As the popularity of case modding climbs to an all-time high, so does the frequency of plain, square, Plexiglas windows. The most basic mod and often the most overrated of them all is the Plexiglas window, in fact some people will not even call a chassis modded without one. But, why skip the window when, if done right, can often reflect your style, theme or just attitude without boring the viewers?! How about kicking that plain old window up a notch by adding a custom laser etch, and some backlighting? Before we begin with this review, let?s clear up a few terms and options here. There are two types of ?etchings? that can be done to a window which include fake (appliqu?/sticker) or an actual etching on the piece of Plexiglas. The most redundant and cost effective method nowadays is the appliqu?, not only because it can be cut to any shape or design, but it is offered in several colors and can be removed from your window if desired. An actual etching in the window, however, is not removable and can sometimes cost much more than the cost of just an appliqu? and piece of Plexiglas. The use of an ETCHED window also requires planning before actually attaching the window to your chassis, because the etch is not applicable to ANY piece of Plexiglas, but only to the ONE piece which is etched. Today, I get the chance to show off a new upcoming company by the name of Xport1. Xport1 opened just a few months ago and is centered out of Chicago, where their only line of business is laser etching. Although the actual laser devices are not my specialty, Xport1 uses a Universal 50watt Laser which can etch several types of materials up to 1000dpi. Dpi is a measurement used in imaging which stands for dots per inch ? if you take a look at all the images used in this review, they are 300dpi. Xport1.com?s laser etcher is capable of taking an image with 700 MORE dots per inch. This makes the etch extremely detailed to the point of realism?
Prior to receiving the package from Xport1, I eagerly waited as they told me that they had a surprise for me. I knew I would be receiving at least one window kit for review with our very own TwistedMods.com logo on it, but I was totally psyched when I opened the shipping packaging to reveal TWO windows! Before taking the time to check out the other window, I did notice that Xport1 took excellent care of their products. Both windows were packaged separately in their own bubble envelopes?packed in a box full of packing foam. Opening each of the bubble envelopes left me with no doubt that these windows would be in pristine condition. Indeed, after a quick inspection I did not notice one flaw in the Plexiglas as far as scratches or cracks. Each kit purchased from Xport1.com entitles the consumer to their choice of molding color, seven total from huge black H-molding to mount your window IN the side panel or red, grey, white, chrome, black or gold as a thinner window edging which will allow you to mount your window behind the side panel with an adhesive of your choice. Mine would be clear drying silicone. Although we informed Xport1, before sending that we would not be using molding for this review, they decided to go ahead and send two colors along just for inspection and to give our readers and idea of their molding?s quality. For the review, we received a 5 foot piece of grey molding for our custom etched window and a 6 foot piece for our slightly larger TwistedMods.com etched window. When I first saw the molding, I noticed that it was rolled in a tight coil and then taped to keep it from unraveling. After unwrapping the tape and uncoiling each of the bundles of molding, I was a bit disappointed to find that it was harder to straighten than I thought. There were a couple of spots where kinks were apparent, but the sticky ?goo? found in the deepest part of the molding should be able to hold it against the metal side panel without a problem. To solve this simple problem with the kinks and twists in the molding, Xport1 could simply coil their molding much more loosely and keep it coiled with a loose zip tie.
Finally we come to the windows ? the part of the review where I truly do get to judge the quality, originality, construction and overall ?coolness? of the product. As you know by now, prior to the review I did indeed know that I would be receiving a window with the custom TwistedMods etch. Since I already had a server case which never got finished with a piece of Plexiglas, I was able to get Xport1 to make the TwistedMods custom etch window just SLIGHTLY bigger than their standard cut size. This window is 14 inches tall and 12 inches tall versus the standard 12 inches wide by 12 inches tall. The other window we received is one of Xport1?s biggest sellers, called ?The Thing.? The thing is a picture of an alien-like creature with tentacles and the whole nine yards, a very detailed and interesting sketch. Both windows, rather than being a boring square, have shaved corners which range at just about a 30 degree radius. This adds a very finished, professional and an overall appealing look to the window ? especially if you plan to order Xport1?s H-molding, which will actually reveal the shape of the window from the cut. Before getting into the actual quality of the etching, I thought I might start by describing the type of Plexiglas used as well as workmanship put into creating the window. You may notice that the prices of etched kits are a bit spendy on Xport1.com, but there is a reason for this. You may be saying that you can get the same piece of Plexiglas at Home Depot for $4.00, but that is certainly not true. According to Xport1, the Plexiglas they use is known as Cast-Acrylic. Cast-Acrylic is not only more resistant to everyday scratching, but when etched actually appears WHITE rather than clear. Thus, you are able to see the etch in the window whether you have LED lighting from the side, or even if it?s in broad daylight when your cold cathodes are not as easily seen. The type of Plexiglas you buy at Home Depot, however, is known as ?extruded acrylic? which is even more scratch resistant than Cast-Acrylic. When etched it shows clear, making it hard to recognize the etch unless it?s during the night when backlighting is in place. As some of our more loyal readers may know, I am a huge fanatic when it comes to small detail. In this case, I did notice that Xport1 took their window kits the extra mile by actually making the edges of the Plexiglas clear after its cut. You may be asking why this is so important, but when it comes to actually lighting the piece of Plexiglas to give the actual etch a colored effect, you want maximum light to get through the edges of the Plexiglas ? thus clear edges are extremely important! Upon inspection of all the edges, I did happen to notice that ONE of the eight total edges was skipped in the process, thus being left white where little light is able to penetrate. This is not too big of a deal, because you still have the other three sides of the etch on which to place LEDs or CCFLs in order to provide light.
Once I got the chance to peel back the paper on each of the etches, I was very satisfied with them. Starting with our TwistedMods.com etch, we provided Xport1 with a 300dpi .tif image to be etched and it came out flawless! Everything from the small ?TwistedMods.com? lettering below our logo to the oval shape, encompassing the entire etch, was made very distinct in its lines and very accurate to the original drawing. After holding the Plexiglas just a few inches in front of my face to check the up-close detail of this etch, I truly was unable to see any dots, the frost looked like one continuous etch. For ?The thing? etching, I was also very impressed. This was the original ?surprise? which Xport1 told us about in the beginning and it was a surprise indeed! After pulling the paper back on this etch, I couldn?t help but notice how incredibly close this etch resembled the original drawing. What most impressed me about this was when they told me that this image was actually pulled off the internet at only 72dpi! 72dpi?! This number seemed too good to be true so once again, I held this etch a couple inches from my face to check it out in close detail. In the whitest sections of the etch, no dots were able to be seen, but I was a bit depressed to see that in lighter areas of the etch, small dots were able to be seen. Also, after holding the etch into the air in front of a lamp in the room, I was able to also see where the actual image stopped because a distinct line of dots laid along the top about 2.5? down where you could see the background of the original image was slightly being etched. Although this may seem a bit discouraging, don?t let it be! Keep in mind that this image was examined in very close detail and is not noticeable at all from even 1.5 feet from my eyes. Also try to keep in mind that the original document which the etch was made to resemble was only 72dpi?less than 1/10 of what their laser is capable of! Either way, this etch did look incredibly real!
After examining the instructions for the C-molding, which I received before installation, I noticed that it was recommended that the hole in your side panel be cut just one inch under the dimensions of the actual window. For their standard 12 inch by 12 inch window kit, you would need to cut a hole 11 inch by 11 inch into your case?s side panel. This will allow room for the molding to be attached and room between the actual side panel and the piece of acrylic to be secured with silicone (not provided). Since, in my case, my server?s window was already cut, and I already mentioned that would not be using the molding, I simply skipped the C-molding installation steps and attached the window using a tube of clear drying silicone. I then let the window sit for about 24 hours before putting the side panel back onto the case. The one MAJOR advantage of an etch over just a normal appliqu? is the fact that you can actually take lighting to the edge of an etched piece of acrylic and make the etch pick up light so it appears almost ghost-like. This adds a GREAT effect to the window! If you decide not to add lighting to the window, which many people do, you can simply install the side panel without lighting and the etch will be seen white anyways. This is a win, win situation. For those of you interested in adding lighting to the window, you can simply mount a 4 inch cold cathode light to the side panel, against the edge of the acrylic, and this will give you a bright effect. You may choose to devise some sort of LED harness so you can actually mount the led in the edge of the Plexiglas, and once again give the window a colored effect. I have received word that Xport1 is actually working on production of LED kits at this time, but they are not currently out for release so I decided to use what I had. I pulled out a 12? blue cold cathode and let it warm up to it?s most intense light, and the intensity of the light on the etch was just insane! The effect given off by each of the simple etches was incredible, and the coolest thing about it was that the parts in ?The Thing? etch which are actually supposed to be shadowed, appear darker than the rest of the etch. I could not believe how well these etches actually extracted the light being run through the edge of the acrylic, and it made it look fantastic! You can even see from the pictures that, where the window was not etched, light was not picked up.
Whether you are a new or more experienced modder, let?s face it ? square windows are BORING. Even I wouldn?t hesitate to place one of these great looking windows in my case. Aside from the one accidentally missed shiny edge and molding mishap, these windows showed no sign of disregard or downgraded quality whosoever. This is a great way to turn a boring square cut into something spectacular which doesn?t require any additional Dremel experience! Each kit purchased from Xport1.com sells for $20.00 and includes the molding, instructions and great looking etched piece of acrylic. $20.00 is a bit much for just a window, but compared to just plain, raw window kits found on other stores, $20.00 is one hell of a deal. If you don?t see what you like on Xport1?s site and want a custom design etched, or even a custom size, for a project you are working on, don?t even hesitate to email them and ask for custom pricing. Etches are a great way to add attitude and a whole new dimension to that boring premodded case or even a self-done modded case with just a square window. Head on over to Xport1.com where the kits are made ?for modders, by modders??