Cyberdeck Builders Talk Shop In Roundtable Chat

In honor of our recently announced 2022 Cyberdeck Contest, we decided to do things a little differently for this week’s Hack Chat. Rather than pick just one host, we looked back through the archive and selected some of the most impressive builds we’ve seen and asked their creators if they’d like to take part in a freewheeling discussion about their creations and the nascent community surrounding these bespoke computing devices.

Despite conflicting time zones and at least one international vacation, we were able to put together an impressive panel to helm this special Cyberdeck Brainstorming Hack Chat:

So what did this accomplished group of cyberdeck builders have to talk about? Well, quite a bit. During a lively conversation, these creators not only swapped stories and details about their own builds, but answered questions from those looking for inspiration and guidance.

bootdsc’s radio-packed VirtuScope

The discussion immediately kicked off with what’s perhaps the most obvious question: why build a cyberdeck if we already have laptops and smartphones — mobile computing form factors which [Io Tenino] admits are likely as close to perfect as we can get with current technology. Most of the builders agreed that a big part of the appeal is artistic, as the design and construction of their personal deck allowed them to show off their creativity.

But what of productivity? Can these custom machines do more than look good on a shelf? There seemed to be consensus that it was difficult to compete with a standard laptop in terms of general purpose computing, but that a cyberdeck tailored to a specific use case could be a powerful tool.

For example, [bootdsc] built a high-power WiFi adapter as well as an RTL-SDR receiver and up-converter into the VirtuScope, while [Io Tenino] says the Joopyter’s integrated printer is occasionally used to run off a grocery list. [H3lix] also mentioned that the trend towards ever-thinner laptops has meant removing ports and expansion options which used to be taken for granted, a potentially frustrating situation for hardware hackers that a cyberdeck can alleviate.

Naturally, the Chat also covered more technical aspects of cyberdeck design. There was quite a bit of discussion about powering these custom machines, and whether or not internal batteries were even a necessary design consideration. In keeping with the survivalist theme, [cyzoonic] included 18650 cells and an integrated charger, while [Io Tenino] is content to use a standard USB battery bank. Ultimately, like most aspects of an individual’s cyberdeck, the answer largely depended on what the user personally wished to accomplish.

[Io Tenino]’s Joopyter comes from a decade that never existed.
As you might expect with [Back7] in attendance, there were also several questions about the logistics of using a Pelican case as the enclosure for your build. Different techniques were discussed for mounting hardware within the case without compromising its integrity, such as gluing your fasteners to the inside of the case, or 3D printing an internal framework.

Others wondered if the protection provided by these cases was really necessary given the relatively easy life most of these machines will lead, especially given their considerable cost. Although to that end, we also saw some suggestions for alternative cases which provide a similar look and feel at a more hacker-friendly price point.

Though they are certainly popular, Pelican cases are just one option when planning your own build. Many chose to 3D print their own enclosures, and there’s even the argument to be made that the rise of desktop 3D printing has helped make cyberdeck construction more practical than it has been in the past. Others prefer to use the chassis of an old computer or other piece of consumer electronics as a backbone for their deck, which fits well with the cyberpunk piecemeal aesthetic. That said, the Chat seemed in agreement that care needed to be taken so as not to destroy a rare or valuable piece of vintage hardware in the process.

This Hack Chat was a great chance to get some behind the scenes info about these fantastic builds, but even if you didn’t have a specific question, it was an inspiring discussion to say the least. We’re willing to bet that the design for some of the cyberdecks that get entered into the contest will have been shaped, at least in part, due to this unique exchange of niche ideas and information. Special thanks to [bootdsc], [Back7], [H3lix], [a8ksh4], [Io Tenino], and [cyzoonic] for taking the time to share this glimpse into their fascinating community with us.


The Hack Chat is a weekly online chat session hosted by leading experts from all corners of the hardware hacking universe. It’s a great way for hackers connect in a fun and informal way, but if you can’t make it live, these overview posts as well as the transcripts posted to Hackaday.io make sure you don’t miss out.

Load Your Icebreakers, The 2022 Cyberdeck Contest Starts Now

TL;DR: Enter the 2022 Cyberdeck Contest, starting right now!

When William Gibson first described the “cyberspace deck” used by the protagonists in Burning Chrome and Neuromancer, he offered only a few concrete details: they allow the user to explore cyberspace, are generally portable, and more adept owners often modify them to fit their particular needs. Anything else was left to the individual’s imagination, due in no small part to the fact that he author himself didn’t exactly know what the things would look like at the time. Still, not bad for a guy who was hammering it all out on a typewriter at the time.

Build your deck like Gibson is watching, because he is.

Now 40 years later, fact has caught up with fiction. The hacker and maker community have embraced the cyberdeck idea in a big way, and we’ve been blown away by the incredible creativity that goes into these bespoke computing devices.

Which is why we’re happy to announce the first, but very likely not the last, 2022 Cyberdeck Contest. Impress the judges with your Sprawl-ready rig, and you could claim one of three $150 USD Digi-Key shopping sprees to help fund your next cyberpunk masterpiece. You’ve got until Sept. 30, 2022.

So what is a cyberdeck, exactly? That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer, but since we’re running a contest here, we’ll have to give it a shot…

It needs to be a computer of some sort, certainly. It should also serve a practical purpose; as impressive as your cosplay prop might be, we’re really looking for functional devices here. Nominally that means it will have a keyboard and some kind of display, but  figuring out how it all connects and what form the components will take is where things get interesting.

Above all, it needs to be personal. What would your dream computer look like? What features would it have? There’s no right or wrong answer here — a good cyberdeck should be a reflection of the person who built it, and no two should ever be quite the same.

Need some inspiration? Not to worry, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve seen dozens of these custom machines over the last couple of years if you need some help to get moving in the right direction.

Continue reading “Load Your Icebreakers, The 2022 Cyberdeck Contest Starts Now”

Want A Break From Hardware Hacking? Try Bitburner

If you ever mention to a normal person that you’re a hacker, and they might ask you if you can do something nefarious. The media has unfortunately changed the meaning of the word so that most people think hackers are lawless computer geniuses instead of us simple folk who are probably only breaking the laws meant to prevent you from repairing your own electronics. However, if you want a break, you can fully embrace the Hollywood hacker stereotype with Bitburner. Since it is all online, you don’t even have to dig out your hoodie.

The game takes place in 2077 where, apparently, people are still using green monochrome terminals and writing JavaScript code. Who knew? The operating system is suspiciously Linux-like with commands like alias, cat, cp, kill, and the like. We were nonplussed that in 2077 they’re still using vim, but you can use nano. We always thought real hackers would be emacs users. Our machine only starts out with 8 MB of RAM, too. Good think you can virtually buy more.

We won’t quibble that cls is a synonym for clear or that you use help instead of man. It is, after all, a game. This means you don’t have to feel bad using the buy command to purchase a program on the virtual dark web, either. Hey, if you can shoot bad guys in an FPS game, why can’t you do business with fake cyber-criminals. Why should Grand Theft Auto players have all the fun?

You know how in a video game you are a much better shot and can sustain a lot more damage than you probably can in real life? The same principle applies here. Using the scan-analyze command helpfully tells you how many open ports connected computers have and how much hacking skill it will require to break in. That’d be handy in real life, we bet.

We did think it was bad form that the tutorial admonished us for not entering the commands it wanted us to. What kind of hacker wouldn’t try something else? Anyway, it’s probably a better diversion than whatever Facebook or phone game your friends are wasting time with. It probably doesn’t impart any real hacking skills, but not everything has to be useful.

If you want a game that might teach you something, try the Bash crawl adventure. Or, go write and play some BASIC games in your browser.

Home Automation Terminal With Cyberpunk Style

The OLKB-Terminal designed by [Jeff Eberl] doesn’t have a battery, can’t fold up (even if it seems like it could), and is only portable in the sense that you can literally pick it up and move it somewhere else. So arguably it’s not really a cyberdeck per se, but it certainly does look the part. If you need to be furiously typing out lines of code in a dimly lit near-future hacker’s den, this should do you nicely.

[Jeff] has provided everything you’d need to recreate this slick little machine on your own, though he does warn that some of the hardware decisions were based simply on what he had on-hand at the time, and that better or cheaper options may exist. So for example if you don’t want to use the Raspberry Pi 4, you can easily swap it out for some other single-board computer. Though if you want to change something better integrated, like the LCD panel, it will probably require modifications to the 3D printed components.

The rear electronics tray offers plenty of room for expansion.

The slim mechanical keyboard that [Jeff] used for the OLKB-Terminal, which in some ways set the tone for the whole design, is actually a completely separate open source project from [Victor Lucachi]. The VOID30 is a 3D printed, 30% handwired ortholinear keyboard that runs the popular QMK firmware on an Arduino Pro Micro. He’s implemented a couple tweaks, namely using a USB-C equipped Arduino clone, but otherwise it’s the same as upstream. So if you’re not in the market for a little bedside cyberpunk terminal but love its sleek keyboard, you’re in luck.

Software wise, [Jeff] has the OLKB-Terminal hooked into his larger Home Assistant system. This gives him an attractive status display of the whole network, and with just a tap on the terminal’s seven inch touch screen, he’s able to directly control devices around the home. That said, at the end of the day it’s just a Raspberry Pi, so it could really run whatever you want.

While cyberdeck builds might be all the rage right now, we do appreciate projects that bring those same design tenets to the desktop. From the gorgeous faux-retro designs of [Oriol Ferrer Mesià] to modernized pieces of vintage hardware, truly personal computers that can be easily upgraded and repaired don’t have to be limited to something you can lug around with a guitar strap.

Heavy Metal Cyberdeck Has An Eye Towards Expansion

Whether we’re talking about Gibson’s Sprawl or our increasingly dystopian reality, one of the defining characteristics of a cyberdeck is that it can be easily customized and upgraded over time. While a few of the builds we’ve covered over the last couple of years have focused more on style than substance, we really appreciate the designs that embrace the concept of modularity to make sure the system can evolve to meet the changing demands of hacking on the go.

To that end, the M3TAL from [BlastoSupreme] is a perfect example of what a cyberdeck should be. Naturally it’s got the cyberpunk aesthetics we’ve come to expect, but more importantly, it’s designed so modifications and repairs are as quick and painless as possible. The trick is the use of a 2020 aluminum extrusion frame, which allows external panels and components to be attached anywhere along the length of the deck using T-Nuts. Similarly, by mounting internal components to “sleds” that ride between the pieces of extrusion, the electronics can easily be removed or swapped out as complete modules.

The M3TAL is currently outfitted with a Raspberry Pi 4 and a pair of 26650 batteries.

Furthering the idea of expandability, [BlastoSupreme] included an authentic 3.5 floppy drive on the M3TAL that allows him to pack an incredible 1.44 MB onto each rugged and portable disk. OK, so maybe the floppy drive isn’t terribly impressive compared to 2021 tech, but it does seem oddly appropriate for a cyberdeck. On the opposite side of the deck there’s a RetroCART slot, which cloaks modern USB devices in clunky faux cartridges. This provides a unified physical format for everything from removable storage to microcontrollers and software defined radio receivers.

Continue reading “Heavy Metal Cyberdeck Has An Eye Towards Expansion”

Three-Piece Cyberdeck Plays The Role Of Military Computer That Never Was

While we’re not at all sick of the cyberdeck movement yet, we do have to admit that some of the builds we see are starting to fall into categories that are beginning to seem a little familiar. The clamshell aesthetic comes to mind, but really, with spaces for a display and a keyboard, the form factor is pretty much a natural for cyberdecking. Which is why we like this three-piece twist on the cyberdeck concept so much.

Like many cyberdeck builds, inspiration for the awesomely mustachioed [Max]’s deck came from the military surplus world. As the story goes, he has a smallish clamshell case that once held radio tools and supplies for the Bundeswehr. Figuring it would make the perfect case for half of a split keyboard, he tracked down a couple more of the sturdy aluminum cases and got to work. As a mechanical keyboard aficionado, [Max] already had PCBs that would fit into two of the cases, so he populated those with suitably clicky switches, came up with cool-looking faceplates, and connected the two boxes with retractile cables. The third case got a Raspberry Pi 4 with a trimmed-down heatsink, a battery and power management, and a generous touchpad and LCD panel display. A Kali Linux install completes the tacticool look.

The three-piece cyberdeck looks very cool when all wired up together, but [Max] needed one more piece to really sell it. So he 3D-printed a slipcase for all three units; painted in military colors and suitably distressed, the whole thing really just works. We’ve seen a lot of cyberdecks lately in all sorts of styles, but this one really pleases.

Continue reading “Three-Piece Cyberdeck Plays The Role Of Military Computer That Never Was”

Overall view of Alta's Projects cyberdeck

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

[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.

Continue reading “Cyberdeck Running On Apple Silicon, Though An A12 Not An M1”