keskiviikko 2. maaliskuuta 2011

What is it about?

Hi! The following blog is in finnish, because I mostly did this to show off to my friends, but since Engadget noticed it I think it deserves a short english summary:

I translated the whole thing into english since this got so many hits.

The HTPC was built using a chassis from a broken Nintendo 8bit system. I decided to paint it white to fit it's intended surroundings in my home. Also the retro look of Nintendo was way cooler 20 years ago. I liked the basic build and wanted to give it just a slight tune up.

The paint job is done with white spray paint, sanded down to remove the orange peel effect and then finished with rubbing compound and automotive wax. The system runs on an Asus AT3IONT-I Deluxe motherboard with an Intel Atom 330 Dual core processor, has a 120gb hard drive for Windows XP and sports two working NES controller ports on the front bezel. The power and reset buttons are wired to work and the front led indicates power on-status.

And yes, it plays NES games through an emulator using the original pad. I use the pad as a mouse with driver software (there's plenty, google for it) and a fold-away bluetooth keyboard.

Working on this took me about 8 hours, not including the time spent waiting for the paint to dry up for sanding hardness. I got the logotype for the lid from a buddy of mine who works at a sticker shop, it's custom cut to size from a .PDF.

If you have any questions about this build feel free to ask away in the comments section!

(I'm in no way affiliated with Nintendo or any of it's partners.)

edit: A norwegian IT-site also noticed my little project and posted a comparison with it and another NES mod built to an utouched case. Le Journal Du Geek has a small piece about it french too.

As for the obvious question "why white? - well, almost everything else in our apartment is white so the original NES box was a bit of an eyesore on the TV-stand. I also wanted to tinker around with more than just the insides, which were pretty easy and straightforward to install and got inspired by some blogs about finishing a spray paint job to mirror shine. That didn't exactly work out, but turned out good enough. Also, I happen to like it that way :)

perjantai 25. helmikuuta 2011

The finished product

I finally got the sticker for the front port, and this is what the finished product looks like. I took out the Asus sticker since it was ugly. Now it's as Nintendo as a PC can get!

The Nintendo HTPC

After 10.000 hits I think it's time to translate the original post, so here goes:

I had an idea to build myself a HTPC machine from an old Nintendo whilst browsing merrily away on the various DIY sites around the internet. I had been looking for an easy project to do, and since I'm not a hardcore modder I lacked both the tools and a proper workspace to do anything complicated. Doing a NES HTPC seemed like the perfect thing. I wanted a new computer to our bedroom, since I had been using a HTPC desktop machine in our living room for quite a while and enjoyed the experience.I started to look for an old Nintendo online, and asked around on facebook. A friend of mine told me about a second-hand shop at an old mall where he said he had seen old NES systems for sale 10 euros a piece. I was a bit sceptical at first, but went to have a look. The old mall had three second hand shops next to each other, but most of them seemed to only carry clothes that went out of fashion in the seventies. The third thrift store turned out to contain a surprise - the nice young lady at the counter knew exactly what I was looking for but had bought the last working Nintendo herself. But I was in luck - she bought it to replace the broken one she had at home! She agreed to give it to me, which gave me a chassis to work with!

I was only looking for the chassis for this project, so the broken internals were of no concern to me. I rather used a broken one than destroy a fully working piece of electronic memorabilia, and my girlfriend wouldn't have let me tear into her working NES anyway. So I got what I needed thanks to a kind soul.

Because of my studies I could only work on this project on the weekends. First I had to get some supplies:

  • Spray paint, white (two cans)
  • Plastic primer
  • Clear coating
  • Sand paper (600, 1000 and 1500 grit)
  • Glue

I got these from a local hardware store and took the NES apart. I sanded all the surfaces and primed them with the plastic primer. Then I gave it a coat of white paint and let it dry.

My intention was to paint the chassis white and put a layer of clear coat on the black corner pieces, but this proved to be a pretty futile effort. The dried clear coat didn't like sanding or my attempts to polish it and the spray application left a pretty bad texture. I tried to paint them white, but that turned out to be an even worse disaster. More on that later...

After giving the spray paint a week to harden I sanded it down to cover the uneven surfaces on the NES casing. I also decided to flatten the vents on top of the case to achieve an uniform surface on top of the case. I used caulk to fill those up. I also filled up the AV port hole since I wouldn't be using that for anything.I decided to give it at least three good layers of spray, sand that up to a nice finish and then polish the whole thing. 

The original look of the NES did remind me of childhood adventures and beautiful summer days spent inside playing Zelda 2 and Super Mario Bros, but seemed pretty outdated. Our apartment is mostly decorated with black and white, so that's why I did the paint job. I know this is near sacrilegeous to some of you, but I wanted this project to stand out a bit from the masses of vanilla NES mods with just the internals swapped out.The caulk gave out a horrible smell, but took well to sanding and gave a nice surface to paint on.

The stuff I used can be seen as pink on the pictures. I should have probably caulked the whole thing before the first layer of paint, but I didn't exactly plan that well ahead. I just went on with what seemed like something I'd like to do.

The AV ports on the side were a bit harder to do - I had to do them in two steps since the caulking was pretty soft and followed the rubber pad I used to even it out. The end result was, however, very good. It's impossible to tell from the finished product where that gaping hole for the AV connectors used to be.

The next paint layers didn't work out that well, since I had to paint on the balcony, in the dark with temperatures 20 degrees celsius below zero outside. It's pretty dark in Finland at this time of year, so there wasn't that much daylight to be used either. Anyway, I didn't mind the drips that much, that all can be fixed with proper sanding. I just wanted to achieve a thick enough layer of paint to work on.I also got a bunch of old socks, some rubbing compound and automotive wax for the finishing touches.

After trying to clear coat and then paint the controller port frame and the black plastic corner pieces I was in some trouble, the results were terrible. I asked around on facebook again and another buddy of mine had an extra NES around. Actually, he had three, and was willing to part from one pro bono. I got his NES and took the plastic parts from that.

After that I gave the whole thing a good sanding, a thorough rubdown with the rubbing compound and spent some elbow grease with the auto wax. The end result was a shiny, new white paintwork which I was very pleased with. I used the 1000 grit and 1500 grit papers for the last sanding.

I also gave the black plastic parts the rubbing compound and wax treatment, which made them look factory-fresh.

I gave the project a while to cool down, but over the next week grew increasingly annoyed with the small mistakes I had made. I had accidentally sanded some of the corners down to the plastic, so I decided to try fix this with paint. That failed - it's nigh impossible to fix mistakes made on a paint surface by just painting a little bit. I didn't feel like sanding the whole thing down and then painting again, so I tried something different. I lined the whole edge of the lower case of the chassis with some black vinyl tape which both covered the mistakes AND made it look even more awesome. I was very happy with the results.

I didn't want to do anything to the power and reset buttons since I liked to keep the texts on them. They fit the black/white theme well enough as they are. You can also see the side in these pictures with the caulked up AV port - no signs of it are visible in the finished product.

It was time to cut the insides up. I borrowed a Dremel from my brother-in-law and cut away all the plastic stands inside the case so as to allow a motherboard to rest inside. I also lined some of the case with padding used on table legs and such to both combat the noise and give the hard drive something to stick to. I taped three strips of velcro on the hard drive and jammed it in. It stays put and is somewhat decoupled from the chassis. It's not pretty, but then again, nobody's looking on the insides of this thing.

After that it was time to look at the internals. I settled on the ASUS AT3IONT-I Deluxe since it had everything I needed - HDMI out, WLAN and an integrated power supply. It was also right in my budget of 300 euros max. I ordered that and 2x2GB of DDR3 memory online, and after the parts arrived started the installation work.

I also ordered a pair of RetroPort adapters from Retrozone so that I could connect the NES controllers to their ports. Internet stores also carried prettier options for this installation like a chip which you solder onto the original port cables but since I have zero experience soldering nor a soldering iron I decided to use the ready-made parts. I just hot glued them to place. It's not elegant, pretty or space saving but it works like a charm.

I also gave a controller a white paint job. I have three - one is white, one is stock grey and one is matt black.

I had a spare 2.5" 120GB hard drive, so I used that for the OS. I taped it up to safeguard against short-circuiting anything on the motherboard. I did this just to be safe, the parts don't touch each other anyway.

I scavenged some front panel cables from an old ATX case, and connected them to the cables from the reset and power switch. Without the proper tools to solder I just twisted them together and taped the whole thing up. Crude, but effective. They work. I also wired the power led to the motherboard and secured it in place with a drop of hot glue. The original NES power switch stays down when depressed, but there's a small copper piece and a metallic latch on top of the switch. By removing these with a pair of pliers it turns into a momentary-on switch much more in tow with the ATX standard.

After that was all done, I face a thermal problem. The case didn't allow for a fan on top of the grill since the insides were pretty cramped, and I had no chance to run it passive. I bought a 50mm fan and installed it on the right side of the motherboard so that it blows across the heatsink. Even on slow RPMs it keeps the temps at a safe tolerance. The system heats up to 51 degrees celsius after two hours of Prime95 stress with a closed case, and is pretty silent to boot. Definitely good enough for me.

I dremeled the hole for the IO shield while being sick at home, so the end result was a bit wobbly but I wanted to finish this project. The motherboard is connected with just one screw, but I'm not going to haul this around with me so that's not a problem. It stays put and I don't need to hold it down to connect the connectors or anything. Again, crude, but good enough.

That's it. The case is finished, and at this point I only needed the sticker to slap on it to make it perfect. That I got later that week and the end result can be seen on the next post!