Hacklet #5 – Hackerspaces and DIY Laptops

The Hacklet #5

Hackerspaces

sector67Did you know that Hackaday.io has a hackerspace index? That’s right, you can enter your local hackerspace’s info, pictures, videos, and social media links. Members and crew can link their hackaday.io profiles and drop comments about their latest projects.

The map up at the top of the hackerspace index’s page is interactive too – zoom in on your country and local area to see any spaces nearby. It’s like one-stop shopping for awesome. Well, except that this awesome is free.

It really is great to see all the pictures of spaces large and small. Some of the most stunning shots are from c-base, in Berlin, Germany. Founded in 1995, the c-base crew have created an incredible space. Take a look at the workstation in the photo. Is it Steampunk? Matrix-punk? Heck no, that’s 100% c-base.

c-base

 

Do It Yourself Laptops

You don’t have to be Bunnie Huang to build your own laptop. All it takes is some time, ingenuity,and a good hot glue gun.

opentech-laptop

Our first laptop is actually inspired by Bunnie’s Novena. The OpenTech-Laptop uses two binders as it’s shell, but inside hides some decent computing power. [OpenTech] used a miniITX motherboard with an ATOM N2800 CPU. The screen came from an old laptop (long live matte 4:3 screens!) [OpenTech] even hand wired a Low Voltage Differential Signaling (LVDS) cable so the motherboard can push those pixels. A wireless keyboard, hard drive, and speakers round out the build. [OpenTech] is still looking for a portable power solution.Why not follow Bunnie’s lead and grab some R/C Plane LiPo batteries, [OpenTech]?

minibsd

Next up is a MiniBSD laptop computer created by [Jaromir]. MiniBSD is based on RetroBSD, a PIC32 based BSD single board computer. Rather than use a premade platform like the Fubarino, [Jaromir] laid out his own board with everything he wanted – a microSD socket, SDRAM, real-time clock, and all the trimmings. He then added a graphical LCD, a LiPo battery, and a sweet retro keyboard from an old Czech computer company called Tesla. [Jaromir's] next task is a 3D printed case. The only problem is the case is 2cm wider than his current printer’s bed!

http://hackaday.io/project/1559-Laptop-pi

You didn’t think we’d leave the Raspberry Pi out, now did you? Laptop-pi is [Bram's] project to convert an old DVD player (remember those?) into a Pi Laptop. Not only did [Bram] build a QWERTY keyboard from scratch on perfboard, he also hacked together an on-screen keyboard so he can type with just a D-pad. He’s currently fighting with a dodgy audio amp, but we’re sure that’s just a temporary setback. We think Laptop-pi will be a killer portable for retro gaming!

 

That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, stay tuned for next week when we bring you more of what’s happening at Hackaday.io!

[Bunnie]‘s Open Source Laptop Is Ready For Production

SONY DSC

Just over a year ago, [Bunnie Huang] announced he was working on a very ambitious personal project: a completely open source laptop. Now, with help from his hardware hacker compatriot [xobs], this laptop named Novena is nearly complete.

Before setting out on this project, [Bunnie] had some must-have requirements for the design. Most importantly, all the components should be free of NDA encumbrances. This isn’t an easy task; an SoC vendor with documentation sitting around on their servers is rare as hen’s teeth, and Freescale was the only vendor that fit the bill. Secondly, the entire laptop should be entirely open source. [Bunnie] wasn’t able to find an open source GPU, so using hardware video decoding on his laptop requires a binary blob. Software decoding works just fine, though.

Furthermore, this laptop is designed for both security and hardware hacking. Two Ethernet ports (one 1Gbit and the second 100Mbit), a USB OTG port, and a Spartan 6 FPGA put this laptop in a class all by itself. The main board includes 8x analog inputs, 8x digital I/O ports, 8 PWM pins, and a Raspberry Pi-compatible header for some real hardware hackery.

As for the specs of the laptop, they’re respectable for a high-end tablet.  The CPU is a Freescale iMX6, a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 running at 1.2 GHz. The RAM is upgradeable to 4GB, an internal SATA-II port will easily accommodate a huge SSD, the ability to use an LCD adapter board to run the 13-inch 2560×1700 LED panel [Bunnie] is using. The power system is intended to be modular, with batteries provided by run-of-the-mill RC Lipo packs. For complete specs, check out the wiki.

Despite the high price and relatively low performance (compared to i7 laptop) of [Bunnie]‘s laptop, there has been a lot of interest in spinning a few thousand boards and sending them off to be pick and placed. There’s going to be a crowd funding campaign for Novena sometime in late February or March based around an “all-in-one PC with a battery” form factor. There’s no exact figure on what the price of a Novena will be, but it goes without saying a lot will be sold regardless.

If you want the latest updates, the best place to go would be the official Novena twitter: @novenakosagi

Re-purposing an Old Laptop Display

InitsEnvironment[Tim] found himself with a laptop that had a good 18.4″ screen, but otherwise didn’t run properly. It would be a shame to throw that away, so he decided to salvage the screen by turning it into a standalone monitor. This isn’t exactly new, as he did what many people have done and looked to eBay for an after-market LCD controller board. The real beauty is in the enclosure he built. [Tim] had some scrap wood available from a previous project, so he set about designing a new frame for the monitor, and a very nice adjustable stand, as can be seen in the photo above.

One nice detail is in the control panel buttons. The LCD controller comes with a separate board housing the controls, and while he made a mistake mounting it initially, he ended up with a nice set of oak buttons that match the frame perfectly. He then built a nice backing out of styrene that holds the screen in place as well as housing the electronics.

Overall, it’s a nice looking project, and it is always nice to see electronics re-purposed rather than ending up in a landfill. We can’t help but think this would be a great frame for building a picture frame or a wall-mounted PC as well.

Hacking a Mac Magsafe Jack into a PC Ultrabook

zenbookAir

Something’s fishy about the above-pictured ultrabook: it’s an Asus Zenbook that [WarriorRocker] hacked to use a MagSafe power connector typically found on Macbooks. Most of us probably consider it standard procedure to poke around inside our desktop’s tower, but it takes some guts to radically alter such a shiny new ultrabook. It seems, however, that the Zenbook’s tiny power plug causes serious frustrations, and [WarriorRocker] was tired of dealing with them.

Using information he found from an article we featured earlier this summer on a MagSafe teardown, [WarriorRocker] hit up the parts drawer for some connectors and got to work. He had to modify the MagSafe’s housing to fit his Zenbook while still holding on to the magnets, but he managed to avoid modifying the ultrabook’s case—the connector is approximately the same size as a USB port. Deciding he could live with just one USB connection, [WarriorRocker] took to the board with a pair of side cutters and neatly carved out space for the MagSafe next to the audio jack. He then soldered it in place and ran wires from the VCC and Ground pins along a the channel where the WiFi antenna is routed, connecting them to the original power jack’s input pins.

[WarriorRocker] regrets that he fell short of his original goal of getting the MagSafe’s protocol working: he instead had to hack on his own adapter. We’re still rather impressed with how well his hack turned out, and it did manage to solve the charging problems. Hit us up in the comments if you can provide some insight into the MagSafe’s otherwise obscure innerworkings.

Laptop to all-in-one PC conversion

laptop2allinone

You probably have an old laptop shoved into a far, dark corner of your closet, gathering dust as it sits there alone and unwanted. Show it some love like [Oakkar7] and hack it into a desktop all-in-one PC. He had his work cut out for him, though: dead motherboard, busted case, worthless battery. [Oakkar7] starts by taking the case apart and removing the LCD screen. He removes the motherboard to discover two toasted capacitors in need of replacement. A short solder job later and the computer springs to life.

[Oakkar7] needs the LCD to face outwards while sitting against the rest of the laptop. The connecting cable doesn’t reach, so he carefully removes it, and flips it around to get the extra length needed. The final step is to fashion some aluminum support bars that attach to the bottom of the case, which mount onto another aluminum stand holding everything upright. At this point [Oakkar7] has tossed the battery, the keyboard, both the CD and floppy drive (yes it’s that old), and moved the speakers into the battery’s former home. For the finishing touch, a USB hub provides connections for the new keyboard, mouse and a Wifi dongle.

[Oakkar7] shared his project with us after reading [Elad's] ground control station laptop conversion. Maybe these two projects can convince you to save a neglected laptop.

Tearing an old laptop apart to build a ground control station

Being tired of assembling and disassembling parts/cables every time he went outside to fly his plane, [Elad] figured that he’d be better off building his own ground control station.

The core of the station is based on an old laptop with a broken screen he had laying around and (luckily) an older laptop screen he had found. As the latter only accepted LVDS, an adapter that could generate theses signals from the standard laptop’s VGA output was needed. [Elad] therefore disassembled his laptop and fit all the parts in a Pelican case he bought, as well as a lead-acid battery, a 12V to 19V stepup converter (to power the laptop), temperature/voltage/current sensors with their displays, 40mm fans, an AC/DC converter to charge the battery and finally a pico-UPS to allow uninterrupted use of the station when switching between power sources.

Because [Elad] didn’t have access to any machinery, PVC foam was used to maintain all the parts in place. Autonomy of his station is around 2.5hours on a single 12V 7Ah battery.

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