The Homebrew Steampunk Laptop v2

"Admiral, this is an almost totally new Enterprise." (, Homebrew Steampunk Laptop)

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The original Homebrew Steampunk Laptop is dead, long live the original Homebrew Steampunk Laptop.

BUT: we can rebuild it! (...hopefully for less than six million dollars...) So let's get to work.

There once was a Homebrew Steampunk Laptop. I built it. One day I was rewiring the USB hub's power input and I got something very, very wrong, and I destroyed the machine completely -- the circuit board for the hub is now a dead short (!) and the motherboard has let out the magic smoke that makes it work.

Oooooooooooops! (...or, as Big Clive on YouTube would say -- "Well, that's not good!")

...or, well, something like that. It occurred to me, very rapidly, that the original could be significantly improved on in certain ways, both aesthetic and functional. So I began to plan -- and, eventually, I began to buy and to build. This project page, and in particular, the logs within, do the work of documenting my journey (as all worthy projects really are more of a journey than an event) to bring about a "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" Homebrew Steampunk Laptop.

I will not be listing parts or code to replicate this work exactly, specifically because I do not believe that it should be replicated exactly. Build your own Homebrew Steampunk Laptop if you want -- don't if you don't -- but "for the love o' Pete" (thanks, Shrek), if you're going to do it, do it your way. This may not be a Burger King franchise in here, but that's no excuse -- steampunk is about individuality every bit as much as it is about brass cogwork and angry pressurized water-vapor, and if you don't respect that, then you just turn it into something for every factory in China, and that's not cool.

  • Intermission

    Starhawk3 days ago 0 comments

    Sorry folks... I went shopping today and got the angle brackets I needed but right now I'm just too deep into the state of what the locals here call "plum tuckered" to really do anything meaningful. So I'm gonna go draw and listen to VNV Nation and drink Diet Coke. If I get a second wind I'll do something and post the aftermath, but don't get your hopes up, okay...? It'll probably be tomorrow before anything meaningful happens.

  • They see me postin', they lovin'...

    Starhawk4 days ago 0 comments

    Don't think I haven't noticed what happens right after I post a project log, every single time... ;)

    Do feel free to comment, if you're even slightly inclined, not just +Like and/or Follow -- I'm (usually) open to new ideas and I promise I don't bite. IOW, feedback is both welcome and encouraged, and 'Post' here is more a button and an activity than a cereal company.

    "It's not much fun for one...", as Piglett once pointed out, somewhere deep and distant within my youth... so come in and chat. There's magic to be done!

  • "Bracket To Me...!", Part The Second

    Starhawk5 days ago 0 comments

    Yeah, I'm gonna need the one-and-a-half inch brackets.


  • "Bracket To Me...!", Part The First

    Starhawk5 days ago 0 comments opposed to "socket to me", because neither a socket set nor former President Richard Nixon are involved in this production, but angle brackets are.

    Specifically, in this case, the angle brackets connecting the copier drum to the keyboard, which at this point are too small to deal with the size of the lid. They are scavenged from a Western Electric telephone, one of the Decor series ones with a dial pad and getup in a faux-wood and faux-leather box for people in the 80s who thought they were too cool to have an exposed desk phone on their desk. These brackets held the dial pad in place.

    Today I went to Wal-Mart. I got two packs of one-inch angle brackets, two packs of short straight brackets, one pack of longer straight brackets, and some washers and machine screws. I wish I'd looked at the machine screws closer before I paid -- they will not be useful. I also wish I'd been able to get some one-and-a-half-inch angle brackets, but such is my luck that they were out. Hopefully they'll be on whatever truck has been through by Monday afternoon. I'm not 100% sure I need them, but I hope they're there if I do...

    Tomorrow I will go about reassembling the keyboard / copier drum getup and see if one-inch angle brackets will add enough height. I have my doubts, but only time and trials will tell. I'm planning on using three angle brackets on each side, with the straight brackets reinforcing, and washers as spacers where needed.

    I need to rewire the power harness as well, anyways -- the screen, as it turns out, is made for a Raspberry Pi setup, and it has an integrated 5v 2a power supply for powering said Pi directly off the display. As such, I'm going to repurpose that for driving the USB hub's power port (it's a USB-A connector right there anyways) if I at all can, and that means that the entire rest of the computer takes 12v input, which in turn means that I can drive the system off a 12v 5a single-voltage power brick instead of needing a dual-rail brick. I even have a very pretty matching barrel jack somewhere... this is also nice from an electrical perspective, because it means the power toggle can now take on power and ground at once. I have to check the amp rating of the switch, but I'm relatively sure it'll be fine. If not, I can get another.

  • Ole Man Trouble

    Starhawk04/07/2019 at 01:21 0 comments

    A short one this time. Got the new screen. Noooooooooot what I was expectinig, and by a fat mile. Rigged a way to make it work, but no pictures yet, because the effing thing now blocks the lid from closing with the screen installed. Too thick.


  • LCD, but not an LCD Soundsystem...

    Starhawk04/03/2019 at 03:39 0 comments

    (Apologies to pop culture, as usual.)

    I ordered the LCD kit today. Hopefully THIS time the seller will have understood correctly that they need to cover the driver board with something not conductive so that static from all the bubble wrap doesn't fry it.

    If this kit arrives properly -- it will be the fourth and last. Wish me luck.

    EDIT: well, I woke up this morning to a message from the LCD kit seller. He had his tech check it over and it didn't pass muster. I get a refund.

    I think I may get a standard 10.1" HDMI monitor and take the effing thing apart.

  • A Series of Fortunate Progressions

    Starhawk04/02/2019 at 03:44 0 comments

    The "knob keyboard" -- side knobs that adjust volume and page location, courtesy of two rotary encoders and a bit of wizardry with the QMK custom-keyboard firmware and an eBay Arduino Micro clone -- is programmed and tested, working, known good. (Thank you in particular to a Redditor on the OLKS/QMK support subreddit  named "drashna" for that!)

    The keyboard proper has a new USB cable and the cabling in the lid in general has been mostly redone.

    The system-on button has its cable sleeved and the unsightly foam tape holding it down, mostly hidden behind copper tape.

    The gear moved around a little.

    The SSD is in.

    The foam tape mounting the USB hub was redone as well.

    The kickstand has more electrical tape on its foot-end so that it will hopefully grip the table better when it is in use.

    Basically all that's left at this point is the purchase and mounting of the screen itself...

    Here are the current pictures...

  • "Marty, where we're going..."

    Starhawk03/30/2019 at 19:19 0 comments

    I'm going to try to sleeve the cord going from the motherboard power button to the system power-on button (which, by the way, is a Cole Hersee marine starter switch), using a bit of the USB cable I cut up for the part of the power harness that goes to the USB hub.

    I need to wire up the keyboard proper, and flash/test/correct the firmware to the control board for the rotary encoders.

    I've decided to get a 10.1" screen with a better resolution, than the 9" screens I keep getting that don't work. It won't fit as well, but maybe I can get one that actually works. That would be nice. The driver board for that will go in behind the hard drive / SSD holder.

    I'm thinking I might cover some of the exposed double-stick foam tape with copper tape.

    After that, it's a matter of installing the SSD (I have a nice 256b ADATA brand SSD that I'm gonna throw in) and operating system, and at that point it's done. I'm so close I can taste it!

  • Build Me Up, Buttercup...

    Starhawk03/30/2019 at 19:09 0 comments

    At this point, I was kind of "in the zone" as people call it -- in the typical cycle of development where the mnemonic is "form norm storm perform" -- I was definitely in the "perform" stage. You know the cartoon where there's a bunch of gobbledegook on a blackboard and smack in the middle it says 'and then a miracle happens"...?

    Yeah, I was kind of in the miracle business at this point... and I tell you what, it felt mighty good to be there.

    In went the hard drive / SSD holder, the motherboard, the USB hub, the system power-on button, a crapload of cabling, the WiFi antennae, and a decorative gear -- and it all went in relatively cooperatively and smoothly. A welcome change from having to argue with the dang thing, for sure! At around this point, I also implemented a 'kickstand' for the system, because (as usual) the keyboard was lighter at this point than the lid, meaning that without such a device, opening the machine would instantly tip it over backwards. The kickstand was simple -- a PC fan screw held on a PCI slot bracket that I had cut to length.

    At this point, the machine looked like this...

    Then I proceeded to wire up the power harness and the system power-on button, and tidied up the cabling somewhat, which brings us to the current state of the project... and more glamour shots, LOL. At this point we are at or past 90% completion...

  • Steampunk Begins

    Starhawk03/30/2019 at 18:49 0 comments

    I initially wanted to set aside the build phase of this project until I could get all the parts to arrive working. However, after the third time I received a nine-inch screen kit from eBay's Hong Kong / China with no antistatic protections whatsoever -- meaning that the driver board was hopelessly D.O.A. -- it occurred to me that the machine might not get built for some time yet if I didn't get going soon.

    (Nota Bene -- I am currently arguing with the seller over that kit and will get my money back tomorrow. I hope. Meanwhile, can anyone tell me what the absolute eff yoo see kay they are putting in the water over there in ShenZhen...?! I'd think it'd be just some sort of mistake or something, but this is three different sellers with three different listings for the only approximately same product.)

    So I got to work. The first step was to assemble the keyboard base. This was supposed to be easy, and by and large it was. I had the keyboard and brackets from the original Steampunk Laptop, and a black and silver copier drum to attach to them. That went relatively smoothly, and I took a celebratory photo.

    Then there were two knobs and two rotary encoders to wire up so that they went one on either side of the drum, mounted on some little plastic disks I had left over from another project, This was non-trivial but also not that bad, until the part where I had to glue the plastic washers to the drum. I'd planned to use super glue, but since the plastic in question was unfortunately PTFE aka Teflon, I was having a hard time getting the stuff to stick.

    Around this time I went over to Mom's house to help her with some things, and I took the materials with me to work on the Steampunk Laptop v2. I soon found a pair of steel fender washers that replaced the teflon disks very nicely, and glued even more nicely. 

    I then tried to attach the laptop hinges I'd bought, so I could fit the lid, and basically hit a roadblock. The hinges were so stiff, and the metal of the copier drum was so thin and pliable, that I basically didn't have screws that would both fit the hinges and grab the copier drum metal, without working loose as soon as I moved the lid. This was rapidly becoming true of the screws I was using to affix the drum to the keyboard brackets as well. After discovering that super glue wouldn't stick to the drum any better than it did teflon, and breaking a drill bit trying to solve the problem in a way that very likely wouldn't have worked anyways, I set the project aside for the night.

    The next morning I was able to locate a pair of slim brass door hinges, and I found that if I put a washer on the middle of the three screws that held it on, and used two of the brass screws it came with along with a third, bigger, washer-head screw from God-only-knows-where, the hinges would hold very nicely to the drum. A similar approach with the keyboard brackets yielded similarly positive results. I soon affixed the power supply socket (a Kycon four-pin job, since I would be powering this system with a LaCie Bigger Disk brick) and the master power switch. Then I took some more photos...

    "Now, ain't that jus' purty..."

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