2023 Cyberdeck Challenge: Reviving The First Notebook Computer

At first sight upon seeing [Don]’s HX2023 cyberdeck project one might be sad at the destruction of a retrocomputer, but in fact its classic Epson shell comes from a pile of spare parts left after restoring many other of the classic HX20 notebook computers to working order. The result stays true to the original but gives us so much more in the shape of a Raspberry Pi, and it’s worth cracking it open to see what components make this happen.

The first impression from the pictures is how tidy it all is, with the various USB-based boards contained on a large piece of perfboard spanning the whole case. As well as a USB hub and UPS board there’s an M.2 SSD interface and an audio board, and a DSI color TFT screen neatly fitted in place of the original monochrome item. Finally, there’s an Adafruit keyboard matrix interface board, allowing the use of the Epson’s original keys.

We like this conversion, because it manages to preserve a lot of what the original Epson had that made it great. We’re reminded of a cyberdeck inspired by the other great 8-bit notebook, the TRS-80 model 100.

7 thoughts on “2023 Cyberdeck Challenge: Reviving The First Notebook Computer

  1. I like ELLO 2
    small, thin (ugly keyboard I would normal mechanic low profile)

    but trouble with cyberdeck is POWER. Why do I need hardware that will work shorter than my cell phone?
    * I need a computer with cc, script lang, vi and battery life in weeks.*

    1. If you use your phone like a real computer the battery life will be measured in hours, maybe with some phones just into days, but almost certainly less than a Pi powered device like this. The phone can be great at sitting almost no power draw when idle with the screen off, but while working it will eat its tiny battery relatively fast (and almost certainly thermal throttle really really damn hard), where these bigger systems that get a Pi in them tend to have massive (in comparison) battery, and the Pi isn’t that much of a power hog. Plus you will actually get work done with the decent keyboard vs the horrible touchscreen keyboard (and while you can put an external KB on a phone that will then eat further into its battery).

      If you want battery life measured in weeks and the full computing experience you need to strap a roughly car/van battery size of lithium cells to your phone/pi/chromebook so it can run for a day or two off battery and couple it with supplemental solar panel and exercise bike generator or something equally daft. Just the screen alone, even a tiny dim one will eat a huge amount of energy across ‘weeks’ of battery life.

  2. Glad to see he did his build out of parts rather than a gut job. I have a soft spot for those old Epsons. Back in the day we used them to write codeplugs and program Motorola Syntor X radios. The Epson was modified by Motorola with the programming software in firmware and a socket for the Syntor memory module sticking out of the side. We could create, load, edit and save codeplugs on the microcassette and print them with the internal printer before burning them to the memory module. We were actually doing that for some minor agencies as late as 2015 or so. Really pretty neat.

  3. I love the aesthetics, however it should be noted that in case of Armageddon, alien invasion, nuclear strikes, civilization collapse and other disasters, many of us who depend on glasses to read will be left with their own pair which won’t last indefinitely (anyone recalls that old Twilight Zone episode?). As much as I really like the look, I’d probably rather use a bigger screen, in other words reinventing the laptop, but with slower brain to make it ready for solar, wind or other non-grid power supply sources.

    1. An interesting point, though the resources around today that are still likely around after any of these events, at least for a good long while, will let you grind your own no doubt rather more primitive lens, or just rig up one of the many existing lens on a stand in the right place.

      So while I can agree a bigger screen could be better if that use case is your design goal I don’t think it is strictly required as the improved power consumption and tougher mechanical construction possible for a smaller screen also have benefits in that situation. Engineering compromise one way or the other, but both approaches have validity.

  4. I do everything I can to save the units before they become spare parts. Sadly, the LCDs are in the line of fire for chemical destruction when the Ni-Cads start leaking. The traces get eaten away and the flexible connector takes a hit also. When it gets to the driver chips and LCD glass then it gets, complicated. The conductive elastomer does not like to be disturbed. The driver chips are un-obtanium. It’s very difficult to remove the reflective layer to replace from contamination. The polarizing filter is pretty easy to replace though.

    I can fix just about any issue with the main board. Most of the logic chips are still available, though they may not be CMOS. So much for 50-hour battery life. It’s a 2-layer board so destroyed vias and traces are easily repaired with 30AWG wire and a steady hand. I’ve rebuilt 6 layer boards when the power FETs went unstable and created a small fire. It was our only “working” prototype at the time so I took the challenge and ultimately succeeded.

    The last HX-20 I repaired the previous owner had sanded away the damage on the board right down to the substrate. Silkscreen, gone. Traces, gone. I was able to fix that one and get it running.

    I’ve got my Tandy 102 for when the defecation hits the rotary oscillator. 4 AA batteries, built in modem, I can still hang out on a M.U.D. or some packet radio with my

    Maybe I’ll put together an Armageddon pack. Tandy Model 102, Radio Shack handheld (I forget the model it has the mechanical VU meter on it), battery of the month card, and some cheezwiz.

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