Laptop with Raspberry Pi Inside Learns to Speak Battery

Early in November we took a look at a one of the best Raspberry Pi laptops we had ever seen, using the shell of a Sony VAIO. Laptops used to be hulking beasts, and that played into [Frank Adams’] hands as he got rid of the motherboard and had enough space to replace it with a Raspberry Pi and a few other support boards. This took advantage of the laptop’s screen, keyboard, LEDs, etc. But what’s a laptop without battery power? [Frank] hadn’t cracked that nut until now.

Inside of Sony VAIO laptop turned Raspberry Pi computer
VAIO battery and charging PCB seen to lower left

Adding battery power is trickier that it sounds, but [Frank] managed to get the Raspberry Pi to talk to the original Sony VAIO internal battery. His work on the project is shared, but this part of the story is best found starting on page 29 of his PDF project details.

Using the original battery is a good move since it’s designed to fit and has a charger ready to interface with the port on the laptop case. But these batteries have logic inside them, and there’s the rub. Communications use the 2-wire System Management Bus (SMBus) which is well documented. But the when trying to use the Pi’s I2C [Frank] couldn’t figure out to send a repeated start command.

He ended up writing his own C program that bit-bangs the communications he needed and now has the Pi speaking to the battery and listening to what it hears coming back. Reading through his description of this is fun since he includes his observations from a logic analyzer captures. He suspects an occasional bad read is due to Linux interrupting code execution. He watches for and catches these bad reads in software and can now reliably read all the battery vitals.

The hack leaves him with a system that functions in much the same way the original computer did: plug it in and it charges. He did add some hardware that lets him take a voltage reading from the battery using an ADC on the Teensy that was already present to control the keyboard and case LEDs. This adds a small constant draw on the battery, but for now he doesn’t leave the battery connected when the laptop is not in use.

If you’d like to read our original coverage of this laptop, here it is.

The VAIO WIth A Pi Inside

Raspberry Pi laptops are not an uncommon sight, as many hardware enthusiasts have shoehorned the tiny board behind LCD panels into home-made cases.

[Frank Adams] has created one of the best Pi laptops we’ve ever seen, (for which we suggest you skip straight to the PDF). He’s removed the guts from an aged Sony VAIO laptop and replaced it with the fruity computer, alongside a Teensy to handle VAIO keyboard, buttons, and LED I/O via the Pi USB port. An M.NT68676 video board interfaces the VAIO display to the Pi HDMI, and a USB to SATA cable is connected to a 240Gb solid state hard drive. The laptop’s Wi-Fi antenna is routed to the Pi via a soldered on co-axial connector, and there is also a real-time clock board. There are a few rough edges such as a USB cable that could be brought inboard, but it’s otherwise well-integrated into the case. His write-up is a very comprehensive PDF, that should serve as a good primer to anyone else considering such a laptop conversion.

The result is a laptop that looks for all the world like a commercially produced machine, yet that is also a Raspberry Pi. In a strange way, a Sony laptop is an apt homecoming for the board from Cambridge, because other than red soldermask or very early Chinese-made models, all Raspberry Pi boards are made in a Sony factory in Wales. Whatever the donor laptop though, this is definitely a step above the run-of-the-mill Pi laptops. To see its competition, take a look at this very ugly machine with a bare LCD panel, or this laser-cut sandwich laptop.

MagSafe Power Bank from Scrap

Just a few short years ago, it was possible to find scrapped lithium batteries for free, or at least for very cheap. What most people at the time didn’t realize is that a battery with multiple cells might go bad because only one cell is bad, leaving the others ready for salvaging. Now it’s not a secret anymore, but if you can manage to get your hands on some there’s a lot of options for use. [ijsf] took a step further with this hack, taking a few cells from a Panasonic battery and wrangling them into a MagSafe-capable power bank for a Mac.

The real hack wasn’t scavenging batteries, however, it was getting the MagSafe to signal the computer to use power from the battery bank to run the computer only, and not to use any of that energy for charging the computer’s internal batteries. This is achieved by disabling the center MagSafe pin, which is the computer’s communication line to the power adapter. After that, the battery bank could be programmed to behave properly (a feat in itself for lithium batteries) and the power bank was successfully put into operation.

Not only was this hack a great guide for how to repurpose cells from a “dead” battery, it’s also an unparalleled quick reference for any work that might need a MagSafe connector. Of course, if you’re going to work with these chargers, make sure that you’re using one that isn’t a cheap clone.

A Wii U That Is Both Computer And Console.

Legendary sudomod forum user [banjokazooie] has once again demonstrated their prowess in Wii U console modification — this time by transforming it into a powerhouse portable computer!

We loved [banjokazooie]’s RetroPie Wii U mod, and happy to see them back again with this build.  What’s in this thing this time around? Buckle up ’cause it’s a ride: an Intel M5 processor core M on their Compute Stick, 4GBs RAM, a 64GB solid-state drive, a 2K LCD touchscreen, Bluetooth, WiFi, a 128GB SD card slot, two 3.7V 4000 mAh batteries, a Pololu 5V,6A step-down voltage regulator, a Teensy 2.0++ dev board, a battery protection PCB, a USB DAC sound card, stereo amp, a USB hub for everything to plug into, and a TP5100 battery charging board. Check it out!

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Wooden Laptop Enclosure: New Life for Old Thinkpad

Technology is designed to serve us and make our lives better. When a device gets outdated, it is either disposed of or is buried in a pile of junk never to be seen again. However, some individuals tend to develop a certain respect for their mechanical servants and make an effort to preserve them long after they have become redundant.

My relationship with my first laptop is a shining example of how to hold onto beloved hardware way too long. I converted that laptop into a desktop with a number of serious modifications which helped me learn about woodworking along the way. Maybe it’s more pragmatic to just buy new equipment. But you spend so much time each day using your devices. It is incredibly satisfying to have a personal connection that comes from pouring your own craftsmanship into them.

Why the Effort?

IBM Thinkpad R60 via Notebook Review

The laptop in question is an IBM R60 which I lugged around during the first three years after I graduated. It was my companion during some tough times and naturally, I developed a certain attachment to it. With time its peripherals failed including the keyboard which housed the power switch and it was decided that the cost of repair would outweigh its usefulness.

Then came the faithful day when I was inspired to make something with the scrap wood that had accumulated in my workshop. This would be my second woodworking project ever and I did not have the professional heavy machinery advertised in most YouTube videos. Yet I had two targets in mind with this project.

  1. Make the R60 useful again.
  2. Learn about woodworking for creating enclosures for future projects.

Armed with mostly hand tools, a drill and a grinder that was fitted with a saw blade, I started with the IBM R60 to all-in-one PC mod. Following is a log of things I did and those I regret not doing a.k.a. lessons learned. Read on.

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HP Laptops Turn Up Keylogger Where You Wouldn’t Expect It

Keyloggers are nasty little things that have the potential to steal the credit card numbers of you and everyone you care about. Usernames and passwords can be easily stolen this way, so they’re a useful tool for the black hats out there. One would generally expect to find a keylogger in a dodgy movie torrent or perhaps a keygen for pirated software, but this week a keylogger was found in an audio driver for an HP laptop.

The logger was found by Swiss security researchers modzero. The Conexant HD Audio Driver Package version 1.0.0.46 and earlier apparently logs keystrokes in order to monitor things like the laptop’s volume up and down keys. The real killer here is that it feels the need to log all keystrokes detected to a readily accessible file, for reasons we can’t possibly fathom. It’s a huge security risk, but it doesn’t stop there – the driver also exposes the keystrokes through an API as well, creating an even wider attack surface for malicious actors. One can in principle access the keystroke log remotely.

There’s no word from the company yet, but we really want to know – why save the keystrokes to a file at all? Code left over from debugging, perhaps? Speculate in the comments.

Hands on with the Pinebook

The Pine A64 was a 64-bit Quad-Core Single Board Computer which was kickstarted at the tail end of 2015 for delivery in the middle of 2016. Costing just $15, and hailed as a “Raspberry Pi killer,” the board raised $1.7 million from 36,000 backers. It shipped to its backers to almost universally poor reviews.

Now they’re back, this time with a laptop—a 11.6-inch model for $89, or a 14-inch model for $99. Both are powered by the same 64-bit Quad-Core ARM Cortex A53 as the original Pine A64 board, but at least Pine are doing a much better job this time around of managing user expectations.

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