Penk Chen's Mainboard Terminal Packs a Framework Mainboard Into a Retrofuturistic, CRT-Like Box

Inspired by vintage terminals built around oscilloscope CRTs, this unusual machine packs a powerful punch from its Framework SBC.

Gareth Halfacree
6 days ago • HW101 / 3D Printing / RetroTech

Hardware designer and self-described "digital nomad" Penk Chen has found an unusual use for the recently-released Framework Mainboard single-board computer: a compact retrofuturistic terminal, complete with circular display.

"I've always wanted a terminal with a round screen," Chen writes of the inspiration behind the project. "With the [Framework] Mainboard product and its 2D drawing released, I finally had the chance to build one. And yes, it runs Spacewar!"

The Framework originally launched as a modular laptop, designed to allow its ports to be easily chopped-and-changed according to an individual's requirements — even post-purchase. Since its release, the company has begun selling just the motherboard — as, effectively, a powerful Intel-based single-board computer with impressive specifications.

It's this which powers Chen's Mainboard Terminal, housed in a 3D-printed chassis designed to roughly mimic early computer terminals built around circular cathode-ray tube oscilloscope displays. Rather than a bulky CRT, however, Chen's build uses a more modern 5" LCD — though the installation of Cool Retro Term allows it to simulate a CRT, distortion and all, for terminal projects.

In addition to the display, the curved terminal body incorporates an OLKB Preonic ortholinear mechanical keyboard. The 3D-printed case is held together with magnets, making it easy to take apart to clean the Mainboard's fan or to add extra hardware.

This isn't Chen's first foray into custom-built machines: After having designed the commercial CutiePi tablet for its launch two years ago, Chen wanted something a little more tactile for personal use and came up with the open-hardware Penkēsu (ペンケース) — a clamshell device with ultra-wide display, mechanical ortholinear keyboard, and powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W.

3D-printable files for the Mainboard Terminal have been published to Chen's GitHub repository under the permissive MIT license; on the software front, Chen says "everything works out of the box with Ubuntu 22.04 LTS" — though notes you need to add a custom display mode for the compact LCD.

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