Topic: Cases and case design

I can't be the only one thinking of making a new case for my Novena, and I thought it would be cool to hear what other people are thinking of doing.

My current thought is to machine an aluminum case and add the guts of a ThinkPad USB keyboard. I've got a source of aluminum and access to a mill, so I figure I should be able to make something at least functional and robust. Pretty and light, maybe not so much (I'm an amateur designer and machinist at best).

My concerns with this are with heat and the wireless. I'd like to get away without using fans, and it seems like that should be doable with what is essentially a giant heatsink as the case. Of course, I don't have any background in thermal design, so I really don't know. For the wireless, I think I should be able to find locations for two antennas to get acceptable performance.

So what are other people thinking? Any suggestions/improvements to my ideas?

Re: Cases and case design

I wouldn't be too terribly worried about either heat or wifi.  It certainly doesn't get overly hot, and wifi performance is pretty good.  All else failing, you can snake the wifi antennas out an aperture somewhere for better reception.

I'm partial to Apple Bluetooth keyboards and trackpads, so I'm trying to figure out how to attach my Magic Trackpad and Apple Bluetooth keyboard to the case.  Of course, I might try going for a different keyboard if I can't find a good way to take care of it...

Re: Cases and case design

I was also thinking about making my own laptop case carved from one piece of wood, but the novena case is quite good. So now I'm thinking of hacking the novena case, maybe using the lid without the screen and putting a removable usb keyboard inside the frame on a transparent surface. Then use the other bezel to make another lid with the screen that opens the "right" way to use as a laptop. This way the computer can be used as a laptop, on a table or in a table with the keyboard on the lap, and the keyboard lid can be opened to access the electronics.

I hope the final novena case to have both front corners equally rounded.

Re: Cases and case design

My usual problem applies here to: to many ideas to little time, so I throw in my prefered flavours of thoughts:
- reuse an old Thinkpad Notebook (like the idea of using a 20 year old one as an understatement), with a new screen ant some way to reuse the old keyboard (there was a noe on hackeday of a TP keyborad to usb adapter..)
- a steampunk version fom wood and brass (or even a fake, by using glassfiber covered by wooden veneer
- a carbonfiber case (for which dbtayl could mill the alloy mold ;-) ).
-or even diffrend cases, in which I plugg the board in (a minimal "tablet", a notebook,and a "desktop". The last one would be just a "slot behind the Monitor)

Re: Cases and case design

I am thinking to use the case as is (ordered the desktop version), but might add a plastic sheet, on top, so the interior is a bit more protected against dropped screws, but still very accessible. Is is designed as an experimentation device, so I'll use it that way smile

I do want to add a small usb hub, as the standard ports are 'minimal'. I would loose usb's for keyboard/mouse and would be nice to connect an external harddisk in a stable way and also one or more usb sticks (to exchange data) as I can with my normal laptop. For a keyboard I'll use a Logitech wireless combo to start with (as I have one anyway), and it needs an usb port for the transceiver. And a dvb stick maybe sometimes...

I am also thinking to make something to use the I/O's that go to the battery board for other purposes (there is at least i2c). I am not sure if there are other gpio-pins still unused, but also want to add a connector usable for daisychaining small i2c modules like it is done on a jeenode.

Re: Cases and case design

I would like a chassis resembling the Novena Heirloom version, but ruggedized like a Panasonic Toughbook 31. Some sort of shock-absorbent, fingerprint resistant material like the TPU cases that wrap around cell phones would be nice. It might even be fun to add a briefcase style handle like the Toughbook's have. A replaceable port-panel on the right side would be nice as well.

If i can get my hands on a Novena Myriad RF kit, then the final chassis design would have to take various antenna options into consideration.

I would probably just use the same keyboard that comes with the heirloom version but add a red LED to cast some ambient light on the keyboard when necessary. The Logitech K810 might be a nice backlit wireless option.

I'd be thrilled if Pixel Qi made a 13" screen that was compatible with Novena, but it seems the largest they produce is 10".

Re: Cases and case design

I forgot to mention... It would be fun to mount a small LED panel (AMOLED?) on the back of the monitor lid where you normally see the illuminated apple logo on macbooks. You could display pictures, video, text, or whatever suits your mood in the moment.

Re: Cases and case design

The Novena logo that was chosen lends itself to some pretty cool animations if each of the "pads" was lit individually by an LED behind it.  Or accomplishing the same thing using a small screen as mentioned.  I would like to place mine somewhere that attracts attention (as if an open laptop needs more attention!) so people ask "What is that thing!"


Re: Cases and case design

hypermeta: I had a similar idea, except I was thinking you could just cycle through all of the different popular logos.  Be an Apple one minute, an HP the next, or a Novena.

Re: Cases and case design

I guess I'll be designing my laptop chassis to keep the usb ports unexposed while locked/in transit: … sb-attack/

Re: Cases and case design

hypermeta, I'm still trying to figure out what that "exploit" is.  It looks an awful lot like our "SD card firmware hacking" examples ported back to USB.  If you have a supported controller, you can write new firmware to it.  The list of supported controllers is very small, and you'd need to be able to enter factory reprogramming mode on each controller.

Novena includes a USB OTG port so you, too, can emulate a "BadUSB" device.

Re: Cases and case design

Thanks, xobs. Perhaps more information will come to light in the next month or two.

13 (edited by dbtayl 2015-04-04 11:43:26)

Re: Cases and case design

Still working on my case design... it would probably help if I had any sort of training in mechanical engineering.

If above embed doesn't work: … authuser=0

The whole thing is a little smaller in all dimensions than my ThinkPad T400. The giant hole you can see is to fit a ThinkPad USB keyboard. There will probably be a bracket under it for support as well.

Anyway, my current thought is to do a thick-ish (maybe 3-4mm) aluminum band as the main support material- that's the light color in the image above. It should be easy to mill the port holes from a piece of (long, narrow) flat stock, then bend it into the rounded rectangle. Bending might be tricky, but it should be doable with the help of a jig or two.

The top and bottom panels of the base I'm still thinking about. I don't want to use aluminum because of the whole "electrically-conductive" thing. So far delrin/acetal and carbon fiber are my two thoughts. Acetal I can definitely work with, and it looks like carbon fiber wouldn't be too awful.They'd be pretty thin (2mm?) to save on weight, but I'm thinking I could put in ribs to make it rigid enough. You can see two of them in the image above- a small one that would fit under the board, and a larger one that would go all the way up to the keyboard.

Anybody have insights on this? Pros/cons, experiences with either one, etc.? Other materials I should consider?The best calculations I can come up with show that unsupported carbon fiber 2mm thick would probably be more flexible than I'd like, but I have no clue how to model the ribs- I assume that would help immensely. Both acetal and carbon fiber are expensive enough that I'd like all the knowledge I can get before buying a chunk or two to mess around with.

Also, cooling... I'm thinking of a heatpipe from the CPU and sticking it to the back of the aluminum part of the case. No idea how well that would work, but it seems like it would be better than the heatsink that came with the Novena, given that it would be completely sealed up with no airflow. With the chunk I've ordered, it would cover maybe half of the back of the case.

Hinges I'm still working on, as I am the lid. I'll probably end up getting some replacement hinges for some laptop or other and adapting my design to fit them, unless somebody has a better idea.

Thoughts? If anybody has experience in something that might help, I'd love to hear it. I'm mostly concerned with making sure everything is rigid enough while keeping bulk and weight to reasonable levels, but if there are other things I should consider, I'm all ears.

Re: Cases and case design

We're introducing thermal zones in the next kernel build.  We took advantage of the 5V port and hooked it up to a simple fan.  That could come in handy for your build.  Putting a giant slug on top of the CPU also seems to help in a laptop configuration.

Looks like a fun project.  Post more pictures!

Re: Cases and case design

for me the ideal case would be water and shock resistant, with a mineral glass (if possible capacitive) display (for a small backpanel for animated logo or whatevs too)
This would mean plugging all ports with rubberized latches. anyone know how hard it is to get your hands on dragontrail/gorilla glass?
Also would need a fancy passive cooling system.
...i wish...

Re: Cases and case design

I've been at this for a bit, the design was chosen for a thinkpad trackpoint keyboard, the one in the heirloom design, cabled or bluetooth. I got on the wagon a bit too late, and the "board only" option was the only one left. My thought was that there may be others in my boat.
The idea was to keep the original port farm while maintaining a case I could actually use. I commute almost every day, so I don't want a gorgons head of wires that'll get me kicked off the train.
The case itself is suited to my designs: Anker battery for the novena, LVDS to HDMI board and inverter to reuse an old screen, room for an SSD that'll get tossed in later, a 3S1P Lipo battery for powering the screen [yes, two batteries], and room for a small fan. I plan on mounting M2.5 threaded thermal mounts to ABS plastic and using acetone to fuse it to the case bottom, it allows for wiggle room.
Yes, drilling and tapping are not designed in, and yes, there's no screen bezel. I'm fairly certain that nobody has an Acer Aspire 3680 screen just layin' about. The design calls for small switches near the north end, but with a bit of CAD hacking, I thought the project could help some out. The 3D-printable designs have been extracted as well. I'll be posting the finished product on if anyone's interested. … 9ac90ed9a2

Re: Cases and case design

The latest on my design:

3.175mm (1/8") band around the edge, conveniently enough 19mm (3/4") tall. I intend to mill out the port farm while it's a flat piece (the dimensions make it so I shouldn't have to cut it the long way). then bend it into a rectangle. Maybe weld it closed? I think welding aluminum is pretty miserable, so we'll see what happens there. Brazing, maybe.

The bottom will be milled out of a 6.35mm (1/4") plate, so it's 1.5mm thick in most places. I intend to leave a lattice (not in my CAD files yet) to give it rigidity without the weight. I think the lip left (4.85mm) should be enough to get a machine screw through. Not sure how it would work, given that screws have heads, but it's a work in progress.

The top (keyboard part, not shown except for keyboard shadow) will be the same as the bottom- 1.5mm, with a lattice. I'm thinking the lid will be 5 or 5.5mm. There will be extra metal around the edge, which I'm hoping to mostly skeletonize to save weight. Maybe backfill with Sugru or something. The current plan is to steal Apple's design and mount the WiFi antenna below the LCD- hopefully I can keep it far enough from the eDP cable to prevent issues. Maybe the frequencies are different enough it's OK?

Finally, you can see my case-as-heatsink design. FreeCAD doesn't provide a nice way to do complex bends in a part, so my heatpipe is piecewise. The clamp to hold it onto the CPU should be pretty easy to mill out, and I should probably add a piece to clamp it to the back of the case somewhere- I need to make sure the eDP cable will still fit through there.

The big unknown right now are the hinges. Suggestions? I'm thinking of just getting replacement hinges for some laptop that look like they'd work, but there are a LOT of them out there.

Re: Cases and case design

dbtayl wrote:

The big unknown right now are the hinges. Suggestions? I'm thinking of just getting replacement hinges for some laptop that look like they'd work, but there are a LOT of them out there.

Looking good, my clamshell case is using standard laptop torsion hinges as they screw right into the side of an lcd. The idea was to rip them out of an old unit, but you could grab some for whatever model lcd you're using. The plan was to then mount the tiny hinges to a steel plate and mount the stronger plate the the case. In your design, you might be able the get away with going directly into the aluminum.

19 (edited by Jookia 2015-04-24 17:18:24)

Re: Cases and case design

I'm not using the Novena as a laptop, but rather as a desktop. I thought it'd be cute to have a space saving case meant for the bare board with room for front ports, a power cable (not brick), ventilation. Simplicitly and hackability come first. With the help of my family's input and skill, we managed to design and build this:

It's far exceeded my expectations, though I'm not running the fan off the OTG port. (Yet?) This cheap cooling solution can keep a maxed out Novena to around 50 degrees, though I also learned before having this that you could cool the board by fanning it using a book.

Edit: seemed to die so I guess Imgur it is to host the photo.

Re: Cases and case design

That is a nice photo.  Cool!

You might also be able to pick off 5V from the "SATA" connector that the battery board is normally connected to.  Since you have a bare board, that port is available.

I did a lot of debugging of the Senoko battery board that way (having your Novena power itself off when debugging power on/off is annoying,) so it should be fine.

Re: Cases and case design

That sounds like a neat idea. One reason I picked OTG was that I was assuming I could use that to turn it on and off and only use it under load, but perhaps using that inverted SATA connector would work. I'm assuming I could just get a SATA extension cable and solder it to the fan cables, yes?

Re: Cases and case design

That's correct, yes.

You could also pick a USB port and use "novena-usb-hub" to toggle power to it.

Re: Cases and case design

Just a quick update on my case design. First, the pictures:*/0B_Cyg0CezJwDLXptanQtTzM3dDQ*/0B_Cyg0CezJwDUkNvMUpmdnlsNWs

Basically, I added standoffs for the PCBs, tweaked the ribs a little bit, and added in the power button/internal USB board (which I think I'll end up cutting up, once I make sure that wouldn't break anything). You can also see I added some columns in the corners for screwing down the cover to, along with raised lips to seat said cover in.

Still to-do is to add in the hinges, mostly. I've got some ThinkPad T420s/T430s hinges on order that should be pretty easy to mount. I just don't have exact dimensions to put that in yet. Obviously I'll need to model the relevant hinge features into the lid as well.

Finally*. I need to finish up the keyboard deck (not shown in pictures here). I need to add ribs to that so it doesn't bend all over, as well as add some features to fully accommodate the keyboard (it's got some alignment tabs, and it needs to be secured somehow).

The major possible sticking points are:

-The rigidity of the lid. I don't want the LCD to get damaged easily, but I also don't want to use 6mm of aluminum to prevent that.

-Tapping mounting holes could be a huge pain- the holes are shallow. I'm thinking of making inserts that I can tap without at bottoming tap, then gluing those in place to work around it.

-I'm still a little worried about hinge geometry

Anyway, MDF-prototype-land is coming smile.

*Ish. There are always little details and stuff I forget about.... like standoffs for the SSD. And making sure the parts are rigid enough.

Re: Cases and case design

somehow I can't acess any of your pictures. Links are text only.

Re: Cases and case design

mclien wrote:

somehow I can't acess any of your pictures. Links are text only.

Not sure why that keeps happening. Anybody know how to embed images "correctly" directly from Google Drive?

Anyway, you can find the same ones on my blog:

Those seem to be working, at least right now.