There aren’t many ultraportable handheld PCs out there anymore, outside of the GDP pocket and its gaming-focused successors. With tablets, smartphones, and even handhelds like the Steam Deck watering down the marketable needs of owning a laptop, there’s not much room for mini-laptops other than the simple pleasure of owning a nice version of a traditional computer.
But that hasn’t stopped DIY enthusiast Penk Chen from building their own portable PC, the Penkesu – a retro-futuristic ultra-portable laptop with a mechanical keyboard. It could very well have existed as a working sci-fi movie prop in the ’90s or an R&B video plotting device in 2002.
The housing for the Penkesu is built using 3D printed parts combined with hinges designed for the Game Boy Advance SP. The clamshell lid features a wide 400 x 1,280 7.9-inch capacitive touchscreen, wired through the hinge with a ribbon cable that carries the HDMI signal to a Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W at the base.
Then a USB interface with charging and a Li-ion battery round out the main computer components, echoing Chen’s goal of using a minimal amount of electronics. All that’s left for the Penkesu is the keyboard, which consists of an Arduino controller with unobtrusive Kailh Choc V1 switches, low-profile keycaps, and the rest of the electronics.
The result is a classy handheld computer that reminds me a bit of the compact Raspberry Pi 400 keyboard with an ARM-powered computer — but with a screen.
This isn’t the first retro-flavored Raspberry Pi laptop we’ve seen, as there was also the apocalypse that the Raspberry Pi cyberdeck computer survived. Like the Penkesu, it also has a mechanical keyboard. But instead of a compact design, the cyberdeck’s components are packed in a rugged waterproof Pelican camera bag.
Small laptop designs have gone through phases; at various points, manufacturers rushed to build compact and affordable Internet-facing netbooks or joined Intel’s war on the MacBook Air with Ultrabooks. But handheld PCs like the super-coveted clutch-style Sony VAIO P never really caught on. In the case of the VAIO P, it was because it wasn’t very usable due to its slow Intel Atom processor, odd 8-inch display with 1600 x 786 resolution, and a nearly $900 price tag.
But if you loved the form factor of the VIAO P and have a use case for a Raspberry Pi, this cool retro handheld might be for you. If you can’t think of a reason to build one, remember that it could be the perfect computer for hackers.
If you’re considering taking on the project, Penk Chen has posted all the information you need on GitHub, including the 3D printable STL files. And yes, putting a Matrix wallpaper on this device will be really tasteful too.