Introduction: Build a Low-cost Portable Wii Laptop
My daily bus ride to school and back takes up a total of an hour, and has taken up a total of an hour for the past few years. This has never been much of an issue for me... but I believe that the best DIY projects are the ones that solve non-issues. Why wait in a bus when I could entertain myself and my friends with something unusual? Why not build a portable Wii?
As a high schooler, I couldn't afford to buy custom screens or anything of the sort. This build works around budget limitations by taking advantage of parts found inside cheap consumer gadgets. The total cost of my build only came up to $50. Reuse and recycle!
It took weeks of design and prototyping, but the final machine was eventually born. This Wii laptop:
- Is sleek, compact, and lightweight,
- Can run for up to three hours on battery power,
- Has an integrated sensor bar and speakers,
- Can be hooked up to a TV and used as an ordinary Wii,
...and can be built entirely out of old and recycled electronics on a small budget. It has provided me and my friends with countless hours of fun, and it's been running strong for a year.
Be warned - this Instructable is not for the faint of heart. You should have some prior experience with electronics before attempting this. If done incorrectly, you could be left with a broken Wii. But if done correctly, it will prove to be a challenging and rewarding experience. Give it a shot if you can!
If you like this project, please consider giving it a vote in the Battery Powered contest. I'd really appreciate it.
Step 1: The Game Plan
So, why/how does one make a Portable Wii?
The Wii is a remarkably good candidate for portablization. It consumes only 20 watts of power and will start up if supplied with at least 12.2 volts. It runs cool and is already compact to begin with. To make it portable, we need to add: a display that accepts AV inputs, a way to get rid of disks, and a source of power.
- Portable DVD players are perfect for screens; most already accept AV inputs out of the box and have speakers built in. If we cut off the bottom half of the player and keep only the screen & its circuitry, we can simply glue it onto our Wii. We do not want cables sticking out of our system, however, so the connections between the Wii and screen will have to be internal. Doing this will make the system more compact and will make it possible to hook our system up to a TV like a regular Wii if we choose.
- Moving the guts of the DVD player inside the Wii will take up space, and extra space is not something that you'll find inside a Wii. For that reason, we will have to remove the Wii's internal disk drive. Believe it or not, this is a viable option for our project; if our Wii is softmodded correctly, we can just play backups of our games off of a USB drive and ignore the internal drive entirely. There are manyguides that cover softmodding. Just remember: You can only legally play the games that you own! Anything else is piracy and is NOT condoned by this Instructable.
- Since we'll have no extra space inside our Wii, our battery will be external. This will allow us to quickly swap out batteries and connect our Wii to a regular power supply if needed.
The sensor bar is not, in fact, a sensor; it's just two IR LEDs spaced a certain distance apart. We can integrate these into the hull of our Wii without a hitch.
Step 2: Major Parts
This project doesn't have to cost much; my final design was built for under $50! Use what you already have and try to find everything else used on eBay/craigslist. Here are the 3 big things that you'll need:
- $70 -A softmodded Wii. You hopefully own one of these already. See the previous step if you need help softmodding your Wii. This tutorial won't cover portablizing the Wii Mini or Wii U, but I don't doubt that this tutorial can be applied to the two - both of these new consoles are almost identical to the Wii in construction.
- $20-$40 - A 7 to 8 in. portable DVD player. These tend to come with speakers, have a hinge, and come with a battery that could be used to power the whole setup (to be discussed later on) - very convenient for this project! Don't get too attached to it, as we'll be tearing it apart and shrinking it down for this project. There are hundreds of these on eBay at any given moment; search hard and you'll find one under $25.
- Make sure that your DVD player has an AV input, speakers, and a simple design. Curves around the hinge area will make it harder to mount later on.
- I've heard that a car monitor will also work here. These don't always come with speakers and don't have a hinge, but you won't have to tear out any DVD player parts to shrink it down. If you can think of a way to add a hinge, these will work too.
- $20-$50 - A battery. The battery in this setup is external, so you have options!
- Lead Acid batteries are the cheapest option and can give you the most bang for your buck. A 7AH battery will only set you back $20 and can power the system for around 3 hours. Their immense weight and size may be impractical for some. I had one of these lying around my house, so I went for it. Reuse!
- NiMH battery packs are not as cheap, but they are much lighter and smaller than lead acid batteries (three times smaller, in fact!). A 5AH battery will set you back around $50.
- Li-Poly batteries are the lightest and most powerful option, but you'd have to figure out how to regulate the power to a steady 12V (14.7 volts is the closest pack voltage you can get).
- The battery that comes with your portable DVD player is always an option. Check if it holds enough juice for this project.
- The Wii draws around 20 watts of power. If you want a quick approximation of how long your battery will power the Wii, then use the following calculation: Battery Watt-hours * 0.0375 = Hours of playtime.
Once you get these parts, make sure that the screen works with the Wii. Hook the Wii up to the screen with the original AV input cable (eugh, the proper way) and check to see if it fires up correctly.
Step 3: Other Parts and Tools
In addition to the Big Three, you'll also need:
- (2) IR8353-14C IR LEDs.
- (1) 130 ohm resistor.
- Duct tape (what would we do without it?)
Not many tools are needed for this project, but there are a couple that are essential.
- Specialty screwdriver set. You'll need a triwing screwdriver and a miniature philips screwdriver to break past the Wii's defenses. Don't despair if you don't own a triwing; the right size of torx/hex can also get rid of triwing screws.
- Soldering equipment. A fine tip on your iron will help, as a majority of the connections will be tiny.
- Dremel. You'll likely have to do a bit of "radical remodeling" to get everything to fit properly, so a rotary tool with a cutoff disk is essential.
- Good spot to work. I put a sheet of black posterboard on my metal workbench to insulate it and make it easier to see all of the little bits.
- Hot glue gun. These work wonders when it comes to holding little things down.
- Way to keep track of screws. There are a LOT, and you will need to save all of them to reassemble the Wii.
Ready to start?
Step 4: Disassembling the DVD Player
The only part of the DVD player that we actually need is the screen, so a lengthy slimming session is in order. Our technique for removing bulk will be a game of electronics Jenga - "How much circuitry can we take off of this thing before it breaks?"
Disassemble the lower half your device and take a look at its guts. Don't bother with the screen assembly; it's fine as it is. Hook the exposed DVD player up to the Wii and turn it on. Then, start unplugging things from the mainboard! If the screen turns off or the sound cuts out, then back up.
Once you've finished that, see if you can trim down the circuit boards themselves. Look for spots on the board that have almost no traces and figure out if they serve a vestigal purpose (a charging circuit separated from the rest of the board, for example, could go). Be cautious during this part- cutting boards is much easier than mending them. When you've finished, you should have a barebones pile of supporting circuitry attached to your screen.
Remove the supporting circuitry from the screen entirely and put it aside. Your screen is (hopefully) attached via a plug. If not, then just cut the cables - we can resolder them later on. I'll refer to this pile of circuitry as the screen's circuits from now on.
Don't throw away any of the DVD player's hardware; it's chock full of motors and doodads that could be re-purposed for other projects!
Step 5: Disassembling the DVD Player Pt.2
We may only need the top half of the DVD player, but there is one bit of the bottom that we could use: the hinge. We also want to take a nice chunk of plastic from the area around the hinges so that we can glue the hinges to the Wii. This chunk of plastic should (ideally) be as large as possible to provide us with the most surface area for our glue. Try to make the chunk capable of wrapping around a 90 degree corner; this will lead to a stronger joint later on.
Pull out a sharpie and mark lines across the bottom half of the DVD player that separates the hinges (and a strip of plastic connected to the hinges) from the rest of the DVD player. Then, cut along them with your Dremel until that area is freed. The end result should be a completely separated screen (with hinges) and a very sad looking DVD player. Keep the screen with the rest of the circuitry. We'll be coming back to it soon.
Step 6: Opening Up the Wii's Shell
Disassembling the Wii is simply a matter of finding all of the hidden screws on the outside. You'll need a triwing screwdriver for some of these.
- The first four screws are on the left side of the Wii. Remove the two rubber feet near the back to gain access to two triwing screws. Then, peel back two stickers near the front to gain access to the next two.
- The BIOS battery tray on the bottom of the Wii is held in by a single screw. You'll find a single screw underneath the tray once you remove it.
- The top of the Wii is covered by a black panel held down by three screws.
- You'll find four more screws underneath this black panel.
- The bottom of the Wii has four more screws hidden under a rubber foot and three stickers.
Once these are gone, you can wriggle the front panel off. Make sure that you disconnect the small LED power connector that connects the front panel to the Wii.
Finish things up by pulling the two halves of the Wii apart. Save ALL of the screws and screw covers in a safe place for later.
Step 7: Removing the Disk Drive
The guts of our DVD player need somewhere to hide, and the now-defunct disk drive in our Wii looks like it'd leave a good cavity behind if it were gone. To remove it, undo the four small screws at the corners and remove the two cables that attach it to the motherboard (they are on the underside of the drive, so removing them will be tricky. Don't break them!).
We have a problem now: our Wii checks to see if all of its parts are functional on startup. If the disk drive is missing, the Wii will notice and refuse to boot. If we want our Wii to work, we'll have to trick the Wii into thinking that it still has a drive. We can do this by leaving the mainboard of the drive attached to the Wii.
Undo the two screws on the bottom of the drive that hold the mainboard on and disconnect all of the cables. Cut the two motor wires and pull the board out. Keep it in a safe place; we will reattach it to the Wii in a bit.
Keep the rest of the disk drive until the end of the project. We'll be using it as a template near the end, but you can salvage it for parts right after that.
Remember the DVD player that we hacked to pieces? See if you can fit all of its circuitry in the disk drive's cavity. If it fits, you're in the clear. If not, you will have to figure out a way to slim it down further.
(Did your choice of screen not require any extra space? Then consider putting an external USB hard drive here. You can then directly wire it to your Wii's USB ports and store all of your games internally).
Step 8: Accessing the Motherboard
We need to access the underside of the motherboard to attach our cables. Thankfully, hidden screws are no longer an issue in here; the rest are both out in the open and marked with small arrows (thanks, Nintendo!).
First, remove the black trim near the front of the Wii. Then remove the screws surrounding the black plastic hood. Make sure that you remove the screw that holds the case fan on. Once you've done this, the black hood should come right off. Be careful here; the Wii's two antennae are attached to this piece and can easily break if you manhandle them.
The last part in the way of our motherboard is the EM shield. Undo the screws holding this on and gently lift the shield off of the motherboard. It's normal if you feel it stick in one spot; the WiFi module is practically glued with thermal paste onto the EM shield. When that comes off, you should have direct access to the heart of the Wii. Remove the heatsink and unplug the antennae wires to free the Wii's motherboard.
Remember to be gentle during all of these steps. If it doesn't feel like it's gonna come off, it probably isn't. Not in one piece, at least.
Step 9: Making Connections
We finally have access to the input and output connectors on our Wii. We'll be soldering wires directly to the pins of these connectors. Make sure that your wires are long enough to reach from these pins to your screen's circuitry. These are the connections that we need:
- AV output.
The AV connections will be the most difficult. Solder wires to the 0v, Left Audio, Right Audio, and Video pins on the AV output connector. I've marked these pins on the image above.
The +5v connections are a bit simpler and will power our sensor bar. Solder wires to the +5v and 0v pins on the AV output connector.
The power connections are the simplest and will power the screen. Solder wires to the +12v and 0v pins on the Wii's internal power connector. Use a heavier gauge of wire for these.
Take your time. Bridging a connection here is bad news.
(Are you adding an internal hard drive to your Wii? If so, solder your hard drive's USB cable to the Wii's USB connectors now. The USB connector is near the top-back of the motherboard and has a 2x4 grid of pins)
Step 10: Putting It All Back Together
Reinsert the motherboard into the Wii and reattach the heatsink, EM shield, WiFi cables, and plastic air ducts. Make sure that you reapply thermal paste to the heatsink! Some clever shifting of wires will be needed to get everything in place - especially once the EM shield is replaced. You may have to bend portions of the EM shield away to make room for the wires.
Step 11: Adding a Simple Switch
If you hook your Wii up to a TV, you probably don't want the screen to stay on. Let's add a simple switch to our screen.
Use your Dremel to carve out a slot in the Wii's top shell. Check to see if the switch fits in the slot and splice it into the +12v cable. We'll screw the switch into the shell at the end.
Step 12: Testing
Your Wii has just been through a lot. Check to see if it's still alive by reattaching the disk reader's circuitry to the motherboard (remember to insulate it from the metal EM shield). If all went well, your Wii should power up and function perfectly (reading disks excluded, woops). If your Wii fails to power on, check to see that everything is plugged in and free of shorts.
Solder the AV and power cables that we just attached to the Wii onto your screen's circuit board (directly onto the pins of the AV input port). Use a continuity tester and a multimeter to figure out which pins are which on your screen's circuitry. Trim down the length of the wires if possible. Temporarily reconnect your screen to the screen's circuit board (do not solder!). Then, fire up the Wii again. If all went well, your screen should turn on and show the Wii's menu. If it doesn't turn on, check if all of the screen's switches are turned on (you might have accidentally turned the power off, who knows?) If the video or audio is distorted, check your AV cables for shorts and poor connections.
Good job getting this far! You're halfway there.
Step 13: Organizing Circuitry
Let's clean up this setup a bit. Cover the surface of the EM shield with an insulating material (duct tape works well). Then, glue the disk reader's circuit board to the EM shield.
Cut out a square of plastic the size of the disk reader. Drill four holes in square that correspond to the original four holes in the disk drive. This square of plastic will separate the disk drive's circuit board from the screen's circuitry and act as a convenient mounting surface for the screen's circuitry.
Use the existing screw holes in the screen's circuitry to mount it to the plastic square. If your circuit board has volume controls on it or headphone jacks, orient the side that has them towards the front of the Wii. Elevate them to the height of the Wii's disk slot; if you position it correctly, you can make the controls accessible through the disk slot.
Step 14: Building a Sensor Bar
The sensor bar on a Wii isn't actually a sensor; it just provides two sources of IR light that the Wiimote can track. The distance between these two points of light determine the range of our sensor bar - wider distances increase the maximum and minimum range of the sensor bar. My bar needed to work at under 2 feet, so the distance between my LEDs was 1.75 inches. You can tinker around with yours until you find the optimal distance for your setup.
Solder the two IR LEDs and the resistor in the configuration shown above. Then, connect it to the 5v power cables that we made. Voila, done!
Well, not quite. We still need to mount it somewhere. I chose to mount mine on the large front face of the Wii (since my final design was made to hang vertically on a bus seat), but you can mount yours elsewhere if needed. Ideal locations would be on the bottom of the Wii or inside the screen assembly.
To mount them, drill two 3/16" holes that are the proper distance apart from each other. Make sure that the holes lie on an axis parallel to the bottom of the screen; if not, your cursor could get stuck sideways. Do not mount the LEDs yet.
Step 15: Attaching the Screen and Reassembling the Wii
Here comes the most exciting part of this build: putting it all together.
The best spot to attach a screen seems to be the bottom edge; the top edge has fussy GameCube ports that complicate everything. The cables in your screen probably come out through the hinges, so drill a hole in the top shell near where your hinges will be. Make sure all of the screen's wires can fit through it comfortably.
Prep the Wii and screen for gluing. Sand both of the surfaces to be glued and make sure that they are free of bumps (shave any bumps off with a Dremel). Apply a thin layer of epoxy and clamp them firmly together (with the cables threaded through the hole) until everything is dried. The resulting joint should be very sturdy.
Reconnect the screen to it's supporting circuitry (solder them back if needed), insert the sensor bar into the holes that you drilled, and attach your screen switch. Organize the rest of the cables and make sure that none of them protrude out of the shell. Do a final check to see if everything works; if it does, you can press the top shell w/ screen onto the rest of the Wii. Reattach the front and top panels and replace the screws/rubber feet.
Step 16: The Battery
To make a battery pack, just splice a standard Wii power plug onto a battery. This setup is extremely simple, but you could easily get creative with this. Adding a voltmeter or a fancy case isn't too big of a step.
If your battery is light enough (i.e not a lead acid battery), use a Velcro strip to make a detachable mount for it on the Wii. The bottom of the Wii (now the top, I suppose) would be a good place for this.
Step 17: Finished!
You are now the owner of a one-of-a-kind portable Wii! This machine in particular has been in operation for two years now and has traveled halfway across the country - and yet it's still as entertaining for me and my friends as the day it was built. At this point, it feels more like a friend than a console!
A big thanks goes out to BenHeck.com and its forums. I doubt I could have done this project without them. Give them a visit if you need any extra info on portablization.