[Love Hultén]’s latest piece of interactive art is the SYNTH#BOI, a super-clean build with something of the semi-cyberdeck, semi-vintage computing vibe to it. The device is a combination synthesizer and visualizer, with a 15-inch display, MIDI keyboard, and based on an Intel NUC i5 small form factor PC.
There are not many details about the internal workings of the device, but the high quality of the build is very evident. Photos show a fantastic-looking enclosure with clean lines and sharp finish; it’s a reminder that careful measuring and attention to detail can be the difference between something that looks like a hack job, and something that looks like a finished product.
Watch the SYNTH#BOI in action in the video, embedded below. And if the name [Love Hultén] seems familiar, it’s probably because we featured his VOC-25 “Pink Denture Synth”, a concept instrument with a decidedly memorable design of its own.
Over the last couple of years the cyberdeck community has absolutely exploded. Among those who design and build these truly personal computers there are no hard rules, save perhaps making sure the final result looks as unconventional as possible. But one thing that’s remained fairly consistent is the fact that these machines are almost exclusively powered by the Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately, that means they often leave something to be desired in terms of raw performance.
But [MSG] had a different idea. His cyberdeck still has the customary Raspberry Pi inside, but it also has an i7 Intel NUC that can be fired up at the touch of a button. He says it’s the best of both worlds: an energy efficient ARM Linux platform for mobile experimentation, and a powerful x86 Windows box for playing games working from home. It’s the hacker equivalent of business in the front, party in the back.
With a KVM connected to the custom Planck 40% mechanical keyboard and seven inch LCD, [MSG] can switch between both systems on the fly. Assuming he’s got the juice anyway; while the Raspberry Pi 4 and LCD is able to run on a pair of 18650 batteries, the cyberdeck needs to be plugged in if he wants to use the power-hungry NUC. If he ditched the Pi he could potentially load up the case with enough batteries to get the Intel box spun up, but that would be getting a little too close to a conventional laptop.
The whole plurality theme doesn’t stop at the computing devices, either. In addition to the primary LCD, there’s also a 2.13 inch e-paper display and a retro-style LED matrix courtesy of a Pimoroni Micro Dot pHAT. With a little Python magic behind the scenes, [MSG] is able to display things like the system temperature, time, and battery percentage even when the LCD is powered down.
Apple’s computers have been well regarded over the years for their sharp design features. Of course, something that’s great can only be cuter and cooler if it’s made even smaller. In just that vein, [Gary Olson] whipped up a 54% scale iMac G4.
The iMac G4 was the futuristic-looking flatscreen model, and the direct successor to the original CRT-based iMac. Unlike other projects that run Raspberry Pis or simply fit iPads inside, [Gary] elected to go for a Hackintosh-based build. The system runs Mac OS X on a Intel NUC kitted out with a Core i3 CPU. While it’s not a genuine PowerPC, using OS X fits the proper G4 aesthetic. The build relies on 3D printed components, with the scale size largely chosen to suit the size of [Gary’s] printer and the Intel NUC motherboard. [Gary] goes into detail explaining what was required to get the paint finish right and how to make the hinges stiff but movable.
Released in 2002, Apple’s iMac G4 was certainly a unique machine. Even today, its hemispherical case and integrated “gooseneck” display is unlike anything else on the market. Whether or not that’s a good thing is rather subjective of course, but there’s no denying it’s still an attention grabber nearly 20 years after its release. Unfortunately, it’s got less processing power than a modern burner phone.
Which is why [Tom Hightower] figured it was the perfect candidate for a retrofit. Rather than being little more than a display piece, this Intel NUC powered iMac is now able to run the latest version of Mac OS. He even went as far as replacing the display with a higher resolution panel, though it sounds like it was dead to begin with so he didn’t have much choice in the matter.
The retrofit starts off with a brief teardown, which is quite interesting in itself. [Tom] notes a number of unique design elements, chief among them the circular motherboard. The two banks of memory also use different form factors, and only one of them is easily accessible to the end user. Something to think about the next time somebody tells you that Apple’s “brave” hardware choices are only a modern phenomena.
There was plenty of room inside the iMac’s dome to fit the NUC motherboard, and some extension cables and hot glue got the computer’s rear panel suitably updated with the latest-and-greatest ports and connectors. But the conversion wasn’t a total cakewalk. That iconic “gooseneck” put up quite a fight when it was time to run the new wires up to the display. Between the proprietary screws that had to be coerced out with a Dremel to the massive spring that was determined to escape captivity, [Tom] recommends anyone else looking to perform a similar modification just leave the wires on the outside of the thing. That’s what he ended up doing with the power wires for the display inverter.
For the majority of hacker and maker projects, the miniature computer of choice these last few years has been the Raspberry Pi. While the availability issues that seem to plague each new iteration of these extremely popular Single Board Computers (SBCs) can be annoying, they’ve otherwise proven to be an easy and economical way to perform relatively lightweight computational tasks. Depending on who you ask, the Pi 4 is even powerful enough for day-to-day desktop computing. Not bad for a device that consistently comes in under a $50 USD price point.
But we all know there are things that the Pi isn’t particularly well suited to. If your project needs a lot of computing power, or you’ve got some software that needs to run on an x86 processor, then you’re going to want to look elsewhere. One of the best options for such Raspberry Pi graduates has been the Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC).
NUCs have the advantage of being “real” computers, with upgradable components and desktop-class processors. Naturally this means they’re a bit larger than the Raspberry Pi, but not so much as to be impractical. If you’re working on a large rover for example, the size and weight difference between the two will be negligible. The same could be said for small form-factor cluster projects; ten NUCs won’t take a whole lot more space than the same number of Pis.
Unfortunately, where the Intel NUCs have absolutely nothing on the Raspberry Pi is price: these miniature computers start around $250, and depending on options, can sail past the $1,000 mark. Part of this sharp increase in price is naturally the vastly improved hardware, but we also can’t ignore that the lack of any strong competition in this segment hasn’t given Intel much incentive to cut costs, either. When you’re the only game in town, you can charge what you want.
But that’s about to change. In a recent press release, AMD announced an “open ecosystem” that would enable manufacturers to build small form-factor computers using an embedded version of the company’s Ryzen processor. According to Rajneesh Gaur, General Manager of AMD’s Embedded Solutions division, the company felt the time was right to make a bigger push outside of their traditional server and desktop markets:
The demand for high performance computing isn’t limited to servers or desktop PCs. Embedded customers want access to small form factor PCs that can support open software standards, demanding workloads at the edge, and even display 4K content, all with embedded processors that have a planned availability of 10 years.
It’s somewhat rare to be able to witness the birth and subsequent evolution of a technology, at least on a short enough time scale to appreciate it, but right now we’re lucky enough to see it happening within the burgeoning community of cyberdeck builders. We’ve seen an absolute explosion of cyberdeck projects in the last year or so, but this latest entry from [Tinfoil_Haberdashery] truly pushes the state of the art forward. Short of actually transmitting your consciousness into the Matrix, we’re not sure how much closer you could get to William Gibson’s original vision.
The design is based around a split ergonomic keyboard, with an Intel NUC in the center and a 1920×1200 IPS panel on a tilting mount off to one side. Since the display started its life as a DSLR monitor it doesn’t have a touch panel, but those who’ve yet to master a mouse-free workflow will be happy to know there’s a touch pad built into the lid of the NUC. Thanks to a clever dovetail joint, the deck also separates in half if you want to put some more space between your hands, or just to make the whole thing slightly less intimidating while carrying it on your back through the Sprawl.
Power is provided by a custom 18650 battery pack running at 18 V that [Tinfoil_Haberdashery] (naturally) assembled with a homemade spot welder. He’s included both buck and boost converters so the cyberdeck can be powered with a wide array of voltages should he find himself in need of some juice in the field. To maximize battery life he’s also worked in a relay to cut power to the monitor when the NUC is sleeping, and there’s a physical master switch that can completely disconnect everything for long periods of inactivity.
There are probably few parents who haven’t watched their kids sitting on the floor, afloat on a sea of LEGO pieces and busily creating, and thought, “If only they could make a living at that.” But time goes on and kids grow up, and parents soon sing the same refrain as the kids sit transfixed by the virtual equivalent of LEGO: Minecraft.
Finding a way to monetize either LEGO or Minecraft is a bit difficult for the young enthusiast; combining both obsessions into a paying proposition would be a dream come true. [Mike Schropp] did it, and this Minecraft-themed LEGO computer case was the result. Intel wanted a LEGO case for their new NUC mini-PC motherboard, and as a sponsor of the Minefaire event, the case needed to be Minecraft themed.
[Mike] chose the block that any Enderman would choose: the basic grass block. Each of the ten cases he made for the show had about 1000 of the smallest LEGO pieces available, to recreate the texture of the grass block in all its faux 8-bit glory. The 4″ x 4″ (10cm x 10cm) 8th Gen NUC board was a great fit for the case, which included slots for ventilation and SD card access, plus pop-out covers to access the board’s ports. It’s not exactly a screamer, but playing Minecraft on a grass block made from LEGO bricks is probably worth the performance hit.
We’ve seen [Mike]’s work a time or two here, most recently with a full-scale LEGO rack-mount server. Our hats off to him for another fun and creative build, and for proving that you’re never too old to LEGO. Or Minecraft.