I just built my own Raspberry Pi Laptop

I recently attended the WordPress Wordcamp in JHB and the one item I found myself without was a laptop, now i have a notepad filled with scribbled hieroglyphics of awesome tips and tricks. As a work from home freelancer I do kinda need a laptop but have not gotten around to doing the research and getting something appropriate for my needs. I then remembered “I has a PI”, this sparked an overload of thoughts and after some research and suggestive pushing (more like shoving, she’s quite convincing) from the wife, my mind was made up. I’m building a Pi Top….

My list of parts:

  • 1 Raspberry PI (obviously)
  • 8GB Class 10 Micro SD Card (the bigger the better) formatted as FAT
  • 1 Official Raspberry Pi 7 inch touch screen (now that I have it, it is kinda small)
  • Power supply, I’ve chosen a 10 000mAh power bank which provides great portability and hours of power
  • Wireless Keyboard and mouse (Scored a Logitech MK220 set for under 400 bucks)
  • Cover for everything (Will be 3d printing something, this Raspi 7inch thingy)
Parts for the Raspberry PI Laptop (PiTop) build
Parts for my Raspberry PI Laptop (PiTop) build

PS: I used a damaged phone to take the pictures you see, sorry about that.

Everything i’ve listed is pretty much plug and play… yes, the one plugs into the other and it works, easy as PI (to soon?). The fun comes in with customization though, custom designed and printed case, custom software layout and setup and who knows, if you’re one of those “I love me a manbag” types, a nice carry bag for everything. The total cost of parts came out to about 2200.00 ZAR, this excludes the 8GB micro SD card as I already had one lying around.

Step 1: Setup your Raspberry pi and install the Raspbian OS.

In the interest of keeping this post as short as possible i’ll graze over the install. You can find a more detailed instruction on the Raspberry Pi website.

For beginners it is recommended that the OS is installed using NOOBS (New Out Of Box Software).  At the time of writing this post NOOBS was +-1.5GB’s in size, it helps that they provide a torrent file for it as well. NOOBS contains several OS options for install, I will be installing Raspbian OS. This may not be perfect for what you wish to achieve, so do some research as NOOBS also provides the option to install Microsoft’s Win10 IOT (Internet of Things) as an OS.

The biggest issue here is having a way to actually connect to the micro SD card, most laptops have a card slot which is great but not all desktop machines have card readers. I was lucky enough to have come across this thingy in a bunch of things a friend was getting rid of.


Micro SD card thingy
Micro SD card thingy


You can then follow the instructions on the Raspberry Pi site to format the SD card as FAT, Extract the NOOBS files, copy them onto the SD card and boot the PI to run the install. The install of the Raspbian OS took a while but once complete the system was ready.

Step 2: Connect it all together and test.

The control board for my screen came pre-installed so all i needed to do was connect the ribbon and jumper cables to the screens control board and then to the Raspberry PI.

When installing the ribbon cable, i think it’s best to already have your SD card in your PI as the ribbon cable could get in the way depending on your choice of casing. Also keep in mind that the blue section on the ribbon should face the screen and the open points face upwards.

Ribbon cable location and orientation
Ribbon cable location and orientation

Concerning the jumper cables, I used the red for power (5V), the black for ground (GND), green for SDA and the yellow jumper cable for SCL. The pic below will show how i connected them to the PI.

Jumper cable orientation
Jumper cable orientation

The red (5V) goes to pin 4 (2nd one from the top on the right), the black (GND) to pin 6 (3rd one from the top on the right), the green (SDA) goes to pin 3 (2nd one from the top on the left) and finally the yellow (SCL) goes to pin 5 (3rd one from the top on the left rail). I found the below image to assist with the pin numbers and allocations.

Pin number allocation for jumper cable hookup
Pin number allocation for jumper cable hookup

Once all is connected, plug in your power and Voila, you should see a collage of colors for a short while and if all is connected correctly it should boot into Raspbian.

All connected and working, YAY
All connected and working, YAY

Step 3: Time to customize.

While I will not be using the PITop as a development machine, I am by trade a PHP developer so if it can come in handy for that I’d like to have it prepared (the whole having a gun when you need one situation). So,  I will need an FTP program (Filezilla) and an editor with minimal features like code highlighting and possible code completion (Geany), everything else I can host and test online.

The way the board is setup with the screen, once i printed out my case i realized that all the port (power, video and audio) were at the bottom which made it weird to comfortably plug the power in. So I found a way to flip the screen using the below method.

Once you have booted your PI, use your editor of preference to edit “/boot/config.txt” , i’m a VI guy so i did this in a terminal window

“sudo vi /boot/config.txt”

At the top of the file I added a new line “lcd_rotate=2” then saved with “wq!” and rebooted. This will literally load Raspbian upside down, all my ports are now at the top of the screen which makes it much easier to plug the power and earphones in.

For a case i chose to 3D print one out. Did some googling and found a good design on thingiverse.com.

3d Pinted case front side view
3d Pinted case front side view
3d Pinted case back side view
3d Pinted case back side view

I ran into some trouble printing the back cover which i’m not to worried about so I’ll leave it as is. Just a thought but for those who do not have access to a 3D printer, i noticed that the box the 7 Inch screen comes in is the perfect size to make a screen cover out of. You could just paint it up or for authenticity leave it as is and cut out a whole on the front to fit the screen into.

Already in use for nightly Pi Minecrafting
Already in use for nightly Pi Minecrafting

Conclusion? The power bank is more than sufficient and at a guess I would estimate provides way over 6 hours of function. The wireless desktop does what it’s supposed to and provides freedom from cables and packs away easily. It works great as a on the go development system and definitely works well as a spare entertainment distraction as you can see in the below video.

I plan to complete it by fitting a 7 Inch tablet screen protector which should help extend the screen life a bit longer and will shop around for a nice carry bag of sorts (no, not a manbag). Once i get the back printed I’ll strap the battery pack on using some Velcro straps.

Step 4: Enjoy..

Not much i can say here but have fun…

Hope this helps..


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