Cigar Box Opens to Raspberry Pi Laptop

If you were to go back to the middle years of the twentieth century and talk to electronic constructors, you would find a significant number had a cigar box radio among their projects. Cigar boxes were fairly robust, readily available, and could easily accommodate the parts required to make a crystal set or a simple one-tube regenerative receiver. These days there isn’t much attraction to a simple AM radio though, so while they can still be fun to build, the cigar box radio only occupies a niche in vintage radio circles.

Cigar boxes, however, remain. [Mike] found a very nice antique cigar box, and made something unexpected, he put a Raspberry Pi in it and made something close to a laptop. Into the lid goes an LCD screen secured with wooden blocks, while in the body of the box goes the LCD controller, Pi 3, and battery charger and PSU modules. There are two sets of cells, one each for screen and Pi.

We like the idea and we like his write-up for its clear run-down of the modules required even though it’s mostly a plug-together build. We described it as “Something close to a laptop” because it has one glaring omission. He’s using an external keyboard rather than having incorporated one within the case. We think there looks as though there is plenty of room for one, so perhaps he’ll return to the project and upgrade it in that way. For reminding us that cigar boxes can make excellent laptop cases though, we’re thankful.

We’ve featured numbers of Raspberry Pi laptops over the years since the little computer’s launch. Just a small selection are this one using the official touch screen, a rather beautiful one in the style of a Psion palmtop, and one that is rather chunky but has a small footprint. Meanwhile in cigar boxes, we’ve brought you an excellent little 555 organ.

24 thoughts on “Cigar Box Opens to Raspberry Pi Laptop

    1. Nonsense. .. luckily. Although i get weird stares from time to time i pass airporr security with far more exotic homebrew hardware ;) but yeah i always wonder what they’re thinking. Most of them look like “the clock bomb”.

      US airports i haven t crossed yet….

  1. I’m making a similar laptop from scratch. No cigar boxes, but I’m recycling a lot of parts from a very old broken laptop.
    I chose an Orange Pi for my laptop. I got the scavenged screen working with a Chinese TV controller board and some reverse engineering which turned out to be useless with $2 pre-made LVDS cables from China. Speakers are also controlled by that board. I replaced the burnt CCFL inverter with an universal one I got from Aliexpress. The laptop’s keyboard is wired to an STM32 running Espruino which serves as the embedded controller and also switches power to the various components, watches the power button (it’s always powered on in sleep mode), keeps time when the Orange Pi is off, dims the backlight (the inverter isn’t controlled by the TV motherboard), blinks status LEDs and provides a lot of GPIO pins. I reused the hard drive too, with an IDE-to-USB adapter. The DVD drive was broken so I couldn’t use it, but I reused the power supply. Other parts such as the RAM and the WiFi card were working but unusable with the Orange Pi so I kept them for future projects. I used two old USB dongles for WiFi and Bluetooth, and I threw a TV tuner (= RTL-SDR) in, all connected to a 7-port hub (two ports available, three used by dongles, one for the HDD and one for the STM32 EC).
    Currently the laptop runs on 12V (or 19V from the recycled PSU with a DC-DC converter) and has no battery. I plan on making a battery pack from a bunch of 18650 cells in series and a balanced charger module.
    It’s still a mess of Chinese modules and wires on a table so a cigar box would be a nice choice as a case if I can find one.

    1. Good effort. I’ve started down a similar road but have stumbled with the LVDS cables as you did. The case I have chosen is an ~2008 HP laptop /w bad mobo. The battery connector was salvaged and I intend to reuse the original battery (recelled of course). Cutting up the old bits and mounting the new ones was the fun part. Used a Banana pi and SATA HDD

  2. btw. If you are looking for this small size keyboard its from perixx (you can hardly read it)

    Why I say this: I got one some years ago along with an acer/packardbell 3600 nettop and after I first used it for “just” needing a keyboard I fell in love with it. It is just great for coding. The keys are well spaced and it feels great. It was branded “Acer” and I didn’t find it for some time, till I searched ebay for a small size keyboard without extra numpad and found the original supplier sells them on ebay (cost = 15€ including shipping)

    1. been looking for a small keyboard for my pi tablet, so thats good to know. i got this old webtv keyboard from a thrift store and i was going to connect its matrix to an i2c port expander and print a new case for it and connect it directly to the header (i did an i2c joystick+driver a few months ago). but at 27cm its a lot longer than the offitial pi screen and wouldnt look too nice. if i can get a keyboard about 19cm in length that would be better. i got one of those presentation remote keyboards and its totally unusable on a linux system. this perixx brand has some contenders though.

  3. i find lack of online charging disturbing. my current project is a pi tablet with a 3s battery config. my old system used 2 cells series and just used a ubec to drop the voltage to 5v. this had some problems, obviously no online charging, secondly i wasnt getting full discharge because the ubec would drop out well below the minimum battery voltage. so i opted for a 3s system the ubec could in theory draw power until the battery dies. throw on a protection board with balancing features, a cc/cv charger board and an 18v jack.

    im using this shottky and pfet power oring solution i found in a datasheet somewhere. if the thing is jacked in, the pfet cuts off the battery circuit entirely and provides power from the wall wart (this also powers the charge circuit). the diode will get a little warm but thats nothing a heat sink wont fix, but the very low voltage drop on the pfet will be really effitient while on battery power. its better than diode oring which means you are constantly powering a heater no matter which source you use. works out ok in simulations but i haven’t tested it yet. il know it works when the whole stack doesnt explode.

    1. Blinking LEDs with something called “Arduino” and a pre-written program (let’s call it a “sketch”) is an epic achievement here at HaD. Especially if the LED is built into that Arduino thing.
      On the other hand decapping and reverse engineering a totally undocumented chip, writing a compiler for its proprietary CPU, finding out all the I/O registers and writing a custom firmware for that chip is a “NOT A HACK, just a lot of useless effort for a chip no one will ever use because we only use AVRs (with Arduino IDE of course) here at Hackaday”.

  4. I’m planning on making a nice little system with a PiZeroW, a micro USB to 5- or 7-port USB hub with an Ethernet port as well, an eInk hat for on the run news or file checking, a USB OTG, a tiny keyboard from an old tablet case, but no mouse – I’m hoping to just be able to use the keyboard and it’s shortcuts… Anyone have any suggestions for additional parts? Some ideas include a BT dongle, a USB to BT thingie for the keyboard, a Bluetooth or just wireless mouse, etc.
    I already have a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable, various micro-SD cards, and if course many USB add-ons like a normal mouse and some USB drives. I’m also wondering if there is a cheap USB to audio jack kind of thing.

    1. You mean an external soundcard? There are a lot of cheap USB soundcards on Aliexpress. The bluetooth dongle isn’t needed because the Zero W has built-in bluetooth.
      You can do anything you want with just a keyboard and the Linux console (if you can use it), or you can make your own menu system and programs.

    1. How so? I mean a fully assembled Novena is pricey, but the Novena board is so much more powerful than the RPi (and I’m a RPi fan, just saying). I’d be tempted to buy the bare Novena board and use it in this project instead of the Pi. That’s fully in the spirit of both this project and the Novena project, and you end up with a more capable platform than what we see here (again, at a higher cost).

  5. This setup comes closer to what I have in mind. A display that flips up with a keyboard built into the case that flips down (or forward) which reveals the circuitry with a prototyping area built in. Not sure how to elegantly integrate the mouse as part of this though.

    1. The mouse could be wireless, they work on most surfaces such as couch or pant-leg. Maybe store it under the keyboard too? and +1 on the prototyping area, I mean what’s the point of all that GPIO if you’re not going to connect to hardware

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