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.

An Ugly but Functional Pi Laptop

It’s got a face only its mother could love. Or a Hackaday writer, since this ugly e-waste laptop proudly sports a Jolly Wrencher on its back.

All joking aside, this is a great example of doing what you can with what you’ve got. [starhawk] is limited on funds, and a regular laptop is beyond his means. But being light in the wallet is no reason to go without when you can scrounge parts from friends and family. The base of the laptop is a mini USB keyboard, with the top formed mainly by a 7″ HDMI panel. The back of the display is adorned with a Raspberry Pi 3, a USB hub, a little sound dongle, and the aforementioned Jolly Wrencher. The whole thing is powered by a cast-off power supply brick — no exploding batteries to worry about!

Other Pi-based laptops we’ve covered may be sleeker, but we’ve got to admit that [starhawk]’s keyboard is probably the better choice for working on the next great American novel. And a Linux laptop for next to nothing? That’s a win in our book.

Raspberry Pi Laptop Uses The Official Touchscreen

We’ve seen a variety of home-made laptops using the Raspberry Pi and other single board computers over the years. Usually, they combine off-the-shelf USB keyboards and trackpads with HDMI monitor panels, and cases made from layered laser cut sheet, or 3D printed plastic.

[Surferboy]’s Raspberry Pi laptop is the latest effort to come before us, and its claim to fame is the use of the official Raspberry Pi 7″ touchscreen as a display. Full instructions and 3D printer files are available on Thingiverse so you can have a go at replicating it if a portable Pi is your thing.

He’s taken the bold step of not attempting to place all the Pi’s interfaces next to the outside of the case. Instead, he’s desoldered the Ethernet and USB ports. The USB connections were wired directly to the keyboard, display, and a couple of external ports on the right-hand side of his case. This leaves the finished laptop with no Ethernet. However, losing ethernet is a worthy tradeoff for the thinner package.

[Surferboy] also brought the GPIO header to a female socket on the rear of the unit. It’s unclear exactly what battery he uses except for a reference to the battery from his keyboard. Since a keyboard battery will be too small for Pi and display we are guessing a larger pack will be necessary.

Though the Ethernet port and battery issue would probably be a dealbreaker here this has the makings of a useful and compact laptop, it will be interesting to see if it is picked up and refined by the community.

Quite a few early Pi laptops used the Motorola Lapdock, a mobile-phone-into-netbook peripheral. Some others we’ve featured have been a bit chunky, but sometimes they can be objects of beauty.


Olimex Announces Their Open Source Laptop

A few months ago at the Hackaday | Belgrade conference, [Tsvetan Usunov], the brains behind Olimex, gave a talk on a project he’s been working on. He’s creating an Open Source Hacker’s Laptop. The impetus for this project came to [Tsvetan] after looking at how many laptops he’s thrown away over the years. Battery capacity degrades, keyboards have a fight with coffee, and manufacturers seem to purposely make laptops hard to repair.

Now, this do it yourself, Open Source Hardware and hacker-friendly laptop is complete. The Olimex TERES I laptop has been built, plastic has been injected into molds, and all the mechanical and electronic CAD files are up on GitHub. This Open Source laptop is done, but you can’t buy it quite yet; for that, we’ll have to wait until Olimex comes back from FOSDEM.

The design of this laptop is completely Open Source. Usually when we hear this phrase, the Open Source part only means the electronics and firmware. Yes, there are exceptions, but the STL files for the PiTop, the ‘3D printable Raspberry Pi laptop’ are not available, rendering the ‘3D printable’ part of PiTop’s marketing splurge incongruent with reality. If you want to build a case for the Open Source laptop to date, [Bunnie]’s Novena, random GitHub repos are the best source. The Olimex TERES I is completely different; not only can you simply buy all the parts for the laptop, the hardware files are going up too. To be fair, this laptop is built with injection molded parts and will probably be extremely difficult to print on a standard desktop filament printer. The effort is there, though, and this laptop can truly be built from source.

As far as specs go, this should be a fairly capable laptop. The core PCB is built around an Allwinner ARM Cortex-A53, sporting 1GB of DDR3L RAM, 4GB of eMMC Flash, WiFi, Bluetooth, a camera, and an 11.6″ 1366×768 display. Compared to an off-the-shelf, bargain-basement consumer craptop, those aren’t great specs, but at least the price is consummate with performance: The TERES I will sell for only €225, or about $250 USD. That’s almost impulse buy territory, and we can’t wait to get our hands on one.

Turn That Old Tablet Into A Sub-$100 Linux Laptop

Tiny laptops have always been devices that promise so much, yet fail somehow to deliver. From the Atari Portfolio palmtops through to the recent crop of netbooks they have been either eye-wateringly expensive if they are any good, or so compromised by their size constraints as to be next-to-useless. We’ve seen DOS, EPOC, Windows, WinCE, Palm OS, Linux distros and more in tiny form factors over the years, yet few have made a significant mark.

The prospect of a “proper” computer in your hand isn’t something to abandon just yet though. We are now reaching the point at which the previous generation of higher-end Android tablets are both acceptably powerful and sufficiently numerous as to be available at a very reasonable price. Perhaps these can provide the tiny laptop seeker with a basis for something useful. [NODE] certainly thinks so, because he’s produced a nice little Ubuntu laptop using a second-hand Nexus 7 tablet and a Bluetooth keyboard case. Android is replaced with an Ubuntu image, and a cardboard cut-out display bezel is held in place with magnetic strips. A step-by-step guide has been put up to help others interested in following the same path.

This is not the most amazing of hardware hacks, in that it involves mostly off-the-shelf items and a piece of software. However it’s worth a look because it does provide a route to a very acceptable little Linux laptop for an extremely reasonable price. One concern is that the Ubuntu version seems not to be a recent one, however we’re sure readers will point at any newer distribution builds in the comments. If you fancy a look at the finished laptop he’s posted a video which we’ve included below the break.

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Hacklet 125 – DIY Laptops

In the old days of the 1970’s, the only way to get your own computer was to build one from scratch. Thanks to an army of hackers like [Woz], PC’s are no commodity objects that can be bought for a couple of hundred dollars. The magic of building your own still is there though – especially when we’re talking about portable machines. Laptops, notebooks, netbooks take quite a bit of skill to assemble. Stuffing a keyboard, screen, and battery into a small clamshell case takes a bit of planning. Our last look at DIY laptops was exactly 100 Hacklets ago, so it’s time for a refresh. This week we’re checking out some of the best DIY laptops and portable computers on!

piberryWe start with [Sahas Dinesh Chitlange] and Pi-Berry Laptop. [Sahas] found just the right mix of simple and elegant with this build. A Raspberry Pi 2 is the brains of the operation. The Pi sits in a case built from a mix of MDF and regular wood. The display is a 10.1″ HDMI LCD. The keyboard was pulled from a tablet case. Power was easy — a USB power bank provides enough for 4-5 hours of runtime. [Sahas] covered his laptop in Italian leather for a polished look. He planned out his parts layout well enough that the power-hungry Pi stays cool without a fan.

pivenaNext up is [Tim] with PIvena. [Tim] took his inspriation from [Bunnie Huang’s] Novena open laptop. Rather than roll his own ARM board, [Tim] went with a Raspberry Pi. His original design was for the Raspberry Pi model B. Last time we looked at PIvena, the model B+ was still pretty new. As we hoped, [Tim] modified his design to accept the new Pi layouts. This means it will physically work with the B+, Pi 2, and Pi 3 boards. [Tim] didn’t stop there though. He also upgraded from an 800 x 480 LCD to an 1200 x 800 LCD. He managed to do that while keeping the same bolt pattern on the travel cover. Nice work [Tim]!

elloNext we have [KnivD] with ELLO 2M. The most striking thing about ELLO 2M is the construction. The entire laptop is made from 6 PCBs which sandwich all the other parts. The keyboard is PCB material with keys routed out. The processor is a Microchip PIC32MX470-120. Software is loaded from one of 3 microSD cards. The 7 inch touchscreen LCD and 4500 mAh LiPo battery are nestled in between PCB layers. A true hacker, [KnivD] included a generous pin grid for debugging add-on circuits. The whole setup looks great with white silkscreen. As [Mark Sherman] mentioned in the comments, this machine reminds us of a modern-day TRS-80 Model 100.

pipdaFinally we have [pdrift86] with Mini rpi2 laptop. Palmtop might be a better name for this. [pdrift86] took his inspiration (and his keyboard) from the old HP Jornada Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). The housing is Masonite, cut from a clipboard. A Raspberry Pi 2 hides inside, along with a 4 cell 18650 Li-Ion battery. The screen is a 5″ LCD with a composite input. The display isn’t a touchscreen, so a Playstation Portable analog stick is on-board, and will eventually be connected for mouse control. [pdrift86] even managed to sneak the Pi camera on the back of his machine, so it can take pictures cellphone style.

If you want to see more DIY laptop projects, check out our new DIY Laptops notebooks, and portables list. Notice a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

FPGA Drives Old Laptop Screen

Every year, new models of laptops arrive on the shelves. This means that old laptops usually end up in landfills, which isn’t exactly ideal. If you don’t want to waste an old or obsolete laptop, though, there’s a way to reuse at least the screen out of one. Simply grab an FPGA off the shelf and get to work.

[Martin] shows us all how to perform this feat on our own, and goes into great detail about how all of the electronics involved work. Once everything was disassembled and the FPGA was wired up, it took him a substantial amount of time just to turn the display on. From there it was all downhill: [Martin] can now get any pattern to show up on the screen, within reason. The only limit to his display now seems to be the lack of external RAM. He currently uses the setup to drive an impressive-looking clock.

This is a big step from days passed where it was next to impossible to repurpose a laptop screen. Eventually someone discovered a way to drive these displays, and now there are cheap electronics from China that can usually get a screen like this running. It’s impressive to see it done from scratch, though, and the amount of detail in the videos are a great way to understand how everything is working.

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