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Student Designs Cardboard Computer Case 329

SpaceGhost writes "The Houston Chronicle has a story on a Grad student at the University of Houston who has designed a cardboard case for a computer. This is not a new concept, but this one is meant to be used in manufacture. The idea is that it will be faster and easier to produce (no fasteners for example) and dramatically easier to recycle."
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Student Designs Cardboard Computer Case

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:12PM (#29455471)

    But its probably not recyclable after it catches on fire from my overclocked processor

  • grounding? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by virmaior ( 1186271 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:15PM (#29455513)
    is grounding no longer a problem? I haven't built a computer in a while, but I'm not sure if cardboard makes a good ground.
  • EMC Nightmere (Score:4, Insightful)

    by distilate ( 1037896 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:17PM (#29455549)

    Not again.

    This is not the first time we have seen this idea

    cardboard does not act as a Farady cage and the computer will leak large amounts of radio frequency interference so will not be legal in most countries.

  • by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:20PM (#29455595)
    As others have pointed out, the case is not difficult to recycle or toxic.

    And who the hell throws away a case? It's the part that goes obsolete slowest, and several computers might occupy a case before it needs to be replaced.
  • by tick_and_bash ( 1256006 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:32PM (#29455801)

    The people most likely to throw away a case are those who don't build their own computers. Not everyone has the know how or desire to do so. It's much easier to just order already made.

  • Re:Obligatory (Score:3, Insightful)

    by damburger ( 981828 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:33PM (#29455821)

    They could easily add a thin layer of foil to the cardboard for RF shielding, without it being a metal case (where the metal is also structural and thus much thicker than you need for shielding). However, I imagine this would scupper the ability to recycle the thing

    Anecdotally, I have run many computers without a case (normally when I have been modifying something, or for brief periods when my existing case has insufficient ventilation for new components but I haven't been able to change it. I've not noticed any problems that I did not notice with the case on. Many of the components (the drives for instance) have their own shielding anyway.

  • by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:45PM (#29455965)

    The biggest "need" for a cardboard case comes from big name manufacturers that insist on making proprietary boards and cases instead of sticking with industry standards.

    I've got a newsflash for you, but the big name manufacturers are the ones who created the inudstry standards, and they certainly stick to them. That you (and most hobby computer builders) prefer an old, outdated standard like ATX is not something to hold against the industry, which has been trying to move on for years.

    One of the best case formats out there is BTX, the layout greatly improves airflow while at the same time reducing case size in most applciations significantly, all without sacrificing power like other designs. Yet the only people who make boards for it are the big name manufacturers, because hobbyists aren't interested, for some reason.

    The same with ITX, its applications are not those that most hobbyists are into, yet big manufactuers are to a small degree, and they have some useful applications.

    These are all industry standards and allow for new applciations that ATX just doesn't work at all for. For example, there will never be an ATX case small enough to clip to your belt, but there are other form factors that will.

  • by MadnessASAP ( 1052274 ) <> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:50PM (#29456055)

    Hell most of the $40-$50 dollar cases I find are far MORE attractive then the $300 dollar cases that get sold to the morons with more dollars then sense.

  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:58PM (#29456187) Journal

    I don't have a quibble with most of your post, but cardboard is a MUCH better dampener of noise and vibrations than metal, especially thin sheet metal. Metal can easily become a sounding board for vibrations. Cardboard, not so much...

    Also, cardboard is pretty structurally strong. Stronger than very thin metal. The only reason cases hold any weight is the internal frame, not the thin sheet metal and plastic most "disposable computer-grade" cases are made out of. That frame could either be retained, or replaced with some triangular corner cardboard reinforcements. It doesn't really get brittle if treated properly (seal it so the humidity remains constant and it can last FAR longer than the 5-year lifespan of the computer inside.

    I see your point on the fireproof thing, though. Once you start effectively fireproofing the cardboard you'll likely undo a lot of the cost savings and environmental benefits.

  • by British ( 51765 ) <> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:00PM (#29456211) Homepage Journal

    I remember playing Tribes 2 on my AMD system many moons ago. It kept locking up about 12 minutes in due to overheating. Finally switched over to an AMD-approved case, and the overheating problems went away. While it would have been nice to keep an old case & keep putting better systems inside, I had no choice on that one.

    I don't miss the old AT cases where to access anything inside meant having to unbolt the side-top-side u-shaped cover. The switch to individual removable sides was a good one.

  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:08PM (#29456381) Journal

    And I wonder how much extra ewaste is right now going into dumps because of that crap. Did the environmentalists even bother to see how bad the extra failure rate is for that stuff before forcing it down everyone's throats? Because I have seen a good 400-500% increase in dead electronics due to solder failure.

    IMHO they should have demanded recycling plants for the solder we had, not force an inferior solder down everyone's throats. from talking to my engineer buds they are seeing the same thing as I am-lots of stuff that should be working but failed from the new solder giving out. I think 20 years from now we'll look back on the solder switch as another really bad idea pushed through under 'saving the planet". Whether we'll actually get a functional solder is anyone's guess, as all those failing devices means you have to buy NEW devices, which is of course planned obsolescence at its finest. IMHO the problem was NOT the solder, it was sending the stuff for "recycling" to the third world where it became an eco-disaster. It should have been recycled here and the materials then reused. That would have made more sense and helped the environment more than some faulty new solder that still gets dumped in the third world or ends up in a landfill.

  • by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:08PM (#29456385) Homepage

    The case is either Al or steel sheet metal, easily recyclable. The toxic sludge and heavy metals in the PCB, capacitors and solder are the problem. Call me when they invent cardboard solder.

    Bingo. And what about the energy and resources involved in producing the internal components? Apparently these are very high (e.g. in terms of water, etc.)

    I don't want to sound too much like I'm attacking an idea which may well have been intended as no more than an interesting concept (albeit one that's been done and reported on Slashdot on at least one previous occasion). Still, it smacks of those feelgood/sounds-good prominent but tokenistic green efforts that are all too commonly the focus of bandwagon-jumping PR-oriented greenery.

  • by plastick ( 1607981 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:18PM (#29456585)
    Ummm... no.

    Aren't there some terrible chemicals used in the processing of cardboard? Have you ever driven by one of these plants? It's not what I would call "environmentally friendly".

    I mean, kudos for thinking out of the "box" but I think the idea needs work. A kid spills something on the top of the case and you're toast. For what people pay for a modern computer, they want it protected, safe from fire, and they want it to look nice.
  • by Aphoxema ( 1088507 ) * on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:19PM (#29456603) Homepage Journal

    Catching on fire
    Getting wet
    Supporting other objects
    Changing structure
    Changing composition
    Bugs getting inside, getting them back out
    Weight of components
    EM interference to internal components
    EM interference to external appliances (possible FCC violation)
    Looking stupid

    Did I miss anything?

  • We don't want the damned things because the bastards are knuckle busters. you ever have to work in one of those damned HP or Emachines "minicases"? By the end of the day your knuckles are gonna look like you have been punching a brick wall. And i hope you don't want to add anything weird like....ohh I don't know...a second HARD DRIVE!

    Being a PC builder with 15 years in the biz i can tell you there are plenty of those little bastard Emachine, HP, and Dell cases that the ONLY way to keep those bastards from overheating with a second drive, due to the microscopic drive cages that are so damned tiny two hard drives have to practically be taped together to fit, is to use what my former boss called 'white trash cooling". That is where you take and leave off the side of the case and park a $10 Walmart box fan right against the sucker to blow air into the little PITA.

    So you want to know why they use them and we don't? It is because the cheap bastards can save a few cents on metal and since they know EXACTLY which parts they are gonna use they design it for that and ONLY that. Even then they use some seriously fucked up designs to squeeze shit into these little suckers, like the Compaq Deskpro SFF I'm typing this on where the PSU is a fricking triangle! yeah, good luck getting a replacement for THAT sucker. At the same time we PC builders actually want to use standards and have choices in our components. It may not allow us to make little cute "baby" towers, but we can actually use whatever parts we desire without having to buy our cooling for the household aisle at Wally World.

  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) * on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:32PM (#29456829) Homepage Journal

    I miss the power button actually turning the system OFF.

    I also miss my old cases I could reuse as a jack stand for my car. Of course I understand why the AT standard had to be replaced.

  • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:34PM (#29456871) Homepage

    Yup - almost any OEM case is nearly useless to reuse. Other issues:

    1. Compact designs often only work with specific board layouts (including assumptions of the height of various components on the board and their position.

    2. The case might or might not have a full set of screw-holes for various board formats.

    3. The connectors for USB/power/reset/speaker/etc often use fancy connectors that are non-standard, rather than just individual connectors. There might even be primitive daughterboards involved.

    4. The power supply might or might not be standard ATX. Granted, that isn't case-related per-se, but it is a chunk of gear that has to be tossed. If the power supply does something weird with the power connections/etc then that is a case issue.

    OEMS do all kinds of crazy stuff that makes their hardware almost impossible to recycle...

  • by MadCow42 ( 243108 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:40PM (#29457005) Homepage

    I challenge any claim that this has environmental benefits...

    1) metal computer cases do not significantly contribute to environmental issues. Sure, they add bulk to landfills, but they aren't full of toxins or dangerous substances. It's the motherboards and components that are of concern with disposing of this type of stuff... and that's all still present in a cardboard-cased computer.

    2) by making the outside of the computer more "disposable", they're encouraging people to throw them away at the end of life more than to recycle them... people will feel less guilty about doing so. If you think 18% recycling today is bad, this won't help improve things. You'd be better off making cases out of lead, mercury, and plutonium to get people to handle them properly upon disposal.

    Net effect? More disposal of the stuff that actually causes problems... sorry, this ain't a winner.


  • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:53PM (#29457199) Homepage

    It wasn't environmentalists who pushed it; it was companies who saw the financial benefit of doing so.

    If you could release a technology which would receive wide support for being "green" but degraded faster than the traditional parts, would you do it? Sure you would - because you could just blame the increased failure rate on the wackos. "Green" and "ecologically responsible" stuff is popular. Just like the current "green" fuels for vehicles (E85, here's looking at you), they don't work out in fact or practice, but they do result in good advertising.

  • by tilandal ( 1004811 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @03:06PM (#29457373)

    Now I don't design computers but I do design radios and I have put devices through FCC. What experience with FCC do you have to qualify your statement that a modern motherboard would not pass FCC?

  • by t00le ( 136364 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @03:11PM (#29457441)

    It's basically a slow news day and any quasi-hippie article will make the front at eleven

    First off the cardboard case will have to find a moronic PS company to allow their power supply to be put inside a paper case if they want to enter the brick-and-mortar sales market. I can think of very few companies that would jump at that idea to be quite honest since it's pretty fucking stupid. I know corrugated carboard, but I wouldn't put my $700 GPU and quad CPU's in it to appear to care more about the environment. In reality the case isn't the problem, but more of the poisons used in the manufacturing (and lack of common disposal) process that wind up in our dumps, instead of approved facilities.

    Put a heavy corrugated box in a hot ass garage during a Texas or Arizona summer, then chat with me about the longevity of even high-end cardboard. I specifically am referencing very highend optical router boxes from Cisco/Juniper that I have in my garage, which are breaking down after a few months. Water as we know enjoys PAPER, which isn't normally a problem unless you are a fucking moron and put your computer parts INTO THE BOX. Since you apparently think it's odd to put a coating on something to improve the fire resistance (and subsequently water resists) I must say, you must be a raging moron. If you are running on ten years hardware, then sure I can see your point that the case storing your assorted drivel shouldn't be fire or water tight since a random short will always cause a fire, so will the bumped glass of -your favorite beverage-.

    All of this under the concept that a paper case is much better than a metal one. Both are recyclable, but one is more resilient and a more practical solution. In fact the de facto metal one exists because it has a place, whereas a paper case is a problem looking for a solution.

  • by coolsnowmen ( 695297 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @03:54PM (#29458029)

    Not mine, Enough of mine is made out of plastic for it to be completely worthless. But even if it wasn't, Depending on the frequencies you are trying to shield, your current computer case is a pretty horrible fariday shield as it is. Every hole, slit and opening for ventilation or other purposes allows EM to radiate or re-radiate out of it at a wavelengths of that size.

  • Re:First! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by glebovitz ( 202712 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @04:01PM (#29458129) Journal

    In theory what you say is true. In reality, the landfills are littered with discarded metal PC cases. Just because it CAN be reused, doesn't mean that it is.

  • Re:First! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by appleprophet ( 233330 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @04:03PM (#29458145) Homepage

    a) Who's to say you can't reuse this case?

    b) Your use case is rare. 99.9% of PC users will not be reusing the same case 5 times.

    c) I am guessing it takes dramatically less energy to create and recycle a cardboard case 5 times than it costs to create a single permanent steel case.

  • Re:In fact (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mr. Roadkill ( 731328 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @09:56PM (#29461699)
    You and I are not the average PC purchaser - who never opens the machine for three to six years, and then replaces it. For them, the PC *is* just a toaster with more buttons. So long as it works until they feel a need to replace it.

    There were a number of manufacturers experimenting with injection-moulded ABS cases quite a few years ago - they typically needed no tools (or at most a screwdriver for a single screw) to open and service, and could easily be broken down for recycling into a pile of electronics, a stack of plastic and a small amount of sheetmetal. It's quite possible that heavy-duty corrugated cardboard covered with a thin polycarbonate shell and lined with a foil or thin sheetmetal shield woud be able to do just as well for three-year-throw-away consumer-grade computers like most people are using.

    It's also quite hard to see that kind of case taking off for that kind of use, as in five years I expect a three-year-throw-away computer to be about the same size as a hardcover book and easily attach to modular external storage - like what the Mac Mini tries to be. Of course, I've been expecting *that* real-soon-now since I first heard about USB, and I'm still waiting for my jetpack and flying car...

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.