William's Star Wars Lego (7659) Mini-ITX Computer Case Mod
The "Lego Star Wars PC"
One day I was poking around looking for possibilities for a new Mythtv
frontend machine for our bedroom. I was specifically investigating using a
Mini-ITX board made by VIA. While poking around for information, I came
across a new cheap Mini-ITX board made by Intel - the D201GLY2. After some
checking it looked like it would not really be feasible for my plan for a
Mythtv Frontend due to the speed probably being under what is required for
Definition and the build in video too week to use for HD even if it had
XvMC acceleration available like the VIA does.
However, I was also looking to build a 1st computer for my 9 month old son
William. I knew I wanted something "kiddie" and unique to do a case mod
for, and this board
looked like it would be excellent for Windows XP and children's games
rarely need much in the manner of graphics capabilities so this looked
like a good start. So, I ordered a board, a 1 Gig stick of RAM and a
PicoPSU-90 for a power supply. My first idea build a run-of-the-mill Lego
PC (there are several out there). So, I headed to the store in search of a
"bucket o' Lego". Not finding any (do they still make them?) I came across
the Stars Wars Legos, and on the back of one of the boxes they showed the
Lego 7659 Imperial
Landing Craft . It looked kind of like a flying pizza box and I
thought to myself maybe I could cram a motherboard in the hull. (Plus how
fitting is it to have an Imperial ship powered by Intel and Windows?).
Also, my Star Wars "Geekiness" is somewhat famous having officiated
wedding as a Jedi once . So, with all of those factors in mind I went
another store and picked one up. When I got it home it was clearly too
small, but it looked like if it was double the size it would work. So I
ordered another set of just the ship (minus the Mini Figures) off of e-bay
and started building. My idea was this - I would double the size of the
hull and put 2 engines and leave the wings and cockpit the same size,
hoping that it wouldn't look too out of proportion.
Tesing the D201GLY2
First, I did a "smoke test" with the D201GLY2 and PicoPSU-90. Everything
looked good, but the Northbridge heatsink was burning hot to the touch and
BIOS reported that the CPU was running a near 70 degrees Celsius. I hadn't
planned on using a fan in this system, hoping to run completely passively,
but just the extreme temperature the Northbridge had to be getting to made
me nervous. I quick search on the internet yielded no one who was brave
enough to run the D201GLY2 completely passively (Is Intel just teasing
us?). So, I picked up a 40mm fan and decided to try to figure out some way
to integrate it in.
Putting together two Lego sets was a little harder than I thought. The
design hangs over the edge of the 12x12 (Lego bips) the base, so the
middle had to be improvised some. Instead of 4 engine turrets, there was
only room for three. The two back engines had to be combined. The middle
"spine" across the hull had to be duplicated and shifted to the left and
right, resulting in a Texas Stadium type "hole" in the roof. There were no
acceptable Legos available in the 2 sets to fill the hole, so I ordered
some 12x2 pieces from a Lego exchange website. Major portions were
Superglued together for stability and to keep my son from choking on small
Installing the Motherboard
On the motherboard front, things were pretty cramped with a 24x24 lego bip
base. What worse was the height restriction. The tallest available is the
middle between the two "spines". This portion turned out to be exactly the
height of the CPU heatsink (45mm). If the CPU was moved to the left or to
the right just slightly, it would not have fit.
Squeezing in a 2.5 inch drive was another challenge. Considering the
height restriction, the only place it could go was directly over the
Northbridge. First, I built a Lego bracket for it to fit into. I wasn't
really happy with that solution because I had trouble getting it secure.
So I bought a cheap external aluminum enclosure. The outside of it is
coated in something that seems non-conductive, so I didn't worry so much
if it moved about a little. It was a centimeter or so too long so I cut
it down some. The drive also wouldn't fit (too long) if I used a standard
SATA cable, so I used a right angle cable to get it to fit.
Now I knew I really needed a fan with the hard drive sitting atop the very
hot Northbridge. The only spot I could find was to mount it horizontally
next to the Northbridge (on top of the video chip, I believe), blowing
upwards. This would make it blow up on the hard drive, and force the air
over the Northbridge and with some luck the air would make it to the cpu
to cool it as well. Fortunately, this is exactly what happened, and the
idle CPU temperature went from 70 to 49 degrees Celsius, and the
Northbridge was cool to the touch.
I temporary hooked up a CD-Rom and installed windows, downloaded the Lego
7659 Wallpaper and had the system up and running. The last bits I had
were a power button and LED. I happened to have a couple buttons and blue
LEDs laying about, so I drilled some holes in a Lego and mounted them in
there. Next I glued the Lego into where one of the guns would have gone.
Finally, I found a Storm Trooper mouse someone had given me a few years
ago which helps complete the look.
What's Next? (Maybe)
"Everyone" tells me the engine should have blue LEDs. I agree, but I
haven.t come up with a good way to implement it and hide the wires and
resistors. The engine turrets spin to make the wings go up and down, and
since I can't put wires exactly in the middle I would either have to fix
the wings in place or make it so that there is enough slack to turn them.
Bill of parts:
2 Star Wars Lego 7659 Imperial Landing Craft Sets
1 Intel D201GLY2 Mini-ITX Motherboard
1 PicoPSU-90 and power brick
1 GB RAM (DDR2 533)
1 60 GB Fujitsu 2.5" SATA Hard Drive
1 40mm DC Fan
1 Right-Angle SATA cable
1 Aluminum USB External hard drive case
1 Momentary Contact button
1 Blue LED
11 additional 12x2 White Legos
William loves playing on his computer! I'll post some pictures. Now that he's over 18 months
he understands what's going on pretty well and can find specific letters on the keyboard.
I bought a Califone keyboard and mouse off the internet for it - and instantly regretted it.
Whoever designed a keyboard with all of the consanant letter keys to be yellow with white text
on them should be fired, what a dumb design. I can barely make out they letters on the keyboard,
and I know my son has trouble. I ended up buying a Crayola keyboard, which has big keys
and works much better.
I also bought the Comfy Easy PC baby game with USB attachment.
William enjoys that quite a bit.
I bought the actual Lego Star Wars II PC game the other day, but it won't run with the built in video
on the motherboard. So, I upgraded the motherboard to the new Intel D945GCLF2 Mini ITX board,
which supports DirectX 9. I mean, come on, I *have* to have the SW Lego PC game running on it too...
While I was upgrading, I ran some benchmarks to compare the
two motherboards - click here to see the results.