Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

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Notebook computers have been around long enough, now, to have evolved
into niche markets. One of these, the "desktop replacement," suggests
to me that I am not the only person to discover the convenience of a
fully powered and featured yet self-contained and portable computer,
which can easily be moved from room to room or placed on a board
balanced across the arm-rests of my favorite recliner. :)

However, shopping the notebook market places a person squarely into the
hands of the manufacturers. Having assembled my own desktop PC's, I
appreciate the range of choices available for each and every component,
which makes a truely customized system possible. I have discovered,
too, that a homebuilt PC can frequently be less expensive than an
off-the-shelf model with the same features and specs. That is assuming,
of course, that a comparison can even be found-- "off-the-shelf" system
manufacturers frequently cut corners in ways that they hope the
PC-buying public won't notice, so that they stand a chance to actually
make a profit.

If there is an industry standard architecture for notebook computers
that would permit a home builder to assemble one from components, I
haven't heard of it. With the exception of 2.5" HDD's, memory modules,
and external peripherals that plug into firewire, USB, and other ports,
the internal architecture of a notebook is entirely proprietary. I have
found one company on the web (sorry, I don't have a link handy) that
builds notebook computers to customers' specifications (as one might
imagine, they are expensive); otherwise, a notebook customer is at the
mercy of the manufacturers. One needn't be accustomed to the "have it
your way" experience of home-building to become frustrated with the
necessary compromises that usually must be made when choosing a

Thinking about this problem lead me to an idea, a crude first
approximation toward a solution: a PC case for building a self-
contained, portable computer. If someone were to design it, and if it
were to succeed, it could evolve into a standardized notebook computer
architecture that would give users more freedom, and open the market to
the "small enterprise" system integrators who are currently limited to
building desktop systems. My "concept case" :) would have the following

It would lay flat like the old-style cases, rather than be upright like
the newer towers. On the top would be installed a hinged (folding) LCD
screen, and an integrated keyboard and pointing device-- just like a
notebook computer. The case would include the electronics necessary to
drive the screen from a standard VGA port. Integrated amplified
speakers (also like a notebook) might also be a plus.

The case would accomodate standard form-factor motherboards and
daughter cards. It would include connector/risers that would set the
daughter cards at some angle less than perpendicular (90 degrees)
relative to the motherboard, which would make possible a flatter,
smaller case.

The HDD bay(s) would be designed for 2.5" notebook drives. That would
save internal space, and ensure the use of a HDD that is (supposedly)
designed to withstand physical shock better than a 3.5" desktop drive.
Fortunately, cables already exist to adapt a notebook HDD to the ATA
connector on a motherboard.

The case could include a notebook floppy drive already installed or, if
possible, a bay for one.

A full-sized 5" bay (or two) for the optical (or another kind of) drive
could be possible without making the case too large, and would maximize
options. Depending upon available choices and level of standardization,
a notebook optical drive bay might be possible, and might be a better

Power supply considerations may be the largest obstacle to a successful
design. An internal one would have to be "low profile" to fit a flatter
case. Something suitable may already exist, perhaps for use in "slim"
desktop designs. Existing external power adapters for notebooks may not
provide enough power. The Targus APM12US, designed for power-consuming
notebooks, delivers 90W continuous and 130W peak, which may not be
enough. (If it were enough, such a universal adapter would make it
possible to use this portable design in a car or RV.) If it is
necessary to custom-design a power supply for the case, the expense
could be a project-killer.

A battery is almost certainly out of the question, at least at first.
If a home-built portable computer market springs to life, however,
manufacturers could perhaps see some benefit to producing battery-
optimized components for it. This could evenutally evolve into a
notebook computer component industry standard.

Thoughts? Ideas? Flames (I'm ready :))? Could it succeed? Would you
buy one? Would you develop it? By any chance...does it already exist?

I repeat, it's a crude, first approximation of an idea, but it could
possibly grow into something useful.

Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

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Notebook computers are not a "niche" market; they outsell desktops.
What you have described is the 'small form factor' or 'bare bones'
computer.  www.newegg.com for the basics.


Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?


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How are the 'bare bone' systems at newegg considered "portable", which
is the thought behind the poster's idea.

How would you carry that barebone system, monitor, keyboard and mouse
around with you in the house?

Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

As seen from comp.sys.laptops, on
Sat, 19 Nov 2005 20:09:32 -0700,

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Not to mention that I never called notebook computers, in gereral, a
niche market. I said they've evolved =into= niche markets, and so they
have: desktop replacements, light 'n' thin ultra-portables, all-around
good performers for business applications, souped-up multimedia
powerhouses for gamers and video editing, workstation class notebooks
for CAD and such, etc., etc.

My focus, then, is on one of those niches-- the desktop replacement.
Wouldn't it be great if you could build you own, custom designed to
your own specs?

Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

I'm seeing something out there that I think might work like
you say, but I've only seen one of them.  Guy had it at the
local county fair, and he said it was a satellite TV box.
I looked at it closely, and what I saw was that every peripheral
was connected to the box by a small antenna ... keybd/mouse,
LCD monitor, harddrive, DVD/cdrw, usb floppy.  The main box
was about 6 x 8 inches, and nothing except the power module
was connected to it. Guy said it had a super good video
built in to it. He had the monitor and keybd on the table in
front of him, and the main box was about 10 feet away, and
I had a hard time realizing that it was the computer. Most
interesting was that it was running WinXP Media !!!!!!!!!  He
said that he was selling that system with subscriptions to
sattellite TV, and he was trying to start a small business.
I asked him if this was a "game box", and he looked at me,
and finally said "yes". I think it was a PS2, or something
like it. He clammed up when he realized that I was a


Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

As seen from comp.sys.laptops, on

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I've read and heard many accounts of people building things from
available components that would fall somewhere between being
specialized computers and embedded systems. But this is not like what
I'm describing in one important respect: the main peripherals (monitor,
keyboard, mouse, etc.) are physically separate from the box.

What's the most noteworthy characteristic of a notebook computer? The
fact that it is self-contained, with all essential components for its
basic function physically and compactly attached. And that's what I
propose: a low profile, compact computer case with folding LCD screen,
keyboard, pointing device (touchpad or stick, most likely), and
speakers attached and installed-- a case that serves as a first
approximation to a "desktop replacement" type of notebook computer.

I'm not even thinking of this case as an end in itself, but as the
point of a wedge to open up the notebook market to "mom and pop" system
integrators and end users. I imagine the evolution of an open standards
industry architecture for notebook components, similar to the way that
the IBM PC clone market has developed. Wouldn't it be great if you
could assemble a notebook computer with the motherboard, processor,
video adapter, sound card, etc. of your choice, all from off-the-shelf
components, at a price comparable to (or even cheaper than) a ready-
made notebook computer?

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...and consequently able to penetrate his secret. I've also had
occasions where too much insight has made me unpopular... :)

Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

Jeff wrote:
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hack and slash a case, blueprint it and mass market it.
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dream at the moment, but companies are starting to standardize, nvidia
and ati are trying to standardize graphic cards.
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Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

Jeff wrote:
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What he had was no secret.  Once again, go to www.newegg.com and look at
the new Media Center computers that are designed to look like something
other than a computer (so you can fully visually design your new HDTV


Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

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Notebook computers have been around long enough, now, to have
> into niche markets. One of these, the "desktop replacement,"
> to me that I am not the only person to discover the convenience of
> fully
powered and featured yet self-contained and portable
> which can
easily be moved from room to room or placed on a board
> balanced across the
arm-rests of my favorite recliner. :)
> However, shopping the notebook market
places a person squarely into
> hands of the manufacturers.

Don't ever kid
yourself into thinking a notebook is a desktop
replacement.  Oh yeah, PCMagazine
and the manufacturers love to use
that word, but the performance in any sub-3500
dollar notebook will
surely dissapoint.

They have outsold desktops for the
first time this year.  The general
public doesn't seem to notice the difference
unless they game.  They
buy these things and happily buy into the wireless gig
being just as
fast as a wired system, and just don't seem to notice the HUGE
latency issues involved.  It never occurs to them a 3000k connection
take 3 to 8 seconds just to find a web page, let alone load
it.  You can't
online game with wireless latency's and that's a fact!
You don't game with
batteries either and that's a fact.  Desktop

Notebooks will
remain propietary as long as the manufacturers can keep
it that way.  If a
taiwan company started building barebones
notebooks, the manufacturers would
probably stop doing business with
them.  They love notebooks because they have
you by the balls.  No
matter what you want to do with it, you must go through
Besides, the screen is the most expensive part, what is a barebones
system if everything except the CPU and hard drive is there?

It sounds like
you're ripe for a cube system.  I just built a tiny
biostar for my "real job"
main office.  It's running serial RAID 1
and works fantastic.  It's smok'n fast.
 Even then though; many
choices are already made for you because of the small
form factor.

Notebooks are indeed niche market products.  I don't care who says
otherwise.  It started with the IBM thinkpad with it's tiny display
and stupid
joystick for corporate executives always on the go.  This
led to real corporate
executive notebooks with larger screens, DVD
players and CD players built in.
All that, and still 3 1/2 hours of
battery life.  An excellent example of this
is the HP line of
Pavilions that date back to 98/ 99.  Those computers broke new
and it hasn't stopped yet.

But, what is a notebooks primary mission?
run without being plugged in, right?

Every time a notebook goes "upscale:"
faster processors, or 17 inch
screens, battery life takes a huge hit.  So much
so, they are useless
to the very corporate executives they were designed for.

That's when marketing took over and they forced them into the main

certain issues won't go away.  2 1/2 inch hard drives will never
perform to 3
1/2 inch levels no matter how many RPM's they turn.
Energy squeezing processors
will [i:39b3897d92]never[/i:39b3897d92]
be a match for the Athlon heavys.
C'mon, get real here.  Most
"atomic bomb" notebooks from the performance shops,
use desktop
processors and tell you to keep them plugged in.  How does a half
hour battery life strike you?  Kind of defeats the purpose doesn't
it?  I saw
one, that didn't even have a battery in it at all!

And, you can't RAID a
notebook.  No point in keeping your critcal home
data on one if a drive crash
kills everything.  Sure, you could RAID
one with two drives I guess, but now
you'll need 2 plugs for the
wall.  See where I'm going with this?  They are at
best, niche.

By their nature, they're easly breakable; do you want to risk your
computer system on that?  Not having one at all while it's in the
shop?  And,
while it is in the shop, do you want the people there,
having access to all your
bank passwords and everything else you do
with it???  You can't stop it because
you broke it and it doesn't
work; remember?

Hah!  I hardly think so.

Don't get
me wrong, I have one, a very nice one; but it's strickly
what it is.  It works
great in my wireless system here at home.  But,
I NEVER would even consider
using it as my desktop replacement.  It's
work starts, when I leave.  That's all
they do well.  That's all
they'll ever do well.  All that's on it, is what I
want on it; not my
whole freak'n life!

And, unless you're going to be spending
very large dollars, you'll get
bla bla performance at best.  And remember, large
dollars means no
battery life; there is no way around it.

Maybe Toshiba people
are used to an hour and a half battery life, but
the rest of us aren't.

only argument that should be made concerning notebooks is their
battery life.
This used to take center stage on any review
concerning them, but rarely talked
about today.

Anyway, my two cents.


Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

    People have bandied this idea about on the newsgroup for years,
even me. The truth is, we're already at the point of modular,
upgradeable laptops. Almost all laptops are made by the same small
number of Taiwanese companies using pretty much the same hardware. It
is currently possible to upgrade most of the hardware in a circa 2000
laptop to modern specs if you can hold a Phillips head screwdriver and
    My IBM Transnote has an internal wifi card and 80GB hard drive; my
IBM 600X has recordable DVD - those technologies didn't even *exist*
when they were made, iirc. The wifi card is a mini-PCI card, fits
exactly where my modem/ethernet card was. The DVD-RW is a Toshiba
drive that proved interchangeable with the original Toshiba CD-ROM it
came with. Both laptops easily recognize hard drives faster and larger
than any made when they were first designed. The sole reason to move
on from either model would be if I had a critical application that
required a faster processor or a larger screen, and those specs are
pronounced "gaming" - a niche market in laptop sales.
2003 BMW 325i Black/Black
2003 BMW Z4 Black/Black

Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

dannysdailys wrote:
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I don't know what planet supplies your broadband, but there is no
latency or any other issue with laptops and one can RAID one, although I
don't know why anyone would do that.  SATA drives are showing up in most
high-end units and at least alienware or sager has a dual SATA
configuration.  True, the owner will need to buy stock in the local
power company.

IMO, the newer generations of CPUs for laptops have very little of the
second-rate performance of say ten years ago, gaming aside.  PC gaming
is slowly dying anyway except for on-line live gaming.  Apparently very
few actually play the game locally, and network gaming is another
category of system requirements.

Laptops are here to stay; they will never go away since they more than
meet the requirements of the vast majority of computer users who only
have to worry that the laptop will outlast the warranty.  They offer
convenience that desktops can never provide.  Desktops, no question, are
the only gaming platforms that make economic or performance sense.

In a few years the desktop will be in the same niche market as small
form factor - barebones - cube systems are now.  The Media Center
controller will be the main use.


Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

Jeff wrote:
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I like your idea. My suggestion look at embed motherboards, they usually
have at least 1 pci/pci-e slot also they have ide/sata and even use pc
ram modules. you can get adapters to put the pci on its side. get a 1u
case and attach a LCD/plasma with a hinge.

Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

spam.me.senseless@sitting.duck.net says...
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I've read and discussed this type of possibility with others on usenet
in the past and the general consensus has been that it's not possible,
'at the moment'.  The reason being, it seems, is because notebook/laptop
assembly is nowhere near as straightforward as for desktops.  Can't
recall the specifics. Plus also the current cost would be far more than
if you bought one off of the shelf.

Go to google groups and do a search for recent posts using the words
'build laptop' or 'build notebook'.  You'll find plenty of posts on the

It's a nice idea which hopefully will come about sometime in the future.  
I would much rather be able to build than buy complete, and it may be
that some company/companies are going to need to feel the time is right
to try it because there's a profit to be made.  At the moment that
doesn't seem to be the situation.
Pete Ives
Remove All_stRESS before sending me an email

Re: Portable homebuilt: possible new product?

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dannysdailys wrote:
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although I

You see?  That's the problem with shooting your mouth off when you
don't think.  Just what does a broadband connection with a latency of
.1, have to do with a wireless connection of a latency you can count
with your fingers?  Have you ever done a side by side comparison???
Do you have a clue what it is your shooting your mouth off about???

Send me the links you have on any notebook with dual SATA RAID drives.
 I'd sure like to see it.  I suspect, if any did exist, it would be
exactly what I said it would be:  A desktop processor, running so
hot, you can't put it in your lap and have children.

That's not a notebook pal.  How old are you?

I never said notebooks would go away.  But surely, you can't possibly
think desktops will become a niche product?  What world do you live
on anyway?

No offense meant, but my brain just couldn't believe what my ears were

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