PiCube Build: or how it took four years to put a Pi in a box
Released 2001, the GameCube was Nintendo’s successor to the N64. However, it was generally considered a failure: Over-reliance on first-party games, a lack of internet capability vis-à-vis other 6th gen consoles, a perception of the immature, and most importantly, no DVD player doomed the console to low sales.
While criticism that the GameCube looked akin to a Fisher Price toy is well argued in the standard indigo colour; the black colour scheme changed its appearance entirely. Overall it’s design has functionality in mind. Its dainty cube structure fits well in most media centre furniture (even compared to newer consoles). The ports you need at the back, are in the back; the four controller ports you need in the front are in the front for multiplayer fun, or if playing Mario Party: WAR. It wasn’t extravagant. It was simple. And some people appreciated that.
It was also built like a tank https://youtu.be/ioWnoOjP9IA.
So, when I came across a dead GameCube in 2012 just after I got the first Raspberry Pi, I couldn’t just leave it there. And while people are ripping out normally fixable more classic consoles, such as the NES and SNES, for Pi cases – followed by significant abuse online for ruining a classic console. I knew I would get less of a backlash for this case build.
But as with most things, this build took … longer… than expected. Undergraduate, Masters, and now PhD education alongside life events got in the way and distracted me from this build, so this project was done in two stages.
This phase wasn’t sophisticated. I just threw everything in the case knowing that at some point I’d come back to do it properly later. It looked messy, felt a little ‘prototypey’, but you couldn’t notice it unless you got upfront. Anyway, you should be more concerned about what’s on the screen than what’s in the box, right?
Generally, I wanted to save and use most of the original case and hardware as possible. When I first acquired the dead GameCube I found that while the system on the whole would power on, fans, lights, but a garbled screen. I could assume the PSU wasn’t faulty, but instead some other hardware. So my first bit of research was to find out if the power unit could deliver the power needed for the Pi. I was quite lucky that there are some amazing hardware hack forums out there and somebody had uploaded a diagram of the internal power regulator board, and I was in luck. One rail on the system provides a stable 5v and enough Amps to power a Pi. A quick test with a multi-meter confirmed this (kids, don’t always listen to what the internet tells you to do). Having some of the original hardware, in this instance the PSU, power regulator board, power switch, and fan unit added to this build. It gave the overall unit an authentic factor knowing my Pi was powered by original parts, and I was saving more than the plastic shell.
Step one: Ripping out the internals (remembering to keep the stuff you need to use).
The first challenge was to open the case. Unfortunately, the GameCube was put together with proprietary screws (or “security screws”) in the bottom. This gave me two options, either buy the right screwdriver (£££), or get the biro on the desk, melt it (remembering to breath in all that healthy smoke), ram it into the screw, wait for it to solidify and use that to undo the screws. That biro was pretty the most useful tool of this stage of the build.
Top case off. I would apologise for the potato quality, but it was 2012, simpler times, simpler phone cameras. Give it a few years and that grainy digital photo look will be considered vintage.
Ripping out more internals. Felt a shame to get rid of most of this stuff, but it was useless.
More internal bits – you can see the power regulator board and fan which I utalised in my build.
Has no one else noticed how ridiculously happy parts of this console looks?
Step Two: Check shizzle still works.
At this stage I put the system back together sans internal parts and tested the hardware I wanted to use. This was precautionary for two reasons. Firstly, to double check the PSU can deliver power generally and to the fans without the motherboard. Secondly, it gave me time to test the power regulator diagram was correct and I wasn’t about to connect my Pi to a 12v rail.
Step Three: ??? magic
What I didn’t photograph back in 2012 (I didn’t know I was making this build guide, K?) was me soldering in a USB-micro cable onto the 5v rail on the power regulator, and then throwing everything in the box, plugging it in, and ran the system. I made use of the holes left over from the GameCube expansion ports (made originally for the GameBoy player), to run my Ethernet, HDMI, and USB cables. It stayed like this for many years as my XBMC (now Kodi) player. And it worked well.
Everything was loose, but it worked.
When I finally got the Raspberry Pi 2, It meant one thing: Phase two has begun.
The first step, or fourth step, whatever, whose keeping count now anyway? Was to prep the case for the Pi 2. This meant dissembling the case and taking everything out, cringing at my prior work. It’s at this stage I redid some of my soldering.
Despite the tiny size of the Pi, I’ve always struggled with space within the case itself. My persistence to keep the fan operational, alongside awkward I/O placement made space a premium. So my first real job was to make more space.
This means I get to use my Dremel (read happy Liam – but unhappy partner as the bits fly everywhere), and made plans to cut the baseplate so I could get some additional cable space from the old expansion ports on the bottom. I also cut some of the plastic struts used to hold the motherboard, and drilled in some additional holes to screw the Pi down more permanently.
Notice no ruler in sight. What do you think this is? Professionalism? Guesstimation, sharpies, and bold cutting is the headline of this news-story.
Fifth: also wanted to create two USB ports at the front of the case, something I never got around to during phase one. Basically, I hacked together some USB cables from my cable draw (Don’t lie you probably have one of them) and soldered some ends together.
I then attached them to the front face-plate with a bit of Dremeling, and lots, and lots, and I mean lots. Of hot glue.
Can confirm that these are not going anywhere.
Step six: Finalising all the placements.
Then it came to figuring out where everything was going to fit. Lots of compromise, moving everything around again until I was finally happy.
Also, a recommendation, I got this controller from Amazon for about £6. It works flawlessly with RetroPi across most of the classic console emulations. It doesn’t feel too horrid either.
Put it all together and tada! I ended up colouring the glue with some black sharpie to make it a little less obvious. Overall, it ended up being pretty-rad. While it’s not perfect, considering this was my first case build, with no previous electronic or soldering skills -I’m impressed. Although I’m fairly sure there’s going to be an internet comment telling me I’ve done it all wrong and I’m going to kill myself.