2022 Cyberdeck Contest: Steampunk Cyberdeck Is Made From Wood, Leather, Brass And E-Paper

A retro-styled briefcase-shaped computer with an e-ink display

Laptop screens have come a long way ever since the first LCD-equipped portables hit the market back in the 1980s. But even today’s high-resolution, full-color screens are not ideal for use in direct sunlight: limited contrast and annoying reflections can make reading awkward and working nearly impossible. Electronic-paper displays don’t suffer from those problems, but their low update speed and lack of color limit their use for general computing.

A retro briefcase computer, openedFor some people however, the limitations of e-ink are not a deal-breaker. One of them is [Alleycat], who built a portable computer specifically for use in direct sunlight and equipped it with a 10.3″, 1872×1404 resolution e-ink display. It’s powered by a LattePanda Alpha 800s that runs Windows 10, and is mainly used for text-based tasks.

The LattePanda and the display are mounted inside a beautiful hand-made wooden case with a brass cover and leather straps, which makes it look like a kind of steampunk attaché case. A beefy power bank makes it a truly mobile machine, even though it doesn’t come with a built-in keyboard: [Alleycat] is too much of an ErgoDox fan to include anything inferior with the Steampunk Cyberdeck.

With an update rate of 15 Hz the display is nowhere near as fast as a modern TFT screen, but it looks entirely usable when [Alleycat] demonstrates scrolling in a web browser and even the classic DOS game Alley Cat. In fact, it reminds us of those first-generation LCD screens that were fitted on 286-class laptops back in the day, although with a vastly higher resolution.

We’ve seen a few e-ink based computer designs before, such as this Macintosh Classic II and this e-ink laptop project. The steampunk theme would go well with a hand-crafted metal mouse or this tiny display.

9 thoughts on “2022 Cyberdeck Contest: Steampunk Cyberdeck Is Made From Wood, Leather, Brass And E-Paper

  1. That’s what the “supposedly not high enough for general purpose computing” refresh rate of today’s e-paper looks like?!?

    It seems like if one “listens to the internet” the diehard gamers are setting all the standards.

    For me the purpose of a portable computer is to run openSCAD, emacs, firefox and maybe pianobar. This looks perfectly usable! The way some people talk I was expecting to be waiting for one frame to fade before reading the text of the next one!

    If parts availability, pricing (and my salary) were what they are now, back in my single days, when I had lots of time to go for walks in the woods and raft down the river; I totally would have built one of these and found a secluded clearing to do my hacking and 3d-printer object designing under the light of the day star.

    Whoever is a younger me, enjoying both computers/tech and the outdoors totally should do so before getting older sets in and they are too busy adulting to make use of such a device.

    1. From my experience with partial refresh and tweaking LUTs to shorten update times, epd’s are definitely a lot more capable than most people give them credit for. I can only guess that most people only experience them running stock libraries with safe LUTs or very conservative refresh routines like used in commercial ebook readers and that’s why the general consensus seems to be epd’s are useless for all but the slowest applications when in reality if you are willing to accept some image retention or risk of burn in they can be pushed much faster than expected.

    2. Because of your comment, I went and watched the video and I’m totally okay with this refresh rate for general surfing. I could see myself using a raspberry pi with this as a display. I don’t need the gaming-level refresh for what I do. Thanks for your comment – this display is more than adequate for me!

    3. Well, my ‘limited’ experience with interfacing with ‘small’ e-ink displays attached to a Raspberry Pi … my expectations was glacier slow updating (just like above comment implied! ) ! Then when I read 15fps and saw the demo, I was suitably impressed! Really? E-Ink can do that???? And on Windoze to boot (got to be a downside to every build… ha!) .

    4. The big problem with running such screens so fast is they ‘burn in’ to some extent – the slow full page refresh cycle of your e-reader is there to properly reset the screen state and get rid of the ghosts (and its often only mostly successful as you can still see some evidence of previous screens if you look carefully), partial refreshes and shorter refreshes just won’t cut it long term it seems (yet anyway). So you are going to need a long reset cycle to clear out all the ghost image properly.

      Last time I really dug into it seems partial refresh modes were good enough to use for quite a while before having to wait for a long wipe though – so perhaps a good way of enforcing a teabreak can’t work too long if the screen is getting hard to read and is going through its refresh.

      Also worth pointing out in this mode the much vaunted low power consumption of e-ink becomes a bit misleading, as changing the screen is where the power is consumed and now the screen is pretty much always changing.

      1. Interesting. Thanks for that information!

        I wonder if it would be possible to use a “fast” refresh rate like this but then do a slower, full refresh every X cycles and if it is possible I wonder what that would look like.

        1. Or have the “full refresh” stuff take place during “idle” times? Surely it must be possible to tie this to the screen saver routine, and do a full pixel-by-pixel refresh (or whatever these things need) after some user-selectable timeout… I mean, screen savers were *invented* to prevent burn-in, albeit on CRTs, not e-ink.

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