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Ersterhernd's G4 Cube Project

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It all started on this forum, when I saw the builds that several others had done with the G4 Cube. Thanks to Neilhart, Mactester, Chaosdesigns and a host of others for the inspiration to tackle one of these little pieces of history. In early February the quest began to find a decent cube and attempt to build it from its retro form into a quiet, functional and attractive vintage showpiece for my home office.

I quickly found out that these cubes aren't easy to find. Shipping costs to Canada from the USA were prohibitively expensive, not to mention reading about several purchasers that found their cubes cracked or damaged from transit. Scouring Craigslist every day eventually paid off, as I found an 7/10 specimen that with some polishing moved up to a 9/10. No cracks in the perspex, just some scratches mainly on the back of the unit. It had a sticker on it "Property of University of British Columbia" so obviously had been in a business environment for most of it's life.

I paid 150.00 dollars for the cube, speakers, keyboard, external PSU and 15" Studio Display. Not too bad I thought. With the limited 1024x768 resolution of the monitor, I found and purchased a mint condition Apple 20" Cinema Display (the acrylic one to match the cube) the very same day. A priority goal in this project, as I already mentioned; is to accent the look of my office. The Cube/Cinema combo is a real winner in achieving that end.

Upon getting it home, I went to work with the Macguires ScratchX that I use on my motorcycle paint to remove minor scuffs and scratches. The product worked well and didn't cost me anything as I had it in the garage already.




The Finished Result






The 20" Cinema Display to match





I will continue this thread in several additional posts of the build progress. I hope the forum members enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed this project so far.


-Ersterhernd
 
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The Cube took a few hours to disassemble and sort out what to re-use. To be honest, I spent a pile of time just sitting and analyzing the empty shell trying to figure out a way to create something unique and functional. I measured and re-measured, calculating how to use every precious available millimetre of space.


Hardware -

Given the tight restrictions of space, I decided that less is better. As several others have done, I chose to use the low profile Intel DQ77KB motherboard for the build. Combined with the Gelid Slim Silence i-Plus CPU cooler, I couldn't see a solution that would give any lower profile. Mactester did a killer job of milling his own copper heatsink to connect up with the Cube HS, but I don't have the tools or expertise to accomplish anything even close to that. Mated up with the i3-3225 CPU, this choice of system board would utilize onboard HD 4000 graphics.

Thanks to a response post by Neilhart, I discovered a space-saving miracle called mSata. I have to admit I had no idea it even existed. NCIX had an Extreme Deal of the Day featuring a 256 GB Crucial mSata drive for 169.00 dollars; so I snapped one up. Its the size of a laptop wifi card, without SATA cables or Power cables. I simply cannot believe how perfect it is for this build. I can have 2x128 GB partitions, one boot partition and one for fast backup with SuperDuper.


The Complete Board
(Note: I added a 1/2 mini-PCIe wifi card after this photo, it sits in the empty slot beside the CPU cooler at the bottom of this pic)




In addition to the above, I purchased:

- 80mm Noctua NF-R8 PWM fan for bottom intake
- 60mm Fractal fan for top exhaust
- Dell 8.4a 160w Notebook Power Supply
- Assorted Nuts and Bolts and a 6-32 tap

Total Cost for all parts (tax in) was about 650.00 CDN dollars.
 
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What to Re-Use? Here's what I decided to keep. Of course, never throw ANYTHING away, you just never know...

1. The entire shell.
2. The Power/Reset buttons
3. The Touch Sensor (not sure if I successfully install or not yet)
4. The built-in wifi antenna (may not need it)


The shell with the center black heatsink cut out. The scuffs from the hacksaw would be painted black later. The power/reset button assembly is in the bottom right of the pic.




The onboard wifi antenna tucked out of the way





To mount the motherboard, I chose not to drill into the handle support rails as some others have done. Instead, I cut, drilled and tapped threads into four small 1/4" blocks of aluminum. I positioned them precisely where they needed to be and used JB Weld to fasten each one to the handle supports. This provided a means of threading in the four required posts to hold the motherboard. One other advantage of using the aluminum blocks was that I could use 2" 6-32 bolts which were the maximum length available at Home Depot.

I chose to offset the bottom intake fan, rather than use the included 80mm bracket in the Cube. This gives more air draw and moves the fan away from the potentially crowded motherboard area of the case.




In this build, it was critical to get the Gelid heatsink as close as physically possible to the support rail, moving the MB as far off the back of the case as possible to leave clearance for the later installation of USB ports out the top of the Cube. Also, the Power/Reset buttons needed room to reside behind the board, further necessitating the importance of tight clearance. The total measured height of the DQ77KB and Gelid Cooler was 36mm.


Test Fitting the Motherboard with four 6-32 bolts (heads cut off) screwed into four threaded aluminum blocks.




Pic of the tight tolerance between the Gelid Cooler and the left handle rail. The little foam bumpers were later removed. Also note the offset Noctua intake fan.




Everything fit like a glove! I had the clearance I needed behind the motherboard with this configuration. Pictured below you can see that I have plenty of room to install several USB ports out the top slot at the rear of the Cube. This was a huge consideration, as there is really not an effective way to plug in USB flash drives into the bottom of the cube without a flexible extender cable.

Picture of the underside of the MB, with view of the top rear slot of the Cube.





It was all very tight, but a great fit!
 
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Installing Mountain Lion 10.8.2 required patching the 0048 bios. Fortunately the DQ77KB shipped with 0038 which allowed it. The OSX install went without a hitch, but I did not have QE/CI graphics accleration or a properly recognized HD4000/20" Cinema graphics combo until I installed a patched DSDT and SSDT into /Extra. I've installed OSX on about 8 different machines since Snow Leopard, this system ranked about the middle of the pack for difficulty due to the issue with the graphics. Took several hours to sort out.


Installing Mtn Lion on the test bench
Note that the video goes HDMI ---> DVI ---> ADC through a couple of different adapters to host the 20" Cinema.




Important!
The DQ77KB only has USB 3.0 ports on the rear I/O. This can be problematic with Mtn Lion installs. You'll need an external adapter with 4 pin connector to do this. Mine is a Startech, you can see the USB stick plugged into it in the photo.

 
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Cutting the Cube I/O was a tedious process. Great care must be taken to measure, measure, measure. A faulty cut meant a ruined cube, so I carefully adjusted the MB into its precise final position using the threaded post mounts.


This is what it looked like in position with the G4 Cube I/O still in tact.




Taped Cut Lines




Cut completed. DQ77KB I/O plate in position. Test plugged several ports. All fits very well.




Side Profile of Cut-Out




Power/Reset switch fits perfectly under the I/O plate




Wifi Card antenna is perfect length. There should be two antennas, but I tested the speed with only a single antenna at an acceptable 1.2 MB/sec on the Wireless G Dell 1397 card. Drilling a 2nd hole in the cube to accomodate a second antenna would be (in my opinion) harmful to the aesthetic look of the case, with little necessity for increased wifi performance. I decided to leave it with only the single antenna through the supplied hole in the I/O plate.




The Power/Reset switch under the motherboard




With motherboard fit precisely into rear I/O plate, less than 2mm of clearance between Gelid Cooler and left handle support rail.
(See the daylight through the small gap)




Finished Rear I/O. The Power/Reset buttons work. Thanks to Mactester for the pinouts! I'm considering putting an SD Card Reader into the bottom cover plate, but haven't figured that out yet.




Closeup of the Cut-Out





I'm happy with the progress so far. Will post more pics as I get the work done.
 
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The two case fans are installed as follows. The Noctua NF-R8 is a PWM fan controlled by bios. The smaller Fractal 60mm is throttled down by a Voltage Reducer that came with the Noctua. There was no need to run either case fan at full speed.

The Noctua is mounted offset from the original bottom rack in the G4 cube. I JB Welded a couple of supports for it, they are threaded so the fan can be bolted down. The smaller Fractal sits on a custom mount that attaches to what used to be the Hard Drive rack. The system runs essentially silent.


Noctua NF-R8 intake fan








Fractal 60mm exhaust fan bolts to two of the original HDD holders. I had to custom cut a mount rack (painted black) to do this.
(Note the plug for Intel on the Fractal fan motor :D)

 
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A couple of additions tonight...



Wired the Power/Reset buttons to the Front I/O header on the DQ77KB. Works great.





Installed a Hard Drive LED to light under the bottom of the cube. Glued it in place with a fairly weak glue in case I don't like it. I find the HDD LED essential when trying to troubleshoot boot problems with OSX. Its a blue LED so I think it'll look good. It sticks through one of the case holes about 1mm.

 
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Fantastic Build!!!! Wonderful attention to detail. I love your pics.

On another note; can you post a step by step on how to install Mountain Lion? I'm about to go through the same process with the same board/cpu/cooler and would like to save the "several hours" it took you.

Much Appreciated

-- chaos
 

eelhead

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Great job with this build, your attention to detail is superb !!!!!
Thanks for all the pics as well.
 
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What to Re-Use? Here's what I decided to keep. Of course, never throw ANYTHING away, you just never know...

3. The Touch Sensor (not sure if I successfully install or not yet)
Wow, attention to detail and the pictures are really great. Would like to know your progress on the Touch Sensor?
 
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