Taking architectural inspiration from pagoda design, with its open and angular structure, this open-air PC build was built entirely from scratch. PC modder János Kerekes, who also wowed us with his CRT monitor PC, constructed the case using colored plexiglass, and it also features some handsome individually sleeved PSU cables.
Custom PC has been celebrating the best PC builds since 2003, and our Facebook group has over 375,000 members. We’ve seen many custom gaming PCs, from case mods to scratch builds. Here János tells us how he built this custom open-air PC build, which he calls ROG Pagoda.
I’ve been working with computers and modding them for 15 years. During this time, I’ve made many computers, starting by modifying prebuilt cases then gradually shifting the focus towards creating custom cases. The common feature in these cases was water cooling, which provides a building and aesthetic challenge, and of course, excellent cooling performance and low noise.
I was making these computers for personal use, and obviously there are only so many computers one person needs, so I had to find something to do with them. So, with the support of Asus Hungary I started making sponsored builds, enabling me to practice my craft without filling the house with a never-ending supply of computers.
Off the back of this initial sponsorship and my success in various modding competitions, I’ve earned the support of several more sponsors, such as Alphacool, Bitspower, Cooler Master, EKWB, FSP, Lian Li and Thermaltake.
The birth of ROG Pagoda
When it comes to the ROG Pagoda project, it might seem funny, but the idea for this case came when I was bored. I hadn’t made a computer for almost two years, and seeing all the materials lying around in my workshop, I simply thought that maybe I should create something new again.
The other major motivation was the fact that I’ve upgraded my workshop with a 3D printer and a laser cutter. I controlled them with an old PC based on an LGA1156 motherboard, equipped with integrated graphics. It was slow and couldn’t cope with the demands of the software needed to design the components – only to run the machines.
As a result, I had to go back to my office to make changes to my designs, then come back to the workshop PC with a USB drive containing the new files. I then had to go there and back again if the file was the wrong format, and so on. It was exhausting and inefficient to have to go back and forth like this.
My aim, then, with the new PC, was to make a relatively small workstation that could handle these tasks and save me lots of round trips. Other than this basic requirement, the only certainty was that it would, of course, have to be water-cooled – I couldn’t break with my tradition.
Let’s start building
I started to build the frame without any final plan. I used an aluminum box section to create a two-sided, inverted ‘T’ frame on which to mount the hardware. The sections were fixed together with corner braces and bolts then, to stabilize the frame and support the hardware, the sides were covered in aluminum sheeting that would be easy to drill and cut, so I could accommodate cable routes and mounting points.
Although it was functional, the aluminum wasn’t much to look at, so the case needed to be dressed up. I chose a black and orange color scheme that would be created largely with the use of colored plexiglass.
Thanks to the support of Asus Hungary, I received an Asus ROG Strix X570 motherboard and ROG Strix GTX 1650 graphics card. The latter isn’t the most powerful graphics card, but it’s powerful enough for a workstation and some games, if I ever want to play games on this machine. The display to which it’s attached only has a resolution of 1,680 x 1,050, so it doesn’t really challenge the GPU.
It wasn’t easy for me to come up with a name for my mod, since the name should refer to the appearance of the concept, which was vague at that point, and it had to incorporate the ‘ROG’ prefix of its sponsor. In the end, I kept it simple, naming the system after its chief architectural influence, the pagoda. I’ve always admired those sophisticated yet robust architectural designs (I’m a mechanic) and it fitted with the open, angular design with which I’d started.
After making the aluminum frame, I used plexiglass to form much of the rest of the case, as it’s relatively easy to machine and is very decorative. I cut down the larger sheets so that they fitted on the work surface of the laser cutter, then cut out the designs with the laser cutter. I used various combinations of orange and black, or orange and clear plexiglass, sandwiched and bolted together to form most of the main sections of the case.
Having a laser cutter and 3D printer was crucial for this build. I could have made the parts by hand but it would have taken many days. With my new machines, it took just a few hours to make most of the parts.
As I was planning on making such a small PC, due to the size of my workshop, I had to think carefully and plan ahead with this build, in order to keep the overall design in harmony. A crucial part of this process was planning the position and cabling routing for the modular power supply.
I used individually sleeved cables for each conductor of the power supply’s main cables, and threaded each cable through dedicated holes cut into various sections of the chassis. To keep these holes accurate and clean, I had to design them ahead of time and use the laser cutter to form them.
Threading each cable through its holes and lining up all the cabling in a neat manner was extremely fiddly and intricate. It was such tedious, tricky work that by the second day my hands were cramping up. It’s certainly something I’d think twice about doing again, even if the result does look good.
Given the upright position of the motherboard and the lack of retaining brackets for any expansion cards, it was natural to position the graphics card vertically too. Thankfully, that’s easy to do these days: I bless the designer of the PCIe riser cable.
To hold the back end of the card, I used a bracket from a test bench, but I still needed to stabilize the front edge of the card. I went back to the laser cutter to cut another plexiglass sandwich into shape. This piece bolts to the base of the chassis and just hooks round the PCB at the front of the graphics card.
Back to front
Now that I was finished with the front of the case, I turned my attention to the back of it. This area holds the power supply, but it’s also where the all-important water-cooling hardware is mounted.
Because of the size of the concept, my plan was to have a simple water-cooling setup that cools only the CPU. The graphics card would use its stock cooler instead of being water-cooled.
This is where another one of this PC’s sponsors came to the fore, with EKWB providing all the components for the water-cooling loop. Unfortunately, I initially managed to order a reservoir that didn’t include a pump, which was quite the own goal, but eventually I had all the components I needed.
At the top of the cooling system is the 240mm radiator, which is mounted to the chassis via some 3D-printed plastic mounts that I designed. It was tricky to mount this part tidily due to the number of cables that needed to be hidden away. For this kind of work, you need a good nervous system and some dexterity.
Like the rest of the build, the radiator is left quite exposed, and while the fans that are mounted on it provide quite a spectacular view, they aren’t safe to leave open to careless hands. So, in order to make this setup a little less dangerous, I made some custom fan grilles that look similar to the frame design.
To continue the overall look with the plastic coverings, I next tackled the power supply, which got a clear, laser-cut cover. Before mounting that, I also painted the power supply to match the orange and black color scheme.
The next challenge was designing and fitting the hardline water-cooling tubing. The first consideration is, of course, that it has to be efficient and effective. Secondly, it has to look good and not be a tangled mess.
In the end, I kept this relatively simple. The tubes come straight down from the radiator, then through the chassis and up diagonally to the CPU waterblock. This creates a clean look with just enough interest created by the 45-degree angle on the front, without the tubing covering the graphics card.
Practically, the computer was finished now, but I felt something was missing: it needed a few design finishing touches. So, I put on my thinking cap and tapped into my graphic design knowledge to come up with a few tweaks.
First, I came up with the idea for the hexagonal painted design on the side panel, to lessen the domination of the orange color. I cut a template with my plotter and fixed it to the chassis with transfer paper. I then masked the parts that I didn’t want to paint and spray-painted the design.
Next, I added a laser engraved, edge-lit, clear plexiglass piece that hangs over the front of the case and shows off the names of the project’s sponsors. To hold it in place, I used a 3D-printed mount with RGB LEDs integrated into the bracket. The whole assembly was then fixed in place with hidden bolts.
The final touch was adding illumination to the underside of the chassis. For this I just used DRGB led strips mounted on the underside. At this point I felt the design was done and I was happy to attach my name to it.
I’m happy with the way the PC turned out. It’s maybe not the last word in PC design but it has a certain style, and it’s compact and practical for what I need. Generally, after calling a project done, I find myself thinking of how I might like to have done things differently, but I’ve yet to find a part that I would change. Of course, the graphics card could be more powerful, but it made the sponsorship support possible and it can always be upgraded later.
During the production process, not all of it went to plan. The 24-pin ATX cable parts had to be done several times because I didn’t like the first versions. Also, several plexiglass elements were damaged during the assembly. Other than this, though, the build went smoothly.
ROG Pagoda PC build specs
- Sponsors: Asus Hungary, EKWB
- Motherboard: Asus ROG Strix X570-F Gaming
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X
- RAM: 16GB (2 x 8GB) HyperX Fury 3200MHz
- Storage: 256GB Kingston M.2 SSD
- Graphics card: Asus ROG Strix GTX 1650
- Power supply: Cooler Master MWE Gold 550
- CPU waterblock: EK-Quantum Velocity D-RGB – AMD Nickel + Plexi
- Reservoir: EK-Quantum Kinetic TBE 160 DDC Body D-RGB – Acetal
- Radiator: EK-CoolStream PE 240, EK-Vardar X3M 120ER D-RGB – Black
- Miscellaneous: EK fittings, EK-CryoFuel Solid Fire Orange coolant
The PC builder
- Name: János Kerekes
- Age: 55
- Occupation: Construction company site manager
- Location: Hungary
- Likes: Watching movies with the family and the popcorn of course
- Dislikes: If something happens differently from the original plan
This is a really handsome build from János, and we really admire his commitment with the cabling – individually sleeving and reconnecting PSU cables is a job that requires a lot of patience! The end result is a PC that really looks the business. If you’re new to the world of water-cooling and want to have go yourself, then make sure you also read our full guide on how to water-cool your PC.
What do you think of this open-air water-cooled PC? Would you have the patience to sleeve and route all those individual PSU cables? Join the conversation to discuss this PC build with our 375,000+ 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.