DIY Raspberry Pi 5-powered computer| HackSpace #72

The new issue of HackSpace magazine is packed with Raspberry Pi 5 projects. We’ve picked this DIY Pi 5-powered computer to whet your appetite.

With more computing power than ever before, Raspberry Pi 5 makes a great device for building your own computer with. Obviously, this can be as simple as putting it on your desk and plugging in a keyboard, laptop, and monitor, but the adaptability of Raspberry Pi means that you can create something far more complex if you’d like.

DIY Pi 5 computer from HackSpace magazine
It’s a bit bulky, but solid, and very hackable

Way back in issue 24, we built an unconventional portable computer with a Raspberry Pi 4. It’s now time to modernise it with a brand new Raspberry Pi 5.

Before we look at the parts you need to build a computer, let’s think about why you want to. You can go to a shop and buy a computer, and there are literally thousands to choose from. However, despite there being a huge number of models, there really isn’t much choice. In reality, you can get three different computers. You can get a big box to sit on your desk, you can get a foldy one with a screen and keyboard attached, or you can get a handheld rectangle with no keyboard. These three come in a range of specifications with a few software choices, but that’s basically it.

Building your own lets you throw away this tri-opoly and start with a blank slate. That’s exactly what we did.

This power module gives us 3 A at 5 (ish) volts
This power module gives us 3 A at 5 (ish) volts

Our main requirements were that we lifted the screen up to make it more ergonomic, that it protected what it was carrying, and that there was space for hacking. We used it as a main computer for a while, but it did eventually end up in storage under a bed.

Now it’s time to give it a refresh. The first thing we can say is that we’re really glad we made it out of wood. This material is almost endlessly hackable. We’ve pulled some bits out, added some new ones in, and generally gave it a bit of a shuffle around. We also really like the feel of wood. In a world of plastic and aluminium, it’s nice to have something to give us a little connection to the natural world.

We’re playing with the options for 3D stereoscopic photography at the moment, but haven’t settled on a camera setup, so it’s just taped together for now
We’re playing with the options for 3D stereoscopic photography at the moment, but haven’t settled on a camera setup, so it’s just taped together for now

However you choose to build your computer, there are a few things you’ll need.

Power

Obviously, we need 5 V of power for the Raspberry Pi. Ideally, we should be able to supply 5 A of power, but we don’t really need this much and we can get away with closer to 3 A. You’ll also need power for whatever else you have on the board. We need 12 V for a screen, so we’ve gone with a 12 V power supply and a switching regulator to take this down to 5 V for the Raspberry Pi, which we feed in via USB-C.

Screens

You can connect screens to either the Camera / Display ports or the HDMI ports. The Camera / Display ports allow slightly tidier wiring, but there are fewer display options. Using HDMI, you need cables with quite long connectors (and the cables themselves tend to be quite long).

In our original build, we opted to go with HDMI connectors, though it is the least tidy part of the build as we have coiled HDMI cables on show. For now, we’re going to stick with this option, though we will stay on the lookout for alternative options.

Originally, we had two screens, but we found we didn’t use the smaller of the two very much, so we’ve removed that to give us more space for alternative hardware. This also removes some of the untidy HDMI cables.

Keyboard

Our portable computer doesn’t have a keyboard or mouse attached. However, you just need to plug in your own (or use a Bluetooth one that’s not plugged in). For the authentic Raspberry Pi experience, we’ve opted to use an official Raspberry Pi mouse and keyboard. They’re tough, reasonably priced, and look the part.

You can combine these elements however you like to make a computer that suits you perfectly.

HackSpace magazine issue 72 out NOW!

Each month, HackSpace magazine brings you the best projects, tips, tricks and tutorials from the makersphere. You can get HackSpace from the Raspberry Pi Press online store or your local newsagents.

Hackspace magazine 72 cover

10 comments
Jump to the comment form

Mike avatar

Well the RPI 5 may have a faster cpu etc but it really should support more than 8gb ram, wouldn’t take more to power and it would then truly fly.

Reply to Mike

James Hughes avatar

Why? It would only be faster if you actually used up more than 8GB of RAM, which requires quite a bit of effort. I’ve got a Pi5 here, running VS Code and Chrome, with a couple of terminal windows and it’s using less than 2GB. I expect to run out of CPU performance before I run out of memory. Of course, some workloads will prefer 16GB of RAM, but they are pretty uncommon, certainly not applications used by the majority.

Reply to James Hughes

Jill avatar

You would be right, if the raspberry pi wasn’t trying to take over the desktop. Add a couple of applications and you’ll quickly see
it approaching 8gb. Now granted, one can attach swap, but if you place that on an SD card, you can kiss your performance goodbye

Reply to Jill

Dart avatar

Usbc for the rasberry pi should be an option since the 3A power supplies have it crying for more.

Reply to Dart

John avatar

I’m planning on making a Raspberry Pi powered computer called Horizon. It has a 800W power supply, 32GB microsd plus a SSD processor of 32GB, making it 64GB, a intel inside graphics card and more!

Reply to John

Alf avatar

What others are saying is important:
1- USB-C Ports (some portable screens now use only USB-C powered ports),see ASUS ZenScreen MB165B.
2- 16 gigs of Ram.
I Have a project to build a Raspberry pi Laptop DIY, and I’m still hoping for something to come.
This could be the first really cheap PC for low resource people, and a marketing tool for Raspberry pi and Linux.

Reply to Alf

Kal avatar

Would be very interested to see the results of that laptop project!

Reply to Kal

Dev avatar

As a developer of various platforms I find compiling certain projects into native binaries can take a lot of RAM (8+ GB just for the static analysis, especially if using reflection heavy languages). I can be patient for a build to complete (e.g. “slow” cpu) but not fitting into RAM makes some builds impossible. There aren’t many affordable ARM platforms with more than 8GB.

Yes I know, highly unusual case but someone has to develope the software users use and being able to produce native binaries instead of intermediate language vms can be a game changer. Buying a “proper” arm server isn’t cheap just for dev work. :)

Reply to Dev

Binary Sausage avatar

My build was even lazier, I omitted the desk drawer case and left the whole thing sitting on the table.

Reply to Binary Sausage

Sandy avatar

Not very *hackable*, if you use the wrong power. Good first try 👍 Love the *case* too

Reply to Sandy

Leave a Comment