3D Printing Old PC Parts

I’ve been restoring an old computer, using as many new parts as possible (dual SATA and PATA SSDs, rather than the PATA Hard Disk Drive that was in there, modern SATA DVD-RW drive, a modern power supply rather than the non-standard-sized one that came standard).

One problem I’ve run into is brittle plastic. A little-known fact (to anyone who doesn’t collect something made from plastic that’s over 20 years old), is that plastic becomes brittle with age. The level of brittleness differs with the plastic composition, with the worst being the Apple Power Macintosh 5500 series (Power Macintosh 5500 – List of Macintosh models by case type – Wikipedia), which crumbles if you look at it sideways. But anyway, all plastic will become somewhat brittle after 20+ years.

(Fun fact about the Power Macintosh 5500: The popular myth around that is to blame the brittle plastic on cost-saving measures by Michael Spindler, the CEO of Apple at around the time these models were in the design phase, who is commonly believed by retro Apple fans to have been less-than competent. I don’t really buy that story, and in fact I think that Apple was doomed without Steve Jobs’ bold strategies, and the intermediate CEOs only served to delay the inevitable).

So all plastic embrittles. This would be fine if all of our modern electronics wasn’t housed in snapped-together clamshell plastic designs which rely on bendable plastic plastic clips and flaps. What happens when you try to bend plastic that has become brittle? It doesn’t bend, it stays rigid, and snaps. Ugh.

If you buy an old computer for restoration, chances are you’ll hear the rattle of one or more plastic pieces, chipped off of who knows where, inside the case. Sometimes you just find a missing chunk with no matching plastic piece.

3d printing and superglue fixes most of this. Armed with a Vernier Caliper, and a 3D modeling program (I recommend Fusion 360. It’s not free, but it’s well worth it if you really want the full 3d printing experience), you can make just about anything. Well, unless your trying to restore a Power Macintosh with a case split cleanly in two. You really can’t 3D print an entire case, or it’ll at least cost you hundreds of dollars.

Here’s an example of a broken plastic clip:

No big deal, I can 3d print the necessary wedge shape, and a stem to go into the remaining plastic post:

Another issue is matching modern hardware to old case pieces. For example, this computer case has these nice faceplates for the CD/DVD drives, but they only have plastic clips that match a specific model of old CD/DVD drives. What to do? 3d print my own adapter bracket:

In the future, I’d like to try 3d printing an entire computer case. Prices will have to come down drastically before I can, but I think that’s bound to happen soon. It’ll probably be the Macintosh Color Classic, but modified to look better with a LCD instead of a CRT:

3d model from: https://3dwarehouse.sketchup.com/model/u4486493c-a1c0-4043-be64-aaa34eeb9ffe/Macintosh-Color-Classic

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