Raspberry Pi Laptop Is Just A Little Too Big For A Pocket

Over on the Parts People blog, [Nathan] created his own Raspberry Pi laptop. It’s got all the bells and whistles, including a keyboard, trackpad, battery, and even a 3D printed case.

Of course [Nathan]’s laptop contains a Raspi, but the other included parts are where this palmtop computer is turned into something useful. For powering the Pi and 3.5″ composite LCD, [Nathan] took apart the battery pack from an old Dell laptop. By throwing out the bits of plastic surrounding these rechargeable cells and reusing the battery connector, [Nathan] was able to power the Pi, and all the peripherals for 10 hours.

Also included in [Nathan]’s Raspi palmtop is a 64 GB SSD connected to the powered USB hub. This, along with the 4 GB boot SD card, provides more than enough storage for listening to a music library, or even watching a few TV shows on the 3.5″ screen,


30 thoughts on “Raspberry Pi Laptop Is Just A Little Too Big For A Pocket

  1. it isn’t perfect but its a start.

    I reckon it might have benefited from being a model A rather than the B, could probably slim the screen down a little without the double USB’s and the ethernet port.

    Slimmer batteries could be used although probably with a drop in lifetime.

    The rear of the casing on that keyboard must come off surely?

    The wifi and bluetooth he is certainly on the right track with by soldering them. I also like the SSD behind the screen but wonder if it might fit better elsewhere.

    I do love it, its just I think there is room for improvement. Sadly I lack the tools or experience to give it my own shot.

  2. I’m a little intrigued by this build. I wanted to do the same for my RPI, just for fun, but stopped because of cost.
    It looks to me as the build is more for advertising the company hosting it.
    I mean, everything(except the case) cost almost $400. That can give you a laptop, or a mini laptop which are better. I get the idea of making such a thing…. but why spend so much?
    Why spend $90 on a branded battery when you can get the cells for less than 1/3 of the price?

    There’s also the misunderstanding that the SSD will last mote than the card using a swap file. Probably not. Both SSDs and SDHC cards have algorithms to make wear uniform. But they only work when writing new data/files on the disc. The swap is a file that once allocated will stay exactly in its place. If you modify the same bits over and over again you are modifying the exact same physical bits over and over again.
    So, it all burns down to the write cycles that the FLASH memory used in the card/SSD. Some cards may be better than some SSDs.

    1. +1 to Christophe. Wear leveling works by logical block address, so it shouldn’t make one lick of difference between swapfiles and swap partitions. Actually I doubt much difference would be evident even in dumb NAND without leveling, as the swapfile won’t be moving between logical blocks much (unless you recreate it on each boot or something like that).

  3. With 512MB, I’d think it’d be feasible to not swap at all. Certainly you’ve gone awry if you’re using 1GB swap then again it’s a 64GB SSD so I guess space is not a premium.

    Can you hibernate a RPI? It could atleast such off the LCD screen on lid close.

    1. Another possibility for mass storage would be the 64GB flashdrive on sale at Tigerdirect for $37.99 though I don’t see any information concerning transfer speeds, then again for that price you could buy 3 and have some money left over for something else.

      I do like this project though, hope to see some more like it in the future (perhaps using old laptop cases/shells instead?).

      1. Was just reading up a bit on Wikipedia about wear leveling… the USB stick will probably have dynamic wear leveling (meaning that once data is written, it stays put on the physical flash until that block is overwritten). This means that if you have large blocks of data that are never rewritten (common for an OS drive), large areas of the disk are effectively excluded from wear leveling, taking up valuable fresh, unworn blocks. So the rest of the disk’s blocks wear faster. SSDs have static leveling, meaning the drive can push rarely-changing data to more worn blocks, freeing up the fresher blocks to participate in wear leveling.

        tl;dr- Flash disks don’t do wear leveling that well in OS-drive use cases.

  4. When I was in high school, this would have been the absolute coolest thing to build. That was before smartphones, and before arduinos and all the easy-to-use linux development boards. I was looking at industrial SBCs, and everything was slow and expensive.

    I ended up getting a small x86 PC104+ board, which I installed FreeBSD on and built into an attache case along with a screen and peripherals. And yeah, I brought it to school. What a nerd!

  5. This thing is a good concept, but I think it could be made a lot better.

    Ditch the HDD and get a 32GB SD card. That should be plenty for what you’re going to use a system like this for. As was mentioned, it isn’t going to hurt the card if you use a swap partition, etc.

    Forget the Bluetooth dongle (what are you planning to do; bluesnarf?). Bluetooth capabilities don’t really open up realms of possibility for a system of this form.

    Ditch the 10 hour battery for something in the neighborhood of 3-4 hours. This could be a much smaller battery that would still power the unit, but take up much less space and cost less in the long run.

    Move from a 7-port hub down do a 3-port hub (Pi, keyboard, Wi-Fi). This would simplify the build, reduce space, and save on cost.

    Ultimately, this would produce a small, Wi-Fi compatible laptop with a price of just under $150. If you could source some re-used parts, you could possibly push this below $100. You have plenty of HDD space for movies, music, torrents, etc. You have a keyboard/mouse, and you have a smaller case. I bet you could shave 2″ off that case easily.

    We should have a contest to see if someone can make a Raspi laptop under $100 with Wi-Fi… With rules and deadlines of course.

    1. Swap partition vs swap file won’t make any difference. SD cards don’t know or care about allocation strategies above the block layer. Agree about the USB hub. Well maybe a better option would be to make a custom PCB design around one of those USB hub chips, but only provide connectors for a few real USB connectors, available externally. The rest could be accessed internally via the usual flat flex solutions. I for one find the 10-hour life quite useful. I doubt this thing will be attended to every day – the huge battery life will make it more likely that the device will have a usable charge next time it’s picked up. Plus, the huge battery means you can power beefier things from USB if necessary. Think external disk drive to occasionally supplement the flash, or maybe a dev board or two. As for the Bluetooth, it could certainly be useful for, say, tethering to a phone or external input devices. I’d keep it. Adds almost nothing to the size (I’ve got a few of those Bluetooth adapters that fit inside the actual USB plug housing).

      Agree on the contest! Great idea! It will directly help with the goals of the Raspi guys (= bring computers to more people).

      Although if all you want is a palmtop Linux computer with WiFi, flash for main storage, and a slow proc, you’re probably better off with a ZipIt Z2. Cost about as much as a raspi actually if you look around, and wifi, screen, keyboard, etc is built in. You can even get some USB host action going with some minor hackery. Even has built-in UARTs that I’ve used to program arduinos.

  6. I like it, It’s not the best design, it’s not using the best parts but it is what the maker wanted to make! He didn’t ask for anyone else to fund it, so it is what it is. However, it has sparked a debate about what you would all do, so it’s got people talking about doing it ‘better’, The thing about that build is that it’s mostly stuff you *might* have laying around. I’ve got one of those keyboards, a handful of screens, usb hubs, you could swap out the 64GB ssd for a more modest drive or even a usb thumb drive, tons of options.

  7. I love this. been working on one myself for some time. the battery was a bit of a mystery for me. I like how you used the existing dell batterys charge and protection circuitry (and the 2A fuse for safety) Be careful there are a lot of bad D600 batteries floating about because dell did a recall on them, but only paid for shipping of the replacement. telling the customer to dispose of the faulty devices themselves, many end up in drawers, and later in hackers parts bins.. the big red X on your battery might indicate it is one of these recalls. try to look up the serial number to be sure it’s safe.

    1. It’s my understanding that the guy works for a Dell specific refurbishing house, so I’m sure he knows his batteries.

      That said, I think I would have gone with a new generic LiPo pack for about a third of the cost and half the weight. I’m looking into building something similar to this using an old portable DVD player with a dead drive. The screen is 7 inches and if I can’t work out the composite pinout I can always swap in a cheap $30 screen from Amazon. The Pi, original LiPo from the player, a four port hub and wireless dongles all fit inside the hollowed out case. I have the same keyboard used in this article on order from Amazon. A bit of voltage conversion and a charging circuit for the LiPo and I’m done.

  8. Thought up something similar; wish I could get an underpopulated RasPi board (no gigantic headers/sockets) to reduce the thickness. I might depopulate one for such a use. It would also be good to use some nice, flat lipo packs in place of that laptop pack of cylinders. eLinux.org lists a 64GB SDXC card from Kingston (for example) as a compatible card, so I would forgo the SSD, but possibly go with a USB thumb drive or SD reader for additional storage. And I already have that keyboard. :-)

    1. He explains on his blog, that’s linked to at the top of this article. It was a display used with a rear-view camera meant for cars. It’s connected to the Pi’s composite output, so any LCD with composite would do.

  9. Maybe you could use an extended phone battery because it is lightweight and smaller which would cut off a lot of the case. I like the concept. Where did you get the screen keyboard and trackpad?

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.