Wired Fantasies

(Photo: CPU Magazine)
(Photo: CPU Magazine)

By Lee Anna Sherman

There’s a cyber-equivalent of souping up your car inside and out: “modding.” It’s part of the DIY (“do it yourself”) computer culture. Instead of gutting and customizing your ride, you’re modifying your PC.

Modder Richard Surroz sees himself as a kind of PC Picasso, or perhaps a Rodin. “I can’t paint, I can’t sculpt, but I can build computers,” says the OSU College of Business grad student. “It’s a piece of art that’s functional.”

In his Salem, Oregon, workshop, Surroz has crafted a computer case that is about as far from the usual beige, plastic box as you can get. Yards of wire and tubing snaking through an acrylic dummy have transformed the store-display mannequin into a glowing, flashing, humming, life-size humanoid machine. The “brains” of the PC, the hard drive, light up inside the transparent mannequin’s head. Liquid-cooled refrigeration “overclocks” the $300 processor, making it run as fast as a $1,000 model. The dummy even wears tribal-style jewelry.

Surroz’s creation, which he calls “Autopsy,” cost him three months, a few thousand bucks, a badly burned hand, a demolished motherboard and a whole bunch of busted Dremel blades. But it was worth the investment. “Autopsy” blazed onto the international scene when it took first-place in CPU Magazine’s 2007 case-mod contest. A cover story in CPU earned Surroz $12,000 in cutting-edge hardware products from Intel, NVIDIA, Danger Den, ATI, Smooth Creations and Mountain Mods.

The entrepreneur wasted no time in turning his notoriety into a business opportunity. His newly formed LLC, outoftheboxmods.com, will specialize in custom mods for corporations. Surroz credits his OSU business degree, with a management of information systems option, with “igniting my passion for hardware.” Now taking advanced information systems courses, he hopes to join a corporate team in new-product development after completing his MBA.

His next mod? A “warrior chick” computer with a custom latex outfit. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for struts, lift kits and racing stripes.