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Constructing a Sleeper Pc from an SGI Indy

Constructing a Sleeper Pc from an SGI Indy

2023-01-27 16:29:15

Revealed 04/09/2022

I’ve had my arms on the blue outer shell of a Silicon Graphics Indy for some time. It was initially meant for one thing that ended up falling aside, so I simply left it in storage till I may discover a use for it. SGI computer systems, typically, are one thing I discover fairly cool on account of their historical past referring to CGI in cinema, however the Indy is a selected standout for me on account of its frequent use in making Nintendo 64 video games (I make N64 homebrew, in case you were not conscious!).

2020 got here alongside and I had fairly a bit of cash saved up, so I believed it was time I lastly construct a PC. Sadly, that was the beginning of the COVID pandemic, and the next rise in prices for PC {hardware} worldwide. Bummer.

However I’m a affected person particular person. My laptop computer has served me effectively for various years, and I am the form of one who will not let {hardware} die (If one thing breaks, I’ll do what I can to restore it), so I can sit and look forward to costs to return to regular. Fortunately, in June of 2022, the Cryto market kamikaze’d, which led to the worth of graphics playing cards to drop considerably. Time to speculate!

I then remembered I had that shell mendacity round, which gave me a extremely silly thought… What if I attempted constructing my PC inside it? I actually cannot match a full desktop in my room, there simply is not area… However the Indy is kind of compact!

Setting the Ground Rules

I am not the primary particular person to make a sleeper pc. The YouTube channel Linus Tech Ideas has carried out it many times already… However in all of those builds, the unique case is modified indirectly, and as a preservationist that simply would not jive effectively for me. So I set myself three floor guidelines:

  1. Maintain it as near the unique as doable. Because of this I am unable to cheat by have components protruding from the edges or hiding from behind the place one will not see it usually.
  2. Completely no modification of the shell in any manner. I need the shell to be detachable and to be placed on an actual SGI Indy with no mutilations. The unique {hardware} will not be getting any much less uncommon…
  3. Price range of round 2000€. I initially had about 1500€, however saving up these two years I had about 3000 to splurge.

Additionally, to make the article clear: Shell/Case = Blue outer plastic. Chassis = Internal metallic field.

With the bottom guidelines set, first I had to verify this silly thought was even doable.

Initial checks

I whipped out the tape measure and eyeballed the scale of the interior field. My measurements had been 390mm x 340mm x 70mm. A server rack is normally 44.5mm tall (also called 1U) or double that (2U). It seemed doable, so I drew a field in Google Sketchup. I then seemed up totally different part sizes which might doubtlessly slot in right here. The values I settles on had been:

  • A Flex ATX energy provide, 815mm x 15mm x 405mm
  • A Mini ITX Motherboard, 170mm x 170mm
  • A GPU, I selected the AMD RX 6900XT at random, 267mm x 120mm x 5mm

Sketchup screenshot
They appear to suit.

They not solely match, however there’s fairly a little bit of area left. I initially thought of water cooling, however after studying measurements on-line I noticed it will be actually arduous, if not not possible in such a compact area. Two 120mm followers will match (one for consumption, one for exhaust), so common air cooling it’s…

CAD Modeling

Seeing that the construct was certainly viable, it was time to maneuver on to modeling the field correct. I began by taking a look at ProtoCase and their customized case making software program, but it surely was extremely restricted and complicated to make use of, so I made a decision as a substitute to seize a replica of FreeCAD and do it myself.

This was my first expertise working with each CAD and with sheet metallic. FreeCAD doesn’t help the sheet metal workbench by default, I needed to set up that individually. There’s few tutorial movies on YouTube for each FreeCAD and the sheet metallic workbench particularly, however they had been sufficient to get me going.

I settled on utilizing 1mm thick aluminum sheet metallic. The rationale for aluminum is that it is comparatively gentle, and straightforward to chop/drill into if I’ve a must make some modifications. Draw back is that aluminum is conductive, so I must both anodize or paint it, or simply make sure that the motherboard doesn’t contact the chassis. Fortunately, you might have standoff screws for that actual purpose.

A helpful trick in CAD is to create a giant semi-transparent dice which is identical dimensions as your restrict. Like this you may at all times see if one thing finally ends up being too large with out having to whip out the awkward to make use of tape measure device.

So I modeled a field, after which I went to GrabCAD and downloaded a bunch of fashions that might be helpful. I acquired the next fashions:

I loaded up the fashions and began inserting them round my field to make sure that the whole lot really nonetheless match:

FreeCAD early chassis
And so they do.

Discover how the SSD is positioned on high of the GPU. It was both there, or on high of the ability provide… Sadly the area behind the GPU was only a centimeter too quick to suit the SSD, so it might want to go on high of one thing, if I find yourself going with one. I meant on having an NVME as effectively, however I wished a disk on the aspect as backup.

All of this, after all, was hinging on the truth that the measurements of the field had been truly appropriate… So I made a decision to purchase some cardboard and make a take a look at field:

First cardboard model
The cardboard field and the paper I printed out with the measurements.

This cardboard field taught me two issues: First, the highest bend on the left aspect was too lengthy. The field would find yourself hitting a plastic tab that sticks out on the top of the case. The second was that the match was extremely tight. Simply to be additional secure, I made a decision to shave off 1 milimeter off the aspect, so the ultimate width could be 389 mm.


Feeling snug that this construct was very a lot doable, I made a decision to take the leap and purchase the components. These had been what I settled on:

I used PCPartPicker because it lets me choose components out there on shops in my nation, and can warn me of incompatibilities.

I initially wished to go together with an 6900XT, however I made a decision to go for a 6700 as a substitute as a result of the 6800 and 6900 from Sapphire (I had settled on a Sapphire card on account of guarantee + common suggestion) had been truly greater than the GPU mannequin I had. This may make the match too tight to my liking, so I scaled down the ability. You might need additionally seen I went with full AMD. I intend on operating Linux as my every day driver, so a AMD GPU is normally a more sensible choice on account of compatibility. For these form of compact builds, blower type playing cards are normally the higher choice, however sadly there are not any on the market for the 6000 sequence of graphics playing cards.

After all, with a view to join the GPU to the motherboard, I wanted a riser card. After measuring with the tape measure, I settled on a 35cm cable from LinkUp. I additionally threw in a 1080p 144hz monitor by AOC with in-built audio system and a USB hub in order that I did not have to achieve round to the again of the PC for IO, since I knew I would be restricted in that regard.

Nearly the whole lot was purchased from Europe, apart from the PSU which was bought by OverTek within the UK. Issues arrived in a day or two, with the riser and PSU taking the longest.

Having the whole lot right here, I made a decision to construct the PC on high of the containers to make sure all of the elements labored earlier than I doubtlessly massacred them.

PC built on cardboard boxes
An attractive mess of a pc.

Turning a pc on with no energy button is only a matter of shorting two pins on the motherboard with a screwdriver like so. That is all an influence button does, actually. It simply connects the 2 pins collectively when pressed.

Finishing the CAD Model

I’ve a working pc, now I simply want a field to place it in. I stored engaged on the mannequin, I even made a small mannequin of the riser from measurements to make sure the GPU was accurately offset to the aspect. I additionally made a neat discovery: The GPU is definitely barely shorter than what was stated on-line, that means I may mount the SSD behind it as a substitute of on high of one thing, hooray!

Some CAD work later, I completed the design of the field:

Final CAD model

I ought to use this chance to speak about design selections.

In case you have a look at what an Indy appears like from below, you’ll discover that the metallic fully touches the aspect wall on one aspect, however has a spot on the opposite aspect and within the entrance. This lets me have screws and stuff poking out. This was one of many causes for putting the GPU the place I did (the opposite was that the consumption followers may suck from the underside).

CAD Chassis Bottom

The underside of the chassis has two large fan holes, one for consumption and one for exhaust, in addition to two smaller holes for the GPU consumption followers. It additionally has holes for the fan screws, motherboard standoff, and the SSD. It is a good suggestion to test what the dimensions of every screw is, as you need the opening to be the very same dimension because the screw. The opening would not have to be threaded! If it is the identical dimension because the screw, the screw will thread itself.

The screw diameters are as follows:

  • Motherboard standoffs: 3mm
  • Followers: 3.5mm
  • SSD: 3mm

CAD Chassis Back

The GPU backplate was eliminated and the output ports + screw holes had been measured. I couldn’t discover a good manner of getting the backplate mounted, so chopping to suit was the subsequent neatest thing. It does imply that if I would like to alter the GPU, then the again will have to be redone… However contemplating how lengthy I stored my laptop computer round, I most likely will not be upgrading any time quickly. The dimensions of motherboard backplate is standardized, yow will discover the ATX customary here (the backplate is on web page 16). Simply bear in mind to have it 7mm off the bottom (1mm for the aluminum thickness, and 6mm for the standoff screw).

CAD Chassis Right

The appropriate aspect has a gap on the underside left that corresponds with the vent grill on the case, two holes for mounting the riser card with some screws, and within the floppy drive part on the highest proper I added a USB and Headphone gap for some aspect IO. I acquire CD’s, and whereas it will be good to have a CD participant, I do not wish to carry out this cursed mod.

CAD Chassis Front

The entrance has some holes on the left for the entrance buttons and the inexperienced energy LED, a vent gap beneath it, three holes on the underside for the plastic tabs, and a few small holes on the edges to carry the sheet metallic along with the assistance of some tabs. The holes on the left are decrease as a result of I used to be afraid that the plastic that holds the entrance buttons would get in the way in which.

CAD Chassis Tabs
Inside shot of one of many tabs.

With a view to maintain the field’s form, there must be some approach to maintain the partitions in place. What I did was lengthen out the edges to create the tabs in that image. The concept was that I’d use a pop rivet gun to rivet the tabs, protecting the form. As a result of the rivets will stick out a bit, I wanted to watch out with the opening placement.

CAD Chassis Tabs
Here is a high down diagram of the partitions and their tabs

Since there’s that area between the entrance plastic and the chassis, I had no issues inserting the entrance tabs. Similar goes of the one on the appropriate. The left tab was the issue… I may’ve had the tab protruding to the appropriate, however I feared that the 1mm hole between the PSU and the chassis would make it more durable to screw in. I stored the tab pointing downwards, however I did not make rivet holes since rivets wouldn’t be doable on that aspect of the case. Maybe I may have somebody weld the tab to the inside wall as a substitute?

Watch out when making tabs. Do not forget that the field must be bent into form, so you may’t have tabs designed in a manner which might make the folding course of not possible.

Feeling assured, I made a decision to make some technical drawings, print them out on paper, reduce them out on cardboard, and screw the components onto them to make sure the whole lot was in place:

Second cardboard model
Parts attached

Right here I made an annoying discovery: the CPU Cooler is definitely barely bigger than the mannequin, so it will make becoming the motherboard not possible. I needed to shift it up a bit, being cautious to not block the holes the place the tabs on the underside of the case had been.

After making the corrections and confirming in one other mannequin that the whole lot match this time, I felt prefer it was time to maneuver onto the subsequent step.

Purchasing a Ten Thousand Dollar Laser Cutting Machine

Simply kidding! My univeristy has a Fab Lab, which is a spot that permits you to pay an entrance charge to make use of their instruments. However sadly, it doesn’t have any sheet metallic instruments. I made a decision to make a journey to the Makers in Little Lisbon FabLab and ask for recommendation. I used to be really helpful a spot referred to as NFSLaser.

I initially despatched them an STL mannequin of the field earlier than and after folding, however they requested me for PDFs/DXFs. I believed it was like 3D printing, the place the mannequin was necessary, however I suppose not. I despatched them Technical Drawings, however they complained that the measurements weren’t including up, they usually had been additionally obscuring components of the drawing. One cellphone name later, it seems they only wanted a 1:1 ratio drawing of simply the unfolded field. Not what I used to be anticipating in any respect, however truthful sufficient.

A couple of days later, the pickup was prepared:


I positive hope it suits… And it does, like a glove!

Chassis fit test

See Also

The field is sort of good, if you happen to have a look at the underside left you’ll discover that one of many PSU holes is cracked. It was my fault for placing them so near the PSU vent gap.

Chassis Modifications

Regardless of the great match, the chassis wasn’t good, and this was totally oversights from my half.

The primary predominant subject was that I may really feel the plastic tabs on the entrance of the case being careworn arduous by the chassis. I made a decision to whip out my dremel (I purchased one years in the past for Cosplay work) and to grind out the tabs to offer the tabs some respiration room.

Adjustments front
An attractive straight line

The second subject was that the Indy has a little nudge on the back to maintain the chassis in place. I do not want the nudge, and it was actively making eradicating of the chassis actually tough. The Indy initially has a plastic piece that permits you to use your finger energy to pull the chassis apart, however as a result of this design is such a decent match the additional safety is not wanted. So I took the dremel with a chopping disk and did some hand work:

Adjustments back
By no means have I seen such a gradual hand!

Whereas aluminum mud is not poisonous, it’s best to nonetheless put on a masks and a few goggles. Aluminum mud is extremely conductive nonetheless, so remember to give it a very good wash and go with a humid fabric.

One other oversight I bumped into was that the rivets on the GPU aspect had been truly hitting the plastic, as a result of it stands out a bit. Doh! Fortunately you may take away pop rivets with a hammer and a screw driver. Nobody will ever see the scuffs on the within of the chassis anyway ^^’

Clearly, the fan holes are a unbelievable approach to flip the within of my case right into a mud bunny. Aluminum isn’t magnetic, so I could not get these good magnetic mud filters. I went to the ironmongery shop and bough some wire mesh, which I made some small paper stencils after which transfered over and reduce. I initially tried to chop the mesh with the dremel’s chopping disk, but it surely broke three of my disks. As an alternative, I took a pair of scissors, and with a lot brute drive, I had one thing I used to be pleased with:

Adjustments back
Bent by hand too. This wire mesh was actually sharp, managed to chop myself just a few instances. Ought to’ve worn gloves…

The holes had been initially made with a drill, however the drill bit both acquired caught or would flex the mesh. So as a substitute I took a grindy dremel bit and made the holes very patiently…

Putting everything together

As a result of I need the entrance to show the PC on and off, I put some buttons and an LED on a protoboard and soldered some wires to them.

Front I/O Protoboard

I acquired some wires with feminine pin headers to hook up with the motherboard I/O pins. The facility LED pins on the motherboard draw 5V (I checked with my multimeter), however the LED was rated for 3V, so I soldered two 100ohm resistors in sequence to step the voltage down. Sadly, the native electronics retailer solely had one pair of feminine pin header wires, so the LED is at present unhooked.

I drilled some holes on the entrance of the chassis + on the protoboard and screwed it in place.

Front I/O
Slightly scuffed from the drill bit slipping, however once more, nobody will see it.

The screwheads protruding is not an issue as a result of the buttons already stick out, so it is going to by no means scratch the case plastic. The quantity buttons do not do something in the interim,

Placing the whole lot collectively:

Inside the PC
At the moment isn’t cable managed since I must disassemble it later to solder the LED wires.

Time for the second of fact…

It really works (moreover the ability LED which is not connected but).

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Total, I am fairly pleased with the PC. Frankly my solely issues are Linux associated, that is not a fault of the {hardware}. Temps underneath load aren’t additionally superb, however once more that was form of to be anticipated. I am not significantly irritated with fan noise since headphones are plugged into my ears like umbilical cords, so I can simply ramp up the followers more durable to compensate.

Design flaws…

  • Bear in mind the holes I made to screw within the GPU riser? The appropriate-most one is ineffective on account of it hitting the plastic on the again (aka the identical drawback because the rivets), the opposite one is ok.
  • The screw holes for the GPU are barely too large, so a washer must be positioned to forestall them from going into the case. The washers have to be trimmed or they block the DVI output.
  • As a result of lack of rivets on the left aspect tab, there is a small hole between the 2 partitions. Once more, I ought to look into welding these. Subsequent time, I ought to have the tabs riveted to the again face (just like the entrance face), however simply having a bit reduce out to suit the PSU + GPU.
  • The aspect I/O is a milimeter too much to the bottom, making it ineffective. I am unsure the place I went incorrect in my measurements, however I do know I did not take a look at the aspect I/O in my cardboard mannequin. Mainly I used to be silly. I wasn’t planning on populating these simply but anyway, however appears like I am going to must do some grinding to repair that…

The top!

The End

If you would like my CAD recordsdata, then be happy to seize them from here.

Replace 16/09/2022

I’ve soldered the Power LED to the wires and resistors, and it really works now. I needed to join it to the HDD LED cable although, as a result of apparently the POWER LED cable is to inform you that the motherboard is linked to the socket, not that the PC is on. Whoops!

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