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Portables Hardware Hacking Hardware Build

Building a Laptop Enclosure To Last (makezine.com) 116

An anonymous reader writes: Build quality is a characteristic many people value in laptop design, but one that often goes unrepresented on a spec sheet. Over at Make, Kurt Mottweiler took build quality to the next level with his laptop enclosure design, which replaces the typical plastic clamshell with a wood veneer filled with e-glass cloth and cork composite. The article shows his build process in detail. Quoting: "The LCD panel and main enclosure components are assembled using vacuum bag clamping techniques. After assembling the layers of the panels at the glue station, the assembly is transferred to the molding station where it is put into a seamed bag and sealed up with a roller rod and clamps. Then a special vacuum pump is used to evacuate the bag and allow atmospheric pressure to clamp the layers together while the epoxy binder cures. ... To increase the strength, improve heat dissipation, and enhance the aesthetic properties of the Heirloom's main enclosure, I chose to use an undulating shape across the width of the bottom panel. The slight wave provides a semi-monocoque structure that stiffens the otherwise flat section of the case while providing for a measure of air flow across the bottom of the case."
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Building a Laptop Enclosure To Last

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Outside of the Kaypro or the Compaq luggable, this is the largest laptop I have seen!

    • It comes with a trailer.
    • That's the cost of having a modular/replaceable inside.

      Normal laptop are very thin, because they're custom built to try to cram everything as tightly as possible.

      This laptop enclosure is bigger so, no matter which donnor laptop you choose, you still have room to disassemble the laptop and screw everything isinde the wooden enclosure.

    • You want a Popeye arm, haul around the original Apple laptop or, even better, the Commodore SX-64...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seems like milling a case out of aluminium would have more qualities that are necessary for a portable device

    • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )
      If you want it to last, titanium.
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @12:45PM (#51314093)

    ... who wants a laptop that will last? What happens when new processors [slashdot.org] and technology come out and you've got to scrap your investment in aesthetics?

    • by oakgrove ( 845019 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @12:53PM (#51314127)

      Doesn't look like it'd be much trouble (relative to building this in the first place) to replace the innards every 3-5 years or so if you felt the need. Besides, the open-source Novena computer designed by Bunnie Huang and Sean Cross that this is built to enclose has as one of its goals a "requirement for user access to the internal components" so I'm guessing being able to upgrade iteratively is kind of the idea.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        "Replace the innards" doesn't work for most laptops as each laptop line is engineered as an assembly based on the components that are considered necessary at the time. Fifteen years ago laptops would have needed a floppy diskette drive, a CD-ROM drive, a 2.5" hard disk drive, PS/2 port, 15-pin SVGA, a 9-pin RS-232 serial port, a dual-slot PCMCIA slot, and an RJ11 socket tied to an internal modem. Some machines would have had a 25-pin Parallel port too.

        Now, we need SSD, USB, 802.11 wireless with interna
        • by oakgrove ( 845019 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @01:57PM (#51314419)

          "Replace the innards" doesn't work for most laptops

          This isn't "most laptops". This is a custom hand built enclosure for an open source computer[1] designed specifically to be user upgradable. Your entire comment makes no sense in the context of this article.

          [1] [kosagi.com]http://www.kosagi.com/w/index.... [kosagi.com]

          • by TWX ( 665546 )
            Open architectures have been tried in portable computers before. I have one sitting under my desk at work, a 100MHz Pentium that was sold through a local vendor much in the same way that ATX for tower PC cases and NLX for desktop "pizza box" PC cases were open. At the time proprietary portable computers were larger than they are now and this was a little larger still, but is probably smaller than the wood-case portable featured in the article.

            The size needed to make an open architecture, let lone fully
          • There's a reason user-upgradeable portable computers isn't really a thing. It doesn't make sense. There's no advantage to it economically or ergonomically.

            • There's no advantage to it economically or ergonomically.

              You make the same oversight as your sibling poster. Remember, context. Neither of the options present represent the motivations of the creator of the laptop enclosure referred to in the article.

              I endeavored to make the Heirloom design as successful as possible given the large scale of the challenge and very small scale of production. It in no way addresses issues of consumer-grade design or production. Each of these computers is essentially a one-off project. I believe the Heirloom accomplishes most of the goals I set for the project and should serve users well both as an unusual, useful tool and as a unique, if very small, part of computer design history.

              Emphasis mine.

        • With modern seat pitches flights are anon-sequitur, as it's unsafe to use any laptop.
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      I do and I pay $3500 for it.
      Panasonic toughbook. I can beat someone to death with it and it will still work perfectly. I have thrown it 15 feet into the back of a pickup truck without worry just to freak out guys on the worksite.

      And the US military agrees with me as they use toughbooks.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Oh so you're the guy who bought it. We had been wondering.

      • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

        SSD? Or is it just that good at reducing the shock to the hdd? Even parked I don't know of any laptop hdds that would handle that.

        • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

          Previous one was HDD, and they come with a half inch super soft rubber isolation all around the hard drive. current one that I throw regularly is an SSD.

    • by Tx ( 96709 )

      I get the feeling it's built more as a curiosity/collector's item than something anybody is going to use on a daily basis now, much less into the future. No mention of the weight, but the thing looks huge and costs $5000, so I suspect whichever desks it gets parked on, it's staying there. In this age of thin, light devices, I really can't see many people wanting to heave that behemoth around. And as a curiosity or collector's item, it doesn't really matter much how future-proof it is.

    • Technology has long surpassed most people's computing requirements. There's currently no "killer app" that requires a leap in processing power or other resources. Build quality and longevity are reasonable selling points. If you want something small and trendy, there's always the tablet. If you have to have the latest white hot technology, there's always Alienware and the like.

      I recently did an ssd upgrade on my nine year old Latitude, and it still fits my needs. The hardware or case will fail long before

      • Well, most people only want to use computers for the things that currently available computers can do. That has been true for as long as I can remember.

        I remember thinking that a 50 MHz 486 was easily fast enough for everything that one could possible want to do with a personal computer, except for a few things that crazy people suggested we should do, like watching TV-quality videos, or running software in a web browser. Soon enough, Intel launched faster CPU:s. Some of those crazy people wrote software th

        • Computers made ten years ago will do the things that currently available computers can do, with a vanishingly few exceptions. Currently available computers can't do 100% of current things either. ("cost effective" computers and high end games, for instance.) I'm writing this on a seven year old Dell laptop. My computer at home is a ten year old motherboard in an enclosure from the turn of the century. Yet I make a small living as a photographer running the current Adobe suite on that machine.

          There are

          • The thing is, it no longer matters how much money we throw at making CPU:s and GPU:s do more computations per unit of energy. The laws of physics and the manufacturing technique (lithography) dictate that 4 or 5 GHz is pretty much the limit.

            There are people who want faster CPU:s and GPU:s for crazy things like virtual reality games, but they're not getting faster chips anytime soon, so those ideas will have to wait, or will have to be adjusted down to what the hardware can do. Maybe it's okay for VR games t

          • If you're a professional photographer working on a 10-year-old motherboard, you're really doing yourself a disservice. The small investment to current-generation CPU would save you an enormous amount of time.

            • If that recent machine has integrated video, you're doing a greater disservice for the same reason.

              • I disagree. For one thing the integrated video now sits under the CPU heatsink and fan, so no more risk of overheating or dying or whining fan.
                For another thing, the integrated video is very fast today, actually better than many graphics cards and is not a drain on the CPU at all considering it sits on some hugely fast internal bus and fairly accesses the memory controller (or L3 on Intel). Integrated graphics was deemed good enough for PS4 and Xbox One.

                • For another thing, the integrated video is very fast today, actually better than many graphics cards and is not a drain on the CPU at all considering it sits on some hugely fast internal bus and fairly accesses the memory controller (or L3 on Intel).

                  For both Intel and AMD, integrated video can only manage to beat low-end graphics cards within the same generation. Throw large, GPU-bound loads on it and then it will be quite clear why dedicated GPUs exist.

                  Integrated graphics was deemed good enough for PS4 and Xbox One.

                  Only if you forget that their CPU's were significantly faster than retail equivalents. While AMD sold them a fast APU, the Rest of Us (including myself) could only get a lesser A10 7850K.

              • The integrated video is now capable of running multiple high-res monitors. It's entirely valid for office work including photography stuff.

                I wouldn't want to do gaming or full-on 3D CAD work, but for just about anything else it works just fine (and draws substantially less power than an external video chip, which is nice in a laptop).

            • Might be a socket AM2 motherboard with an AM3 processor in it. Takes a now mediocre quad core that is still reasonable, 8GB memory or even up to 16GB as 4GB sticks of DDR2 exist and pretty much only run on that platform. Else it might be an Intel (post-Pentium 4) with up to 8GB memory.

              It's running Windows so the graphics card runs fast and stable whether it's wildly outdated or from 2010 or later. Takes any storage, hard drives and all. An SSD if present is stuck at less than 300MB/s but who cares, and you

    • Funny you should mention that. I built a computer case in 1999 out of wood. It's quite crappy by my crafting skills today but I still have it. It has otherwise very modern guts in it.

      That is a problem with laptops where things are built to be small, but if you make something yourself you can make it in a way that is upgradable.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        I have an IBM PC Case (Model 5150) with modern guts. I had to do some sheet metal work to the back to fit modern motherboard I/O ports, the power supply, etc. But yes, laptops are small and there are few standards for board sizes. One approach to upgrading a laptop might be to stick a Raspberry Pi where the old system board was

    • I want a laptop that would last. I haven't needed a new processor (on a laptop) in... I don't know. It doesn't take much CPU power to render a webpage, or operate a text editor, or even to compile anymore.

  • I don't know how durable it will actually be, but it sure looks nice.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Composites are physically very strong, and the use of epoxy rather than polyester will improve the lifespan. Still, composites yellow in UV light (particularly if the binder isn't designed to be UV stable, but to some degree even if it is) and the binder becomes more brittle. Also while they're strong (as in resistance to breakage) they're not hard (as in Mohs hardness), so they can still get scratched up. There are some scratch resistant coatings one could use (to varying degrees of effectiveness), but

      • Composites are physically very strong, and the use of epoxy rather than polyester will improve the lifespan.

        That's the thing...I rarely keep a laptop for more than 4 or 5 years so the durability of the case usually isn't an issue. But to have one in a gorgeous, stabilized wood case with some rich-looking wood grain, that would be pretty nice.

  • Or... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @12:58PM (#51314155) Homepage

    How I Built an Heirloom Laptop

    Or: How I have money and time than you

    • More, dammit. More money and time. See, I don't even have time to preview my Slashdot posts.

      • Re: Or... (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Don't worry, ADD is common these

    • by TWX ( 665546 )
      Woodworking itself isn't all that expensive if you already have the tools. I had to buy some maple when we were rebuilding a TV-show prop and the 8' hardwood boards were like $15 each if memory serves.
      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        Woodworking itself isn't all that expensive if you already have the tools. I had to buy some maple when we were rebuilding a TV-show prop and the 8' hardwood boards were like $15 each if memory serves.

        And that's why you learn where your local makerspace is. Because they will often have all the tools for you to use for a nominal membership fee. Good ones will have metalworking tools as well, and the fancy ones have CNC and laser cutters for use, as well.

        As well as having people who know people who can get yo

  • but I'm still going to have to replace it when the power jack dies :).
  • I doubt people are really valueing that much a strudy laptop enclosure when the hardware it contains is so cheap to acquire and replace. Your smartphone is propably more expensive than your laptop. But, who knows, perhaps people are still listening at this marketing bullshit.
  • Instead of just software bugs I now I have worry about real bugs destroying my laptop.

  • Missed the boat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argee ( 1327877 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @01:13PM (#51314241)

    I think the fellow has met HIS goals, but they miss the boat.
    The main cause of laptops dying is spills on the keyboard and the underlying electronics.
    The broken ones I have seen involve damage to the LCD screens. Neither of these
    scenarios are addressed by THIS wood/composite design.

    It appears the gentleman mainly designed for drop resistance, rather than spill and
    LCD strikes. He has sought for a problem to the solution he proposes.

    Lastly, most laptops end up discarded not because of damage, but because their
    innards are obsolete. His insides are not upgradeable; the bulky case has limited
    interior space and is not modular. The materials used are impact resistant but they
    have to be made and formed by hand.

    • by Dwedit ( 232252 )

      Since the core 2 duo, processor speed hasn't gotten much faster. Just the GPUs from that era are really old, so GPUs are more likely to go obsolete than CPUs at this point.

      But yeah, take a Sandy Bridge and a Skylake and you couldn't tell them apart.

    • Lastly, most laptops end up discarded not because of damage, but because their
      innards are obsolete. His insides are not upgradeable; the bulky case has limited
      interior space and is not modular. The materials used are impact resistant but they
      have to be made and formed by hand.

      The innards are from the Novena project [crowdsupply.com], which appears to specifically allow hardware upgrades. And while the interior space may be limited, do you actually expect future components to be increasing in size?

  • by H0p313ss ( 811249 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @01:17PM (#51314263)

    But it might make the top ten.

  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @01:35PM (#51314327) Homepage

    I thought I saw a TV news segment back in the 1980's that the GRiD Compass laptop was designed to withstand being run over by a tank. With an $8,150 USD price tag and sold mostly to the government, the case should be quite sturdy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grid_Compass [wikipedia.org]

  • by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @01:35PM (#51314329)
    I have a Lenovo T430. My backpack laptop bag opened up in a mall awhile ago and the laptop fell onto the hard tile floor, bouncing several times. Not even a crack or chip. Still looks like new. Without a doubt the best laptop purchase I have made.
    • by Lotana ( 842533 )

      Amen brother! I love my T420.

      Damn shame new ones changed the keyboard layout and the trackpad buttons :-(

      • I miss the led light. Imagine if they added lit keyboards. I would pay extra for that. I actually like the keyboard layout. I find the corners above the arrow keys a very convenient place for PgUp PgDown. It gives you levels of control within close proximity. The Trackpoint is still my favorite pointing device.
  • Hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 16, 2016 @01:44PM (#51314363)

    Not only is this a waste of time and money, but they left the ThinkPad insignias on it after assembly. And it's supposed to be some kind of "open source project"

    I'm not too surprised though, the following article is about how a guy restored his guitar by laser-etching a "sacred geometry" pattern onto it.

    And the site's tagline is "We are all makers!"

    In other words, come here with your money to feel less guilty and possibly even convince yourself you're not a total moron!

    • It's the top end tier on a kickstarter, so of course it's a waste of time and money. The guts are built around an Arm & FPGA. This is a machines designed by a hardware hacker, for a hardware hacker. It's not for everyone.
  • I really wish I could replace the CPU/Board/Graphics of my old Thinkpad T400 and keep the case/keyboard/display (especially the indicator lights). No such luck so far. :-(
  • Cork?? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @05:34PM (#51315471)

    It's impact resistant sure, but it's a damn good thermal insulator. Heat is a killer.

    Also, plastic clamshells tend to hold up okay when dropped. Fans getting clogged (or dying from mechanical failure), power supply breaking off the board, or lcds cracking seem to be far more likely causes of laptop replacement.

    • "Also, plastic clamshells tend to hold up okay when dropped"

      All my laptops suffered from material fatigue in the case. Three times a crack on the right of the keyboard (from holding it with one hand), two with a severe crack on the back of the screen, near the hinges. I would welcome a small laptop (11-12 inch) that really lasts. Although among them were a 14-in Thinkpad T23 and a 14-in Dell Latitude, so it weren't just ultraportables.

      • My girlfriend is still rocking an Alienware M11xR2. That damned thing is a tank and I've generally found Alienware laptops to be really well engineered and built. Last year I moved back from OSX to Windows by replacing my Macbook Pro with an Alienware 15. Point is; the M11xR2 is an 11 inch laptop that really lasts... I think it's around 6 years old now?

        I absolutely love it and it's traveled quite extensively with me. Dell's most recent commercial ultrabooks are also really well made. My work gives me a Lati

  • Easy to maintain, hard to break, and plenty of parts for everyone - not just the nomenklatura that snagged these Heirlooms.

  • When it was "cool" to put wood paneling on the outside of cars.

    Nice craftmanship, but they look ridiculous. To each his own.
  • It's late, so maybe I'm missing something from the article, but while it went on in length about the case, it didn't mention much about the innards other than the heatsink.

    Personally, I think a design like this would be nice for a "mobile desktop". That is, a decently powered desktop that can be plugged in and fully functional (but skip the battery). Most people I know don't often use their laptop on battery anyhow, and a mobile desktop has the advantage of being somewhat up-gradable. Going that route, it a

  • I wonder if there would be a market for say.. an ITX based laptop case. ITX means you can use standard motherboards, and then the case is just a keyboard, monitor, and power. .... The most difficult part would be getting a decent cabling situation.

  • Such bad taste in design. Just look at it! LOOK AT IT!

  • I was looking at a nice rugged waterproof digital camera on sale today. I thought to myself, "Boy, will this case make this camera last a while." And then I remembered that I'd had two previous ruggedized cameras, and I'd gotten a new one every 3 or so years. Not because the camera broke, but because it was electronics, and they paled in comparison to the new stuff. Buying a super duper protective and nice case for almost anything electronics related is kinda like encasing a sandwich in a permanently se

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