Washington Post CMG Mention

Article AKA - "Modded Nearly 800 Since Going Pro, My Fat Hairy Ass"

    We got a small write up in the Washington Post, unfortunately the physical copy of the article was never sent to me and the details relevant to CMG are questionable at best.  Instead of the normal scanned image here is a reprint of the article which can be seen online here.

A Closer Look
'Modding': A Case Study

By Scott Stark
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 17, 2003; Page F07

Something about these computers doesn't look right.

It might be the see-through panel on the side of one. Perhaps it's the otherworldly purple glow enveloping one, or the fact that another sports a seamless front panel with no visible optical drive or power button.

On a fourth machine, proudly displayed on a Web page, all of the components -- circuit boards, hard drive, processor and so on -- have been fitted within a four-slot chrome toaster.

These machines aren't found in modern-art museums; these changes aren't even, technically speaking, art. They're examples of a hobby called "case modding."

The idea behind modding, short for "modifying," is simple: Stock equipment is boring. Unlike with traditional computer modifications, which involve souping up performance, case modders focus on tricking out a PC's looks. Transparent acrylic case panels, cable wraps that glow under ultraviolet light, oversized fans with custom-cut grille guards -- these are just a few ways to break away from the ordinary.

Particularly hard-core case modders go past modifying and simply build their own cases out of tool chests, couches, humidors and even Legos.

Tony Massalin of Thunder Bay, Ontario, is one example of how far this urge can go. The 40-year-old, a former amateur hot-rod restorer, put his machine shop experience to use last year, shortly after turning on a computer for the first time.

He recently finished up his current project, an ambitious undertaking to integrate his computer into an aluminum-clad desk. The finished product, shown off in pictures on a Web forum, looks nothing like the machines lining most store shelves: The computer's components glow in a blue light visible through a multi-paned window set flush into the desk's surface, and the metallic keyboard features individually cut aluminum keys.

The project has created quite a buzz among modding fans, but it hasn't come cheaply or easily: Massalin figures he spent more than 100 hours on design and construction and $2,000 on equipment.

Less concerned computer users could be forgiven for asking: Why?

Enthusiasts say it's all about turning the ordinary into the extraordinary, turning the beige box that sits unobtrusively in millions of dens and offices into something unique.

Some modders have even been able to turn their passion into cash. Jim Hartley of Appleton, Wis., customizes computer cases for a nationwide client base unable or unwilling to do so themselves.

What started as a part-time hobby less than two years ago has since allowed him to quit his day job as a forklift operator. He now splits his time between helping run a modding Web site (www.casemodgod.com) and retooling clients' cases -- nearly 800 since turning pro. He's even performed a 15-case job for an accounting firm. "A lot of my clientele is middle-aged guys in their mid-life crisis," he said.

Most computer manufacturers have yet to take much inspiration from modders, but a few arguably owe their existence to this hobby.

Miami-based Alienware, for example, was founded by three modders and tries to take inspiration from the mod mindset -- its Area-51 desktop looks like an alien head. The replacement for that is still under wraps, but Kevin Wasielewski, vice president for marketing, promised it would be "heavily inspired by the mod community."

Some computer-case manufacturers have even begun selling pre-modded PC cases. You don't have to cut your own window, install your own extra fans, or wire your own lights; CompUSA sells windowed cases for $99 and up.

But while the looks might be similar to a do-it-yourselfer's PC, the bragging rights aren't the same. "Mostly it's a sense of accomplishment," said Chris Scholze of Savannah, Ga., a moderator at the online forum PimpedOutCases.net. "There's a certain whiz-bang factor that you get from seeing your computer in a way it's not 'supposed' to be."

2003 The Washington Post Company