Project Focus Summary:
MiniITX motherboards have changed the modding scene dramatically a motherboard this small means you can squeeze it into much smaller places. In this mod I took a Ford Focus Shell from a radio controlled car and fitted a full working PC inside. This project has featured in Custom PC magazine.
Project Focus: Full Project Log
The traditional beige personal computer has been going through a dramatic change over the last few years. Following on from Apple’s lead in great looking non beige boxes people have realised that a computer can look good and still do its job. The modding communities have taken the lead and have made the manufacturers sit up and take note. Idea’s that were not even conceivable 2 years ago can now be accomplished very easily. There are now motherboards that take up approximately the same space as a tradition CD ROM drive. This leads to lots more places/ways you can build a pc.
For Project focus I exploited the new MiniITX form factor and set about building a computer that from the outside would look like a model car. Using a body shell normally used in the world of radio controlled cars means that some of the luxuries of a normal pc case are not available,but what you sacrifice in size you more than make up in looks and individuality.
This is not the first time that a PC has been made to looklike a model car, there was originally a larger MicroATX car pc’s that were manufactured commercially for a short while. Then along came a modder under the name of BlueSmurf. BlueSmurf created a project for the manufacturer VIA based inside a Volkswagen Beetle radio controlled car shell.
This gave me the idea to create one of my very own.
I started this project more by accident then any long term plan. I having seen Project Jelly Bean by BlueSmurf which was so neat and clean and having a spare MiniITX board going spare so had to find a use for it, Project Focus was born.
The board itself was a Via Epia 5000; this mainboard is a mere 17cm x 17cm in size. Included is a 533 MHz processor actually soldered into the board so upgrading it is out of the question. Importantly the board has On-board audio, graphics and Ethernet LAN. This means it’s a complete solution; all you need is to add SDRAM, PSU and a hard disk to have a working computer. The whole ethos behind this form factor is small size, low power consumption and minimal cooling requirements. It’s not going to win any prizes in the raw speed stakes but it’s a good platform for modders.
The part that is most important in this project was the shell itself. There are many different sizes of radio control car shells, the most common of which is around 200mm in length; there are much larger versions that are 280mm in length. With the motherboard only measuring 17cm square the smaller version was most suitable. I just had to pick a shell I liked and that would allow me space to fit the components. I needed one that was fairly high at the rear; looking on www.apexmodels.co.uk there are several manufacturers that make these shells I chose HPI ones as they are good quality and come in lots of different shapes. I narrowed the choices down to two; the Peugeot 206 WRC and the Ford Focus WRC. I’ve always been a keen follower of the World Rally Championship and love the look of both of these cars. In the end I chose the Focus as it has the most space to play with. While I was buying the shell I picked a nice blue metallic paint for the shell. I could have gone with the full rally look but I preferred the more subtle colour it would also reduce the number of stickers I would have to use.
Once I had purchased the shell I was free to source all the other parts. Normal ATX parts were out as they are too large. The power supply I located was a cheap 200W MicroATX PSU. Next I looked for cheap laptop parts, I was after a hard disc and optical drive, and I managed to source a second hand 6 gigabyte laptop hard drive and a laptop DVD-ROM drive. These are about half the height of a normal drive so they are very small. Laptop parts are not connected in the same way as normal IDE devices they have a different pin layout this meant converters were required to hook them up.
At the time it was hard to source any in the UK, nowadays they are available from a multitude of stores including; www.kustompcs.co.uk.
The hard disc version requires a normal four pin Molex power connector and the optical drive one uses a floppy disk style power connector. They are plugged into the back of the drives in the same way the cables normally are then the cables are plugged into the converter.
Once I had all the parts I required I ordered some 2mm thick aluminum sheet from www.maplin.co.uk. This was going to be used as the base for the project. I measured out roughly the layout of the shell and cut it out with a reinforced cutting wheel tool on a Dremmel. I could have used a jigsaw but I’m a fan of the Dremmel tool as it’s the tool I most used to. Once I had the rough shape I used a file to tidy up the base so that the shell would fit cleanly over the top. This took a few hours of tiring work but it was worth it.
At this stage I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the wheels, I had managed to purchase a set of white spoked wheels from a local shop, I had sprayed them silver to look more like alloy wheels. I took the tires from an old radio controlled car and glued them onto the wheels. I decided that the best way to fix them in place was to use normal bolts and have some metal at right angle to the base. My first thought was to use an L shaped bracket but I decided I could use the existing metal in the base. I measured the place where the wheels were going to go, and cut two slits the thickness of the wheels into the base. Next up I used the trust hammer and my front door step to bend the metal to 90°. This took some time to get it perfect but it worked very well.
I was finally able to lay out the components for the first time; this I quickly realized was a problem. The PSU was too high; it simply wasn’t going to fit. Luckily, I had found out that there was a much smaller PSU now available. The 55W Morex PSU uses a small circuit with an external brick much like found on Laptops. This freed up space inside and I was able to cram it into place. The layout I chose was to have the hard disc and PSU underneath the mainboard with the DVD drive at the rear and spacers to raise the mainboard high enough.
For the electronic side of things I bought two switches and wired them onto the mainboard and mounted them at the front of the base. All along I wanted to light the shell with headlights and brake lights and internal lights also to show of the interior. Using 5mm LED’s I had two white LED’s as power LED’s shining at the front and two red LED’s as hard disc LED’s at the rear. In the interior I used four blue LED’s to show everything off.
The last few jobs in order to finish was to finish the shell, I did this exactly as you would for a normal RC car it took a couple of hours. I also cut out a small hole where the number plate would be, this would be where the cables would feed through.
I finally got to boot up the machine for the first time and it didn’t work. After much swearing and cursing, I had found the problem was the PSU shorting out on the base. A quick covering of tape later and everything worked fine. I had a working PC that looked just like a model Ford Focus. At the moment the specifications are: Epia 5000 mainboard, 192Mb SDRAM, 6 Gigabyte hard drive, DVD-ROM drive and a 55W Morex PSU. I tend to use it as a silent downloading machine which I can leave on all night if necessary.
Project Focus: Remaking the chassis
Well, this is now my fourth project running concurrently so I will apologise for gordy modding overload hehe. Due to a forth coming event I needed to look at project focus and give it a good tidy up. While I was at it I decided I may as well give it a proper make over and clean up.
Here is the project as it was this morning and when you all last saw it:
Click on the thumbnails for full 800×600 shots
I took everything out to start the chassis a fresh, I will be using aluminium sheet with L shaped aluminium sections riveted in place.
First thing to do was to cut out a new chassis plate:
I then cut 4 L shaped sections out to attach the wheels to:
Thats probably all for the day unless I can sneak in some more modding later.
It all needs to be finished by the 2nd of june so i will be finishing this mod quickly.
Hope you all like the progress so far 🙂
Project Focus: Finishing the chassis work
I’ve done some more work on the chassis today. I’ve drill all the holes for the hard disc and psu board. I’ve rounded the corners of the chassis plate so it fits inside the shell. heres the pictures from today:
Next up is to redo all the wiring and tidy it up as its far too long and untidy at present.
Project Focus: Finished for the second time
I’ve pretty much finished this revisit of Project Focus. Its looking far better than it did before. The chassis is now much cleaner and better to look at.
First job of the day was to redo the wiring looms , they were far too long before taking up valuable room underneath the motherboard. I shortened the main wires and rewired completely the power for the psu. I also made up a new power switch.
I then mounted the dvd drive at the rear of the chassis, I had to add a new l-shaped aluminium section to hold the drive in place. The drive fits snugly between the two wheels.
Next I had to finish the chassis, I cut a small section out of the rear of the chassis to allow cables to exit the case cleanly. I also cut a small square hole out for the power switch. After these had been done I set to work brushing the aluminium. This was nice and easy to do. With a quick coat of clear coat spray paint the finish is very nice.
Then it was time to add all the components and the cables back onto the chassis.
A quick shot of the base with all the parts in place including the switch for powering on the pc.
Now pretty much everything is installed and you can see how the drive is accessed
And finally some shots of the shell on the chassis and the pc under my tv in the lounge where it lives:
I have not put the lighting back in as it takes up so much room with all the cabling and it looks very untidy, I may add it back in with a tidier wiring setup at a later date. When time allows.
The project was nice and quick as I have to get on with my other projects as I have a deadline for this and project silicon to be finished by.
Project Focus: New Wheels
I’ve been quiet on the mod front of late , that due to having to work on something secret. Its almost finished so I will be back working on my other projects on the go.
In the mean time , I got some new wheels for this project focus which look ace.
Project Focus: Better Pictures
It’s about time I added these new pictures to this log, they are better shots that the others!