Case hacking! This would be the first time I have modded a PC case, and luckily, this project will provide me with a great learning opportunity. For this build, I obtained a Thermaltake Tsunami case for free as it came attached the the Craigslist power supply. I had originally planned to use an entry level Corsair SPEC-01 case, but after poking around this old case, I started to see some good potential. It has higher "cool factor"and saving $25 on the tight overall budget by using a free part is always a bonus!
Before diving into power tools and flying metal debris, if you missed the previous parts of this build, check out these links to get up to speed!
"Needy Healing" - Used Parts Overwatch PC Build - INTRODUCTION
"Needy Healing" - Used Parts Overwatch PC Build - Part 2 (parts hunting)
In this segment, I will try to mod a "free" case to make it suitable for a modern air cooled PC build. First, let's take a look at what we got and talk about some of the features and problems.
This appears to be a somewhat upper tier all aluminum case design with the most prominent feature being a really thick machined aluminum front assembly. I felt the wave shape was pretty cool but functionally served no purpose which bothered me a bit.
The front also features two doors. The first thick aluminum door opens to reveal the power and reset buttons. I am assuming this door was designed as a "high use" door and the large gap in the wave serves as a really overkill handle. Kindof like a refrigerator door.
Behind this is a second door opens to reveal the drive bays. It has a lock, but the case did not come with any keys. This secondary door is plastic and has an integrated, removable dust filter on the bottom section for the single 120mm intake fan.
The rest of the case seemed pretty standard with a top mounted power supply, a single 120mm exhaust fan at the rear just under the power supply, an array of 5.25" drive bays on the top front, 2 3.5" drive bays front middle that have a quick release caddy, and provisions for lower drive bays directly behind the single intake fan, but the case came with that quick release frame component missing.
Audio input and output connectors along with two USB ports and a Firewire port are located on top of the case right in the middle with a pop-up door. The motherboard tray does not have provisions for access behind the CPU or for cable routing behind the motherboard which means cable management on a non-modular power supply will be some work!
My main concern was that the case did not provide enough airflow for a "modern" air cooled overclocked system with just a single 120mm front intake fan. To make things worse, the intake vents are restricted to a small area of thin slats. I wanted to work with the wave design and make that prominent design feature functional and allow air to enter the case "under" the wave. This would involve cutting some long slots in the thick aluminum front panel. I also figured I could steal three of the 5.25" drive bays to mount a second 120mm intake fan. Assuming dual 120mm intakes and a single 120mm exhaust fan, assuming I can hack the front of the case for low restriction, this box should be able to cool about as well as any other current case.
I got started by removing the front door panel. Taking off one of the hinges allow me to slide the door off.
With the door removed from the case, I started taking off stops and cable holds.
With the accessories removed, I removed the six screws that hold the two main pieces of the front panel together and separate them.
The front panel has two blue LEDs that accent the front curve located behind the secondary piece. I'm sure a better lighting solution could be implemented to bling out this case, but given my budgetary concerns, I'll leave these for now. Fortunately, the rest of my build seems to be blue, so this should look just fine.
Given the nice brushed aluminum look of the front panel, I was not particularly thrilled with the plastic chrome accent line that runs across the middle of the front panel. I decided the mounting holes do not look half bad and could actually be used in the future to put some indicator LEDs in, so I decided to remove them.
The larger piece came out pretty easily. I was able to get it loose by pressing the center tab on the back side and then pull it off of the case without any damage.
The smaller piece looked a bit more complicated. It was apparently secured by melting a portion of the tab behind the front panel. I couldn't see a way to remove it without damaging the plastic part. So, it was almost certain that I would not be able reinstall the plastic once removed.
Because I would need to pry the piece off with pliers, I applied some console tape to protect the surrounding area from the plier jaws. Hopefully this will prevent the pretty brushed aluminum from getting marred.
And, as suspected, the plastic was damaged when I pulled it off.
After cleaning the grime off of the seams with some isopropyl alcohol, this is what I ended up with on the front panel.
I applied a generous amount of blue tape on the front to protect the front surface for cutting as well as give me something to draw out and plan my cuts for front ventilation.
I did not spend too much time agonizing over the details of the cuts and opted for a very simple and direct scheme cutting in two rectangular vents. I tried taking the now exposed mount holes left over from the plastics removal to see if I could integrate those a little bit into the overall look.
Also, even though the new rectangular vent hole will probably take on the majority of the airflow duties on the bottom of the case, I wanted to somewhat line up with and reference the existing slot cuts. I also had to retain the mount points for hardware latches that hold the door closed. I did not want to be modding the front door operating mechanisms. With all of those things in mind, here are the two cuts I came up with.
There would be little margin for error grinding on the front panel because any mis-steps or tool slips would mar the anodizing on the front case, so I was pretty nervous about hacking into it. I decided the best way to make my main cuts would be on a chop saw with a metal grinding blade attached.
I needed to go very slowly and make absolutely sure I did not cut past the lines on both sides of the blade while cutting! When compounded with flying hot aluminum chunks, this was probably the most stressful operation in the case mod.
Humans Win! Alignment on the blade is not super precise because grinding through aluminum is a bit "soupy" and the edges tend to melt a bit, but even with a few wiggles here and there, the cuts came out relatively straight, and I don't think I deviated that far from the drawn lines. Hopefully the underlying anodized surfaces are still ok.
Due to the curve of the piece, it was impossible to use the chop saw to cut horizontally across the case, so i decided to make the horizontal cuts by hand with a Dremel and cutoff wheels.
This operation was also pretty stressful because I didn't want to cut past the lines and any slips would damage the anodized finish. Also, the aluminum is quite thick!
With the holes roughed out, the majority of the cleanup was done with a file to straighten up the corners of the hole slots as well as even out the horizontal cuts that were done by hand with the Dremel. The long vertical cuts were decently straight off of the chop saw. Even though my rough cuts were pretty decent, the corners and short side cuts took a long time to file down by hand. I probably should have used a vise to hold the work steady and file with two hands, but we have a rule around here that we work harder, not smarter.
Here is what I ended up with after straightening out the slot cuts with a file.
I also have some red plastic melted into a couple of the screw holes from the bottom blade guard of my chop saw!
Next, I cleaned the piece with isopropyl alcohol to dissolve the melted tape adhesive. While not completely unscathed, the finish looks like it survived for the most part! I'll take that as a win.
Here is what my surface finish looks like after rough filing. At this point, I had to make a decision on how fine to take the edge cleanup. I could literally spend days getting it PERFECTLY flat and uniform. . and then take it all the way to a polished finish with beautifully eased edges, but that would. .. well. . . take days and this project is a budget build after all. I want to put in some effort to make it stand out, but if I sink 20 hours into a free case, it wouldn't make much sense. So, I decided to step it back a few notches and try some 120 grit sandpaper on a wood block and see how things played out.
This ended up actually matching the brushed finish on the front face pretty well while not taking an eternity. I will leave it like this and can come back to the edge finish later if it ends up bothering me. This case would also probably be a great candidate to strip and anodize at some point because it is all aluminum, but again, that is totally out of the scope of this project as the finish time and costs would completely overwhelm the total system cost. But, I can see it happening on a future upgrade down the road if the computer ends up well loved and an owner decides to stay with the basic platform long term through multiple builds.
With the new vent hole slots finished up, i begin reassembling the case starting with the blue LEDs which I decided to retain for now. This part of the case could easily accept a modern RGB solution and look really good as a future upgrade path to bling it out.
The the LEDs in place, I route the cable back through and reassemble the two main pieces.
Next, I reinstall the cable holds and latch hardware. This photo shows a bit more of the melted plastic damage on the back side of the panel from the saw's blade guard.
One hinge goes back on so I can slide the assembly back onto the case.
And the door is finished and ready to put back in! We can see the final result of the slot cuts for the first time, and I think it came out pretty ok. Ventilation should now be excellent, and I think the overall aesthetic is pretty integrated with the prominent wave feature now actually leading into functional air vents.
My next task is to hack in a 120mm fan into 3 of the 5.25" front drive bays. I decide to use the lower three bays for the fan and leave the very top one for drives as that would provide a more direct air pathway to the CPU as opposed to blowing more directly into the back of the power supply. I looked into off-the-shelf solutions and brackets, but it seemed those would all end up costing an additional $15 which I did not want to spend and escalate the overall budget. So, I decided to cut the drive bay covers that were existing. First, I positioned the 120mm fan to get an idea of where I wanted to secure it.
In order to perfectly align my fan mounting holes, I am using a sacrificial fan as a drill template, and I will use the actual fan frame as a guide for the drill bit to align the holes. After carefully positioning my "drill guide", I secure it around the edges with painters tape. This is one of the original case fans which I will not be reusing because it does not appear to have any speed control capability. It connects directly to 12V accessory power and has a header to the motherboard for tach signal, so it runs full speed all the time, and I think that's a little silly.
With the the drill guide secured with tape, i drill my holes.
Next, while the guide is still in place, I use a sharpie to mark the circular cutout for airflow cutouts.
I also mark the side cuts that I will need to allow the fan to clear the aluminum slot covers when mounted from the back side of the bracket.
And, it's not the neatest artwork, but it should suffice to get the job done, and we know for sure that all of the holes are perfectly aligned because we marked and drilled using an actual fan.
I use a Dremel to cut out the fan hole.
One side cut!
After cutting out the fan hole form both slot covers, I remove the slot covers to cut the clearance holes so the fans can slide in from the back.
And, the free "fan mounts" are now ready to go!
The freshly cut slot covers go back in, and I install a fan to see how everything fits. . . I am using Arctic F12 fans. . . well, because they are cheap and carry a hefty warranty.
Humans Win! The front airflow setup is now clearly shown, and I think it will work great. At least on par with most current cases.
I did not like the flow restriction in the center front door right in front of the existing dust filter, so I decided to hack that up a bit too. I planned my cuts a bit carefully because the cover is plastic and I did not want to compromise the strength and long-term survivability of the case.
So, I retained the existing structural parts of the molding and cut a portion of the slats out.
Next, I reassemble the two front doors. I discovered when putzing around with the build that the secondary door unclips from the main chassis very easily without any tools. It just lifts out when the door is opened to a certain angle which is pretty slick and convenient.
With that, the case modding portion of the build is complete. If you can't tell, I am becoming quite attached to this case now that I've dug into it a bunch. I think it works quite well now in its current state, but leaves ample room for further modding and refinement down the road. It needs a custom top dust filter, can use a side window, the lighting can be improved, and the bottom leaves room for fan or radiator mounting. Unfortunately, this Thermaltake Tsunami Dream model seems to be rare and I cannot find any other samples on the used market anywhere so the chances of repeating this build are somewhat slim.
In Part 4, I will dive into the computer assembly and cable management.
Below are direct links to the rest of this build series:
"Needy Healing" - Used Parts Overwatch PC Build - INTRODUCTION
"Needy Healing" - Used Parts Overwatch PC Build - PART 2 (parts hunting)
"Needy Healing" - Used Parts Overwatch PC Build - PART 4 (assembly)