Dan McKenzie's NucDeck Is an Open Source, 3D-Printable Gaming Handheld You Can Make Yourself

3D print files now available for this extremely polished take on a portable Valve Steamdeck alternative, powered by an Intel NUC.

Gareth Halfacree
8 months ago β€’ Gaming / 3D Printing / HW101

Maker Dan McKenzie is building an open source alternative to the Valve Steamdeck, combining off-the-shelf hardware including an Intel NUC-based computer with a custom-designed 3D-printed chassis and controller boards to create what he calls the NucDeck.

"Back in 2020 [I] built a handheld Windows gaming console inspired by the Project UFO, that at the time had just been announced," McKenzie explains by way of background to the NucDeck project. "My version was built around an eight-inch [Intel] Atom-based [Microsoft] Windows tablet, which ended up being extremely limiting due to the lower performance of the that chip."

The NucDeck offers a Steamdeck-like portable gaming platform, but powered by an Intel NUC and custom controller boards. (πŸ“Ή: CNCDan)

Seeking something more powerful, but eager to put it together himself rather than simply pick up Valve's Linux-based Steamdeck and install Windows on the top, McKenzie turned to Intel's Next Unit of Computing (NUC) form-factor β€” though his timing could have been better, the project having been unveiled just two months before Intel announced it was abandoning the form factor and leaving its future up to third-party manufacturers.

"My aim with this project is to create a device that could rival the commercial units that are now widely available," McKenzie explains. "Since there are many different versions of the NUC available, I want to have the flexibility to run just about any model β€” so that you can choose whatever performance level suits your budget and require minimal modification to the NUC."

McKenzie has been working on the project for months, and promises to release everything under an open source license. (πŸ“Ή: CNCDan)

The heart of the current NucDeck is a motherboard hosting a 7th-generation Intel Core-i5 CPU with 16GB of RAM. "This only set me back about 200 AUD (around $130), and should run most games up until at least 2013 β€” and some less-intense titles right up until the last few years," McKenzie says. "Obviously a more recent NUC would provide better power and efficiency, but I didn't want to drop too much money on this project initially so I've picked a more budget-oriented option to begin testing and designing around."

The NucDeck design includes custom PCBs to drive a pair of controllers β€” one to the left with an analog stick and a D-Pad and one to the right with a second analogue stick and face buttons, with shoulder buttons on each β€” and a 3D-printed chassis designed to house an IPS display, capacitive touch panel, four 605080 lithium-ion batteries, and the NUC itself. There's even room for a tiny 0.96" TFT display, designed to show system information beside the main screen. All of this, McKenzie says, will be released under an open source license β€” starting now, with the 3D-printable chassis.

Most recently, McKenzie has made the files available for printing your own chassis, along with a bill of materials for the off-the-shelf parts. (πŸ“Ή: CNCDan)

The files McKenzie has released come in no fewer than four variants, depending on the builder's personal preference in two fields. "There are two different versions of the housing, Standard and NoRGB. The NoRGB version has had the RGB joystick surrounds removed to simplify printing," Dan explains.

"There are two different versions of the buttons, membrane and clicky. The Membrane buttons are shorter and are designed to be used with silicone membranes. I've included files for molds to make the membranes. If you have a resin printer I encourage you to give this a try as it improves the feel of the buttons dramatically."

More details on the project are available on McKenzie's YouTube channel, while the 3D-print files in STEP and STL format are available on GitHub under the CERN Open Hardware License Version 2 β€” Strongly Reciprocal (CERN-OHL-S-2.0).

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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