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.

The DIY Luggable PC

If you haven’t gone laptop shopping recently, you’re in for a big shock when you do. Recent consumer laptops are thin, powerful, surprisingly inexpensive, and Apple’s latest MacBook Pros even have a fantastic ‘Touch Bar’ – a touch-sensitive OLED display where the function keys should be. The greatest laptops ever made are available right now, and they don’t cost much, either.

Unfortunately, the laptop as a platform is inherently a compromise. If you want a discrete CPU, or if you simply want to choose your own parts, you’re relegated to a desktop build. The middle ground between extensibility and portability isn’t really covered by case manufacturers, and even the rare ‘LAN party’ cases rarely have a handle.

[Roger] is taking steps to solve this problem. He’s designed a 3D printable luggable PC. Yes, now you can have a GTX 1080 and a 22-core Xeon in a form factor you can carry around. It’ll fit in the overhead bin on your next flight, and yes, the monitor is included.

The construction of this DIY luggable PC should be familiar to anyone who built a 3D printer in 2011. It’s made out of threaded rods, with brackets for an LCD panel, ATX power supply, motherboard, and SSDs. Since this is effectively a modular system, you can load this case up with hardware. The included monitor in [Roger]’s build is taken from an old laptop and driven through an eBay “LCD Controller Board”.

While a luggable PC might be a very niche use case, it is still one that’s vastly underserved. I recently built a new battlestation, and after searching for a case like this for a few months, I eventually gave up, caved in, and bought whatever Linus told me to buy. You simply cannot buy an ATX case that has a monitor bolted to the side, and [Roger]’s build is the first DIY solution we’ve seen.

All the files to replicate this project are linked to on the [Roger]’s Hackaday.io project, and this would be an excellent basis for a community-based project to build an Open Hardware luggable PC enclosure. A few days ago, [Roger] brought this PC out to the Hackaday LA January meetup. He brought to the meetup on the train, providing more than enough evidence this is a truly portable PC. Check out the pics from the meetup below.

VCF East X: Amigas And Non-Apple Macs

The Amiga 1000, the original Amiga, was introduced in 1985, making this the 30th anniversary of the Commodore Amiga. Of course this needed to be represented at the Vintage Computer Festival, and [Bill Winters] and [Anthony Becker] were more than up to the task:

The guys brought with them a representation of nearly every Amiga, and also have a few neat gadgets to plug into these cool little boxes. The Amiga 1200 has been heavily upgraded with a compact flash drive. With the proper adapters and cards, this neat machine can be upgraded with Ethernet, WiFi, or just about every conceivable networking solution.

Attached to the A500 is a Gotek floppy drive emulator, a relatively standard if weird device that turns a PC floppy drive connector into a USB mass storage solution. This floppy emulator did not originally support Amiga disk formats, but with a firmware modification, everything just works. That’s a great story in itself, and something we should probably cover another time.

If you’re wondering what it was like for [Bill] and [Anthony] to dig through their garage for their exhibit, here you go.

Portable Macintoshen

The first Macintosh was released in 1984. Macintosh users wanted a slightly more portable machine, but the first ‘luggable’ Mac wouldn’t be released until late 1989. The market was there to fill the gap, with some bizarre machines exhibited by [Matt Bergeron]:

The Outbound laptop and notebook were unlicensed clones of the Macintosh. Instead of pirating the Apple ROMs, the Outbound computers required buyers to pull the ROM chips from their Macs and install them in the slightly more portable version. This was, of course, inconvenient, and we can imagine there were more than a few ROM chips cloned.

The Dynamac was a different beast, using the entire PCB from a mac SE or SE/30. To this, the creators of the Dynamac added a custom video card and electroluminescent display that was also capable of driving an external monitor. Very cool stuff.

Hackaday Retro Edition: The Compaq

It’s been a while since we’ve had any submissions to the Hackaday retro challenge, but [Philip]’s latest project more than makes up for it. He rescued the original 28 pound Compaq luggable and turned it into a work of art. He also managed to get it up on the Internet and pointed it at the Hackaday retro edition, making this one of the best retro submissions in recent memory.

[Philip] rescued this old luggable from the trash, and upon plugging it in and turning it on, heard a loud bang and cloud of smoke from the exploded tantalum caps. We’re guessing [Phil] doesn’t have a variac. After replacing all the broken components, fixing the mechanics of the hard drive, and replacing the two old 5 1/4″ floppy drives with a half-height 5 1/4 and 3 1/2 drives, [Phil] had this machine working again.

After a quick shuffle through his ‘obsolete technology box’, [Phil] found an old 3Com Ethernet card. This was a 16-bit card, but with a new driver and a TCP/IP stack for IBM compatibles it was actually pretty easy to get this old box on the Internet. Since [Phil] removed one of the 5 1/4 drives, he slightly modified a Linksys WRT54G router, wired in new front panel lights for the router, and cut a smoked gray acrylic panel. You can see it next to the drives in the picture above; the colored lights make this old luggable look even more retro, despite it being manufactured about 15 years before blue LEDs became commonplace.

You can check out all the repairs and modifications to this Compaq over on [Phil]’s site, and as always, we’re looking for people to load up the Hackaday retro edition on their old hardware.