Build Your Own Laptop - An Impractical Guide to Building a Laptop Computer
Copyright 2011 by Morris Rosenthal - All Rights Reserved
People are always asking me if it's possible to build a laptop computer from
scratch. I always say, "Sure, same way it's possible to build a car with
parts from the autoparts store. You'll pay several times as much as buying
a car from a factory, but you can do it." However, the idea of building my
own laptop has been stuck in my brain for a while, and I've started collecting
junk laptops, not for repair, but to tear them apart and reverse engineer
the basic assembly technology. A great engineer (or maybe it was Newton)
once said, "If I have seen farther than others, it's because I stand on the
shoulders of giants." So I'm starting at square one and building my first
laptop with the technology I already know.
The two basic components required to build a laptop computer are obviously
a lap and a computer. Being blessed with both, I dove right in, but it quickly
became apparent my computer didn't have a battery, so I plugged it into a
wall. One possible enhancement would be to carry around a car battery and
an inverter, but we'll get to mobility later. The next challenge was building
a laptop with user friendly interface devices. I've wanted a laptop with
a full size keyboard and I always use an external mouse, problem solved.
People who talk about building laptops in discussion groups go on at length
about the difficulties of procuring LCD screens and what to do with them.
I decided to build my laptop with a genuine 15" computing friendly Samsung
LCD, not one of those letterbox things intended for watching DVDs. If I wanted
to watch DVDs on my lap, I'd be sitting here with a DVD player and a TV.
Having solved the power issue early on by using a wall socket, it's just
a matter of making the connections.
Now I seriously considered building wireless into my laptop just to be
fashionable, but the truth is I don't trust the security on wireless networks,
and the real range (through walls and such) of my router can drop as low
as 50 ft. I decided that since I'll usually be using my laptop in one spot,
I could afford to go with the proven laplink technology to sync my laptop
with my desktop. I wonder if plugging both ends of the laplink cable into
the same motherboard will confuse the software?
A laptop wouldn't be complete without a shoulder bag. Since the laptop I'm
building won't fit in a shoulder bag, I found a better use for it. This patented
technology, which I'm calling "Extension Cord" gives my laptop a 50 ft roving
range, a little longer if you count the power strip. I worry that it may
set off alarm bells at airports, but you can't expect everything in a prototype
built from scratch. BTW, you can make your own laptop backpack from a Targus
bag in two seconds.
So, here's my homemade laptop solution. It has all the power of my desktop,
and is fully expandable and upgradeable with standard ATX and PCI components.
I can use it anywhere in the house, and with the extension cord technology,
I have capability of operating throughout the front and back yards. Note
how the design allows easy operation of a standard mouse, though the keyboard
position is a little to close to the body for my taste. Still, it worked
the first time I plugged it in, so I'm calling it a success and moving on
to building a lunchbox computer.
I'm cranking up to reverse engineer a few laptops, down to weighing the
components and studying the mechanical interfaces. I even have a PowerBook
to chew on, first time I've ever looked inside an Apple laptop. I'm also
going to get some car computer parts in here for a look, and I'm pretty impressed
with the mini-ITX form factor as an alternative to mini-ATX for non-gaming
applications. All joking aside, battery life and whether or not to even include
batteries will be a major decision, and if I go with ATX components rather
than cannibalized laptop parts, batteries will definitely be out the window.
There's also the trade-off between heat dissipation and fan noise to consider
when you start using higher end components, particularly in laptops when
the whole thing is sitting right in front of your face. One solution would
be a completely detachable screen, so the body of the laptop can sit on the
floor like a PC.