Pi-Top: Convert your Raspberry Pi into a Laptop

Although we call the Raspberry Pi or RBPi as a single board computer and it is small enough to fit in your pocket, it is hardly useful as a computer when you are on the move. This is mainly because the SBC comes without a keyboard, display, and mouse, intended to keep the costs down. However, if you are interested in turning your RBPi3 into a laptop, there is the Pi-Top.

You get everything necessary to turn your $35 single board computer into a laptop. For instance, you get a 13.3” HD LCD screen with an eDP interface and 1366×768 pixel resolution, which comes with an active 262K color matrix, anti-glare finish, and a 60 Hz refresh rate TFT LCD module. Additionally, you get a keyboard that is fully programmable via USB and a trackpad with a PalmCheck feature that helps prevent unwanted mouse clicks.

Although the Pi-Top converts the RBPI into a general-purpose laptop, its actual strength lies in its being a tinkerer’s toolkit. Pi-Top gives you great power management with LED battery indicators. The power supply requires an input capable of 18 V at 3 A, while it offers two outputs, one of 5 V, 3.5 A, and the other at 3.3 V, 500 mA. One good feature is the 3.3 V output is persistent. That means this voltage is available even when you have powered off the Pi-Top. Battery capacity is substantial, giving a run-time of 10-12 hours. There is protection for all outputs from over-current, over-voltage, over-temperature, and short-circuit. The smart battery pack uses a charging profile recommended by JEITA.

The hub-board of the Pi-Top has a screen driver that converts the HDMI output from the RBPi to the eDP 1.2 interface required by the LCD screen. It allows connection of UART, I2C, and SPI to the RBPi for use with add-on boards. There is even a PS/2 interface. The screen consumes 3 W, but you can dim it with a PWM screen dim control to make it consume less power.

Pi-Top comes with a manual to walk you through the assembly process in steps, while identifying clearly the part necessary to use at each stage. The manual has a pictorial guide to help in assembling the laptop. That makes the job relatively simpler. Since all the tools you need are already included, piecing together the case, cables, and boards into a working laptop is an unforgettable experience. However, you do need to be careful when tightening the smallish 2.5 mm nuts that hold the boards in place, as there are various electronic components on the boards.

Once assembled, the Pi-Top is an impressive sight, with its fluorescent green finish. The external case is injection-molded plastic and is sturdy enough to be travel-worthy. When powered on, you may be surprised at not seeing the familiar Linux-based Raspbian desktop on the screen. That is because the PI-Top re-skins the Raspbian desktop as the pi-topOS. Basically, they have added a launcher and configured the desktop to add a menu button at the bottom left corner – familiar to long-time Windows users with the Start menu.