Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
Hardware Hacking Build Hardware

DIY Laptop 178

Brietech writes "Ever felt like building your own laptop from (almost literally) scratch? This is a microcontroller-based "laptop" built from the ground up from a handful of chips and other hardware found lying around. It runs a self-hosted development environment, allowing the user to write and edit programs in "Chris++" on the machine, and then compile and run them. The carpentry looks like it could use some work, but it's a neat project!"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

DIY Laptop

Comments Filter:
  • right.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    Yes I would like to be able to build a laptop like I build a desktop. A rickedy wooden box with a 20x4 blue & white, backlit LCD is not a laptop. Well I guess you could put it on your lap, but you know what I mean.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Noginbump ( 146238 )
      It is a laptop computer, not a laptop PC.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mikael ( 484 )
      That's something I would like to do as well - having repaired laptops several times (broken LCD fluorescent tube/hard disk drive/inverter circuit/sleep switch), a system that is completely modular would be extremely welcome. Have the LCD display detachable and could be used as a seperate LCD screen (having a video-in socket like monitors have).

      The problem with modern laptops is that the chassis components (brackets/heatpipes/insulators/conductors/shields/ gaskets) are munged together with the electronic com
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      When we all talk about "building" desktops from parts off newegg I'm a little bit reminded of "writing" games by hacking a few lines into some TAs code in an indroductory CS class. While a great many slashdotters understand what their computer is doing, this sort of thing indicates a much deeper understanding than "I need a motherboard, a processor, some RAM, and a videocard."
      • by mastershake_phd ( 1050150 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @11:03AM (#18237314) Homepage
        When we all talk about "building" desktops from parts off newegg I'm a little bit reminded of "writing" games by hacking a few lines into some TAs code in an indroductory CS class. While a great many slashdotters understand what their computer is doing, this sort of thing indicates a much deeper understanding than "I need a motherboard, a processor, some RAM, and a videocard."What are you talking about? Ive got a clean room, photolithography, etching, cleaning, doping and dicing machines in basement. You insensitive clod!
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by CasperIV ( 1013029 )
        "this sort of thing indicates a much deeper understanding" Or it indicates way too much free time.
        • "this sort of thing indicates a much deeper understanding"

          Or it indicates way too much free time.
          I can hardly think of a better addition to your resume when you're applying to any and all EE and CmpE jobs. "Too much free time" my ass, I think you're just jealous.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Cpt_Kirks ( 37296 )
      This reminds me, I need to get back on my "tricorder" project. Since I recently found a complete, pen sized geiger counter for $20 that I can build into it, the tricorder looks more likely.

      Let's see: microcontroller with built-in DSP, EMF sensor, geiger counter, dangerous gas sensors, enviromental sensors, RF sensor. Am I missing anything?

      • X-ray or MRI, lead pants.
      • Some ports for simple electronics, ammeter, voltmeter, the like. Less Star Trek, more useful. Does the "dangerous gas" sensor cover Carbon Monoxide?
      • by jotok ( 728554 )
        This sounds pretty interesting--the DSP most of all. How much storage are you thinking of putting in this thing?
      • by DingerX ( 847589 )
        light meter (I assume by "environmental sensors" you mean temperature/pressure/altitude/compass).

        But, since your project is vaporware, let's consider a sensor package that will genuinely help your "away team" in the most hazardous environments to boost their mission completion rate. That, or to get laid. Same difference

        A) Hydrometer (alcoholometer).
        B) Particulate counter capable of determining both Cigarette Smoke Density and presence/absence of Cannabis.
        C) Pheremone analyzer to determine presence and dis
    • Re:right.... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by fireboy1919 ( 257783 ) <rustyp AT freeshell DOT org> on Monday March 05, 2007 @11:20AM (#18237484) Homepage Journal
      A $50 FPGA can be made to work as a 256 color VGA driver (or any size lcd controller you like), and you can easily get it to accept PS/2 input from a keyboard.

      Then you pick your poison for processors, coprocessors, etc - as long as it fits on the FPGA.

      You have lots of options [].

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Well, then this article isn't for you.

      Personally, I think anyone doing something different and practical like this is fairly interesting however useful (or desirable to ME) the end result might be.

    • You seem have to come to /. by accident, maybe you are attracted to CowboyNeal.

      Go away now, it will be easier on everyone.

      No, don't reply, just go.
    • Wow, feeling a bit bitter today, Mastershake?

      Sure, you are not going to be playing Quake on this thing, but it is a pretty cool accomplishment nonetheless.
      • Guess I wasnt expecting a hobby laptop. Its cool and everything. Perhaps the most impressive is this guy wrote his own programming language to go along with it. I just thought it was a little impractical. I dont know why everyones so sensitive.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rhyder128k ( 1051042 )
      When I were a lad we used to have to build our own laptops.

      (RiscPC one) []

      (Amiga A600 one) []
    • Nice hack! The PIC CPU and 4-AA battery power are nice touches.

      For extra pizazz, how about making a case out of cement, or even 2 rocks?

    • "Yes I would like to be able to build a laptop like I build a desktop."

      Desktops mostly use cases and mobos with standard form-factors.
      It is not the tradition to build modular, easily upgradeable laptops and probably never will be. The quicker an expensive laptop is obsolete the quicker manufacturers can sell a new one. Old lappies go beyond economical repair very easily unless one has a stash of organ donor machines. They are a disposable item.
  • It looks amazing like an old programmable calculator with a real keyboard hacked onto it.

  • Cheater! (Score:3, Funny)

    by qwijibo ( 101731 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:16AM (#18236804)
    He used premade components like chips and LCD displays. That's hardly building a laptop from scratch.

    With a $50 budget, he could have picked up a 486 laptop that would be much more useful. I have a stack of old thinkpads that I paid nothing for and could part with for $50/ea.
    • Hell, my first laptop (more of a "luggable", really) cost $5. I bought it at a hamfest. It was a box of parts taken apart. I took it home, put it back together and it booted up. All that was wrong was one of the floppy drives was dead. I later sold it for $50.

    • by smcdow ( 114828 )
      Yeah, but does your laptops allow me to make up my very own assembly opcodes?
    • You serious about selling those old laptops? I'm interested in one... please email me at a&&reich&ow&at&gmail dot com, removing all instances of the ampersand. Thanks!
    • Re:Cheater! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Slashcrap ( 869349 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @01:16PM (#18239086)
      He used premade components like chips and LCD displays. That's hardly building a laptop from scratch.

      Building a laptop from scratch :

      Step 1: You're going to need some Silicon. A lot of people would say "Just melt some rock" at this point. But that pre-supposes the existence of ready made rock, which would be cheating. So first we're going to induce a supernova in a suitable star.


      Step 51,985: You need some plastic. Plastic is made from oil. Scour one of the planets you created in Steps 9 - 23,492 for aquatic micro-organisms. Once you've found a sufficient quantity of the little bastards, you're going to need to crush them hard. No, really hard. Now leave to stand for around 250 million years.

    • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
      Apparently Dell, HP, and Sony don't make laptops either.
    • by rbanffy ( 584143 )
      If you really wanto to do something from scratch, the first thing to do is to create a universe. That's no trivial task.
  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:22AM (#18236862) Journal
    Hope he doesn't use Sony Batteries. That sucker looks like it could catch on fire.
  • by Sporkinum ( 655143 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:22AM (#18236866)
    So easy, even a cave man could do it!
  • OLPC (Score:3, Funny)

    by JohnnyDoh ( 1057238 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:23AM (#18236880)
    OLPC baby! Give them to the masses.
  • by chrism238 ( 657741 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:24AM (#18236896)
    Your university bookstore sells wood? !
  • by Dimentox ( 678813 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:25AM (#18236898)
    While it may be nothing based on modern laptops, and the title is a bit misleading, i thought it was rather interesting. What was interesting is that he took a proc chip, wrote his own os and compiler. It really was a DIY project. I dont think it needed that big of a box but otherwise it was an interesting find. I would be intrested in if we could really do laptops like we do Desktops, perhaps there is a site out there that has the parts. but over and all this was a interesting find.
    • by Calinous ( 985536 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:31AM (#18236960)
      an OS in 96 bytes of RAM? Bring it on!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by qwijibo ( 101731 )
      While I can appreciate the value of doing something yourself, this seems totally useless. I figure I can find HP48's for $20 if I try hard enough and those are infinitely more practical, portable, and useful. Reinventing the wheel for the sake of being the millionth guy to do it as a cube seems kinda silly.
      • Yeah, no joke! Why do anything "fun" if someone else has done it before? I mean, I'm sure someone else has put videos of such "fun" activities like sex, hiking and even LARPing up for free on the web somewhere. Why waste your time reinventing the fun-wheel when you could just sit back, relax, and experience the "fun" for a lot less work and time?
  • sweet!! a laptop that runs on 4 double A's
  • I had a dream (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:31AM (#18236948)
    I'm a pretty old guy so I'm kind of fed up of waiting for the so-called ubiquitous computing era. I find that modern electronics has piss-poor interoperability, usually by being intentionally crippled. Why can't I use my camera's SD as a USB drive? It's not a camera, it's a computer with a lens. Why can't I get a true handheld computer that can act as a USB host so I can control my camera? Because the stupid application only exists on Win2K and up, not for mobile Windows, and the handheld can't act as a host anyways. Why not? It's just software. Oh but there's USB-on-the-go, a poorly documented USB mode that requires a special cable, but the connectors look the same.

    So why can't there be an industry standard of handheld electronics building blocks? Instead of an iPod, how about an IMod? A cpu block that you can tack on a battery, lens, HD or CF, and headphone amp. Then you create the driving application in some sort of 90's AmigaVision drag-and-drop metaphor.

    Why is it in 2007 there still is such a thing as a seperate cell phone, walkman, camera, and you need a 14 year-old with a PhD to try to get a file from one device to the other?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by wolff000 ( 447340 )
      Money friend it all comes down to money. If things were as inter operable as you described we wouldn't need to buy as many gadgets as we do. The manufacturers aren't going to make things easy for us not in the sense you are talking about. To do that they would lose profit and heaven forbid they don't make their billions. I do feel your pain I am waiting for that day myself. I think by the time it comes I'll be a wrinkled old man and I'm only in my late twenties.
    • by Gryle ( 933382 )
      Because it's easier to milk more money out of Joe Sixpack that way.
    • All-in-one devices have been around for years in various forms. And you know what? They almost all suck. Theres no point in something being able to do 10 things if it does most or all of them badly. When I buy a camera I want a camera. I DONT want a camera come phone come mp3 player come something else. I want to know its been designed from the ground up as a camera and will do that job the best it can and isn't just "a computer with a lens.".

      Also if you're all-in-one super device breaks then you've lost ev
    • by ajs318 ( 655362 )
      It all comes down to money.

      If you can do what you want with your own stuff, the big corporations can't sell you more stuff. Therefore, the big corporations deliberately keep you from using your stuff how you want to. And your 14-year-old with a Ph. D. is a dangerous criminal!
    • Why can't I use my camera's SD as a USB drive?

      I do that frequently. Under Linux.

      All the camera's I've played with lately will either act like a USB thumb drive, or allows me to stick the SD (or whatever) drive into an adapter.

      Mount the camera as a USB disk, copy out all the old pictures (usually jpeg files), erase them from the camera, copy data files to the camers, etc.

      Just because Windows makes things hard, doesn't mean it has to be that way.
    • by abradsn ( 542213 )
      These things are all available. You just need to pay for them. That means if you want more stuff and/or more features, then cough up the cash.
  • Even though I expected the screen to be a tad bigger and Chris++ to be a bit more high level...

    ...imagine a Beowulf cluster of these cigar boxen!!!1!!1

  • More DIY Laptops (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wehe ( 135130 ) <[wehe] [at] []> on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:37AM (#18237010) Homepage Journal
    There is an interesting overview of guides to make a do-it-yourself laptop [] at Repair4Laptop. If you don't want to build it completely from scratch you can consider to make it as a so-called barebone or white box laptop. Barebones are also featured in a separate section of the overview.
  • by TigerNut ( 718742 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:37AM (#18237012) Homepage Journal
    Your laptop with its "modern" $(OS) spends about 99% of its CPU cycles supporting itself. What we're seeing here could be viewed as an attempt to improve the cycles-for-the-user ratio, if nothing else. If just I want to add a couple of numbers together or edit a document, do I need, or should I have to pay for, the ability to simultaneously have an MPEG movie playing in the background?

    Stripping a computer back to its bare essentials is an art. Real hot rods don't have air conditioning. Real computers don't need 3GHz CPUs, 2GB of RAM, and a 500 watt power supply to present an interactive user interface.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by RattFink ( 93631 )

      If just I want to add a couple of numbers together or edit a document, do I need, or should I have to pay for, the ability to simultaneously have an MPEG movie playing in the background?

      I don't know about you but if I want to add numbers together I use a $9 calculator. Granted you cannot edit a document on a calculator but it's quite unlikely you can in 96 bytes of ram.
    • Amen; you are 100% on target...
  • Ugly baby (Score:5, Funny)

    by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:52AM (#18237200) Homepage

    It's sort of like when a friend or relative introduces you to their new baby and you wonder how they managed to get that giant head on that thing, only you can't really say that without hurting their feelings because everyone thinks their baby is the most beautiful one ever. In reality it's just a baby and some of them are not all that attractive, especially to people who don't have or want kids. Which the preface to my comment about that laptop: I'm sorry, but that's just one butt ugly computer.

  • by plcurechax ( 247883 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:55AM (#18237230) Homepage
    The PICAXE [] is in essence a Microchip PIC [] microcontroller with a custom bootloader to load programs into memory and execute them on reboot/reset.

    I was sort of expecting a general CPU, even if a vintage chip like the ZiLOG Z80 [], MOS Technologies' 6502 [], Motorola's 6800 / 6802, or intel's 8088 / 8086 microprocessors.

    It seems more suited to O'Reilly's MAKE magazine [] and their blog, then on Slashdot.
    • by mnmn ( 145599 )
      He says budget is tight. So I'd expect something like an ARM7 chip which is more general purpose and has way more kick per dollar.

      Even if he does have to use PICs, he could use PIC18 or PIC24. A single pic however has way more coolfactor.
    • by Alioth ( 221270 )
      Vintage? I'm building a Z80 single board computer on a 160x100mm ('Eurocard') PCB. The Z80 CPU (a 'classic' 40 pin DIL packaged thing, which would happily plug into a ZX Spectrum from 1982) was manufactured only 6 months ago!

      The Z80 is still made. It's a great chip for small embedded projects where you want a real computer rather than a microcontroller.
  • Neat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wolff000 ( 447340 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @10:55AM (#18237240)
    It may not win in looks, or processing power, or graphics, or any thing for that matter but it was a neat project. They guy spent some real time piecing things together with chips instead of just using a mini itx board. The fact he made his own language to program it is a definite plus. It isn't something I would make myself but a nice DIY project none the less. I don't quite get what all the complaints are about even if it is a glorified calculator he built it himself. When was the last time any of you built something starting with just a handful of chips?
    • I did this in collage. Of course I didn't take the time to attach a keyboard, write my own program language and put it in a wooden box. Mine had to be hooked up to a computer so that I could program it and it only had 4 input buttons(you could write a program and get it to do like binary math or something). I always wondered if someone seen it on the street if it was dropped if they would think it was a bomb, small box with a tiny lcd display blinking with wires hanging out(mine had the wires hanging out
    • Making your own language eh - that's a legal minefield right there for a start. Does anyone at SCO know about this?
    • If you think that's cool, check this [] out. A homebrew CPU made out of 74 series TTL chips. You can even telnet to it if it's not too busy :-) There are some other ones out there, but this is the one I enjoy looking at the most.
  • It would be just as easy to use a FPGA with a SoC on it and get something more powerful ( and useful ). Its also pretty easy to make a case out of *gasp* plastic, instead of wood.

    Large VGA screens are obtainable on the hobbiest market.

    But hey, he looks like he was bored and wanted to do something from scratch.. more power to him.
    • How do you go about making a plastic case? I've made DIY laptop-type case things out of wood and cardboard, housing a PDA and a PDA keyboard in the laptop form factor and I'd love to find out about some better materials for the actual casing. How could I make a plastic case for one of my little beasties? I know that Ben Heckeldorn (sp) pulls it off, but he seems to have some serious skills in this area as well as access to very specific materials and machinery needed for such work. How can I do this withou
      • If the components are light enough, you could make a vacuform case with clever application of a shop-vac, some wooden blocks with holes drilled in 'em, and an oven...
  • I'm sorry but it won't run Windows Vista because it doesn't have the mouse.
  • I don't care for the looks but I think the project as a whole is quite impressive, to get the essential bits to work together and roll your own software is quite a rare project!

    Keep it up!
  • Good job (Score:2, Informative)

    by chord.wav ( 599850 )
    Seems like afrotech has some serious competition []
  • Geez, 96 bytes of RAM? Who would ever need more than 64 for anything?

    I notice you have the ability to actively work in 4 text documents at once. I'm sure you'll be hearing from Microsoft's attorneys shortly.

    Kidding aside, that's really an amazing accomplishment: congratulations!
  • With just a little bit bigger budget one could build something that more approximated a real laptop.

    There are plenty of 32 bit MCU (Microcontroller unit) with ALU (Arithmetic logic unit) that have a lot of bonus features built on the chip like: Ethernet, USB, LCD, etc.

    Though, you also get some things you would not get with a general laptop like GP IO pins, pins that could detect if a device was on or not, these same pins could be used to activate/deactivate devices as well. Most would have several AD/DA (
    • by Alioth ( 221270 )

      Either way why reinvent the wheel there are plenty of embedded OS out there.

      I dunno... perhaps it's *fun*?

      I'm making a Z80 based single board computer right now. I get replies to my journal entries such as "You shouldn't try to make your own double sided PCBs, get a to make one for you" and other such things. But these comments *completely* miss the point. I'm making my own double sided PCB because I want to make my own double sided PCB, it's really no more complex than that (and the fact it cos

      • That's certainly true. But, does what he has done make a story worthy of being a Slashdot story? I have done far more ambitious projects both on the hardware and on the software level and I don't get a big write up in Slashdot, No.

        Learning should be what it is all about I agree. But, if someone learns how to make a circular queue using a link list made up of pointers in C++ he should be happy for himself but is it something that deserves accolade from the computer community? No, I don't think so. This i
        • I voted this one up in absence of more interesting DIYs. I would certainly vote your project up if you made a post in your journal and submitted it. Speaking of which, Hey, way to go man! Congratulations on your project.
          However, if it is too advanced and ambitious, we probably won't get any interesting details about it, nor we would get any "How I did it" instructions or tips, right? Consequently, the fun factor goes down.

          My suggestion for maintaining structural stability: do what deep sea life does: fill t
        • The point I was making was that people were ragging on the guy for doing the project at all, and that he was "wasting his time". Not that the project was more worthy than some other.

          Have you made a web page about your project?

          Have you submitted a link to Slashdot?

          Slashdot's stories are generated by what people _submit_. Your project will get exposure via the FireHose if you merely write journal entries about it.

          There IS room on Slashdot for projects like this, which are simple and can be taken on by beginne
  • At first, the idea was interesting. Then I read the details and capabilities of the device and it struck me as a huge waste of time. Buy a PSP, it is smaller, more powerful, and undoubted cheaper. That it is not as customizable (the only feature the article's system had in abundance) is more than made up for by the fact that it can be hacked, and is an order of magnitude more powerful than this post apocalyptic future version of the Osborne.
    • by Alioth ( 221270 )
      Did he have fun making it? Then it wasn't a waste of time at all. I've seen about half a dozen comments so far, like yours - which completely and utterly miss the point of the project.

      I'm making a Z80 based single board computer. Could I just buy a gumstix or ARM development board or whatever and do it quicker and have more CPU power? Of course. But then _I_ wouldn't be designing and making the computer. Why use a Z80? Because I like the Z80. No other reason. If I'm enjoying the project it's not in any way
  • I can't help but wonder what the guy's motivation is to spend time developing something the size of an attache case with about the same processing power as a pocket calculator.

  • ought to be worth a half brownie-point at least. next time, VAX-in-a-handheld? the only problem would be the 8-inch boot floppy for VMS ;)
  • It's kinda neat. It takes some skill involved to go past your typical Basic stamp + push buttons + LCD - he added a PS/2 keyboard and wrote a simple interpreter. Not too bad.

    Is this newsworthy though? It's just a basic stamp... with an LCD and a PS/2 keyboard. It's programmed in Basic for chris sakes. Some OS.

    Slow news day ;-)
  • Given the freedom to build any portable computer of their choosing, to build what everyone wants: a tablet computer with just an LCD and no buttons, to build exactly what everyone knows Steve Jobless is going to do in the future but no-one is doing today: a tablet computer with just an LCD, humans choose to immitate exactly the same creation that every corporation is putting out now: a folding keyboard and LCD. The lengths to which they go out of their way to immitate their corporations is unbelievable.
  • by BillX ( 307153 )
    Ok, looks like the rest of the free world is going to bitch "u wasted ur time d00d, my fone/486/ti85 can do that!", but it looks like it was a fun project, not to mention educational. How many /.ers have actually *built* a working computer with UI from discretes? (I'm not talking about "I plugged in an IDE cable, Pentium AND videocard!")

    Typically, one uses a low-level language to develop an interpreter or compiler for a higher-level language. What I find most interesting about this project is its creator ha

VMS must die!