Home built Windows touchscreen tablet is quite the performer
By Paul Ridden
June 7, 2010
Rather than make do with an iPad or wait for other manufacturers to create the desired "Windows 7 touchscreen tablet with a large screen that could handle HD video and wasn't too thick or power hungry," Justin Campana decided to try and create his own. The process involved breaking open an MSI X320 notebook, overlaying a touchscreen interface and creating custom carbon fiber casing to house the new 13.4 inch high definition LED backlit touchscreen tablet with accelerometer and SSD storage.
There are times when 9.7 inches is just not enough. With sales of over 2 million units, Apple's iPad is undoubtedly a crowd pleaser but not everyone is content with all that the new tablet has to offer. For Justin Campana the main issue is one of resolution. The iPad has a screen resolution of 1024 x 768, that's old school 4:3 aspect and nowhere near the widescreen 16:9 high definition experience Campana was looking for in a tablet.
The Android-powered Vega from Innovative Converged Devices does offer some tablet respite with a nice 15.6 inch 1366 x 768 touchscreen display but getting hold of one is not yet possible. There are notebooks of course that do offer the desired widescreen viewing capabilities but, well, they're just not tablets are they?
Campana decided to try and make his own large screen tablet capable of playing visual content in glorious 16:9 aspect 720p high resolution. He told Gizmag that he chose an MSI X320 notebook as the base for his creation "because it is cheap, thin, lightweight and has a large screen." It's power comes from an Intel 1.6GHz Atom Z530 processor on Intel's US15W chipset with onboard Intel GMA 500 graphics. It can support up to 2GB DDR2 RAM, both 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR and its LED backlit LCD display provides a comfortable 13.4 inch, 1366 x 768 resolution visual encounter.
Unfortunately the search for an appropriately-sized capacitive touchscreen panel to lay over the top of the X320's screen proved fruitless so Campana opted for a 15 inch resistive widescreen version instead. It was a specification sacrifice made much easier because "when using Windows 7 the difference between single touch and multi-touch is pretty much non existent." Obviously with the touchscreen overlay being bigger than the X320 display beneath, there was some overlap but this would later be hidden out of harm's way underneath the tablet's frame.
The frame itself is made from carbon fiber. Campana purchased a do-it-yourself carbon fiber kit, fashioned a mold from a plastic bread board and laid five layers of fiber cloth into it. The layers were coated with UV resistant epoxy to form two sides of the tablet's frame. After some wetsanding for effect, the frame was ready to receive its tablet components. Before that could happen though, the X320's HDD was discarded in favor of an Intel 2.5 inch 40GB SATA II SSD.
The original number of USB ports on the X320 was expanded to make two available for outward connectivity, one for the touchscreen overlay and one for a WiFi/Bluetooth adapter. The native WiFi and Bluetooth adapter is geared for use with a keyboard so USB components had to be wired in to allow wireless connectivity to be switched on and off using a touchscreen. The externally available USB ports on the right edge of the tablet are joined by a headphone jack, mic input and power input.
Campana's tablet also sports accelerometer functionality thanks to stripping out the necessary components from a wired Action XL motion sensing games controller and installing into his creation. Like an iPad, there's no camera. That's not an oversight on the creator's part, he told Gizmag that he had "no need for a webcam so I did not use the one from the X320. It would have been possible, but would have added work for something I never would have even turned on."
All that remained was to create a recessed Macbook Pro power button to the rear of the tablet and screw the casing together. Job done.
Well, not quite. Campana is not particularly impressed with the battery life offered by the X320's four 2150mAh cell power pack so is in the process of swapping the cells out for higher capacity 5000mAh ones, which he describes as "not easy and can be dangerous if you cross your wires or hook it up incorrectly because the cells can explode."
The slampana (to use the creator's online name) Carbon Tablet runs on Windows 7 Home Premium, is 14.125 x 8.875 x 0.75 inches and weighs some 3.2 pounds. As you can see from the video below, its resistive touchscreen is responsive and it handles high definition video without so much as a stutter. More importantly, it does so in that elusive 16:9 aspect ratio.
Although not specifically vented for airflow, the spacing around the ports on the right edge appears to let the CPU fan inside the tablet do its thing and Campana reports having "no issues with it getting too hot."
Total build price so far - US$652. More expensive than commercial offerings perhaps but not uncomfortably so, especially when user satisfaction is taken into consideration.