ARM And X86 Team Up In No Compromise Cyberdeck

Over the last couple of years the cyberdeck community has absolutely exploded. Among those who design and build these truly personal computers there are no hard rules, save perhaps making sure the final result looks as unconventional as possible. But one thing that’s remained fairly consistent is the fact that these machines are almost exclusively powered by the Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately, that means they often leave something to be desired in terms of raw performance.

But [MSG] had a different idea. His cyberdeck still has the customary Raspberry Pi inside, but it also has an i7 Intel NUC that can be fired up at the touch of a button. He says it’s the best of both worlds: an energy efficient ARM Linux platform for mobile experimentation, and a powerful x86 Windows box for playing games working from home. It’s the hacker equivalent of business in the front, party in the back.

With a KVM connected to the custom Planck 40% mechanical keyboard and seven inch LCD, [MSG] can switch between both systems on the fly. Assuming he’s got the juice anyway; while the Raspberry Pi 4 and LCD is able to run on a pair of 18650 batteries, the cyberdeck needs to be plugged in if he wants to use the power-hungry NUC. If he ditched the Pi he could potentially load up the case with enough batteries to get the Intel box spun up, but that would be getting a little too close to a conventional laptop.

The whole plurality theme doesn’t stop at the computing devices, either. In addition to the primary LCD, there’s also a 2.13 inch e-paper display and a retro-style LED matrix courtesy of a Pimoroni Micro Dot pHAT. With a little Python magic behind the scenes, [MSG] is able to display things like the system temperature, time, and battery percentage even when the LCD is powered down.

In a post on the aptly-named Cyberdeck Cafe, [MSG] talks about how seeing the VirtuScope built by [bootdsc] inspired him to start working towards his own personal deck, and where he hopes to take the idea from here. The unique USB expansion bay behind the screen holds particular promise, and it sounds like a few add-on modules are already in the works. But of course, it wouldn’t be a true cyberdeck if it wasn’t constantly being improved and redesigned. Come to think of it, that makes at least two rules to live by in this community.

19 thoughts on “ARM And X86 Team Up In No Compromise Cyberdeck

  1. Very nice, I have be toying with doing a similar thing – though I wasn’t going for a relatively high end nuc.

    I was thinking of using an old laptop board or perhaps the x86 rock-pi or that up board with the fpga built in – all I want is to have a native x86 processor with something above snail performance. So anything that doesn’t exist for arm and can’t be compiled for it can be run without such a performance hit (plus all the benifits of a second pc/VM in the one box). For me other than gaming there is no need for anything more potent than a Pi4 on the move, and I wanted to keep it battery powered – use one of my spare toughbook batteries, and probably have a slot for canon camera battery (which would allow hotswapping the main battery and charging up fresh batteries for my camera).

    1. Also intending to use a Compute module for the Pi (actually a little farm of them – so you can just turn on extra power if needed), which is why this project hasn’t yet been started – was just getting to putting concept work into practice when the 4’s were announced, just too big a step up in performance to ignore (Plus I hadn’t yet bought a CM3 for it, have some 1’s to test with)…

    2. Take a look at the chromebox i7, or indeed just any chromebox loaded with mr. Chromebox coreboot/uefi. You can pick them up cheap sometimes because they are google corporate locked, or my cn62 5500m i7 had a bad bios chip, swapped it out (funny story, grabbed a 16M chip from a dead mobo, but could not flash the 8M bios, had to double the file before the flashing program liked it, so technically 2 bioses now XD)

      The early Samsung “Series 3” chromebox has an actual G2 socket and will take Ivy Brudge Quad cores. Also dual channel DDR3L, which As you may know has better latency/power than ddr4,. I snagged 16gb 1600mhz for 35.

      I would say its like a NUC lite.

      To power it is simple, put a battery clip for the 18-’20v max’ power tool nattery of your choice, black n decker, ridgid etc. Or use the 19v power delivery usb bank. Or both, then you’ll be ready to scavenge power. Could even put a buck boost and voltmeter in it to run off any power source you find.

  2. There are sub $100 atom tablets with multi-touch touchscreen 1920×1080 displays, bluetooth, USB, HDMI out, -and with win10 installed.

    The batteries last ~2-4 hours and since they are full wintels one can actually do work directly on them. with a mini keyboard one can have a fully functional computer the size of a large paperback.

    If the atom isn’t enough cpu power than any of the remote desktop client/host options will allow one to do the latest in 3d gaming or computing.

    I’ve tested 3d gaming from my ‘game server’ at my home to remote locations over 50 miles away. The mouse latency is acceptable for light gaming -which means doing actual work is comparable to being on the physical machine.

    Heck, with google’s cloud computing stuff with free time on a fancy video card you can do ML / AI anywhere you have a network connection.

    So, is the cyber-deck a fashion-look thing or a build-it-your-self thing?

    1. Not sure I’d call being shipped with the bloat of windoze a selling point, particularly on something so low performance… You can work directly on arm just as well as amd64 x86 architecture, I cant think of anything that won’t run on arm – these days 99% of non-gaming computer time seems to be browser based – perhaps occasionally via qemu type stuff, should it be close source garbage that only exists for intel/amd and you MUST use that exact program. Plus you will get much more battery life out of an arm for similar performance levels in almost all situations.

      If you are then going to use a cloud based provider it doesn’t matter a damn what your system is, just if you have a network bandwidth to actually give a halfway decent experience.

      I would say these cyber decks are often built for fun and style. But some are clearly built for the users specific needs, and there is no point in them if they are not functional at all.

    2. I can’t agree more on what Foldi-one said; especially that windows part.

      On windows, I find it ridiculous that even with admin privilege, you don’t have proper permission to change permissions on certain files; i don’t trust their ‘TrustedInstaller’ yet cannot remove it.
      Also, I don’t want their applications such as edge, cortana, xbox and so on but, just like other spyware, runs in background and they install them back when removed.

      So unless you are forced to use them (e.g. live in korea), how is windows10 a sales point again?

  3. I am writing this post on a kind of “lazy man cyberdeck” – an Android phone in a nice stable 3D printed stand and a stock BT keyboard. Such setup makes a nice cyber deck if the phone stand connects to the stock keyboard to make a stable unit that could rest on one’s lap, possibly foldable.

    I am greatly missing the possibiliy to run Linux on Android the same way Google allows now Linux to run in a sand box on Chrome OS. On one side Google is making Android safer by tightening process isolation and sand boxing rules, on the other side there is no techincal reason to not implement the same Linux envorinment for Android they did for Chrome. The only reason being, that they want to have a tight control over Chrome OS and they want Chrome OS to have advantage over Android vendors such as Samsung. Indeed, Samsung had to drop Linux on DeX, and I believe the reason for it was the new rule in Android 10 SDK, which prohibits execution of a Linux binary, which was not installed through the app store or side loaded as an Android installation package. Basically this will kill all the Linux on Android project that rely on the common Linux packaging tools. My personal bet is that the only Linux on Android project that will survive that change is Termux, where the authors are already planning to rework their DEB based packaging system to group Linux binaries into a limited set of Android installation packages. This new Android SELinux constraint will also kill the possibility to compile and run a C code on Android in Linux environment, one will be limited to scripting enironments. This is still better than nothing, but it will be far from a real Linux experience, as it would not allow one to install programs and plugins from source code (for example this will kill installation of Python packages through PIP if the Python package contains a C library).

    I remember the monopoly practices of Microsoft in 90s. IMHO Google’s monopoly practices of the last couple of years are much worse than what Microsoft ever managed. We should really gang to push Google to port Linux support from Chrome OS to Android, in the name of upcycling and education.

  4. Very unique approach to putting a Windows x86 machine and Linux ARM board in one unit, even if you can’t always use them at the same time. Some would probably argue that you could have just gotten one middle-of-the-road x86 board and dual booted (or virtualized one of the OSes from the other), but the redundant hardware makes this more reliable and flexible in the long run, which seems to be a core goal for any decent cyberdeck that’s not just about cosplay.

    1. A few things arm64 doesn’t just get that might bite you, and are not games – Widevine drm crap (needed for basically all paid streaming services) being a big one – its easy enough to make it work on 32bit arm – just copy the module from chromeos. Running it on arm64 however is something I’ve not managed yet, though looks possible via quite a few methods – still probably worth having a Pi in your setup using a 32bit linux (like raspbian… no wait Raspberry Pi OS… stupid name change). Few other bits like Skype you might be forced to used that just don’t exist for arm outside of Android -though with multiple Pi I guess you could actually just natively run android on one of them if you need any of this stuff.

  5. This is what I like to see – Jedi apprentices making their own light sabers. The mechanical 40% keyboard says “I care more about the feel of the switches than how thin it can be made”, while the KVM switch says “I am not a savage, after all”, and NONE of this is available in a commercial all-in-one product. It doesn’t matter that I would have no use at all for this, because it’s not FOR me.

    I have my own ideas for MY cyberdeck: https://hackaday.io/project/176213-convertible-little-cyberdeck

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