- Mar 23, 2021
3LVIS: (3) (L)itre (V)ery small case with (I)nternal psu and (S)creen
Part 1: The journey begins
IntroductionThis build was inspired by (or blatantly copied from, depending on how you look at it) the build log by BaK titled "B01T3 ...a 3L Brickless APU Build..." - genius title btw, love the play on B01, 3 litres and French word for "case". I had already ordered a version of the same case from AliExpress when I came across his post and I loved the idea of including the PSU in the case. As I am a total beginner when it comes to soldering, case modding etc, I am a little bit scared of the whole process, but every journey starts with the first step. I am learning along the way, so please bear with my ignorance and clumsiness, this will in no way be a polished build. This first post will detail the plan for the build, the parts I chose and the reasons why I chose them. Any feedback is always welcome!
The title is also work-in-progress, trying to come up with something as smart and elegant as BaK, failed miserably until now
The planThe first build I did with this case (known as Open-Smart B01, Goodisory B01, Ixkbiced B01 or just B01, depending on the sellers mood) featured the red version with the glass top and as suspected by others, it turned out that having no ventilation holes in the top is indeed inferior to having venitlation holes in the top when it comes to airflow and cooling. The situation can be improved when using motherboard standoffs to lift the glass up by a few milimeters, but if you keep it flush on the case, you can boil an egg on it while gaming. Which isn't bad in itself, as you could claim it's even more versatile than CoolerMasters KFConsole. But that's not the intended use here, so the beautiful showcase has to be left behind.
For that reason I chose the black version with the metal top for this project, hoping that some airflow will be better than none. If it's still not good enough, some 50mm fans added to the side of the case might help. Also I am not too sure if the PSU will be powerful enough for daily operation. The maximum power draw I had measured was 134W during a stresstest, which would definitely be too much. The solution for this could either be switching the APU to a 3400GE (or newer Ryzen 4000 or 5000 series once they become available) or just not stressing the system too much. During normal use (web browsing, watching YouTube vids in 4K) the typical power draw was 80W, which would leave enough safety margin for continous operation with the 120W PSU.
Two modifications are on my list:
- adding an internal AC/DC PSU
Trying to stuff the PSU inside the poor case will also necessitate some changes to the power button, LEDs and USB ports to make enough room for the PSU. As much as I understand why BaK and others were advocating the use of the Meanwell PSU, I decided to try out another option which involves less modifications to the case. It's a AC/DC PSU which was built for powering LED in-furniture installations. It features an all-plastic body, so I am hoping it will not get too warm. Input is standard 220-240V, output exclusively 12V at a maximum of 11A, which gives it a rating of 132W. So that would be the maximum the system could consume, if the 200W PDCB wouldn't provide an output of only 10A at 12V which results in a maximum possible consumption of 120W. I guess I will see how it all works out, hoping I won't fry any components in the process...
- adding an LCD Touch screen
I had the idea of adding a LCD touchscreen when I saw my first case with the glass top. It's about 6mm thick so I thought it might be replaced with a screen to add a nice touch (pun intended). Scouring the Amazons and AliExpress's of the web for hours brought up many different screens, most of them basically knock-offs of Waveshare monitors. In the end I decided to not go with the original because I found one model that is special. All the other monitors have the same connectors (1 HDMI, 1 USB for touch+power and 1 USB for power), all of them on the side of the screen. So when you insert a plug into them, you will need some more space on the side even if using 180° bent adapters. I wanted to avoid that and the screen I found does feature "internal" connectors for all three of them. It comes with cables to connect them to a RaspberryPi, but they can also be used in my project. One is a flat ribbon cable with a fullsize HDMI connector (which I will have to somehow feed to the outside of the case and plug it into the back) on the other end, one is for the touch function and ends in a standard USB-A plug (which I plan on connecting via an adapter to the onboard USB 2.0 header) and the third one has connectors for the RaspberryPi GPIO headers to provide 5V. It features one GND wire and two 5V wires - which puzzles me, because the standard connection to a USB socket would only provide 5V and not 2x 5V. I tested the screen with the ecnlosed power adapter and it never drew more than 4.8W, so I guess using one of the 5V wires from the USB header will be enough. This cable will have to be adapted to also connect to the USB header with the help of a little soldering.
I will try to add the screen to the metal top, preserving about half of the existing ventilation holes, if the height of the cooler and screen (and my non-existent skills) permit it. But the details of how it will magically merge with the top, if it will be a fixed horizontal top or maybe even feature a hinge of some kind so it can be lifted up for better readability and ergonomics, are still not decided upon. Any and all suggestions are highly welcome!
Case: Ixkbiced B01Also know lovingly just as B01, available from either Amazon or several sellers on AliExpress
Featured extensively in BaKs build log, so I will only touch on its features ligthly. The external size is 200x200x85mm (7.8/7.8/3.3in), which includes the rubber feet. The case itself has exactly 3 litres volume. I think the build quality of this case is excellent and the possibility to disassemble most of it makes it easy to use for such a project. If using a standard Mini-ITX board and a rather slim PDCB, you will end up with up to an inch (25mm) of available space in the front of the case (where you could usually add a 2.5" SSD/HDD) and half that on the sides. This should be enough for the PSU, cables and any adapters I might need (more on that below). I have been thinking about using a Thin Mini-ITX board to make more room in the case, but for the time being I decided to stick to Mini-ITX.
Yes, quite reasonable, but the marked parts will need to go to make place for the PSU.
Screen: UPERFECT 7 inch HDMI LCD Monitor 1024*600 IPS Capacitive Touch ScreenThis is the touchscreen found on AliExpress. It's a few bucks more expensive than most models with this screen size and resolution, but it comes with really complete accessories (cables for HDMI and Micro-HDMI, USB to MicroUSB, internal cables as seen below, a stand with screws plus a screwdriver and an external power adapter) and also features some not-very-despicable speakers.
AC/DC adapter: FTPC150V12-CBuilt in Poland, currently available only from a few sellers in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Italy and - quite conveniently for me - Austria. 220-240V AC input, 12V DC output at 11A. Cables can be screwed onto the connectors, no soldering of connectors necessary. If it's fit for the job, remains to be seen.
PDCB: MINI-ITX PSU 200W NAS200W Plug-In DC Board by Inter-Tech, with 12V input (which the LED PSU conveniently outputs). Only one cable (apart from the input) is fixed to the board, the 12V ATX plug. Two others (containing 2 SATA and 1 Molex plug each) are detachable, which allows for cleaner cabling and more space (which equals better airflow). The board is capable of delivering 120W on the 12V rail, which is the only voltage I really care about, since I won't connect any harddrives (other than the M.2) or other peripherals. If the M.2 will ever be too small (I know it will), then the solution is a PCIe to M.2 adapter to add up to three more M.2 NMVe SSDs (or rather 2 NVMe PCI SSDs and one NVMe SATA SSD).
Mainboard: MSI B450I AC GamingFairly standard, ATX connector and USB 2.0 and 3.0 headers conveniently located to enable adding all the necessary cables and adapters.
APU: Ryzen 5 3400GMight be replaced with a Ryzen 5 3400GE later if necessary for power consumption reasons. The 3400G has a TDP of 65W, whereas the 3400GE is rated for just 35W. I know the TDP doesn't translate directly to energy consumption, but the 3400GE should still be much less powerhungry than the standard version.
CPU cooling solution: Noctua NH-L9a-AM4I chose this cooler (in the chromax.black edition, of course) because it seemed to provide the best cooling/noise performance given the relatively low height. On first test in an open case, it ran absolutely silent with the included low noise adapter. Results with closed case and added PSU and screen need to be checked later in the process.
RAM: Corsair Vengeance RAM 2 x 8 GB 3200 MHZFairly standard "low" profile DIMMs running at the optimal 3200 MHz for a Ryzen CPU.
SSD: Kingston A2000 NVMe SSDJust 500GB in size, enough for an operating system, a few applications, select games (heavy gaming would overload the PSU anyways) and a few movies if you want to take the box with you, which I definitely plan to do.
AC plug: C14Portability and abundant availability of cables led to my decision on using a standard C14 plug. As the necessary opening in the case needs to be 20mm wide, it will snuggely fit next to the I/O shield in the back of the case. Hopefully it will also be short enough to enable the use of the aforementioned PCIe-to-M.2 adapter if neccessary.
LEDs / Power ButtonThe default LEDs and power button need to be replaced to make room for the PSU, just as BaK did.
I managed to find some 1.8mm LEDs locally, even though their price per piece is about the same as the price for 30 pieces on AliExpress. But shipping costs and time and also environmental considerations meant that locally bought parts are preferable to me. These LEDs are tiny (in fact so tiny that I nearly lost one of them twice when I dropped it), rated for 6V input which means they should work with the 5V provided by the mainboard header. I tested them with a 4.5V battery after soldering them onto some cables from an old (or rather ancient) case, they seem to work fine. I went for red for both LEDs, as I found that it fits well with the black/red theme of the mainboard.
A very slim button is needed to fit into the opening in the case, luckily I found the exact same button set on Amazon which BaK used for his build (note the blatant copying here?).
Part 1: First StepsAt first, the easy steps: disassembling the case, checking all the components for any possible issues.
Assembling the mainboard and components is the easiest task, specially when using a Thermal Grizzly Carbonaut pad instead of thermal paste. Everything fits well, clearance between cooler, RAM and PDCB is great. Test fitting was also a breeze, all straightforward.
What followed, were first steps in soldering. It's amazing how far an undecipherable set of instructions which came with a Chinese soldering iron and a few YouTube tutorials can get you. I managed to solder the two LEDs onto some wire and still leave them in a working state. No burned fingers or desks, not looking too pretty, but as they say: "form follows function". It was just for a quick test, will tidy up and add shrink tubing later.
More to come soon, next up is getting acquainted with a Dremel 3000 to start chopping up the case, as this holder for a 2.5" SSD/HDD has to be removed:
If all goes well (and I still have enough fingers left to type on a keyboard), this log will continue probably around next weekend...
To be continued...