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Last month I ran out and bought one of the new PS3 Slim consoles. You can check out my “tear down” of the unit here.
I had some other projects to finish first at the time, but now I’ve gotten around to building a laptop out of this thing. It might still be my fastest project of a new console, I think the Wii was 2 months after launch, this is about 35 days.
- PS3 Slim Hardware, with cool-running 45nm architecture. Very VERY quiet.
- 17″ widescreen LCD with HDMI-DVI digital connection.
- Built-in power supplies / compartment for the AC cord.
- Push button volume control with stereo speakers.
- Sleek white monochromatic styling with pin stripes.
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For the “Making Of” story, pics and video see below.
After tearing down a system I put it back together. In the case of modern systems this usually means cleaning off the CPU/GPU dies and heat sinks and putting a new thermal compound in. I usually use Arctic Silver, yeah it’s expensive, but so is my stuff and “a little dab’ll do ya”. (I’ll old enough to know what product that slogan is actually for – sigh)
Here’s a fun trick – scanning things. It’s not all that accurate, but it’s good for a base reference and to double-check other measurements against. Oh, and there’s my rarely-used metric dial caliper.
This is my favorite cheap trick, and no, not the big hair band. A quick and dirty way to see if you’ve drawn the parts correctly is to hold them up the screen and close one eye. Sure it’s not super-accurate, but it’s slightly more “green” than printing out a copy and checking that way. OK, I don’t give a crap about green, I just don’t want to lean over and turn on the printer… which is always off… BECAUSE I am green! Ha ha!
Actually, no again, I just like saving money on electric bills. Which… um… is why I have dual 24″ monitors. Ahem. Moving on… (dot org)
Here’s a couple videos regarding the routing process. It’s always fun to pull the pieces out and see how they fit together. Well, I know HOW they fit together, I guess the more appropriate word is IF.
With that done it’s time to put the case together!
Now no matter how well you design everything to line up, there’s going to be some imperfections. Parts are CNC’d in the real world (and the Sabre 408 isn’t as young as it used to be, in fact it’s 10 years old!)
So one trick I like to do is to use a countersinking bit (the V-shaped one above) to cut a slight cone in each receiving screw hole. This way, when I put the halves together, even if the leading screw doesn’t QUITE match the receiving hole, the sloped slides will guide it in. Kind of like docking a space ship, but with 9000% less rocket science.
Here’s the Gateway 1775W LCD in the screen frame. Most of this unit is very similar to the 360 portable design. There’s a 1/2″ piece of material for the LCD, and a 3/4″ curved piece on top of that. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time, and this frees me to up put my creativity elsewhere.
As before, this unit uses an HDMI-DVI adapter cable from Tiger Direct. They are pin compatible except for the audio signal. There isn’t QUITE enough room for a full DVI plug, so I cut it off, desolder the jack, and wire it manually, as shown above. I’ve reskinned the cable with heat shrink tubing, and added the +5, +12 and GND for the LCD controls.
Attaching the pin striping. As anyone who’s done this will tell you, it’s the age-old balance of enough soapy water to make it adjustable, but not so much that it never dries – a problem on the edges and corners. My amazing $10 Harbor Frieght heat gun can help with that.
Check out how thin the LCD portion is! It almost completely fits in the 1/2″ plastic screen frame. Also you may be wondering why the main part is green – my plastic order was shipped to the wrong address, so I had to use what was laying around and paint it later.
I almost always paint my cases with Kylon for Plastic, available at fine hardware stores everywhere. It was kind of lame, I had to buy an entire can of light gray just to paint the button area. I couldn’t just vinyl it since the plastic face was textured.
Attaching the hinges. Again these are the expensive-but-great 16 torque-lb friction hinges from McMaster-Carr. I used to make my own hinges, but my retired engineer uncle gave me some great advice – “Don’t build what you can buy.” Right on – and yet I made a portable Sega Genesis.
The completed screen module. The HDMI plugs into the back of the PS3 and is held in place when the case is screwed together. The power wires go to a plug which connects them to the LCD’s power supply.
Onto the main unit! The console isn’t as heavily modifed as my Xbox’s (thank God) but there’s still a lot of busy work. I start with the panel buttons PCB. This is the part with eject, power and LED’s. On the PS3 it also glows, but I’m omitting that part.
Using thing Ultra-ATA hard drive cable I “pin out” the eject and power tact switches (they have a common ground) as well as the red, green and blue surface-mount LED’s.
It’s not too hard to replace SMT LED’s for your own projects:
- Using a small power supply (2 AA’s work well) check the polarity of the LED by making it light up. Mark which end is + and -.
- Heat up your solder iron, the hotter the better but make sure it has a small tip for accuracy.
- Blob solder onto the ends of the LED, heating it up.
- Push the LED off the board. Be sure not to slide it into anything important.
- Carefully attach new wires to the SMT pads where the LED was.
- Dab hot glue onto the wires so if they are pulled the glue will take the force, not the pads. This prevents pad destruction and tears.
The base of the unit. The button PCB is screwed to the front, in roughly the same spot it should be. This allows the existing, fairly long ribbon cable to reach its original plug. Again, I am good an soldering / resoldering, but I stil avoid it when I can. (Saves time for when I do have to resolder everything)
Power supply. The PS3 PSU had an interesting case which looked like an ink toner and easily pulled out of the unit. I ditched that to save space for wires and installed it “bare”. There are some consideration of course. See above? I don’t want to mess with these adjustment potentiometers, so I’ve blobed on hot glue so they’ll save their settings until eternity!
That’s a good rule for hot glue – only slather something with it if you’re SURE it’s working and doesn’t need changing. Because if it does removing the glue is a pain! (I usually carve it off with an X-acto)
More recycling! I love square-shaped blister packs – like the ones PS3 controllers come in – because I can slice off and keep the plastic for later insulting. Ironically, “later” in this case was the PS3 laptop. Seem appropriate. Anyway, even though the solder-side leads shouldn’t touch metal when installed, they might, so this is a precaution. When doing this, be sure to cut out holes for the screws / screw access. (I forgot the first time)
Funky Foam – the best crappy kids crap on the market. Whenever I’m at Hobby Lobby I grab a bunch, and it’s cheap! (Internal memo: Hobby Lobby will be a good place to meet women when I’m 45)
Anyway, it’s this thin, adhesive-backed foam that comes in many colors. In the above example I’ve used 2 layers of it to keep the PSU board from sagging. I also used it to space the edges of the LCD and to space out the back of the LCD so the lid holds it in place.
I also used this foam on a prop I did for the “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” movie, which is something I’ll probably talk about when that movie comes out, not sure if it’s in the final cut.
White Funky Foam is also useful for making base “feet” – you can buy 12 felt feet at Ace for $2.99, or make 100 feet for $0.79. I should have realized this 6 projects ago!
I don’t know what happened to the original screws for this PSU so I had to find some the same size. And the winner is… Xbox 360 heat sink screws! Great, now the thing will overheat! (Yes, I’m that superstitious)
The power cord, coiled into the case like a snake. A groove allows it to stick straight out from the plug (right side) when in use.
As you can see, I could have easily made the unit smaller on the X axis, but I would have had to use a 4:3 (non-widescreen) LCD to do it, because the Gateway 1775W is about the smallest 720p screen around as it is.
I thought briefly about using the same model the Atari 800 had (it has a VGA mode, as does the PS3) but to me next-gen means widescreen so it was a concession I chose not to make.
Panel buttons. I forgot to rout the backing plate so I had to make it out of bits of junk. There isn’t a whole lot of room above the Blu-Ray drive, so I bought special thin tact switches to ensure they’d fit. Along with the LED’s these are wired to a female header receptable that fits into the button PCB wires I did earlier.
I got through a TON of headers these days – especially with my pinball machine – but as always, I highly recommend modders use them. Search Digi-Key, Mouser etc for “male headers” and “female header receptacles”. (No, this isn’t becoming a porn site) Common pitches (space between pin centers) are .1″ and .079″ (or 2mm)
The audio amplifier and digital potentiometer volume control. I love this amp – it’s simple to use, cheap, small package and stereo. Unlike some amps where you set the level beforehand and the amp just… amps it you input the source signals into this and it amplifies them both based off a voltage level you put on a pin. (0 – 5 volts). It grabs the +5 volts from the LCD’s power supply.
This voltage pin is set by the wiper controls on the digital pot. So basically by pressed + and – volume it’s like turning a virtual knob on a voltage divider. Note the yellow pot – this limits the high-end voltage reference and is basically a “volume limiter”.Unlike the 360 laptop this thing isn’t “fighting” over the fan noise, so I can set a reasonable volume level to ensure the PSU isn’t overly taxed.
The audio amp is non-stock and running out, but alas, here are the Digi-Key part #’s:
Digital Pot: X9511WP-ND
Audio amp: 296-18249-5-ND
The two halves of the unit ready to go together. Again most of my stuff these days goes together the same way: screen is its own module, connects to base, inner lid portion is attached and screwed to base, screen portion is attached via the hinges.
Another view. You can see the white AC cord for the LCD PSU which feeds off the PS3 input. (Enough acronyms for everyone in this article?)
And now some random pics:
The panel buttons are faux brushed aluminum, with the grain going left and right. That may sound like a small detail, but those are the kind you need to get right!
I used clear-when-off 3mm LED’s so they would fit with the monochromatic color scheme as much as possible.
Fan vent above the main fan in the PS3. About 30% of the case design time was spent on this area alone.
I knew the position and size of the vent hole, and then made a cool lid for it. But the tricky part was how to work this into the design of the case. I settled on a “ying yang” balance where a secondary circle around the vent goes to the edge of the case, and is replicated by the edge of the gray. The top of the buttons are level with the bottom of the vent, and the upper slit vents are lined up with the left edge of the circular vent and then mirrored to the right from center.
Finally, the LED positions were “cough positioned”, as I like to call it. That’s when, after a bunch of symmetrical, carefully planned stuff, you select the LED’s then cough as you tap ARROW UP until they “look right”. It’s an old trick from working with clients, it makes inaccuracy funny and thus OK!
Rear of the unit. Since everything went to schedule (finished it on the day I predicted, rare) I took the time to add pinstripes in the back as well. Good to have plenty of sharp X-Acto knives for this stuff!
Unit closed. See the small hole on the lid to the left? That leads to the power switch of the LCD – sometimes if it’s off long enough you have to restart it manually. (Just in case – you usually only have to do it when the LCD is new)
Side view. The design of the case is very simple looking. That doesn’t mean it is simple, just that it is very functional and clean. I am equally proud of this kind of work as I am an overly complex piece like the recent Atari 800 laptop.
You can see the USB ports on the bottom, and another vent. Hey, couldn’t hurt! The Blu-Ray drive has an opening to get to get. I made it as narrow as possible and still able to get the disc out. Again, always ALWAYS leave “slop” room when doing things like this.
Crap, I just realized what this reminds me of! Those awesome “twist” cones, that had chocolate and vanilla swirled together! Was that a subconscious decision? Only my ID knows!
This unit looks very sporting and would great to play Gran Turismo 5 on, when it comes out in 2021. I would call it a “Gran Turismo Themed PS3”, but honestly the racing stripes are just a holder wish from the original aborted C64 laptop.
Finally, a demo video of the unit in action.
And another video.
Well this will be the last “laptop” for a bit – I have a bunch of controller monitors to build this month.