I use NUCs every day. I use them for daily drivers, utilities, projects, servers…pretty much everything. A by-product of that is that I move them around a lot and plug/unplug cables constantly. That can result in the cases getting scratched or damaged. I do my best to keep the cases in good shape, but I’m not always successful.
Fortunately I jumped head first into the world of 3D printing last year and I’ve been printing like crazy on my Ender 3 Pro. I find most designs on thingiverse.com, and they happen to have a fair number of printable items for Intel NUCs, including cases. Some of the case designs are…well, let’s just call them unique. They value function over form, and it shows. Others are quite nice, though, and I’ve printed a few to replace cases that are a little worse for wear.
They’ve effectively replicated the shape and contours of the factory case, while spicing things up enough to be unique. This particular design is for Rock Canyon NUC boards. Wouldn’t you know it, I had one in need of a home. So I printed the case in white and blue (silk, to give it that extra sexy shine). I think it came out pretty nice!
It fits the board well, and all ports are easily accessible. Of course there are some trade-offs due to the nature of 3D printing. For example instead of a plastic window over the IR receiver, they instead designed an opening for it. Covering the IR port with PLA isn’t an option unless you don’t plan on using it. I like the solution they came up with.
My only concern is heat. I printed it in PLA, which is not terribly forgiving when it comes to heat. The board in it is an i7, and time will tell if it gets hot enough to warp the plastic. I’m hoping not but I’ve had PLA parts start to sag when exposed to high temperatures. Like the new flag for my mailbox I printed. I’m a little worried about how it’s going to hold up in direct sunlight this Summer.
If the NUC case does end up warping or sagging I’ll have to dip my toe in the world of printing with ABS. It’s harder to print but tolerates heat better.
It’s a great open air design, and even with just my one board I think it gives of a cool tinker-friendly vibe. Heat shouldn’t be an issue with this one, as the hot areas of the board don’t really come close to the plastic. I decided to print this one in green and gray.
The beauty of this one is how easily accessible the board is. If you’re like me and you’re constantly connecting things, adding/removing RAM and SSDs, this case makes that super convenient. Need to swap a board entirely? You can do that in seconds.
I was excited to try it until I downloaded it and found it’s too big to print on my printer. I thought about splitting it into two pieces, then gluing them together, but I didn’t think that would look as clean as one printed piece. So for now I’ll just gaze at it longingly through the Internet.
The wildest design I’ve seen for a NUC is this one from Dolmaster:
There is one other consideration with 3D printed cases; WiFi. In the original NUC case the WiFi antenna leads are attached to the metal case, so the case itself works to amplify the signal. This isn’t possible with a 3D printed case. You’ll either need to add an external antenna or incorporate some metal into the case. I hadn’t thought about this initially because both systems in the 3D printed cases connect to Ethernet.
There are many more NUC-related designs on Thingiversse besides cases;mounting options for just about every conceivable scenario: stackable accessory holders, replacement buttons, case extensions, NAS enclosures, replacement lids…you name it. Not all models are covered of course (I haven’t seen anything for Hades or Phantom Canyon just yet). But if you see a design you like for a different model you can always drop it into a CAD program and modify it to fit yours. Or, if you’re REALLY brave, you can make your own design from scratch and upload it so the world can pat you on the back. If you have a 3D printer and a NUC (or ten or twelve), I highly recommend Thingiverse.