Computational creativity and the future of AI

Taking computer design to Level Eleven with Jeffrey Stephenson


May 7, 2010

The latest work from case mod specialist Jeffrey Stephenson was inspired by a powerful gam...

The latest work from case mod specialist Jeffrey Stephenson was inspired by a powerful gaming machine and features the latest motherboard from VIA

Image Gallery (22 images)

Seasoned case modder and hater of all things beige, Jeffrey Stephenson has been squeezing fully functional mini-PCs into all sorts of strange and beautiful outer shell designs ever since first crunching a VIA mini-ITX motherboard into a cigar box in 2002. The latest stylish addition to his expanding collection was inspired by the six drive Thermaltake Level 10 gaming monster and includes VIA's latest Pico board which pumps out 1080p video, 160GB of solid state storage, 2GB of memory and a DVD burner.

Jeffrey Stephenson got his first computer in 1983 (a Texas Instruments TI-99 4/A in black with brushed aluminum trim). He first toyed with the idea of creating his own case mod when the invasion of the beige began but the cost of the technology necessary took a good while to reach an affordable level. With the mantra "it doesn't have to be ugly" in mind, and the timely release of the VIA mini-ITX motherboard, he managed to fit all of the necessary components into a cigar box, bringing the Humidor PC to life in 2002 and starting on an epic journey that's resulted in over 20 case mods now dotted throughout his Florida home.

Taking it to the next level

His latest build began in January as VIA announced its new palm-sized motherboard, the EPIA P820-12L Pico ITX which features a 1.2GHz VIA Nano 64-bit x86 processor on an integrated VX855 chipset and Integrated VIA Chrome9 3D/2D AGP graphics capable of 1080p HD playback. Inspired by a monster of a gaming machine the Thermaltake Level 10 and a custom case mod called Edelweiss, the Level Eleven has only just now been completed.

Thermaltake Level 10 six drive gaming monster on which Level Eleven is loosely based

The flattened upright shell of Level Eleven is constructed from birch ply covered in Pennsylvania cherry veneer and contains the Pioneer DVD burner, fan and front-mounted USB ports. Two similarly finished boxes sporting stylish aluminum detailing (thankfully the original design, which looked somewhat like a Japanese flag was abandoned) and vents for airflow contain the Pico board with 2GB DDR2 memory (left) and Intel X25-M 160GB SATA SSD (right).

Inside the vertical panel, showing the optical drive and USB ports

Above the board's container, which is cut away so that the USB, HDMI, VGA and Ethernet ports are showing, a T&T 11-blade 12V fan draws air through a silver-painted 35 piece vented box with stacked fins at the top of the unit, which is where the power switch, power jack and auxiliary audio connections are found. Below the SSD container sits a similar looking DE box (for the purposes of creating a tiny bit of intrigue or suspense, the function of this box will be revealed later). Driving the system is Windows 7 64-bit edition.

The EPIA P820-12L Pico ITX and Intel X25-M 160GB SATA SSD

More case mod examples

Past works have had public showings in museums (the most recent saw the Mission, Unidyne, G-metric Nano, DECOmputer, Decomatic and Pico Bayard works shown as part of a Rods and Mods event at San Francisco's Exploratorium) and technology events, such as six of the last eight CES trade shows. They're also on display at Stephenson's website and some choice examples have made it into the gallery here.

Ingraham model, a tribute to the 1946 Stromberg Carlson model 1110H

Included here is 2008's Ingraham model, a tribute to the 1946 Stromberg Carlson model 1110H, and similarly styled Art Deco speakers. The Ingraham features a VIA VB8001 mainboard with the 1.6GHz VIA Nano processor, 4GB of DDR2 RAM and a 64GB SSD. There's also the DECOmputer, made from a 1930's toaster. Looking like a relic from a B-movie sci-fi epic, the cast aluminum and Bakelite box built in 2005 houses a Kontron board with a 1.8GHz Pentium processor, a gigabyte of memory and a Seagate 40GB HDD.

Art Deco motif finishes off the DECOmputer nicely

Walking "that fine line between genius and insanity" Stephenson created a computer within a PSU in 2005. This one sports an Advantech 5820 babyboard with a Geode 233MHz processor, 6GB HDD and a USB port to the top. My personal favorite though is the Unidyne. Sitting atop a cast iron mic stand is an aluminum-painted basswood replica of a Shure 55 microphone. VIA's mini-ITX board, cooling fan and HDD just slide into the cavity of the vented frame.

The Unidyne PC

And finally, for those who haven't worked it out already - the DE box on the Level Eleven stands for Decorative Element.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden

beautiful! What a craftsman. I'll try doing something like this for my next upgrade, bugger the beige.

9th May, 2010 @ 01:18 am PDT

I've always dreamt of having my computer as part of my desk. Just imagine a CD sliding vertically into the desktop - that would be cool.

Adam Wydeman
9th May, 2010 @ 07:37 pm PDT

Great find Paul! Interesting take on the psychology of the aesthetics of computer design!

Form? Function? Nostalgic? Weird? ....

Christopher Littlefair
10th May, 2010 @ 05:42 am PDT

Superior craftsmanship! Some very eye-catching work.

Kevin J Orr
10th May, 2010 @ 07:32 am PDT

Absoulotly Georgeous, I'd love to try and build a computer like that....the one thing that worries me though is trisk of overheating...

12th May, 2010 @ 07:59 am PDT
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