As part of our recent showcase systems for RESPAWN LAN at the end of March this year, we planned out an M-ATX system for one of the sponsors but as fate would have it, their components were delayed. Someone looked at the Node 804 in the lab and said "We've spoken about modding that as a Minecraft block... why don't we?". It was late notice and we needed to have custom vinyl made but we gave it a crack and managed to get it across the line.
This build was to serve 2 purposes, the first was to see how the ageing Sandy Bridge 2500K stood up in current day with a new graphics card and the second was to make something eye catching and worthy of being a Minecraft Tribute.
In line with using predominantly older core technology, we used:
- Gigabyte G1 Sniper M3 Z77 motherboard
- Intel i5-2500K @ 4.5GHz
- Corsair 16GB DDR3 1600MHz Low Profile black Vengeance RAM
- 2x 60GB OCZ Summit drives in RAID 0
- 3x 500GB 7200RPM also in RAID 0
- Fractal Design Kelvin S24 water cooler
- MSI chipped in with a GTX 960 100 Million Edition graphics card
- Fractal Design Node 804 Chassis
- Fractal Design Newton 1000w Modular Power Supply (late substitute)
Starting off with the shape, we chose the Node 804 because it's almost square and we had an itch to modify one since we reviewed it here. The RAID approach for the drives was risky but we were looking for performance here and prepared to compromise on the significant risk involved. As far as the storage solution in this build goes, make no mistake as we were playing with fire.
The gallery below shows what a 'vanilla' Node 804 looks like.
Obviously the external appearance was going to need some serious cosmetic work and all that black had to go. We had a choice as to if we kept the window on the left side or covered it - in the end we chose to add some green bling the internals and keep the window.
Changing the external appearance presented many options such as paint, power coat, mosaic or custom vinyl. We went with a carefully measured image printed on custom vinyl, and some spray paint for the top grill in a matching green to the main grass colour. Due to the compressed timeline and our lack of experience applying vinyl (as in this was our first time working with the stuff), we had 2 sets printed just in case. The cost of the vinyl alone was almost AUD$200. The Node 804 comes apart really easily via thumbscrews and removing the side window and top grill was simple with the help of a pair of curved long nose pliers. We used many light coats of spray paint on the top grill and didn't bother with a primer.
Faced with the choice of covering the front grill or working around it and painting the front grill brown, we chose to cover it for effect and use the top of the case as an intake. It wasn't ideal and was a choice we made for purely cosmetic reasons. The top panel was the first part that we did and this involved applying the vinyl without the mesh installed, wrapping the vinyl around the plastic outer surface and then pressing the painted mesh into place which also sandwiched the coloured vinyl. We used the same approach with the side window.
The vinyl skinning of the Node 804 was a little tedious but we ended up not needing the second set of vinyl and managed to work around the IO ports on the side of the case with a very sharp scalpel/craft knife.
The green highlights on the Gigabyte G1 Sniper M3 micro ATX motherboard matched perfectly with the green highlights on the MSI GTX 960 Gaming 100 Million (NVIDIA) edition.
This is great but it isn't that obvious in a dark case so we tossed up the option of using white or green LEDs inside and settled on green to match the green LEDs on the GTX 960. This was as simple as buying some Cooler Master Sickle Fan X 120mm fans with green LEDs and connecting them to the Node 804 fan controller. We also grabbed some green power extension cables and although the green cable sleeving didn't match very well, we stuck with it anyway. The internal build process was really straight forward as the Node 804 is one of the easiest MATX cases I've used in terms of fitting it out.
In summary, the process was :
- Removed the top grill and spray painted it green after priming it in white
- Removed the window from the side panel
- Removed all of the Fractal stock fans and replaced the rear 2 with green LED Cooler Master Sickle Flow X.
- Created 2 BMP images down to single pixels per colour and then up scaled them for printing by a professional sign writer on vinyl (this was the expensive bit but totally worth it).
- Carefully applied the vinyl to the case panels after giving each one a wipe down with rubbing alcohol.
- Cut out the excess vinyl from the top panel and window hole, then folded the excess around the edge for a neater finish.
- Cut out the IO ports and power switch on the right hand side of the front
- Note that the front vinyl covers the lower mesh intake so the roof Radiator fans have been used as the intake – temps seemed fine when testing so we left it like this. We could always cut the vinyl at the front, remove the mesh, paint it brown and re-install it later.
- Reinstalled the top mesh (now green) and clear side window.
- Installed the Fractal Design Kelvin S24 and secured the excess hosing out of the way with some zip ties
- Installed 2 SSDs in the front panel
- Installed 3 hard drives in RAID in the right chamber of the case
- Installed some custom green cable extensions – not exactly the green I was looking for but they were still green.
- The cherry on top was the MSI limited edition NVIDIA Green GTX 960 Gaming 100 Million Edition. The green LED Logo in the top and green/black cooler shroud really worked.
At RESPAWN LAN, the gamers and sponsors all took an interest in this build over the others and a few people had to check to make sure it was actually a PC and not just a decorative box on the table. In terms of performance, the build showed that with a current model graphics card and a healthy overclock, it trades blows with current day Intel i5 processors and primarily shows its age when it comes to physics benchmarks. Thermally, the overclock was more manageable than our HASWELL i5-4670K overclock thanks to the efficient Fractal Design Kelvin S24. We used the S24 pump at a slower 7V rather than the 12V and the fans remained in the 700-800 RPM range for the whole day. Airflow wasn't an issue and the Minecraft Tribute PC remained cool whilst smashing out some decent FPS in 1080p on titles other than Minecraft such as Battlefield 4, Battlefield Hardline, World of Warships Beta, Stranded Deep, Wolfenstein, Trackmania, Call of Duty : Advanced Warfare and H1Z1. Minecraft is a game that appeals to a very wide demographic and we found that the Minecraft Tribute PC drew more attention than our other showcase builds.
We felt that this was a relatively straight forward cosmetic case mod without any serious structural changes. It certainly demonstrated the longevity of the Sandy Bridge i5-2500K CPU which was, and still is, one of the most memorable and impressive CPUs I've owned.