AKA Jeffrey Stephenson, The
TROY: First off I want to thank you
for agreeing to this interview, as one of the founding fathers of
modding and the undeniable master of mini-ITX mods it truly is an
honor. Any modder needing a hard shot of inspiration need only
visit slipperyskip.com to
check out the works of Jeffrey Stephenson... seriously, go have a look
and then come back.
So Jeff, I have to begin with an off topic
question. Every modder has one, but a handle as cool as "slipperyskip"
usually requires "shanking a screw while in the joint" and
that's my best guess as to its origin. So, did you?
JEFF: Hi Troy! Slipperyskip Road is where I live here
in Suwannee County Florida. It is not the best handle by any means but
it is unique and memorable.
Humidor CL Server - 2003
TROY: I dont remember which site I saw it on exactly,
but back in early 2000 someone in a forum somewhere had cut a side
window into their computer, the second I saw it I was hooked. Three part
question... when did you start modding, what motivated you to get into
it and what was your first mod?
JEFF: In 2002 VIA introduced the mini-ITX
motherboard. I’m a big fan of anything miniature and at 6.7” x 6.7”
these boards fit the bill. I bought one straight away without thinking
much about what to do with it. There were no enclosures available for
the board. It would fit into a standard ATX case but what would be the
point in that?
I calculated what the approximate volume would
be needed for a box to house a mini-ITX board, power supply and hard
drive. I looked first at Radio Shack project boxes and other such
industrial enclosures but found the costs to be too high. I was at a
generic box web site when I noticed a category called Cigar Humidors.
The dimensions were dead perfect and they didn’t look too bad either.
The great cigar fad of ’96 had left a glut of very nice, varied and
reasonable cigar humidors on the market.
The rest they say is history. I wrote up a
humorous story to go with pictures of my Humidor PC and sent them to a
mini-ITX web site. They posted the story as a purely amusing
entertainment piece and it got great feedback. Many found more than just
humor in the design.
I guess it was about this time when case
modding started hitting the mainstream media. My work got tagged as case
modding though it is not. That’s another story right Troy?
Machine Age PC - 2004
Indeed, but the hobby was generically
labeled "case modding" very early on. With a site named
CaseModGod I have come to rationalize that anything used or created to
house the computer must technically be considered a "case",
but that kind of over simplifies your mods. Do you think that the
computers you have created will ever be realized for what they actually
are, as legitimate art?
JEFF: I think you have to die first before
you can be recognized as an artist. I laugh but there is some truth to
it. I’m sure that someday a museum will provide a venue for the
display of our “Computers As Art”. I’m sure my widowed wife will
enjoy it. lol
TROY: James Brown was the hardest working man in show
business, as I see it you are that to modding. I know you have an
impressive portfolio of outstanding custom crafted computers, what is
the actual number of modded PC's you've built?
JEFF: I’m currently working on #23, 24 and 25. I
try to average 3-4 projects per year.
Madrone PC - 2004
TROY: Looking at the workmanship of your mods I
wonder how you can produce such finely crafted original PC's so rapid
fire one after another, my mods always take a year or longer. Building
my own mini-ITX mod "Hellusion" proved to me that smaller
doesn't in any way equate to quicker... just coming up with original
ideas fast enough to keep up with you would be a challenge, how do you
JEFF: Being retired and having nothing else to do
certainly helps with the quantity. I typically have ten or so ideas on
backlog at all times. I’m most motivated by the admittedly
unreasonable fear that someone is going to build my idea before I do.
The PSU-PC is a classic example of that. It was such a simple idea that
I was absolutely sure others were working on the same thing. It’s not
right but I no longer question the process.
building my last project I (like most modders) had based my projects
around ATX flavored mainboards, whereas you custom design your mod
enclosures almost exclusively for mini-ITX and smaller embedded solution
boards. What is your reasoning behind specializing in such micro sized
JEFF: I think there is a lot more opportunity for new
ideas with smaller sized components, It makes the whole idea of hiding a
computer into something non-computer related a whole lot easier to
design and build. Additionally, imagine what the material costs would
have been if you had tried to build your Hellusion with a standard ATX
board. Ideas that were once unreasonable suddenly become very
Besides, I think we all have some level of
fascination for miniature things.
DECOmputer - 2005
TROY: Normally going mini or nano-ITX means giving up
speed in favor of a smaller end product, things like 1GB DDR memory
limits and slower embedded processors make the form factor less than
attractive to performance hungry hardcore enthusiasts. I am in no way
denigrating VIA or their products, I love my EPIA board... but, and
pardon my drool, have you seen the soon to be released Albatron
JEFF: Yeah. That’s nice but….you have to look at
it from a system perspective. Having to use a full-sized ATX power
supply to drive a performance mini-ITX board starts to look pretty
stupid after a while. If you are forced to install it into a microATX-sized
case then why pay the premium for a smaller board? I use picoPSU power
supplies exclusively because they are in the same scale as the mini-ITX.
I have a Core2Duo mini-ITX board from Kontron that has a 16x PCIe slot.
In theory, I could plug an 8800 into it but the power supply needed to
support that configuration makes the whole setup lopsided in favor of
You did hit on a sore spot Troy. My work is
constantly criticized for not being performance-oriented. The thing
these critics miss is the fact that you can have more than one computer.
If I had to have only one then it would be my dual 8800 Crysis-ready ATX
gaming rig. I don’t need to fire it up to check my e-mail or reply to
this interview. I have specialized computers for home theater, file
serving, firewall and photo display. I also have “everyday” desktop
computers for both my wife and myself.
Not every custom computer made has to be your
“one and only”. IMHO it really is a hollow criticism.
TROY: Explaining it that way makes
sense, until small PSU's can provide
the necessary juice I'll pass and also retract my previous drool. I
have to say that one of the things I respect most about all of your mods
is that you don't waste space, it would be all too easy to just throw a
mini-ITX or smaller motherboard into anything bigger than six inches and
call it a mod... thankfully that's not your style. That said, your
microphone case "The Unidyne PC" has a tight fit modular
design where the actual computer section is removable and could easily
slide into other mods, any plans for creating new cases to fit it?
JEFF: I try to add a little ”tech” to every piece
I build. The tech doesn’t have to be about performance. The Unidyne’s
tech is the cartridge computer design that unplugs as a module. I have
another classic microphone design on the books that should benefit from
having its internals already built for it.
Unidyne PC - 2006
TROY: Of your mods if I were to pick three favorites
(in no order) they would be the "Humidor CL Server" that was
featured in the March 2003 issue of Popular Science, "The
DECOmputer" - It's still hard for me to believe that stylized mod
began as a kitchen appliance... and "The Unidyne PC", from
design to completion it's a mod that just plain kicks ass. I could have
as easily picked seven, but if you could only pick a single computer
that you've built as your crowning achievement and absolute favorite
which would it be and why?
JEFF: I’ll cop out with the typical “I love them
all” reply. The most satisfying computer I’ve built is the Decomatic
HTPC. I built the computer to compete in Intel’s design contest
earlier this year. This was a contest for “companies only” so I
faked being a company and snuck in the back door. I did reasonably well,
beating professional design teams from companies such as Gigabyte and
Asus. In the end I lost to a design from South Korea and another from
Norway. Odd thing was, when the Wall Street Journal reported the contest
on their website they chose to include a picture of the Decomatic
instead of the winners.
The main reason I entered was to (hopefully)
prove that the case mod community was a significant source of real
innovation in case design. The bottom line….they pissed me off by not
letting us case modders enter their contest. It was satisfying to kick a
Decomatic HTPC - 2007
TROY: I remember the Intel design contest
and even considered entering, it required an Intel Viiv build. I saw
your Decomatic HTPC competing in it and recall thinking "how
cool" and hoping you would pull it off, the prize amount was
insane. The Microsoft / IDSA
PC Design Competition started up again this summer, but it
appears they are having technical difficulties and aren't taking
submissions right now. When and if it does start up again will you be
entering any designs or builds into it?
JEFF: The Microsoft competition was a paper
submission kind of contest. I’m not much good at that sort of thing.
For me it’s all about getting my hands dirty and ending up with
something tangible instead of “imagine this”.
TROY: All of your works other than the humidors (and
maybe to a mild degree even those) have an art deco/machine age stylized
look which really sets your mods apart, but the "in" thing
right now seems to be steampunk, what is your take on it and is it a
style/theme you would ever consider using in a mod?
JEFF: I love steampunk. I have been a big fan since
the TV series “Wild, Wild, West” used so much of it. I have a
working miniature steam engine and boiler in my studio right now
Skyscraper Photo PC - 2007
TROY: Your most recent mod, "The Skyscraper
Photo PC" uses an 11.3" automotive rooftop LCD mounted
vertically, I have used automotive 6" TFT LCD screens in almost all
my mods mounted horizontally and though the viewing angle is great from
side to side or from the bottom it cuts out on angle viewing down from
the top... with it mounted the way you have it do you notice a more
extreme image fade when viewing it from one side or the other?
JEFF: The Skyscraper was suppose to be a little
nothing summer project built to a low budget. The screen isn’t the
highest quality but it did help demo the idea of a hybrid PC/Digi-frame.
I have subsequently teamed up with an industrial LCD provider so a
follow-up project should turn up soon with touchscreen and all that good
TROY: I won't ask you what you have planned for
future mods because I enjoy the suspense while watching your projects
progress, but I will ask if you are currently working on anything new,
is there any fresh work on the bench that we should be aware of?
JEFF: I’ll be going back to Las Vegas this coming
January to display a couple of new projects at the Consumer Electronics
Show. One will be a based on a VIA nano-ITX board and the other will be
a pico-ITX. I’m also in the process of building a classic full ATX
tower case mod. That is something I’ve never done and am looking
forward to doing.
Form Factor (NFF) PC - 2003
TROY: I have seen Nano-ITX boards and
thought they were tiny, but until you mentioned it I had not seen the
Pico-ITX form factor... damn that's small, seeing it really gets my
gears turning. So, how are you liking the ATX tower modding...
going old school or are you making it into something to rival your
JEFF: Building an old school case mod has
always been on my mind. It’s just something I need to do. The size of
an ATX tower’s “canvas” must be very appealing to a pure artist.
To me, it is a challenge to fill in the space with something interesting
that fits within my skill set.
TROY: I'm sure it will be great and I look
forward to seeing it, again I want to thank
you for this interview and wish you the best of luck on all your future
JEFF: You are welcome Troy. Good luck to you as well!