The Improved Luggable PC

There are exactly two types of personal computers available today. If you need a lot of horsepower, a powerful GPU, or a full-power CPU, you’re going to end up with a desktop. If you need something portable, you’re getting a laptop with a wimpy CPU and an underpowered GPU. Historically, there has been a third type of PC, the luggable. The luggable is a desktop PC crammed into a case that makes it slightly more portable than a desktop and a monitor.  You cannot buy a luggable PC case right now. They simply do not exist as a commercial product you can shove your own hardware into. This is a form factor an entire industry forgot.

Now there’s a DIY luggable PC. This project from [Roger] packs a standard ATX motherboard, a full-size GPU, a full-size power supply, and everything else that makes a desktop PC powerful into a case that can be stored in an overhead bin.

[Roger] has been working on this project for a while, and it was featured on Hackaday back when it looked like a RepRap Mendel. There have been some significant improvements over the earlier iterations of this project, including a very, very cool hinge mechanism that allows the display to fold in when the computer isn’t being used. It’s a mechanical wonder that prevents scratches. Neat. The rest of the case is constructed out of 2020 aluminum extrusion, and about a one kilogram spool of filament.

Since this is a portable case, there are a few compromises. There are no 5.25″ bays, no 3.5″ bays, and few 2.5″ bays. M.2 SSDs and USB-powered CD drives exist, so this isn’t a big deal.

This is a truly fantastic case in a form factor you can’t buy anywhere else. If you have a spare monitor and a bit of extrusion sitting around, this is one to build yourself.

40 thoughts on “The Improved Luggable PC

  1. What about the three inch thick gamer laptops with an overclockable i7 and twin SLI GTX 1080’s? Check out Linus Media Group, they review every single one that comes onto the market.

    1. Yeaaaahhhh. Try and buy a case from them. Just the case. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You can’t do it. Guess how I know?

      I built a new battlestation at the beginning of the year, cost about $1500. unlocked i7, 1070, 1TB M2 ssd, nice machine. If I wanted to have a luggable version of my battlestation, it would cost about $5000. It costs that much because I would have to throw out all the last-gen hardware they bundle everything with.

      The manufacturer of the case you linked to (a Taiwanese company) referred me to their US distributor, who you’re already aware of). There is no doubt in my mind that I spend more time researching how to buy that case than it took to make the first (threaded rod) version of this DIY case. You can not buy an empty ATX luggable PC case. It’s simply impossible.

      1. Just like in the earlier days, when you could buy luggable PC computers, you had to buy a computer. Compaq and friends never sold bare cases one could hobby-build with parts sourced from elsewhere.

        Anyway, on the more positive note, this is very nice. The repraplike thing was not something I would consider well built but this protects the innards and pieces and everything. Of course as always there is room for improvement but this is already usable cool and might be good enough to not bother with enhancements.

      2. At one time there was a case distributor, had a full page of thumbnail pics in the back of deadtree PC and trade mags…. you could actually go through the ad and pick out cases used by many 2nd and 3rd tier white box outfits… anyway, they had 3 lunchbox luggable cases available, but they were a couple of hundred bucks or so, not out of reach if you really really wanted, but not something you’d do on a whim… prices were single unit, no minimum…

        Anyway, some 10 years or so back, I did manage to dig them up on the web, and yah, still selling cases of all kinds, priced single. However, rack my brains as I might, I cannot recall their name, or any useful unique details that would help a search along. Not sure you could find them on google books in back issues because ad was rendered landscape so not sure if it would have OCRed right for keyword search.

        Googling a bit this morn, yah, bruuutal. Not sure if the inherent modern uselessness of google is making it worse, but they always had been a bit tricky to find historically.

        I picked up an IBM Portable PC some while ago and have been trying to restrain myself from hacking it for ATX ever since. I should check what they’re worth again, probably time for a restore and jettison. Not getting far on my own portable project this week, things coming up and coming up. Check username link for the beginnings, you can tell me everything I’m going to do wrong in advance and avoid being labelled Captain Hindsight.

      3. There exists aluminium tool cases which techies use to cart their crap around. Those would make an ideal computer case. Surely, a site that is populated by ‘hackers’ can adapt something so simple to suit their own needs.

      1. Or a cushy government contract job with a corporate visa. Playing golf occasionally with upper management certainly helps.

        They’re not water cooled, but somehow don’t catch on fire when buying questionable stuff like this.

      2. I built a lab instrument around a BSI lunchbox a few years ago because I needed that form factor. Not exactly awe-inspiring case or component quality, despite the 2x price premium. Pretty chintzy actually. Customer wasn’t impressed. Never again.

  2. I worked at a place once where they had a pelican case with a desktop with a monitor built in to the side of the case (not sure if purchased or off the shelf) to use a fairly powerful (for 2012) xeon, 64gb machine with several PCIe data logging cards in the field … It was a huge pain in the ass but for what it did there was not many other options for it’s purpose

  3. that thing is huge. my mini-itx desktop could easily fit into a backpack if i wanted it to, stick a monitor keyboard and mouse in a briefcase and you are in buisness. you can really trim the desktop form factors a lot if you throw out optical drives, and 3.5 inch drives too in order to chop space. sfx power supply. im wondering why were still using the classic power supply seeing as most of the stuff is going 12v with all the switch mode regulators on the mobo, a simple 12v supply would be a lot better. we need new form factors but this is not it.

    a briefcase size luggable case is certainly possible, mini itx with the video card on a 90 degree riser board, an m2/msata ssd, and a custom slim coolers for cpu and gpu, and a sfx power supply. monitor in the lid, slim keyboard atop the case, and a little compartment for a mouse. thats what i want to see and would buy.

  4. I think the reason this form factor is disappearing is because it’s no longer very useful. Way back when, desktop computers all had a gigantic CRT, and the laptops that existed were both clunky and dinky; there was a real market for luggables with LCD or plasma screens. (We had a Sharp PC-7000… http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?st=1&c=496 )

    That market has been nibbled away from above and below; laptops have decreased the performance gap and increased their portability advantage, while a modern desktop+monitor (or an all-in-one, if you like that sort of thing) is way more portable; the niche in the middle where you need more power than even a beefy laptop, but have to have that small portability (or perhaps more important, durability in transport) advantage, is just too small to support more than the super-expensive companies mentioned in previous comments.

  5. “There are exactly two types of personal computers available today. If you need a lot of horsepower, a powerful GPU, or a full-power CPU, you’re going to end up with a desktop. If you need something portable, you’re getting a laptop with a wimpy CPU and an underpowered GPU.”

    I disagree – I have an orphaned (didn’t sell well) laptop from a major manufacturer (cough HP Pavilion DV7 cough) that works as well or better than most non-gamer desktops including huge screen etc. Of course it looks like it was made from the recycled horizontal stabilizer of a Boeing 727 and weighs about that much, but it is “portable”. One of the few laptops that I’d consider writing the Great American Novel (or running a big CFD simulation) on.

    Of course, I’m writing *this* on a Chromebook, which is the fourth option – farming all the computing out to “teh cloud” (someone else’s processors) through a browser-in-a-box.

    1. I have a Dell Latitude E6530. 3 Ghz i7 dual core, nVidia NVS 5200M GPU with 1 gig. Takes up to 16 gig DDR3. 1080p LCD. Has three Mini PCIe slots (need to investigate if whitelist limited and if so, how to fix that). WWAN support (in one mPCIe) with SIM slot. Lots more features. Can be upgraded to a faster, quad core i7.
      Mine does not have the SmartCard reader, webcam or fingerprint reader. No biggie since I didn’t want them.

      The NVS 5200M is nothing like the much older GeForce 5000 series. This GPU actually has some grunt. It’ll run stuff that the 9800GT with 1 gig in my desktop chokes on.

      Got it for $230 on eBay with an i5 installed. Had another one without the nVidia GPU and with the 1366×768 (why does Dell offer a crap topping on their flagship product lines?) LCD, but with the i7. Quick CPU swap and sold that one for $125 so I’m only into the better one for $105 because the lower spec one was given to me. ;) Woulda swapped its 6 gig RAM for the 4 gig in the better one but the 6 gig was a slower speed. Saving pennies for a pair of fastest 8 gig sticks it supports.

  6. In the bad old days when you tried a trick like this you would end up with a box that screamed radio interference like a banshee. Impossible to sell, of course, because it would fail any kind of FCC/DOC/etc EMI testing, but that’s not the point: Sellable or not, a build like this is (or was) positively antisocial to nearby radio users.

    Have modern components changed things at all? Are newer PCs intrinsically quieter, or do people just not give a damn about polluting the radio spectrum any more?

    1. Probably just as bad.

      On one hand you have more and more PC interfaces using diff pair at lower voltages for most high speed buses and clocks (PCIe, HT, QPI, USB, HDMI) which helps suppress EMI emissions. They’re primarily running at higher frequencies than the ISA/PCI days, which means they don’t carry as far. Rotating media is disappearing, so noise from spindle motors and voice coils is less likely.

      On the other hand, CPUs and GPUs draw more power than the 32-bit days, with Vcore supplies coming from 5-6 phase 100+ watt switchers at 1-5MHz, and very sharp transient loads as CPUs drop down to power saving modes as often as possible.

    2. Copper and graphite sprays are available to take care of that problem though I doubt it would be a problem in the first place. Microwave ovens, mobile phones etc. leak a lot without many complaints.

    3. Well, people didn’t all give a damn in the bad old days either. In the late ’80s and ’90s we were the most computer-happy family I know of — family of 6 with up to 10 computers up and running at one point; at least half of those had both side panels (or, this being the 90s, the entire one-piece sheet-metal exterior on most of them) permanently off, to allow easy access for upgrades. Just saw no point putting it back on, you were just gonna have to take it off again sooner or later, and a little dust won’t hurt anything.

      You might think that upgrades were either infrequent, on a per-PC basis, or else we must have been stinking rich, but there were a lot of hand-me-down upgrades; when Dad bought one new piece of gear for his main computer, there might be a cascade of three or four upgrades around the house. It actually made sense, in that we saved more labor (and pinched thumbs!) installing and removing sheet metal, than we cost ourselves carrying them out to the garage and air-blasting the dust out of them. Of course, I was a kid/teenager, and didn’t grasp what we were doing to the poor electromagnetic spectrum…

      Now that I know something about EMI, I look back on that mess and shake my head, pitying anyone who may have been trying to use any kind of radio nearby. And my computers all have their cases on, unless I’m actively upgrading or trouble-shooting something. Dad, OTOH, still has the sides off the computers (a mere 2 of them now) in his living room. *sigh*

  7. They do in fact exist as a commercial product, though an expensive one that you need to actually get a quote for. I have one of them. It weighs about what you’d expect a monitor and keyboard+trackpad strapped to a desktop case to weigh, and cost more than the innards did.

  8. A simple hinged display would be easier. Or have it slide out of the case and hinge up, like displays on some car stereos. If you really want the flip and spin, examine the old Fujitsu LifeBook laptop series where the screen hinged open then could be twisted 180 degrees in either direction then folded down with its back to the keyboard to become a tablet PC.

    1. I never liked the flip-and-spin hinge, it was fragile. There’s a much stronger design, used on the Vadem Clio, also sold as the Sharp Mobilon Tripad. It was also on the Thinkpad 360P and 750P, in a slightly different incarnation.

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