The bottom half of a MacBook Air on a purple and pink background has severed wires drawn out of its back to indicate its lack of a screen.

Are Slabtops The Future Of Computing?

The most popular computer ever was the Commodore 64 with its computer-in-a-keyboard form factor. If you have a longing for a keyboard computer with more modern internals, one of the easiest solutions today is to pull the screen off a laptop.

[Umar Shakir] wanted to see what the fuss was about regarding a recent Apple patent and took the top lid off of his M1 Macbook Air and turned it into a “slabtop.” The computer works great wired to a monitor but can also be used wirelessly via AirPlay. The approach doesn’t come without its downsides, of course. Newer MacBooks can’t access recovery mode without the built-in screen, and some older models had their WiFi antennas in the top lid, so making one into a slabtop will leave you desk-bound.

While [Shakir] focuses on MacBooks, this approach should work with any laptop. Apparently, it’s a cottage industry in China already. Back in the day, my own daily driver was a Pentium-powered laptop with its broken LCD (and lid) removed. It worked great with whatever CRT was nearby.

If you’re looking for an off-the-shelf keyboard computer of your own, you might want to check out the Raspberry Pi 400.

A widescreen slate-style cyberdeck with a small keyboard sits in front of a cassette deck stereo. Headphones sit to the left of the deck and an old Casio calculator watch is to the right.

2022 Cyberdeck Contest: QAZ Personal Terminal

The slabtop form factor has had a resurgence in the cyberdeck community, and [Greg Leo] has designed the QAZ Personal Terminal to be about as small as a slabtop could be while still having full-sized keys.

Since the device is using a 35% QAZ keyboard as its primary input device, [Leo] has helpfully given a quick overview of how text is input in the video below. Coupled with that surprisingly popular 4:1 LCD screen we’ve seen elsewhere, this cyberdeck looks like a modern interpretation of a TRS-80 Model 100. The Banana Pi powering the QAZ Personal Terminal is running Debian with spectrwm, a tiling window manager making arranging windows a breeze with either a mouse or keyboard. The integrated mouse layer on the keyboard means you don’t need a separate mouse at all if you don’t want to spoil the 1980s mobile chic.

[Leo] has another video all about doing calculus on this cyberdeck with the math shortcuts integrated into the keyboard. Fractions, exponents, and common Greek letters are demonstrated. We can see this being a really great note-taking device for engineering and math courses if you wanted something more portable than a laptop.

It’s hard to get very far hacking without a little math. For more math-focused input devices, check out the Mathboard or the MCM/70.

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