Building Linux-powered devices, part 1: Making my Linux-only world a reality

To live in a Linux-only world, you have to build the devices yourself. In step one of my journey, I prepare to build a Linux-powered handheld game console.

Building Linux-powered devices
Credit: Pixabay/Thinkstock

Sometimes, if you want something badly enough, you need to get off your lazy tuchus and make it happen yourself. 

For years now, I've been hoping and pining (and often complaining and whining) about how much I want Linux-powered... everything. Not Android. Not ChromeOS. Real Linux. The kind of Linux you have full control over—the sort you'd install on your desktop PC. 

And when I say "everything," I mean everything. The set-top box connected to my TV. My game consoles (including handheld game consoles). Tablets. PDAs. Home server. The works. 

All of it. Running Linux and free software. 

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The reasons I want this are many and varied. But in a nutshell, it boils down to having personal control over my own devices. I want my devices to work precisely the way I want my devices to work. I'm a control freak when it comes to my gadgets and computers. 

There are other motivating factors, of course. The benefits to personal security and privacy—when you aren't running a device that's closed source and/or reliant on online service that record/report on you—are fairly profound. And by building these systems myself, I get to do away with any form of DRM (or other restrictions) that I don't explicitly opt to utilize. That's a pretty big plus. 

I’m not going to lie. This feels incredibly daunting. 

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What I'm really talking about here is replacing nearly every gadget I interact with (with the exception of my laptops) with devices that I will need to—at least in part—assemble myself. For a guy who isn't exactly a master with a soldering iron (I've always been more of a software guy), this entire idea is more than a smidge intimidating. 

Which is part of the reason why I want to do it. Why I need to do it. To push myself. To become comfortable so that I can piece together the hardware I use and rely on (at least in part). 

I will be documenting the process as I go—both here in written form and over on my YouTube channel. This is going to be a long process—one that I am woefully unprepared for. But it's important. And, dammit, I want to do it. 

Luckily, I don't need to start from scratch. There are so many amazing makers out there creating and designing truly fantastic gadget builds (often utilizing boards such as the Raspberry Pi or the CHIP) that I can base my work on and learn from.

First project: PiGRLL 2, a Linux-powered handheld game console

In fact, to start, I'll simply be attempting to tackle a fun, pre-designed build known as the PiGRRL 2. It’s a handheld game console (similar in shape/size to an original Nintendo Gameboy) with a Raspberry Pi 2/3 at the heart of it all, which means it would make a stellar emulation handheld running Linux. 

The folks at Adafruit have even created a kit with all of the various needed parts (except the Pi, a battery and the case). 

The kit (which includes some custom boards, buttons, a screen, etc.) runs about $60. All told, this is a roughly $100 project (which isn't bad for a cool handheld console). The reasonable project price, coupled with the fact that it comes with with detailed instructions, makes this seem like a great way to jumphead first into building my own gadgets.

To make this happen, of course, I'll need a 3D printer to make the case and some button covers. To meet that need, I've got a LulzBot Mini on the way. I had a chance to talk with the folks at LulzBot about a month back, and their commitment to free software truly impressed me.

How will all of this go for me? Will I manage to successfully replace all (or nearly all) of the computer-powered gadgetry in my home with self-built, Linux-powered goodness? Who knows. But starting with a little handheld game system from a partially prepared kit seems like a good way to get started.

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