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 Hackaday.io!

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 Hackaday.io. 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 Hackaday.io!

A steampunk combination sketchbook


[Admiral Aaron Ravensdale], fine craftsman of steampunk wares, just finished up a new project. It’s a sketchbook protected by two layers of security, covered in gilded leather and drenched in the expositions of a [Jules Verne] novel.

The first layer of security for this sketchbook is a combination lock. On the cover are four switches, each with four positions. These are connected to a PICAXE microcontroller which goes to the next stage of the lock once the correct combination is entered.

The book’s security also includes a knock sensor. With a small piezo element hidden under the cover, [Ravensdale] deeds to tap the book with a specific pattern before it opens. The mechanical part is a small hobby servo also mounted to the cover that releases a pair of brass clasps once both locks are opened.

Like all of the [Admiral]’s builds, it’s a fine piece of craftsmanship, equally well suited to take on a holiday with the baron or to the opium dens of Ceylon.

You can check out [Admiral Ravensdale]’s demo of his sketchbook after the break.

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Hackaday Links: July 25, 2012

Ever wonder what CPU dev boards look like?

In the realm of highly confidential hardware, it doesn’t get much more secret than upcoming CPUs coming out of Intel. Somehow, a few CPU dev boards wound up on eBay, and [Leon] was cool enough to save all the pictures (Polish, Google translation, or translate in the sidebar). There are a few ongoing auctions right now, but we’d settle for this LGA 1156 breakout board. So cool.

No, we’re not linking directly to the free stuff

TI is giving away a brushless motor controller powered by a Stellaris ARM processor. [Chris] says he’s ordering one to figure out how to make a Stellaris dev board out of the giveaway. This controller is designed for e-bikes, so at the very least we see a few ginormous UAVs in someone’s future.

More rocket stuff!

One of [Bill]’s older hacks was taking a CVS disposable digital camera (remember that?) and stuffing it into the nose code of an Estes D-powered rocket. There’s a ton of videos of the flights [Bill] put up on YouTube.

On another note, [CyberPunk] built a half-scale model of a swing-wing rocket launched glider (pics: 1, 2, 3, 4). He’s currently building the full-size version capable of carrying RC and video gear and wants some feedback.

So, CAD on a tablet?

[spuder] caught wind of a tablet-based engineering notebook a few people are working on. They’re looking for some feedback on their demo video. We think it’s cool – especially the ability to share stuff between devices – but CAD on a tablet makes us extremely skeptical. Tell them what you think; we’d love to see this make it to our phone.

Now if they only made one for editing WordPress posts….

Test-driven development just got cooler. Here’s a Tamagotchi for Eclipse that you ‘feed’ by going from red to green and refactoring your code. Be careful, because having the same code test as red twice will kill your little code ninja.

And now I’ll rant about you.

A few days ago, I posted [Becky Stern]’s light-up handlebars project, and one comment surprised me. Who says guys can’t sew? It’s time to confront the gender roles that show up whenever sewing is used in a project. I’m doing a tutorial on how to sew a parachute, but I need your help. It’ll be a two-parter: one on how to actually use a sewing machine, and another for how to make a ‘chute. Is there anything else you’d like to see?

Arduino notebook cover makes it easy to tinker anywhere


[Erv] was putting his holiday shopping list together and decided that instead of buying his friends something from the store, he would give them something a bit more useful. A former Electrical Engineer by trade, [Erv] typically prefers PIC microcontrollers, but he says that Arduinos are just so convenient to use for prototyping that he likes to always have one on hand.

He figured that his friends might enjoy having easy access to an Arduino as well, so he made them some slick ZapBook covers which enable them to have a prototyping platform on hand at all times. The cover is made from a PCB and includes a socket for an Arduino Pro Mini, along with a handful of built-in LEDs. He has extended a few other I/O pins from the Arduino as well, but he says that the small solder bridges connecting the LEDs can be removed in a pinch, freeing up 8 additional pins with ease. We are pretty keen on the idea of an easily portable prototyping setup, though it doesn’t hurt that [Erv] incorporated a Hack a Day skull with light up eyes into his design either!

We’re not sure if he’s planning on releasing the schematics for the board, but the notebooks would be pretty useful for any hackerspaces hosting beginner Arduino programming classes.

Laptop BIOS password recovery using a simple dongle


In his line of work, Instructables user [Harrymatic] sees a lot of Toshiba laptops come across his desk, some of which are protected with a BIOS password. Typically, in order to make it past the BIOS lockout and get access to the computer,  he would have to open the laptop case and short the CMOS reset pins or pull the CMOS battery. The process is quite tedious, so he prefers to use a simpler method, a parallel loopback plug.

The plug itself is pretty easy to build. After soldering a handful of wires to the back of a standard male D-sub 25 connector in the arrangement shown in his tutorial, he was good to go. When a laptop is powered on with the plug inserted, the BIOS password is cleared, and the computer can be used as normal.

It should be said that he is only positive that this works with the specific Toshiba laptop models he lists in his writeup. It would be interesting to see this tried with other laptop brands to see if they respond in the same way.
Since no laptops are manufactured with parallel ports these days, do you have some tips or tricks for recovering laptop BIOS passwords? Be sure to share them with us in the comments.

Swiveling arms replace Laptop LCD hinges

This swivel arm LCD screen is [Ben Heck’s] latest hack. It replaces the hinges that normally only allow one point of rotation on the screen. You can still use the laptop like normal, but when space is at a premium a second adjustment, both in rotation and linear position, has been added using the slots and screw knobs seen above. Ostensibly this is to use on an airplane, where there may not be enough space to fully open your laptop. We’ll let you decide if it’s wise to try to get your own hacks past airport security. Historically, the TSA hasn’t been impressed with hardware hackers. We like how this came out and could see ourselves using these techniques to make a convertible tablet notebook by reworking the cable routing.

We’ve embedded [Ben’s] quick demo of the finished product after the break. If you want to see the whole build process it is the subject of Episode 5 of the Ben Heck Show.

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Laptop running on a sealed lead acid battery


[Viktor’s] laptop needed a new battery; he had the trade off between carrying around a cheap but heavy sealed lead acid (SLA) battery, or buying an expensive but light Li-Ion battery. Figuring his old laptop was pretty heavy already, and having an unused SLA available, re-purposing it for his laptop wouldn’t be too much of a hassle. Using a boost converter he built out of a custom dip MAX668, he is able to output the necessary 5 amps required. An MC 34161 voltage monitor chip is planned for future revisions, but he’s currently running it just fine. Check out some of his other cool hacks on Karosium.

Related: MSI Wind extended battery