Hobbyists are now building tablets using a $35 computer brain

Mobile Web
Mobile Web

Hobbyists have been assembling personal computers from their components for decades, buying the processors and other parts and putting them together in their basements. Now they’re doing the same for tablet computers.

Among them is Michael Castor of Make, the publisher of geek do-it-yourself information. Here’s Castor’s creation, which he dubbed the PiPad:

Here she is in action.
Here she is in action. (Michael Castor)

Castor wasn’t happy with the available choices for tablets. “It seems that every day,” Castor writes on Makezine.com, “a manufacturer comes out with a new tablet computer. Thinner, lighter, faster, but it seems that they all look about the same and accomplish roughly the same things.” As an accomplished tinkerer, he knew it was possible to design his own device—and he could make it run a version of Linux operating system software. The key was Raspberry Pi, a roughly $35 credit-card-sized computer that can be plugged into a keyboard and a screen and used to make just about anything.

And no one was the wiser.
On a plane, and no one was the wiser. (Michael Castor)

The PiPad tablet works a lot like its store-bought competitors. It runs on the Raspbian operating system, a version of Linux made for Raspberry Pi. That comes with a web browser, a word processor, Mathematica (a computation system for handling data), and Python programming environment built in. It can also access the Raspberry Pi app store, where developers upload open-source versions of word processors, games, and utilities, Castor told Quartz. (That app store currently has roughly 100 offerings, making it extremely limited when compared to what’s available for devices using Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS software.)

Not counting his time and labor (he built it in two weeks, though he spent a few months acquiring parts beforehand), Castor estimates that the device cost about $350. The PiPad is bulkier than most tablets—10.75″ long by 7.5″ wide, and 1″ thick, compared to the 0.29″-thick iPad Air tablet. But despite its unusual appearance and size, US Transportation Security Administration staff did let him breeze through airport security with the homemade device, which is cased in wood and carbon fiber.

You can see Castor’s step-by-step process on Make’s website. Even if you’re not technically inclined enough to follow his lead, it’s a great look into what, exactly, is inside your tablet.

Open PiPad
A tiny computer in a box. (Michael Castor)
home our picks popular latest obsessions search