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It’s common knowledge in the computer world that building your PC makes it cheaper and more efficient. Do you need a faster memory for loading apps, or do you need a better file transfer rate? These factors are easily configurable when building PCs. But what if you also need portability and battery life without sacrificing the comforts and features offered by your desktop? Is there such thing as “custom build laptop?”
Building a custom laptop is possible, but it would take more time and skills to do so. You need to know how and where to source your parts. The knowledge to use the right tools for this project is also a must. For most users, buying a pre-made laptop is sufficient and recommended.
Building a laptop seems like a great idea. It has the same components as its PC counterpart, so it looks like this task wouldn’t be too tricky, right? Unfortunately, even if this feat is possible, it might need a ton of effort and time to pull off.
For the right person, this could be a fun project to broaden up your technical skills. In this article, we will learn more about making a custom laptop.
Hopefully, it will help you decide if custom laptops is a project you can take on to improve your skills.
Creating custom desktop computers is known as a way to get the most computing power from your budget.
But it can only be viable for people who know a thing or two about computers.
And because you can reuse individual parts (as long as it’s compatible), it makes this option even lovelier for budget-focused users.
Custom PCs are great because you can emphasize which part to focus on based on your computing needs. But what about laptops and other mobile devices?
Can you make a custom laptop based on the parts that you want to use? Based on your computer knowledge or budget, the answer might or might not thrill you.
In theory, it is possible to build a custom laptop. If you have the right parts and the knowledge to put them all together, this project would be a fun learning opportunity. In fact, people have been using cardboard materials and even a pizza box to make their custom laptop: with screen, keyboard and all.
However, you need to do tons of research if you’re new to computer parts and PC building in general.
Most people who partake in these activities are those who already have experience in building niche builds. Besides, there are no readily available “ready-to-use” laptop parts in most computer stores.
For example, a mobile CPU might only be available if you scour on repair shops.
And unlike traditional PCs, the amount of customization you can do in your unit is minimal.
At most, the best customization that you can achieve is by focusing on the feature that you want (better screen, faster storage, etc.) without sacrificing portability.
You can choose which I/O to put on your laptop. However, this option is restricted by the available laptop motherboards that you can find.
And, of course, you need to find a compatible power supply and battery to maximize your custom device’s full utility.
Laptop hardware is quite tricky to find and would often only be available for repair personnel.
This is especially true for the motherboard.
You might have to import the part from abroad or scavenge old machines. Either way, you would most likely find a compatible case after finding the board that you want.
Except for the laptop casing and the motherboard, the list below is customizable parts that are usually available in computer stores. These parts are easy finds, and you only need to worry about your budget.
- RAM – not all RAMs are compatible with all motherboards. But if you know the type of RAM and the frequency supported, you’re almost set.
- Storage – this is an easy choice: you either get a hard drive, an SSD, or both. Most storage slots are standardized for easy replacement.
- Networking – the choice of networking is up to you. You can get a lightning-fast and expensive WiFi card or get a standard one for a lower price.
- Battery – you can add strong batteries to your laptop if it is compatible with your system. You might have to contact a repair shop part supplier to get more options.
- CPU* – depends on the motherboard
- GPU* – depends on the motherboard
CPUs and GPUs in laptops are often the mobile counterparts of a particular product line.
Some motherboards support replacing these chips for a modular design and upgradability. But most often than not, these parts are already baked into the system.
Depending on your time and technical experience, you can choose between three options to make a custom laptop.
You can either 1) order a custom laptop from an OEM company, 2) buy an OEM laptop and modify it, and 3) build a laptop from scratch.
Almost all laptop manufacturers have website support for customizing their existing products online.
There will often be an available drop-down arrow wherein you can choose what kind of storage, RAM, CPU, or GPU to include.
You can also find products that offer 4K screens or additional features such as touchscreens in modern laptops.
Once done with customizing your laptop, the manufacturer will send the machine to you as per your specifications.
Casual users would find this customization option enough for their needs. You don’t have to tinker around your devices because the customized product will be shipped at your door in complete, functioning form.
Another option is to get a premade OEM laptop and make the modifications yourself.
OEMs sell branded computer and server products (such as Dell, HP, and Acer). If their customization options on checkout aren’t enough for your requirements, you can buy their OEM builds and replace the things you don’t want instead.
This option is the best for people who find the provided OEM customization lacking with features but don’t have the time to build a laptop from scratch.
By modifying an OEM build, you still have a functional laptop, but you can replace the parts that do not fit your system.
And last but not least, you can create your own fully customized laptop. This option would be the most difficult to implement since you have three problems to face before getting a final working unit.
- Creating your laptop design
- Sourcing the materials (finding the parts, buying them, and waiting for shipping)
- Putting the parts together
Creating your laptop design gives you the most customizability and flexibility to finally build your perfect portable system. Technically skilled people had completed their units after scavenging parts of old laptops for a free, usable machine.
Alternatively, you can buy barebone laptop kits or “build your own laptop” bundles from ODM manufacturers like Clevo.
ODM laptops, unlike their OEM counterpart, usually offer standardized parts in their catalog without any brandings. Hence, you can adjust the appearance and the features of your device with more flexibility.
In addition, there are cheaper alternatives like the Raspberry Pi boards, which keep improving over time.
These products make it possible for tinkerers to working on custom laptop projects firsthand without breaking the bank.
Raspberry Pi boards are designed for both portability and decent performance.
Although most people use these boards for robotics, you can make a Linux-powered laptop.
The answer to the question depends on whether you can source it from a reliable and cheap parts provider. If you’re in an area wherein laptop surplus is prevalent, you will likely get your parts cheaper. Otherwise, imported laptop parts tend to be more expensive due to the additional shipping cost.
In addition, laptop parts are generally more expensive than their desktop counterparts. This is partly due to the additional development cost involved in creating more compact hardware. Laptop manufacturers can sell their OEM laptops at their pricing because they buy parts in bulk.
And lastly, if laptop parts are already expensive and difficult to come by, what more with the upgrade? Even if you succeeded in building a working custom laptop, there is no guarantee that you can upgrade it in the future. Upgradability is something that you should also consider when buying or building a new computing machine.
In short, building a laptop would usually be more expensive unless you have a good source of cheap and quality parts. For accessibility and budget, creating a custom desktop is the clear winner.
To answer this question, you must consider three crucial factors: time, skills, and resources.
Do you have the time to spare for doing your homework and searching for the right parts? Is there a good source of laptop parts in your area? Do you have the budget to buy the necessary laptop parts and tools needed to complete this project?
Perhaps, the most critical factor to consider is the technical skill required to put all the parts together.
Unlike its desktop counterpart (where you only need a handly screwdriver), putting laptop parts together might need a bit more know-how on tools and devices. For example, do you know when to put the battery in the system safely?
If you got all of the factors ready (time, skills, and resources), then creating a laptop would be a fun project.
However, if you answer one or all of these factors with “no,” you might want to look for a more manageable project instead. Buying a prebuild laptop might be a better option.
And don’t forget about the most important factor: safety.
Although laptops almost have the same parts as desktops, there will always be a glaring difference that inexperienced users might overlook. With this in mind, you might want to get some help from someone who had created a custom laptop before.
In general, laptops are made with portability and battery in mind.
People who purchase laptops would often want a device that just works, and works for a long period of time. The customizability of devices is usually reserved in desktops, in which accessibility and space are not a problem.
OEM laptops are also trying to make their offerings more flexible. Some products like Dell’s XPS tries to combine both battery, power, and portability in one package.
Meanwhile, Acer’s Nitro series gives more power while still being a good portable option. A better option is to use the majority of your fund in customizing a desktop, and just buy a cheaper portable laptop.
Is building a laptop worth it? If you’re a casual user that just wants to use your apps or play your games, sticking with OEM brands can be a better option.
But if you want to learn more about laptop building and electronics in general, custom laptops are fun projects to work with.
Especially because there are options like Clevo’s ODM parts and Raspberry Pi’s boards available to help you learn.