2023 Cyberdeck Challenge: The Best Decks On The Net

It was an easy decision to run a Cyberdeck Challenge in 2023 — after all, it was far and away one of our most popular contests from last year. But what was much harder was sorting out the incredible array of bespoke computers that readers have been sending in for the last few months.

Our judges have painstakingly whittled down the list of entries to get our top three winners, each of which will be awarded $150 in credit from the good folks over at DigiKey. But there were simply too many fantastic custom computers in the running to let everyone else go home empty-handed, so we’ve decided to also break out some $50 Tindie gift cards for the decks that best exemplified this year’s special categories.

Without further ado, let’s take a tour through the judge’s top picks for this year’s Cyberdeck Challenge!

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2023 Cyberdeck Challenge: KOAT0 Portable Terminal

We’ve had cyberdecks as part of the scenery for long enough now that there are a series of common elements that appear across many different builds. The Raspberry Pi, for instance, or the mechanical keyboard, with a 3D printed body. [RobsonCuto]’s KOAT0 Portable Terminal has some of those in a particularly slim and neat design. The orange and grey color scheme is great really pops. Where this deck really shines though, is the display.¬† He’s eschewed LCDs or OLEDs, even CRTs, and gone for an unusual choice in a dot-matrix VFD.

The VFD in question is commonly available on AliExpress where it appears to be used for displaying Chinese characters. It’s not an obvious choice for a cyberdeck, so once the tidy-looking case is complete the real challenge in this project becomes how to drive it from the Pi. To that end, he appears to have some kind of text output working but still needs to complete a framebuffer driver. We applaud the effort and we really like the display.¬† We’re curious as to how its meager resolution might best be used in a Linux device.

All in all, this is a ‘deck we’d be happy to use ourselves if it were an option. We particularly like the on-the-arm style of use, and we’re pretty sure it’s the first time we’ve seen one of these displays on these pages.

2023 Cyberdeck Challenge: CyberTapeDeck

There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to picking an enclosure for your cyberdeck project: you either repurpose the carcass of some commercially produced gadget, or you build a new case yourself. The former can lead to some very impressive results, especially if your donor device is suitably vintage, but the latter is far more flexible as the design will be based on your specific parameters.

But for the CyberTapeDeck, [Matthew] decided to take a hybrid approach. The final product certainly¬†looks like it’s built into a 1980s portable tape deck, but on closer inspection, you’ll note that the whole thing is actually 3D printed. The replica doesn’t just nail the aesthetics — it also includes the features you’d expect from the real thing, including an extendable handle and functional buttons which the internal Raspberry Pi 3 sees as a macropad thanks to an Arduino Pro Micro.

A seven inch LCD stands in for the tape door, and while it unfortunately doesn’t look like [Matthew] was able to replicate the opening mechanism to angle the display, you can at least stand the whole thing on its end to provide a more comfortable viewing experience.

[Matthew] says one of the intended purposes for this cyberdeck is to get his son excited about working with electronics and programming, so in a particularly nice touch, he’s mounted a terminal block over the “speaker” that ties into the Pi’s GPIO pins. This provides a convenient interface for experimenting on the go, without getting tangled up in exposed wiring.

We appreciate that [Matthew] has released the STL files for all of the printed parts, because even though it makes a great cyberdeck, the design is begging to house a faux-retro media player.

Cyberdeck on a table

2023 Cyberdeck Challenge: Modular Cyberdeck Creation Kit

We were fortunate to run into [Sp4m] at DEFCON31 and see his Modular Cyberdeck Creation Kit in person. In fact, he was wearing it around the hallways like a rogue decker in search of fellow runners. Holding the unit feels like a serious tool because of its weight, mainly from the battery. Everything hangs from a single-point sling on a metal handle, probably from the cabinetry aisle, and we could move silently and comfortably. The sling is firearm-rated, which is appropriate since he has a printed Weaver rail on top. It just needs a flashlight/laser combo.

[Sp4m] aims to create printable parts that combine any on-hand materials into a usable cyberdeck. In this iteration, he uses a wired Apple keyboard and trackpad he found in the trash, so we have to assume he works in IT. Most of the trackpad is covered, but enough is accessible to scroll and maneuver the mouse, saving almost six inches. The Steam deck is the current head but is removable so that this hardware collection can work for many USB-C tablets without fuss.

The eye-catching white/orange is no accident and may earn it a top spot in the Icebreaker category of the 2023 Cyberdeck Contest. The judges are currently deliberating, so keep an eye out for an announcement about the winners shortly.

2023 Cyberdeck Contest: Cyberdeck Red Is Ready For Action

What exactly constitutes a cyberdeck is up for debate, but for us, one thing is clear: A cyberdeck needs to look like it’s ready to go to battle. When the machines finally rise up and try to wipe us all out, someone toting around a machine like Cyberdeck Red is probably going to be a sight for sore eyes; clearly, such a person would be equipped to help us fight back the robotic scourge.

If this cyberdeck looks familiar, it’s for a good reason — it’s [Gabriel]’s second stab at this build. We thought the original was pretty keen, enough so that it won second prize in the 2022 contest. But like many cyberdeck builders, good enough isn’t good enough, and so rather than rest on his laurels, he set about improving a few things. The most visible of the changes are the spiffy new case, which is far less utilitarian than version one, and the new custom-made split keyboard. Things are a little different under the hood too; gone is the Raspberry Pi 4, which was replaced by Latte Panda 3 Delta running Windows. And like the original, version two is absolutely stuffed with sensors and diagnostic gear — a Hack RF SDR for radio work, plus an Analog Discovery 2 which provides everything from an oscilloscope and signal generator to a spectrum analyzer and an impedance tester.

But possibly the most useful feature of Cyberdeck Red is the onboard HDMI projector. The palm-sized, short-throw projector would be perfect for an impromptu combat briefing in an improvised command post, or just watching Netflix. If the machines will allow it, of course.

The 2023 Cyberdeck Contest wraps up August 15, so it looks like [Gabriel] just squeaked this one in on time. We wish him and all the other entrants the best of luck!

2023 Cyberdeck Challenge: A Ham Radio Cyberdeck

Cyberdecks rock because their homebrewed nature lets them feature all kinds of nifty additional functionality. [Kaushlesh] has built his deck with an eye to ham radio use, and it’s a rugged and impressive thing.

The deck is built into a weatherproof enclosure, with various 3D-printed parts helping to integrate the components into the clamshell enclosure. It runs on a Raspberry Pi 4, with [Kaushlesh] springing for the hefty model with 8GB of RAM. It has a 10-inch LCD screen and a rechargable battery pack with an impressive 20 hour battery life, and is intended for use when [Kaushlesh] is out camping or participating in ham radio field days. To that end, it’s equipped with a USB software-defined radio module and a BNC connector for hooking up an external antenna. It also has a game controller that mounts inside, just in case he desires playing a few games on Retropie while he’s out and about. It’s even got storage for a mouse and rocks a decent-sized keyboard inside.

We’d love to tote this to a hamfest for a bit of hacking on the side. It’s not the first ham-themed cyberdeck we’ve seen, either. Now we just need one built for prosciutto. Video after the break.

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2023 Cyberdeck Challenge: Crosberry Pi Loves Lo-Fi Hip Hop

As far as we can tell, the only real selling point that any portable record player offered was, well, its portability. To be clear, the sound is never that great. But perhaps a selling point for this crowd is that they usually come in hinged cases with handles, and you know what that means — cyberdeck that thing!

[Mx. Jack Nelson] started gutting this Crosley CR40 record player to make a Raspberry Pi housing, but it quickly turned into a cyberdeck project with the addition of a 10.1″ portable monitor, a Planck ortholinear keyboard, and a gutted trackball mouse.

We love that [Mx. Jack Nelson] made use of the Crosley’s original speakers — this was the wife’s idea! — as well as the volume and tone knobs. But our favorite part has to be the clear acrylic top that both protects the electronics and provides a platform for the keyboard and mouse buttons. Be sure to check out the demo video after the break.

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