Decided to build my own PDA - from "scratch"

Discussion in 'PDAs and Handhelds' started by Konrad Pierce, Sep 14, 2007.

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  1. Konrad Pierce

    Konrad Pierce Village Idiot 2.0

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    The Aceeca link introduced in this thread got me thinking. Got me looking around. I've noticed quite a bit of "other" stuff being made for industrial, corporate, military, and other specialized uses. Most of the customers are themselves large-scale device manufacturers who market custom-sector machines which compete against PDAs.

    I've just ordered two of the most expensive parts I'll need: a Toradex Colibri PXA320 IT mainboard and a Sharp 4.20" XGA (1024x768x24-bit) touchscreen LCM.

    Gonna build my own fancy (PDA-based) mobile computer. Forget about the underpowered half-crippled toys that HP, Dell, Apple, Sony, Toshiba, Palm and all the rest want me to buy. It's all junk. And it's cheaper this way, too.

    I'm all set to go and still a little bit vague on exactly what I'm building ... but the mainboard only measures 67.6 x 36.7 x 5.2mm and the LCM is only 4.2" ... I might be able to squeeze it into a large PDA casing. Probably not though, if I want to pack the twin SD slots, twin CF slots, RS232, twin USB hosts, biggish battery, and all the rest in there. I suppose the 806MHz PXA320, 256MB DDR2 RAM, 1024MB Flash ROM and all the rest might produce a little bit of heat, too. Hey, at least it comes pre-installed with WinCE 5.0 or my choice of linux flavours.
     
  2. berylrb

    berylrb Mobile Deity

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    consider the windows based handhelds that are used in Apple Stores for check out too, they have it all BT, wifi, not sure about storage?
     
  3. Konrad Pierce

    Konrad Pierce Village Idiot 2.0

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    I haven't done an exhaustive search - but I'm willing to guess that no consumer PDA (or even UMPC) exists at this time which can support all the technobabble built into this Colibri mainboard. The specs for the CPU, RAM, ROM, and screen resolution alone blow anything out of the water. I can't wait.
     
  4. palmgeek5394

    palmgeek5394 Nokia N800 + HTC Wizard

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    Cool. Post pics! This'll be fun, now won't it? :D
     
  5. Wail

    Wail Member

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    Konrad,

    If anyone can pull this off, then it sure is you. I wait anxiously to see the parts put together and the final result. Who knows, you may be the one to give us “power users” what we really crave for.

    God speed.
     
  6. jigwashere

    jigwashere Life is a circus!

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    Colibrí is one of my favorite words in Spanish. It means "hummingbird."

    Good luck, Konrad!
     
  7. Wail

    Wail Member

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    I have to say that what you’re attempting to do is one of the exciting things to hit the PDA world, as far as I’m concerned, since GM started to build home-made iPaq sleeves back in the early days of the iPaq.

    Please do keep us posted, with lots of pictures; and bear in mind that you may be on to something good. If memory serves me well, GM did exceptionally well with his iPaq sleeve business.
     
  8. NamelessPlayer

    NamelessPlayer Mobile Deity

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    This could be quite interesting. Best of luck with your project.

    One question, though-can you find a way to stick an Intel 2700G, nVIDIA GoForce 5500, or other GPU in there? That is one thing I do NOT want to lose if I leave the X50v(even though I've been tempted by the Sharp Zaurus SL-C3x00 line, which has no such GPU, but does have a really nice form factor and a promising OS)...
     
  9. Adama D. Brown

    Adama D. Brown Brighthand Reviewer

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    Wow, that's ambitious. And 4.2" XGA? You'll definitely have to keep us appraised of this. Managing to implement even half the functions that board has would be way too cool.
     
  10. RickAgresta

    RickAgresta Above: Peanut, leader of the Peanutty Forces

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    yes, very interesting. another thread to keep watching. and if it goes commercial, I can imagine the cool logo...
     

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  11. Genjinaro

    Genjinaro ~3rdPrty 4ehvur!~

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    Heh, this really should be called a UMPC when you add it (specs) all up.
    LOL XGA alone put you beyond the PDA.:p

    Hopefully you don't add HDD and stick to flash memory.


    Although I'm abit jealous + I couldn't phathom doing this myself. I hope you have the tools to finish.
    BTW let us know how much $$$ you ended up spending when its done.
     
  12. Konrad Pierce

    Konrad Pierce Village Idiot 2.0

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    Everything's already been built onto this excellent little board. I probably won't even need to use a soldering iron at all ... all the connectors are already present. The only tools I "really need" are some Dremel bits to drill, cut, carve, and reshape the chassis.

    All I have to do is attach the touchscreen and a battery, connect whatever gizmos (slots, interfaces, etc) I like, and stuff the whole lot into a case. As easy as assembling a decked out PC - just smaller.

    The references give comprehensive pinouts, voltages, component specifications, benchmarks, material lists, wiring diagrams, recommended part vendors ... everything. The real question is only how much can I actually fit into a PDA case before I need to bump up the size. The mainboard is smaller than a credit card and the next biggest items are the screen, battery, and things like the slots (Cardbus/PCMCIA, CF3 or twin CF2; twin SDHC; twin USB; MS; RS232; IrDA; Audio; etc - how much can I pack inside?). And the Toradex tech people are very interested in helping me overcome any unexpected problems (since they can sell more of these boards if I'm happy, lol).

    The board uses the Philips UCB1400 controller chip for LCD/touchscreen. This is the same chip that's used in the X51v ... so there is a small chance that I might be able to stick in a Marathon 2700G GPU, even a very small chance that I might be able to salvage the whole crazy 16MB/2700G arrangement from a dead X51v ... but one dream at a time. At first I'll just stick to getting it to turn on, then add toys, then perhaps consider some "modding".

    The WinCE drivers, applets, and support are also amazing; and I'm not stuck with any of the usual Microsoft Pocket/Mobile cripplesoft bundle, or proprietary ROM/ASICS coding, or any of that other stuff ... in a way, I view this as almost the PDA analogue of an "unlocked" cellphone.

    I'm uncertain whether I'll be able to get WM5 software to run on it though. There's only one way to find out.
     
  13. r0k

    r0k Dazed

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    konrad,

    I have been following this thread with some interest. I tinkered around with windows CE using an Arcom board. I have all the older M$ toolchains lying around somewhere. I was very annoyed at the size of the SDK download. I think it was a gigabyte! I found that the Arcom had an ethernet connector as well as a pin header to go to the lcd. I'm surprised that the colibri board claims to have so much for so little cost. When I follow your link, I see a board that has two long edge connectors and no other connectors are visible. Are all the connectors on the other side of the board? If they are, I gotta get me one of these. The nice thing about developing for windows mobile is that the unit wakes up and listens to a dhcp server so you can get to it via the network. The older units always required activesync or sd card to get things over to the board. One thing I'd like to look at is using syncback to do "hotsync" to any network drive. Anytime you are in wifi range or plugged in to ethernet, your data could be easily backed up.

    I would focus on getting win ce apps that can handle native file formats. I would really like to make a look-alike for palm contacts application that would use the same data format palm desktop uses. Then I'd have a solution that would allow me to use WM as a pda without dealing with outlook.

    Keep us posted on your progress on this worthy project! But for now can you confirm the presence and location of those connectors you mention?
     
  14. Adama D. Brown

    Adama D. Brown Brighthand Reviewer

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    I'm impressed. That must be one hell of a neat little board to do all that. Like r0k, I'm curious--does it have connectors onboard, is there some sort of breakout board setup, or is it all those edge pads?

    Not sure how much work it would be, but one possibility (if you're taking suggestions) would be to go with, say, 1x CF, 1x SD, and 1x USB on the main device, then route the rest to a docking connector which would let you build a secondary sled-style device with another CF, SD, and USB, along with an extended battery, for when you wanted more capabilities.

    Oh, and if you're really looking for a dead X51v motherboard to salvage for parts, you might want to check with a guy on the AximSite forums, called bigbop. I loaned him a defective X51v motherboard I had so that he could check the traces on the processor. I doubt that he needs it anymore.

    A lot of WM5 software does support Windows CE. TCPMP, for instance, as well as Textmaker, I think uBook, some others. There should be a whole bunch of apps which will work, generally those not tied too tightly to the specific screen resolution or user interface. Anybody's guess though how they'll look on that dense of a screen.
     
  15. boczkowski

    boczkowski be gentle with me

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    I want one
     
  16. Wail

    Wail Member

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    Konrad,

    I am sure many here would love to see step-by-step pictures of your project; also it would be nice if you could keep us abreast of how much you’re spending on it.
     
  17. Genjinaro

    Genjinaro ~3rdPrty 4ehvur!~

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    Hah! You, me & many others.:p
     
  18. NamelessPlayer

    NamelessPlayer Mobile Deity

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    I'm now wondering if I can find a defective Sharp Zaurus SL-C1000/3x00, or at least the outer shell. It would certainly make a nice form factor for a DIY PDA, while also boasting plenty of buttons and both external SD and CF slots(with enough room for another CF card internally; that's where the microdrive on the SL-C3x00 models goes, kind of like the LifeDrive).

    So, what do you have in mind for the form factor of your new device, Konrad? Typical PDA tablet fare with a big touchscreen and a few buttons at the bottom? A Treo/T|C/h4355 form factor which is similar, but has a constantly-exposed thumbboard? HTC-style "tablet" with a screen that slides to reveal a thumbboard? Something else entirely?
     
  19. Konrad Pierce

    Konrad Pierce Village Idiot 2.0

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    No promises, lol. I haven't even received any of the parts yet. But I'll be sure to describe and photo the entire aufbau, from start to finish.

    I'm unsure about the mainboard connectors, myself. The specs for this (and earlier) Colibri boards go into excessive pinouts all over the place ... so there is some kind of connection, somewhere. At worst I'll need to build some kind of ugly edge-connector with a thousand wires sticking out of it. Ideally, I'll use PCB "modules" to make it look nicer and once it's all working I'll figure out how to combine these on neat little etched boards that work more efficiently and take up less space.

    Since I seriously doubt I can cover every square inch of a PDA chassis with slots and interfaces, I think it's all going to boil down to picking which hardware I need/want and which stuff I just won't have. Adama's "sled" suggestion might be worth it ... maybe having a Cardbus-sized chunk of plastic that I can swap out with several other "slot modules", each mounting different hardware. I'm trying not to overspeculate yet - still need to actually look at the parts before I can really get a "feel" for things and visualize how it'll all fit together.

    The chassis/case itself? I'm thinking of using one from an iPAQ hx4700 ... but I'd really like something that's small-enough-yet-big-enough, roughly maybe 5.0 x 3.0 x 0.5" (maximum), preferably with a clamshell keyboard kinda thing. I'm welcoming suggestions, since I've really only examined iPAQs, Axims, and some (old) Palm cases. I fully expect to reshape things and have no compunction about carving and cutting as needed. With a little bit of plastic molding and a few layers of chrome electroplating I can easily turn anything from "ugly" to "manufactured" so I'm not too worried about final appearance, except perhaps around the actual buttons. I've always kinda hated the almost universal joypad/4-button form factor ... this is a good time to do away with it. And cannibalize a mousewheel into the side for text scrolling or volume control.

    Question: do the PDA linux ports have persistent memory? If not, I should consider a secondary battery arrangement.
     
  20. RickAgresta

    RickAgresta Above: Peanut, leader of the Peanutty Forces

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    the Sharp Zaurus ZR-3000 is a little bigger than you specified, but the benefit is a more usable keyboard; mine fits in a shirt pocket (snug; but then, it lesssens the likelihood of "unfortunate bathtub incidients"). just a thought; obtw, I want one, too <*grin*>

    http://home.columbus.rr.com/mobileedge/szr3000.htm
     
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