Altair computer inspired case build

Posted on Wednesday, April 28th 2010 at 11:05 a.m.

Geeks love customization. There are few things more satisfying than taking something that is a basic design and making it your own, or even better making something yourself that is unique.

Case modding involves either changing the appearance of a standard PC case, repurposing another object as a case, or building a case from scratch. The basic idea is that if you’re going to have something sitting on your desk all the time, it might as well be interesting to look at. Case mods are popular with PC gamers who regularly attend LAN parties as a way to stand out from the crowd. The development of the Mini-ITX motherboard form factor has made a variety of unique case mods popular.

While many cases are about flash and glitz, occasionally a mod comes along that really takes things to another level. Before I can talk about why this case caught my eye, I have to provide a little history lesson.

Way back before I even knew what computers were, the Altair 8800 was the first viable microcomputer marketed to electronics hobbyists via Popular Mechanics Electronics magazine. Wildly popular, it became the computer that many future computing giants first cut their teeth on.

The Altair’s iconic status is what makes this case design so interesting to me. Bob Alexander, a geek who lusted after the 8800 when it first came out but didn’t have the money to buy one, recently decided that he would build an homage to the 8800 that had a modern computer hidden inside it. You can read the details on Bob’s site, but some of the highlights for me:

  • The PC has a SSD running Windows 7 and boots very quickly
  • Not willing to pay the several thousands of dollars for a used Altair, Bob fabbed a replica himself
  • The LED’s on the front panel have been programmed to replicate a typical Altair processing pattern
  • The front switches are quicklauch switches for programs (i.e. pressing one switch launches Photoshop.)

Here’s a video detailing the mods.

Bob’s case pays tribute not only to the Altair 8800 but to the hacking culture around it at the time, when if you wanted something you had to build it yourself.

We tip our collective hats to you Bob - this is a fabulous design.

Update: Bob was kind enough to drop by and point out my incorrect attribution. The Altair appeared in Popular Electronics magazine.

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