In the seven years since the Raspberry Pi was first launched to an expectant audience we have seen many laptops featuring the fruit-themed single board computers. Some of them have been pretty jaw-dropping in their quality, so for a new one to make us stop and gape it needs to be something really special. On cue, here comes [Igor Brkić] with one of the neatest efforts we’ve seen, a high quality Pi laptop that’s smaller in frontal area than many smartphones.
At its heart is a Pimoroni Hyperpixel touchscreen HAT, and a Pi sitting behind it that has been stripped of all bulky connectors to reduce its height. The keyboard is a mini Bluetooth affair, and power comes courtesy of a deconstructed USB power bank with a lithium-ion pouch cell. The whole is contained within a neatly designed 3D-printed clamshell enclosure, making for a tiny and very neat laptop. We want one, and now you probably do too. (We wouldn’t say “no” to some level shifters and a GPIO port…)
An essential tool of many sysadmins is a portable terminal ready to plug into an ailing rack-mounted server to administer first aid. At their simplest, they are simply a monitor and keyboard on a trolley, but more often they will be a laptop pre-loaded with tools for the purpose. Sysadmins will hang on tenaciously to now-ancient laptops for this application because they possess a hardware serial port.
[Frank Adams] has taken a different route with his emergency server crash cart, because while he’s used an old laptop he hasn’t hung onto it for its original hardware. Instead, he’s used a Teensy and an LVDS driver board to replace the motherboards of two old Dell Latitude laptops, one of which is a simple KVM device and the other of which is a laptop in its own right featuring a Raspberry Pi 3. He’s produced a video as well, which we’ve placed below the break.
There was a time when laptop display panels were seen as unhackable, but the advent of cheap driver boards has meant that conversions such as this one have become a relatively well-worn path. The job he’s done here is a particularly well-executed one though, making good use of the generous amount of space to be found in an older business-class laptop. There isn’t a battery because this application doesn’t demand one, however, with the battery compartment intact it does not seem impossible that a suitable charger/monitor board could be included along with a boost converter to provide his 12V supply.
This isn’t the first Pi laptop in a re-used commercial machine’s case we’ve seen, there was also this Sony Vaio.
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.
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.
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.
Ever since the Raspberry Pi was released to an eager public just over five years ago there is one project that seems to have been tackled more frequently than any other using the small computer from Cambridge: that of making a laptop with Pi for brains. Perhaps you feel you have had your fill of Pi laptops both good and bad, but it’s still a project that can bring up some surprises.
[Archie Roques] is a young maker from Norwich, UK, and at the Raspberry Pi birthday party in early March he had rather an unusual laptop. He’d done the usual thing of mating the official Pi screen, a bluetooth keyboard/touchpad, Pi, and battery, but as always it’s the detail that matters. His case is a carefully designed sandwich of laser-cut plastic that somehow manages the impossible task of containing all the laptop internals while not being too bulky.
For power he at first used a 4 AH LiPo cell from a dead tablet with a Pimoroni LiPo power board, but since he hit problems with the Pimoroni board supplying both screen and Pi he’s switched to an off-the-shelf power bank. Unusually this laptop also has built-in audio, using another Pimoroni product, their speaker pHAT.
Where this laptop has a flaw though is in the display hinges. He has plans for a beautifully made 3D printed hinge, but for now he’s using a piece of tape, which though functional does not add to the aesthetic. When we saw it in Cambridge the keyboard was fitting more snugly than it does in the photos on his write-up, so perhaps he’s fixed some of its issues. Despite the in-progress hinge it’s a very usable little Pi laptop, and though (Hint, [Archie]!) he hasn’t yet published the design files for it, we’re sure when he does we’ll see other people building the same machine. They won’t be quite as exclusive as [Archie]’s model though, while he was in Cambridge he managed to get it signed by [Eben Upton], founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation and judge for the 2017 Hackaday Prize.
If you were to go back to the middle years of the twentieth century and talk to electronic constructors, you would find a significant number had a cigar box radio among their projects. Cigar boxes were fairly robust, readily available, and could easily accommodate the parts required to make a crystal set or a simple one-tube regenerative receiver. These days there isn’t much attraction to a simple AM radio though, so while they can still be fun to build, the cigar box radio only occupies a niche in vintage radio circles.
Cigar boxes, however, remain. [Mike] found a very nice antique cigar box, and made something unexpected, he put a Raspberry Pi in it and made something close to a laptop. Into the lid goes an LCD screen secured with wooden blocks, while in the body of the box goes the LCD controller, Pi 3, and battery charger and PSU modules. There are two sets of cells, one each for screen and Pi.
We like the idea and we like his write-up for its clear run-down of the modules required even though it’s mostly a plug-together build. We described it as “Something close to a laptop” because it has one glaring omission. He’s using an external keyboard rather than having incorporated one within the case. We think there looks as though there is plenty of room for one, so perhaps he’ll return to the project and upgrade it in that way. For reminding us that cigar boxes can make excellent laptop cases though, we’re thankful.
We’ve seen a variety of home-made laptops using the Raspberry Pi and other single board computers over the years. Usually, they combine off-the-shelf USB keyboards and trackpads with HDMI monitor panels, and cases made from layered laser cut sheet, or 3D printed plastic.
[Surferboy]’s Raspberry Pi laptop is the latest effort to come before us, and its claim to fame is the use of the official Raspberry Pi 7″ touchscreen as a display. Full instructions and 3D printer files are available on Thingiverse so you can have a go at replicating it if a portable Pi is your thing.
He’s taken the bold step of not attempting to place all the Pi’s interfaces next to the outside of the case. Instead, he’s desoldered the Ethernet and USB ports. The USB connections were wired directly to the keyboard, display, and a couple of external ports on the right-hand side of his case. This leaves the finished laptop with no Ethernet. However, losing ethernet is a worthy tradeoff for the thinner package.
[Surferboy] also brought the GPIO header to a female socket on the rear of the unit. It’s unclear exactly what battery he uses except for a reference to the battery from his keyboard. Since a keyboard battery will be too small for Pi and display we are guessing a larger pack will be necessary.
Though the Ethernet port and battery issue would probably be a dealbreaker here this has the makings of a useful and compact laptop, it will be interesting to see if it is picked up and refined by the community.