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InsolentGnome

LANpak - Scratch Build(Dec 9, 2018)

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Hey y'all!  Time for a new build. 

The idea behind this one came to me last year on my way to Omaha for the NETWAR LAN.  It was a pretty nice day and I was cruising up in my truck with my rig and I thought, "Man, this would be a great day to be on a motorcycle!  It'd be nice to toss everything on the bike and blast the 5 hours up to Omaha."  But how to transport my rig?  

I could go small.  Get a SFF case and a small monitor so that I could toss stuff in my saddle bags.  Or ship the thing beforehand and just figure out how to get it from the hotel to the LAN.  

Shipping it just wasn't a good option at all and SFF cases are cool, but I want some area to mod.  Tiny case, tiny mods and a whole lot of figuring out how to stick things in a small box.  

Another option that popped into my head was a backpack.  Just strap the computer to my back and hop on the bike.  That sounds like fun!

Now I know that there have been backpacks before, but I thought I could give it my own flavor.  First off, it needs to be slick and aerodynamic.  I want it too look good and I really don't feel like wearing a sail on my back running down the highway at 70(hahahahahahaha, as if).  Also I don't want some weak little system.  If I wanted to game on a mobile chip, I'd take a laptop, I want a real screamer of a system.   And finally, I don't want to have to figure out how to also strap a monitor to my bike(even though I totally could) or have another backpack for my keyboard and headset and all of that.  One pack...everything.

First, I need to set some parameters for the build.  Obviously mITX because space is at a premium.  Watercooling would be nice.  A hard shell is a definite.  I want protection and I'd also like to not have my fans eat my case.  Waterproof, because rain does happen.  And as light as I can get it, cause...well...

So lets get a hardware layout going, something backpack sized.

LANPacklayout-me.png

MITX, SFX-L PSU, and 2x240mm rads.  You know, the basics, LOL!  I'm not sure that I'll water cool the GPU, but I want the space because it's better to have it and not need it rather than the other way around.  M.2 for the storage so I don't need to worry about finding a spot for a drive.  I'm not really sure about the res, I may have to figure something else out for a res/pump.  But it's a start and the size is good.

For the exterior, I figured fiberglass because it's rigid, tough, relatively light and with some gelcoat, water resistant(think boat).  I can mount stuff to it if I need to, which I will, and I can form any shape with it.  It doesn't hurt that it's my business these days.  So let's get a shape.

LANPack_exterior-me.png

I knocked something out in SketchUp just to get an idea on measurements.  I'm going to have a much more rounded look, but this gives me some good references.

Now for some physical work. I cut down a box so I could see IRL the size that I'm working with.  This represents the space for the hardware and a storage compartment below it.

LANpak-2018-11-25_17.59.22-me.jpg

Not too far off from the size of a work backpack.

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You'll notice my assistant in the background.  He was helping me with getting a feel for the size of the backpack.

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With my box for my minimum dimensions, I surrounded it with foam so I could carve out the mold of the shell to lay my fiberglass on.

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A little bit of glue and some weight, and we wait.

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After a little bit of cleaning up the edges with a rasp, I'm ready to start carving out my form.

LANpak-2018-11-26_15.29.30-me.jpg

Thanks for checking my project out! :)

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To get an idea of how to start carving this thing, I wanted to see the areas I needed to work around, so I drew out my minimum space requirements on the outside of the foam.

LANpak-2018-11-27_22.01.39-me.jpg

Now I can layout some of the parts that need to line up with the shell of the case, like the fans.

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It's hard to explain but I think the best way to describe what I'm wanting to do is that the fans will sit at the bottom of a pocket.  The shell will dive into a flat spot and that's where the fans and rads will mount.  That's not very clear, but basically, I need a hole where these fans are.  I marked out the fans and then gave myself an extra 5mm for fiberglass and corners and what not.

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Then the fun part, I took a router and starting with a straight cut bit, I cut out the pocket.

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I'm not sure this is the final depth, but it's good for now.  Note that the fans will be on the other side of the pocket when it's all said and done, mounted inside the shell.

LANpak-2018-11-27_22.48.19-me.jpg

Hey look, pink snow!

LANpak-2018-11-27_22.41.25-me.jpg

To combat the blizzard of pink snow in my shop, I decided to try my hand at making a hot cutting wire setup for some of the basic shaping.  I started off with some 1/2" MDF and some 19 ga. steel wire.

LANpak-2018-11-27_21.32.01-me.jpg

The plan is to use the MDF to hold the wire so I don't electrocute or burn myself and I'm cool with that.  First I notched the board.

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Then with some screw and brads as guides, I strung the wire between the ends.  Now this is janky as f**k, but it's more quick proof of concept than long term shop tool.  I want to see if it works for me and if I need to, I'll make a better version.

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I screwed the contraption to the end of my work table so that I could use it like a band saw, with the table being a good surface to move my workpiece around on and keep things sort of square.  And then I hooked it up to a battery charger.  Yeah, this looks totally safe.

LANpak-2018-11-28_10.48.31-1-me.jpg

But you know what?  It worked!

LANpak-2018-11-28_10.48.36-me.jpg

I did have one question about my specific case though.  I used wood glue to stick my foam together and it can get hard, can the wire cut through it?

Yep!

LANpak-2018-11-28_10.50.27-me.jpg

And now I'm in business.  Now, I'd never suggest using 1/2" MDF for something like this and I wouldn't have except I had the piece on hand and it was a perfect size.  I'm thinking a 3/4" plywood or something along those lines would be better, maybe even some standard boards since you're really stressing the edge of the board with the wire.  And speaking of wire, mine worked but I've seen videos using guitar wire and a tuning peg to tighten the wire as it expands.  Needless to say, I've got those goodies on the way but this contraption should get me going for now.

Thanks for following along! :)

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The pink snow was the first thing I thought of when I saw you bust out the insulation... "Oh dear!" lol  Looks like a fun one!

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So I decided I didn't want to wait for the parts for my 'enhanced' hot wire cutter to arrive and tried out my rigged up trial version...And it did ok.  It had a definite lean to it, but with some effort I got a majority of the outside cut down without the blizzard.  First up, I made a template to make sure I got my sides even.  Hopeful thinking, but hey, positive attitude!

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And then I marked out my cuts.

LANpak-2018-11-29_14.20.02-me.jpg

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They were mainly for bulk removal, figuring I'd snazz it up with some final shaping.  And it worked...

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Rough, but with a rasp I could knock down the bigger bumps.  Side note:  a sheetrock rasp makes quick work of XPS foam, but it' rough.

LANpak-2018-12-03_21.15.42-me.jpg

After the rasp to even out the shape, I turned to 220 grit sandpaper to slick it up.

LANpak-2018-12-03_21.27.33-me.jpg

It was looking a bit boring so I tried to add some creases...still boring.

LANpak-2018-12-03_22.32.29-me.jpg

It wound up looking like a piece of luggage.  Instead of a LAN, it looks like I'm going on holiday.  Call Samsonite, I've reinvented their bags.

Welp, I think I'll re-think this direction.

 

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After mulling over my luggage, I decided to go back to the drawing board.  I needed to change things up a bit.  Number one, the exterior needed to follow the hardware a bit closer, to give it more of a cut up feel and to cut down some size.  Number two was to revamp the layout a bit to slim it up.  The previous design reminded me too much of a mid tower.  Granted it's a system plus peripherals, but I wanted it to look sleek, not like you strapped a case to your back.  A bit of time 'researching' on a motorcycle accessory site, and I was ready to give it another go.

First up, the layout.  To thin the design up a bit, I decided to tilt the radiators and instead of mounting them at the bottom of a well, I'd mount them directly to the side of the case and figure out some waterproof covers for transport.  I also ditched the res and pump for now.  I'll add them back in later, but I'll either find a spot for a off the shelf unit or make something custom.  I just don't want my design dictated by the res/pump.

LANpak-LANPack.png-me.jpg

Then I worked my design around the shape of the hardware.  Leaving a bit of play room but following the contours and going with a very angled design.

LANpak-lanpack_exterior_only.png-me.jpg

Rather than try to hand sculpt it, or sit down and figure out all the measurements for each facet, I threw the design in Pepakura and let it make templates for me.

LANpak-2018-12-04_12.50.46-me.jpg

And then it was cut out paper, transfer it to cardboard, and assembly.

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On all the pieces for the sides I added 2" extra.  I'm going to use this as a plug for a fiberglass mold and that two inches gives me an edge that I can just cut off later.  Also, I'm not sure how much room I'll need for figuring in a monitor, so I've got some room to play with.

LANpak-2018-12-04_17.24.23-me.jpg

Mmmm...puzzles.

LANpak-2018-12-04_18.33.56-me.jpg

Assembly was with hot glue.  I threw in some braces to help keep things squared up and a little stronger till I get this glassed up.

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Assembly was pretty simple since I usually had 2 edges to give me my angles and attach too.

LANpak-2018-12-04_20.12.35-me.jpg

And done.

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I really like the shape better and it's not huge.  Currently bout as deep as a decent laptop backpack and runs from my shoulders to my belt.  It's a little wide as I clip my arms on it moving them around, but it is a computer shoved in a backpack so...

Next up is playing with some polyester resin to start turning this into a plug.

Thanks for following along! :)

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9 hours ago, Mosquito said:

Ha, that's more what I was thinking as well!  After the last update, I was thinking more angles, more Lambo like 😄

At first I was thinking a smooth muscular look, but this is working for me.

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Now it's time to turn my cardboard creation into a plug.  A plug is just the basis for a mold.  The process goes like this:  make a plug which is the shape that I want my shell to be, then make a mold off of the plug, and then I can layup my composite layers in the mold for my final product.  It's a lot of work, but I'll be left with a mold so if I screw something up or want to try something different with the shell I can make another copy. 

To start, I need to stiffen my cardboard up a bit.  For this I'll be using chopped strand fiberglass and polyester resin.  The chopped strand is easy to work with and wrap around curves and the polyester is a cheaper resin but will work perfect for this.  Well, mostly perfect.  I had some Bondo resin laying around it works fine as a resin and it's cheap and available, but it's more of a patch resin.  It works well in one coat. 

The funny thing about polyester resins(and others) that I work with is that they don't cure in air like say a paint.  They don't cure by a solvent evaporating, but rather a reaction in the resin and air kills that reaction.  Sucks if you're trying to put a finish coat on something, but for laying multiple layers, this is great because each layer bonds with the one before.  The way to get layer to fully cure is to coat it with another material.  Another layer of resin, some plastic sheeting, or very commonly, a wax.  I'm pretty sure the Bondo resin has a wax additive that helps with this last layer curing which doesn't really make it ideal for laminating layers.  

Long story short, I had to move fast to make sure all the layers bonded to each other.  And don't worry, I won't be using bondo in the final shell, it just worked for my plug and I had it.

The first thing in layering this up was to fill all my gaps so the strand wasn't bridging across a void.  I did this by mixing the resin with a material called Cab-o-sil.  It's a super light silica for thickening up resin.

LANpak-2018-12-05_10.06.14-me.jpg

Mix that with some resin and you wind up with some goo.

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LANpak-2018-12-05_10.12.56-me.jpg

I slathered that in all the gaps and tried to keep it as clean as possible.  Any random glob will stand out under the glass.

LANpak-2018-12-05_10.30.39-me.jpg

Next, get a good base coat of resin to soak into the cardboard and help with the wet out of the glass...

LANpak-2018-12-05_10.53.03-me.jpg

But then thought about how fast this stuff cures up and got right to the glass.

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Tearing this stuff vs. cutting it gives you edges you can feather out better.

I'd provide more pictures of the during, but like I said, it was a time crunch.  In a cup, the the resin gets hot and cures faster so I had about 20 minutes of pot life to get the glass down and all the air bubbles out before that batch was useless.  On the plug, the resin takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to cure so once I got one layer down...

LANpak-2018-12-05_12.24.11-me.jpg

It was time for the next.

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I probably wound up with about 3 layers overall with all the overlap from the pieces of chopped strand.  It's pretty tough now and ready to sand.  I wanted to get a lot of the stranding out and knock down any high spots.  Also to provide a surface with some tooth for the next layer.

LANpak-2018-12-06_17.04.08-me.jpg

And cleaned up.  Still pretty rough, but that's why they make filler.

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This is a standard polyester filler that I use in tub repair.  Low shrinkage, sands easy, and white with white hardener so it doesn't stand out under thin gelcoat and you have no idea if you've mixed it up well at all.

LANpak-2018-12-06_21.06.36-me.jpg

First of a few coats.

LANpak-2018-12-06_21.25.00-me.jpg

And after some sanding.

LANpak-2018-12-08_17.05.15-me.jpg

It's very important that this plug be as perfect as I can get it.  Every little detail on this plug will wind up on the mold, which then transfers directly to the final product.  So the better the plug is, the less work I'll have to do cleaning the final shell.  After two passes of filler, I've still got a few spots to touch up, and then I'm still not done, but more on that next time!

Thanks for following along!

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