I will buy everyone who participated in this Thread Ice Cream or which ever Sweet/Snack you want if you show up with me to the same LTX (whenever that will be maybe 2022 or 2023, will have to get a job and make some money first before travelling around on my own). This Thread has still to be open and participated actively in (so sh*t post as much as you can) in order for you to qualify to get a Ice Cream, Sweet or Snack for free if we meet up at the first LTX I will be going to.
This is my first post here, so sorry if I accidentally break some rules. This is sort of a cross-post from a much smaller forum I frequent, cemetech.net where I first documented this project.
May 12, 2020:
There are two main emotions that drive my creativity: spite and hilarity. This project has captured both. Hilarity is what has kept me from getting rid of the 2010 15" Macbook Pro I'm typing this on now, my daily-driver computer for the entirety of my middle and high school years. Through careful upgrades and attentive software tuning, I've kept this old computer working smoothly for several years. I can even play some new video games on here! I was convinced that, because of hilarity alone, this would be the computer I took to college.
Until, a few months ago, my soon-to-be roommate messaged me on Discord to flex his new laptop, the ROG Zephyrus G14. Complete with the latest in computing technology, it blew my old Macbook out of the water no matter how carefully I arranged my system. Immediately, I knew what I had to do. In purchasing that laptop, he sold a desktop PC he has been using for a few years. His biggest boast about his PC was his ultra-wide monitor—a feature nowhere to be seen on his new laptop. It was time for me to best him at his own game. It was time for me to build a triple-monitor laptop.
Spite and hilarity, a perfect combination.
I already had my eyes on the chassis of that old Powerbook, mostly with the intention of turning it into a Raspberry Pi machine or something, but this was a better excuse. I took it apart, careful to keep the original parts intact.
Looking at the inside with the keyboard off. From the left: 500MB hard drive, 33MHz processor, floppy drive. The internals that are beneath were the keyboard was are surrounded by an aluminum frame. The area under the trackpad and palm rest is populated by two battery bays, with no aluminum frame.
A closer look at the inside. The hard drive and floppy drive have been removed.
I managed to get every piece of electronics out of the case without breaking a thing, and was left with a considerably spacious and geometrically non-confusing interior. Next, I started hunting for parts. The internals can be divided into four main categories, which I'll explain independently: computer, display, power, and cooling.
Finding the Right Computery Bits
Because nobody really builds custom laptops, I knew building a computer powerful enough to fulfill my triple-monitor dream was a tall order. I started my search by looking at the easy option: prebuilt, tiny computers. I found a few I liked, like:
The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B is a blisteringly powerful computer for its price range, and really caught my eye at first. For $35, absolutely nothing would come close to this.
It was around this time that I decided I shifted my goal to booting MacOSX on this old computer. That meant a computer with an Intel CPU.
The LattePanda Alpha 864s has a similar shape to an RPi, but far more powerful and with an integrated cooling fan.
The UDOO x86 Ultra is sort of an in-between of the Raspberry Pi and and the LattePanda. More affordable, but not as powerful.
Just on a whim, I decided to find out whether I could fit a desktop motherboard inside the chassis, which let me to discover motherboard form factors. I knew if I was going to go the distance of buying my own motherboard, I would want to be able to put in my own CPU, so that narrowed the list down to only Mini ITX motherboards, as smaller ones don't have CPU sockets. After some hunting, I found what looked like the perfect motherboard: a Gigabyte GA-IMB310TN. It was advertised as "Thin Mini ITX", meaning that it was physically thinner than other Mini ITX boards. Specifically, it didn't have any tall I/O on the back, and had horizontal RAM trays and a shorter PCIe socket. After a few days of considering my options, I decided I wanted to go with the Gigabyte motherboard, and try to build a PC from scratch. This meant that I could let myself think of this project as building an actual daily-driver laptop, not just a gee-whiz computer. With that in mind, I set out to find parts for the motherboard.
Because of the size constraint, I needed to find components that were not only small, but cool. Finding RAM and an SSD were easy, but the CPU and GPU were harder decisions to make. The motherboard has an Intel 1151 socket, which thinned my options to 7th and 8th gen Intel CPUs. I quickly aquainted myself with Intel's CPU naming conventions and went off to search for a low-TDP CPU. Intel's discrete consumer CPUs typically have a TDP of 65w, whereas their integrated laptop CPUs usually have TDPs between 15w and 30w. Thankfully, Intel made a few low power discrete CPUs. After some hunting, I found an Intel Core i5 8600T that I liked, with a 35w TDP. Good enough.
I haven't actually bought a GPU yet, but I've nearly decided on a Nvidia GTX 1650 Low Profile discrete graphics card. It's just small enough to fit beside the motherboard in the case and still have room for wiring, as long as I take off the bracket and the fans. (Don't worry, I'll leave the heatsink and put in my own fans.) The only other good option is a Radeon RX 560 Low Profile, which is a little bit harder to find, a little bit less expensive, an AMD card (It'll work better in a hackintosh), and a lot less powerful.
Put it (almost) all together, and you get this:
The motherboard with the CPU, RAM, SSD, and some random WiFi card I had lying around installed. Looks pretty cute.
Finding the Right Display
The stock display in the old PowerBook is a piece of junk today, but in 1994 it was absolutely glorious for a laptop computer. At a full 480p and (in some configurations) 16-bit color, all in a thin 1cm flatscreen package, it was easily the best screen to grace a laptop in history. As cool as it would have been to reuse that monstrosity, its ribbon cables were far from standard. After some uneventful Newegg and Ebay trawling, I remembered something. I rummaged around in my closet and came out with the display panel from a 2nd gen iPad whose case did not fare as well as the screen. The iPad ran its last clock cycle as it sailed through the air after my littlest brother angrily chucked it following and unfortunate game of Ninja Fruit. The screen persevered. To my surprise, the screen perfectly fit the hole where the old screen was, backlight and all. Not only that, but putting such a small screen (it's about 3mm thick) in such a thick screen case left over a centimeter of empty room behind it. Perhaps a triple monitor laptop is simply as easy as buying two more iPad screens and fitting them to slide out each side! I still had to find a way to interface with Apple's proprietary display plug, but Ebay had several converters to choose from.
Finding the Right Battery
This was a very daunting task for a couple reasons. For one, the battery in this laptop must be beefy enough to comfortably power every component inside it under full load without exploding. Because I chose low power components, I estimated the absolute peak power draw to be about 175 watts. I found some drone batteries that had some pretty crazy discharge rates, but that led me to the other problem: the battery life has to actually be decent if I want to seriously use this computer. Even at an idle, I estimated that a pair of 50C 5000mAh batteries would barely last an hour. Not good.
It was in this time of strife that I stumbled upon a heavenly battery, the legendary Li-Ion 18650 cell. That's a cylindrical cell that is 18mm in diameter and 65mm long and with spectacular battery life for its size. It's so good it literally has a subreddit dedicated to it. Another attractive part about this particular cell was its modularity. Wiring doesn't cost much space, so I can essentially pack a cell in every available spot I can find. There's even a few places in the monstrous screen that will fit an 18650 or two. I forsee managing to fit a 3s5p or even 3s6p configuration in the chassis. The majority of the batteries will be in the palm rest.
To charge all these batteries and fulfill the power requirements of the motherboard, I bought a 24v 6A power supply off amazon, which should be enough to charge the thing. I may end up buying a legit desktop power supply if I ever want to run it under heavy load.
Finding the Right Cooling Solution
Finding a way to cool desktop parts in a laptop frame is the hardest, the most fun, and the wildest engineering gauntlet I'm facing. I'm not accustomed to worrying about temperatures, so this took some research. I did some R&D myself just by taking apart an old Dell Latitude I had to see how it was cooled. I found some peculiar copper pipes that seemed to route heat to a heatsink, which I later found out were hollow heat pipes, something I didn't even know existed.
The Dell with the keyboard off. The heat pipes are clearly visible.
The inside of the Dell.
I discovered that one can buy unshaped heat pipes off Ebay or wherever for about $10 a tube, which looked like a great option: find a way to pipe the heat to heatsink on the side of the case, then find a way to push air out the heatsink. It's also bound to look cool. Within that one idea, there's actually dozens of equally bad ways to put fans on the thing. I'll break down every option I considered.
One big ol' fan... somewhere: I would really like to use a purpose-built case fan if I can, so the first thing I looked at was a low profile case fan. I found a 92mm x 14mm Noctua fan on Amazon that I considered mounting on a sheet of plexiglass beneath the keyboard, and making the keyboard somehow rise a little bit when the computer's open so the fan has air to suck from. This design wouldn't directly route air from the fan to the heatsink, it would require capping exits from the case besides the heatsinks such that air must escape through them. Lifting the keyboard to let air get in is kinda hacky, though.
A bunch of little fans: Noctua also makes these cute little 40mm x 10mm fans that looked like a great idea, except that I can't really think of places to put them. I could easily put them in the palm rest, but that means I can't use it as a palm rest because I'd block the air.
A centrifugal fan: This would be the best option, if somebody made fans that were a size I liked. With a centrifugal fan, I could route the air directly into a heatsink without needing to worry about making the case airtight. I could also perhaps set a fan on the bottom of the case near the side, and build a wall in the case such that air comes in the side, down into the fan, out the fan into the case, then out the heatsink. Doing that would probably mean sacrificing battery space, however. I wish there was a good way to use the large empty space above the motherboard.
A cross flow fan: I actually found out about these cool little things today while searching Digikey for fans. A cross flow fan has a similar effect to a centrifugal fan, except on a different axis. They're long and skinny and push a lot of air. I've thought about finding a way to have intake grills on the front of the case, and have air flow into the case form the from with a pair of these fans flanking the trackpad.
Water cooling!: Of course I had to look at what it would take to water cool this system. Sadly, water cooling systems are just way too big, especially radiators.
Update: May 26
My Digikey order came through a few days ago, containing three 70mm x 10mm fans rated at 31 CFM, three flat unbent 250mm heat pipes, two speakers, and one very long 100mm x 20mm heatsink.
All the parts I listed above. I cut the heatsink before this picture was taken, so it's a little shorter than it was when I bought it.
Being able to see all the parts of my cooling solution IRL led me to finally decide on how I would arrange the heat pipes in relation to everything else. My plan is to run two heat pipes in parallel underneath the heatsink, have them turn left at the bottom of the motherboard and slope sharply up and over the RAM, heading directly to the CPU. Today I took a hacksaw and a dremel to my heatsink and surprised myself with how nicely the resulting sink fit into the hole where the floppy drive used to be.
The heatsink I cut.
The heatsink in the case from above
The floppy drive from the side
The distance between the bottom of the heatsink and the bottom of the case is more than enough to run heatpipes along it without a risk of touching the bottom, thanks to how snugly the heatsink is mounted in the floppy drive hole.
The next step, before bending heat pipes, is to install standoffs in the bottom of the case and remove whatever bits of the frame are necessary in order to mount the motherboard in the case with the lid on. While the motherboard currently sits snugly in the bottom of the case, I haven't trimmed the rest of the laptop's components to have the motherboard fit inside. It will be interesting to see how much cutting I can get away with without endangering the structural integrity of the computer.
Update: July 27
After a little more cutting than I wish I had to do, I've finally managed to mount the motherboard in the case with the metal frame over it.
Here's hot it looks up close with the heatsink next to it.
Now that I have the motherboard mounted where I want it, it's time to get my cooling solution up and running. I had some problems bending some flat heat pipes that I purchased, so I'm waiting on some round ones to come in that I can flatten myself where I need it. I'm working on figuring out how to mount my GPU in the space to the left of the mobo, but I'll need to do some surgery on its heatsink for it to fit in that small space with a fan above it. Just for fun, here's what the GTX 1650 I'm putting in looks like without its fans:
Once the heat pipes are in, I'm going to cut holes in the plexiglass cover to mount my fans in, then I'll make the case more or less airtight and fire it up and see what temps I can get. The deadline I've set for myself for this to be up and running as a gaming computer (not necessarily with batteries and a built in screen) is August 10th, when my first RLCS X match is. Right now I'm gaming on a 2012 Macbook Pro!
One of my favourite series on LTT has been Scrapyard Wars.
Since I have never built a PC and wanted to do it affordably this summer. I decided to begin a second-hand journey to joining the PC master race.
Quick note: I knew very little besides what I had learned from occasionally watching LTT and other tech channels. So here are some of the many great lessons I learned throughout this process.
Lesson #1: Buying an old pre-built with Windows saves you a lot of money.
I started looking online and found a modest $200 CAD (I am in Canada) pre-built desktop. I decided to start here as it was affordable and came with a solid base. Just like in scrapyard wars, my initial goal was to build an affordable gaming system that did not have to look good or be made from high-quality parts. This desktop came with no graphics card but had a i5-4590 (non-k) CPU, a H97 motherboard, a copy of Windows, and everything else needed to turn on.
I found a GTX 980ti for $220 and purchased it. I took the entire desktop apart (cable management and dust was a nightmare) and rebuilt it so it looked respectable. However, I quickly realized that my i5 was throttling my performance so I tried some overclocking.
Lesson #2: You can overclock an i5-4590 (non-k) but it is not enough!
By going into bios I was able to squeeze a little bit more performance out of my processor. While I couldn't raise the clocks over the 3.7 GHz limit, I was able to manually set the all-core speed to 3.7 GHz rather than let it clock itself down to 3.4 GHz when under an all-core load. This was not, as I am sure you can guess, enough to keep up with the GPU.
Lesson #3: old Intel CPUs are being sold for far more than they're worth compared to newer Ryzen CPUs.
I tried looking for a 4th-gen core i7 processor to plug into my MB but they were all prohibitively expensive and hard to find. The most affordable option I was able to negotiate was an i7-4790k processor for $200 and that was from someone who lived far away in a rural town. I decided not to purchase it.
Lesson #4: The AMD B450 chipset is a second-hand shopper's dream come true.
When checking the second-hand market, I frequently found Ryzen processors for sale. Since the B450 motherboards support a very large range of CPUs, including current-generation CPUs, it is a great motherboard option for second-hand buyers due to the large second-hand Ryzen market, more affordable pricing, and it is future-proof.
Lesson #5: Be quick to respond to great deals.
By checking online frequently, I found someone selling a B450 Mb, a R3-3200G, and a wifi card for only $140. I replied within 5 minutes of them posting the listing. According to the seller, they had a hundred responses (probably an exaggeration) within the first hour but I was the first to make an offer! I sold my current Mb, CPU, and ram and had to invest only $20 more to make up the cost for DDR4 3200 MHz ram that was on sale at my local pc store.
Lesson #6: It is easy to transfer your copy of windows to a new motherboard and CPU.
The R3-3200G was not much better than the i5-4590 but I now had a B450 motherboard. I soon found someone selling an R5-2600x for $140 and upgraded. I sold my 3200G for $100, meaning it was only a $40 upgrade. I also found a refurbished 256 GB NVMe SSD at my local PC store and transferred my OC there ($45).
Lesson #7: Looks matter.
I invested into a second-hand aftermarket Hyper 212 CPU cooler ($40) because the stock cooler was quite loud and I wanted to be able to overclock. I was then interested in making the system look nice since it stood out from my otherwise respectable looking apartment and I wanted to showcase what I had achieved. I bought some RGB fans ($60) and a Corsair Carbide Spec-06 case ($80) that was on sale because the glass panel had a scratch.
Lesson #8: Power your expensive computer with a reliable PSU.
I purchased a second-hand EVGA G3 750W PSU ($100) because the old PSU was a cheap Thermaltake unit. My then-current PSU fan was also audible and it was rated very poorly on the PSU tier list here on the forum. I did not want all my time and effort to be for naught because my PSU fried everything. Sure, on scrapyard wars it doesn't matter but I am not just benchmarking it for a day.
Final Lesson #9: Sometimes your local PC store is better than online second-hand sellers.
My local PC store sometimes offers a 30-40% discount on refurbished products. If you check online often, they will list GPUs with this discount. On the local second-hand market, I could not find anyone selling GPUs for close to that discount. In fact, people were selling used cards for only 10% less than their new counter-parts. There were even listings for what were obviously mined GTX 1070s selling for over $300.
Today I would say I have made the last upgrade to my PC (at least for a little while) as I picked up a refurbished RTX 2070 Super from my local PC store at $500 (with a copy of Death Stranding) and sold my GTX 980 Ti for $250.
The only thing that remains from the pre-built that I started with is the copy of Windows and a 1 TB HDD which is not even the boot drive anymore.
AMD Ryzen 5 2600x at 4.2 GHz
Asrock Steel Legend B450m Motherboard
MSI Ventus OC GP 2070 Super at 1919 MHz
16GB (2x8) DDR4-3200 of Thermaltake RGB Ram
XPG SX8200 NVMe 256GB SSD
Hyper 212 RGB Black Edition CPU Cooler
EVGA G3 750W PSU
Thermaltake RGB Fans (3x)
When a cat decides to give birth under your roof in an unaccessible area of course...
This lil guy was the last one of the three kittens that were born inside the roof. It took 2 months to get them out (until the mother stopped coming to feed them) and this little one really wanted to stay.
They are now all reunited in their new foster home.