Thinking Machines-inspired Computer Case

Part of the magic of Wazer is how well it integrates with other tools in the shop. Wazer can’t do it all, but it can get you 90% of the way to a finished product in 10% of the time it would take via other methods. If you’ll be working with sheet metal at all, two of the best tools you can invest in are a box and pan brake and a spot welder. The former can be had in a 24" size for a couple hundred dollars on Amazon and your friends at Harbor Freight make a perfectly serviceable spot welder in both 110V and 220V versions. With a few simple bends and welds you can have a sheet metal part that that does the job of a much thicker (and heavier!) sheet with a minimum of fuss.

A few months ago I happened across a good deal on an AMD Ryzen 5 CPU and decided to build a CAD workstation around it. After sourcing an old NVidia Quadro M2000 on eBay and some various other parts, I was able to cobble together a fairly powerful machine around a mini-ITX motherboard. Being cheap and not wanting to commit to a case, I had all of the components more or less strewn across my desk for the first month or so of its existence. After a while I got fed up with this situation and decided to build something aggressively custom. I turned to a legendary supercomputer for inspiration: the Thinking Machines CM-1. This was one of the first computers to embrace massively parallel processing for vector calculations and its futuristic industrial design matched the advanced technology within. It also sported some seriously cool blinkenlights on the front panels. I decided to go with a somewhat toned-down version and only replicate one of the sub-cubes of the cube-of-cubes design both for practical reasons and to keep the computer within (a decidedly off-the shelf system) humble compared to the bleeding-edge custom electronics of the original Connection Machine.

After some careful study of the design of the CM-1 (and some incredibly helpful input from its industrial designers, Tamiko Thiel and Gordon Bruce) I set to work designing the sub-frame and top louvers. I used Solidworks to mock up the frame around the various components and standoffs to get the cutouts and mounting points right. From the Solidworks model, I flattened the sheet metal components and exported them to DXF files to cut out on the Wazer. An initial prototype was done out of a single sheet of steel but this was wasteful and the sheet wasn’t big enough to create the full-sized cube. Cutting out individual panes and connectors proved to be a much more economical option in both material and time.

After cutting and bending the various pieces, I welded them together with the spot welder- being careful to keep everything square. Even with just a few small spot welds per corner, the resulting structure is suprisingly stiff and had more than enough strength to handle all of the computer’s components. To prevent rust, I sanded and cleaned the bare metal of surface rust and gave the subframe two coats of hi-temp black spray paint. I used 22GA or ~0.75mm thick steel, though I probably could have gone thinner in hindsight. Most commodity comptuer cases out there use either powder coated or galvanized sheet that’s As Thin As Possible, though large OEMs have the advantage of access to stamping tools and can introduce various ribs and other strengthening features to make the most out of as little material as possible.

I had the top louvers 3D printed in resin and coated matte black. I sourced a momentary keyswitch for the top and attached it to the power pins of the motherboard. The hole in the top that has yet to be filled is for a USB port and/or audio outputs. I’m not sure how I feel about having something just plugged into the top of the machine as it seems to ruin the clean lines of the overall shape but I am, alas, a slob so I’m not sure I deserve better.

The front and sides of the case are still a work in progress- one mostly dependent on motivating myself to do PCB layout for 512x LEDs on a single board and sorting out an appropriate microcontroller interface with the internal USB 2.0 header to drive it. Perhaps this will happen now that the darkness of winter has descended upon us. Stay tuned for more!


Hi @griffin! Thanks for the detailed project showcase - it was awesome! And welcome to the WAZER Community Forum!

Honestly, I am a big fan of this build and the inspiration you pulled from the CM-1. Such an innovative design/idea that was so early - I can’t believe that was the 80’s. “Machina Sapiens” :robot:

Do you plan on using the WAZER to create your side panels? I imagine you are waiting to get a better understanding of where you will need exhaust & intake fans. Is this something the WAZER could handle and what material do you plan on using? I see there are holes in the frame along the sides - are these for mounting the panels?

I look forward to seeing more of this project but I do not wish upon the darkness of winter to last too long! Haha :snowflake: :sun_behind_large_cloud:

This is so cool. Mini-ITX is such a struggle, I commend you sir.

@SnowZ117 thanks! I think if I had to do it over again I might have gone with uATX to allow for more expansion slots (since finding a mobo with Thunderbolt was nigh-on impossible at the time). There would still be plenty of room for HDDs and other miscellaneous cruft.