Sandwich Together a Raspberry Pi Laptop

Ever since the Raspberry Pi was released to an eager public just over five years ago there is one project that seems to have been tackled more frequently than any other using the small computer from Cambridge: that of making a laptop with Pi for brains. Perhaps you feel you have had your fill of Pi laptops both good and bad, but it’s still a project that can bring up some surprises.

Does [Eben] carry a silver marker with him, laptops for the signing of?
Does [Eben] carry a silver marker with him at all times, laptops for the signing of?
[Archie Roques] is a young maker from Norwich, UK, and at the Raspberry Pi birthday party in early March he had rather an unusual laptop. He’d done the usual thing of mating the official Pi screen, a bluetooth keyboard/touchpad, Pi, and battery, but as always it’s the detail that matters. His case is a carefully designed sandwich of laser-cut plastic that somehow manages the impossible task of containing all the laptop internals while not being too bulky.

For power he at first used a 4 AH LiPo cell from a dead tablet with a Pimoroni LiPo power board, but since he hit problems with the Pimoroni board supplying both screen and Pi he’s switched to an off-the-shelf power bank. Unusually this laptop also has built-in audio, using another Pimoroni product, their speaker pHAT.

Where this laptop has a flaw though is in the display hinges. He has plans for a beautifully made 3D printed hinge, but for now he’s using a piece of tape, which though functional does not add to the aesthetic. When we saw it in Cambridge the keyboard was fitting more snugly than it does in the photos on his write-up, so perhaps he’s fixed some of its issues. Despite the in-progress hinge it’s a very usable little Pi laptop, and though (Hint, [Archie]!) he hasn’t yet published the design files for it, we’re sure when he does we’ll see other people building the same machine. They won’t be quite as exclusive as [Archie]’s model though, while he was in Cambridge he managed to get it signed by [Eben Upton], founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation and judge for the 2017 Hackaday Prize.

We recently showed you a Pi laptop build in a cigar box that was useful in its detailing of the various modules required, but in the past we’ve shown you another one using the official touch screen, a lovely one in the style of a Psion palmtop, and vertically bulky yet small-footprint one, and another that keeps its presence hidden.

A tip of the hat to Norwich Hackspace.

26 thoughts on “Sandwich Together a Raspberry Pi Laptop

  1. I like it, shame all the detail didn’t quite come together yet.

    Hinges can be a PITA, around the turn of the century, major laptop manufacturers were having problems doing it right, a lot of machines from around that era had hinge problems.

    You know what I might do when I get around to any of my half dozen “make a laptop out of X” ideas…. use large 3cm disks each side as friction plates, and have a thumbscrew to adjust tension if they get sloppy.

    1. Complete and utter bullshit.

      For a machine that you might want a reasonable experience browsing the modern web it’s sucking half to a quarter the power of x86 based equivalents.

      A pi would be a bad choice for a lighting timer for that reason, when you can run a few milliamp dumb 8 bit microcontroller, AVR or PIC or something. But we’re not doing that. Apples to battleships.

    2. It does – and there may be many better options available. However, I didn’t build this because it was a good laptop, I built it because I wanted to use a pi on the go, for testing code and running workshops. So not having a pi would kinda interfere with that ;)

  2. My kid wants to make a pi laptop. We are thinking about 3d printing most of the case, we don’t have access to a laser cutter, but doing lost-PLA Al hinges that extend well into the lid and case with a nylon washers and some machine screws at the pivot seems like it would work. Since it doesn’t cost anything extra except filament he wants to do big fat printed PU bumpers like a military laptop though I am trying to get him to accept a razor cut hockey puck and glue or screws and save my PU filament.

  3. Don’t hate the tape!

    kids these days spoiled with their 3D printers. Bah I say! Real character comes from lots of tape!

    now get offa mah lawn before I sic a real radio controlled gas powered plane on ya! *grumbles about everything bein’ called ‘drones’…* :)

  4. It is amazing to me that there are a plethora of Raspberry-Pi laptop shells available on the market, especially considering what is possible out of China these days (for good, or bad, let the reviewers sort them out). But there isn’t AFAIK. I can only find the outrageously priced ~$270 Pi-Top laptop “shell” (yeah, you have to add the actual Raspberry-Pi etc. at your own cost-plus). Perhaps the Pi-Top has something to do with their “3D Printing” of the hardware parts. If-so, why aren’t there injection molded “cases” available out of China. Yes, molds are expensive to make. But I’m SURE the demand exists that erases this barrier due to economies of scale for a RPi compatible laptop shell.

    https://pi-top.com/ <= Warning! Very heavy scripting depth on this site.

    Hmmm…

    1. Yeah, I’ve wondered this too. I guess if you want something doing, do it yourself… I’ll have my design files online for china to copy as soon as I can get to the Hackspace to retrieve them!

  5. In all seriousness I really don’t get the point of a Pi laptop. The performance is awful. No matter which Pi you use, you still have a terrible read/write speed, a slow processor, and hardly any RAM or storage. Using a slow laptop is never fun. I guess it is an okay project for a kid to learn with. But the usefulness just isn’t there unless you don’t mind using a laptop that is literally slower than the low end laptops produced a decade ago.

    1. Since your precise timescale of a decade was obviously chosen very carefully, and that was the time of introduction of the first wave of “netbook” type machines, with such powerhouses as Via C3 600Mhz, AMD Geode 450Mhz and MIPS 400Mhz CPUs in… I disagree.

      1. Ten years ago Windows Vista hit the market. It was also the year I purchased a low end Toshiba laptop for ~$500. It came with 2 GB of RAM, 200 GB of storage, and a Turion x2. Even today that machine would provide better performance than a Raspberry Pi 3 for most tasks.

        I remember well when the netbooks came. They were slow and nearly worthless for most tasks. Even simple internet browsing was a pain. They were a gimmick. The later models with Atoms were usable, but still rather pointless. Not until the last few years did they really become usable, if you can find them.

        1. Nah that was mid-end in full size notebooks, sempr0ns were still around. Though I would agree it will run rings around the Pi, and since they are sticking Atom cores in low end notebooks now, that are basically gussied up tablet class hardware, it’s equal to those still.

    2. Don’t get me wrong, that thing ain’t built for speed.

      But as someone who does quite a few pi workshops and projects, being able to prototype your code on the device, without needing a monitor, keyboard, screen and mouse is a pretty big bonus and was the main reason for me making it.

      1. Pretty cool, anybody (like some above) that is complaining just doesn’t get the point, which is that you turned a pi into a full fledged laptop, even if done before thats still awesome, and you dont seem to have any misassumptions about its use-case either, so all in all a great project, keep it up & ignore those not understanding :)

  6. Seriously, why does everyone shit on other peoples projects like this?

    When I was 13, I was trying to stuff a LP 386SX motherboard into a wooden case with a 2.5″ laptop hard drive. Why? Because I wanted a ‘portable computer!’ We couldn’t afford the expensive laptops at the time, and I loved building things and solving the problems as they come. That machine was portable, despite having to carry around a full AT PSU, a keyboard and a 13″ IBM monitor. It worked.

    This project is no different. This kid wanted to *build something*. It doesn’t matter if it is slow, or there are better solutions out there, or the hinges are made of tape. IT WORKS. It does what he wants it to do! It’s a work in progress! He is *learning* as he goes!

    I really think people have forgotten what hackaday is all about.

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