The polycarbonate all-in-one 22" LCD PC

The polycarbonate all-in-one 22" LCD PC

Summary: The last time I built a wooden all-in-one 19" LCD PC, my family wanted it in the kitchen and my mother wanted it in hers. To keep everyone happy, I built my mother another one (pictured above and below) out of 3/16th inch jet-black polycarbonate which makes the chassis look like the material from a grand piano.

TOPICS: CXO, Hardware, Processors

The last time I built a wooden all-in-one 19" LCD PC, my family wanted it in the kitchen and my mother wanted it in hers. To keep everyone happy, I built my mother another one (pictured above and below) out of 3/16th inch jet-black polycarbonate which makes the chassis look like the material from a grand piano. The result was something that was so glossy that I can probably shave in it, but I'm almost afraid to touch it and get finger prints all over it. Needless to say, she is very pleased with her new space saving computer. [See photo gallery.]

Cutting this material was fairly simple with wood-cutting and drilling tools. Just be careful to slow down on the table saw so you don't chip the polycarbonate. I had initially avoided putting in vent holes in the back but the CPU fan and the PSU fan dynamically ramped up in RPM because of the increasing temperature and caused some noise. Once the 4 holes were put in the back, the CPU fan stayed at lower RPM and remained fairly silent even if I stress loaded the CPUs.

This time I mounted the on/off switch up top along with two USB ports which makes it easy to access and comes in handy for the webcam. I just wished I had a webcam that did away with the cable and just had a down-facing USB port so I can just plug it in right on top of the case. The other USB port is convenient for plugging other devices such as USB memory sticks or other devices I want sitting on top of the chassis.

As usual with these slim custom chassis, I used a slim 1.75" 1U Sparkle SPI220LE 80 Plus 220 watt power supply. The idle power consumption on this computer is 43 watts and 63 watt under peak CPU loads generated by WPrime. The motherboard is an ECS 945GCT-M which came bundled with an Intel Celeron 430 CPU (Conroe-L 1.8 GHz single-core) I got at Fry's for $70. I put in an Intel Core 2 Duo E2140 dual-core 1.6 instead and kept the lower-profile CPU fan which came with the Celeron 430. That lower profile fan came in real handy since it fit inside my 3" thick chassis which is even less space inside because of the thickness of the walls. This chassis has plenty of room for additional devices such as a slim optical slot-loaded drive.

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This 3" thick custom chassis is no where near as thin as commercial all-in-one computers, but it makes up for it in flexibility since you can use any monitor of your choice and the price is right ($500) for those who are willing to build it. Those all-in-one boxes from Dell, Gateway, Sony, and even the iMac (20" model) have typical TN (Twisted Nematic) LCD screens with poor color and viewing angles. This computer also uses a TN type display but the next one I get will be the $300 24" Soyo with an MVA panel from Office Depot.

I probably could have made this half an inch thinner if I wanted to and even thinner if I used a low-profile CPU fan. Theoretically this could be 1.75" thick if this were made out of metal. The sides of the polycarbonate were glued together with acrylic cement which is incredibly strong if you can apply it correctly (I used a make thin flat makeup brush). I literally picked up the entire computer from just the edges of the polycarbonate walls and it held perfectly fine even though the edges are only 3/16th of an inch wide.

You can see the power plug reflected in the polycarbonate back. One thing I wish I had was a belt sander to smooth out and polish the edges more. It not only makes a better finish but it makes it easier to glue the joints together.

The webcam comes in handy for Skype. This is the older Logitech Quickcam Fusion so it can't be used for high-quality video mode in Skype but still looks decent. The keyboard and mouse is the Logitech EX110 ($30-$40) which uses 27 MHz with shorter range but it isn't susceptible to Wi-Fi interference.

From the front, you can't see the computer behind the display at all which is the whole point. This computer takes no more space than the display and the wiring is all self contained which avoids cable clutter.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF in the TechRepublic downloads library.

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Topics: CXO, Hardware, Processors

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  • Not a belt sander

    This version is way, way better than your wooden version. But wouldn't a random orbital sander work better? Belt sanders are pretty harsh.
    • Not a Sander

      Sanders are too aggressive and prone to un-evenly rounding edges. Razor blades--like you use in a utility knife--are the thing to use. Scrape (don't slice) the blade over the flat edges to finish them. They also work really well for breaking the edges and/or creating a slight bevel.
      • Hand Plane vs Belt Sander


        A good sharp block plane would be the best choice for working the edges. That will alow you to both smooth and chamfer the edges without the dangers of burning from abrasives. Router at the right speed might also work, but the plane is less expensive and more controllable.
        • ok, will try that

          • SureForm Tool

            There's a variety of items you could use to smooth the edges. for any exposed edges, you'll want to sand, use some very high grit paper in the 400-600 range (wet silicon carbide paper) and you can get the edges just as shiny as the face. For edge prep prior to gluing, try a sureform/shurform tool, Stanley makes them. It looks like a funky shaped block plane, but the bottom is cut diagonally one way, then the other, so that the metal shoe has holes in it, and very sharp scraping edges. They're great, and if you go easy with it, they won't chip the polycarb. Another option is to simply run a heat-sealing iron along the edge, as long as it's thermoplastic. There are two varieties of polycarbonate - thermoset, and thermoplastic. Thermoset will burn, thermoplastic melts, then burns. Try it with a piece of scrap - hold a lighter up to it, if it melts first, then it's thermoplastic, and you can just heat-seal the edges. Craft stores sell the heat sealer tools near scrapbooking and quilting areas, since you can use it to heat up basting tape.

            either of these methods should provide satisfactory results, but for gluing edges, you will want to leave it kind of rough so that the glue has plenty of bite. The sureform is your best bet there ;-)

            Best of luck, and if you're taking orders, I'll take one with a DVD RW drive in it, and maybe an internal USB port for a hideaway wifi card. :-)
          • tool name

            I think it's still called a SURform tool (forms the surface)and pronounced accordingly. But I haven't seen them in my DIY store for a while. I'll look harder, since they seem still to exist. A great hand tool which comes (came?) in a number of shapes and sizes!
    • Nopt to all of you

      To break the sharp edges, go buy a fine file and lightly go over the edges like they do in formica cabinetry work. You just want to take the sharpness off the edges, not round them off. It only takes a few minutes. Go very gently on the corners. Similiar to deburring in a machine shop. Also one direction only.
    • Best method for clean edges...

      The best method for clean edges involves a length of 2x2 that is at least 6" longer than the longest edge to be worked, standard fine particle 2" plumber's emory cloth, and some spray glue. Pre-tear the emory cloth so that it's 4" longer than the piece of 2x2, lay it flat, with the backing exposed, spray it with the glue, attach it to the 2x2, double fold the ends and staple them to the ends of the board.

      Lay the poly on a clean towel, allowing the edge to overhang a table or workbench enough to allow you to use the sanding block you just made. Using very light pressure and tiny figure 8 patterns, sand it flat.

      When you're done, and have glued all the bits together, quickly pass a hobby torch (pencil torch) over the exposed ends to shine and round them. Be VERY careful with that last step. Too long on a spot or section and you can ruin the whole job.
      Dr. John
    • Just the trick but cheaper but slower?

      What about a piece of wood N sandpaper its only polycarbonate,would only take a little elbow grease,yer but its not techie enough.
  • A very nice project however...

    I feel this blog is slowly losing relevance to the tech world. I love geek projects, but this is only a slight deviance from the last one. Not that I am one to throw out the suggestion that today is a slow news day, but this blog is creeping further and further away from being related to what my job is. I am sorry to report, that my job hasn't changed all that much.

    Kudos on the project though. I hope your mother is very happy with it.

    I myself am considering a similar project for my bedroom, but then decided that perhaps I should just get the computer out of the bedroom.
    • This is not relevant to TECH world? Ok, tell me what topic you want.

      This is not relevant to TECH world? Ok, tell me what topic you want and I'll write it for you.
      • Poor choice of words on my part

        This is relevant to the tech world. I guess where I am getting at is that this is more of a home project which is alright a few times a month, but I miss some of the old Wireless happenings, or security based items or even storage based solutions. Your blog usually scales well from enterprise down to home tinkerer and even dabbles a fair amount with consumer electronics. I don't want to you stop with these articles, I would simply like to see some investigation is what is happening in the SAN market. Perhaps some more networking solutions.

        I can't really say that you have let these items go either, just I don't feel that I seem them as often anymore.

        Congratulations on this project though. I still like the idea of a wooden computer for shear shock value.

        You do have to forgive me though, lately I seem to have more of a "Get to work" mentality. This would also explain my recent drop off in posts.
        • Will have a build-your-own server then

          that will be right up your alley.
          • Mucho Gracias

            Quad Core Xeon box with Penryn Procs?
          • Three flavors

            Basic single socket
            Basic dual socket
            1U twin servers with two dual-processor servers in a single U.
          • You have my interest

          • I found one of these guys

            I would tell more, but I think people need a bit of a surprise.

            The price is actually quite nice.
          • HA

            High Availability. You'll want to show how to add redundance into your server. The nature of the industry my company is in, as well as some regulations federal and otherwise, insist that we mitigate loss as a result of equipment failure. Hot, immediate recovery with little or no downtime is the goal. It's expensive to do, but the cost of recovery is estimated to exceed that by a huge margin, at least for us.
            Larry the Security Guy
          • Sounds good to me.

            I'm ready for that project, too. I got a 320Gb external USB hard drive for Christmas that really needs to be shared across my home wi-fi LAN and broadband connection.
          • Re: The polycarbonate all-in-one 22" LCD PC

            Can the server have a wooden box? heh