The DIY laptop built entirely from PCB

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Presenting a laptop built ENTIRELY from PCB .

No plastic enclosure, no moulds, no mechanical parts.
The whole laptop is built as a thin stack of 6 PCBs with carefully designed shape and thickness. Add to those a 7" display touch panel and a battery, and that's everything it is. Eight components all in all, you can see them in one of the pictures. That makes it easy for assembling by almost anyone.
I have even tried to work out a little bit of aesthetic design with the PCBs side plated with gold, round corners, etc...

The hardware is not aiming for astonishing quantities, and is built around the popular Micromite MMbasic (PIC32MX470-120), plus a number of added small hardware extras - three microSD drives (one internal), RF transceiver, RTC, serial NVM, buzzer, and... a nice solderless prototyping space built from four PGA sockets, for electronic experiments.

The idea behind is not to boast with top parameters, but to make a nice and cute pure entry level machine

There are a few things about this computer, which I am really proud of. First, it is thin, I mean really thin - 6.4mm total in its thinnest configuration without the sockets. In size it is just about a standard A4 sheet.

The keyboard design was fun. It is the top two panels, the first one being the keyboard layout with cutouts at suitable locations, so the buttons can be pushed. The PCB underneath is to provide a frame for the buttons and also to raise the panel so the buttons can be pushed. There is a separate microcontroller PIC16F1517 which takes care of scanning the keyboard and communicating with the MM+ via the console port, also controlling the power supply to everything and controlling an RGB status LED as well. It is the only part in the schematic which is on at all times. The keyboard optionally can be backlit as well.

In order to reach this thin size I had to dump the use of pre-assembled display modules, and built the SSD1963-based display and XPT2046 touch controller on the main board.

The laptop also has three micro-SD cards, one is permanently built-in emulating a 'hard drive', the other two and removable. You can see them on the right side of the keyboard. It also has internal serial FRAM for data and code storage.

There is also an 'expansion port', which is a single row standard square pin receptacle. The whole laptop is powered and charged via micro-USB connector, which can be used also as console for the MM+ for the initial configuration.

Additionally there is a really cool RF module built-in, which essentially emulates a wireless UART connection and also has an internal stack with ability for simple networking with similar devices. The range (by specs) is about 100 metres.

Of course there is a real-time clock with a built-in coin battery as well. And a small buzzer.

All this may sound really complex, but in fact the whole laptop is only nine chips and some moderate number of discrete components, connectors and other stuff. You can see it in the picture.

My plan is to make this available to DIY hobbyists and entry level users in three possible configurations - bare PCB kit, 'assemble it yourself' kit with populated main board, and a fully assembled laptop. Currently considering options how to take it further.

In short, my concept behind this laptop is to give in the hands of the kids something simple and friendly, just like the old 8-bit machines from our time. Something that will not focus on gigabytes and gigahertz, a massive OS, or other stuff of the sort, where a learner would most probably end up as a user of premade software, but the thing that inspires creativity without distracting with greed.

Of course needless to say - once I release it, the project will be open-source.

  • New updates and video

    KnivD01/29/2017 at 22:37 0 comments

    Posted a new video and update in the Facebook group:

    Check also Youtube for the new videos:

  • Unprogrammed PIC32

    KnivD01/05/2017 at 16:31 0 comments

    It looks like some people have received ELLO systems with blank PIC32 chip. This is something that wasn't supposed to happen since I explicitly ordered pre-programmed chips from Microchip Direct. No idea what is the reason for that and apologise if that has happened to someone.

    The good thing is that the system can be programmed easily with Pickit3, ICD3, or some other compatible programmer. I have released the most current HEX file for ELLO 2M (not 2M²!) in the project's page on GitHub:

    The file is called "MicromitePlus_ELLO_2M.hex".

    On the expansion connector there is access to the PIC32's programming lines. Connect the programmer's data line to the pin marked "PGD", the clock line goes to "PGC", and the reset line to "MCLR" (not "MCLRK"). Connect a wire from the programmer's ground to one of the ground pins on the connector. Do the same with the 3.3V line.

    Switch the system on and it should be ready for uploading the hex into the chip. Reset it after programming and everything should be working fine.

  • Facebook group

    KnivD01/02/2017 at 15:57 0 comments

    All owners and supporters of ELLO are welcome to join the new Facebook group:

  • ELLO 2M assembly including keyboard patching

    KnivD12/28/2016 at 18:24 0 comments

    People asked me how to assemble the keyboard. I am planning to shoot a new assembly video as soon as I can, but until then...

    The self-adhesive pads supplied with ELLO are mean to go on the back side of the front board (called Panel). The assembly of the machine ALWAYS starts with attaching the fourteen standoffs to the front panel. Make sure you also remove the lid covering the prototyping space. You can either carefully snap it off, or cut the holding pieces using sharp cutters.

    The place the panel face down (the standoffs will tall up), and start inserting the other PCBs in thus formed frame. The first one to go next is PCB0. Just like with the panel - if there is a lid covering the prototyping space, just snap it off or cut. Round up the remaining stumps a little bit, if necessary.

    When PCB0 is in the stack, NOW is the time to put the patches. Carefully stick all of them in their places using the top line as reference.

    Here is how the frame looks after the operation

    Again, use the top line as reference, i.e. insert a patch into its frame until it hits the top and then stick. Thus you will guarantee that the keys are moving freely in their frames.

    After patching the keyboard, the next to follow is the computer's main board - PCB1. Place it face down (components must be facing up).

    Next - install the display panel face down in its place, and connect it to the connector on PCB1. Stick one of the two supplied round 3M double-sided adhesive patches on the back of the LCD (don't remove its top cover yet).

    Stick the second 3M patch somewhere in the in centre of large black area marked for the battery. Remove the top cover as well. Then connect the battery (make absolutely sure that red wire goes to the contact marked '+', and black wire goes to the contact marked '-'). Then carefully stick the battery on the 3M patch in such way that it does not extend over the boundaries marked with lines on PCB1. Tidy up the battery wires so they don't go over the display cable, but around it. With poor assembly you might experience poor picture on the screen as well due to noise, so this is pretty important, actually.

    Now install PCB2 again face down. The prototyping sockets must go in their spot. If they can't, that means there is a stump remaining on PCB0. Round it up a bit more and then install PCB2.

    PCB3 follows next.

    Now it is the time to remove the top cover from the 3M path that is already stuck on the back of the LCD. But don't do that yet, and do this little trick instead.

    Install the final PCB4 and screw in the bottom two corner screws so it is fixed in its place. Now bend the top side slightly up to reach under it and remove the top cover from the 3M patch which is on the LCD. Carefully release the board back in its place and screw in tightly all screws.

    Your new ELLO 2M is ready to dance.

  • First MMBasic Addendum document for ELLO 2M

    KnivD12/26/2016 at 14:03 1 comment

    First, Merry Christmas to all!

    These days I finally had some time to sit and type this document which was long overdue. It is not a full MMBasic manual (those have already been written by its author), but focuses more on the additions on ELLO from user's perspective. I will keep updating this document when I can with the hope that one day it will become a full book for ELLO. If anyone else is interested in helping as well, please let me know.

    The file is now in the project's GitHub repository:

  • Problem solved (so it seems)

    KnivD11/17/2016 at 20:36 1 comment

    It looks like things are not as bad as they looked a few days ago when I discovered the issue with the soldermaks in the keyboard combs. Have been thinking about solutions and tried Velostat (unsuccessfully). There is of course always the option for chemical treatment but I wanted to see first if there is some more user-friendly way. So the good old Microchip came to save the day once again :-)

    Just received from them a box with sample chips for unrelated project. The chips have no connection here, but the box caught my attention, and especially the black foam inside.

    So I took the scissors and cut two pieces to fit into the key holes in the PCB0 frame board. The miracle happened - the keys worked perfectly fine! In fact so well that I started feeling sorry that I was so quick to revise the board, and even considering whether to make this the standard way for building ELLO keyboards.

    Obviously now the challenge in front of me - to identify where to buy this foam and more especially to have it with the right thickness (0.5-0.7mm) and cut into small square and rectangular pieces as per given specs. Searching and welcoming any information about it.

    Getting really close to the finish now...

  • No luck this time...

    KnivD11/12/2016 at 21:03 10 comments

    Well, it's time for the first bad report... :-(

    Received the production samples. Excellent build. In fact so much excellent that it has created a problem on it own.

    In the earlier prototypes I used to work with a different PCB factory which had more limited production capacity and less precise equipment. The result of that - working prototypes. This time the new factory has equipment which is apparently much better and has managed to run soldermask between the teeth of the keyboard comb pads. Result - keyboard not working unless some other techniques are used, such as additional rubber pads, etc. The reason for that is because the soldermask is taller than the exposed copper in the pads and the panel contacts can't create the needed short in the comb. Grrr... :-(

    I have fixed the PCB file now to force soldermask expansion (should have done that long time ago!), but now the big question in front of me - what to do with all those first batch manufactured systems with damn non-operation keyboard combs? Trying to think of a quick solution to patch them so people can receive them sooner. So far my ideas are circling around additional self-adhesive conductive rubber pads (tried them with success), or some sort of thin elastic conductive sheet to stick under the keyboard panel (no idea if such thing exists at all).

    It is very frustrating problem that needs a quick and clever solution...

  • Release samples ready

    KnivD11/06/2016 at 11:15 3 comments

    The first three fully manufactured samples are on their way to me from the factory.

    To make everyone's life easier I have also added in the kit a small screwdriver and two self-adhesive pads to keep the LCD panel and the battery securely in place. Obviously a pack of screws and standoffs as well. The battery now is wired with a small 2-pin connector, so it won't be needed to be soldered making it easier for assembly by users with no soldering equipment or abilities.

    Once I verify and confirm these three systems (will probably publish a new YouTube video soon), people will start receiving their ELLO 2M systems.

    Maybe should put together a one-page printed instruction for assembly to be included in the box as well... Ugh.

  • License update

    KnivD10/09/2016 at 14:25 5 comments

    This log is probably a little overdue and people already know this, but in case anyone has missed it - I have managed to negotiate the licensing conditions for MMbasic for ELLO. So no more issues on that front, whoohooo!

    Ah, did I mention the packaging carton box? Yes, there will be one. The design is probably slightly simplistic and controversial, that's the way I like it to be :)

  • Shortlisted in Elektra 2016 awards

    KnivD09/13/2016 at 11:27 5 comments

    The ELLO 2M project is in the final shortlist stage for the annual Elektra European Electronics Industry Awards 2016, which is due in December:

    It is listed as "Yellow Beak Computer Ltd" in the "Educational Support" category. Among the six finalists it is the ONLY entry which is NOT coming from a large corporation, and I consider that as I great recognition for the project.

View all 24 project logs

Enjoy this project?



jportici wrote 04/05/2016 at 19:29 point

I love this. 44 likes only? come on.

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Yann Guidon / YGDES wrote 04/05/2016 at 19:49 point

I  wish I could "like" it more than once ;-)

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danjovic wrote 02/22/2016 at 21:34 point

Simply Amazing! 

Just to mention, something like this was what I expected when I first read that BBC was going to release a learning computer. 

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KnivD wrote 02/23/2016 at 08:48 point

Well, it is an interesting coincidence, because the very idea for this one came to me right after I read what they are actually going to deliver.

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Stephen K wrote 02/22/2016 at 14:14 point

I absolutely love the design. 

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jaromir.sukuba wrote 02/21/2016 at 14:54 point

I love the project though I'm unsure about how the keyboard actually works. The upper visible part seems to be "movable" (the key is routed except of tiny bit, allowing it to flex), while the lower part has two comb-like patterns. Are those used for capacitive sensing or is there any conductive material to make connection? Perhaps I overlooked something, but the principle is not obvious to me.

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KnivD wrote 02/21/2016 at 17:51 point

Actually, it works quite well. The flexibility of the top panel is just enough to make the keys soft without being too floppy. For ideal results it is best if the top panel and PCB0 (the one immediately below) are glued together in a few key spots. The top panel has copper on the bottom side of the keys and it makes contact with the combs on the main board. No capacitive connections, just normal contact. There is a specific 'tapping' sound generated by the keys, that's somewhat similar to the old 'clicking' keyboards, but that can be addressed if you don't like it. Just stick small and thin conductive rubber pads under the keys. I have tried that as well, and it works perfectly fine.

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KnivD wrote 02/20/2016 at 21:24 point

Haha, haven't thought about the crumbs. Recommended best solution - don't eat while typing.

The methods are not very trivial - the top panel is a very thin (0.3mm) FR-4 which makes it just enough flexible to be convenient for pressing. On the bottom side all keys have copper. The PCB below the top panel is one with holes for the buttons. It is 1.2mm and determines how deep the keys will go. Then the keys go through the holes and make short between the two lines that create each button on the main board. Then follows another, thicker board that carries the four PGA sockets building the prototyping space. The fourth and fifth PCBs are also used to create the needed cavities for the components on the main board. The sixth PCB is just a lid.

All this exercise because I had no other way to design an enclosure :)

The main challenge was to make everything perfectly aligned so all things fit into their designated spaces.

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Yann Guidon / YGDES wrote 02/21/2016 at 15:52 point

I have found/sourced very thin push-buttons with a tiny dome membrane for better "touch/feel" (you know, tactile feedback when it's pressed). It should have much less electrical parasites/rebound...

My concern was : what is the best thickness for the "spring PCB" ? 0.4mm ? 0.2mm ?

And now that I think about it : the "alveola" PCB could reuse all the PCB squares that were removed, to make the "raised caps". I imagine there is quite a few wasted squares... I should make a drawing !

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KnivD wrote 03/25/2016 at 19:33 point

Hmmm... this with the squares is actually a great idea! The problem is how to get the factory give those as well. Or maybe print the layout of the keys over the cutouts of the frame board below, and they glue them over the top one? I am definitely interested in your suggestion.

So far I have found out that 0.25mm is probably the best thickness for the keyboard panel.

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Yann Guidon / YGDES wrote 03/25/2016 at 20:39 point

It's easy to get these cutouts : just leave a little bit of PCB to keep the junction beteen the squares and the frame/spacer.

This has another benefit : if you do it well, all the squares will be correctly aligned so you can glue/solder them all in one pass. Then you pull/cut/detach the spacer from the squares.

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KnivD wrote 03/25/2016 at 21:33 point

I will try to make a revision of the keyboard frame to test the idea. Thanks

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Yann Guidon / YGDES wrote 03/25/2016 at 21:38 point

I'll be so excited to see the result and test it ! Though not thrilled to invest time in yet another CPU architecture (even if PIC32 is pretty cool, but I only have 24h in a day)

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Yann Guidon / YGDES wrote 02/20/2016 at 20:52 point

I'm so curious about your methods and I wonder if/how it is possible to raise the keys...

And how to deal with crumbs that get trapped under them :-D

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KnivD wrote 02/20/2016 at 20:35 point

Thank you! :-)

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J. Ian Lindsay wrote 02/19/2016 at 07:45 point

This may be the most artful usage of FR4 I've ever seen. VERY nice work. :-D

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bt wrote 02/19/2016 at 02:38 point

Awesome PCB work.  Boarding on PCB porn!

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Yann Guidon / YGDES wrote 02/17/2016 at 23:41 point

I have been thinking about such a fabrication method for years now. OK so I'm not the first to do it but I was right all along: it's awesome !

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