What is a Cyberdeck?
The term was coined by William Gibson in the novel “Neuromancer”, and has been a staple of the cyberpunk genere since. Basically, it’s a, somewhat portable, computer used to access cyberspace; usually with a brain-interface or headset.
In Neuromancer Gibson is pretty vauge about what a cyberdeck actually looks like, but the protagonist is discribed carrying it around, and later in the book he improvises a carry strap for it. So that gives us some clues.
Since then, it’s been depicted in many other types of cyberpunk media as being something like an 80’s era boombox meets a ZX Spectrum style computer that’s trying to style itself as keytar.
Why build a cyberdeck?
Because I kept seeing other people’s builds and thinging they were so cool but yet weren’t quite what I wanted a cyberdeck to be. So if I felt I could do better , I should give it a go!
At the end of 2022 I found myself between work contracts and had just finished building a home server. So I wanted to carry on that techfocused creativity.
I had certain requirements/restrictions, to keep things interesting.
- No folding screen (too much like a laptop)
- No touchscreens (too much like a tablet)
- Must have a physical keyboard
- Must be portable
- Must be robust
- As few moving parts as possible
- Must be actually useful
- Must be built with spare parts I already owed, could find second hand, or were cheap knock-off versions from China (it’s cyberpunk afterall!)
Finding a use-case was fairly easy. I do a lot of cybersecurity work, as well as general ops and admin work, so having a Linux machine handy to run infosec tools on, that can double as a keyboard, mouse, and screen when I need to physically tinker with another machine was sometghing I’d wanted for a looooong while.
I had a good slection of parts laying around already (i’m a professional nerd and can rarely bring myself to throw away a cable or peripheral that could be conciverably still be useful).
I had a Raspberry Pi 4 that wasn’t getting much love, and a Vortex Core 40% keyboard kicking around that I’ve not really used since the start of the pandemic.
The main thing I was missing was a screen, but a few minutes on AliExpress fixed that. You can pick up a cheap 8.8inch 480x1920 screen on AliExpress or Ebay pretty cheap. They all generally use the same USB power and mini-HDMI connections, so they’re compact and just what I was looking for.
Add to that a cheap USB touchpad, that had been gathering dust, and a Raspberry Pi UPS battery pack, and we were good to get started on the case design.
I knew I wanted the case to have an asymetric handle like the decks in Shadowrun and have that interestingly angled shape.
After a few protoypes I decided on taking a modular approach to the casing to ease of pinting, strength, and quick itteration.
The idea became to have a sturdy lower case with vents and pleanty of standard spaced screw holes, and a simple rectangle for a top panel that I could put holes in for the ports. So if I ever wanted to move the ports around or use the same case for something else I’d just need to print up an new top panel and screw it in place.
MUCH quicker and MUCH easier to print.
I had a ton of the 2.5mm Raspberry Pi stand-offs so decided to use those mounting things inside the case.
I also wanted to easily attach and remove a carry sling, and extra modules (Like a DStrike or Flipper Zero). Rather than intergrating them into the main body of the deck, I opted to just add picatinny rails on both sides. The rails meant I could build standardised mounts for different modules and also use a whole world of existing off-the-shelf slings, stands, and grips.
I was little worried it would come accross as “tacticool” but it also felt kinda right. In Neuromance the first cyberdecks were discribled as being made for the military, so that sort of thing would kinda be in keeping with the design ethos.
I added the D-bars on top, partly for the rack-mounted feel, and also to protect the screena dn keybaord; the bars are th highest point on the deck (and can be adjusted if needed), so you can stack thing on top of it if needed.
The bars themselves are just cupboard handles XD
With a finalised design, it was time to print the ‘production’ case
I’ve got a fairly big 3D printer so could do the case in 2 parts and used epoxy glue to secure them
After some testing I wasn’t happy with how the battery was performing so I swapped it out for a PiJuice module and a much bigger Li-Ion battery. The battery was one part I bought new for this project, because you absoloute DO NOT skimp on the part mostly likely to explode or catch fire!
I used M3 screws and brass inserts to secure all the top pannels, with threaded inserts in the main part of the case.
As I mented before, one feature I wanted was to be able to also use this as a regular keyboard and mouse for other machines. the simplest way I could think of doing this was to just use a basic Bi-directional USB switch with a button. Take off the casing,, mout the PCB to the cyberdeck’s case, and print a longer button for it and it’s good to go! the keybaord and trackpad connect to the input port, , the Raspberry Pi to an output, and the second ouput portjust goes to a USB port mounted to the top-panel. I had intended to do the same with HDMI, but the switch got damaged along the line so that feature is shelved for now.
I printed up a small internal shelf that screws on over the mainbaord and power management board. it hold the battery and some cables in place and also gives the keyboard a solid platform to rest on. I initially used the adhesive strips you can see bellow to keep the keyboard in place, but everything fits together snugly enough that they ended up being unnessessary once the top plate is on.
The top plate is in two parts that screw in around the edge of the case, with holes to feed the screen cables through. The screen mount is then scrfew into place on top of that; the screws go through the middle of the mount, through the top plate an into a stackof stand-offs inside that are secured on the far side of the case.
Then the screen just slots into place (you can use adhesive pads inside the mount to make it extra secure, but the casing alone seems enough to keep it in place without any worries.
The ports are essentially just extentions cables with panel-mount screws on one end. I added USB-C power on the main case, and everything else on th top panel. the top I/O is fairly standard, HDMI-out, Ethernet, and USB. except one of those USB ports is connected to the keyboard switch.
I also kinda wanted the deck to have an old school disk drive, which wasn’t really going ot happen due to space limitations, but I managed to fit an extra micro-SD card slot at the top there XD
To be properly cyberpunk the deck kinda needed a wearable interface. A direct brain link was out of the question, but I did have a pair of Nreal Air glasses around.
These are like the BEST HMD i’ve used over the years. But sadly they look way too normal and socially acceptable (come back ealry 2000’s HMD design!!!). But I did have the STL file for a cyberpunk visor prop, from a cosplay that never happend, and was able to modify it a bit to act as a better looking blackout vizor for the glasses.
A quick print run and some artistic aging later:
- Raspbery Pi 4 8gb
- PiJuice (link)
- 12,000mAh battery (link)
- 8.8inch 480x1980 screen
- Vortex Core 40% keybaord
- USB touchpad
- bi-directional USB switch
- Nreal Air glasses
- Arasaka sticker (link)
- Kali case badge (link)
- Bike handlebar grip
Ok, the noodles were originally a background gag in a cyberpunk pic I did a while ago, and they’ve kinda worked they’re way into all the cyberpunk pics i’ve drawn since, so it seemed like fun to include them in this some home.
So why not a rail-mounted nuclear powered noodle holder!?