Before I begin talking about my latest build, let me just say this: I’m a PC. That’s right, I said it. Back in high school when we got a shipment of brand new iMacs I was one of the few that wasn’t lured in by the flamboyant colors and bizarre error sounds. While everyone else was using iMovie and Final Cut Pro I worked with Premiere, and later Avid. There was nothing I could do on a Mac that I couldn’t do faster and better on a “PC”. Now, though, that I’m looking to start my career in video production I’m finding a lot of employers are wanting editors who have experience in Final Cut. This left me with the distasteful choice of either setting foot in an Apple store or spending the next couple of months laboring in my garage, with the potential for serious injury. I of course took the easy way out; I present to you the OS Xbox Pro.
It was just recently that I found out about the EFi-X dongle, a device that plugs into compatible motherboards and allows them to boot a wide range of operating systems including OSX. The promise of being able to buy my own components and run a stable copy of OSX made building my own system the perfect way for me to accomplish my objective and likely save a lot of money as well. ExpressHD.com was also kind enough to sponsor this project by sending me one of their EFi-X dongles.
The first step was to decide on a look for the case. While I wanted to throw in at least some design elements to pay homage to Apple cases, I didn’t want people who entered my home to think I was a Mac users either. Microsoft has helped me avoid this for years, and I realized they could buy me some more time. I decided the original Xbox would make the perfect starting point for this system, and was lucky enough to stumble across an Xbox Dev Kit at our local tech recycling center.
Hardware wise the plan was to select components with the minimum system requirements of at least the entry level $2500 Mac Pro. Despite being a couple inches taller than a retail Xbox, at 1/5 the size of the Mac Pro this was to be a very tight system. After gutting the Xbox I realized not all ATX motherboards would fit, and eventually found one that was compatible with the EFi-X dongle and had all the featured I wanted, including being LGA 775 with DDR3 memory.
Size, and more importantly the space needed for all the connections on the back panel, also limited me to a 300W TFX micro power supply. This raised some red flags as that was considerably under the 400W minimum requirement suggested by my low profile GeForce 9800 GT – a component chosen to match the “GeForce GT 120″ that came standard in the Mac Pro. To compensate I invested in the slightly more expensive 65w version of the Intel Core2 Q9550, the Q9550s.
With a better idea of how everything was going to fit together I set about cutting and bending the motherboard tray from a sheet of aluminum. It was soon clear that even with my small PSU I would have to position it above the north bridge, and sacrifice on of my PCI-e x1 slots. To support the weight I decided I would build a second aluminum tray that would be supported by standoffs from 4 of the motherboard mounting holes. On one side of the PSU, Just above the very low profile ZEROtherm cpu cooler, would be a stack of 4 2.5″ hard drives. Among them would be 2 7200rpm 500gb drives raid0 through a highpoint raid card for Final Cut editing, a 5200rpm 160gb drive for OSX, and—in an attempt to make this a proper computer—an identical drive for a Windows 7 install.
I then moved onto the front panel. The Xbox controller ports were to stay and be re-purposed as front panel USB, SATA, and Firewire ports. Unfortunately they were too low and the headers would be blocked by components on the motherboard. I solved this by cutting them out, flipping them upside-down , and re-attaching them on the opposite side to keep the front panels natural curve. A small panel from the CD Rom drive also had to be detached and Bondo-ed onto the front panel as there was absolutely no room for an optical drive in this build.
For the shell I first cut away the back face to fit around the new motherboard tray. I decided I would use the same style mesh you find on a Mac Pro in the place of the ribbing that was on the Xbox. After bending the mesh, and a lot of bondoing and needle-filing, all that was left to do was sanding and paint.
One of my primary goals while designing this system was to create the best price per performance for running Final Cut Pro. A Mac Pro configured with similar specs runs around $4500. By simply watching for deals, and searching through a wide range of PC component manufacturers, I was able to build a system with a retail cost of under $1500—and that includes a retail copy of OSX. Add to that a copy of Windows 7 and Ubuntu and I’ve ended up with a computer that I might actually enjoy using.
And of course I have to thank my very first sponsors!
- Intel Core2 Q9550S @2.93GHz
- Gigabyte GA-EP45T-UD3LR
- Sparkle GeForce 9800 GT
- 8GB Crucial Ballistix 1333MHz
- Highpoint RocketRAID 2640×1
- 2x 160GB 5400rpm Seagate Momentus HDD
- 2x 500GB 7200rpm Seagate Momentus HDD
- 16GB 1.8″ Super Talent MasterDrive KX SSD
- EFiX USB V1
I documented the construction of the OS Xbox Pro from start to finish.
Behind the Scenes
To answer some questions about the video production side of the OS Xbox Pro video I put together this quick “Behind the Scenes” short. It covers lighting, cameras, my home made time-lapse dolly, motorized turntables, and lenses.