Ground Up Diy Laptop

[Chris] sent in his diy laptop. While it reminds me of the kid laptops at the toy store, it’s a nice effort. It’s got a PICAXE 18X microcontroller, 20×4 blue serial lcd, a laptop keyboard and runs his custom built language: chris++. Power comes from four AA batteries, and duct tape secures the electronics inside the wood case.

46 thoughts on “Ground Up Diy Laptop

  1. The onboard programming is a neat option, I’d like to see an example program using his language.

    It looks like the inside is mostly empty space since the keyboard takes up so much space compared to the screen.

  2. I’m definitely not done “finishing” it yet, as the case is still just bare wood. Also, it’s rather large since the keyboard determined the footprint, and the serial LCD is around 3/4″ thick.

  3. would it be possible to re-route the support circuitry for the LCD into the bottom of the case so you can slim down the top? are there any shots of the inside of the top half?

  4. Yeah, that’s probably what I will do for the next version (and hopefully with a larger LCD). It is a pain to make an 11-wire ribbon cable, though, since I’m currently on a student-sized budget, my only soldering iron is rusty and only cost about $6 from radioshack, and I have midterms approaching =) The inside of the top half is all hollow, except for the 4 stand-offs with the LCD screwed into them, and then it has 3 wires (power, ground, data) running into the base.

  5. Well colour me impressed! I love this kinda thing and the ethic behind it. It really is a great start and I’ll be interested to see what comes next. My only request: more documentation on the website about what technical decisions and the steps that went into making it (or the next iteration, at least). Seems like a nice project for an old geezer like me to try to replicate.

  6. hey chris, i got a soldering iron you can have, its an old one, but its in new condition. i neded to buy a better one anyways. i think its the same radioshack one you have, lol

  7. steve stfu, this was really nice done, he made his own language u sh!teater. he has probably done more now than you’ll ever do.
    so unless you have done something better, stfu.

    really nice. must be really cool to have your own laptop written with your own language, keep up the good work.

  8. no it is not a computer it is a Mikrocontroller connected to an LcD, just go to google and type microcontroller lcd and you will find thousands of diy “laptops”. it is a pile of junk, not more

  9. I think it’s neat!
    I can’t program to save my life though.

    One idea I had after reading about it was mounting as much of the circuitry inside the keyboard as possible and maybe making the LCD flip around under the keyboard for mobilizing.

    Heck, I’m using a Logitech corded keyboard right now that has some multimedia controls near the top that could easily be covered up by a dedicated LCD display.

    Hacking isn’t always shiny prototype androids.
    Sometimes it’s exploration of the combining of different disciplines into one project or just making something of interest/utility yourself.

    This stuff happens at different levels folks.

  10. Steve,
    If you don’t understand the difference between a uC spitting data out on an LCD and this you probably should stop posting in this thread.

    by the way, nice job chris. Bet this was a great learning experience.

  11. Dude….kudos! this IS a hack, Proper! we arent talking about “some stupid college kid put lights on a bridge in london”, no my friend, oh no…..this hack (see how i keep calling it a hack?) comes with schematics, diagrams, pictures and a paragraph telling what each picture is about. thank you for taking the time to write it all up photograph it after taking the time to build it. some of us appreciate a good read.

    hey [steve]? werent you “new to all this” at some point too? i mean you didnt always have that cnc laser cutting machine and 400 dollar soldering iron did you?? Good EFFORT [chris]. this hack illustrates precisely what my point has been all along—that its incredible what a determined mind with a dremel and a 4 dollar soldering iron from radio shack can do. so what if its wood? so what if its a microcontroller with an lcd screen and a keyboard? [chris] put them all together and then took the time to write up what he had done and took pictures and then explained how it was done in detail.

    [chris], when you are ready to start working with plastics and build your own CNC mill let me know….i have a few good stepper motors and motor control chips to spare ill throw your way that your 4 dollar radio shack soldering iron will be perfect for ()()ldk337@@@aol…com()(). i look forward to future hacks of yours! and dont let these jerks get to you—you did good my friend.

    you did good. i like it!

  12. Yeah, this really was one of those “I wonder if I could…” type of projects. The neat part is that you can program ON it, and it actually has a text-editor, compiler, etc. The actual circuits weren’t terribly difficult to build (I am an EE student, though, so that’s relative), but I did learn a lot. I’ve also got some improvements in mind for it, like a sound-card w/speakers, larger LCD, DB9 port on the back for re-flashing, finally installing the 32kb FRAM chip I have lying around, etc.

  13. go make some ‘good’ hacks if you think you can do better. People need to complain less, this isn’t slashdot.

    This sounds like some guy who just wanted to do something cool, and that’s what it is.

  14. it is kind of neat that it can be programmed in situ, but it would be 100x cooler if it had a PURPOSE, even one that would be as well served by a programmable calculator or a surplus laptop or PDA.

  15. i haven’t been to this site in several months, and i have two things to say…

    1. very impressed with the latest entries here. i can’t think of any real uses for this, but i don’t think thats the point. still wayyyyyy more than anything i could ever do. keep it up!

    2. what the heck is steve still doing here? he was here last time i was here, and he still hasn’t been chased off? ugh…

  16. I think people under-estimate how difficult it is to control a modern LCD screen, especially from a laptop. They usually use weird custom digital interfaces with like 40 pins on them coming from a ribbon cable. It’s not just a vga interface or a serial, 2-wire, type thing. That, and they’re usually fairly undocumented. If anyone can figure out how to do it, though, I would certainly be impressed!

  17. Wow. Some people may not be impressed, but I love this stuff to death. This is the kinda project I’ve always wanted to do, but I lack all the required skills. :| I totally dig this in a retro way though. (Hence why I still drag my poor Toshiba P90 Laptop to the coffee shop even though I’ve got a brand new dell and a blackberry)

    PS: 256 inst/sec? You rule. :)

  18. this is a brilliant hack, i’m suitably impressed. i’ve considered stuff like this after having lectures on computer design, compiler construction, digital electronics etc.. did you write the compiler in picaxe machine code? because that sounds like a whole new level of hardcore :)

    I guess it would make the interface more complex but i’d love to see something like this with a dot matrix phone LCD like the missing competition entry had. also, given the amount of empty space in the case at the moment, think you could fit the couple of circuit boards and LCD into an old psion case, or even a large mobile phone case?

  19. I do have some recommendations for those who want to go into that direction. These are not just for the creator of that DIY laptop but also for companies and right about anyone who wants to give it a go.

    I find that what was done in that project comes close to what I would want to see in a laptop that one could do from the ground up let me tell you what I see that I like;

    1) It’s low cost.

    2) It’s low-power consumption and the batteries are generic (No ridiculously expensive batteries. When are laptop companies going to learn that?)

    3) It’s got the basics input-output. Crude, but no different than say some of the earlier electronic word processors that Radio Shack used to have.

    Now, here are my suggestions to IMPROVE it.

    1) Get something that’s a little more powerful than the current micro-controller. There are many embedded systems out-there that carry more bang for your buck

    Just three examples…

    And last but not least…

    These will give you the extra “oomph” that you would seek and would carry support for a larger LCD and even include ethernet and audio.

    2) Stick to off-the-shelf components. You will save a bundle in prototyping and hours of head-aches in trying to figure out how to make it work.

    3) Use generic chipsets. That way it can be used with almost any of the major Operating Systems.

    4) Stick to a modular format. That way not only one can customize their lappy as they like, they also can also fix it themselves just by replacing a component.

    Other than that? Use your imagination.


  20. i completely agree with everyone’s comments that this is a really interesting project, and wish the creator good luck in continuing it!

    going along the lines of the above comment, i know that one of the goals of this project was to be low-cost — but if you could ever get your hands on a gumstix, or, potentially a SNAP ( http:/ ), then you could have something with a huge improvement in functionality and interfaces that you could expand on. I don’t think either the gumstix or SNAP have a straight-forward LCD or keyboard interface, and you could surely add an SD/MMC card without too much trouble.

    That being said, I think I like this project far more than just using one of those off-the-shelf solutions for ‘functionality’. There’s something really to be said about building your own system at the board level, and using microcontrollers to do it at that! If anything, maybe you should just set aside all the suggestions for ‘making it more functional’ and start to “downgrade”. Make your own 3-bit CPU out of 74xx’s on a big project board, and add a ton of led’s on the bus. That would be too cool!

  21. Using a real board like a Gumstix or something kind of takes the fun out of it. I’d like to stick to microcontrollers, or possibly an FPGA with a custom processor. My main constraints really were monetary on this one, though, as I actually had the Picaxe and memory lying around my apartment already. Most microcontrollers need expensive programmers and things, and this one only needed 3 wires going to a serial port, so the slowness was acceptable for most things I use these for.

    It really would be fun to have kids build something like this for an intro computer architecture class.

  22. anoter alternatve the ax would be he propeller chip. easy support for keyboard, mouse, sound, and analog video out (classic PS1 lcd mod)… with loads of processing power to spare.

    The main point here that the non supporters miss is that it is not about making a pretty laptop. Its about writing your own compiler and having a system to test/practice on. The best way to learn a language is to write a compiler for it. “i made my ds run twice as fast with just three parts.” is not nearly as impressive on your ee-resume as “i built a micro-controller circuit, added keyboard and display functionality, then wrote my own language compiler for it that runs directly on the hardware with file editer/loader/saver tools. Here is example code for pong written in chris+ …”

  23. Great job – I’m sure it wasn’t easy writing your own language in Picaxe Basic. It would be helpful if you could post a simple schematic showing how it’s connected – so we can build our own. Thanks

    For your next project, you may want to take a look at the Parallax Propeller – a 32 bit, 8 core microcontroller that can drive composite video, VGA, keyboard and mouse using nothing more than a handful of resistors. More info here and here’s a message thread discussing FemtoBasic – an interpreted Basic that uses most of those devices listed above and can read/write from a SD card

  24. Yes, steve, why don’t you point us to one of your projects? Something 100x better than this ‘crap’ as you call it. In case your ‘ma’ didn’t tell you, referring to someone’s efforts with these derogatory terms is rude. Be sure, when, and ‘IF’ you ever have the great honour of being mentioned on hackaday….you will have quite an audience. You’ll be lucky if they are only ten times as nasty…
    Chris, excellent, really excellent…what are you planning to use it for now?

  25. fANTASTIC project and job well done, a real accomplishment. Nice work on the box and use of materials at hand. I hope to see more from your DIY laptop and projects. I liked the web site too. Excellent, and give you an A++ overall.

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