This outstanding mini-ITX steampunk PC build wouldn’t look out of place in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s based on a Cooler Master NR200P mini-ITX case, but PC modder Joel Hunt has transformed it almost beyond recognition, with a leather-wrapped roof, a rusted side panel, and extensive use of wood. The system is simply called Retro Rust, which sums up the design perfectly.
Custom PC has been celebrating the best PC builds since 2003, and our Facebook group has over 390,000 members. We’ve seen many custom gaming PCs, from case mods to scratch builds. Here we chat to Joel about how he made this wooden steampunk PC build.
‘I initially came across the Cooler Master NR200P when builds.gg hosted a mini ITX build competition,’ Joel tells us. I was fortunate enough to win the case, and later on, when Cooler Master announced its annual modding contest, I saw an opportunity to showcase my creativity.’
A fan of mini-ITX cases, Joel runs his own Etsy shop, called StepUpSFF, which makes custom panels for several of them, including one of our favorites, the Ssupd Meshlicious. The NR200P is a fantastic case, but it’s also quite ordinary-looking, and Joel needed to make his build stand out from its competitors.
‘To set my case apart from others, I decided to orientate it vertically and infuse it with my personal touch,’ he tells us. ‘I draw inspiration from nature, incorporating elements such as wood, oxidized metals, and leather. Additionally, my fondness for all things retro influenced the birth of Retro Rust.’
How do you start with a project such as this one? ‘I believe in being methodical when planning a case mod,’ Joel explains. ‘I first focused on getting the case upright and then proceeded to oxidize the existing panels. CAD played a crucial role in designing the 3D-printed components and laser-cut panels.’
Oxidizing the metal panels on the case isn’t as easy as just leaving them outside in the rain, though. ‘Stripping the side panel turned out to be more challenging than anticipated,’ Joel says. ‘It involved multiple coats of paint stripper, meticulous scraping, and sanding. To my surprise, I discovered a layer of zinc coating that also needed to be removed.
‘Once I reached the bare metal, I applied a mixture of vinegar, salt, and peroxide to create the desired patina. Finally, I sealed it with a clear coat of my choice. I replicated this process on the 3D-printed copper trim on the front, resulting in a captivating green-turquoise color.’ We love the resulting effect. We’ve seen shiny 3D-printed copper parts on PCs before, but going to the extra effort of oxidizing them to make them look old really adds to the look of the machine.
Believe it or not, that wasn’t the hardest part either. ‘The most demanding aspect of the project was the buffalo leather wrap on the top panel,’ says Joel. ‘It required meticulous planning and precise cuts to ensure a perfect fit. I also had to remodel the top panel from scratch in order to accommodate the additional thickness added by the leather.’
The rusted metal panels and leather-wrapped roof are just two aspects of this distinctive PC’s look, though. One of the other main material you first see when you look at the system is wood. This is all European Walnut, which was laser-cut to fit the case, and to make the ventilation holes. Joel says that these panels were ‘finished with Danish oil to enhance the natural grain.’
One aspect of this build that we really like is the pair of feet on the bottom. They’re reminiscent of the curved, metal feet found on Apple desktop computers, such as the Mac G5, but with a weathered look that fits with the rest of the system. Remarkably, these feet were found in Joel’s kitchen.
‘The main modifications I made to the case included incorporating humble drawer handles as feet,’ he says, adding that fitting them to the case just ‘involved simple drilling and alignment.’ We also like the filament-style lightbulb hanging down by the central fan, which looks like it should be buzzing.
‘It’s actually an LED designed to resemble an Edison Bulb,’ Joel explains, adding that ‘using an actual 60W bulb would have contributed to higher internal temperatures within the case.’ It wasn’t straightforward to fit, of course – Joel has to rewire it to connect to a Molex connector and gets its power from the 12V rail on the PSU.
Finally, you’ll also notice a screen at the top, with a Space Invaders-style image on it. Not only that, but you can actually play games on it. ‘It’s a small 4-inch IPS screen connected directly to the GPU,’ Joel explains. ‘I’ve successfully run Space Invaders on Retroarch, and it works flawlessly. It adds a nostalgic gaming touch to the overall aesthetics.’
Although Retro Rust didn’t make the finals of the 2022 Cooler Master Case Mod World Series 2022, Joel is immensely proud of his work. ‘I wouldn’t make any additional changes to the build,’ he tells us.
‘While newer hardware could have been a welcome addition, I had to work within a tight budget and made the most of available resources. I’m genuinely delighted with how the build turned out, and it’s even received my wife’s seal of approval for its place in our living room.’
Retro Rust PC build specs
- CPU: Intel Core i5-6600K
- Motherboard: EVGA Z170 Stinger ITX
- Memory: 16GB G.Skill Trident Z 3600MHz
- Graphics card: EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 SC2 Gaming
- Storage: 2TB Samsung 870 Evo
- PSU: 650W SilverStone SST-SX650-G
- Case: Cooler Master MasterBox NR200P
- Cooling: Corsair Hydro H70 120mm AIO cooler, EKWB EK-AIO 120 D-RGB 120mm AIO cooler, 4 x Noctua NF-A12x15 120mm case fans
We’re hugely impressed by Retro Rust – so much work has gone into working with all the different materials to make a unique machine. The rust, leather, and wood all work really well together, and the resulting system looks like it should be sat in the home of a Victorian eccentric inventor.
What do you think of this rusty, wooden, industrial-looking PC? Join the conversation to discuss this PC build with our 390,000+ strong member Custom PC Facebook group, where you can also submit your own PC build or gaming setup for consideration. If you want to see more outstanding custom PCs and gaming setups, check out our massive guide to the best PC builds.