Cyberdeck Running On Apple Silicon, Though An A12 Not An M1

Overall view of Alta's Projects cyberdeck

[Alta’s Projects] built a two-in-one cyberdeck that not only contains the requisite Raspberry Pi (a zero in this case) but also eschews a dumb LCD and uses an iPad mini 5 for a display.

We need to address the donor case right away. Some likely see this as heresy, and while we love to see vintage equipment lovingly restored, upcycling warms our hearts and keeps mass-produced plastic out of landfills too. The 1991 AST 386SX/20 notebook in question went for $45 on an online auction and likely was never destined for a computer museum.

Why is Cupertino’s iOS anywhere near a cyberdeck? If a touch screen is better than an LCD panel, a tablet with a full OS behind it must be even better. You might even see this as the natural outgrowth of tablet cases first gaining keyboards and then trackpads. We weren’t aware that either was possible without jailbreaking, but [Alta’s Projects] simply used a lighting-to-USB dongle and a mini USB hub to connect the custom split keyboard to the iPad and splurged on an Apple Magic Trackpad for seamless and wireless multi-touch input.

Alta's Projects Cyberdeck Internal USB Wiring
Internal USB Wiring, Charging Circuit, and Pi Zero

The video build (after the break) is light on details, but a quick fun watch with a parts list in the description. It has a charming casual feel that mirrors the refreshingly improvisational approach that [Altair’s Projects] takes to the build. We appreciate the nod to this cyberdeck from [Tinfoil_Haberdashery] who’s split keyboard and offset display immediately sprang to mind for us too. The references to an imagined “dystopian future” excuse the rough finish of some of the Dremel cuts and epoxy assembly. That said, apocalypse or not, the magnets mounted at both ends of the linear slide certainly are a nice touch.

[Alta's Projects] Cyberdeck Linear Slide
Magnetic End-Stops for the Linear Slide
That could be a complete project, but [Alta’s Projects] added a Pi with access to I/O ports for future hardware hacks. VNC provides a simple way for the iPad to share the keyboard, trackpad, and display with the Pi when that is powered up. The Pi also provides an opportunity to have an auxiliary eInk display, able to show system information or graphics even when the system is powered down. The other display is a 7-segment style battery charge indicator that counts down from 100%, useful when working untethered as neither the Pi nor the iPad could report the status of the nine 18650 cells.

We like that this cyberdeck is easily upgradable with a newer tablet and given that the iPad is connected with a quick release magnetic mount, it can easily be removed for other uses. And, speaking of upcycling, when this iPad dies we fully expect the display to find a new life too.

15 thoughts on “Cyberdeck Running On Apple Silicon, Though An A12 Not An M1

      1. Its a nice blend of futuristic, and so old of a POS terminal that the only place I’ve ever seen something like it is via video (even Machinemart – the most dated POS sale system I’ve ever seen looks newer)…

        Seems a shame to pull out what I expect was a perfectly working, really nice keyboard to shove in a new one to me. But it looks rather fun, and I do really like the linear rail trackpad thing, that is pretty cool. Though for me it should probably be mounted on the front edge and able to slide left and right- even if you are very RH dominant you might find it very useful to be able to slide it the other way for lack of space reasons, and personally I’m good with either hand, so its nice to switch it up sometimes just to give the hands a break from the previous motions…

        Also nice that its basically a useful HID device, so can always connect a more potent tablet as time goes on, and potentially basic terminal stand alone via that e-ink on the pi – just needs a simple usb switch to put the keyboard and ‘mouse’ straight to the pi, assuming drivers for that apple thing exist… So it should be pretty good long term, and its a fun project as it is..

        At some point I really need to get on with building my portable “cyberdeck” ideas into actual things… Soo many projects, so little time/energy/space…

        1. I’ve tried keyboards from that era of laptop, I have yet to meet one that isn’t extremely squishy feeling, an ortholinear mechanical keyboard would definitely be an upgrade.

          I do agree about the placement of the trackpad. It feels like the maker had their linear rail and needed to use it.

          A POS terminal is really designed to be usable and long lasting, they’re probably not bad choices to base an retro-futuristic ‘industrial’ computer on.

          1. Interesting the only laptops of that sort of age I’ve ever got to play with have had really good keyboards, way better than anything any of my newer laptops (the ones I’ve actually used) possessed, we are talking about things old enough that the really shitty cheap rubber dome keyboard hasn’t really invaded every office etc yet… So I’d have expected it to be pretty reasonable. But my experience of such old machines is pretty damn minimal..

  1. Wait, someone paid $45 for an old 386 laptop? Sounds to me like they must be actually be accruing some collectable value.

    Unless someone is collecting them I would have expected it to be a tough sell at $5! It’s more of an item to pay someone to recycle than get paid to sell. For all the tens of thousands of those that are probably still sitting in closets who is going to actually use them for something besides the maybe 3 people in the world that will ever use one each to build their cyberdecks?

    Even someone who really wants to play old games from the 386 days would [I think] probably be better off with a 486 or even a Pentium. That should be able to run any software the 386 did but take a lot less time starting up. And by 386 times there was enough variance in processor speed that games shouldn’t have been dependent on it for timing. It’s not like the old XT days where all your PC games ran double speed if you didn’t hit the button to knock the clock back down to PC speed.

    Who wants a 386 for anything?

    1. A lot of special applications (like automated test stands) are certified only for certain hardware/software combos. I remember working at an avionics repair station around 2000 that had a bounty on working HP 386 desktops of a certain model. To recert for a different model computer would have cost over a quarter million dollars.

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