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Project: Blink Blink

Now that you are committed to modding your case, how about adding a display that can show your vital PC stats, Winamp information, game stats, stock tickers, news tickers, and much more? There are many functional reasons to add a liquid crystal display (LCD) to your case. But let's face it, the reason we do mods is simply because it's cool.

This is a very easy mod. There are two parts, the hardware installation and the software configuration.

Hardware

A variety of manufacturers produce LCD and vacuum fluorescent displays (VFDs). I chose a Matrix Orbital VFD2041, which you can find out more about at http://www.matrixorbital.com. I wanted a display that was very bright and that could display a good amount of information at one time.

Here are some other places to find displays:

EIO has cheap prices, but inventory changes frequently so you have to keep checking if you're looking for something specific.

How you mount your LCD display is up to you. External cases are an option, but I chose to build mine into the case. I used an Antec 6030B. I decided that it should be mounted in the front of the case, which limited where to mount it because of the door. The grill in the front looked like a good candidate for mounting, however. Mounting the VFD required removing some or all of the entire grill. After careful consideration, I removed the entire grill, which gave me the cosmetic effect I wanted. To fill the void of the grill, I used a plastic panel that framed the VFD and provided ventilation to the case fans.

Here are the supplies I used for this project:

  • VFD display

  • 1/8-inch acrylic

  • Black spray paint

  • Serial cable

  • Floppy power cable

Mounting the VFD

The following steps were used to mount the VFD:

  1. Cut the existing grill out of the front of the case using a Dremel.

  2. Take careful measurements of the empty space and cut out an acrylic blank to fit in place.

  3. Use the 5-inch bay door to trace the curve to be cut in the top and bottom of the blank.

  4. Decide on the location of the VFD, and then carefully lay it in place to measure the size of the mask for painting.

  5. Cut the VFD's mask and place it into position on the backside of the plastic blank.

  6. With the mask in place, use several thin coats of black paint.

  7. After the paint has dried for 48 hours, remove the mask.

  8. Mark the layout for the case fans' ventilation holes.

  9. Use a drill press to drill out the ventilation holes.

  10. With that done, use another piece of plastic (from a CD jewel case) to make a mounting bracket for the VFD.

  11. To cut the jewel case, score it with a utility knife and break it along the cut line.

  12. Bend the plastic by heating the plastic to make it nice and pliable (not too hot or it will melt and distort). Using two pieces of thin wood to keep the bend straight, carefully bend the plastic to the desired shape. Hold in place until the plastic cools a little and hardens.

  13. Hold the mounting bracket in place with small machine screws.

  14. Once the bracket is finished, mount the plastic cover.

  15. Lay the cover in place and secure it with a few small drops of silicon glue.

  16. Connect your serial cable and power leads, and you are done.

Software

There are a lot of LCD controls and plug-ins available on the market. Finding the one best suited for your application can be a matter of trying several different options. Valuable sources of information and advice are available on the many message boards and forums. If you don't find the answer you are looking for, post a new thread to ask your question, and it will most likely be answered. Here are two sites I would recommend:

I had a few requirements for the software I used:

  • Compatibility with Winamp to display song information

  • Compatibility with Mother Board Monitor

  • Ability to customize the interface

The software I chose to use was LCDriver. It gets information from Winamp and Mother Board Monitor, and it will even tell you when you have new email. It is not a free program ($15 after a 30-day trial period), but it has the nicest interface in my opinion. Setup is simple once you read the Getting Started page. You decide what information you want, where it goes, and how long to display it. If you are so inclined, you can even develop your own plug-ins for it.

To obtain some free programs, check out the following products and web sites:

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