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1/31/2008
03:02 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Build-A-PC Chronicles: Reviving A Dusty Old Case

Embarking on a PC construction project is the opposite of building a new relationship. With the latter, the first flush of discovery is the fun part. In contrast, gathering up all the components for the computer is an expensive drag. Nothing is less enticing than picking out a case. The difference nowadays is that the PC's enclosure used to be an afterthought. Now, with hot-running modern processors, it's cri

Embarking on a PC construction project is the opposite of building a new relationship. With the latter, the first flush of discovery is the fun part. In contrast, gathering up all the components for the computer is an expensive drag. Nothing is less enticing than picking out a case. The difference nowadays is that the PC's enclosure used to be an afterthought. Now, with hot-running modern processors, it's critical.Complicating the problem is that the choice of cases used to be limited to a $39 special or some fancy day-glo model aimed at gamers. Now, there are too many options. The first crop I call "snap-in" designs. There are the cases with all those do-dads so you supposedly don't have to screw in the drives and cards; these never work properly, by the way. The second, more important category of cases is designed to support good cooling.

I need one of these, since I'm getting ready to do a build with an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770. This 3.2-GHz quad-core powerhouse is rated at 136W. Technically, the 136W figure is what Intel calls the TDP, for thermal design power or thermal design point. This isn't its dissipation all the time, or in the real world even most of the time. But it does mean that you have to build your system so that it can properly cool a processor that's chugging away at 136W.

The figure of 136W for the QX9770 is 6W higher than the 130W TDP of the QX6850 processor I used in my last PC build project. There, I focused mostly on selecting a strong fan-plus-heatsink for the processor, and didn't worry too much about the case. I picked the Artic Cooling Freezer Pro 7, a solution I highly recommend, in no small measure because its clips can actually be attached to the motherboard. (If you've messed around with a lot of heat sinks, you know why this is important, and how many shockingly bad designs are out there.)



Artic Cooling's Freezer Pro 7 is one baaaaaaaad processor cooler. (Click picture to enlarge and to see shots from the original QX6850 build project.)

After I built that box, I was worried that my inattentiveness to cooling would result in a fried PC. However, the QX6850 has run surprisingly cool. Still, for the QX9770, I want to aim at an overdesigned cooling environment. This means a killer case. On the other hand, I don't want to pay hundreds of bucks for those great enclosures, by Thermaltake and others, that I read about every month in Maximum PC.

So I settled on a perfect solution: I went to the junk pile. There, I found a way-better enclosure than I could have ever afforded to buy new, given my tight build budget. It's the case from an HP Pavilion 9995, which was billed when it came out in 2001 as the first retail PC with a built-in DVD+RW drive. It had a 2.0-GHz Pentium 4 processor, and sold for $2,000. So the Pavilion was a pretty high-end PC for its time.

More important, the Pavilion case was way overbuilt for its time. It's got lots of room, which I will undoubtedly eat up when I put in my 975 motherboard, 700-W power supply Thermal Pro cooler, and high-end graphics card.

The first thing I noticed about the case was that it was built like a brick, er, house. It's incredibly heavy, which means it'll support whatever I can throw at, or cram into, it. It also was very dusty, and I had a sneezing fit cleaning it out (check out the pictures below). The only negative I can see is that I'll have to put some cut-outs for fans into the (very rigid) aluminum slide-on case side. (I hope I get away with some minor, non-Monty Python, wounds.) Many modern cases have a fan in the middle of the side, to suck air in. That was rare in the old days.



Here's the case from an old HP Pavilion 9995, which I salvaged for my quad-core build project. (Click to see two more shots showing the ugly dust the case built up over the past 7 years.)

I'll continue my PC build chronicle in an upcoming post.

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