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Re: Computer Case

Postby louis leblanc » April 30th, 2016, 3:12 pm

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I finally got around to completing a a mood board and an initial idea board.

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For the inspirational aspects, I found that portable speakers share a lot of things with the type of case I want to create. They try to cram as much as possible in a small shape (though it's hard to get around volume requirements for speakers). They need to be easy to carry, have a solid construction to last and feel good. I'm not quite sure what design movement the examples I've put up would fall into. They are very clean objects yet have a bit of a playfulness to them. They fit both in a home or an office. They're not ostentatious yet are more than boring flat boxes. The Bang and Olufsen Beolit 15 (cooler looking box with a leather strap) stands out to me.

The other products I've added are more about the interaction and details of the case. It's not a priority for now but I'd like the interface to have a good tactile feel. I'm also thinking of using colour as a means to add some playfulness to the product. Maybe colour coding visual cues on the outside with the inside.
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I've also been looking into materials. I want to get away from bent steel. It's hard to produce something that will feel solid and stand out. As the case will be quite small, I think it opens up the possibility to have a large part of the chassis be injection molded plastic. For paneling, if some is required, I'd like to go with anodized or powder coated aluminium. As the panels are typically thicker to start with, the individual components are much stiffer which should remove a lot of the play and rattle that's found in steel paneling.

I haven't had a change to put it in the mood board but I just recently thought of using fabric as a carrying loop. It would be pretty cool if it was a retractable loop. Remember vacuums with retractable cords, those were the coolest thing! The idea came from nylon tow straps on race cars or remove before flight tags on airplanes. I guess it would resemble the tags on Roku devices (which I guess took the hint from Levi's) but it would be functional. I really like the opposition of flexible fabric on a hard shell.

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Alright, enough talking, now let's get to the sketching. I narrowed down my initial ideas down to this one board. So I looked into how the components would be layed out for the best use of space and best potential for cooling. Then, I looked at how the end-user would get to build their machine. Finally I made these possible uses of those configurations as a first draft that follow the aesthetics and materials I've mentioned previously.

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  • Left Most this case would be quite flat. The components would screw into a large plastic main component. Then an aluminium panel would slide over top to close everything off. To get the flat layout, a PCI expansion cable would be required (possibly expensive) to get the GPU flat next to the motherboard. This also means the I/O would be on the side of the case which would be very visible. Cooling is a bit of an unknown. Air would be drawn through the aluminium panel and through both the CPU and GPU coolers. I'm wondering if an accessory fan would be required to properly evacuate the warm air so it doesn't recirculate in the heatsinks. On the plus side, it would be a simple case to fabricate, barring the large plastic component. It would be easy for the end user to build into as everything is flat.

  • Top Center This one looks a bit like a a milk carton. My sketch is a bit out of proportion, hopefully it could be made a bit smaller. The components would be arranged as in a standard tower case or possibly in a flat arrangement as above. I'm not sure how usable those top handles would be. This concept could be modified by removing the handles from the panels and have a panel with a nylon strap attached to it and the other one just acting as a grill. The components would get attached to a central plastic loop which would make it quite easy to assemble as you could access to sides.

  • Center and bottom Very similar ideas. A cube that's broken into halves. One bottom plastic part which holds the components and a panel that slides over top that has a handle. While certainly functional, this is more inline with existing products and may not stand out as much

  • Right Most This one is very inspired by the G4 cube. the body is built onto a central frame and the paneling slides over it. The air flow would go from bottom to top

So I'm thinking my next step is to wrap up a roster of potential configurations and start investigating them more seriously. I really want to figure out the pros and cons by looking at the compatibility with components, ease of assembly and thermal implications.
The idea of a fabric loop would change a lot of these initial concepts and makes a lot of sense the more I think of it. A lot of volume is used up by handles in these sketches which wouldn't be required with a fabric loop.

As always, comments and feedback is welcome! As much about the project on my sketching. I haven't been sketching for long and haven't had formal training. For one, I know I really need to loosen up. Something this early in a project shouldn't be taking even half as long as this did :lol:
Last edited by louis leblanc on May 31st, 2017, 8:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Computer Case

Postby louis leblanc » May 17th, 2016, 9:13 pm

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Alright, so I've been trying to settle on a layout for the components for a while now. The faster I figure this out, the faster I can move forward. I'm feeling a bit of paralysis by indecision...

The biggest factors are build ease, component compatibility, expansion possibility and size.

For the size, I've been coming to the realization that overall volume doesn't tell all the story. The footprint has a big impact on the desk space it needs. Also, if one of the dimensions is very large, it becomes very hard to transport and feels "big". So in terms of feel, the best seems to be somewhere between a cube a tall tower.

While at first I was thinking that limiting component selection to create the smallest case was the way to go. The more that becomes a pre-built system and the more that system is perceived as hard to build in. Looking at online forums, even in small form factor builds, too many limitations give certain cases an unfriendly reputations. These cases don't allow you to bring over existing hardware, may have some incompatibility and may not allow you to use future components.

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To test out different configurations. I made rough foam core models of the core components of the PC. After seeing the overall envelope that would be required for different configurations, I've settled on a side-by-side configuration that seems to be very well regarded on the Ncase M1.

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This configuration allows for a good balance of the aforementionned criteria. It may not be the smallest but it should be quite easy to build in and work well with a wide variety of components.

SFX and SFX-L power supplies should be compatible. ATX may be possible with an extra short card. Full length graphics cards should also be compatible. Lastly, CPU cooler choices are quite decent as there is quite a bit of space from the motherboard out. Both 120 and 240mm radiator coolers should be compatible.

The cool thing about a setup like this is that using smaller components allows for other components to be put in. Say you use a short GPU, then you can put an additional SSD. If you sacrifice the 3.5" drive bay, you can put in a double radiator.

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As for the architecture of the case, I still really like the idea of a mix of aluminium and large plastic parts. I think this could make for a distinctive look as well as a rigid product.

One way to use the mix of material would be a sturdy plastic base, internal plastic columns that would act as T-slots where the PC components could be attached. An aluminium sleeve could provide covering and structure to the internal and have a sturdy plastic part on top to close everything up.

Image

Next step, more directed ideation now that I've settled on component layout.
Last edited by louis leblanc on May 31st, 2017, 8:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Computer Case

Postby louis leblanc » June 19th, 2016, 3:06 pm

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I was really hoping to have a clear idea of where I was heading by this time but it seems like I'm in the one step forwards, two step back phase.

So for the past month, I've been trying to refine a form and just this week I came to realize a critical flaw in the way I was approaching the use of the case.

I really want something that gets away from the feeling a panel tower PC case to a refined consumer product. The tower case usually is usually tall and deep and is set with the smallest face pointing towards the user. The cables will then be coming out of the furthest end and will be out of sight. The "face" of the device that gets the most attention is the narrowest one. While trying to get away from that aesthetic, I've been looking at the case from it's side, as it has a more interesting ratio and also makes it break away from its expected form. I also neglected to think of the cable routing. Most of my design both have the prominent face be the widest one and would have cables sticking out their side. :lol:

A cover for the IO panel would be possible to solve that issue and would tidy up the ugliest part of the device on top of protecting it during transport. I'll need to look if there's an elegant way to do, I'm mostly worried about the volume required to to so as most cables come straight out rather than at 90 deg. It needs to be a fun interaction with the device rather than a chore every time you want to plug something in - which should happen a lot on a case meant to be moved around.

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Out of what I have so far, I think the top right is one of the few designs I have that would be workable. So I guess it's back to the drawing board for now...

I want to look into replacing meshed metal pieces with really nice perforated fabric and snap buttons. Anyone know of a supplier for machined aluminium snap buttons? :roll:

In other news, it looks like a few manufacturers have announced some cases that go in a similar direction.

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Cryorig Taku. Meant to be a monitor stand.

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Streacom DB4 passively cooled PC. Cables come out the bottom.

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As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Last edited by louis leblanc on May 31st, 2017, 8:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Computer Case

Postby louis leblanc » August 14th, 2016, 8:08 am

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Alright, I'm back :lol:

It's been a while and I'll admit I'm getting a bit fed up with the project dragging on. On the flip side, I did learn a lot of things. Taking my time on this project has allowed me to really explore solutions and directions very far away from my initial thoughts. I tend to clench onto my first ideas so it's really nice to have a project where I'm letting things simmer and digging deeper to actually finding better solutions.

I also realized I wasn't using my time properly. I know that my sketching skills are lacking so I was putting way too much effort in the sketch quality rather than moving the whole project forward. I'm now at peace with showing lack luster sketches online and keeping the sketching practice separate.
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So back on the case. The issue I was mentioning last time was with the location of the IO port and keeping the cables tidy. My initial solution at the time was just to adapt the direction I was already taking. However, after putting things back into perspective, I've came up with a new and quite different direction that still follows my initial brief.

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The concept revolves around a bent tubing frame with a plastic shell that slides on top. I flipped the computer entirely. The cables and IO would now be at the bottom of the case. Automatically hiding the clutter. The bent frame can act as a pivot when tilting the computer to access the IO. It can also be used as a handle when moving the computer around.

The large plastic shell has a bit of an Eames chair feel to it which I like as it makes it feel like a more home product than strictly cold electronics.

I also threw together a quick draft 3D model together to get a feel for proportions. There's obviously still a lot to work required there.

Image

This is where I stand. I'm not sure what to do at this point. I have two very different directions that seem to have merit but I need to pick one. :? I'm leaning towards this latest concept at the moment because it has a distinguishing look and feel and would have the potential to be very cost effective.

You guys have also been quiet for the last little while :wink: . I'd really like to hear you out at this point more than any other on your thoughts about the directions I'm looking at and the project in general.
Last edited by louis leblanc on May 31st, 2017, 8:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Computer Case

Postby KenoLeon » August 14th, 2016, 3:54 pm

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I like this latest form,if anything it seems on the tame side of things. I have some doubts about cooling and fitting an ATX motherboard in there though, at first I thought the holes up top were for ventilation, but it's a speaker grill ?

Anyways, cool project, I used to build pcs and sell parts at one point in my life and cases are/were a pain point, one of the things I remember noticing, was that one route to evolve the form factor would be to modularize the motherboard, as it seems to be right now you basically have a cube to design around thanks to motherboard restrictions.

Another thing I remember suffering with was the component placement,specifically things can get so tight in a build, that a loose cable or zip tie can interfere with a fan and wreck havoc ( the pc will restart seemingly randomly), so I thought why didn't they design proper cabling spaces, dust management, the opening an closing and on an on seem to be afterthoughts in most cases.

I have an Alienware which is purposely built for customizing and I hate every inch of it.

I recently got a pi-TopCeed, a Raspberry powered desktop computer you sort of build yourself ( It takes about a minute) and costs about $140, I love the design, although it doesn't work ( the board is attached to a rail with magnets, so every time you plug a usb thing you disassemble your desktop!).

So yeah, this space needs more thoughtful designs.
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Re: Computer Case

Postby louis leblanc » August 21st, 2016, 3:31 pm

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KenoLeon wrote:I like this latest form,if anything it seems on the tame side of things. I have some doubts about cooling and fitting an ATX motherboard in there though, at first I thought the holes up top were for ventilation, but it's a speaker grill ?

Anyways, cool project, I used to build pcs and sell parts at one point in my life and cases are/were a pain point, one of the things I remember noticing, was that one route to evolve the form factor would be to modularize the motherboard, as it seems to be right now you basically have a cube to design around thanks to motherboard restrictions.

Another thing I remember suffering with was the component placement,specifically things can get so tight in a build, that a loose cable or zip tie can interfere with a fan and wreck havoc ( the pc will restart seemingly randomly), so I thought why didn't they design proper cabling spaces, dust management, the opening an closing and on an on seem to be afterthoughts in most cases.

I have an Alienware which is purposely built for customizing and I hate every inch of it.

I recently got a pi-TopCeed, a Raspberry powered desktop computer you sort of build yourself ( It takes about a minute) and costs about $140, I love the design, although it doesn't work ( the board is attached to a rail with magnets, so every time you plug a usb thing you disassemble your desktop!).

So yeah, this space needs more thoughtful designs.


I agree it does look a bit tame. I'm not sure if that's inherent to the shape or due to the fact that this is a first draft. I do plan on creating a surface that's a bit more sculptural. Some of the details like indication lights, buttons will add some depth as well. The black on black on black theme might be a bit too slick...

This case is designed around an ITX motherboard. The dimensions and overall layout of the components is actually quite similar to the Silverstone SG13 case. Just that it's flipped with the IO at the bottom.

As it's quite similar to that case, I don't think thermals will be an issue. I do plan on modeling the air flow and thermal behavior of the case as I move along. The top plate is for ventilation and will feature a 120 or 140mm fan right behind it. The issue with small cases getting hot is not inherent to size but is rather that a lot of them have a hard time cycling all the air in the case and end up with hot spots. This case will act as a bit of a duct and chimney. All of the air that gets cycled in the case will need to start from the outside, run passed the components and be exhausted up top.

Cable routing will no doubt be an issue in this small case as with most small cases. The cables for most components are designed for much larger computers so a lot of loose needs to be tied together - short of getting custom cable runs. Though now that you mention it, I'm curious to see if I could use the pipes as a clean way to route some of the cables. Hopefully, working on this machine and closing it will be a refreshingly easy. While building you'll only have a very simple and adjustable frame and then you just slide the cover over top. I'm looking at ways to latch the plastic shell to the pipes right now. A sturdy but tool-less design would be really neat.

Re: Computer Case

Postby sketchstone » August 31st, 2016, 11:35 pm

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From IFA 2016:

Modular PC from HP
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8W-eEkNt3BI

Computer case that looks like a speaker by HP
http://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/ ... -a-speaker

Re: Computer Case

Postby Cameron » September 1st, 2016, 1:58 pm

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Cool Project, I've wanted to do something similar for a while. Definitely the new consoles like the Xbox One S and recent 1st party peripherals prove that not all gamers want the over the top Optimus Prime look nor is that look necessary to succeed. You probably already know this, but Lian-Li has carved out a nice niche for themselves doing inoffensive minimal cases, but they still lack that extra level of industrial design polish and emotion.
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Re: Computer Case

Postby louis leblanc » September 5th, 2016, 2:12 pm

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sketchstone wrote:From IFA 2016:

Modular PC from HP
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8W-eEkNt3BI

Computer case that looks like a speaker by HP
http://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/ ... -a-speaker


Thanks for these. It seems like the industry is finally getting out of it's collective Apple hard-on and developing some unique design languages. I've been really liking the direction of HP's Spectre lineup.

The computer/speaker combo is really neat. I'd be curious to see how much influence Bang and Olufsen had on the design. It could make a great HTPC or NAS PC.

I'm not too sure about this Modular PC though. Price and size wise, it seems to get beat out by offerings like Intel's NUC line. I'm not sure how much interest there is for the type of modules they have announced, especially in the business space.

As far as molecularity is concerned, I think USB-C with Thunderbolt (essentially PCI-e) will be the game changer. We've already seen a few devices like the Surface Book and the Razer Blade Stealth have external GPU units. As computationally heavy tasks are being done more and more by GPUs, I think it will make a lot of sense for people to have a small and portable tablet like device as their core unit and connect to a hub at their desk. This hub could have a powerful GPU, large backup or mass storage hard drive, connection to high speed network, and all their peripherals.

Cameron wrote:Cool Project, I've wanted to do something similar for a while. Definitely the new consoles like the Xbox One S and recent 1st party peripherals prove that not all gamers want the over the top Optimus Prime look nor is that look necessary to succeed. You probably already know this, but Lian-Li has carved out a nice niche for themselves doing inoffensive minimal cases, but they still lack that extra level of industrial design polish and emotion.


It's really nice to see gaming hardware manufacturers accept that gaming has a wide user base. Conventional wisdom is that gaming is very much a boy thing even though studies have been showing that around 45% of console and PC gamers are actually women. However, much fewer women identify as "gamer". The average age of gamers is also 31 y/o. While I think a lot of people enjoy the over the top aesthetics as part of the experience, especially in competitive realms, there seems to be a disconnect between the users and the available hardware.

As far as the PC is concerned, it seems like gaming and workstation machines are becoming one and the same. To that end, it seems like a lot of the workstation users are basically stuck using gaming oriented hardware just based on availability.

I've noticed Lian-Li and other manufacturers seem to be exploring different avenues in terms of style to a varying degree of success. What seems to be at the core of the issue is that there seems to be only a few actual case manufacturers. All of those large players are heavily invested in sheet metal stamping and pressing operations. With that in mind, it seems like the manufacturing process is driving the design much more than actual design intent.

Re: Computer Case

Postby louis leblanc » September 13th, 2016, 9:16 pm

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I'm glad I've finally settled on a form but I couldn't resist doubting it...

One thing I was wondering is the practicality and use of those bottom pipe. There's a familiarity to them but the angle in them keeps them from being retractable. If part of the appeal of this case is portability, it seems a bit odd to have those big pipes sticking out the bottom.

Image

So I had a look at different ideas for ways to lift the bottom of the case yet be retractable. I ended up not too far from where I started :lol: just making the pipes straight would allow them to be retractable or removable. Having right angles would also allow the case to be laid on its side. Much more practical!

I made a quick mock-up render. I feel the case is lacking a bit of personality at this point... With that said, it seems the simpler a design is, the more crucial each choice becomes. There's still a lot of work to be done, especially on the top portion to make it right. But I'm unsure a purely geometric approach is the solution. I'll try both getting a solid geometric layout as well as breaking the extruded form into something a little bit more organic. I'll keep you posted!

Image

Image
Last edited by louis leblanc on May 31st, 2017, 8:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Computer Case

Postby yo » September 13th, 2016, 10:10 pm

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I think it is going in the right direction. Is the radius of the outer edge of the cabinet concentric with the radius of the bent tube? If not definitely do that. I think you should take the top view and do 15 different perf/button iterations. Also, think about making the tubes an unexpected color and then matching the buttons. Those are my initial thoughts.

Re: Computer Case

Postby yo » September 13th, 2016, 10:53 pm

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Here is an alternate construction for you. I sketched it up real quick, happy to send you the vector file if it helps.

So my iteration is to have the bent tubes go all the way up to the top plate. The top plate could be a thick piece of billet aluminum. add threaded inserts in the tubes and have exposed hex fasteners counter sunk in. to the top plate. Machine out the offset perf, celebrate the buttons a bit more, and give it a name which you could etch in to diet vinyl letter. Then moon the actual CPU case to the underside of the top plate, letting it suspend downward. The bottom could be open or pared metal for ventilation.

maxcomp.jpg


The top view got messed up when I scaled it, should be more like this.
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Re: Computer Case

Postby KenoLeon » September 13th, 2016, 11:24 pm

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Love it, I am a sucker for this kind of process threads.

Design by committee and all of that, these are my thoughts:

1.A friend had a mac cube, and all the coolness of the form factor disappeared as soon as you experienced the impracticality of plugin and removing cables from the bottom, have you considered cabling and ports ?

2. I keep on thinking that the bottom tubes could somehow be the frame and the cube shape could slide down thus revealing carrying handles, not sure if you have/want to explore that.

3. This morning one of my pc's started acting out, ( I really wanted to just trow it out the window ) and thought if at least I could use the case for something else at the end of it's life, seems you could repurpose yours in a number of makeshift ways ( planter,table), but it could also be cool to have some already planned.

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Re: Computer Case

Postby yo » September 13th, 2016, 11:41 pm

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I realized I messed up the side view... fixing it lead to another iteration. Solid aluminum top panel that is clear anodized. Generous radii in the top view concentric with bent powder coated legs. Maybe I'll render it tomorrow.
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Re: Computer Case

Postby louis leblanc » September 20th, 2016, 9:14 pm

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Working alone on a project makes me really question the choices I'm taking. So I really appreciate taking the time for the feedback.


Yo:

To answer your question, yes the radii are concentric between the pipes and the edge. That was actually one of the problems with the first all black concept I showed.

I'm unsure if I want to make the top plate part of the plastic outer shell or keep it separate as shown in the model. I want the outer shell to feel as a bit more of a sculpted part than simply an extrusion.

I'll really need to hone the top plate layout. I really want to make sure I explore it properly, as you mentioned, 15 or so iterations. It'll become almost a graphic design problem as it's mostly 2D and all about composition.

As for colours, my plan was to build a colour pallet with a mix of neutral and flamboyant colours and leave it to the customer to mix and match. I really like the mix of matte textured plastic and powder coat.

Thanks for putting together those drawings :) . Having the tubes on the outside could be taken even further by thinking of it as an exoskeleton with the guts in the middle. Part of my rationale for the tubes was to have them act as a frame for the internals. On the inside, flat panels would be bolted in between the tubes and act as a mounting surface for the internals. That would make the installation easy as there wouldn't be much in the way. It also keeps the part count and overall volume down.

I like having the top plate flush with the top of the computer. I had initially made the plastic part come over the top plate to act as a bit of protection for the buttons when traveling. Also, when moving my computer around say from my desk to my living room TV, I find I don't have a good place to put my peripherals like my mouse - maybe that lip could act as a little receptacle when moving things around. Having the buttons flush with the top plate would allow for the cleaner look and remove the lip. I'll give that a shot!

KenoLeon:

1. I've never seen a Mac G4 Cube in the flesh. Reaching for the cables on the back of most computers still isn't that easy. I could see the G4 Cube having the added problem that it's very easy to scratch so you may not want to lie it on its side. I'm planning on having some ports on top so you don't need to tilt the machine for the commonly used USB and headphone jacks.

2. I do plan on using the tubes as the frame for the device. I'm not sure I totally understand your idea or how you'd implement it. I guess you're thinking of a plastic shroud section at the bottom of the device that could slide in and out? I'm hoping the tubes look good enough for there not to be a need for a cover.

3. Hopefully it doesn't need to be thrown out - though the handles would really help getting it through a window ;) . My current design is somewhat modular. Making it possible to replace individual components or updating the internal layout for use with new component standards. Though it could make for a cool subwoofer though.
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Hopefully I can share some more developments soon. In the last little while, I've just been looking at the internal configuration of the computer to get a final envelope to use so I don't have much to share there. I've also been looking at references for proportions and graphic design grids for laying out the top panel. Any suggestions for some good reads on those topics?

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