Project Polaris: <10L gaming case

tardis042

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Sep 27, 2016
10
11
Update: I've increased the height of the case by 15mm to incorporate a slim 120mm fan towards the back. I'm not sure this is actually necessary, but beyond making sure the central chamber doesn't turn into a hot box, it also gives me a little more clearance above the PCI slot for extra-deep cards (like the FTW 1070 I'm currently running) and lets me double up my overhead drive mount in the front of I want to, so I figure why not? My plan is to have this configured in Speedfan or mobo settings to remain off unless motherboard or SSD/HDD temps go above 40 or so.



Previous update: new version of the design is finished! This is intended to be produced entirely with 3D printing and laser-cut acrylic.


The four corner pillars are 3D-printed pieces. The left one is my favorite piece of the design, with this angled shape and a continuation of the window from the left side panel. Power button's at the top, I/O and an SD card reader at the bottom.



The left and right panels are meant to be cut out of translucent black or smoked transparent acrylic. Bottom and back will be opaque. Still not entirely sure about whether the top and front will look better transparent or not.



One thing I dislike about some of the SFF cases I've seen is the way they handle the PCI slots, pushing the top out creating an ugly protrusion. Instead, I've created a sort of bracket surrounding the back of the card that pushes it in from the back wall, integrated with the back-left pillar.



The central section supports three 2.5" drives and a slim slot-loading optical. I'd like to figure out a way to mount another 2.5" drive on the top, but haven't figured out how to do this without putting screws through the top panel, which would look pretty ugly. Currently I'm thinking of 3D printing a bracket that would attach to the top of the two center walls.



You may have noticed the PSU is sitting on the bottom of the case with the outputs at the top. This is actually the element of this design I'm proudest of. The case has 2cm feet for airflow and the switch and power socket for the PSU are on the bottom. This has two benefits: it allows direct access to the PSU switch, and no space has to be reserved for an extension cord. Although PSU extensions themselves are quite small, they actually take up a significant amount of space because a large area behind the PSU has to be left empty for them. I was able to make the case almost 2cm smaller just by moving the PSU to the bottom so that the cable runs under the chassis. Now, I know airflow isn't entirely solved by giving the case large feet, because cold air is being pulled in the side and hot air pushed out the bottom, going against convective flow, but if this turns out to have any effect on temps it's not too difficult to open up the PSU and reverse the fan.

Internal dimensions are 308mm D x 150mm W x 189mm H, minus the 25x25mm corner at the front left, for an interior volume of 8.61 liters. External dimensions are 318x160x218, including the feet.

Obviously, ventilation will be added to all the side panels, but I probably won't bother to do this until I'm creating the laser cutting designs in Illustrator, as it will take a lot of time to create the pattern I want and it makes more sense to only do it once.

My next stage is, when I have the money (probably toward the end of October), to order the PCIe riser, SD card reader and other I/O components, and slim ODD mount bracket, in order to get exact dimensions so I can add things like hex nut sockets to the design, and fix the positions of a few cutouts more accurately.

Thoughts on the design or on manufacturing are welcome!

Check out the earlier stages here:
I'm planning on moving soon, likely overseas, and that's given me cause to reconsider the long-term future of my PC. I can't carry my current 80-liter full tower enclosure with me, but I'm not ready to go back to dropping $1500 on a non-upgradeable gaming laptop every two or three years; thus my new fascination with small form factor cases. I've been considering the Dancase A4, the Ncase M1, and the Dr Zaber Sentry, but none of them were 100% what I wanted. The Dan and the Sentry are extreme in the space-saving department, but sacrifice on features I want. The Ncase, on the other hand, seemed in comparison overly large. I figured if it had room for people to set up custom water cooling inside it (serious props to you guys btw), it was bigger than it absolutely needed to be to provide what it does in terms of features and hardware support.

I decided to try and build something that would be half Dan/Sentry and half Ncase: a case with as close to zero empty air space as possible with no compromises on support for storage drives and even an option for a slimline optical - a necessity for me, as I'm a photographer and use writeable blu-rays to back up the tens of thousands of photos I take in a given year. The resulting idea was a three-chamber design, inspired by the two-chamber design of the Dan but with a slim center space supporting an optical drive and multiple 2.5" storage drives. Since these components generate little heat (the reason I decided not to incorporate support for 3.5" drives), they can be housed in a space with relatively poor ventilation and provide a kind of dead air space between the hotter-running components on either side. I've decided to call this case Project Polaris, after what is probably the best-known trinary star system.

Enough backstory, though...you came here to see progress.





The original idea was an all-aluminum case, made of 10 pieces that could each be cut and bent out of a single piece of metal. Vents would have been added to the top, sides, and bottom. The central section supports three 2.5" drives up to 15mm thick - one attached to the left panel at the top and two attached to the right panel at the bottom. The PCIe riser snakes up between them. Another 2.5" drive can be attached to the case bottom near the front. The front half of the center section holds the slim optical bay, for which I forgot to add a slot to the top panel in this render. You can also see the bracket for front I/O and an SD card slot (another concession to my photography-related needs) at the top-left-front corner.

I sent this design to a design and fabrication company whose name I won't mention, and they came back with an estimate of over $10,000 to build this thing. I have no idea how that's possible, but it doesn't really matter; it became clear at that point that I would need to find a way to simplify the design and build it myself. I'm currently in the process of reworking this into a design I can build out of laser-cut acrylic panels.



Here's the acrylic design so far. I'll post updated pictures once I've finished putting in all the details, but it's pretty much the same layout as the previous version, with two changes: the slot-loading optical faces forward now, allowing me to mount a 2.5" drive on the top of the case instead of the bottom; and the PSU now sits on the bottom instead of hanging from the top, allowing access to the cord and power switch from under the case (don't worry, there will be large feet for ventilation).

My first step in building this will be to obtain PCIe, motherboard, and slimline optical brackets, either by buying them online or by 3D printing them, and to buy the SD card reader and top IO module I'll be using. Once I have exact measurements of the mounting hardware for all those pieces, I'll be able to position mounting holes correctly on the acrylic pieces, and I'll go forward with getting those cut.

I'll post more pictures and updates as version 2 of the design comes together.
 
Last edited:

Aibohphobia

aka James
Gold Supporter
Feb 22, 2015
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I sent this design to a design and fabrication company whose name I won't mention, and they came back with an estimate of over $10,000 to build this thing.

With two different companies I've gotten quotes that were stupidly high due to errors inputting data into the quoting software, on one a decimal point was off and on the other the wrong manufacturing process was selected for some of the parts.

Some shops will quote stupid high because they don't want to just outright decline the project though.
 

tardis042

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Sep 27, 2016
10
11
With two different companies I've gotten quotes that were stupidly high due to errors inputting data into the quoting software, on one a decimal point was off and on the other the wrong manufacturing process was selected for some of the parts.

Some shops will quote stupid high because they don't want to just outright decline the project though.

They actually emailed me back when I didn't respond within about 22 hours basically rushing me to get back to them, as if I was going to take a price like that seriously. My response was the most tactful version of "how out of touch with reality are you" I could think of....

Anyway, work is coming along on the next version, which will be mostly acrylic panels and 3D printed side columns.

I've seen a few other builds on here where people have used 3D printed parts for the frame. Anyone have any recommendations on materials? Is the basic ABS or polyamide the way to go?
 

Aibohphobia

aka James
Gold Supporter
Feb 22, 2015
4,956
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They actually emailed me back when I didn't respond within about 22 hours basically rushing me to get back to them

Yup, that seems to be common. Don't be surprised if you get follow up emails every month or two from now on :p
 

Aibohphobia

aka James
Gold Supporter
Feb 22, 2015
4,956
4,725
You may look over the build log for Node for insight into a 3D printed case of this format: http://www.overclock.net/t/1537934/scratch-build-node-3d-printed-case

One thing I dislike about some of the SFF cases I've seen is the way they handle the PCI bracket, pushing the top of it out creating an ugly protrusion.

Yup, it's ugly but it's much easier to design the frame that way when working with sheet metal.

You may have noticed the PSU is sitting on the bottom of the case with the outputs at the top. This is actually the element of this design I'm proudest of. The case has 2cm feet for airflow and the switch and power socket for the PSU are on the bottom.

You'll want to buy a angled power cord and measure it before finalizing the feet height. Most off the shelf angled power cord connectors are pretty tall.
 
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tardis042

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Sep 27, 2016
10
11
You'll want to buy a angled power cord and measure it before finalizing the feet height. Most off the shelf angled power cord connectors are pretty tall.

Ooh, thanks, that's a good point - another thing to add to the "buy and measure before finalizing design" list. I found one on Amazon that looks like the length behind the plug is about the same length as the plug itself, which is around 18mm, and one of the reviews says it fits comfortably in "about half an inch", so 25mm (the depth of the feet plus the thickness of the bottom acrylic panel) should be good enough, but better safe than sorry.

Also, yeah, that makes sense about sheet metal on the PCI slots. In my initial design I was going to have to have an entirely separate piece of metal for that bracket, since folding the same shape into the main frame wouldn't have been possible.
 

iFreilicht

FlexATX Authority
Feb 28, 2015
3,243
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freilite.com
The new design looks pretty cool, but those are some very large printed pieces, they are probably going to cost a significant amount of money to make.
 

blubblob

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Jul 26, 2016
101
123
The printed parts are indeed quite massive.
I'm not sure if you have any experience regarding 3d printing, but the surface quality of 3d prints is still pretty awful. At least if you want it done in a comparably cheap (I would estimate ~250€ for the printing alone if the parts stay as solid as they look) FDM process. The surface will improve if you upgrade to something like an ObjetEden or go with an SLS/SLM process, but the costs will balloon out of control quickly.
To get a starting point you can upload the 3d model of one of the parts to something like shapeways.com to get a quote on the estimated price.

With parts that big you'll either have to do some sort of manual surface conditioning like sanding and varnishing or live with a surface that really only looks good in pictures with crushed contrasts (to hide the surface structure).
 

K888D

SFF Guru
Lazer3D
Feb 23, 2016
1,461
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Nice design!

those are some very large printed pieces, they are probably going to cost a significant amount of money to make.

The printed parts are indeed quite massive.

I agree with the general consensus that the corner pieces will be expensive due to their size, I would estimate in the region of £25 - £35 per corner piece when using a company such as Shapeways.

You shouldn't however be worried about strength, the SLS process that Shapeways use results in parts that are pretty much on par with injection moulded plastic parts in all planes.

Accuracy wise, I think you can get away with tolerances as low as +/-0.3mm over the length of your parts (around 200mm?) for hole to hole distances, plus I would add a further clearance of 0.1mm - 0.2mm between mating parts/surfaces/edges. I have found the SLS process to be very accurate, especially if you follow the guidelines for obtaining quality parts to avoid distortion.

but the surface quality of 3d prints is still pretty awful.

The surface will improve if you upgrade to something like an ObjetEden or go with an SLS/SLM process,

Surface finish wise, I agree that some 3D printed methods can result in bad surface finishes such as FDM.

But, some of the latest machines can print really fine detail with almost polished surface finish, an example of which being the Objet machines that you pointed out, however most of their 'plastic' simulant materials are quite brittle.

SLS is the best all round process that I am currently aware of, the parts are strong, accurate and can be finished up to a near smooth finish for a small cost. Even in their unfinished state they look good with a fine matte surface texture, this can actually work in favor of your aesthetics.
 
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tardis042

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Sep 27, 2016
10
11
Shapeways wants $130 to print all four pillars in PLA, or $170 for their "strong & flexible" material which I believe is done by SLS. That isn't too bad, but I should be able to do even better. My university library has a couple of 3D printers available to students for the cost of materials, which is somewhere around 25 cents a gram I believe. It's just a matter of being able to book a big enough block of time for a project like this. Of course, that's a pretty basic FDM printer. I've also been considering joining a local makerspace that has SLS printers and laser cutting machines I could use for the acrylic - obviously pricier than using my university's printers, but it would also be more convenient, and I wouldn't have to worry about factoring in a separate cost for the acrylic pieces.

I have some experience of working with FDM printers, but never for anything that had to hold any weight. Is going with SLS my best bet for strength and longevity, or is the difference in a case like this mostly going to be quality of the finish? I'm generally working on the assumption that I'll have to sand down the 3D printed pieces, and I think I might end up painting them as well, so that's less important than the fact that they actually work.
 

Kmpkt

Innovation through Miniaturization
KMPKT
Feb 1, 2016
3,380
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Sometimes you can do better price wise with Shapeways if you nest your parts properly. As an example if you have all four of them print as one piece with perforated edges you can simply break apart easily when they arrive you may save. I'd consider amalgamating them into one part and resubmitting.
 
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