As an automotive enthusiast, I've always loved the concept of "sleepers" - cars that don't look like much on the outside but boast a much more powerful surprise under the hood, unknown to on-lookers. This was the main idea behind Project Stalker.
My grand father gave me two old computers that used to belong to a friend of his who unfortunately just passed away a few months ago. One was an Acer laptop, about 4-5 years old, which I cleaned up, wiped and sold to someone who needed it. The other was a 9 year old HP Pavilion desktop PC that had some kind of hardware problem, so it couldn't really be sold or used for anything. I really liked the styling and internal layout of the case and started thinking...
I had some parts left over from two previous builds which could be combined to create a relatively small yet powerful gaming PC inside this old HP case. So I gutted out the old AMD Athlon x2 4400+ and associated hardware, except for the Hitachi 400GB 7200rpm HDD which happened to be a SATA drive and still in good condition. Started laying out all the new (spare) parts inside and sorting out the cable routing. Everything fit just fine and I found there's actually a surprising amount of space in this little chassis. Once I knew where everything was going to go, I pulled it all out again. Why? To do some custom fabrication/modifications and to do something about all the hideous bare metal on the inside.
The case is fairly small and I wanted this to be easily portable so I came up with a way to cut and bend a handle into the top of the chassis that would be comfortable and not cut my hand, yet also not ruin the clean aesthetics of the case. I made 3 cuts and curled the piece under so as to create a "grip" for my fingers. Even with the full weight of all components installed, it's quite easy to hold and there's almost no flex to the frame. I'll give HP one thing - they sure built a sturdy chassis for this model. The other modification involved cutting an opening to mount the fan and rad for the H55 AIO cooler in the front. There was no fan mount in the front to begin with, so I traced out where the fan would need to sit, cut out an opening and drilled some holes for the mounting screws.
Next, it was time to paint. Picked up some automotive trim paint in satin black finish which, as you can see in the pics, made for a much better/cleaner looking system compared to the bare metal. If you have a cheaper case with a bare metal interior and you're looking for a really cheap way to improve the look of your system, this is what you need to do! lol. ;-)
Once the paint dried I began the careful re-assembly process. Took my time with the cable routing - several hours at least. With the odd layout of this case, I didn't just want cables and wires running loose all over and because it's meant to be portable, I wanted everything to be secure. Wires getting caught in fans = bad. :P
After the final assembly, I removed all the ugly factory stickers from the outside except the "powered by nvidia" sticker on the front - that one still applies and actually looks nice. ;-)
Only part that was missing and I needed to purchase was the processor (and an internal USB extension cable). Since this wasn't going to be my primary gaming rig and is going to be running Linux, I didn't need anything crazy. An i5 would be overkill and way too expensive (Canadian prices suck). An i3 would be ideal but was more money than I wanted to spend (I know, I know it costs me almost nothing thus far...lol). The Pentium G3258 Anniversary Edition - now that little sucker is a processor I've been wanting to play with since it was first announced. In Tom's Hardware review of the 3258, they put it up against the similarly priced Athlon X4 750K, in which the Pentium trounced the Athlon in nearly every gaming benchmark, stock and overclocked. For the games I'll be running on this machine, the Pentium will be more than enough. I'm very curious to see what kind of overclock I can get on this modest H87 4-phase motherboard. I first have to revert it to an older BIOS version to allow overclocking, but once I've done that, I'll edit this and share the results. :-)
All in all, I think this build turned out really well. I love the way it looks, inside and out and I'm very proud of it as this was my first "custom" build. Currently running Ubuntu Gnome 15.04 and am still installing/setting things up, so I haven't had a chance to really test it out yet. Though I did run Day of Defeat: Source for a few minutes just to see how it runs maxed at 1080p... 250-300fps and butter-smooth! :D
Update: Stole the H55 CPU cooler to cool the R9 290 in my Ghost build. Will be adding an aftermarket CPU air cooler to this build, just have to figure out which one to use... Using the stock Intel cooler for now.
Update: Updated the BIOS on the motherboard and now have the G3258 running at 3.8GHz. :D Wanted to hit 4.0, but that's asking too much of this motherboard, unfortunately. It's voltage locked and so anything above 3.8 just results in the system freezing up. On the stock Intel heat sink, temps leveled off at 67-69 degrees max running P95 for 15 mins. Good enough for now, but will eventually install something better.
Thanks for looking. Cheers,