My LattePanda Journey: A Tale of Custom Case Design by HALRAD

userHead LattePanda 2024-03-06 15:05:38 430 Views0 Replies

** This article was written using materials provided by Scott Harrison, who also contributed to the writing process.

 

Coming from a background in Windows OS development and system integration, my journey with LattePanda is evolving and ongoing. From the initial encounter with the LattePanda v1 product and Alpha and more recently the Delta3 and Sigma have always challenged me from the perspective WHAT DO YOU DO WITH IT?  Part of that is easy, you can make Digital Displays, Security devices integrated with various sensors or my own personal favorite, a JUKEBOX (or HTPC if you still want to call it that)…!  My inaugural V1 project provided a solid introduction to LattePanda V1's versatility, proving its capability as a Windows desktop that can be ‘rather quite easily’ customized for use as dedicated-purpose device, for example a digital display.  However, the perpetual question remains: where and how can we best utilize this board's potential?"

 

LattePanda Use Cases

 

Photo Display - the LattePanda v1 was used first as a digital display and security/automation sensor integrating with FLIR thermal and PIR sensors for human presence detection to go into ‘attract’ or ‘warn’ mode as specified. This was the first prototype on the left just the basic display, on the right updated with the sensors. This is an ongoing theme with the projects as they evolve and ideally tend to build on prior learnings.

 

What I learned here was the LP v1 is super easy to customize and integrate sensors with, either via the Leonardo MCU or with the CPU.

The PIR sensor is connected to the MCU and the FLIR is connected to the USB port.

This one had high SAF (spousal acceptance factor) in the original build (on the left above) but as it took on more functions (on the right) it became less acceptable and got its ‘hall pass’ pulled.

As far as a case, this one was easy – I took a picture frame that came from a date night pottery class, over-glued the screen in place of a picture and stuck the V1 case to the back of the screen using ‘outdoor’ hook and loop tape.

BUT What I learned, not just how well it works but how good it looks can be super important.

 

This is the back of the original prototype. (above)

 

While the v1 Panda is SUPER-nice as a sensor platform or ok as a low-end desktop the Alpha (v1) version, on the other hand, was perfect for creating a jukebox player with a touchscreen.

(Though now the Delta3 is my current choice to build an audio streamer)

 

This was the prototype media player using a RPI case I was able to source once.

 

 

That has an additional 12V switched output in the upper right and all of the PORTs exposed.

 

What I learned:

Extending the ports is cumbersome and additional cost.

 

Inside of the Alpha in the RPI case – plenty of room but extending the ports gets messy.

 

Tangent

The Delta3 is currently being evaluated to replace the Alpha for fulltime Audio serving.

 

The Delta3 is using the factory case for now, otherwise not a very exciting view other than notice the accessories (DCC and SPIF-NIC) are MORE than twice the size of the PC system.

What I learned:

The Delta3 case is nice ‘portable’ case that provides excellent protection for the Delta3.

This might be one of my favorite LP cases.

(Form wise the Alpha solid aluminum case is super neat (not pictured) like a little slab looking portable and solid but that does not have support for the OEM fan, so it was a HOT case, and not so good way to keep your cup of coffee warm).

However, the Delta3 LP case does let you keep the OEM fan.

BUT not have any openings for the EDP or touch ports.

And WIFI signal is best if you mount the antenna on the outside of the case….

The Delta3 is a nice capable board when you don’t need the Sigma.

Side note: The V1 LP is still a board to consider when you don’t need the Delta3 but the ‘alphas’ (1|2) don’t really make a lot of sense to me at the present given the Delta 3 and the Sigma.

 

Sigma!

The Sigma when it launched immediately got my interest. One of the primary limiters of the SBC boards so far is the limited amount of RAM.

4GB works but for general desktop use but is SLOW at best, 8GB is fine for general purpose light desktop purposes but is limiting.  

The 32GB memory in Sigma opens up realistic dev box, daily driver, very capable server box, virtual machine and container-like scenarios.

The Sigma is capable for just about anything you want to do, and is very well suited for a range of use cases.

The capabilities AND the price put it squarely into a higher end category.

Which to me makes the Sigma both somewhat limited and also, somewhat unique where you might use one in the wild.

Its well suited as a small server, like perhaps a NAS or to run Containers on.

What I have not learned decided so far, (as in the best most reliable and performant way) to connect many drives for redundancy.

Or what to put the Sigma PCB in.  

 

Side Note:

There is now an official LP Sigma case, its nice as a Desktop or basic wall mount case, but is limited in there is no access to the internal ports.

The Sigma case back panel cut out seems to be the exact right size for a mITX case port cover perhaps another future project to attempt.  Or the raw materials of the case look like they could be assembled or the basis of building a modified configuration to open up internal port access.

Overall, the Sigma is a very complete package with just about everything you could want – including SECURE BOOT support for Windows and has enough Cores and GPU graphics to support all but the more serious or demanding gaming scenarios. All I needed for the Jukebox is the Android Subsystem, which was new for the Sigma since it has enough cores and GPU speed.  For me one additional SATA port would greatly simplify creating a redundant drive implementation. A locking screw barrel connector for the power supply would also be a valuable addition to prevent the power cable from being easily unplugged.

 


The Need for a Custom Case

The journey with LattePanda at this point has led me to design custom cases, not just for sport or unusual containment but about it more from a form vs function perspective.  Or better put, I found a great fabricator partner to help me where I don’t have the right tools and materials on hand to design the case. They helped me go from the back of the napkin, concepts, crude drawings, and design points to something that worked great.  I needed something basic to protect the PCB/fan and hold a HDD during testing and development.  For the Sigma case, the basic need was a spot to put a hard drive, or perhaps other project components about the same size ;-) . I considered a range of options and even started building something that shall never be seen again. The idea was to create something versatile that could be used with or without an LCD, and with or without an HDD.

While doing a search for options I ran across a company TOMA Fabrications (no affiliation just a happy customer) I saw they had an Alpha case and some other designs so commissioned a custom case design for the sigma.

What I learned:  www.tomafabrications.com has an awesome team and are great to work with.  They worked with me on the requirements of the design parameters and came up with a proposed deign in short order that came out like this. 

 

It is alive

 

We can call this HDD case V1 R1.

What I learned: They make very precise cuts, do great work, very helpful and everything considered for a CUSTOM designed case very reasonable with the pricing.

 - this is actually my favorite so far.

out of just bits and bytes this was created - the cuts were all spot on right where they were intended to be and fit great.

= but perfection is the enemy of done and found compelled to battle done make a few tweaks for access to all of the ports – i omitted a few – that other might expect to have.

This also is a great illustration of Form over Function, I personally like the form of this front panel, but its not FUNCTIONAL. Or maybe it is,

See the SIM port opening? Ya can’t find it? right! It’s not there.  I guess if you wanted to make sure the SIM was SECURE and not easy to access inside of the case then something like this is the RIGHT form to provide that function.

That was not an oversight in this version but really consider it done for what that needed to do. Hold a Hard drive.  

 

HDD Case V1 R2

Perfection is the enemy of done with V1 R2 battling back with a few tweaks to open a few more ports over the original design.

+enlarge the front USB port cut out to expose the SIM card slot and easier power button access.

+add additional top panel port access.

 

Walk-through

It starts out like this.

Build the bottom layer: Mount the Feet to the Base and Mount the HDD.

Build Middle Layer: End plates Exhaust on the left, cable cut out on the right.

Tada: Build the top layer: Front, Back, Top.

Note to self: don’t forget to hook up the HDD.

 

Rear (right side) View: (why one might call that the right side next)

Right End (Front)view: this is the right side as viewed the power button as the front.

This IS how I have found myself using this case – for a more narrow footprint and access to the GPIO.

Port access for GPIO and Power on top.

Or you can use it like this.

 

What I learned:

As a side note: the ‘designers’ initially called this Right end ‘side’ the FRONT.

I had a traditional view the power button is on the front, (or the back) but the ports are on the back, so that’s that.

But from a practical standpoint USING the case with the end with the GPIO in in FRONT works nice.

Really it works either way, as you want and leaves a lot of space for a cup of coffee and other project parts.

Running Windows Server 2022.

 

Android on Windows

(New for Sigma!)

 

Case Design Features

+ Cooling vents on the side for the CPU fan.  CPU fan is exhausting outside of the case.

+ Cut out for GPIO access on top.

+ Cut out for Power header access on top. (or you can use the rear port if powering from the OEM PSU)

+ Place for a HDD, or project components.

+ Cut out for cabling between PCB layer and ‘hdd’ or ‘project’ layer.

+ Access to all standard external ports, including the SIM CARD.

- touch and video ports access ports are under development and or under testing.

 

The Future with LattePanda

I choose the LattePanda for its excellent performance in a small SBC package and the integrated MCU/Arduino built right in! Next up is continued focus on a NAS with more hard drives and Display integration.

I am planning several more focused projects with LattePanda, Sigma and Delta3.

Perhaps a Sigma/Switch hand held portable tablet machine that could be a server too?

 

- next revision is working out the touch screen assembly.

- adding a rotary encoder to the case.

- adding LED panels to the case.

- and something with a twist..