A Dual Screen Luggable With Integrated RTL-SDR

It’s been fascinating to watch the development of bespoke mobile computers go from a few sheets of foam board and a Raspberry Pi into hardware that looks like it’s actually been transported here from an alternate reality. Granted a Raspberry Pi is more often than not still onboard, but the overall design and construction techniques of these very personal computers has improved by leaps and bounds.

The latest of these cyberdecks, a dual screen “luggable” reminiscent of classic computers like the Compaq Portable or Kaypro, comes our way from [dapperrogue]. Powered by the Raspberry Pi 4 and featuring a scratch-built mechanical keyboard to perfectly fit the machines’s specific dimensions, this is easily one of the more practical builds we’ve seen. As visually striking as they may be, few would argue that the small offset display that seems characteristic of most decks are ideal from a usability standpoint.

While the keyboard plate was milled out on a CNC, [dapperrogue] says the design of the HDPE body panels and rear polycarbonate viewing window were simple enough they could be done by hand on a band saw. The PETG internal frame uses a Voronoi pattern that not only reduces the amount of time and material required to print it, but maximizes airflow. The fact that it looks like some kind of alien biological life form only helps the retro-futuristic aesthetics.

There’s still plenty of room inside the enclosure, which is good, as [dapperrogue] says there’s more goodies to come. Adding internal battery power is a logical next step, and now that the Pi 4 can boot to external drives, and SSD is also on the list of future upgrades.

For readers who might be getting a sense of déjà vu from this project, [dapperrogue] notes this design was inspired by the phenomenal Reviiser that [Dave Estes] released earlier this year.

Hackaday Links: May 31, 2020

We begin with sad news indeed as we mark the passing of Marcel van Kervinck on Monday. The name might not ring a bell, but his project, the Gigatron TTL computer, certainly will. We did a deep dive on the microprocessor-less computer a while back, and Marcel was a regular at conferences and on the Gigatron forums, supporting users and extending what the computer can do. He was pretty candid about his health issues, and I’ll add that when I approached him a few weeks ago out of the blue about perhaps doing a Hack Chat about Gigatron, he was brutally honest about how little time he had left and that he wouldn’t make it that long. I was blown away by the grace and courage he displayed. His co-conspirator Walter Belger will carry on the Gigatron mission, including joining us for a Hack Chat on June 24. In the meantime, this might be a great time to pick up a Gigatron kit before they’re all sold out and get busy soldering all those delicious through-hole TTL chips.

May of 2020 is the month that never seems to end, and as the world’s focus seems to shift away from the immediate public health aspects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the long-term economic impact of the response to it, we happened across a very interesting article on just that topic. Mike Robbins from the Circuit Lab has modeled the economic impact of the pandemic using analog circuit simulations. He models people as charges and the flow of people between diseases states as currents; the model has capacitors to store the charge and allow him to measure voltages and filters that model the time delays needed for public policy changes to be adopted. It’s a fascinating mashup of engineering and policy. You can play with the model online, tweak parameters, and see what you come up with.

One of the things that the above model makes clear is that waiting to fully reopen the economy until a vaccine is ready is a long and dangerous game. But there has at least been some progress on that front, as Massachusetts biotech firm Moderna announced success in Phase 1 clinical trials of its novel mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. It’s important to temper expectations here; Phase 1 trials are only the beginning of human testing, aimed at determining the highest treatment dose that won’t cause serious side effects. Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials are much more involved, so there’s a long way to go before the vaccine, mRNA-1273, is ready for use. If you need to brush up on how these new vaccines work, check out our handy guide to mRNA vaccines.

In happier news, the “moar memory” version of the Raspberry Pi 4 is now on sale. Eben Upton announced that the 8GB version of the Pi 4 is now available for $75. The upgrade was apparently delayed by the lack of an 8GB LPDDR SDRAM chip in a package that would work in the Pi manufacturing process. They’ve also released a beta of a 64-bit version of the Raspberry Pi OS, if you’re interested in a bleeding-edge flex.

And finally, for those who missed the first wave of the computer revolution and never had a blinkenlight machine, you can at least partially scratch that itch with this Internet-connected Altair 8800. Jesse Downing has written a queueing system that allows users to connect to the machine via ssh and use Microsoft BASIC 5.0 on CP/M. Need to see those glorious front panels lights do their thing? Jesse has kindly set up a live stream for that, with an overlay of the current console output. It’s a great way to relive your misspent youth, or to get a taste of what computing was like when soldering skills were a barrier to entry.

Raspberry Pi 4 Gets Its 8 Gigs

What began as a rumor becomes reality. This morning [Eben Upton] announced that the newest flavor of the Raspberry Pi 4 comes with 8 gigabytes of RAM and a sticker price of $75, roughly twice that of the base model which is now pegged at 2 GB of ram.

Originally released on June 23rd of last year, the Pi 4 came with three different options for 1, 2, or 4 GB of memory. But just a few days later, Hackaday reported on an Easter egg in the user guide that referenced an 8 GB option.

So why didn’t this version get released in 2019? That’s the crazy thing about this story. In the announcement [Eben] mentions that the Pi’s design is capable of addressing up to 16 GB of LPDDR4 SDRAM (we say bring it, but that’s a discussion for a different day). It took a year to get here because there wasn’t a source available for this 8 gig version until Micron began manufacturing the chip earlier this year.

Also addressed in this announcement is a looming changeover that was bound to happen eventually: the move from 32-bit to 64-bit operating systems on the Pi. While a 32-bit image can access all of this larger memory across multiple process, it can’t devote more than 3 GB to a single Linux process because of address space limitations. Simply put, you need more bits to access the higher addresses. Moving to a 64-bit system accomplishes that, something you can do by running unofficial builds on the Pi, but the official build didn’t support it until today’s announcement of a 64-bit beta image.

This is inevitable, not purely because of this memory limitation, but because we’ve seen examples where the juggernaut of Linux development has its own eye on a 64-bit future. Official images for Raspberry Pi have always been 32-bits, and remain so for now, but the wind is beginning to blow for this and future hardware offerings that are bumping up against limitations. Along with the news of this impending architecture switch over, the official operating system has also gotten a name change: Raspbian will henceforth be known as Raspberry Pi OS.

When [Jenny List] first reported on the 8 GB rumors last June, she speculated that today’s announcement would happen on February 29th of this year. Why the leap day? It happened to be the 8th birthday of Raspberry Pi and synced up nicely with an 8 GB surprise. Today’s announcement drops the morsel of trivia that the foundation was indeed planning on that date, but missed it by three months due to supply chain disruption associated with the coronavirus pandemic that prevented them from sourcing all the parts necessary for the new power supply design included in this revision.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this move. Do you need 8 GB on your Pi, and does the 3 GB limitation of a 32-bit kernel matter to you? Let us know in the comments below.

Heavyweight Cyberdeck Is In A Class Of Its Own

Inspired by other builds he’d seen online, [BlastoSupreme] decided to build his very own cyberdeck. There was only one problem: he’d never designed and assembled anything like this before. Wanting to avoid any problems down the line, he reasoned that the safest approach would be to make it so big that he wouldn’t struggle to fit everything inside. Some may say the resulting NX-Yamato, named for the most massive battleship ever constructed, ended up being too large. But that’s only because they are afraid.

A finish like the Yamato’s doesn’t come easy.

In his write-up on The Cyberdeck Cafe, a site dedicated to the community sprouting up around these futuristic personal computers, [BlastoSupreme] describes building this cyberdeck as something of a transformative experience. Looking at the incredible effort that went into this project, we can believe it. From the intricate CAD work to the absolutely phenomenal finish on the Yamato’s 3D printed frame, there’s not a cut corner in sight.

That’s right, nearly every component of this cyberdeck was conjured into existence by squirting out hot plastic. About two kilograms of it, to be precise. It was printed in vertical chunks which were then assembled with adhesive and screws. This modular construction technique allowed [BlastoSupreme] to build what he believes to be the largest cyberdeck ever made. Sounds a lot like a challenge to us.

Admittedly, the massive internal volume of the Yamato is largely unused; all that’s inside it right now is a Raspberry Pi 4 and a X705 power management board that allows the deck to run off of 18650 cells. Of course, all that space could easily be put to use with additional gear or even a larger and more powerful Single Board Computer (SBC) such as the Atomic Pi. There’s even a dedicated compartment in the side for snacks, so no worries there. As [BlastoSupreme] puts it, all that empty space inside is a feature, not a bug.

Plenty of room inside for whatever hardware you want to take with you into the Sprawl.

In the nearly two years that have passed since we first came across one of these Neuromancer inspired builds, we’ve been absolutely blown away by the increasing scale and complexity of these extremely personal computers. Since it seems there’s only a fairly loose idea of what a “proper” cyberdeck should look like in the canonical sense, these builds have been free to fill in the blanks with some pretty outlandish designs. Some of which have earned William Gibson’s personal seal of approval.

Hackaday Podcast 056: Cat Of 9 Heads, Robot Squats, PhD In ESP32, And Did You Hear About Sonos?

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys gab on great hacks of the past week. Did you hear that there’s a new rev of the Pi 4 out there? We just heard… but apparently it’s release into the wild was months ago. Fans of the ESP8266 are going to love this tool that flashes and configures the board, especially for Sonoff devices. Bitluni’s Supercon talk was published this week and it’s a great roadmap of all the things you should try to do with an ESP32. Plus we take on the Sonos IoT speaker debacle and the wacky suspension system James Bruton’s been building into his humanoid robot.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~60 MB)

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Raspberry Pi 4 Offers Up 2 GB For The Price Of One

The Raspberry Pi 4 represents a significant performance increase over previous generations, unlocking potential applications that were simply beyond the abilities of these diminutive Single Board Computers (SBCs) in the past. Some would even argue that the Pi 4, with a quad-core Cortex-A72 running at 1.5 GHz, now holds its own as a lightweight ARM desktop computer for those interested in finally breaking free from x86.

In light of the considerable upgrade in processing power, the choice to outfit the base model Pi 4 with just 1 GB of RAM always seemed a bit odd. So it’s little surprise that the Raspberry Pi Foundation has decided to shift things around and lower the price of the 2 GB model to the traditional $35. In a blog post this morning, Eben Upton said that with RAM prices falling over the last year, the company thought it was time they passed the savings onto the customer.

This change comes just two days before the Pi’s 8th birthday. There has been speculation that the Pi 4 is capable of operating with 8 GB of RAM and unveiling that news to coincide with this anniversary would have been a clever marketing move. Alas, it looks like we’ll have to continue to wait.

For those who are invested in the 1 GB model, have no fear. Rather than delete the product from the lineup entirely, the company will be keeping it available for anyone who needs it. So if you’ve got a commercial or industrial application that might not take kindly to the hardware getting switched out, you’ll still have a source of spares. That said, the pricing for the 1 GB model won’t be changing, so there’s no cost advantage to using it in new designs.

Combined with news that compatibility issues the Pi 4 had with generic USB-C power supplies was fixed with an under the radar board revision, it seems there’s never been a better time to upgrade to the latest and greatest version of everyone’s favorite Linux board. Happy Birthday, Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi Slips Out New PCB Version With USB C Power Fix

When the Raspberry Pi people release a fresh model in their line of fruity single board computers, it’s always an event of great interest. The Raspberry Pi 4 brought some significant changes to the formula: they moved to mini micro HDMI and USB-C power sockets, for instance. The early adopters who scored one of those Pi 4s were in for a shock though, if they had all but the most basic USB C power cables the device wouldn’t power up. Now the Register has news that they have slipped out with little fanfare an updated version of the board containing a fix for this problem.

Our colleague Maya Posch delved deeply into the USB C specification and delivered a pithy analysis at the time which demonstrated that the fault lay with the configuration of the sense resistors used by intelligent USB C power sources to determine what power to supply. For the addition of a single surface mount resistor the problem need never have existed, and we’re guessing that’s how they fixed it.

There’s no need to despair should you have one of the older boards, though. They will still work as they always have done with the so-called “dumb” power supplies and cables, and meanwhile we’re sure that future Pi boards will have had a lot of attention paid to their USB power circuitry.