Carpet Cleaner Doubles as Ubuntu PC

PC cases come in many form factors, but they're all basically boxes that lack personality. This doesn't have to be the case (pun intended), as my Carpet Cleaner PC very well proves. Yes, this is a working Ubuntu PC built out of an old Bissell Carpet Machine.

Enough people have asked me about the CCCP (Carpet Cleaner Computer that's Personal), including Julie Bort, who's handles all things blog at Network World, that here's a little more on the topic of building your own PC out of, well, almost anything.

I know that some folks (and even entire PC companies) are really proud of their case designs. Sure, you can put a Plexiglas window in the side, and add some flashing lights, but it's still a box. I had a old Bissell Carpet Machine Special lying around, and, hating to throw anything away, let alone add to a landfill, I stripped out the pump-and filter guts and was left with a suitable plastic shell - suitable, that is, for mounting the components of a PC. In my case (so to speak), I used an Intel D945GCLF2D mini-ITX dual-core Atom 330 motherboard, a 2 GB stick of DDR2 533 MHz. memory, and an ATX power supply in an unusual very-rectangular form factor. The bulk of the work was cutting holes for the power connector (see back view), the VGA, 3.5-mm audio jack, and power LED on the front. This was done with a Dremel rotary tool, which every hobbyist should own. I then used some old disk drive brackets to fashion a base for the power supply, and attached the power supply via cable ties and little felt pads. The next step was mounting the motherboard, which involved the use of plastic spacers to compensate for the curvature of the bottom of the carpet cleaner. A wireless keyboard/mouse device was used, the receiver end being a USB stick, and a USB WLAN adapter is also included. Connect all the wires, and voila, it worked just fine at first power up. The plastic case is very transparent to wireless, a big plus. You can see the final guts here.

All that was left to do was to boot the CD image of Ubuntu 9.04 off of a USB memory stick, install it on another memory stick, power off, swap out the original memory stick, and reboot. The BIOS on the Intel board makes setup easy and also provides some monitoring facilities. Oh, yes, there's a case fan installed in the former hose inlet, and exhaust is passive via the old air outlet. The CCCP (yes, I added the sticker you see in the photos because the whole thing reminded me of soviet-era technology; note that many holes were drilled off-center to add to the effect) is now in regular use for Firefox Web browsing, OpenOffice, Ubuntu testing, and anything else one might do with a PC. And, yes, it will run Windows, although I have no plans to do so. I might switch to using a UDMA 5 (300x) CF card via an IDE adapter in place of the USB memory stick, which is, well, slow, and to a .11n WLAN adapter, but, other than that, it's done. Yes, a hard drive will also work just fine; the first version of this PC in fact had a 120 GB 3 Gbps SATA drive. I doubt the end product will pass FCC or UL testing, but, then, it's just for fun and personal use.

Caution and disclaimer: while all of this work is easy for someone experienced with computer systems and power tools, I don't recommend anything like this for a first build-your-own-PC project. There is a real danger of damaging components via static discharge, along with cuts, bruises, or worse, and even electric shocks that can be, um fatal (e.g., a custom power cord was built for this project). So, if something like this appeals to you, start with a more traditional case. As for me, I'm already off on the next one - building a modern PC into the plastics of an old Commodore 64. This project is a lot more complex, with very specialized components, and - well, I'll write up the details when it's done.

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