Friend in Need Gets Junk Bin PC for Cramped Quarters

If you doubt the power of the Hackaday community, check this one out. Stalwart reader and tipster [starhawk] has pitched in to help a friend in need, someone he met through Hackaday.io. Seems this friend’s current living arrangements are somewhat on the cramped side, and while he’s in need of a PC, even a laptop would claim too much space.

So with a quick trip to the store and a few items from the junk bin, [starhawk] whipped up an all-in-one PC the size of a tablet for his friend. As impressed as we are by the generosity, we’re more impressed by the quality of his junk bin. The heart of the compact machine is a motherboard from a Wintel CX-W8, scarcely larger than a Raspberry Pi model A. After the addition of a larger heatsink and fan, the board was attached via a sheet of plastic to the back of a 7-inch touchscreen, also a junk bin find. A cheap picture frame serves as the back of the all-in-one, complete with Jolly Wrencher, of course. Alas, the DC-DC converter was one of the only purchased items, bringing the cost for the build to all of $22, including the $15 for a wireless keyboard/touchpad on clearance from Walmart. After some initial power troubles, the fixes for which are described in this update, the machine was ready to ship.

Does this one seem familiar? It should — [starhawk] built a similar “laptop” for himself a while back when he was low on funds. Now it seems like he’s paying it forward, which we appreciate. For more details on how he pulled this all of, check out The Anytop, [starhawk’s] portable computer anyone can build. It was his 2017 Hackaday Prize entry!

28 thoughts on “Friend in Need Gets Junk Bin PC for Cramped Quarters

  1. Seems to be a great guy, and a smart build.
    But if a laptop is too large for the space, one would think a keyboard and a tablet are too big for the space too.

    And yes, the junk bin seems awesome :)

      1. Yep…
        Though the bargain bin laptops have taken their places… you know the ones:
        The $100 brand new laptop with “The latest greatest top of the range processor from Intel” a 7th/8th gen Core M/Core i3/Atom at 1.2Ghz (1.6Ghz turbo).

        People get these laptops and wonder why they can’t watch Youtube videos… or the worst one I’ve seen is someone trying to use theirs as a Digital Audio Workstation (they kept blaming the program for being “buggy”, then I put their HDD into my C2D-GM45 laptop and proved them to been ripped off by the bargain bucket laptop purchase… P.s. Win 10 is better at not going BSOD when changing hardware).

        1. Oh, forgot, I mentioned to my friend that the C2D-GM45 era laptop only cost me about $25 from the boot sale and it obviously runs Windows 10 fine (you have to use an older GM45 driver for the older Windows 10 builds for the graphics to work properly).
          I just need to convince him to go to the boot sales and find an older Win 10 capable laptop for his DAW work.

  2. You have a new annual catagory, HaD… altruism..One for personal… one for community/cultural. Then, and you need not always have a winner in any catagory(!,) divvy/multiply if hardware or software, if these ever apply. You need not announce the category even. It can be a sorta humanitarian award. Official Kudos and a simple $50 or 100bux. “Editors’ choice freebie-extra.” Suma these guys just want a neat box of your aporopriate junk…!!! THAT would pay it Forward, yet again. ☺

  3. Savvy build. Way to go on the junk bin finds!

    I just realized today (I don’t have a data plan, only prepaid and Google Voice) that the $3.99 Goodwill store Logitech Keyboard Folio I found a few days back is for an iPad. Now to figure out how to get the blessed contraption to work with the Android as I’d think it’s just some bluetooth connection protocol and drivers. Then I guess the next issue is the internal battery or smell… only read up on today… still no hands on yet.

    1. Thank you! Good luck on your own project. I have one of those… got it from a local pal runs the town’s tech shop. I’m waiting for a friend with an iPad to pop up so I can give it to them…

      I should note that mine is universal, though — I Bluetooth Paired it to my phone (Samsung Galaxy S5) and it picked up and could be typed with immediately. A fun thought experiment, but the phone’s screen is waaaaaaay too small for serious editing, and I don’t have a proper tablet…

      1. Good to read. I’m guessing from your comment and my thoughts that it will pair with Android systems too. I just haven’t tested yet. Yard work (moles, dandylians, infestations and their property damage) and other projects.

  4. Small correction — my fault, I wasn’t clear — the keyboard/mouse combo was from the junkbin. I was bragging about how it got there when I said it was $15.

    I’m being vague about my friend and his circumstances because I have neither asked nor received permission from him to ID him or explain said circumstances.

    1. *shrug* your call. It’s noticeably faster than the 2009 ASUS 1000HA I’m typing on right now. Atom N270, 2gb RAM, Linux Mint 18[dot]something. I forget the minor version (sorry). I don’t think it matters, either…

      Also, I find your username rather ironic, since the last time I took a RasPi (stock Raspbian, stock browser) to imgur.com at all, it jammed up and 30min later was still locked up trying to load the page. I cut the power and did a little surgery… that was the original DIY laptop; it went through an N270 thin client (Clientron U800 rebranded as 10zig RBT-616 — FTR, they’re also called Dell FX170s) and IIRC some other system before it too got a CX-W8 stuck to it.

      That particular system was retired Christmas last year, and partially pilfered for its upgrade. Meh, it was randomly powering off during use anyways. Not sure what was up with that (probably the mostly-stock and quite laughable thermal solution — a remarkably thick silicone pad under a lump of cast aluminum that barely qualifies as a heatsink, my god the fins are barely 2mm tall! — was no longer sufficient to keep it properly cool, even with the 40mm fan I bodged on) — it’s kind of hard to troubleshoot such things on a machine that’s that highly integrated and smaller than a NUC besides…

      I’m retiring and pilfering the successor system for my birthday this year. 7″ screens are sort of okay, but I have bad astigmatism (requiring Professor Farnsworth sorts of glasses, unfortunately) and the 10.1″ on this netbook feels like a vast landscape in comparison… and it actually doesn’t make my eyes hurt. The new machine is getting a Dell 14″ lid assembly I got out of a laptop that a local friend (who runs the town’s tech shop) gave me… E6400, thoroughly effed except for the screen, which, although badly scuffed and scratched, is indeed functional. I got a $30 driver kit off eBay to make it go, Dad is (hopefully) getting me a better system unit with a Z8350 in it, and another pal of mine is making me a nice case. The $50ish Cherry MX Blue keyboard I splurged like heck on, typewriter keys and all, is coming along for the ride as well… if you look up an old weird luggable PC made by Amstrad, the PPC512, and you imagine a vaguely steampunk version of that machine, with a mondo bigger screen and smaller keyboard — that’s what I’m aiming for :)

      …did I mention that this is my writing box? I’m a budding author, an artist, AND a hopeless nerd. My father is extremely visual/illustrative, except for the part of him that can look at a mechanism and sort of instinctively know how it goes together and how it works. Mom is “all words” (literary/verbal/linguistic) the way Dad is “all pictures” — so I got sort of a double dose of creativity. My novel is called “Fox Creek” — I’m self publishing on Amazon — and will be out in probably a couple of months. Through a strange twist of fate that even I’m at a loss to explain, it’s uhm a romance novel. Hopefully some of ya’ll will pick up a copy…? Paperback and Kindle versions will both be available… and I’m already working on what I hope will be the second book of a rather prodigious series ;)

      …phew. Long comment is long. Meh, I’m a natural windbag — and I kind of got carried away…

      1. Whoops, sorry, typo. The netbook in question is an ASUS 1005HA, not a 1000HA. I had a 1000HE that I gave to another friend… hence the goof.

        ASUS made some nice machines back in the day. Can’t speak to anything newer, though, I don’t have the dough for that :( I hear they stopped making proper netbooks, though, which is a little sad… the idea of a laptop that I can carry room to room in one hand is a good idea indeed ;)

        Also — Hackaday, can we please have an [EDIT] button for our comments somewhere? We’re a little past cuneiform in all other respects here… and I know I’m not the first to remark on this… ;)

        1. What is eff’d on the E6400?

          It will be a huge upgrade over your old netbook, so it is worth the time if you fix the laptop or if it blows up, then you’ll learn some things like the states of the failure and repair type may be something to watch out for on future adventures… P.S. I’m not to be held liable for any incident or result (intended or consequential) to you or your property if you follow this advice as there maybe mistakes within my comment ETC…

          A hint on it’s portability (IMHO, though): I kinda “Parkour” my way from the upstairs workshop to the downstairs canteen (at work) with the battery gripped in one hand.

          Anyway here is a list of repair hints for your E6400 (tiresomely long, sorry):

          I have a schematic for the E6400 UMA (Intel only version) and a BIOS+ME+GigabitEthernet Firmware (all in one ROM due to Intel ME) image for the Intel only version (p.s. if more than one person has the exact same ROM, then it becomes harder for NSA to track us… among other issues it can cause)

          If it is spillage or a “Genuine fake” PSU* incident, then it’ll probably be irreparable.
          Also, completely obliterated is usually irreparable.
          *The KBC/Embedded Controller will be fried at minimum.

          Likely reasons for a dead machine without being damaged by incompetence:
          Short/open circuit (transistors usually),
          hole in insulator near shorted transistor (due to heavy handedness on right of touchpad),
          Blank Master firmware ROM** (I can give you a ROM dump, tho We’ll have the same MAC!),
          BGA failure (Does your E6400 have the GPU option, i.e. NVIDIA/ATI??),

          Check on the under of the board next to the northbridge for an insulating sheet under the metal frame… if it has a hole then check the 5V rail, the transistors nearest the faulty insulation and check for ODD+HDD 5V-enable transistors (power transistors)

          Try to test for short circuits. A CC PSU set to 0.25A-CC and slowly increased to a resting voltage of 18V-19.5V will help wonders without risking blowing up a possibly reparable laptop.
          Also if after isolating the supply rails and removing the major transistors you get a 0-Ohm then likely the chipset is fried… although it may also be just a shorted capacitor.

          My rule of thumb when diagnosing laptop power distribution problems:
          If the high-side transistor is fried then scrap the thing,
          If the low side is short then replace the transistor pairs with equal or higher power (lower impedance) ones.
          Also use a constant-current bench PSU set at 0.25A (you won’t be booting yet) and isolate each PSU by the isolation solder-beads on the board first before testing each section for shorts and/or high standby current, once you’ve eliminated all short circuits, then turn up the CC to about 2A to 3A and power without a battery, HDD etc except the CPU and RAM and LVDS (LCD display)… if all good then reassemble and enjoy non skippy youtube videos in 480p and possibly above ;-)

          1. Ahhhhhhh… double edit:
            Teh solder beads will need reforming before each power up!!! or a circuit may be timed wrong and be too high for another circuit whose power is floating/draining and can fry things that way: i.e. the VTT rail for adjusting the data-line termination between the CPU and Northbridge can sink current into irreplaceable parts!!!!!!!!!!!

          2. Wanted to reply sooner but some idiot somewhere put a shovel through a cable and took out my Internet and cell service… gee whiz, AT&T, I know it’s $35+/ft for fiber channel and all, but dontcha think it’d be a nice idea to have backups for when someone spades one of your primary trunk lines or something…?

            *ahem*

            I hate to tell you this but the lower half of that thing went to the eWaste bin at the local collection center (I’m in a somewhat rural area — not, you know, Utah or Wyoming, but enough that, the dump doesn’t come to you with a big truck, you have to go to it…) about three months ago. It’s long since been recycled by whoever does that for the county… and I did zero diagnostics on it. I’d actually acquired it for another purpose/project, and it was unfit for that, and so it gave a loud and satisfying BUNGK sound as it landed in its final resting place.

            …I really do appreciate the effort, though…

            BTW, I’ve been in enough “real” laptops to mostly know my way around at the board level. Componentry is usually a bit too complex on modern stuff unless it has capacitor issues. Sorry, while I’m handy with multimeter, logic probe, and soldering iron, and I can read datasheets quite nicely, often-times datasheets are hard to get for these higher-level parts (with a billion pins and just as many signals anyways) and my signal-tracing skills would have to be at grandmaster wizard levels for that, and they’re only slightly above that of my mother’s cat right now ;)

            Probably that laptop really just needed a replacement motherboard — that’s what usually triggers my guy to discard stuff. Mobos are tricky — especially when eBay sellers occasionally send the wrong dang thing — and often even slightly-older computers don’t command the kind of profit margins that would justify the hour or two of disassembly and reassembly… especially because he’s chronically swamped to begin with… he seems to have found the pricing ‘sweet spot’ (if you can call it that) that keeps him juuuuuuuust expensive enough that he doesn’t /entirely/ choke out on his own success… last I heard, though, the waiting period for a diagnostics check (the first thing he does to any computer that he services) was in excess of a week…

          3. I’ve thus far been amazed at only finding cables and hard drives being the issue from my experience with laptop repair. One time I replaced an LCD screen, though that was cracked really bad. Another time the power supply connector needed to be re-soldered. Mostly hard drive issues. I’ve only worked on around a dozen though.

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