When we first saw the PZ1 laptop — a 6502 laptop-style computer with a small display and 512K of RAM — we couldn’t help but think of the old AIM 65 computer from Rockwell, although that only had 1K of memory. The other thing the AIM didn’t have was an ancillary microcontroller to help out that is way more powerful than the main processor.
There are actually several versions of the PZ1 and you can find some very detailed information over on Hackaday.io and GitHub. Recently, [Adam] release version 2.0 and tested some PC boards that are working well.
You might have already seen the pretty pictures in pastel colors online — a small netbook-like computer with a full-size keyboard. This, while a render, is what the MNT Pocket Reform is going to look like. Reminiscent of the netbook aesthetic in all the right ways, it’s a small device with a mechanical keyboard taking as much space as possible, trackball for navigation, and we assume, exactly the kind of screen that’d be comfortable to use.
We’ve reviewed the MNT Reform a year ago, and this device inherits a lot of its good parts. The motherboard’s connectivity is likely subject to change, but on the motherboard renders, we can spot three USB-C ports, a Micro HDMI port, a microSD card slot, ix Industrial Ethernet, and M.2 B-key and M-key slots for WWAN and SSD cards respectively.
If you expected computational specs, there isn’t really a specific CPU+RAM configuration announced – for a good reason. The Pocket Reform takes advantage of the CPU card concept designed into the MNT Reform – able to take a card with an NXP i.MX8M CPU, Raspberry Pi CM4, Pine SOQuartz, a Kintex-7 FPGA, or any of the cards yet to be developed. The design files are open-source, the prototype motherboards have been ordered, mechanical usability aspects have been worked through. This is a very compelling project, and we can’t wait to see it bear fruit!
[Carter’s] build is a prototype that allows him to try out the form factor and use it as a daily driver, so many decisions were made to speed up the build and get something functional. For example, rather than spend the time tweaking and printing his own keyboard, he used an off-the-shelf keyboard he knew he liked. While a framework motherboard would have been perfect for something like this, they, unfortunately, weren’t available when [Carter] started the build. So [Carter] used a used gaming laptop for the task. He had hoped to drive the display directly from the motherboard as many laptops use embedded DisplayPort internally. Unfortunately, this didn’t work as the motherboard didn’t support the resolution he was trying to drive at, so he just used the external port to drive the screen. A 3d printed base fits underneath the keyboard to hold the laptop motherboard with little extensions for bits that don’t work well, such as the wifi card. The chassis also has a slot that allows a secondary display to slot right in.
Ultimately, it is something of a modern-day typewriter and something like a cyberdeck. Either way, we love it. Video after the break.
If you’ve been following the latest advancements in computing for a while, you already know that there’s a big problem with laptops: When they’re no longer useful as a daily driver, it can be a struggle to find a good use for all its parts. Everything is proprietary, and serious amounts of reverse engineering are required if you decide to forge ahead. This is where Framework, a laptop company building modular laptops comes in. They’ve made it clear that when you upgrade your Framework laptop with a new mainboard they want you to be able to continue to use the old mainboard outside of the laptop.
To that end, Framework have provided 2D mechanical drawings of their mainboard and 3D printable cases that can of course be modified as needed. “But what about peripherals?” you might ask. Framework has provided pinouts for all of the connectors on the board along with information on which connectors to use to interface with them. No reverse engineering needed!
While it’s possible to buy a mainboard now and use it, their stated goal is to help people make use of used mainboards leftover from upgrades down the line. With just a stick of memory and a USB-C power adapter, the board will spring to life and even has i2c and USB immediately available.
What would you do with a powerful Intel i5-1135G7 mainboard? Framework wants to know, and to that end, they are actually giving away 100 mainboards to makers and developers. Mind you this is a program created and ran by Framework — and is not associated in any way Hackaday or our overlords at Supplyframe.
At their best, laptops are a compromise design. Manufacturers go to great lengths to make the slimmest, lightest, whatever-est laptops possible, and the engineering that goes into doing so is truly amazing. But then they throw in the charger, which ends up being a huge brick with wire attached to it, and call it a day.
Does it have to be that way? Probably, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to slim down the overall footprint of laptops at least a little. That’s what [Joe Gaz] did when he hacked his laptop to allow for USB-C charging. Tired of the charger anchoring down his HP X360, [Joe] realized that he could harvest the PCB from a USB-C charger adapter dongle and embed it inside his laptop. We’ve seen similar modifications made to Thinkpads in the past, and it’s good to see the process isn’t that far removed with other brands.
After popping open the laptop, which is always an adventure in reverse mechanical engineering, he found that removing the OEM charger jack left just enough room for the USB-C charger. Mounting the board required a 3D printed bracket, while enlarging the original hole in the side of the laptop case took some cringe-inducing work with a file. It looked like it was going to be pretty sloppy at first, but he ended up doing a pretty neat job in the end. The whole modification process is in the video below.
The end result is pretty slick — [Joe] can now carry a much more compact USB wall-wart-style charger, or eschew the charger altogether and rely on public USB charging stations. Either way, it sure beats lugging a brick around. If you’re interested in laptop hacking, or even if you just want to harvest the goodies from a defunct machine, check out this guide to laptop anatomy by our own [Arsenijs Picugins].
Most of us either own or have used a laptop at some point. For traveling, as a student, or even for browsing Hackaday on the couch in front of the TV, they are pretty much indispensable. They do tend to have a sharp performance reduction compared to a desktop though thanks to the thermal and battery limitations of a portable form factor. [Scott Yu-Jan] wanted to solve that in his own life by building a custom Mac laptop with none of these downsides.
Noticing that a modern iPad Mini has exactly the same width of his Mac Mini, [Scott] set about combining the two devices into a single unit that he could assemble when traveling. A 3D printed case with a traditional laptop clamshell design takes care of physically combining these two devices, and a USB-C cable between the two takes care of combining them in software thanks to Apple’s Duet program. While this has better performance than a Macbook Pro it might actually have some perks, since Apple continues to refuse to make a laptop with a touchscreen.
There are some downsides, of course. The price is higher than a comparable Macbook Pro for the iPad and Mac together, plus it doesn’t include a keyboard or mouse. It also has no battery, so it needs to be plugged in. In the follow-up video linked below, though, [Scott] notes that for him this still made sense as he uses the Mac and iPad individually already, and only works remotely at places that have power outlets readily available. For the average person, though, we might recommend something different if you really need an esoteric laptop-like machine.
Thanks to [Varun] for originally sending in this tip!
Hackaday’s own [Arsenijs Picugins] has been rather busy hacking old laptops apart and learning what can and cannot be easily reused, and presents for the 2021 Hackaday Remoticon, a heavily meme-loaded presentation with some very practical advice.
What parts inside a dead laptop are worth keeping? Aside from removable items like RAM stick and hard drives, the most obvious first target is the LCD panel. These are surprisingly easy to use, with driver boards available on the usual marketplaces, so long as you make sure to check the exact model number of your panel is supported.
Many components inside laptops are actually USB devices, things like touch screen controllers, webcams and the like are usually separate modules, which simply take power and USB. This makes sense, since laptops already have a fair amount of external USB connectivity, why not use it internally too? Other items are a bit trickier: trackpads seem to be either PS/2 or I2C and need a bit more hardware support. Digital microphones mostly talk I2S, which means some microcontroller coding.
Some items need a little more care, however, so maybe avoid older Dell batteries, with their ‘spicy pillow’ tendencies. As [Arsenijs] says, take them when they are ripe for the picking, but not too ripe. Batteries need a little care and feeding, make sure you’ve got some cell protection, if you pull raw cells! Charging electronics are always on the motherboard, so that’s something you’ll need to arrange yourself if you take a battery module, but it isn’t difficult, so long as you can find your way around SMBus protocol.
Older laptops were much more modular and some even designed for upgrade or modification, and this miniaturization-driven trend of shrinking everything — where a laptop now needs to be thin enough to shave with — is causing some manufacturers to move in a much more proprietary direction regarding hardware design.
This progression conflicts with our concerns of privacy, repairability and waste elimination, resulting in closed boxes filled with unrepairable, non-reusable black boxes. We think it’s time to take back some of the hardware, so three cheers to those taking upon themselves the task to reverse engineer and publish reusability information, and long may it be possible to continue.