DevTerm Beats Cyberdeck Builders To The Punch

What makes a cyberdeck? Looking as though it came from an alternate reality version of the 1980s is a good start, but certainly isn’t required. If you’re really trying to adhere to the cyberpunk ethos, any good deck should be modular enough that it can be easily repaired and upgraded over time. In fact, if it’s not in a constant state of evolution and flux, you’ve probably done something wrong. If you can hit those goals and make it look retro-futuristic at the same time, even better.

Which is why the Clockwork DevTerm is such an interesting device. It ticks off nearly every box that the custom cyberdeck builds we’ve covered over the last couple years have, while at the same time being approachable enough for a more mainstream audience. You won’t need a 3D printer, soldering iron, or hot glue gun to build your own DevTerm. Of course if you do have those tools and the skills to put them to work, then this might be the ideal platform to build on.

With a full-sized QWERTY keyboard and widescreen display, the DevTerm looks a lot like early portable computers such as the TRS-80 Model 100. But unlike the machines it draws inspiration from, the display is a 6.8 inch 1280 x 480 IPS panel, and there’s no pokey Intel 8085 chip inside. The $220 USD base model is powered by the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3, and if you need a little more punch, there are a few higher priced options that slot in a more powerful custom module. Like the Waveshare Pi CM laptop we recently looked at, there’s sadly no support for the newer CM4; but at least the DevTerm is modular enough that it doesn’t seem out of the question that Clockwork could release a new mainboard down the line. Or perhaps somebody in the community will even do it for them.

Speaking of which, the board in the DevTerm has been designed in two pieces so that “EXT Module” side can be swapped out with custom hardware without compromising the core functionality of the system. The stock board comes with extra USB ports, a micro USB UART port for debugging, a CSI camera connector, and an interface for an included thermal printer that slots into a bay on the rear of the computer. Clockwork says they hope the community really runs wild with their own EXT boards, especially since the schematics and relevant design files for the entire system are all going to be put on GitHub and released under the GPL v3.

They say that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is, and if we’re honest, we’re getting a little of that from the DevTerm. An (CPU BLOBs aside!) open hardware portable Linux computer with this kind of modularity is basically a hacker’s dream come true, and thus far the only way to get one was to build it yourself. It’s hard to believe that Clockwork will be able to put something like this out for less than the cost of a cheap laptop without cutting some serious corners somewhere, but we’d absolutely love to be proven wrong when it’s released next year.

44 thoughts on “DevTerm Beats Cyberdeck Builders To The Punch

  1. Hmm. Yea. While the price point doesn’t scream impossible I’d be a bit more sure if that didn’t look like an entire BOM of bespoke parts.

    Although I’ve heard of their Clockwork Pi product out in the wild. Although darned if I can find any for sale to see what the price on that was.

    1. With the arrow cluster it looks more like the NEC version of the Kyocera twins. But comparing the overall size with the size of the 82650s, I think it’s probably a quarter of the size.

    2. all the small “laptops” of 80ties like Tandy 100, 102, WP2, Amstrad NC100, Cambridge Z88 and so on. This form factor is adorable but one of the cons i remember from using my dads work NC100 few times in early 90ties was uncomfortable position, you can’t tilt monitor so you bow down to see or hold hands extended. I wish i had free money just for nostalgia trip :)

      1. BUT, that was with monochrome “super-twist” LCDs, which had horrible viewing angles. With a modern IPS LCD, there wouldn’t be the same problem looking at it from off-axis.

  2. Wow, such a sexy thing :)
    Some improvement that I would love: an RTC (not seen in the product description), a real on/off switch to prevent batteries to go down, a touch screen, a RJ45 network port, and a serial / RS485 port.
    I am a bit afraid that the two side knobs be too fragile (according to the schematics I guess that they are used to secure the two parts of the case).

    1. THIS is why every hacker should be designing/building their own. Every time I see a write up of a DIY laptop or “cyberdeck”, the comments are full of “It would be great if it had _____”, or “_____ is a deal-breaker”.

      1. In my case, the first deal-breaker is that the numeric row on the keyboard is shifted one key to the right, just to make room for the gaming direction keys. Because, meh, who cares if you mistype NUMBERS?

      2. I actually agree with this, but without the snark. Everyone who is picky enough to be saying “it should be this way” should be making their own.

        And I don’t even mean that in the “oh yeah, well show us” way — it’s incredibly fun and easy to put together a deck of some kind (cyber or otherwise). You really should.

        I just bought a crappy screen and made myself a “shop deck” out of plywood scraps and screwed it to my wall in the basement. How did I survive without a computer down there so long?

          1. I accidentally hit “Report comment” instead of reply – I’m so sorry about that.

            @BrightBlueJim: Thanks! I didn’t expect it, but it’s Hackaday, so I’m not surprised either. This is going to have to be the ‘deck Tek would have made. :-)

        1. They designed the thing so people CAN add things to this product.
          So for everyone saying “I wish it had ____” it can if you design up a board with it for the unit.
          I don’t see the price point being so low that they made it out of junk, it really isn’t that complicated
          of a unit and it isn’t using wildly expensive parts.

          1. I’m not really convinced. The modularity shown allows them to sell it in different configurations, and gives them an option to up-sell after the sale, but what other things can you add within the case? Even the screen is an odd size, making it a problem to replace or upgrade. Same with the printer: is ANY other printer going to fit in that spot? Show me. And how about that keyboard? That seems to be the main objection I’m seeing in the comments, but this is in an injection-molded case. What OTHER keyboard could you substitute? And yes, they do provide a link to their Github page. Which has the schematics. Nothing else – no drawings or 3D models of module outlines and connector positions – hell, not even a BOM to show what connectors you would need. No 3D models or drawings of the case. So just HOW are you going to add anything to it? Oh, of course you could measure and reversse-engineer it, but you can do that with any product. Really, all they’ve done is design a fully custom computer in kit form.

  3. Not sure what’s going on here. Waveshare builds a full-size laptop with the CM3, and people are all “too bad they timed it badly and are using the obsolete Computer Module form factor”, but for this one, it doesn’t seem to be an issue.

  4. Am I the only one who misses that the definition of “Cyberdeck” (At last as far as “the most complete Cyberdeck build that ticks off all the boxes”) used to include (require, even) that it has a jack to hook into the Virtual Reality (an HMD, usually)?

    1. There is no definition for “cyberdeck” because it isn’t a real thing. It’s a vague concept that is loosely based on some cyberpunk novels from the 80s.

      The community decides what is and isn’t a deck, and with current tech, VR just doesn’t make the cut.

      1. I’m not saying there is a fixed definition, or that cyberdecks that don’t have HMDs are not “true Cyberdecks”. I’m only saying that, if you are going to say something is “as Cyberdeck as Cyberdeck can be” (like this article), then I’m sad that this seems to no longer include the HMD. The first Cyberdecks had HMDs, and that was their main design consideration: https://blog.rfox.eu/en/Hardware/Cyberdecks.html

        1. (By way of proof, link shows depictions of cyberdecks in fiction, 80s 8-bit computers that didn’t have HMDs, and a few accessory HMDs not connected to anything.)
          Looks like we’re right on track, here.

  5. Two no go to me:
    – the keyboard seems to be not that pleasant to type on
    – the trackball is really in an awkward position, it should be on one of the side or below the keyboard. Another solution would be to include a trackpoint in the middle of the keyboard.

    A FPGA module would be interesting also, that an a SDR one.

    I got their Gameshell which is a good portable console but I think I’ll skip their Cyberdeck until a second generation come a fix these two major issues (to me).

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