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DIY suspended 5.25″ hard drive rack

August 28th, 2010 · 1 Comment · Personal

I was flying around in Flight Simulator X this morning when my screen turned into vertical bars as my graphics card completely seized up due to heat. It’s a problem I’ve encountered before on hot summer days after a few hours of playing games, but never in such a short time – less than 2 hours. I put my hand on top of my computer case and it was warm to the touch, which is saying a lot for a case made entirely out of aluminum and three empty drive bays up top. All that heat had to be coming from somewhere, and my obvious suspects were my hard drives and graphics cards. It didn’t help matters that all 4 of my hard drive bays were full, which literally jammed one of the hard drives right up against my Radeon HD5870, which is so long that with the 4th hard drive installed my motherboard tray could only close to about an inch of flush with the back of my case. I had hoped this wouldn’t be a problem but, not really surprising, it turned out to be.

My case is air cooled, because there really isn’t a lot of room inside of it to run all the hoses and heatsinks even if I wanted to water cool it – and I wasn’t about to take that pricey step (I would need a new case too!) without trying to clear up the airflow issues first. Now, I have two 80mm front fans to suck in air to blow over the hard drives. Problem is, once it gets past the hard drives to the graphics cards (I also have an HD8770) it’s already very warm, which means the hot air the graphics card is exhausting out the back is only being replaced with hot air. So I had to remove the two middle hard drives to clear up some decent cool airflow. Problem #1: I already said all 4 hard drive bays were full. A floppy drive and a multi-disc reader occupied the two external 3.5″ bays. That left the three open 5.25″ bays up top. Problem #2: How do you mount a 3.5″ drive into a 5.25″ bay?

Well, I suppose the easy way would be to buy something like this. Cheap and easy right? Well, if you feel like waiting a few days for your order to arrive or go hunting around for mom & pop shops that carry something like it. I was too impatient to wait and to lazy to go hunting around the area (and I’m cheap). That left me with whatever I could scrounge together around my house. After a few failed ideas, my gaze fell upon a DVD drive I had just pulled out of my rig because it had died. Inspiration struck.

I began by removing the front bezel. These things are designed to come off, but you’re gutting this drive so rip it off by whatever means necessary. Note, this is actually the second drive I gutted, not the first, which was a more modern DVD/CD drive.

Next, flip over the drive and remove the four screws on the bottom. Both drives were assembled this way, so I’m assuming most are. If you have a different sort of construction – you’re on your own! The important thing here though is to save the screws! You will definitely need these four later, and you might need any more you remove as well even if you don’t know it yet.

These four screws might be the only thing holding the drive to the enclosure, and you can pry it out. The first drive I dismantled required me to unscrew a back plate as well. It also had part of the spindle in the enclosure. If that’s the case, simply use the screwdriver butt to bang it out from the inside – it won’t take much. You can discard the drive how you see fit – I would recommend recycling, of course.

Now, take the drive face up like it is in the picture and insert it into your 5.25″ bay because this is the one snafu – you will be using the drive enclosure upside down, which means the screw holes may not match up. I suppose you could do this even before you decide it’s worth dismantling the drive. Either way, make sure you can actually mount the drive in its new orientation. If you’re using drive rails well… good for you 😛 I wish my case had em.

Before the next step you may need to do some shopping to get the zip ties pictured above. I’ve had a bundle I bought from Radio Shack like 5 years ago – they are pretty nifty! I don’t know where besides Radio Shack they are sold (or if they’re even sold there anymore) so you may have to hunt. Snip off the pointy end, then lay the drive across two of them lying parallel. Lift up one side at a time and use mounting screws to screw them against the drive itself, placing the screws through one of the many holes in the zip ties and making sure the bottom is taut. This will leave you with four strips sticking up over the drive.

Now just re-insert the 4 screws you removed from the optical drive but only screw them in about 1/4 of the way so they become posts. Then simply hook the zip ties over them, making sure that you use a hole that tightens (not too much) the zip tie so it suspends the drive properly. Snip off any remaining leftovers.

Here in this final image you can see the mounting screws on the drive holding the zip ties in place underneath, and then stretched over to the screw posts to suspend the drive.

Now comes the possibly tricky part of mounting them in your rig, depending on how the upside-down enclosures align with your case bay mounts. You may not be able to put your bay covers back on over them, and will be left with yawning gaps in your tower, as I did. But I decided to take advantage of that as well:

Remember when I said save all your screws just in case? Well the two you see holding the mesh on the bottom I had to fish out of the garbage! 😉 It was also by chance I mounted that drive on the bottom, not by design – which is good because I had no idea at first how to keep the screen attached at the bottom. To keep it wrapped around the top and sides, I unscrewed the front bezel so I could wrap the screen around behind it and screw it back down to hold it in – plus the removable case sides slide up against it and the bezel. I asked my mom if she had pantyhose as a first choice to keep animal fur (we have 4 dogs) and dust out, but she didn’t have any and, again, I was too impatient to wait to buy some (did I mention cheap?) so I salvaged a screen window, which has mesh fine enough to keep out the fur, at least.

Another tip: If you’re going to prevent front-access to your drives, hook them up to power and data cables before you do so – I forgot that since they are suspended and not directly mounted, there’s not much firmness there to push in plugs, and I didn’t want to push too hard for fear of over-stretching the zip ties. Luckily for me SATA cables are easier to attach than PATA.

Upon booting up my system (after saying “hold on to your butts!”) I bent down to look at the drives and saw no noticeable vibration in their cradles as they spun up.

I’ve not had a chance to re-evaluate my game performance, but the computer has been on for several hours already and the case is cold (not just cool, cold) to the touch, ambient temperature is at 77F. While there is no fan directly blowing air, I have opened up a lot of ventilation for the air being pushed around by my large ceiling fan. With the drives suspended rather than mounted, they are able to radiate heat off into the air and thus don’t require direct cooling.

I’ve already left myself a note to report back at the start of December with how the rig is running. If anything horrible happens before then (hard drive failure, zip tie snapping, still horrible gfx card overheating, etc) I’ll be reporting about it. But I have a feeling I’ll catch up with you all in December! 🙂

Update – April 2013

I’ve not had to touch or replace either of the two drives since I originally installed them!!

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