Custom retro computer enclosure project

Where do you get all this secret info from, on usb stuff?

Ben, what do you mean? I’m not using anything secret. :rofl:
I’m just connecting an USB hub internally and rout some ports on the outside while keeping some ports internal to plug in some hardware.
Additionally, I can add a bit of power to the extended USB ports so they can handle multiple power draining devices.
Such as a Bosch drill or anything like that if they will ever invent a model that works on USB. :grin:

It sounds to me that this is a retro computer enclosure project and not a retro computer project.

So e.g. the actual computer could be something modern with a USB interface such as a Raspberry Pi or whatever…

Or I may be wrong…


That’s correct. While I’d love to be able to develop the whole motherboard architecture this project specifically is a more like a “welding” job where I create an enclosure and put some existing hardware pieces together.

That is more Main Frame, like what I am doing hardware wise, for example PDP-8/e
My current project has clock ringing problems, so rather rebuild new cards,
a new design is in the works. Microcoding bit slices is more fun
for desgn but lay out is a pain, and a 4 bit wide 2901 can’t handle fun sizes
like a 21 bit cpu. I would love a SBC but the lack of 20 or 24 bit cpu’s is depressing.

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There are many pre-made keyboard style cases available, here’s a few:


Hey there. I make and sell miniature retrocomputer recreations ranging from 1:8 to 1:3 scale and I occasionally make full sized versions for use in museum events like last year’s “Alto at 50” event at the Computer History Museum.

So, I might be able to help point you in the right direction for aspects like design, procurement, and manufacturing partnerships.

I gather from up-thread that you have a sketch and are working on a wooden early prototype. Is your goal to manufacture and sell these? If so, how many do you plan to make? I ask because designing and producing less than 100 cases is a different project than 1000 or more.


But most people want just a one off case.
Mind you at one time sheet metal was a option, when people had hobbies,
like 1:32 scale working stream locomotives.

Thanks for sharing your practical experience, @trevorflowers !

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(Just a reflection on this thread)

Way back … Well, in the 70s I was into electronics before computers were invented (in my own personal head space, anyway) and the electronics magazines were full of little projects - which often included boxes, or box suggestions for them.

I’ve recently been re-visiting some of those old electronics magazines for some inspiration elsewhere and quite surprised at the complexities of some of the cases. Maybe most of us had (or our grows-ups had - grandparents in my case) a little workshop or some basic woodworking tools to help make these cases. Or we’re re-purpose “margarine tubs”, tobacco tins (The closest UK equivalent I can think of to the US “Altoids Tin”) and so on.

These days it seems we can’t make a simple box without buying a quantity of CNC machines, 3D printers, laser cutters, then spending a while learning about then, writing blogs, making videos and so on.

How many of us have the space now for a small workshop though.

But even then (and still now) there are 1000s of “project cases” you can buy off the shelf from the likes of RS, Farnell, Mouser and so on. Maybe we should re-visit some of those?

I do remember using things like this when at university too:

Prices have gone up though…



It’s true, the existence of so many people publishing complex build videos or blog posts can make it seem like everyone needs a full machine shop to make a simple project box.
One nice thing that’s happened in the last few years is that a bunch of companies have popped up where you can upload a design and they’ll cut/laser/bend/finish/whatever your parts and then mail them to you. I usually recommend that people thinking about getting a machine start by trying one of those services to see if they like the rest of the process (CAD, CAM, whatever).

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Hey there!

Thanks for your interest!
I am indeed thinking of developing a hardcase (with some possible variations) that could turn into a commercial product, even with a built-in keyboard.
What I am doing now is to set up a small workshop that would allow me to create a few prototypes, ordered some parts from China and drew some other variations.
For instance, a first reasonable step now is for me to construct a wooden frame that could be called a ‘riser’ and would elevate the keyboard over the existing frame to accommodate various components to be built in. Ideally, such a version could accommodate built-in speakers, a 3.5 SSD slide in mechanism and or even a cartridge that I am also designing.
Not everything needs to be made of wood, but for now, with the skills I’m having, that’s the most accessible to me.
Eventually, I would graduate to a full enclosure with only the keyboard being “third party” if I may call it that.
After that, the next step would be to figure out where could I take a prototype to consider it for some form of small production. And for that I would probably need to balance the number of units as you said, since larger numbers are cheaper to produce. But I also need to figure out how to distribute it. Well, it’s a lot, but I am doing it step by step.
I’d also like to somehow connect this with my other published ongoing project, the Continuum 93 retro computer fantasy emulator that I created and, this way, would finally earn a physical form of some sorts.
Let’s keep in touch, I really like to connect with people that have know how and with whom I can build nice stuff.

I will also update this topic with any progress I am making, but it will take a bit until I get something going.

On a long run, I’d also like to create a custom motherboard and eventually a real computer, but that’s fantasy stuff for me at this stage. :smiley:

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One thing I’m a little wary off regarding keyboards is the ergonomics and elevation above the desk …

So way back I did a lot of typing on the Apple II. You really needed a higher seating position to make it comfortable for you. At least I did.

Same for the next thing I did a lot of work on - the BBC Micro.

Both these had built-in keyboards.

(In between there were TTY 33s and various “glass teletypes”).

When a box set came out for the Beeb to give it a separate keyboard I was probably one of the first in the queue…

And now I get wrist ache if I do any amount of work on an Apple II or Beeb…

So elevating a keyboard might make it look nice, but do think about how it feels to type on …



I perfectly agree!
Last week I actually pulled up a ZX Spectrum +3, elevated it with some books to match my design, set it on my desk surface which is elevated to 79cm and I reached the same conclusion of yours. This led me to consider several other approaches including a low elevation to start with and then a bulkier end. Which looked like a typewriter. I’m still building the initial design as a way of “making my hand” but I too disagree with it.
I want to see what else can I learn from when building it.
… and still haven’t found the perfect design. I’m not even close.


Yeah, the Apple ][ and breadbin C64 had keyboards raised up pretty high. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to simply use thick books to raise the “desk surface” for my arms to rest on.

I still like the idea of upside-down motherboard. This means the body is “long”, like an Acorn Atom, but there’s nothing directly underneath the keyboard. Thus, the keyboard can be low and comfortable.

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Well, as a slight detour from my own topic, I feel that the way we relate with buttons came from switches on walls which themselves tend to be vertical. Most very early “keypad” designs I know of were also vertical, with lights, on vertical metal pannels along side with optional magnetic tapes if I may throw that in (just take a look at the theme black-and-white image of this forum which mixes vertical with horizontal). I bet when the first proposal to make the buttons cluster better and sit on a horizontal plane came up, someone said something like: “What? Laying like that? What do you want me to do, break my neck trying to work with it?”
Ergonomics might have been different back then.
So, I also expect that the early designs of thick, elevated keyboards really didn’t bother anyone. But now it’s different. As I type this, my keyboard sits on a sort of shelf that also acts as a front “door” of the front of my desk, maybe itself situated 70cm above the ground, quite confortably aligned with the arms of my chair. I find it immensly confortable while not bothering my knees that sit maybe not 3 inches below that.
So, whenever I advance slightly in my quest to figure out what kind of enclosure should I get to, I can’t help agreeing with whoever decided to separate the keyboard from the rest of the machine.

It is more the case, The TERMINAL is the computer.
For keyboards I liked TTY keyboard the best.
I also liked keyboards that had as few function keys as possible.
It is amazing how short ASCII keyboards lived, no body seemed to want
use a keboard encoder chip.