Introduction: Pinebox Portable Computer

Picture of Pinebox Portable Computer

This is a multi-part instructable for a Portable Raspberry PI computer and development system:

It's a Pi, in a box, a box made of pine, hence the name: PInebox!


  • Portable Linux computer/laptop
  • Raspberry Pi hardware/software project development platform
  • Backup emergency PC (web browser/email)
  • General 5 Megapixel Camera/HD Video (with audio)
  • Portable Audio recorder/player
  • Remote ZoneMinder CCTV camera source and ZoneMinder CCTV camera montage monitor
  • DVB-T2 television receiver?
  • VOIP/Skype phone?
  • And more!

Step 1: Specifications

Hardware spec :-

  • Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, Quad core ARM, 1G memory
  • HD Screen from Cyntech (HDMI 1280 x 800, LED backlit)
  • HD camera (front, side and rear) with 2 x LED flash
  • Wired and WiFi network access
  • 8G system/OS drive (Micro SDHC 8G/Noobs)
  • 16G internal onboard storage (USB stick)
  • Full size keys, compact keyboard (wired)
  • Wireless Mouse LIRC (Infra Red control) Transmitter and Receiver
  • Audio Out: Headphone (ext)/Speakers (int)
  • Audio In: Line In (ext)/Mono Mic (int)
  • Approx 55WH battery pack and internal charger
  • Flexible recharging/external power requirements
  • Custom wooden case

Ports :-

  • 2 x USB
  • 1 x RS232C (D9)
  • 1 x Wired network (RJ45)
  • Universal AC/DC In (2.1mm DC jack)
  • 2 x Audio (line in/spkr out) (3.5mm jacks)
  • 40 way GPIO with boosted (i.e. non Pi powered) 3V3/5V supplies (internal)

Step 2: Concept/Design

Picture of Concept/Design

After lots of paper scribblings and sketching, physical layout for this project was mocked up in Blender 3D for checking sizes, clearances, and to give cutting/marking guides. The attached video is rendered from the Blender model to give an exploded view.

I took photos and flatbed scans of the actual hardware, to be used as textures onto accurately sized boxes in Blender, and downloaded photos and measurements for the HDMIPi screen/HDMI controller (which I didn't physically have at the time).

Various boxes were added to the flat PCB modules for marking upstanding components (e.g. connectors) that could interfere.

I imported the STL file of the Camera Spinner into the Blender model.

The final design differs slightly from the concept pictures/video shown here.

  • The whole box and screen surround is slightly wider
  • The camera, flash, and LIRC module were moved further down the case
  • DC-DC Converters both in the base unit now - there was one in the lid originally
  • Two clasps were used (left and right) instead of one (centred)
  • External friction stays added to keep the screen upright

Major components are picked out in the image comments above.

Step 3: Subproject Links

Here are all the parts of the project so far, and placeholders for those to come!


HDMIPi screen original assembly video and extra build notes and mods


Camera spinner provides HD/5Mp front/rear/side camera for stills and video

Macro adapter to allow camera to focus closer for detail


Power And Control PCBs Design Using LTSpice to simulate/prototype, EagleCAD for layout

Power And Control PCBs Build To give power supply, battery charger/monitoring, power saving, camera handling, LIRC port, RS232 port and lots of other useful interfacing.

Wooden Box:

Hinged case for project, a mitred box with splined corners.

Upper framework to mount HDMIPi (Screen), Raspberry Pi and camera

Lower framework for keyboard, ports, speakers, power PCBs, batteries.

Logos for inside and outside


Final assembly of all the parts into the case


Rapid setup/customise of Pi checklist (to be updated with latest Raspbian)

Custom Python software for power and control boards/camera spinner boards.

Step 4: Latest Progress June 2015

Picture of Latest Progress June 2015

All major components fitted into the bare (unpainted) case, with a temporary lash up of batteries/DC-DC converter. It can go battery powered (but with no internal charger), and it can go wireless. No expansion/IO ports yet, and no wired network. Camera spinner and manually activated flash works.

Step 5: Latest Progress July 2015

Picture of Latest Progress July 2015

Disassembled to finish case off and do painting/staining, pending finishing up the custom PCB designs.

Step 6: Latest Progress September 2015

Picture of Latest Progress September 2015

Finally finished tweaking and writing up all the electronic design parts for the PCBs, which are being made!

Step 7: Latest Progress December 2015

Picture of Latest Progress December 2015

All boards built, tested and schematics/LTSpice files added to the Electronics Build instructable.

"Backup emergency PC (web browser/email)" feature unexpectedly tested and found working when I was put off-line by my firewall machine failing just before Xmas. :( Thank you Raspberry PI! -- still mounted on a piece of MDF :)

Step 8: Latest Progress February 2016

Picture of Latest Progress February 2016

All parts finally fitted into the case!

Still to do :-Custom software bits.


jon_chalk (author)2015-07-28

One word: genius

MikB (author)jon_chalk2015-07-29

Thank you :)

(Although I suspect you really mean -- "crazy!")

Rick alde (author)2016-08-28

What keyboard did you use?

MikB (author)Rick alde2016-08-29

Box says: "K-Smart 88 Key Mini Multimedia Keyboard" which appears to be

"1c4f:0002 SiGma Micro Keyboard TRACER Gamma Ivory" by lsusb output.

It's a full size keys, but reduced footprint keyboard. I can't be doing with keys that aren't the right size (miniaturised layouts), it messes up my typing :)

Ibrahimomarkhan (author)2016-07-19

can you dounload google or any search engines on it

TravisM18 (author)2016-01-22

Nice but a Pine 64 can run ubuntu for about 15 dollars.

MikB (author)TravisM182016-01-22

I think you've misunderstood something. The Pine 64 is just the bare board for $15 -- if you think for $15 you get an SBC, SD card, memory stick, batteries, display, keyboard, mouse, wifi then you really missed something. There's no comparison.

Collcroc123. (author)2015-10-02

Will there be full instructions and wood templates?

MikB (author)Collcroc123.2015-10-02

Other than detailed instructions and wood templates already posted, no :)

You need to read the sub-projects more closely -- lots of detail -- there are templates for the case outer, but not for the inner, as parts were built directly around the screen, keyboard. etc.

There is more to do on the case-rear, subject to the electronics getting finished up -- all for a future instructable.

Kirand1 (author)2015-09-12


jakekusters (author)2015-08-18

I've been looking to do this in a mini briefcase type box for a while. What I'm wondering is I have a leftover laptop LCD screen that I have the pcb to power it and plug a hdmi into, could this be worked into?

MikB (author)jakekusters2015-08-22

If the LCD panel has a driver board with it that takes HDMI as an input, then it should work fine. One useful feature of the HDMIPI screen is that if you cut the power out from under it, when power is restored it switches itself back to the "on" state, meaning I didn't have to extend any of its controls - power/menu etc. The custom electronics rudely interrupts the 5V supply to the HDMI Pi screen to save power when the case is closed. If the screen didn't self power on, then there would be a need to automatically operate the power switch.

Han_Solo_Order66 (author)2015-08-01

i think you may have stumbled onto something way more usefull than one may think although i only took a quick look at the first page so far it seems this would be really useful for audio and video production. among many other handy uses! great project.

MikB (author)Han_Solo_Order662015-08-02

Certainly for gathering audio/video (and previewing back) -- yes. Although there are portable still camera/video camera projects, PI based, that are lighter and smaller, if that's your main interest.

For editing/production, I would still be tempted to offload the raw files to a PC for editing/transcoding, due to the processor intensive nature.

The temporary camera/video test scripts I'm using store all the pictures/video on the USB stick in a spool directory, and when the wired/wireless network comes up and it has sight of my home PC, pushes all the files across to free up space.

Han_Solo_Order66 (author)MikB2015-08-21

yes that's what i had in mind for it, because my PC is absolutely terrible when it comes to capturing audio and video so a cheap computer like this built for this would be much cheaper for this than a better laptop so thank you.

Infinit_ (author)2015-07-30

I'm planning to build a laptop like yours but with my dead laptop's screen(15.6") and as power i was thinking of using very powerful batery banks so you can attatch one whilst the other is charging. What is your oppinion on that do you think it will work?

MikB (author)Infinit_2015-07-30

Yes your idea would work (and even better if you could find one of the
rare versions of the power bank that lets you charge AND use the device,
then you wouldn't have to swap over. They do exist!), I did look at them, but here's why I didn't do that ...

I avoided using standard lithium battery banks due to expense. It would work, but an equivalent battery bank to mine (19V/2900mAh=55WH) would be about a 18000maH/3.1v lithium single cell power-bank, with built in boost to 5V. That's a big one.

Also, they only charge from 5V USB -- my design for charger/input will run about 8V-18V, either AC or DC. So any available power, almost! The charger (is/will be) built in, and laptop runs on external power (priority override) when provided, that way the batteries are only used when working wire-free, and always kept topped off.

Final point: I can monitor the voltage of my pack (23v-16v range), and a) drop off non-essential loads (screen, keyboard, USB hub) when things get tight (below 16v), starting a 2-3 minute "shutdown" warning process, and b) force an immediate shutdown/power off at truly EMPTY battery (14.5v).

a) will be reversible, so if you plug in to external power, these components will come back, and the shutdown will be cancelled (and the battery start charging). b) is rapid, but controlled loss of power.

I don't know how you do this with a USB power bank, which will give 5V right up until the point where the lights just go out, with usually no ability to monitor.

All this stuff will be in the electronics/software bits to come later.

Infinit_ (author)MikB2015-08-11

Thanks, sorry for the very late responce, I appreciate you responding and will take all your proposals in consideration :) .

Edgar (author)2015-08-10

All that, and you can handle Blender, too? ;) A great and very useful Instructable. Thank you, made my day.

MikB (author)Edgar2015-08-11

Thanks! The only thing "wrong" with Blender is the initial shock when you launch it :) There are so many tools in there it can make your head pulsate. But it is well worth persevering with it, I don't use anywhere near its full range of features.

Edgar (author)MikB2015-08-11

Yes, it's a good program, but way too steep a learning curve. By the way, propose that wood console design to Ponoko and CNCKing, I bet they will sell it like mad, and you get the biggest part of the deal.

wobbler (author)2015-08-10

I like it! In the old, old, old days you
used to get "portable" valve radios like this in a small case. it's a
pity they're not around any more as the cases would have been perfect for
this mod.

MikB (author)wobbler2015-08-11

Old old old days? I have (inherited) an old portable reel-reel tape recorder, valve based, magic-eye level meter. I wouldn't dare mod it like that, because it STILL WORKS.

Bit yes, a thrift shop/non working one would be good.

lclaiborne (author)2015-08-09

That is hard core steampunk. Thing of beauty!

MikB (author)lclaiborne2015-08-10

Thank you -- I suspect I need to use more plumbing parts to qualify for true steampunk ... and rivets! :)

billbillt (author)2015-08-09


jstnbeeks (author)2015-08-08

Can I get a link to those hinges and stays, I made an Rpi laptop in a pelican case but have no way to hold it open

MikB (author)jstnbeeks2015-08-09

You should've used a *penguin* case :)

Try these ... (3" Stays) and (40mm Electro brass butt hinges)

You do need to sink the screw-heads hard down for the stays, otherwise they catch on the moving mechanism! I think I went down to number 4 wood screws in the end.

sureshkum4687 (author)2015-08-09

caperjack (author)2015-07-28

nice job ,I made one using a old backgammon case ,but soon I will start a project like yours ,with wood ,one thing I would put the hinges on the inside maybe

MikB (author)caperjack2015-07-29

Hinges on the inside would be possible, but space is tight along the back, and an extra thing in the way was not that useful. Also it would put the screws (which are already longer than the 5mm wood) with the pointy end outside. The current way round, scrap wood on the inside (that doubles as supports for other stuff), can take the pointy ends.

I would have put the stays inside, where they conventionally go, if I'd realised how essential they were at the start. But, stays on the inside is incompatible with the keyboard mounting method, and making a good close seal for the top screen panel -- it would need some slots cutting in places.

caperjack (author)MikB2015-07-30

yeah ,I see what you mean now ,nice project, you did a great job . I picked up a wooden box today that I will modify for mine ,maybe,

jaynolan1127 (author)2015-07-28

Thisis really cool! Might make one if i can save up the money. How difficult, and how costly would you say this is?

MikB (author)jaynolan11272015-07-29

I don't know how difficult it would be, for you -- I'm designing and building into the unknown here, and testing the limits of my woodworking skills :)

To me, the electronics and software side is the easier bit. I've been working on building this (off and on) since March, with diversions to make jigs used in the making of ... and the design work kicked off in February.

When I get further toward finishing, I'll be able to tell you how costly in total, :)

But so far, starting from most expensive component, downwards ...

9" HDMI Screen/driver: £75, RPiB2 + 8G card £33, electronics for custom boards £25 new parts + surplus items I already have, Camera £19, Batteries £18, 3D Printed spinner £16, Wood £10, USB hub £6, WIFI dongle £6, Keyboard £5, Wireless Mouse £5, 16G USB memory stick £5, USB/Net extenders £5, DC-DC converters £2-£3 each, then lots of shrapnel items at low £ prices, e.g. clasps, hinges, stays, glass.

Figure over £200 if you have to buy everything.

I know, go buy a cheap tablet instead :)

caperjack (author)MikB2015-07-29

I know, go buy a cheap tablet instead :)


no way , building is more fun ,no matter the cost ,, I got over 500.00$ Canadian into 2, Pi's and 2 screens , Laptop LCD driver board .ect ect and sd cards and all kinds of cables and wires ,,, and some old radio's to use to put them in ,if I could just make them fit ,lol

happy building !!

MikB (author)caperjack2015-07-29

> building is more fun ,no matter the cost

... is the correct answer :)

LydiaT2 (author)2015-07-28

Cool! This is really different!

MikB (author)LydiaT22015-07-29

Thanks! I like the idea of blending some cutting edge tech with more retro (?) looking design.

Unlike some Apple/Sony bit of tech, it's not light, thin, shiny, plasticky and tied down by the manufacturer :) It's chunky (like that penguin), wooden, satin-y and almost 100% open source.

Treker2 (author)2015-07-28


About This Instructable




Bio: Software geek, electronics enthusiast, musician, artist ... I enjoy making stuff, and discovering new things!
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