Pre-Made to Custom Conversion Guide


Table of Contents
I. Reasons for a Conversion
II. Before Beginning – Get all of the Knows!
III-1. The Procedure • Section 1 – Breaking Down the Pre-Made
III-2. The Procedure • Section 2 – Rebuilding the Pre-Made into a Custom
IV. Closing and Aftermath

II. Before Beginning – Get all of the Knows!

I do get the fact that “Custom Build” really isn’t the correct term to use since it’s still using primarily manufacturer parts with what is more than likely a custom motherboard specifically used in that manufacturer’s system instead of snagging all of the parts off a shelf, but I can’t really think of a better less-clunky term (Custom Pre-Made? Sounds like an oxymoron). Before even considering a conversion, one needs to make sure this can be successfully done, and so there are a few items to examine before starting the process, aside from acquiring the replacement/upgrade components that will be used in the new system.

For the most part, just about everything inside a pre-made are items that can be purchased very commonly online or at any local PC shop just off the shelf. In particular, sometimes the optical drives are modified to fit the fancy front faces of the desktops, but that really is the extreme of it. If that happens, then the optical drive would need to be replaced with a standard style kind that can be acquired from said tech/online places as well.

Commonly used ATX Form Factors
Figure I: Most Common ATX Form Factors – Click for Larger Image!

Just a quick chart of the most common ATX Form Factors one will more than likely come across during a conversion process. At least with ATX form factors, the motherboard still fits the same way like ones that can be purchased retail as well. Just to lean on the side of precaution, this is something that I would recommend looking up to be certain of before purchasing a new replacement PC Chassis, and then taking the entire thing apart! Just about all PC Cases will say all of the form factors that they work with, and normally one chassis will work for multiple sizes. As of current experience with doing conversions or modifications to Pre-Mades, I’ve ran into the Micro-ATX form factor in just about all circumstances. I think once or twice I came across a full ATX.

Okay! So, here’s what else needs to be considered aside from the motherboard’s form factor:

  • Warranties – Make sure everything is either out of warranty, or it is not of concern as this will surely void all of them as soon as some of the major parts are removed from the manufacturer’s chassis.
  • PC Case Labels – Examine all of the sides of the chassis for labels, stickers, and operating system information. Basically looking for the system’s brand, model number, serial number, service number, etc. that references this system. This information is very important to either copy down and store somewhere safe, or (ideally) carefully remove from the old chassis to be placed onto the new chassis. The OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Operating System’s serial number is normally on the chassis as well, which typically cannot safely be removed. As for this number, write it down and keep it stored in a safe place.
  • Owner’s Manuals – Get either a hard copy or a soft copy of the Owner’s manual that covers opening and accessing internal parts to the system. This will be extremely handy especially on systems where the mounting brackets are not the run-of-the-mill kind as seen in DIY system cases.
  • Motherboard’s Model Number – Depending on the maker of the board, this can be a little tricky. ASUS’s boards have it in huge letters near the center of the board (see Figure IIa); Intel boards have it placed relative to how the board is made, but they’re usually a white label with a barcode and a range of numbers below it (see Figure IIb). As I stated in my ITX article, a great place to look up additional information on motherboards once the number is discovered is Tom’s Hardware. This can also assist in what the form factor for the board is as well if that is still an unknown variable.
ASUS Motherboard Model Number
Figure IIa: Example of ASUS’s Motherboard Model Number.
ASUS Motherboard Model Numbers Support Page
Intel Motherboard Model Number
Figure IIb: Example of Intel’s Motherboard Model Number.
Intel Motherboard Model Numbers Support Page

I’ve only done conversions on Intel-Based motherboards, so from just personal experience, those tend to be the only two makers of boards that I have encountered in pre-made systems. If it’s an AMD-based motherboard, then the maker of the board could vary to different makers. Regardless, once the model number is discovered, do a quick search with that number on the internet to make sure that a schematic or a manual can be found for that specific board. This is very important for connecting the front panel correctly once the new system is transferred over to the new chassis and the front panel pins need to be hooked up correctly. If a schematic or a manual cannot be found, it’s not necessarily a bust project because on some of the boards, the connections are mapped out at those pins for convenience sake. Worse case, trial and error can be used, but I would recommend either finding a manual/schematic or making sure it’s labeled directly on the board before proceeding. Having this could also help for drivers if one is planning on updating the Operating System with a newer one, but since it’s more than likely a modified motherboard, one will have to revert to looking up the system at the manufacturer’s website for those drivers.

If the system is still bootable, and one is worried about losing data, it’s always a good idea to do a full back-up of personal files before proceeding as well. If it does not, then once all of the information for the system is gathered and replacement parts are acquired, on to the conversion!

<<- Previous SectionNext Section ->>