— CAVE: By now, I have build a „version 2“ of the Desk-PC, fixing some design-flaws that bothered me. A report can be found here! —
I can´t recall how I came by the idea of building a PC inside my desk´s top. All I know is, that it must have been in june 2017, as I have found the receipt for glass and wood in my gmail-account for that date.
I probably must have watched reviews of some fancy PC-cases on LinusTechTips (one of my favorite youtube-channels, by the way) and after looking up the prices I must have thought: „Well, DIY again, old friend“. (Interestingly, I realized way after building my own setup, that Linus et. al. had build a desk-PC as well –> LINK .)
The general idea was, to put my already existing parts (mainboard, CPU, fan, GPU, PSU, HDD´s and SSD`s) inside a case, which was covered with glass and mounted in an opening inside my existing desktop. This desk was accompanying me since late childhood, was purchased at IKEA and was made of at least 3cm strong, solid wood. Which meant difficult sawing but great stability and rigidity. This stability was necessary because the desktop would loose a significant amount of wood in the middle but had to hold the weight of the whole PC-case plus the display.
Step 1 : Preparations
At first, I had to remove all the components from the old case to measure them. With these specs, I used a technical drawing app, in which I created placeholders of the same dimensions for mainboard, GPU, PSU, SSD`s. These placeholders could then be moved around a hypothetical mounting-plate, giving me an idea of the final dimensions of the case and the location of the different components. Using pen-and-paper-planning would have worked as well, but hey, I´m a modern tinkerer. Planing in 2D was sufficient, but the height of the overall system should be considered. In my case, the parts with the biggest height was the mainboard plus cooling-fan. Since the mainboard should be raised around 2-3cm and the cooling-fan should have some clearing underneath the glass, I calculated a height of 15cm total.
After careful planning, I concluded the dimensions for the case for 90 x 45 x 15 cm. This included some reserve-space in case I wanted to use bigger components in the future.
Step 2 : Shopping
I used MDF as material for the case because it has a lot of advantages. It can easily be sawed with a jigsaw, it is sturdy and provides good sound-damping and it can be painted in every color imaginable. Since I am a lazy guy (and I don’t have a bench saw) I had the individual boards be sawn to their exact dimensions by an online-store. I could have gone to a hardware-store, but man, I´m such a lazy nerd. I ordered my wood at Spiegel-Shop.de in germany, luckily they offer custom cut glass as well.
- 1x MDF board 90 x 45 cm, 16mm
- 2x MDF board 90 x 15 cm, 16mm
- 2x MDF board 41,8 x 15cm, 16mm
- 1x normal glass – clear / transparent, 90 x 45cm, 4mm, polished edge
total sum : approx. 61€.
The most expensive part was the glass. To be honest, 16mm strong MDF proved to be impracticable due to weight. In version 2 I used 8 mm strong MDF, which was absolutely sufficient.
Additionally I used wood glue and nails for assembling the MDF-boards, and wood-screws and brackets to fasten the case to the desktop. Then some paint, I chose white. Important tip: when painting MDF always prime the material before applying the final color. MDF soaks paint like a sponge.
I planed for two case-fans for cooling, one sucking cool air in on the left, the other blowing hot air out on the right. I chose (affiliate links) Noctua NF-F12PWM Cooling Fan 120mm, which have a terrible design but are considered to be best in class concerning air-flow as well as noise. With them comes an adapter that can reduce the RPM for even less noise, sweet.
To make the layout a bit more interesting and present the GPU in all its expensive glory, I bought a PCI-E-riser-cable. Such cable enables the possibility to mount the GPU away from the mainboard, in my case I chose to mount it horizontal next to the mainboard. The web is full of reports of these riser-cables breaking or having poor performance. Mine is in use for over a year now, has survived multiple rebuilds and never showed any performance issues either with an AMD R9 290 nor with the current NVIDIA GTX 1060. (affiliate-Link)
To rise the mainboard a few centimeters above the mounting-board and ensure a proper cable-management, I used rubber-feet like these : (affiliate-link)
Rubber Feet 21 x 12 mm I always used two of them together to get a higher clearance.
Finally I planed some space at the front for a media dashboard like this (affiliate link) :
Step 3 : Build
First I lay MDF-boards and glass together to check for correct dimensions. Good to know everything fits before grabbing that glue.
Afterwards I placed the components on the boards and draw the planed openings for the I/O of the mainboard, GPU und PSU as well as the media dashboard an the fans with a pencil.
After sawing, boards were glued together, for additional firmness I used some nails. I had to find out the hard way, that using screws without prior boring leads to tearing of the MDF. Next step was painting and drying. Done!
Now came the hard part; mounting the whole case inside the desktop. I had jigsawed a rectangular opening of 90 x 45 cm in the desktop and wanted the glass on top of the case to be exactly planar with the desktop. This task was even harder because I installed a slim frame on top of the case and between this frame and the glass I glued some window-isolation-tape for noise- and dust-reduction. Somehow I managed to find the right height and fixed the case to the desktop with brackets and short screws.
I installed the components, using the rubber feet and wood-screws to mount the mainboard and hard-drives. The GPU was screwed at the slot-sheet and supported by a wooden block. I glued RGB-LED-Stripes under the slim frame and powered them with an adapter right from the mainboard: USB A to USB Motherboard 4-Pin Header F/F 2.0 Cable
After a first test-run I put the glass in place and … mission accomplished!
I was content with this build for around 6 months. But finally I got disturbed by the pure height of the case, on which I bumped my knees regularly and which put the components relatively deep under the desk-surface. Besides, the cable-management was beyond subpar. Therefor I decided to make a revision, version 2 was planned and build, the report can be found here.