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DIY laptop photo tease

By Chris Williams. Published: 11th Jun 2004, 16:51:39 | Permalink | Printable

What a summer project

Letter A native RISC OS laptop, or some other portable, is probably the top of everyone's wish list right now. However, issues including the finding of a suitable case, what to do about the PSU and battery and what display to use, are all keeping what we want most from becoming a reality. Although, this didn't hold back reader Rico Naf, who has started to build his own DIY portable.

And it's pretty straight forward as Rico explains: "How to revive an aging RiscPC: First dismantle it to the bones. Make a nice coffin. Fill it with the remains from step one. Fuel it with power and resurrect the beast. Will it last another 10 years?"

Photo of a DIY RiscPC laptop
RiscPC portable in mid-construction
Photo of a DIY RiscPC laptop
And its backside, with the usual ports and connectors

The unit is apparently fully battery driven, and uses CompactFlash and a second normal hard disc for storage. At the moment, it can run for two hours at a time, but also includes a PSU. The LCD display works and can handle up to four resolution modes.

As Tommy Lasorda once said, "the difference between the impossible and the possible lies in determination", which is painfully true here. Overlooking the bomb shelter paint job and the metal work worthy of a Volvo, we're impressed and it made us smile. More details to follow when Rico's finished it.


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I always assumed that the sole reason, other than the usual zealotism, was the performance/watt ratio of the ARM chip. But 2 hr battery time is very low, most PC laptops do better. (or is it that the computer crashes after 2hrs ;) ?) But maybe it will increase during the fabrication process, nevertheless an amazing achievement. Always wanted a volvo anyway.

 is a RISC OS Usergraphrisc on 11/6/04 5:04PM
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Magic :-D

 is a RISC OS Userepistaxsis@work on 11/6/04 5:05PM
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I mean the sole reason for anyone to want an RISC OS laptop, obviously

 is a RISC OS Usergraphrisc on 11/6/04 5:08PM
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2 hours isn't bad, considering it's a motherboard that was never designed for putting into a laptop. Rico should start a business referbishing old RiscPCs as laptops! :) (Find a good metal bashed to make nicer cases, wire LCD directly onto motherboard via uber-bodge, and away you go!)

 is a RISC OS Usernunfetishist on 11/6/04 6:12PM
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Almost as crazy as having an A7000 in the case with your RiscPC ;)

 is a RISC OS UserAndrewDuffell on 11/6/04 6:36PM
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Andrew Duffell:

almost but not quite :-)

 is a RISC OS Userepistaxsis@work on 11/6/04 7:31PM
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I want one. It's a work of art! Turn up with one of those in the airport and it's going to turn some heads (one way or another).

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 12/6/04 5:44AM
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Well, there you go! :grin: No more complainin' about no RISC OS laptop, recycle those preloved Wakefield Show..., exSchool RISC OS..., unsold eBays... ;-) Refurbished RISC OS laptops, well done Rico for you imaginative method of solving the "Case" problem to house your RISC OS laptop. My two month old (Toshiba) Windows XP Professional "Laptops for Teachers" school issue, won't last much past a couple of hours. Although the laptop is a darn good lap warmer as we enter the winter months! I rather like the briefcase style case, I prefer a mouse than the touch pad style, and a keyboard that (unclips?) lifts out of the laptop's 'briefcase' for desktop use sounds good to me. Is anybody game enough to try an Iyonixs version? (could be an expensive exercise!) Cheers, Steve!

 is a RISC OS UserSawadee on 12/6/04 6:02AM
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Good idea, although several things strike me as difficulties that must have been addressed here: 1. the processor card needs a right-angle connector to lie parallel to the motherboard - presumably a stock item somewhere; 2. the means of addressing the Flash Card - I recall there was a Flash Card to IDE construction project in Elektor (or something like it) a few years ago, but it needed a driver to be read/formatted by a RiscPC, I think; 3. the lack of a numeric keypad (always an issue for laptop users) indicates that another keyboard base may have been used: either that or the keypad was removed from the original RiscPC keyboard. Would converting a RiscStation 7500 have been easier? I imagine the RiscPC was chosen because of their relatively low value and ready availability. A friendly metalworker with a press (for deep-drawing case components, not to mention having the capacity for machining the tool and die for same) would be a bonus if a kit or conversion service was to come from this. Let's have more info as the project proceeds. Most of us could use something like this!

 is a RISC OS UserRobA on 12/6/04 6:09AM
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For the second time, CF cards act exactly like IDE devices - that is the point.

See [link]

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 12/6/04 7:31AM
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Having seen the size of the case, wouldn't it me easier to retro-fit a 10-year old PC laptop case? I know someone with a brick of an old Toshiba laptop, running Windows 95 Plus! (just) with massive dimensions. I expect the A7 motherboard would easily fit into one of these cases, and the batteries/PSU is already there.

 is a RISC OS UserSmiler on 12/6/04 8:42AM
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I think Chris' opening line that a native RISC OS laptop, or some other portable, is probably top of everyone's wish list right now is probably true. Just out of curiousity, in the big wide world of computing generally, I wonder what the ratio of desktop to laptop machines is. At my school over the last 6 years we've bought around 90 laptops for staff, and 120 desktop machines for IT rooms + academic departments. So 3:4 here in favour of desktops. Personally, I would buy a native laptop Iyonix even although I've got the Iyonix desktop but I may just be weird.

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 12/6/04 9:05AM
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RobA: Right angle connectors for processor cards are trivial to make. Also there are loads of small format PS/2 keyboards around for pennies - so no need to hack a Risc PC one. Indeed some have built in trackerballs, which might be useful in this application. As regards converting a Simtec/RiscStation board, this way you get a StrongARM and VRAM. The RS board has certain advantages concerning power management, but this machine doesn't at least have the moans of being yet another 7500FE.

Smiler: I had a look at building a replacement motherboard for the A4 a few years ago. The trouble is that each case has its own idiosyncrasies, such that you have to design around the case. It's much easier, particularly if you're not building a board yourself, to design the case around the board than vice versa. My board would only have been 7500FE based because that is the only chipset freely available - Rico gets around this in a quite neat way.

 is a RISC OS Usercaliston2 on 12/6/04 11:12AM
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In Reply to : mrchocky

CF cards may be ide compatible, but that doesnt mean they will work with a RISC PC. I bought an adapater for my camera case RISC PC [link] but I neither the onboard, nor the additional IDEFS interface would recognise it.

In Reply to : caliston2

The cheapest small format PS2 keyboard I could ever find was over 40 pounds. Slightly more than pennies. I ended up buying a foldable keyboard (15 pounds and ok for casual use) as small keyboards were so expensive and I never found the bits to lay the processor down.

Another problem with the DIY laptop is the CD drive. I got a laptop style one, but found it also wouldnt work with either RISC OS interface.

Manufacturers also have more control over components than we do. If they want a long thin battery or or a 5+12 volt power supply they can get em made. We have to make do with or modify whats available. This means a DIY laptop is always going to be big I think, unless you get lucky.

 is a RISC OS Userajpullan on 12/6/04 12:25PM
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[link] are

 is a RISC OS UserAndrewDuffell on 12/6/04 1:02PM
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Chocky, you're wrong. CF cards do not always act like IDE devices. They can have three modes: Memory Interface, I/O interface and True IDE mode. The mode we require is of course True IDE and to use CF the host interface must force it into this mode. With revised specifications, and the enchanced CF+ (compact flash plus) devices, "True IDE" is no longer compulsory. Even buying a card that claims to be True IDE isn't a guarantee it will work with your RISC OS machine - Hitachi (formerly IBM) Microdrives claim True IDE but they aren't! The CF Interfaces I sell are tested and guaranteed to work with RISC OS machines. I also sell tested cards and a complete bundle containing the interface, a short IDE cable and the CF card itself. Watch out for my new website coming very shortly. </plug>

 is a RISC OS UserSparkY on 12/6/04 4:08PM
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We're all still looking forward to the new RISC OS game you announced some time ago!

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 12/6/04 4:32PM
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Cool :) It will be some time yet before there will be further info on them but as I said on one of the IB forums the other day, they are being worked on.

 is a RISC OS UserSparkY on 12/6/04 4:35PM
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[link] is back I see :)

 is a RISC OS UserAndrewDuffell on 12/6/04 4:53PM
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Andrew Duffell:

Try for example the 'Mini Internet keyboard' at 11.50 on page 7 of [link] Meanwhile a processor 90 degree bend can be found by buying a right angle DIN41612 plug and soldering it to a straight through socket. A bit of tweaking might be necessary to get the height right.

 is a RISC OS Usercaliston2 on 12/6/04 5:12PM
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caliston2: Why was that aimed at me?

I thought about doing a portable A7000 with my spare motherboard, but I was stopped by the cost. :|

 is a RISC OS UserAndrewDuffell on 12/6/04 7:15PM
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Who's for a portable kinetic then. :E

 is a RISC OS Userilcook on 12/6/04 8:36PM
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Or and A75 with a tft in a wee box?


 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 13/6/04 9:33AM
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Or the best RiscPC sized motherboard - the millepede? ;-)

 is a RISC OS Userepistaxsis@work on 14/6/04 12:31PM
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hmmmmm cancel the A75 thought.

Or the psion.............


 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 14/6/04 10:02PM
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There are quite a few issues involved with such a project. I did actually consider a third party solution. but !!! At the moment I work out the charging issue. Make sure the batteries get charged with constat current and stop it when finished while the machine can suck power as much as it likes. Modifying a kinetic card is an option.

I'll let you know


 is a RISC OS User1234 on 15/6/04 9:28AM
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Mentioning the millipede got me thinking: I wonder if an imago board would've made a good laptop. (o: Anyone manage to beg, borrow or cadge one back in the late '90s?

'Original' bob

 is a RISC OS Userjymbob on 16/6/04 1:07AM
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Asking myself how the time on the battery is to be lengthened:

what capacity and voltage did you use?

did you run the harddrive too?

what power takes the display, and the backlight?

As long as there is no other RISC OS portable available, this might be useful for some of us.

With enough information exchanged between people doing this, it might even be possible for some more RISC OS lovers...

 is a RISC OS UserRien on 7/8/04 5:34PM
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Nice One, Rico. Very good idea to make a Risc PC portable. Maybe a hint for all those Dealers in the UK, to make a Risc PC portable available to all those users who want one !!! Maybe they have been waken up now, what we want.

 is a RISC OS Userdatawave on 4/1/05 11:35PM
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