—Trinity: The Build – Built-in SD Card Reader & 3 Port USB Hub Mod for the CustoMac Mini 2011
February 13, 2012
Soon after successfully getting Trinity up and running I was already thinking of ways to improve her. One of the things bugging me were those two front facing USB ports.
Plugging-in my keyboard and wireless mouse left me with no open ports up front for say, a quick external hard drive transfer. I noticed that the motherboard had an extra internal USB header and thought adding more ports should be a snap. While I was at it, I could throw in an SD card reader for off-loading my camera or phone. There was one problem: How would I implement it? Most SD card readers on the market come in the form of USB dongles or 3.5″ bay devices designed to fit inside the case. I was already using the one 3.5″ bay I had for the hard drive and I really hate dongles. This needed to be built-in.
Looking at some of the 3.5″ bay readers more closely, I realized they took up only a small amount of space inside their casings, and it might be possible to squeeze the guts of one right in front of the hard drive sitting in my 3.5″ bay.
I had about an inch clearance but it looked totally doable. However, as you know, there’s always something…
I thought I could just buy one of those 3.5″ bay readers, hack off the casing, and mount it somehow. Easy right? Well the boards are all too long by about an inch. Plus, they were all kind of expensive, and had all this extra stuff I didn’t need. Like “compact flash”? Who the heck uses that? SONY can also spare me with their proprietary storage formats, I just needed an SD card reader and maybe a microSD card reader for my phone’s memory cards. It looked like I’d have to custom mod something myself. (Grin)
I found a combo SD card reader + USB hub on amazon. Looking at the pictures, and using an SD card I had as a reference, I could guesstimate it would be a close fit. I’d have to rip it apart and mount the guts somehow. The Apex case comes with a plastic 3.5″ blank/cover that clips into place to hide the opening when not in use. Something was percolating…
When I got the item in the mail, I went to work taking it apart and doing a test fit. The title suggested it was a 4 port USB hub with the addition of an SD card reader, but there are actually only 3 USB ports. I’m guessing the card reader occupies the 4th? Minor, but I have this thing with odd numbers. Anyway, I took my measurements and lined it up. Perfect! I just had to cut out the slots for the ports and mount it with some hot glue. To my surprise it even came with three blue LEDs which I was sure I could find some use for.
I had to flip one of the boards upside down and move a few capacitors to the opposite side to free up space, but it looked like a nice fit. I also had to extend the wiring from the hub to the reader but it was nice to use my new soldering skills. My Dremel wasn’t very precise in making such tiny openings so I had to resort to Mr Sharpee my X-Acto knife. It was pretty late (or early depending on how you look at it), but I managed to not cut myself. I did however mess up one of the openings, as Mr. Sharpee got away from me for a second. But I hid it with a nice little brushed effect using some sandpaper and masking tape.
Powering it up and testing it out, I was pleased to find that it was being recognized and working without a hiccup in all three operating systems. Also, those oddly numbered USB ports started to grow on me, sort of fitting of the name “Trinity”. I had the LEDs shining through the ports for nice little lighting effect. They were all different shades of blue however, which really irked me, so I replaced them with some UV ones. Of course with my luck, I burned off one of the pads in the process (now down to 2 LEDs). I guess my only qualm is that the SD card sticks out and doesn’t reside internally like in those nice spring-loaded laptop SD card readers. On the other hand, I guess I really have no need to leave it in there anyway. Not bad if I do say so myself. A few more ideas floating around in my head but I’ll leave it here.
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- —Trinity: The Build (CustoMac Mini 2011) (waypastwarranty.wordpress.com)
- —Trinity: A Personal Computer with a Personality Disorder. (How to triple-boot OS X, Windows 7, and Ubuntu!) (waypastwarranty.wordpress.com)
- —Followup: Trinity, 6 months in (CustoMac Mini 2011) (waypastwarranty.wordpress.com)