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Hidden, no-case computer: some basic questions

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Great Satchmo

Apr 22, 2004
Sonoma, CA
I am determined to create a completely hidden computer that is quiet.

Right now I'll probably be using an ASUS A7N8X, Athlon XP 2400+ Barton core, Geforce 6200 (passively cooled) or 8600GT (if I can get a passive cooler on it and to work right). I may also do a little shopping for a better CPU cooler, but the one I have is not terrible especially considering I have the cpu OC'd.

I don't game, the computer just needs to be on basically 24/7, be stable and do normal web browsing and homework related stuff as well as work as a passable HTPC. I have a Hauppauge pvr-150 right now, and a lot of movies/shows on the HDD, very little if any HD content, not really a concern of mine.


I figure the best option is to build the computer into a night stand or set of drawers. What do I need to consider with this option? How should I mount the mobo? Should I just use the mounting screws for the case but screw it into the bottom of the drawer? Will this allow enough dissipation of heat?

How should I vent the system? I only want fans in back, so should I just try to get an in flow on one side and an out flow on the other side in the back? Basically how do I ensure a quiet cooling system considering my not so big need for cooling?

Anything else I need to consider?
Venting, assuming you will build in an enclosed space such as a nightstand or similar cabinet:

-- no overclocking! come on, get real, your light usage won't benefit from an OC anyway

-- if you want the computer hidden, open the back of the cabinet, but leave enough space between it and the wall so air can move

-- would mount the computer oriented flat against the shelf; do though, place little wooden or rubber blocks under the board to lift it off the shelf. The backside of the motherboard heats up to and will need some air space for cooling

-- cut large ventilation holes into the shelf that will hold the computer. Ensure that there is an opening somewhere below the shelf where fresh air can enter.

-- avoid putting your new cabinet-case in an air dead zone, such as a corner or closet

Once the CPU heatsink heats up and the hot air rises flows out the back of the cabinet, it should draw cooler air from below the shelf, assuming you've made enough holes and the holes are large enough.

If you want to run the CPU without a fan on its heatsink, you will need to buy one of the large Scythe heatsinks with the widely spaced fins. They definitely will work in passive mode. It may be though, that Scythe does not make models for Socket A any more.
Well Athlon XP's run pretty hot compared to modern stuff. You could get a cheapo sempron or athlon for $40 or dual core for $50 thats 45w and will run much cooler, and get an AM2 motherboard for $50 as well. In an enclosed cabinet that Athlon XP will be really hot, especially if you want quiet low fan cooling.

I'd suggest this:

Motherboard $48
Memory $25 after rebate
Processor $46

This would be much faster and noticeably cooler.
For now I'm going to use what I have, and in the coming months I'll hopefully have excess money (I have it now, but not to put towards a computer) for a cheaper dual core quasi-up-to-date rig.

So should I think about 80 or 120 fans, one either coming in from the floor direction for cold intake, and then one as high up as possible for exhaust? Is it worth attempting to run a duct to the CPU fan (assuming I don't go passive eventually)?

What about grounding, how should I do this?

I may use a set of drawers I have now b/c they are kinda crappy, I may potentially use 2 separate drawers to keep things from heating up a lot. What components should be grouped together?

As far as optical drives, I may just get an external enclosure and hide it somewhere accessible so I don't have to open the drawer to get to it.

Last thought is that I'll most likely want to wall-mount the LCD for a completely clean set-up.

Now to think about speakers (Dell monitor doesn't have speakers) and how I could hide those...
This reminds me of a friend's 'true desktop PC', as he used to call it.

It was an old wooden desk that he turned into a PC (motherboard hidden in the lower drawer, drives in the upper drawers, cabling carefully routed and tucked away etc.) :)
This reminds me of a friend's 'true desktop PC', as he used to call it.

It was an old wooden desk that he turned into a PC (motherboard hidden in the lower drawer, drives in the upper drawers, cabling carefully routed and tucked away etc.) :)

I thought about doing something like that, but I'd have to find the right desk and I think it'd be more difficult to make as quiet and more difficult in general.

Having a set of drawers should be much easier to build and maintain.
I once had a small file server hiding away in an air duct, but I moved it to one of the intake ducts when I realized that it got too hot with the heater on. Nobody ever knew where it was either, I had an invisible wireless router and the only way you could find it would to be to trace one of ~25 wires coming from the fusebox through the vents.
I still try to attached my motherboards to a metal plate, even when it's a "non-case" solution, then you can ground the plate (and motherboard) as normal. It also gives the board breathing space on the backside. Ive found most boards run cooler (especially ASUS and their "Stack Cool" system) if the back of the board gets some air.

HDDs are not always grounded even in a case. Most anti-vibration/noise dampener systems use rubber grommets that don't provide contact for grounding. I suspect DVDs are similar and don't require grounding either though any of those components can be grounded by running a single 20 AWG wire between them and the PSU shell ...
It has several of them! But I thought you were asking about an earth ground. I may be wrong but IIRC none of the PSU ground wires go to earth, only the 3rd prong on the 120 VAC cable does that. Of course, the PSU housing is also grounded by that wire and connects the ground to the case and anything else that's bolted to the case including the motherboard mounts. In a caseless set-up (and most acrylic cases) there is no earth ground system like that unless you provide for it.

An earth ground helps protect against static build-up and discharge, which is why I like a grounded metal mounting plate for my motherboards ...