Prototype DIY "laptop" / portable PC

timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
UPDATE:
This is a looong thread with a lot of trial and error; hardware, cooling, battery and EMI/RFI discussions.
All design and parts details are in the first 3 posts.
See this post for the start of the final design.



I'm planning on building a DIY "laptop" / portable PC, but using PC parts and allowing easily(ish) upgradeable hardware. I tried to design it like a traditional laptop in TinkerCAD and even with a trapezoid 11cm heigh at the back (like a laptop on a laptop stand) it would at best limit me to ITX boards and I imagine heat (and coolers) would be a problem - beats the purpose of easily upgradeable PC parts.

I wanted to start this topic to bounce a few ideas and put together a build plan for later, maybe someone more experienced will catch me out if I'm writing total nonsense - I haven't had a PC for around 20 years, maybe what I'm planning is not possible/sensible at all. I wanted to think it through as much as possible, design it in TinkerCAD to see if it makes sense theoretically before I start buying parts.

It will probably end up more bulky than a gaming laptop, but that's ok - I'm starting it as a fun side-project - it's meant to be a prototype so if it works, I'll be happy ;)

I got a few similar links already in my welcome post - huge thanks for that again. All info, ideas and criticisms are welcome.


GOALS:
  • PC parts - so I can change what I want, when I want and not be limited to laptop parts.
  • Light AM4 motherboard, form-factor doesn't matter. With min. 4 USB ports, built-in wireless or space for a WiFi card, PCIe x16 for GPU and M.2 slot for a main drive. A light and cheap B550? Zen3 + RDNA2 APUs with DDR5 RAM are planned for late 2022 - no point in building an expensive proof-of-concept in mid 2021 just to have a new socket and potentially great performance improvements around one year later.
  • CPU+dGPU or APU+eGPU - probably a 65W max to keep size and temperatures low.
  • GPU: two options:
    • next to motherboard in the chassis
    • eGPU via extender/raiser, powered by a separate PSU and connected only when needed
  • (optional) able to run on battery


CONTEXT:
Last time I bought a "custom" laptop was my Clevo N141ZU, the choice is not much greater since then. I found a few sites which offer laptops with replaceable desktop CPUs but either they have undervolted Intel CPUs, or they have a dGPU which I do not see the point of paying for if I don't need it always in the laptop and have an RTX 2070 eGPU. Most laptops with desktop CPUs I found use an old Clevo chassis (VGA... nice) and you usually can't order them without RAM or SSD, paying more for something I don't need.

I've been following the new releases in tech and thought to start a hobby project - if the new Xbox and PS5 run something similar to "Van Gogh" (Zen2 + RDNA2), that chip would make a killer for a laptop (if cooling is not an issue). We will probably wait quite some time until new AMD chips trickle down to "custom" laptops, they'll probably be offered at high prices as premium/gaming products and even then we'll be forced to use whatever parts the reseller offers.

My Clevo is fine for what I need it to be and with an RTX 2070 eGPU it's OK for gaming, but I'm tired of buying a £1000 laptop every few years (where a part of that price is an SSD and RAM which I already have) with a very limited choice if I want a decent CPU but no dGPU. I thought I'll try building an as thin as possible horizontal workbench, add a laptop screen on a hinge and some peripherals on top. Worst-case-scenario I'll end up with a funky PC ;)
 
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timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
DESIGN:

With dGPU, no battery and internal SFX PSU:
Key for the drawing:
  • green - keyboard + touchpad
  • light-blue - 17'' USB-C monitor
  • yellow - Mini-ITX motherboard
  • purple (optional) - dGPU, dimensions for RTX 3070 or RX 6800XT
    • RTX 3080 possible with 400 x 300mm aluminium sheets
  • white - front USB panel
  • dark red - SFX PSU

Design overview:
  • 2 main parts made of aluminium sheets, connected with adjustable torque hinges:
    • top panel
    • bottom "box"
  • bottom box for motherboard, dGPU and PSU. All fans turned to exhaust, GPU exhausting through vents in bottom sheet, CPU exhaust through top sheet
  • a 17'' USB-C monitor mounted to top panel
 
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timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
PARTS:


Chassis (around £68)
:

NOTE: find hinges first - they'll dictate the screw size for standoffs. Ideally wait for hardware and hinges to come first, map the design on sheets of paper. Hinges I found have M4 screw holes, so all standoffs and screws for the chassis are also M4 in design below.
Standoffs, bobbin mounts (legs) and hinges are most expensive - hunt around on ebay. Nylon standoffs may work, not sure how sturdy they are.​

Hardware (around £555 + CPU + GPU):

NOTE: hardware list is for dGPU setup. Can easily be modified for a dock-like eGPU with a compatible motherboard+APU, a cheaper /smaller plug-in DC-ATX and AC-DC power supplies, a R33SH-LG4 raiser and a separate power supply for the eGPU (e.g. Dell DA-2 12V 220W)

Peripherals (around £180 + cables/connectors):

Optional battery solution (in progress):

DISCLAIMER: this solution intentionally uses an appliance outside its official specification. Implement at own risk! Warranty will not cover any potential damage!

NOTE: if you're using a different plug-in PSU than GxR-ONE, test if it's still stable at as low as 10.5V and check specifications that 12.6V max is safe (DO NOT GO OVER THE MAX VOLTAGE IN SPECS). If not, 3S LiPo without voltage correction will not work!
 
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timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
I started ordering base build parts - I'm going for 360mm x 260mm - I can fit a 17'' screen and full ATX motherboard with that.

I ordered 4 mill finish aluminium plates - three 1.5mm thick for top, bottom and motherboard cover, and one 2mm thick for the "lid".

Added TinkerCAD link in "Design" section
 

timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
Measure twice, cut once... I didn't :D

I cancelled my order for the aluminium plates, 360mm is too short. The 17.3'' screen with a controller board is 380mm wide, I updated the TinkerCAD drawing to 382mm x 260mm. Updated the parts list, too - maybe I'll design it on paper/TinkerCAD before I start ordering parts ;)
 

timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
I should be able to splice a 12v 3A RGB cable and power the monitor with it.

I updated the parts list and prices, ordered the parts for the chassis, keyboard and RAM. Just hunting for storage now - slowly getting together
 

Dawelio

Awesomeness
Moderator
Dec 17, 2017
420
332
PARTS:


Chassis (£80 total)
:

Hardware (£431 + ??? CPU total):

Battery / UPS solution (£??? total):
  • Battery/UPS: TBC. No idea here. microbox's picoUPS go only to 120w - shame, they would have been great. Any help here much appreciated

Can't believe no one has had any input in your thread yet.... I just approved this post of yours due to edits. I just have to say that the amount of time you've actually invested into it, fusioning it with links to all the parts, highlighting certain parts in white, blue and then the price in yellow, is really nice and refreshing to see. Very nicely done and intuitive of you.

Here's to hoping your build goes along nicely and that it will both turn out as good, or better, as you've imagined it and that it will serve you well :)
 

timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
Can't believe no one has had any input in your thread yet.... I just approved this post of yours due to edits. I just have to say that the amount of time you've actually invested into it, fusioning it with links to all the parts, highlighting certain parts in white, blue and then the price in yellow, is really nice and refreshing to see. Very nicely done and intuitive of you.

Here's to hoping your build goes along nicely and that it will both turn out as good, or better, as you've imagined it and that it will serve you well :)
Thanks, much appreciated :) Hope it will end as a complete build/guide.

So far looks good, I'll start assembling the chassis soon, just waiting for parts. CES 2021 will tell more about the motherboard and processor - if nothing changes from expected then I'll order the mobo around the end of January and a cheap, used AM4 APU from eBay for a prototype to test everything before Cezanne comes out.

Found a good article on M.2 drives and speeds - https://techreport.com/review/34413/samsungs-970-evo-plus-500-gb-ssd-reviewed - real world data tests are interesting. I was thinking about NVMe drive, but in the end went with an M.2 SATA SSD - I won't notice much difference and I can spend the £40 difference somewhere else.
 
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timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
I changed the picoPSU for HDPLEX 200W DC-ATX.

picoPSU requires a stable 12v and doesn't boost/buck - something which will not work with a battery.

HDPLEX has a wide voltage range, batteries are easy to find from an RC store (will save faffing with connecting Li-Ion cells) and 19v power adapters are standard for laptops - no problem in finding the right wattage.
 

timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
Finally, some progress on the batteries - biggest problem was to find a UPS-like board which also charges the batteries when power is connected. mini-box's OpenUPS can deliver 6A, 10A peak - it was an issue with 12V picoPSU, but HDPLEX runs on 19V so a peak of 190W is perfect. I pencilled worse-case-scenario 65W for the motherboard, but mini ITX should take less - more margin for power.

RC batteries work great with the 19V PSU and wide voltage range of OpenUPS, only limitation I came across was 100Wh limit per LiPo battery pack at airports (with a max of 2 battery packs). For higher power builds, I found a great post from random($foo): Building a Battery Powered PC
 
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timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
I was directed here since my spec fitted more a SFF than eGPU config... surprised how little activity there is on the forums.

Handy to keep all the info in one place, though. I updated the drawing, added PicoUPS and LCD driver board and a hole for the cooler in the "top" motherboard cover - that should improve cooling a lot. Didn't notice you can't see notes in view-only mode, so I color-coded parts and updated design post.

I ordered most of the parts, I'll wait with the battery until after CPU comes, though, when I will be able to stress-test everything.

Only unknowns now are the processor and cooling - when Cezanne will be out and if Noctua NH-L9a-am4 will be enough to cool it. Project is ready for a prototype, though, I'll start assembling the case soon while waiting for CES2021 and what AMD will say about desktop APUs.
 

Vlad502

Airflow Optimizer
Nov 4, 2017
243
186
DESIGN:


Key for the drawing:
  • green - keyboard + touchpad
  • light-blue - eDP laptop screen
  • yellow - Mini-ITX motherboard
  • red - battery pack
  • orange - OpenUPS / battery controller
  • blue - laptop screen controller/driver board

Design overview:
  • 2 main parts:
    • top panel
    • bottom "box"
  • top panel from an aluminium sheet
  • bottom box made of 2 aluminium sheets connected with screws and metal rods, height around 2cm
  • constant torque/friction hinges attaching the top sheet to the bottom box
  • motherboard on the outside of the top sheet, a laptop screen on the inside (when "laptop" is closed, motherboard would be facing up)
  • aluminium sheet for top of the motherboard cover
  • a laptop screen connected via an lcd monitor controller board. 3D-printed bezel. There's a great video on it here
  • bottom "box" will be used to house a keyboard+touchpad combo and (hopefully, later) UPS-style batteries
  • UPS-style battery, ideally with a kill-switch for travelling

Full TinkerCAD link: https://www.tinkercad.com/things/8hMZsRT39Jv
Nice project. I have in mind similar idea, but with touchscreen (no keyboard)
Also this bring me some ideas for my project with QD188PD powerbank (supports 100W)

I have few suggestions:
1. IMO better position for battery is where keyboard is. This is beneficial in two way: weight ballance and thermal insulation battery

2. Use hinges that...
...allowing locking at different angle like showed in the video:

3. Possition motherboard to have access to IO ports (USB, audio etc.) at side panel
 
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ignsvn

By Toutatis!
Moderator
Apr 4, 2016
1,311
1,122
I was directed here since my spec fitted more a SFF than eGPU config... surprised how little activity there is on the forums.

Handy to keep all the info in one place, though. I updated the drawing, added PicoUPS and LCD driver board and a hole for the cooler in the "top" motherboard cover - that should improve cooling a lot. Didn't notice you can't see notes in view-only mode, so I color-coded parts and updated design post.

I ordered most of the parts, I'll wait with the battery until after CPU comes, though, when I will be able to stress-test everything.

Only unknowns now are the processor and cooling - when Cezanne will be out and if Noctua NH-L9a-am4 will be enough to cool it. Project is ready for a prototype, though, I'll start assembling the case soon while waiting for CES2021 and what AMD will say about desktop APUs.

My opinion: lack of activity is probably because many are still on their new year holiday. Also, lack of response may indicate that people may have different preferences compared to what your solution proposes, or the project you are working on is something very unique & you are one of the pioneers. Both are very normal, IMO 🙂
 

timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
Nice project. I have in mind similar idea, but with touchscreen (no keyboard)
Also this bring me some ideas for my project with QD188PD powerbank (supports 100W)
Thanks. Touchscreen sounds good, wouldn't work for my use case, but with small size and weight it would make for a powerful "tablet".

If power draw is <100W a powerbank, USB-C PD charger and picoUPS would have been awesome!

The keyboard was a pain to find something small enough, but I'm an absolute lemon - I was looking at the keyboard back then the base width was 360mm. With 382mm I can easily fit a proper keyboard + touchpad combo.
Rii K18 Plus came in today, it's not that bad to type on, but it feels really cramped. I ordered SANDSTROM SKBWLTP17, reviews are mixed so worse case scenario I'll return that, too, and order a Logitech K400.

I have few suggestions:
1. IMO better position for battery is where keyboard is. This is beneficial in two way: weight ballance and thermal insulation battery
Absolutely agree, that was my original idea. I listed Turnigy nano-tech 4500mah 6S 25~50C Lipo Pack w/XT-90 because it's 1 pack (no faffing about with load balancers) and right up to 100Wh airport limit. It's bulky, though, so it had to go on the back.

Battery will be one of the last parts I'll add, I hope to measure power draw and maybe go with a smaller battery which would fit in the bottom "box". RC aeroplane batteries should work well - smaller capacity, but fairly flat.

3. Possition motherboard to have access to IO ports (USB, audio etc.) at side panel
DUH! Totally slipped my mind, I spaced the parts symmetrically in the drawing... I changed the design to have the mobo's inputs on the left, moved the battery a bit to the right to remind me of balancing.



My opinion: lack of activity is probably because many are still on their new year holiday. Also, lack of response may indicate that people may have different preferences compared to what your solution proposes, or the project you are working on is something very unique & you are one of the pioneers. Both are very normal, IMO 🙂
True, thanks :)
 
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timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
My opinion: lack of activity is probably because many are still on their new year holiday. Also, lack of response may indicate that people may have different preferences compared to what your solution proposes, or the project you are working on is something very unique & you are one of the pioneers. Both are very normal, IMO 🙂
Just checked the timestamps... can't believe it was around a week since I started this thread. With the lockdown in UK, without rushing around Christmas and with how calm and quiet holidays were this year - just the household - it felt like much more time has passed.

Or might be the feeling like a little boy waiting for Christmas, too, not having a PC for so long and when parts started slowly coming in 😉

The motherboard came today - with how small it is, I'm really looking forward to putting everything together, should have everything except the CPU and cooling by mid-February
 
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timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
Aluminium plates came in, I'm going over them with a P240 grade sandpaper in one direction for a "brushed" effect.

Spent whole evening looking for a good PSU... then I got a reply from HDPLEX - their HDPLEX 200W AC-DC adapter is smaller and much lighter (500g) than anything I could find. Looks rough to be kept in view, but will perfectly add to the steampunk look of the whole project ;)
 

timginter

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Original poster
Apr 21, 2019
135
40
Remember measure twice, cut once? I didn't... again :D

The screen came, it's 1.5cm wider than the aluminium sheet... Luckily they were quite cheap. I adjusted the measurements in the design post but will build a prototype with current plates - cheaper to make mistakes on current ones. Maybe I'll find some magnesium plates for the proper build, if not I can always re-order aluminium ones but with right dimensions.

SANDSTROM SKBWLTP17 came, but I would not recommend it... not sure if mine was faulty, but some keys had a delay, some wouldn't always register and the touchpad is ridiculous - built-in moving speed for up-down is different than for left-right - really odd to control the cursor, there seems to be built-in acceleration (I have "Enhance pointer precision" off in windows), and scrolling direction is "reversed" (2-finger slide up scrolls up) - all that adds to a really odd experience. I bought Microsoft All-In-One Keyboard and it feels great.

I read more about hinges and cancelled the ridiculously expensive ones (with VAT and delivery totalled £50 and a month to deliver...). Now that I know what they are properly called, I can find cheaper ones ;) A lot of this project was googling until I found the proper name of a part, then finding the one I need, actually...

More serious on the hinges, though - the minimum N.m rating of a torque hinge I need is ( [distance from hinge to centre of mass in metres] * [weight in kilograms] ) / [amount of hinges], so around 0.13 N.m (1.33 kgf.cm) assuming 2 hinges and centre of mass in the middle of sheet height (13cm) - 19 kgf.cm each would have been a ridiculous overkill. I'll have a proper look for suitable hinges and update the prices.
 
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