaming of building a system like this since the very first time I ever saw a case big enough to stuff more than one motherboard in :) It probably won't be used for much practical work - I'll be experimenting with Beowulf clustering, render software, and some simulation work.

    What will be going in it is this:

    4xAsus M2A-VM, AMD-64 Dual Core 4200+ (2.2ghz), 2gb Ram
    Integrated KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) switch
    Integrated Gigabit Network

    [​IMG]

    The unit will have a single power cord, a master power switch, and a single ethernet jack. I'll be configuring all four systems as compute nodes, with a head node in my computer rack for easier access.

    Hardware is a little on the old side, now, but I got it cheap and it will be enough to play with. A goal of the project is to make it reconfigurable enough that I can easily upgrade the hardware.

    I'll be stuffing everything into this:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

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    It's an old beast of a case I got years ago at an auction, pretty much expressly intending to do exactly what I'm doing now - filling it with as many computers as I can :)

    Of course, AFAIC, four computers also means four power supplies.

    [​IMG]

    Fitting four motherboards, four power supplies, a power distribution system, a switch, and a KVM into one case is a bit of a tight fit. I really hope it works :)

    First thing to do is to figure out the internal layout. I spent a very, very long time mentally imaging how I'd fit it in, then I found out all my elaborate schemes were worthless when I sat down and actually mocked up the motherboards.

    This is the space I have to work with.

    [​IMG]

    The solution on how to fit the motherboards is pretty simple, illustrated thusly:

    [​IMG]

    And the power supplies were almost as easy.

    [​IMG]

    Flip it around to the other side for the other pair of MB/Power supplies.

    Now, how am I to stack a pair of power supplies on top of each other like that?

    First, I'll need something to attach them to.

    A piece of angle iron and some elbow grease later:

    [​IMG]

    It'll go something like this:

    [​IMG]

    With some aluminum spacers for sitting the power supplies on:

    [​IMG]

    Thusly:

    [​IMG]

    A little more polished. Those bolts stick out the bottom of the trays, and will be used to attach to the bottom of the case.

    [​IMG]

    Like so. I'm going to hold off trying to actually mount them in the case for now - in case I need to adjust things later.

    [​IMG]

    I had all sorts of elaborate aluminum do-dads I was going to fabricate in order to actually stack the power supplies together. Once again, reality (and my innate laziness) took over and I went with a more practical option: Industrial strength Zip ties :)

    [​IMG]

    I'll be holding off on the actual installation until later in the build.
     
    Last edited: 10 Nov 2008
  2. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    My sacrificial victim for my KVM was an old PS2 unit with a damaged button. The button is no big deal - I won't be using them anyway.

    I intend to have the whole KVM internal, so I'll have to extend the switches and LED indicators to the front of the machine.

    The Donor:

    [​IMG]

    Naked:

    [​IMG]
    The button on the right has collapsed - it no longer clicks and randomly activates itself.

    After several attempts, I managed to find a way to wire extensions to the switches. My soldering technique leaves a lot to be desired...

    [​IMG]

    To extend the LEDs, I cut the existing LED heads off and removed the support. The original LED leads are left, and are perfectly spaced to put a standared 2-pin header on them. You can also see where I popped the top off the faulty switch.

    [​IMG]

    The tray is made of 0.025" aluminum. Get used to seeing it - pretty much all the fabrication on this project will be made of this stuff. I bought a bunch of sheets at Home Depot of all places - first time I've found it so easily. I got some from a specialty place a while back, but I can't remember the name of the store, and it's way on the other side of town anyway :)

    I've also added epoxy to the underside of the motherboard to strain relief my rickety soldering job...

    [​IMG]

    My stand-offs are made of tiny aluminum tubing from a model shop. I wanted plastic - I've previously used plastic tubing meant as conduit for control rods in model airplanes, but the model shop I went to didn't have a very good selection. The aluminum tubing works well enough, but it's harder to work with. Incidentally, that's a #6 machine screw and a needle file in the picture - the tubing is 3/16" :)

    [​IMG]

    Here's the board mounted, with the support brackets. This will be positioned perpendicular to the front of the case.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    It Lives! You can see the 2-pin headers attached to the LED leads.

    [​IMG]

    The companion piece to the KVM is my network switch. I've had a 5 port gigabit switch laying around for a while, so it's a perfect choice for a project donor.

    The Switch:

    [​IMG]

    The guts:

    [​IMG]

    Another tray. This will be mounted parallel to the KVM unit. I had to break out the dremel for this one.

    [​IMG]

    Mounted:

    [​IMG]

    It lives! I'm 2 for 2 in not killing things. Prospects are looking up!

    [​IMG]

    The two units, completed. They'll be mounted with the support brackets against the front of the case, inside the 5 1/4" bays.

    [​IMG]
     
  3. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    As an aside, I'm officially blaming my ordeal soldering the KVM on the tools. Out goes the 15yr old Radio Shack pen iron, in comes a new toy!

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It was long overdue. My "to do" list includes modding a PS-2, a robotics project, playing with some microcontrollers. The old piece of junk wouldn't cut it anymore...
     
  4. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    Here's how the front half of the case will be laid out - it's pretty full :( The four empty 5 1/4" bays are where the hard drives will go. The silver box on the left is where the power switches (1 master, 4 computer) and LEDs will go.

    [​IMG]

    I'm going to have to do a lot more case cutting than I expected. This case is made of pretty thick metal. I'll probably have to break out the heavy duty "dremel".

    [​IMG]
    (I've never actually used that thing - I'm not sure how well it'll do. I'll have to practice on some scrap, first...)

    On another note, a project like this tends to breed clutter. My desk was clean before I started:

    [​IMG]
    Now it's covered in piles of tools, bolts, and parts. I'm not going to bother to clean it up until I'm finished, though. This project has to get done now, or I might as well give the stuff away :(
     
  5. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    Got some minor work done this morning. I decided to start with the easiest front panel piece - the right fan mount.

    The Red Snips of Doom are called to duty. The 0.025" Alu doesn't stand a chance!

    [​IMG]

    Action shots of a Man and his Drill have been skipped. Here's the general idea of how the case is going together. I'm leaving the doors off - they obstruct some of the bits I'm mounting on it - and using aluminum panels across the entire front. I'll be leaving the aluminum finish basically as is - I'll remind my audience that this is supposed to be a practical mod, rather than an attractive one :)

    [​IMG]

    Here's a closeup of the fan panel. The 5 1/4" bay covers are mounted using screws, so I'm taking advantage of that to bolt my replacement panels on. I'll have to be more creative on the other side, though.

    [​IMG]

    Now, my first modification to the case itself. The 120 mm fan takes up the bottom 3 bays, but the supports are spaced every 2 bays.

    [​IMG]

    So, out it comes.

    [​IMG]
     
  6. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    So, an issue cropped up while I was working through the front panels - mounting the Hard Drives.

    This particular case requires mounting rails for all drives.

    [​IMG]

    Unfortunately, I only have 4 rails - just enough to mount 2 drives. There isn't an easy way to circumvent the rails, either. I had planned on using some old aluminum bar stock I had laying around, but it turns out it won't work for various reasons. Not without a fight, anyway.

    So, I dug around my junk drawer, looking for some way to mount hard drives.

    [​IMG]

    What I eventually came up with are these - heavy duty aluminum HD 5 1/4" adapters. Hands up anyone who remembers 3DFX Cool?

    [​IMG]

    Now, my only problem is how to mount two hard drives on each tray. A little more thought and some spare aluminum shows me the way:

    [​IMG]

    So, off to build some brackets. The bend is there to increase the vertical strength of the thin aluminum. I use the hand drill to mark the holes for drilling - otherwise the bit skips around on the metal.Then I drill a pilot hole with a small bit, and then again with the proper bit.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Test fitting.

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    Finished product.

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    It's solid as a rock. I'll have nothing to fear to use this for my drives. I'll have to wait until later to build the second set, though. I don't have enough aluminum right now...
     
  7. Mr-IK

    Mr-IK Member

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    Looks massive :p
     
  8. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    I'm not aiming for delicacy here ;) Or looks, as you can tell. All I'm looking for is an integrated and reconfigurable way of tying four machines into a cluster. I could have just left them all in separate cases, but they'd take twice as much space and be four times as ugly :(
     
  9. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    Well, an awful lot of work for annoyingly little gain.

    First off, the HD rails stick out of the front of the case, which I can't have.

    [​IMG]

    So, off they come. It isn't a big deal - the fit is tight, there is a stopper at the back to prevent it from sliding in, and there is an anchor screw that can be put in from the side.

    [​IMG]

    Next is the right fan mount. I did this the old fashioned way - dremel and needle file. I really don't like doing it like this - too much work for sub-standard results :(

    [​IMG]

    I'll need fans to mount, and luckily I have some laying around. These were donated by an old rackmount system that held 8 Pentium 200 blade-style computers. They're like little hurricanes in a box. This machine will definitely be a little on the noisy++ side...

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    And mounted on the case...

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    Both completed panels thus far...

    [​IMG]

    Now, the other side of the case isn't as accommodating as the first as far as mounting holes are concerned. Therefore, I hauled out my tapping kit and discovered it can tap #6-32 threads! (standard "large" computer screws)

    So, we're off!

    [​IMG]

    My next issue is that the pre-existing holes on this side of the case are straight through and depend on the removable 5 1/4" bays to anchor them. I'm mounting HD in the bottom pair, but I wanted to put some bulky power stuff on the top.

    After examining the bays, the solution was easy!

    [​IMG]

    The top is just riveted on. I drilled out the rivets and converted the bays into a shelf.

    [​IMG]

    That solved, I planned out how to set up the panels. The top panel is for power, the middle covers the HD for the left systems, and the bottom will be painstakingly dremeled out to be a matching fan mount.

    [​IMG]

    Much drilling, tapping and cutting later.

    [​IMG]

    That catches me up to my current status. Next, I'll be taking the angle grinder to the case to make way for the left fan and power section.
     
    Last edited: 10 Nov 2008
  10. BlackWhizz

    BlackWhizz New Member

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    Maybe a weird question, but why do you have 4 motherbords? You cant control them together.
     
  11. BagUd

    BagUd New Member

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    Yes he can... it's a cluster. they work together to render a 3d image/movie or some other code.

    Subscribed !
     
  12. Von Lazuli

    Von Lazuli I get by fine with a jig-saw.

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    I know you are saying at the moment that this is a purely practical thing and aesthetics in no way come into it... but you will come around... you will come around...

    Anyways, I will watch this, I like technical mods as much as pretty ones...
     
  13. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    I *could* get the front panels laser-cut - A friend of mine is an oilfield automation specialist who build custom machines on a regular basis and has a company who does good work handy. Unfortunately, getting that done would probably exceed the cost of the project to date :(

    I don't know of a practical way of finishing the aluminum in a durable enough manner that isn't expensive, work-intensive, or both...

    I am, on the other hand, going to put a bezel on the front. I haven't decided if I'm going to try disguising the panel borders yet - that may be too much to bother with. As it sits, it has a retro "Captain Proton" aesthetic.

    By way of an update, I've completed the 'armour plating' of the case panels :) Pics will come later, after I finish filing the second fan mount.
     
  14. ModMinded

    ModMinded Are you throwing that away?

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    Nice desk! Have you seen the "your desk/workstation" thread? :D
    I like the remote holder!

    Agreed! ;)
    This is a cool idea, and function is very important. But I'm sure you'll find yourself appraising the case and thinking... 'well, I could put it there...' maybe not today or tomorrow, but sometime.

    I think there's a problem with post 9, cause I'm missing the ends of your sentences. I've tried in IE7 as well as FF3. Don't know if you posted it differently than your previous posts (which came through great), or if it's the new forum changes, but check it out.
     
  15. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    I'll be posting to the workstation thread after I finish this project.


    I think I know what's wrong - I'll fix it shortly.
     
  16. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    Next step in the process is to whack a couple of chunks out of the case to make room for some of the equipment I'm installing.

    Top part is for the power controls, bottom is for the fans.

    [​IMG]

    Ready to rumble!:

    [​IMG]

    This case is not a fun thing to cut through. I'm doing this at 3 in the afternoon, and it's so loud that I've got angry neighbors slamming their doors.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
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    Once that's done, I can focus on the back panels.

    The hitherto unseen back of the case:

    [​IMG]

    And after the panels were fabricated. No need for a step by step, as it isn't very interesting.

    [​IMG]

    The completed front of the case. It has a retro Captain Proton style look...

    [​IMG]

    Now, it's time to organize the guts.
     
  17. kahm

    kahm New Member

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    !!WARNING!!

    A NEW CHALLENGER APPROACHES!

    I found something in the junk drawer that might work well in my build...
    [​IMG]

    Now, to find room in the case front for it. Physical work will be suspended until I see if this thing is useful enough for installation. It will probably require a lot of custom programming, and I'm out of practice.

    Inspiration came from Cray's CX1 desktop cluster:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     

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