From APU to GPU – LZ7 Development Summary

VX1 APU SFF Case - Prototype v2

Most of the development behind the LZ7 was carried out in the SFF Forum Thread, the birthplace of this case. A lot of this information will not have made it here, so if your interested to read about the development process then here is a summarised overview of the journey so far:

EARLY CONCEPT
The project started back in late 2015 when I wanted to design a case that focused on efficient APU cooling in an SFF case, the original thread can be found HERE. The idea was to eliminate heat re-circulation by ducting the CPU cooler as part of the case with sliding panel layers:

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APU development at the time stalled topping out with Kaveri, ZEN was still a long time away.  My focus then shifted to expanding the concept into a cube case that took advantage of the rising popularity of powerful ITX length GPU’s such as the Radeon R9 Nano, the most powerful ITX card available at the time.

CARD MOCK UP
To test out the theory a cardboard mock up was created using the same CPU ducting concept to pull fresh air directly into the CPU cooler without the need for a case fan in order to save space:

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The concept worked well keeping the CPU and GPU at good temperatures at a reasonable noise level, however a primary objective was for the system to run quietly whilst gaming so the decision was made to expand the case to allow for a side fan to be fitted.

Experimenting with the card mock up I quickly learned that graphics card exhaust heat in multiple directions, this heat bounces off case walls recirculating and slowly increasing system temperatures over time. Adding vents in front of above and below the GPU made a huge difference to temperatures, this became a primary design feature of the case with 360 direct GPU exhaust ventilation.

The concept was then modelled up in CAD based on using Acrylic laser cut panels with 3D printed joints allowing for greater flexibility in the overall design:

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PLYWOOD MOCK UP
The next step was to test out the new layout, the updated design was able to cater for a 140mm side fan. Plywood was used for the prototype, its readily available at your local DIY store and easy to work with using hand tools:

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As you would expect the addition of the side fan had a massive impact on thermal performance, in combination with the exhaust ventilation on the opposite side of the case to the fan it created a wind tunnel effect preventing system wide heat re-circulation.

The CAD was refined and developed further eventually settling on this design:

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The first 3D printed prototype parts were ordered for strength and screw thread suitability testing:

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PROTOTYPE v0.1
After a few more design tweaks it was time for the first full prototype:

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The prototype went together nicely and early testing achieved great thermal results, the design was positively received by the community in this forum and elsewhere.

GIGABYTE GTX 1070 ITX
At the time of getting this prototype our SFF prayers were answered and Gigabyte announced an ITX length version of the mighty GTX 1070! The only issue being the card was rather tall, regardless I ordered one straight away for testing. It turned out to be the perfect companion for this case pushing the performance per liter through the roof.

As suspected the card was a few mm too tall for the current design:

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The card did however work very well with the 360 degree GPU exhaust ventilation (full testing can be seen here) as much of its heat is exhausted out the rear/front of the card and straight out the case:

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PROTOTYPE v0.2
It was becoming pretty evident that there was a trend for short length graphics growing in height, so it was decided to increase the case height to cater for this tall trend. The design was updated and prototype v0.2 was ordered:

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The Gigabyte GTX 1070 ITX fit nicely into the new design, the increased height opened up the possibility to fit CPU coolers up to 65mm in height.

TESTING

The next step was to see what the system was capable of when using one of the best sub 60mm coolers on the market the Scythe Big Shuriken 2:

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The results were impressive with the Big Shuriken 2 managing to keep an i5-6500 under 50C during extended Prime95 CPU stress testing, whats more impressive is this temperature was achieved with a very quiet fan speed of around 900 rpm.

VIDEO OVERVIEW

I took the case to my brothers place who runs a YouTube channel about Wargaming, he put together this video for me:

In return for his efforts I made him his own custom case with the Kiblams logo on the front:

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At the time he was waiting to put an all AMD system into the case once ZEN had released, so maybe we will be seeing that shortly?!

LZ7 FIRST EDITION

Next up focus was switched to preparing a small production run, refining the smaller details such as screw types and accessories, branding, along with launching an online store and blog to support the project.

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A small run of production cases went on sale in late 2016 named the LZ7 First Edition, they were sold to SFF enthusiasts around the world and received a positive reception.

With production cases in hand, I had a go at some outdoor photography:

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FURTHER DEVELOPMENT

Taking on board the feedback received from the First Edition the case went through a series of further improvements and additions to refine the design.

Firstly alternative side panel colours and vent designs were explored with extensive noise and airflow testing carried out, more detail HERE:

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I upgraded my own system to include the new turbulence reducing Cyclone vents along with a top of the line i7-7700 CPU, for cooling a Noctua NH-L12 was purchased (full build log here):

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These new panels also included an experimental design for the IO buttons which used the side panel itself as the power button:

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Feedback from the community was generally against this new button style, most people wanted to have physical buttons you could press, the IO design was revisited to add back the physical buttons but with an updated aesthetic which better suits the overall case design.

The community also requested a ‘radial’ vent design inspired by those found on high end power supplies, the end result was this which went down well:

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This has since been developed further and a final set of prototypes were ordered to bring together all the latest design elements, the full set of photos can be seen HERE:

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Metal threads have now been added to all outer panel screw joints for improved durability, strength and ease of assembly:

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Updated Product Page (work in progress) and Configurator have been added to the website:

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FUTURE DEVELOPMENT
The LZ7 First Edition caught the eye of Overclockers UK, they invited me to their Headquarters for a meeting to discuss working together on bringing the case to market on a larger scale through their online store.

This was pretty much a dream come true and a massive opportunity which I could not refuse! We have since been working out all the various details towards a product launch targeted for August 2017.

 

Thanks for reading and I hope this post has helped give an overview of where the LZ7 came from and the journey to where we are now.  If you have any comments feel free to discuss down below and don’t forget to subscribe (over on the right) to get the latest updates right into your mailbox!

3 thoughts on “From APU to GPU – LZ7 Development Summary

  1. What a journey!! Keep up the great work mate! I can’t wait to see it being manufactured at a lager scale. And hopefully get one too… 😉

  2. Hello There, I really hope you Will can Dell this beautiful tiny PC case! In South America, i really want to get one.

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