Introduction: Conversion of a Laptop Into a Steampunk 18.5" Tablet PC
I wasn't really ready to begin this instructable; I'm still in the developmental phases of this project. However when I saw the contests for the Make It Real Challenge and the Shop Bot Challenge; well I just had to get this 'ible started early.
I have a CarveWright, version B, which I intend to use to carve the custom wooden case for this tablet. If I can win either a 3D printer, or a ShopBot, I will almost definitely be using one of those superior machines to fabricate the case.
I had started to write a build log for the design phase of this project. For now I will be posting that, with each step as an entry in the log. As I actually move beyond design and into practice, I will update this with as many photos and as much documentation as I can.
The first image in this 'ible is a model I made in 123D, and can be found in their gallery here.
The second image on this step is the latest version of the rough drawings I made for the external layout of the tablet.
The front view shows the screen in the center which will be 12" by 24" x 2.5" overall, incorporating an 18.5" LCD with touchscreen, a pair of Harman Kardon stereo speakers to either side of that with a brass/gold grill accent, a partially disassembled but still functional pocketwatch as a timepiece (lower left), a power button (top left), mute button and volume scroll wheel (top right), and four directional buttons (lower right) to manually rotate the screen. The directional buttons may be unnecessary, if so that area will be open for something else (or just left as plain wood).
The side view shows (from top to bottom) four USB ports, audio in/out (headphone/mic), HMDI out, universal card reader, and AC in ports.
I labeled the image itself, but having seen so many 'ibles with the labels misplaced or nonfunctioning, I thought it best to add this redundancy.
I have three entries to the build log so far, I'll post them as steps 1 -3 for now. Much more to come, soon!
Oh yeah, *PLEASE* vote for me in either or both the contests; Make It Real Challenge and/or ShopBot Challenge!!!
Step 1: Custom Tablet Blog Entry One (Saturday, February 04, 2012)
Okay, as I know I am overly long winded, I will begin with the TL;DR: "I wanted a tablet PC, but bigger. I had a spare laptop 18.5". I decided to make it into a tablet."
If you happen to enjoy long winded minutia, proceed on below. Else, skip to the next step. ;)
In shopping around for a tablet that would satisfy all of my wants and desires for such a device (to be honest, I had no needs of one, just wants and desires), everything I saw fell short. I came close to deciding upon one or another several times, but always with reluctance and hesitation.
Finally, I realized what the issues were. Basically, I am not desiring an android or ios style tablet; no - I *am* desiring that style of device; but not the operating system/functionality found on those devices.
The majority of what I want to do with a tablet is use it as an ereader as well as use it to surf the internet, watch movies, and play simple games (just about any tablet would work for these things, to varying degrees, though as always I am of the opinion that bigger is better, and the 7-10" offerings available... well that's the size I want my smartphone to be, not a tablet).
I also wish to use it to occasionally do a bit of work or keep myself organized. And having used an android phone for a while now, and with my wife using an iphone to see its functionality, I know neither will make me happy when I want to launch any productivity type software.
I also have a few games as well as productivity type applications which are web based, and use either Silverlight or Flash, and which do not function well in a tablet/mobile browser environment.
My last laptop was a Toshiba P505, an 18.5" behemoth of a portable computer. A few years ago it was the best of the best. Dual core CPU, lots of RAM, huge screen, nice graphics card... it would be an adequate desktop replacement for many, not me; but for me it was an adequate laptop.
Through a series of events I'll just hand-wave as 'life' without going into a lot of unnecessary detail, my laptop became my wife's laptop. Okay, a modicum of detail; in short order both her desktop and her laptop died... leaving me two computers and her none. And she, as one of the 'many' found my laptop to be an adequate desktop replacement... with the added benefit of being portable (even if she complained of its mass and weight constantly).
My wife isn't particularly careless or abusive, nor would I say she is clumsy. But somehow, most every technological device she uses on a regular basis develops problems of one sort or another. As she always still thought of it as my laptop (and indeed I had to borrow it back whenever I actually NEEDED portability), she did her absolute best to take extra special care of the laptop. And for about two years, it worked well for her, and developed none of the typical symptoms of electronic death most things she uses would have experienced in half that time.
After two years though, of course right about the time the three year warranty was expiring (I had it for about a year before she got it full time), a few issues developed. And I do not hold her responsible; when a warranty expires, it is some sort of natural law that electronics have to develop problems. Namely two issues that are unrelated, but very related.
First, the battery clip in the laptop was somehow sheared off, to the point it no longer kept a battery in place. I couldn't buy a new battery, I had to send the laptop in for repairs. It was only about $150 to get it fixed, but between a tight budget and my wife not desiring to be without a computer for a week or more (and Toshiba, while they make wonderful machines, has a notoriously poor customer service and slow repair time)... well it never got fixed.
I used duct tape to hold the battery in place, which */seemed/* to work just fine.
The other issue was the right hinge between the monitor and the laptop cracked - and while it works, the case lost some integrity, and of course that corner is the spot that the power plug is located. It is a very rare issue, but on occasion it won't recognize the power, and you have to toy with it, much like a shorted wire, to get it to work. Most of the time it is fine, though.
It would seem a third problem developed a couple months later - the laptop began overheating and wouldn't run for more than a minute or two before shutting itself down. I opened it up enough to check the heatsink, and blow clear the exhaust fans/ports... but the heatsink seemed to be fine, and the exhaust seemed relatively clean. And it still overheated.
So we set it aside for a month or so, and my wife and I shared my desktop. I then was toying with it a and noticed the battery was swollen. I pulled it out, and it wasn't swollen much, but just enough to be noticeably damaged.
I pulled the battery and booted the laptop on just AC power (luckily it works with no battery installed), and sure enough - the thing ran fine with no overheating. I did some software maintenance and handed it back to my wife, who has been using it for the past few months (if you're keeping track, it is now almost 4 years old).
What does all this rambling have to do with anything? Perhaps nothing - I do enjoy rambling. But my intention in stating all of the above was to lead up to this point... I've decided to get my wife a chromebook she's been drooling over, and take my laptop back.
Yet I still have an urge to have a shiny new touchscreen tablet. And one sleep deprived morning, I decided I was going to hack apart my laptop, fix the case issues by building a new case, and in the process make an 18.5" widescreen touchscreen tablet.
It will run Windows 7 just fine (and hopefully Win8 once that is released and relatively bug free), it has enough processing power to do all the things I need (okay, want) a tablet to do, and as an added benefit, with a USB (or bluetooth) keyboard and mouse, it will be just like my favorite old laptop which I haven't really used for a couple of years!
Wow, speaking of rambling, my intention here was to just write a one paragraph (or so) introduction to my build log. See, this is going to be my first ever build log; I don't do much in the way of journals, logs, blogs, vlogs, or anything of the sort. I don't even 'microblog' (that's the original term for what is now known as tweeting) - I am just not terse enough to pull off any sort of logging without a lot more time and commitment than most would put in.
I am very excited about this project, so much so that I am to the point that I have decided I will take the time and effort to record it from start to finish. I've even had a few stray thoughts of replicating the process with newer (and probably smaller) laptops; making custom touchscreen capable tablet style cases for them and reselling them. Not sure if I will or not, but the seed has been planted.
So, how do I intend to do this? I am not a complete stranger to microelectronics; I've never before 'modded' a computer or video game machine, etc. as such - but I build them (PCs, not game consoles) all the time. I am an amateur (very amateur) woodworker and metalworker, and I love crafty type stuff. So I have the basic skill sets. And a decent assortment of tools.
I had found an article online about a guy who made a carbon fiber tablet out of a PC. It will be a reference point. But I don't want carbon fiber. I have a 'CarveWright' - a commercialized home hobbiest (hobbyest? neither spell checks) 3-axis CNC router. I plan to use it, and my not-so-poor graphics design skills, to carve the case from wood.
I believe I will be going with an overall 'steampunk' look and feel; with the incorporation of my company logo (a flying lion) into the wood and brass (or, more likely, silver) elegance of a Victorian-era science fiction machine.
I have already ordered a touchscreen, I have about a week to wait (as I write this) before it arrives. After a ton of research and talking to sales reps and tech geeks from 3 different touchscreen manufacturing houses, only to find nothing quite fit or worked as I wanted, I went with the WinTouch 18.5" USB Touchscreen kit.
I found it at an amazing price on ebay; it seems that while it is the perfect size for several behemoth desktop replacement laptops such as mine, while the laptop is still a laptop, the touchscreen's huge bezel prevents one from using it properly. And next to nobody has an 18.5" wdescreen monitor - they're almost all 17", 19", or 20+". So it is less than I was initially hoping for, but at the price I paid, I can easily throw it away if it doesn't work and move on to a custom screen by a better company.
Everything else is still up in the air - I have loose plans, but until my wife gets her chromebook in a couple of weeks... I can't disassemble the laptop and get the exact layout ... laid out.
I intend to have access to at least one USB port, as well as the 'universal' (as of 4 years ago) card reader (it at least handles SD cards fine, never tried anything else) as external ports. I don't know if I will keep the HDMI port available... but I see no reason not to (yet!). Internally, I will be using a USB bluetooth dongle, upgrade the wifi card to wireless N (possibly via USB, if I can't swap in an actual card), and swap in one or more SSD drives in place of the HDD.
The battery (or possibly two, depending on space, weight, and heat constraints) will be fully internalized; not permanently attached, but not something to be swapped in and out as the laptop had done. I've never had a desire to remove or change a functioning laptop battery; so I don't see that I will change my habits with this tablet.
I'd like to access the built in accelerometer - by default used to park the heads of the HDD if a drop is detected, and use it instead (since I am swapping HDDs doe SSDs) as a tablet's accelerometer - to rotate the screen and hopefully as an input device (perhaps with a button to enable/disable the function). I am of two minds on the optical drive, and the keyboard. Perhaps three minds...
One option I am considering is to be more of a Tablet PC than a Tablet - with a built in base. It would store the battery, the optical drive, a keyboard, etc., and could be just a fancy wooden laptop case; but then the screen swivels, and folds up, and it is just a thick tablet. This is the least likely option (aside from the fact I don't know how I would physically rotate the screen/hinges, I don't want that aesthetic.)
Second is to build a 'dock' which housed the optical drive, perhaps an extra SSD, possibly an extra battery, etc.; and which allows the tablet to 'dock' to it. More likely than the first, but not really my goal right now.
So number three is the most likely, and that is to just forgo an optical drive. If I *really* need one for some reason, I'll have a USB port open. I also briefly considered a slot-loading optical drive in the tablet, but between their notoriously poor longevity and functionality, and a dearth of space in the case... that option is not on the table.
Oh, and as an aside ... see what I mean about my lack of brevity? This was supposed to be a paragraph or two of an introduction, and I am in the middle of page four in MS Word.
So here I will try to wrap up this 'brief introduction' with the last thought I have for design aesthetics... I intend to use some purple heart wood I have laying around as accent, with cherry or mahogany for the main body (it will have a deep burnished mahogany stain in the end, no matter the wood used)
I will probably substitute silver for brass, as I am not a lover of gold or gold-like metals. Rubbed/Oiled Bronze (which is more a grayish brown than a gold metal) and/or Hematite (metallic black) are other accent metals I have thought of, but availability will necessarily dictate what I actually use.
I also plan on my first major leathercrafting project, and have a custom carrying case for the tablet; but that will certainly wait until after this build is done and running!
Step 2: Custom Tablet Blog Entry Two (Thursday, February 09, 2012)
The touchscreen came in yesterday, a couple days sooner than I expected. I can't actually do much yet; I am going to have to wait until I get the Chromebook for my wife before I can deconstruct the Toshiba, and I don't particularly want to get started deconstructing this touchscreen too much before then; I'm afraid I would lose some parts or damage something in any significant wait.
I can see why it sold as cheaply as it did; between the large (1" on every edge) bezel, and the inconvenient positioning of the velcro straps used to hold it in place, this thing would not work on any laptop I know of; and I am not aware of anyone who has an 18.5" flatscreen monitor for a desktop PC.
For my purposes, it will be just about perfect; at least as far as size goes. I haven't yet plugged it in and tested its functionality - that comes next. I did note it has a stylus built into the bezel; I may incorporate that into my case... I don't intend to use a stylus often (if ever), but having one handy couldn't hurt.
Anyway, there's not much else to say for now - I haven't made any major changes or decisions in the past few days since I wrote the first build log entry, and there's nothing else pertinent to ramble on about at the moment. I'll include a few pictures of the touchscreen below.
Step 3: Custom Tablet Blog Entry Three (Friday, February 10, 2012)
Not much of an update... again... but I am just jotting down some mental notes. I decided to change the overall layout of the tablet. The absolute minimum size I could go is just at 11.4" x 17.6" (thickness will depend on what I find once I deconstruct the laptop itself, but I was thinking roughly 0.75" to 1").
I had intended to go roughly 12" x 18", and as thin as I could get away with; but I am now of a mind to instead go 12" x 24" x 1.5" (or more, depending on required thickness). I may go an even split of 3" to either side of the screen, but I think I like the idea of a 2"/4" split on the excess space.
I may even go equal to whatever the top/bottom excess is, for one edge, and leave all of the excess to the other side (most likely the right, as I am right handed). I'll toy with the layouts before I begin any actual carving, and see what I like best.
I pulled out a tape measure, went over the laptop and the touchscreen, and measured it against a 1"x12" board I have in stock in my garage. This will be a comfortable size for me, it will allow for integration of the laptop's speakers to either side (assuming landscape orientation) of the screen, and it will allow room for a few buttons and/or decorative touches to either side of the screen itself.
I am still not having any luck through Google or any tech forums to which I have posted, in finding out how I can gain access to the accelerometer in the laptop. I know it can be done; there is an app written for some older Dell machines to access a similar accelerometer to rotate the screen as the laptop is rotated.
That machine was built as a tablet PC though, with the swiveling screen - so it was a given that someone would write such a program. As it was written a few years ago, for a different OS, different BIOS, and different hardware... and as I can't yet get a response from the author... well, I am not looking at that as a great source of help.
But in any event, the point was, I can now have room to add a hardware button to rotate the display. Maybe even four buttons, one each for the four possible orientations (landscape, right portrait, flipped landscape, left portrait).
I could also include a volume control (probably scavenged from a mouse scrollwheel, though I may build a custom one), and any other hardware buttons I decide would be beneficial.
Not as short as yesterday's entry, but nowhere near as long as my first... That's it for today!
Step 4: Custom Tablet Blog Entry Four (Thursday, March 01, 2012)
Nearly a month has passed with nothing new happening. I did get the Chromebook ordered a few days back, and it should be here by Monday. That should lead to me getting the laptop back, and a lot more frequent and "meatier" updates as I disassemble the laptop and touchscreen, redesign, and actually build the tablet case. I don't know exactly how frequent it will be, as I have been much busier of late (a good thing) and so have had less free time than normal.
I got an SSD for the new tablet today, the reason for this update; a 128GB OCZ Petrol.
I did some research into SSDs, a LOT of research. See, when I built my current desktop a few months back, I started out with an SSD as the system drive. What I had intended to do was take advantage of the capabilities of Win7 combined with my core i7 processor and Z68 motherboard, and use the SSD in a RAID with an HDD, actually booting my system from the SSD, as well as running the most frequently used apps from the SSD - but actually permanently storing all of the data on one of my several HDDs.
Unfortunately, as much as I am loathe to admit it, I didn't exactly know what I was doing, and in my over-eagerness, just installed the SSD as a boot drive. I don't know that it would have mattered either way. But what I experienced was a horrendous failure rate; a highly unstable system. I was crashing a minimum of once a day, and at times it seemed like once an hour.
As the whole system was all (almost all) new hardware, I spent several days troubleshooting various components before settling on the SSD. I cloned the drive to a much slower HDD, and all the issues disappeared. So I returned the drive and got a new one, thinking it was defective. Nope, same issues. So I returned that drive and expanded my storage by getting 3 2TB HDDs for the same price.
Anyway, the point of that story is that I have been wary of SSDs for the past 8 months or so. But I knew I wanted one for this tablet, for speed as well as to minimize gyroscopic issues with a spinning drive in a device meant to be suspended in midair by my two arms most of the time. And one of the things I found was that the SSDs I had gotten previously had a known poor controller. They were just unstable hardware from the manufacturer.
With a bit of research, I found that the OCZ Petrol line was reputed to be fairly stable. I also determined that the best compromise of budget and desires was going to put me in the 80-150GB range for an SSD. And then I saw a sale at MicroCenter, whom I happened to have a gift card for $60 for (I won a copy of a game through MicroCenter a few months back, but as my local store was out of stock, they gave me a gift card for the value of the game instead). All things came together, and I had a chance to get one of the drives I had settled on, for a quarter of my expected cost (after I get a mail in rebate back, it will cost me about $28.00).
I almost want to download the beta version of Win8, and install it on the SSD on my desktop. I have a spare slot I could put it in for a couple of days... but I don't think that would be best. I'd have to load it with all the drivers for my desktop's hardware, then wipe it and start fresh on Monday/Tuesday anyway.
So once I get the laptop back, the first step will be to back up all data, and then swap the hard drive for this SSD - and get it running reliably. That may take a few days. But I think it would be best to know that the system boots and runs reliably BEFORE I begin to strip the hardware into its various components. It will make for an easier rebuild once I have the custom case ready to go and I am putting it all back together.
Well, that's enough for today... I'll probably be back in 2 or 3 days with a lot more enthusiasm and some more details!