The DIY Luggable PC

If you haven’t gone laptop shopping recently, you’re in for a big shock when you do. Recent consumer laptops are thin, powerful, surprisingly inexpensive, and Apple’s latest MacBook Pros even have a fantastic ‘Touch Bar’ – a touch-sensitive OLED display where the function keys should be. The greatest laptops ever made are available right now, and they don’t cost much, either.

Unfortunately, the laptop as a platform is inherently a compromise. If you want a discrete CPU, or if you simply want to choose your own parts, you’re relegated to a desktop build. The middle ground between extensibility and portability isn’t really covered by case manufacturers, and even the rare ‘LAN party’ cases rarely have a handle.

[Roger] is taking steps to solve this problem. He’s designed a 3D printable luggable PC. Yes, now you can have a GTX 1080 and a 22-core Xeon in a form factor you can carry around. It’ll fit in the overhead bin on your next flight, and yes, the monitor is included.

The construction of this DIY luggable PC should be familiar to anyone who built a 3D printer in 2011. It’s made out of threaded rods, with brackets for an LCD panel, ATX power supply, motherboard, and SSDs. Since this is effectively a modular system, you can load this case up with hardware. The included monitor in [Roger]’s build is taken from an old laptop and driven through an eBay “LCD Controller Board”.

While a luggable PC might be a very niche use case, it is still one that’s vastly underserved. I recently built a new battlestation, and after searching for a case like this for a few months, I eventually gave up, caved in, and bought whatever Linus told me to buy. You simply cannot buy an ATX case that has a monitor bolted to the side, and [Roger]’s build is the first DIY solution we’ve seen.

All the files to replicate this project are linked to on the [Roger]’s Hackaday.io project, and this would be an excellent basis for a community-based project to build an Open Hardware luggable PC enclosure. A few days ago, [Roger] brought this PC out to the Hackaday LA January meetup. He brought to the meetup on the train, providing more than enough evidence this is a truly portable PC. Check out the pics from the meetup below.

56 thoughts on “The DIY Luggable PC

  1. Is it hacked together? check.
    Does it do the job? check
    Sounds like a pretty good solution to me then. I hope it fits in a box or something though, you can’t just ‘throw’ it in the back of your car like this.

  2. I just slap a Raspberry Pi to the back of any monitor. It’s got enough computing power to run Wifi, SSH and Tiger VNC which gets me back to my main PC from anywhere. I like the term “luggable PC”. It’s really in a different class from a laptop. Using a 1080p monitor, it really knocks the pants off any laptop in terms of screen-estate.

        1. EXCEPT you can’t run steamlink (or a copy of steam to stream to) on a Raspberry Pi computer and even if you could you would STILL have to lug a larger computer with you, since there’s not way streaming over the internet would work.

          1. “…there’s not[sic] way streaming over the internet would work.”

            Nvidia does a good job of it though; so-called “cloud” gaming on my Shield TV works great. I get that it’s not exactly the same as the Steam Link, but it’s proof that with a good enough Internet connection, remote gaming can be done and done well.

            The best solution for portable computing + gaming is to rethink the games you want to play. The Pi 3 can emulate every console up to the 64 bit era, including PS1, DC, and N64. That’s a huge category of quality games. If you simply must have the latest 2016/2017 AAA titles, your only option (apart from the build in the article) is a gaming laptop with a 1080 or two inside. At that point, you may as well just stay home.

          2. Nvidia’s cloud service is interesting, but the compression is abysmal, and the latency and lag make everything unplayable if you don’t have gigabit Internet.

            Source: Got a limited trial of the service with my Shield. Tried playing Borderlands. Was reminded of early YouTube videos and had a 5 second delay between input and action on the screen. American Internet is awful.

    1. Which is totally useless if gaming is your objective – which is generally the case when needing a discrete GPU or other desktop-class components are required.

      I mean, if you just want basic desktop stuff, then sure, that’s great, but that doesn’t help with someone who needs actual computing power where they are.

      1. It’s great for power, just not in real time. If you need to video edit or run GIS it works, just not multi-player gaming since your lag will be double or triple the rest of the server. You might be able to manage single player on some games.

        1. With everything horribly compressed and blurry, and with ~5 second latency on all the controls, any game still playable will probably run on the Pi directly.

          Maybe solitaire?

      1. Oh, and in a dual socket gaming board (They do exist… I swear I’ve seen them!) the total will be a whopping pointless 44 to 48 cores (depending on what processors are chosen).

        OK, only pointless if playing games, but a massively parallel compile makefile…. That just depends.

  3. “It’ll fit in the overhead bin on your next flight”

    Good luck getting homebrewed electronic anything past TSA goons even if you’ve got security clearances.. Check it and it’ll be partially dismantled when/if you ever see it again.

  4. I hope that first paragraph is satire.
    If not, let me enlighten you why you’re wrong:

    “Recent consumer laptops are thin, powerful, surprisingly inexpensive”

    Thin, yes. Powerful AND inexpensive? lmao no. List one laptop under 600 that is usable for gaming.

    “Apple’s latest MacBook Pros even have a fantastic ‘Touch Bar’ – a touch-sensitive OLED display where the function keys should be.”
    It’s at this point that I’m certain that I’ve been bamboozled and riled up. gg.

    “and they don’t cost much, either”

    gurl plz.

    1. I came here to say that too. We just bought a good amount of Dell Lattitude 15’s at work. They’re not thin/small, their U-series i7’s are quite a bit slower than an old i5-2XXX from more than 5 years ago, and even with a hefty rebate, they cost over $2k.

      The XPS 13 we bought before sure are thin, but their performance is absolute crap, the 4K screen causes countless hilarious issues that have no sane solution (I’m soooo glad I don’t have one!), and those were $2700…

      I see a good amount of people with alienwares or ASUS ROG laptops too. Definitely not thin, decent performance, but again not cheap.

      That’s a big nope on all counts. Unless the author shops in an alternate reality.

    2. Not just that… but from the article two days before….
      ” MacBook Pros is rightly torn to shreds for being an overpriced machine with a stupid gimmick of a Touch Bar, ”

      Consistecny?

  5. I have been drooling over the “portable computer” form factor for years, and they are available from a US company called BSI Computer.
    It looks like they have embraced the gamer market as there are lots of enthusiast boards. This is actually kind of cool, as I only ever remember them offering supermicro server motherboards in the past.

    http://www.bsicomputer.com/products/portable-computer-4

    I have always dreamed of the one with 3 displays though. Better than a laptop, and with a less wasteful future because you can just upgrade as needed over the years.
    http://www.bsicomputer.com/products/fieldgo-m3-1739

    1. I have a beauty of a BSI box :D Came to me as a 600MHz Celeron with 64MB of ram. I have loaded it up with 768MB of RAM, a 800MHz PIII, and have it serving as a bridge between my gigabit ethernet and 10b2 equipment, a testbed for my SCSI emulator, and a convenient chunk of gear to haul with me to AHCS meetings. Sure it can’t run Crysis. But it can fill its purpose in my collection.

  6. This is not a luggable (in the usual sense).
    Based on the pictures, this is more of an all-in-one PC.
    Still, an all-in-one is just about, if not, more luggable.

    I was expecting a 1U high case with an ITX, a GPU on a PCIe flex ribbon (they do/did exist, did – meaning I haven’t checked in a while) a hinge system to hold an LCD and a lead acid battery powering one of those DIY-car-computer-ATX-PSU adapters and a relay/mosfet for the beefy 12V power (CPU+GPU) and a keyboard slapped somewhere inbetween (preferably mechanical. Oh and reused heatpipe bodged onto an LGA heatplate mount for cooling.

    That would be a luggable

  7. I’m working on version 2 of a luggable, previous based on custom home made carbon case (carry on compliant) TFX power, ATX board and external GPU. The new one is going in a Peli 1525 with a all up weight of under 7kg (no screen).

    Incidentally i’m on the lookout for screens that will fit in the lid of the peli and use external 12v supply. So any suggestions welcomed

      1. FIY (Both commenters), I have a breaktime experiment going on at work with an eDP panel from a scraptop.
        If it works on my laptop’s Displayport connector (it also supplies power I found) then I may combine the eDP, internal LVDS (FPD-Link in LVDS form) and the TMDS-FPD-LVDS-LCD in a 3-monitor system for my laptop.

        Hope that gives some ideas

        Don’t know how I’ll mount it all to the Dell E6400, but I know it’ll sip the power with the parts I’m using. All for the showoff (i.e. The Because-I-Can) factor.

        P.S. Most datasheets for the eDP screens seems to be hidden behind NDAs or just don’t exist. However a datasheet for one LCD that appears to have the same pin-out as the one you got may help.

        Count the pins, look out for the Vbl, VCC and some tracks are in the same positions, etc and you’ll probably have a rough pin-out idea. Also most eDP have the Vbl (backlight VCC) driver built in and exposed on a seperate pin or two running between 4.5v to 20v wide input voltage.

        1. Just looked up the datasheet for LMS700KF07. The screen is from an archos 7 (gen6). I could take the PCB used for the TDMS to LVDS conversion and remove the 24b parralel to LVDS stage. Then hook said LCD directly to the TMDS chip.

          Monday (if I remember) I’ll be back at work and I’ll list some chip numbers for you (David) to check back on Tuesday.

        2. OK PART NUMBERS:

          Silicon Image SIL1161CTU paired with DS90C385AMT

          Silicon Image SIL141BCT80 also paired with DS90C385AMT

          Also found a compatible (Read as Universal) PCB to the above combo chipsets i.e. This link

          LP140WH1 – compatable datasheet: LP125WF2-SPB1

  8. I have several of those aluminum desktop cases that would make an easy to cut and dress mod that would hold the screen easily embedded on the side. One mini case I have with duty as a looper has an old mid century handle from a phonograph (swivels flat) on the “side” now top. The real meaning of lugable I think is having a handle first. Rain and splashes-of-imbibement protection is also needed though. At least cooling isn’t a problem.

  9. I enjoy the concept of this particular venture, but I do have a primary concern with the build as it is. I had a friend who attempted something similar to this with the same set of ideals in mind, but eventually conceded defeat and reverted back to using a standard PC case. I should preface this next bit by mentioning that the build in question was created by someone who is admittedly not an engineer by trade or hobby. That being said, “what about cooling?” I know that it is open air, so no heat is really getting trapped. I am also aware that this is touched upon on the project page with regard to case fans. However, cases are designed not just to serve as a framework for fans, but to serve as a multiplier of sorts for case and component fans. Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but most of the cases I’ve run into over the past few years have been designed to maximize airflow, maximize heat dissipation, and serve as a low grade shield from debris. From the example I mentioned above, the project went from deafeningly loud and prone to lock-ups in its caseless form to almost whisper quiet with much smoother performance from the addition of a case alone. I almost wonder if it would be feasible or practical to machine some sort of slotted cover with mount points to clip onto the skeletal beams of the project.

    Despite the above, I do appreciate this project and hope to see it evolve over time. As someone who winds up being away from home a great deal lately, a version of this with a focus on performance would be a welcome addition to my travel kit.

  10. I have not used a case in years. My workshop computer is mounted on the wall, radiator off to the side. bracket for gtx 960 video card 32g ram 480ssd, 128ssg, 2t usb3, 8 core cpu amd 5.1 ghz. I love it and 3 monitors. and 56T on the server. Open again. Mind you its all hard drives over 24 I think.
    Now That Gets Hot when there all going. Still working on that part.The server is controlled by a esp8266 to turn on the banks of drives.
    3D printer has another little gaming pc. No case again mounted in a microwave stand. And a 19″ monitor on top.
    Why pay for a cases. If you plan your air flow and want the looks go for it.

      1. they have probably considering getting into foxhunting, even though they never intend to go to any competition, just to find you and give your computer a beer. You know for the rf interference it has been spewing all over the place dutifully. preferably a sweet beer that becomse sticky after it dries, applied liberally to the motherboard.

        or in the more extreme case, locate your computer, and point a 500w (not EIRP) 2m yagi antenna with 5 elements directly at the processor from a distance shorter than amy adult human armlength.

    1. I have 2 neighbors that are ham operators They have no problems with me. My computers are not shielded you are right. I have more wires in the walls then you could ever dream anyone of having or think it possible and for What you may ask. My wife thinks I crazy, and so does my second wife ( siter in law that moved in.) If any thing I have problems with them. more so the one who is more like me. All messed up. We try our best to stay out of each others hair. And yes again My Pc running at 5.1 does put out the most RF it is also the one that is surrounded with the most wire and monitors. at least that’s what pete’s meter says. And I have promised to stay a way from the 433 band area, so if I want to communicate I have to use another method.

      But thanks for think of this it gave me a chance to divulge more info about my stuff. I dont work any more.No I didnt win the lottery i am losing the use of my hands and legs. I’m on disability for now. So I am trying to do as much as I can with the time I have left with them. Don’t feel bad. There are a lot of things I cant do but That is how come I have 2 great boys to help out there old man.

  11. If you haven’t gone laptop shopping recently, you’re in for a big shock when you do. Recent consumer laptops are thin, powerful, surprisingly inexpensive, and Apple’s latest MacBook Pros even have a fantastic ‘Touch Bar’ – a touch-sensitive OLED display where the function keys should be. The greatest laptops ever made are available right now, and they don’t cost much, either.

    Trying to placate the likes of Alex and GetOffMyLawnYouDamnKids I see… they still won’t be happy. :-)

  12. Technically a “pluggable”, not a “luggable”. Built a luggable unit back during the post-Y2K panic era inside a HF briefcase (screen/hard drive in the lid, motherboard and power systems in the body, mitered oak to hold everything together). Used 2 12v 7Ah SLAs as the battery pack and a “brick” laptop power supply, and a – for the time – massive 1 Gigabyte IDE laptop drive. Rolled my own switching power supply/battery charger circuit using Dallas and National Semiconductor parts, but didn’t count on the startup surge of the IDE drive – computer would boot and then a few seconds later the drive would start to spin up. Had to force a “floppy drive not found, booting from HD” sequence in order to give the HD time to init. Good times.

  13. Not really sure about the way the mobo is fixed. the mobos are designed to have a metal plate below them and they pick up GND from that using the screws. Running the mobo without it might work but could lead to quite some EM issues

  14. I’ve thought of something like a regular case, with an lcd glued on side, and could add a keyboard with a tilting arm. Plus 2 handles on top and if it doenst fit your needs yet, no problem!! just add 4 wheels on case bottom, and if you want more, you can add a motor and a receiver making it remote controled!

    And just in case it is not enough yet, you can also add a gps module, and tell it to move by itself, or take the train alone.

    Well the last parts were a little fantasies…

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