Patrol The Sprawl With This Battle Ready Cyberdeck

The recent crop of cyberdeck builds are inspired, at least tangentially, by William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer and its subsequent sequels. In the novels, the decks are used as mobile terminals to access the virtual reality of cyberspace. In our world, they’re usually just quasi-retro boxes with Raspberry Pis in them. Artistic license and all that. But the “XMT-19 Cutlass”, a deck built by [CaptNumbNutz], attempts to hew more closely to the source material than most builds we’ve seen.

Of course it won’t be transporting you into the matrix, and ultimately it’s still just a casemod for the Raspberry Pi. But at least it does a fantastic job of fitting the Neuromancer motif. The design is supposed to look like the XMT-19 was a piece of high-tech military hardware that was later co-opted by a cyberspace cowboy operating in the urban megatropolis that Gibson called the Sprawl, with exposed wiring and a visual mish-mash of components.

If you can believe it, the build started out as a locking clipboard of all things. From there, [CaptNumbNutz] started layering on the hand-cut foam greebles and spraying on the WWII inspired color scheme. We especially like the yellow tips on the antennas that invoke the propellers of vintage airplanes, and the serial number stenciled onto the bottom. In a departure from basically every other cyberdeck we’ve seen to date, there appear to be no 3D printed elements on the XMT-19; all the parts are hand made with nothing more than an a sharp knife and a heap of patience.

In terms of the electronics, the whole build has been greatly simplified by the use of a SmartiPi Touch case, which integrates the Pi and touch screen into a single hinged unit that just needed to get bolted to the top of the deck. Plus it gave him an excuse to put a big rainbow ribbon cable on the back of it to reach the Pi’s GPIO ports, which as you know, instantly makes everything look more retro-futuristic.

It might not be packing the raw power of the Intel NUC cyberdeck we covered last year, or have the convincingly vintage look of the VirtuScope, but we’d take the XMT-19 Cutlass into the matrix any day.

25 thoughts on “Patrol The Sprawl With This Battle Ready Cyberdeck

    1. Mistakes are sure signs that it was designed and built by a Human. They add character and make builds more approachable. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing something that looks so perfect that it feels like it would be unobtainable.

      1. Absolutely. I only mentioned it since he called out the mistakes several times like a lot of us automatically do. In general, most would totally overlooked by the casual observer.

    2. I think we all agree these look cool and can be made, at least by those of us with sufficient skill and creativity.

      Can the HAD community now work on inventing a good use case for why we need these? It’s a shame to have cool kit which shows a huge investment of effort and skills, but realistically will likely sit on a shelf because it isn’t as powerful or ergonomic as a laptop, as portable as a phone, or as robust as a tablet in an industrial ruggedised case.

      What use case can we invent for which this is the best solution?

      1. The platform is sort of halfway there for active as opposed to merely mobile computing, in that with a neck strap, the shorter screen has lower moment of inertia and won’t flop about so bad. Also does not protrude far enough to be a PITA about knocking/catching on things, particularly in crowded environs. However, the keyboard is all wrong, needs sawing in half and each half mounted back to back, or replaced with chord keyboard, or even mounted behind the screen so the thing is higher and easier to see.

        1. To each his own on the keyboard. Every deck is different. I went with practical and cheap. The trackball also fit the retro motif, evoking the preferred input device for the mid 1990’s Apple Powerbooks. I also prefer trackballs over touchpads if I can’t use a mouse.

          The build started life as a Vaultz locking clipboard ( https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0171E8KJA/ ), then slowly morphed into what you see here over the course of a few months. I tried several layout variations and there are quite a few holes that you may or may not see on the build filled with Sugru and painted over

          I scoured Amazon for days for a keyboard that would fit the case without too much trouble, and came up with the Perixx Periboard 505H ( https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0065PZ7DY ). A quick zip down the side with a scroll saw and it fit perfect. Once I made the keyboard fit, I could see the finished product in my head. As the Author of the article said, it just came together like a piece of sculpture using “a sharp knife and a heap of patience.”

          1. Sorry, not a specific criticism on your keyboard as far as these “cyberdeck” builds go. Fine for desktop use as a funky looking laptop.

            I’m saying that the “cyberdeck” layout doesn’t work in general as anything but a funky laptop. You need your arms straightish, which in on the go mode means it’s bouncing off one thigh or another on a long strap, or you have your arms at a weird scrunched up angle wondering if it’s easier to have your wrists chopped off and sewn on sideways.

            Not that Gibson is in any way consistent about describing a form factor for them, given the one initially used by Count Zero fits in a back pocket, and the one used by a veteran console jockey (name escaping me right now) takes up a whole desktop.

      2. I’ve mentioned this several times before: break out the GPIO, add in a breadboarding area, maybe a level shifter and db9 if you do a lot of retro projects, and these things would be perfect for the benchtop.

      3. There’s lot’s of use cases. I use mine to learn python and tinker with Linux and Pi’s in general. The LiFePO4wered Pi+ UPS in the back (what’s attached to the ribbon cable) still has all the GPIO accessible for other projects so I can still use jumpers to connect to a separate breadboard.

        As far as other uses…

        Those antenna’s are attached to a Panda Wireless PAU09 USB WiFi adapter and I dual boot Kali (not shown) and Raspbian. It’s fun to set it loose on my own home network. Having the second WiFi adapter also frees up the onboard WiFi to connect to the Samsung S5 running the HMD via VNC terminal. The HMD is the object in the background with the Ghost in the Shell Laughing Man sticker.

      4. The appeal to me is that they are a logical evolution of the “portable” computers of the early 1980s, before the clamshell laptop became the standard. They are like looking at an alternate reality where the design elements of the portables (small screens, large mechanical keyboards, no or limited batteries, etc) were pushed into the modern day. I see them as sort of design experiments: if you don’t care about size, weight, or battery life, what kind of interesting things can you do?

        There’s also an element of personalization. Each deck is designed based on the user’s requirements or interests, and no two look exactly alike. Granted we’re starting to see some people copy the VirtuScope, but even then, the hardware config and outward appearance is never 100% the same.

        But as far as actual mobile computing goes, obviously a standard laptop is going to be better. There’s a reason they won out against the portables originally.

    3. Thank you for the replies. Some mistakes were made, but in the end were intentionally left on it. As others have said they add character. Feel free to click on through the links the article’s author provided to see the full worklog and some other close ups. I also intentionally weathered it like you would if you were building a scale model of a military vehicle. This build was intentionally made to look like it had a history.

    1. Is that a typo? Raspberry PI 4 is out, more RAM, can actually handle normal office workloads now IMHO.

      But on your thought, I wonder if it might just be worth using a real mainboard at some point (not ATX-size of course haha). Harder to build because chunky CPU needs big battery and so on, but you’d get a big boy laptop with replaceable parts and exactly the features you are looking for.

      Onboard GPU or abuse CPU for rendering if you don’t care, or maybe have a GPU and have it stick out the side/top hotrod style LOL.

      Or on a more serious note, you could have decent slots for hard drives, maybe with hardware power switches to force turn them off while on battery.

      I think you could fit quite a bit of useful stuff into a big cyberdeck/portable desktop form factor, obviously all sorts of harsh trade-ofs apply.

  1. That would be great fun, but also rather hard to actually do much with. More likely to find a Z80 or one of the other more popular 8 bits probably in micro format tucked in with the Pi (or other SBC). All the fun of the real 8 bit hardware (in readily accessible form) and then the SBC that actually makes it something you use often enough to feel worth the effort to build.

    1. Good eyes you have, fellow console cowboy. No need to feel like it was a pedantic post.

      To be honest, the sticker is there mainly as additional character and personalization in the same way people put stickers on their laptops today, and this particular sticker is like the other stickers present that are from other works.
      I also didn’t assign any particular manufacturer name in my lore writeup because I didn’t want to insert this machine into any pre-existing canon or a particular universe.

      That being said, I appreciate your input. If I can source another sticker from a more appropriate corpo, I will.

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