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Ask Slashdot: Is There A Screen-Less, Keyboard-Less, Battery-Powered Computer? 181

Long-time Slashdot reader Wycliffe writes: So I have a travel keyboard that I love. I can carry my OS on a USB flash drive. There are several options for portable battery powered monitors. The only thing I'm missing to have a completely modular laptop is the CPU/MB/RAM... I can get a laptop but it seems silly to carry around a laptop with a keyboard when I never use the keyboard. I don't need a long battery life, if I need more than an hour then I can find somewhere to plug it in...

I've thought about buying a small box like a Zotac and trying to replace the hard drive with a battery -- but does anything like this already exist...? Also, are there any systems like this with decent specs? Most stuff I see like the Intel Compute Stick are horribly underpowered compared to a decent laptop.

The original submission drew some interesting discussion. Another option is "a good x86/x64 tablet that I can install Linux on" -- especially with a decent processor -- or "laptop-like systems that got rid of the screen entirely... I just need the travel CPU part without the added weight of a second keyboard and monitor." So leave your best suggestions in the comments. Is there a good, lightweight computer that's battery-powered without a screen or a keyboard?
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Ask Slashdot: Is There A Screen-Less, Keyboard-Less, Battery-Powered Computer?

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  • yes (Score:5, Informative)

    by spiritplumber ( 1944222 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @10:06PM (#54499783) Homepage
    raspberry pi and all its clones/derivatives. Add a USB battery extender pack. Done.
    • Hell, I think there's enough space in my $5 eBay 16550A bank (IIRC I put six cells in there) to actually put a pi zero inside... I would check but it's too hard to get back apart without breaking it to hell. Since it doesn't have any cell balancing, I could just take a cell out...

      • Raspberry Pi zero dimensions: 65 x 30 mm.
        18650: 18 x 65mm.

        So yes, you should be able to put a Raspberry Pi zero in the space of two 18650 batteries.

        • There's actually some space next to the batteries where the charge board, USB jacks and so on are located. The PCB is very thin and I don't recall anything sticking up farther than the USB jacks except the charge indicator related stuff which can go away if necessary. It's probably still not ideal.

      • Re:yes (Score:5, Informative)

        by CeasedCaring ( 1527717 ) on Sunday May 28, 2017 @04:44AM (#54500587)
        Go for the newer Pi Zero W, to get built-in Wifi & Bluetooth.
      • by allo ( 1728082 )

        This is no good idea. A rpi zero gets warm. A battery gets warm. A battery does not like to get too warm (a rpi neither). The battery may explode, burn, leak or do other things. The rpi may just break.

      • It'll fit, and I this is kind of a cool idea. It's putting/building the PC into the battery instead of putting/building a battery into the PC.

        A New Paradigm has appeared.

    • I wonder if this could get past the laptop ban? Maybe like a google cardboard for the display, a USB keyboard, pi, battery?

      Actually, I guess you wouldn't need the pi really, could just use bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

      Actually I might rather just not fly back to the US again if I ever leave.
      • by aix tom ( 902140 )

        Would be really weird to ban laptops, but then let you bring funny self-made boxes with wires sticking out on board. ;-D

        • Not "weird" just "annoying and arbitrary just like the rest of the security theater." There's no threat, the rules do nothing. The only logic here is "We made the rubes believe Islamic terrorists were coming after them. In exchange for the power they granted us to fight the bogeyman, we must pretend we are fighting Islamic terrorists."

          TSA won't do anything because they're not laptops and the ban is on laptops and tablets. There may be some idiot journalist who thinks he has a big scoop when he realizes y
      • I doubt it, it will probably look like a bomb or an IED. We live in a world where a kid gets flagged as a terrorist by building a digital alarm clock in his school binder.

    • Re:yes (Score:4, Informative)

      by Gaygirlie ( 1657131 ) <gaygirlie@hotmaREDHATil.com minus distro> on Sunday May 28, 2017 @02:36AM (#54500395) Homepage

      If one was going the DIY-way, I'd rather recommend Up^2. It's an actual x86-board, so it can run all the usual x86-stuff, there's a proper mPCI-E - slot for mSATA- and/or NVMe-drives or whatever mPCI-E card you may want to use, an M.2 2230 E-key for real, proper WiFi-cards, a SATA-connector, 3x USB3.0 (and a couple USB2.0-ports via a pin-header), a lot, lot more capable GPU than Raspberry Pi's one, built-in eMMC (the top-end model has a 128GB one) and so on.

      The thing is, an RPi makes for a really crappy desktop-experience. The Up^2 is significantly more expensive, but it's also significantly more capable and much better suited for desktop-use.

      • ...and impossible to google for...

    • by haemish ( 28576 )

      If you're slightly more flush with cash, an NVidia TX2 is freaking awesome for this. The DevKit has all you need, except the battery and a box. Fancy devtools like NetBeans and IntelliJ fly.

  • Jesus just buy a laptop dude.
    • Just buy a laptop with a broken screen and keyboard. Or look around for one - people tend to junk them because a new screen plus labour on an older laptop is almost as expensive as a newer laptop. You can remove both the keyboard and the screen and cover, it'll be lighter and thinner, and you still have the battery power you want. Bonus points and a Red Green award for duct tape to cover the keyboard hole.
      • And remember: if it ain't broke, you're not trying.

      • Do keyboards weigh that much that it's worth removing it?

        • You need to remove it anyway if you're going to cover the area that's exposed by the lack of an upper screen and lid so it doesn't generate keypresses, so why not shed an ounce or so while you're at it? And if the keyboard is still good, you can give it to someone who spilled something on theirs.
    • Jesus just buy a laptop dude.

      Gotta agree. If you can't even shop for an embedded linux SBC, you shouldn't be undertaking to setup one.

  • It seems that your best solution is to install your OS into a surface/tablet with out a keyboard cover.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why do you want to do this and what are you trying to accomplish?

    One can buy laptops (i.e. Xps developer edition), chromebooks, tablets (iOS, windows and android), and smart phones that can offer you functionality in a portable form factor.

    How do these existing options fall down when your needs come into play?

    That's the first step to finding a solution rather than some hack job that "works but not really".

    • Why do you want to do this and what are you trying to accomplish?

      The summary says he doesn't need a screen or keyboard, so it's pretty safe to assume he'll be okay with some sort of beeping device on a one-button input -- and I found exactly what he is looking for [youtube.com].

    • Thank you Anonymous Coward for your brave act of naysaying and your willful lack of imagination. You are a role model to us all.

  • by BenBoy ( 615230 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @10:27PM (#54499849)
    There's a nice section on barebones computers there [newegg.com]
    • by Anonymous Coward

      NewEgg has a Kangaroo PC. No screen or keyboard. Built in battery and mini dock with USB 2.0, USB 3.0, HDMI and power cord.

      • I have one I use as a personal home server. I installed Linux on it. Only thing not working in Linux for my self is the microsd slot. In windows it has software to hook up a tablet or phone as a screen via wireless and USB cable as well. It has Bluetooth as well. Suppose to have 4 hours of battery life, but never tried. It is passively cooled though. They make a few different models now. One even comes this a laptop dock.

        I installed thermald to keep it running a cooler temps to hopefully extend hardware lif

  • OK, my earlier post I failed to notice the battery-powered requirement ... so ... Do you have an android phone (I'm guessing iOS would work too)? Why not use that? What are you trying to get done, anyhow?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Kangaroo PC http://www.kangaroo.cc/ makes a few products that might be relevant.

  • by oddtodd ( 125924 ) <oddtodd67NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday May 27, 2017 @10:43PM (#54499901)

    Kangaroo Mobile Mini PC
    Intel x5 z8500, internal battery
    I have the smaller memory model and it gets hot but seems to be OK, the Plus model with more memory apparently has some heat issues according to the reviews.
    I have Fedora 25 on it and I read somewhere it doesn't use the GPU for graphics, but it works fine for me in low demand uses.
    The lack of GPU use might also be why I don't have the heat issues.
    I can't get the sound out of the HDMI feed, but I think that will work eventually when the kernel gets enhanced.

    • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Sunday May 28, 2017 @10:07AM (#54501095) Homepage

      I haven't heard of these Kangaroo PCs before, but I like the idea. Or, what I'd really like is something that's a mix between this and the Samsung DeX dock, or Microsoft's continuum. Plus Thunderbolt 3.

      Like, take one of these Kangaroo PCs, and add a Thunderbolt port, cellular radio, and a touchscreen, and give it a UI on the embedded screen that works for a small screen. Or, if you approach it from the other direction, give a smart phone a Thunderbolt port, develop docks for it, and allow it to operate as a full computer when docked.

      Of course, someone is going to ask, "Why are you talking about Thunderbolt? A lot of phones have USB-C." The nice thing about Thunderbolt is that it provides better access to the internal bus, allowing external devices to act more like internal devices. With Thunderbolt, you'd be in a better position to have docks include additional power and features. You could do things like have a discrete graphics chipset embedded into the dock, that would allow a small underpowered computer to play games with better performance when docked.

  • Updated ipads are around the corner and for very little money the kindle fire 8hd seem nice enough, certainly for many people though not if you want to develop etc on the move. They can work with bluetooth keyboards and pack decent power in a minimal space. When traveling I don t want the cable hassle of a sepeate screen and cpu, not to mention they have separate power supplies for longer use.
  • That sounds like something Casey Neistat wanted in the Samsung Dex [amzn.to]: the ability to use it as a regular cellphone and then plug it into a docking station or PC to continue working on the cellphone.

    https://youtu.be/uOFDmbUlrT4?t=101 [youtu.be]
    https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/03/samsung-dex-is-a-galaxy-s8-dock-that-makes-your-phone-into-a-desktop/ [arstechnica.com]

  • I'm looking for a similar device as the submitter. In my case I'll have a separate screen but I'd like something x86 that runs on batteries with automotive power. So when the vehicle starts the computer just keeps on going. It will essentially run most of the time, sleeping when I don't need it, or powering it off, perhaps with a signal. I need it to be x86 for now because of some software I need to run, so the Pi is out. VGA or HDMI out for the external touch screen. And I need at least two USB ports,

    • Just try a mini-ITX board, of which there are many designs.

      Many are designed with 12v DC input specifically for auto use but obviously can also be powered by an external brick. I use a number of these for various purposes, including servers, and find them pefectly adequate for use.

      Try here, although there are many other suppliers: http://mini-itx.com/ [mini-itx.com]

  • by ogdenk ( 712300 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @11:06PM (#54499971)

    You should go with the 1802 membership card....

    RCA 1802 w/ 16x16-bit registers, 16-bit address bus and 8-bit data bus
    8 LED's and 8 toggle switches for bootstrapping and debugging
    Bit-banged serial I/O
    Low power consumption
    Can even run BASIC
    Might even survive the EMP of a nuclear blast if you choose the right components.
    Rad-hardened CPU's available fairly cheap.

    First microprocessor in space!

    • Yeah, but...does it run FORTH?
      • by ogdenk ( 712300 )

        Yeah, but...does it run FORTH?

        Yup. I never bothered learning FORTH though. I think there's even a LISP for the 1802 somewhere. That could be entertaining.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just buy a Intel Nuc and a powerbank for it. It's even more modular than you wanted I guess, buy hey... Modular FTW!

  • The Raspberry PI would seem to meet your criteria. Battery powering one is as simple as a two cell Li-Ion battery and voltage regulator to bring the 7.4 volts down to 5.

  • by Pikoro ( 844299 ) <init&init,sh> on Saturday May 27, 2017 @11:15PM (#54499991) Homepage Journal

    You can wipe windows 10 and put linux on it. Have Mint on mine.

    http://init.sh/?p=354 [init.sh]

  • Unfortunately, if you want a full fledged computer, you probably won't find anything smaller than a Zotac. That's the limitation of micro ATX boards basically. And then, unless you are very well versed in the dark arts of DIY electronics, it's gonna be very hard to make a battery work with a setup like that... Zotac and other microATX desktop PCs were not designed to work with batteries, but with a good power supply and AC.
    Unless there's some ready made solution, afaik, the power motherboards, components an

    • Unfortunately, if you want a full fledged computer, you probably won't find anything smaller than a Zotac. That's the limitation of micro ATX boards basically.

      Have you never heard of Mini-ITX? It's significantly smaller than micro-ATX, but still not sufficiently low power for battery operation. And then there are these boxes, [amazon.com] but again, still probably too power hungry for battery power.

      • Is it? I thought micro-ATX was the smallest currently available size for motherboards... :P
        Either way, if he's looking for battery powered, neither are gonna cut it... it's either tablet, laptop, or a board that goes with mobile CPU like Intel Atom X5 series.

        Oooh, I forgot to mention something I'm keeping an eye on: GPD Win. It's the only device I know that has a better CPU than the Kangaroo PC... it has an Intel Atom X7 Z8700. I don't think the difference is big, but still...
        http://www.gpdwin.com/ [gpdwin.com]

        • Either way, if he's looking for battery powered, neither are gonna cut it... it's either tablet, laptop, or a board that goes with mobile CPU like Intel Atom X5 series.

          If you're going with a traditional motherboard, a PicoPSU will take a 12V DC input from batteries.

          http://www.mini-box.com/s.nl/sc.8/category.13/it.C/.f [mini-box.com]

          • Ooh, nice, I didn't know there were ready made stuff for this. Thanks!

            • This one is somewhat well known too, a bit overpowered but with protection features if you use it in an actual car

              http://www.mini-box.com/M2-ATX... [mini-box.com]

              Wow, I'm seeing there are others / new ones in the Pico PSU form factor too. i.e. some have wide input voltage range and thus built-in converter/regulator (because your battery will go 13V, 12V, 11V, 10V...), others just say "input 12V" and are made with a power brick or laptop PSU plugged to the mains in mind.

              i.e., to be 100% specific : this one is specifically

    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      Kangaroo has been upgraded to add RJ45, VGA connector, space for a 2.5" (9.5mm) HD/SSD, includes Win10, same processor/RAM/storage space built-in.

    • There are various SBCs out there either high end ARM (SnapDragon) or x86 (or a clone) that will run laps around a RPi and have battery management and multi screen figured out. They are easy to find usually as development boards and are roughly the same format as a RPi.

    • Awesome post. The Dell Venue 11 Pro looks like a promising option.
      Another post mentioned this: http://www.fit-pc.com/web/prod... [fit-pc.com] which might work ok with a zotac or intel NUC.
      I also really like the kangaroo but I wish they would come out with a little more powerful version.
      I'm still probably leaning towards a dell XPS 13 or an alienware 13 system as they are small enough to carry but still powerful
      but the dell venue 11 pro although not quite as powerful is probably good enough for my needs and considerab

      • Let me just warn you about something Wycliffe... other than working well with Ubuntu (Dell Venue 11 Pro comes with Windows 8.0), it's actually a pretty crap tablet tho. xD

        I bought it a couple of years ago, along with a docking station. The tablet is horribly constructed, too heavy to be used as a reading tablet, it has a plastic back that gets deformed overtime and won't fit anymore, and the batteries that came with it puffed up out of nowhere (at least they didn't explode).

        Docking Station was also very poo

  • You'll probably need a portable generator to power it. But it's light, portable and powerful.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Cyclic ( 1801 )

      You'll probably need a portable generator to power it. But it's light, portable and powerful.

      Duct tape the NUC to a Goal Zero battery pack and use the 19V connector.

      My NUC works well with the Sherpa 50.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like the hipster assholes that go into restaurants with cameras from the 1890s and spend 30 minutes setting up to get a picture of $12 toast. Then they bitch about how the lighting sucks and they need suggestions on how to get the best shot to post in Instragram for their moms to see.

  • Kangaroo PC [a.co]

    2 GB RAM
    32 Gig storage
    Slot for MicroSD card
    Room for a 2.5" HD/SSD (9.5MM)
    4 hour battery
    RJ-45, WiFi, Bluetooth Networking
    VGA, HDMI video out
    Fingerprint reader
    Windows 10 OS included

    Same physical size as a typical 2.5" USB HD

  • by flug ( 589009 ) on Sunday May 28, 2017 @12:48AM (#54500205)
    I haven't tried this myself, but from the specs it looks to be reasonable inexpensive, reasonably small and light, and reasonably powerful:

    - Intel NUC [newegg.com] (about 1 pound)
    - fit-Uptime UPS for mini-PCs [fit-pc.com] (about 0.5 pound and should power the NUC for maybe 1-3 hours on battery, depending on exact model of NUC etc)
  • If you want something more powerful than a Pi, there's the Intel Compute Stick v2 (2016): https://www.engadget.com/2016/... [engadget.com]

    Pair it with a portable micro USB power pack and there ya go.

    But really, a used rooted Android smartphone is probably simpler. If you really hate the extra gram or two, you can take out the screen and replace it with tape or something. You might even be able to find one of those failed Ubuntu phones that was meant to be docked from the get-go.

  • I hate this (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kamapuaa ( 555446 ) on Sunday May 28, 2017 @01:48AM (#54500335) Homepage

    Seriously, fuck this question.

    Just get a laptop, and if you feel like using a travel keyboard along with it (for some reason), bring that along and plug that in to the USB slot. Just the idea of bringing a portable computer in a bag full of parts is weird. Not like hacker-weird, just like you needlessly fetishize your equipment.

    There are no i5/i7 compute sticks that run off battery power.

    • Came here to say this exactly.

    • That's what I do. Carry an extra keyboard, extra mouse, extra screen and laptop stand for the ergonomics.

      I don't use the built in keyboard, touchpad and battery much.

    • This. If you have access to a table to use your battery powered monitor and keypad on you are pretty much guaranteed to have power. If you are thinking of some cabin off the grid, get a generator or solar panel. And even if using it while traveling is not a use case you are interested in, the laptop will be way cheaper and better than some battery powered screen plus a battery powered single board computer. Just the battery powered single board computer will run you entry level laptop prices, and the monito

    • by kackle ( 910159 )
      I would wonder about airport security troubles when you're walking in with this box of unfamiliar parts and a battery(!)...
  • I get good mileage from a NUC. Highly portable performant CPU module. Doesn't have battery option, but for me I'd only use it with power available. Myself, I use a laptop and ethernet cable to vnc into the NUC, however I can sometimes borrow monitors/keyboards, so I usually throw in an HDMI cable into my kitbag. You already have travel monitor/keyboard worked out so this might be an option for you, so long as you don't mind being tethered to power.
  • There are batteries on sale on Amazon for brick computers, so I guess they exist.

  • There are many android-based phones which support the MHL standard, which would allow HD resolutions, surround sound and, as a bonus, allow you to use the larger battery pack from the monitor to run or recharge your cellphone. There are loads of guides out there to coach you through installing Linux on an Android mobile device.

    this would also allow your modular laptop to use the cell carriers data networks (if you bought a plan) and not just be limited to finding free wi-fi while on the go.

  • Consider an NUC.

    I bought my son a Skull Canyon NUC which is a full i7 6820HQ which I equipped with 32GB RAM and 1TB SSD. Not a cheap solution but great performance in something the size of a DVD case. There are similar and cheaper solutions with anything from a Celeron upwards.

  • by bytesex ( 112972 ) on Sunday May 28, 2017 @11:24AM (#54501357) Homepage

    Minnowboard

  • Backpack computers designed to provide a VR experience. They are battery powered and without screen or keyboard. But it is a high end PC for gaming. Probably not what you are looking for.

  • One potential gotcha to think about- I'm not sure how many USB monitors require USB3. DisplayLink makes most of the chipsets, and their origins are in USB2 but I'm not sure how well their newest USB3 products do when attached to USB2.

    There's the "is there enough data" question (but their DL2xxx chipsets did 1080P on USB2),
    And there's the "is there enough power" question, since USB3 offers 80% more juice (0.9A vs 0.5A).
    Also I've never heard of anyone try to compile DisplayLink's proprietary drivers on ARM, s

  • A Chromebit or Chromebox as described here: http://www.androidcentral.com/... [androidcentral.com] coupled with a portable Bluetooth or USB dongle-connected keyboard and mouse should work. We've been playing with these for signage but trying them out at home or at hotel rooms. They plug into HDMI TVs or monitors, and you can even install Ubuntu on them for a full stand-alone experience. (See https://www.reddit.com/r/chrom... [reddit.com] for example.) Yes, you can find Windows alternatives, but what's the point?
  • It's basically a computer you wear on your back. It was designed for use with a VR headset as the screen, and as a result it's pretty powerful. So if you need x86, powerful GPU and battery, that's one way to go about it.

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray

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