The 1-Up

Ok, this was a while ago, but it was a fun project.

My wife (before we got married) needed a new computer. I had a non-working Nintendo Entertainment System in a box. As she is a big Nintendo fan, I decided to build her a special system.

I had three goals with this build, all of which were fulfilled:

A. It had to be powerful. Based on an Asus H81T board using a 3.5GHz Intel Core i3 CPU and a Crucial SSD, it’s fast enough for any games, videos and other tasks given so far. It boots in about 10 seconds.

B. It had to be quiet. The Intel stock CPU cooler is exceptionally silent, and you have to be very close to the case in order to hear it. This is the only moving part in the system.

C. The original controllers had to work. The end result is fantastic, if you are playing original NES games using an emulator, the controllers have the exact same feel as on an original system. Zero lag or other negative effects are experienced.

So, how to do it?

Step 1: Gut it.

Original NES case opened up.

Original NES case opened up. The procedure to unscrew and remove everything was very simple.

I wanted to reuse the original switches and joypad connectors, so I left them intact for the time being.

I wanted to reuse the original switches and joypad connectors, so I left them intact for the time being.

Step 2: Mod the case bottom.

In order to fit the motherboard with a mounted CPU and fan, every extra millimeter had to go. Motherboard mounting sockets were hot glued in place. The taped parts were later removed as well.

In order to fit the motherboard with a mounted CPU and fan inside the case, every extra millimeter had to go. Motherboard mounting sockets were hot glued in place. The taped parts were later removed as well, and a thin stabilizing bottom plate was installed.

Step 3: Mod the buttons.

The original button platform turned out to be to deep and would short the motherboard. So I came up with my own version, using flat key switches on a peg board, covered by shrink tubing after soldering.

The original power/reset button platform turned out to be too deep and would short the motherboard if left as is. So I came up with my own version, using flat key switches on a peg board, covered by heat shrink tubing after soldering.

Using a leftover IKEA bracket to hold the new switch board in place, I could shorten the original button shafts and reuse the original springs, giving about the same tactile feedback as the original buttons.

Using a leftover IKEA bracket to hold the new button platform in place, I could shorten the original button shafts and reuse the original springs, giving about the same tactile feedback as the original buttons.

With the new Power/Reset switches, I could fit the motherboard with about 3mm to spare. Original power LED was replaced with one from a previous PC case.

With the new power/reset switches, I could fit the motherboard with about 2mm to spare. The original power LED was replaced with one from a previous PC case.

Step 4: Mod the controllers.

I wanted to be able to use the original controllers, so I bought two controller chips (from http://www.retrousb.com) to convert the original controller signals to standard USB.

To retain original controller compatibility, I bought two controller chips to convert the original controller signals to standard USB.

Since I did not want anything extra sticking out the back of the case, I converted the standard USB connectors to onboard headers to fit directly on the motherboard.

Since I did not want anything extra sticking out the back of the case, I converted the standard USB connectors to onboard headers to fit directly on the motherboard. This also allowed me to minimize the length of the wires.

Carefully testing that everything worked as expected on another computer before cleaning up and isolating the controller mod.

Carefully testing that everything worked as expected on another computer before cleaning up and isolating the controller mod. No special drivers were needed.

Step 5: Fit the hardware.

Using JB Weld to fasten a small furniture angle to a disk bracket from an old MP3 player, I could attach an SSD to one of the original case's screw sockets in the exactly right position. A rubber strip was added to the top side in order to stabilize it and fit snugly to the top of the case.

Using JB Weld to fasten a small furniture angle to a disk bracket from an old MP3 player, I could attach an SSD to one of the original case’s screw sockets in the exactly right position. A rubber strip was added to the top side in order to stabilize it and fit snugly to the top of the case.

Everything in place, including a green LED strip around the case edges. I was able to find a 5V version (they are usually 12V), so I could tap the power directly from an onboard USB header without any power conversion needed.

Everything in place, including a green LED strip around the case edges. I was able to find a 5V version (they are usually 12V), so I could tap the power directly from an onboard USB header without any power conversion needed.

Step 6: Mod the case top.

As a computer needs airflow, I wanted to do it in style. Just drilling a grid or cutting open the sides were not an option. I put on masking tape, outlined a grid and drew up the classic mushroom from the Super Mario games.

As a computer needs cooling/airflow, I wanted to do it in style. Just drilling a grid or cutting open the sides were not an option. I put on masking tape, outlined a grid and drew up the classic mushroom from the Super Mario games.

After carefully drilling the holes, the shape became clearer.

After carefully drilling the holes, the shape became clearer.

After cleaning up and filing all the edges, the system was finally ready to be assembled and tested. All OK! OS installation in progress.

After cleaning up and filing all the edges, the system was finally ready to be assembled and tested. All OK! OS installation in progress.

All done!

LEDs connected and system up and running!

LEDs connected and system up and running! Power LED not yet connected in the picture.

She was very happy with the birthday present, and it has been running smoothly for over a year now. 🙂

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[…] the layout, performance and tweakability of the Asus H81T Mini-ITX motherboard that I used for the 1-Up NES case mod, and decided to use another one for the new case. Most important was the fact that the H81 has a […]

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