In the comments for one of my Pavilion builds, someone said all it needed was a high-resolution screen in a CRT monitor case. It occurred to me, if you were going to do that, those things are huge, why not put the whole computer in there with it? I knew then that I'd have to build the Teleputer. So, thanks to that commenter, if you end up reading this. I apologize in advance for the length of this write-up and the number of pics, but this was a complicated and labor-intensive build, so describing it succinctly is difficult.
What is this thing!!??
The Teleputer is a gaming PC installed in a 2005 tube TV, along with a Raspberry Pi administrator, uninterruptible power supply (UPS), and “external” hard drive, interconnected by an ethernet network, with an HD monitor mounted in the picture window.
The design of this build was totally driven by the limitations of the TV case. Tube TVs are basically supported and shaped by the giant glass tube where all the magic happens with the electrons and the phosphorous inside it.
Tip: When busting open the CRT glass, have a Shop Vac handy, so that you don't poison yourself with a phosphorous cloud, which is basically a chemical weapon. Then again, depending on your relationship with your neighbors, you may just choose to wear an N45 mask and watch the pretty cloud.
The TV case itself is flexible plastic, so you can't mount anything heavy to it. Since the TV is supported by the glass tube, the case is designed to just attach to the tube. As a joke, when I first started the build, I sent a picture of the empty TV case with a little Pavilion inside and claimed to be finished. As it turns out, that was basically the design solution. I needed to replace the tube with something else to support the components in the case, and the Corsair 200R was the closest thing to fitting exactly, without the bezel and side covers, of course. I still needed to trim the frame down a bit. (My biggest disappointment is that I couldn't use a Pavilion for the job, but I couldn’t find one large enough.) Fortunately, there is plenty of space to mount the Pi, “external” drive, and ethernet switch on the 200R. It is much easier to configure cases when they are inside other cases, because you can also use the outside of the case to mount things.
I really wanted the remote to work. It seemed to me that you should at least be able to turn the computer on with it. I knew that a Wake on LAN command would turn on the PC with its power supply on. That’s when I first thought of including a Raspberry Pi in the build. I knew that people used remotes for their Pi entertainment setups, so it could do the job. The Pi is wired up and working.
Theory of Operation
- Turn on the Teleputer.
- Use the Teleputer.
You can turn on the Teleputer with either the remote or the Power button on the front of the TV. It will default to the DisplayPort output from the computer, but you can use the Channel and Volume buttons on the front of the TV to switch the monitor input to DVI, which is the Raspberry Pi Raspbian Linux desktop. From there, you can set up automatic backups of the computer over the Ethernet network to the "external" drive. I use a wireless keyboard/mouse combo for the PC and VNC to access the Pi desktop. For gaming, you hook up your own combo for the PC using the USB ports on the rear I/O. I added another wireless keyboard/mouse for the Pi, for times when the PC is not running. You really need the separate wireless combo for the Pi, in case something goes wrong.
When Something Goes Wrong
If there is a power outage, the PC is only surge protected, so it will go down. There simply isn't a UPS with enough battery power for the PC that is small enough to fit in the TV. However, everything else except the sound amplifier card will remain on. When the monitor is no longer receiving input from the PC, it will automatically switch to the DVI input which is the Raspbian Raspberry Pi desktop. You can then bust out your wireless Pi keyboard/mouse combo. Since I also use a small UPS to keep my modem and router up during outages, I still have Internet access. When the power comes back on, you can switch the monitor input back to DisplayPort and the PC using the buttons on the front of the TV. If you've lost data or the system is corrupted, however, you can restore it over the ethernet network using the Pi and the latest backup on the "external" drive.
It's even more handy if you have an unrecoverable PC crash. In that case, you simply restore the system using the Pi. In the unlikely event that the Pi freezes up, I soldered a Reset switch to the board and made it available on the Teleputer's rear I/O. That's also where the PC's Reset switch is located. In addition, you can plug a working computer into the extra ethernet port on the rear I/O and do maintenance on the computer and the Pi over the network. You can also use that port to make the Teleputer LAN a subnet of a larger network. The switch will never go down since it is powered by the UPS. Finally, should it come to that, you can take apart the TV case by removing 6 large Phillips screws, and carefully sliding the 2 halves of the TV case and the PC case apart. Most everything is accessible at that point, since you can take the lid off the PC case to get at its internals. If you have to take the monitor off, think of it as a growth opportunity.
Like my Pavilion projects, I made my own parts out of spare pieces of the case and some of the other components I used in the build. I'm sure I used over 50% of the extra material from the case, including the side doors, bezel, roof, and drive cages. (Full disclosure: I needed to "borrow" a couple of unused drive cages from another Corsair case build). A good part of it went back into remaking the case frame to support the rest of the components I used and to create proper airflow.
The Tweaker's Delight Rear I/O Extension Module™. When I told a friend about the work I was doing on the rear I/O extension, he said, "That sounds like something a tweaker would do." Next to modifying and mounting the monitor, this was the most time-consuming part of the build. I carved up the 200R bezel to make and mount it. It took a lot of Exacto saw and knife work, along with 4 bottles of Loctite super glue. People really yank and stab at those rear I/O ports, so I wanted to make sure they wouldn't move no matter what. The Audio plugs are a bit misleading, since the one marked with the little microphone goes to line in. I just couldn't resist using a piece of the front I/O.
The Uninterruptible UPS Support Bracket™. Next to the Dremel, the most useful tool I have for making metal parts is my vise/anvil. I just cut a big rectangle out of one of the 200R's doors, folded it in half length wise, and then pressed and beat on it until it was a nice, strong right angle. I then drilled a couple of holes in the top which, along with similar modifications on the Grand Fan Stands of Eloquent Silence and Heat Dissipation™ and a couple of existing reinforced holes on the TV case, allowed me to secure all the parts of the rear case together with a single crimped steel cable into one heavy, snug bundle. There's no way it would move, unless you turned the Teleputer upside down. Don't do that.
The Grand Fan Stands of Eloquent Silence and Heat Dissipation™. I bent and banged some unused square drive cages from my Corsair 750D, then combined them with parts of the radiator mounts to suspend the exhaust fans high on the sides of the back rear of the TV case. The bases are shaped so that they are wedged under and bent around the UPS.
The British Smiles Front I/O Board™. I used a slice of the old TV main board to mount the controls so that they would interface with the outside buttons. The old board already had alignment slots built in to the TV case, and I added standoffs to the bottom of the case to make sure the board doesn’t move when you press the external TV buttons. I removed the button board from the monitor and mounted that on top of the old main board slice in rough alignment with the Channel and Volume buttons on the TV. (With apologies to my British friends, the pads I made for pushing the buttons on the little monitor button board look like bad teeth to me.) Then, I attached little pieces of plastic to the Channel and Volume button actuators so that they would press the button board buttons when you press the external buttons. I couldn't make it work for one of the buttons though, because it was too distant laterally to create the necessary torque with plastic. So, I made a custom screw, blasted the rectangular head with a heat gun, and then inserted it into a matching hole in the back of the TV button and turned it 90 degrees. With the screw extending over the monitor button board, it was fairly easy to add a washer sandwiched by nuts and mount a little bracket on the main board to use as an actuating support. It’s probably easier to understand if you look at the pictures and watch this short youtube video.
The Eternally Internal External Drive Basket and Case Lid Assembly™. I got really tired of trying to measure out mounting hole locations for drilling. It's just nearly impossible to do with the irregularly shaped parts I make. I was talking to an artist friend of mine about it and he said, "Why don't you drill the holes in the part, insert and paint the tips of the screws, then press the part to what you're mounting it to?" Genius. I've used the trick several times since then. The lid it's mounted on is necessary to cover the hole in the top of the case that is required to install the monitor after building the PC. The hole must be covered to create proper airflow.
The Monitor Slice Halter Trough of Benevolent Deceit™. I originally intended to attach the dead piece of LCD screen that covers the open part of the TV viewing window left by the actual monitor to the TV case. But it was impossible to position it correctly given the play in the case and VESA mounting post locations. I cut the dead monitor piece from the first monitor I killed trying to make modifications for this build. (Suffice it to say, I make a lot of mistakes.) Then I made the metal support trough out of the dead monitor’s frame. I made the part’s hanging mounts from grooved pieces removed from the monitor back, so they fit like a glove.
Acer Monitor. Finding the best monitor for the Teleputer was difficult, because Tube TVs have square screens, and all HD monitors are wide screen to some degree. The best fit for a 24" Tube TV is a 1920x1200 resolution monitor. This choice was necessary but something of a disappointment, since I'd hoped to use a QHD monitor with high refresh rate. That still left a few problems, though. First, there was mounting it in the TV. Since the TV case isn’t sturdy enough to support a monitor, I had to mount it on the 200R. For that, I bought a VESA mount whose support bar was exactly the same height as the case itself. Since the bar itself wasn't designed to actually hold the VESA mount, I had to modify it so that it would. Then I was able to push the bar into the front of the case and attach the monitor, which then presses the monitor flat against the TV window when you sandwich everything together. I then added the Monitor Slice Halter Trough of Benevolent Deceit™ and the TV window looks like it's holding a darkish version of a tube TV screen.
There was also the slight recess of the monitor back electronics panel into the case itself. For that, I needed to slice off the sides of the plastic electronics housing that is molded into the monitor back. This was easy enough to do once I removed the USB port module from the monitor electronics. I haven't contacted Acer about this yet, but I think I might have voided my warranty.
There also needed to be a way to control the monitor from outside the case. So, I removed the monitor's little button board and mounted it on the British Smiles Front I/O Board™, and then I cut a small hole in the monitor bottom to run the flat cable to the board. Adding the teeth to the TV button actuators that extend to the British Smiles Front I/O Board™ allows you to use the volume and channel buttons on the front of the TV to turn on and adjust the monitor. (You may notice the board magically shift to the left in the pictures. As with the back USB ports, my problematic sense of direction caused me to read the button order backwards originally.)
There was also the issue of heat. LCD monitors do not like heat, so I knew I needed to add a cooling solution. The problem was where do you get cool air from and how do you run it into the monitor? Then, I noticed that the monitor vents were roughly the same size as PCIe expansion slot covers and remembered the graphics card cooling fans that fit in those slots. That worked perfectly, with the bonus being cute little bear ears on the monitor. All I had to do was bend the slot covers into the monitor vents to mount them. And, because the fans extend upward, they draw relatively cool air from the sealed off area above the case. Then I closed off one side of the monitor back panel, forcing hot air out the other side of the monitor and back to the exhaust area of the Teleputer. I’ve run Prime 95 and FurMark simultaneously for extended periods without the monitor failing.
Computer. I wanted it to be a good gaming system and I suspected that temps would be an issue, so I put my twin AIO 1080 Ti's in, along with my best CPU, gaming and temperature wise. I would have loved to put a custom loop in this thing, but it couldn't be done without cutting a hole in the TV case for refilling, and I wanted to keep it as much like the original as possible. Once again, the monitor is nothing to shout about for gaming purposes. That's why I put the high speed HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort extension ports from the primary Ti in the rear I/O. I think the Teleputer would be cozy next to a 32" QHD, high refresh monitor. Other than looking like a crustacean covered whale and the strange orientation of the CPU radiator, there's nothing all that unusual about the computer itself, though.
Airflow. Once again, I was very concerned about temps in the TV case, so I spent a fair amount of time thinking about airflow. In the end, I went with a standard bottom front to front sides to top rear TV airflow direction. To create the airflow, I sealed up the top of the computer frame, then mounted the Grand Fan Stands of Silent Eloquence and Heat Dissipation™ in the rear of the TV. Sealing the top of the case has the added bonus of force feeding the radiators for the cards and CPU. Because the right side of the Teleputer has the both the CPU radiator and one of the card's radiators, I used industrial Noctuas on that side for intake and exhaust. It can get a bit noisy if you really push the computer, but it's worth avoiding heat issues with the monitor, CPU, and cards.
Cabling. I don't normally mention cabling because it, like good neighbors, should rarely be seen and never heard. But, cabling with the TV in 3 sections felt like 3 dimensional chess, and I'm not even good at regular chess. You have to picture the space into which the cables will go, since you'll never actually see it with the case together, and then mount the cables where the open space will be. You have to leave as little slack as possible and then account for the slack that will be created when the pieces come together. You have to create a very small amount of secure slack at the connectors because, if they come loose, you'll have to take apart the case to refit them. You must tape any connections that easily come loose. Still, to your advantage, you can drape and attach cables anywhere on the PC case, since no one will see it. I did a reasonably nice looking cabling job the first time. But reality hit when I tried to put the TV case together. First fan scraping. Then it wouldn't go together all the way. Back to the drawing board. It took several attempts.
TV Case. I pretty much cleaned out the inside of the TV case, with the exception of the mounts for the slice of the main board and the speakers. The only things attached to the case are the rear fans and UPS by steel cable, the front and rear I/Os, the smoke detector (I was 99.9% sure the UPS would be okay at high temps), and one of the RGB strips. Everything else is attached to the computer frame. The only way anything would move around is if you turned the Teleputer upside down. Please don’t do that. Overall, the weight balance is very similar to a tube TV, so front heavy enough to support the elevated rear components. The speakers that came with the TV sound decent. I needed to add an amplifier for them, though. That's the little board that's mounted in the top right of the computer case. The RGB strips in the rear are used to create a little glow through the exhaust vent slots. I think it will look pretty cool to an observer, as your high-powered computer work on an old TV causes it to glow from within.
Uninterruptible Power Supply. I knew I needed to include a power strip for the normally external devices I was installing in the Teleputer, so that there would only be one power cord to plug in. If you're doing that, though, you might as well go all out and make it a UPS. The UPS is monitored and controlled by the Raspberry Pi using the open source NUT Linux software. I killed the power with everything running and it worked as expected.
The 3 Stages of Grief
Putting together the Teleputer sections was difficult, since I’d never done it with everything inside before, and because of the number of cables and how tightly everything fits together. I basically put the 3 sections (rear TV, PC case, and front TV) in a row and used a canal system, varying section heights like water level. I had to make 4 or 5 in situ modifications, including using the Dremel cutting wheel and tin snips to make space for the front I/O to extend into the PC case with all the components and wiring in harms way. Computer building is not for the faint of heart.
In terms of temps, it’s a little strange. It idles in the mid to upper 30s but tops out below 70 using Prime95. It scores above average in most benchmarks, compared to other builds with similar components. I haven't tried overclocking it yet. It’s not really necessary, considering it will turbo up to 4.7GHz. I included on screen pics for these.
Overall, building the Teleputer was a wonderful experience, and I recommend it to anyone with the persistence to see it through. There were so many fun problems to solve, new parts to make, mistakes that led to creative solutions, and genuine surprises. I got to learn how to use a table saw, carve plastic with Exacto knives, crimp wires, and solder wires to circuit boards (although, knowing how and doing it well are two different things), to name just a few. Special thanks to my mom and dad for giving me long arms and thin fingers.