My trusty 2011 MacBook Air has been through many computational battles with me. So when it began to stop charging toward the end of 2018, it was kind of like losing an old friend. I bought it when PokitDok was just starting up and used it for 24/7 work for quite some time before bumping up to a MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air got to take a bit of a break as the personal machine then. I really like the MacBook Air and did consider getting another one to take over for my 2011 model that's provided outstanding service. However, I've been working with the Raspberry Pi more and more for different projects (personal projects like shadetree and solarshed as well as work with hub-ology) and I started wondering if there might be a decent laptop enclosure that would allow me to have a Pi power my personal laptop. After a bit of searching, I ran across the pi-top.

From the pi-top website:

pi‑top is a modular laptop that gives you the tools to complete amazing DIY projects and bring your inventions to life. It’s the perfect tool to help you learn to code, create awesome devices, and take your knowledge to the next level.

I decided to pick one up for evaluation from Adafruit and have been using it for over a month now as my full time personal machine. The pi-top is indeed all of those things that they describe on the official web site. It's also proven to be quite capable for handling all of the tasks I've thrown at it. My pi-top is currently running with the Raspberry Pi 3 - Model B+. While I started my evaluation using the provided SD card running pi-topOS, I ultimately moved to a 64GB SD card with a minimal Raspbian Desktop installation and then added these applications:

  • 1Password : Gotta have my passwords ... and they provide pre-built ARM binaries for their CLI and 1PasswordX works great in Chromium.
  • keybase : keybase helps me encrypt and decrypt ... and send messages, too. I built the keybase client from source after bumping up the swap size.
  • Resilio Sync : I sling files between machines and my phone with some of those then offloading to S3 for safe keeping.
  • VSCode : I just wanted some basic editor functionality for Python projects when not using vi. I installed it via https://code.headmelted.com/

I like having a personal machine that allows for easy upgrades. A new system (Pi) comes out... you slide the keyboard down and swap it out. Ethernet is included and I don't have to worry about carrying all of the extra adapters. The Wifi has been rock solid so far. Battery life is as advertised. If I need more computing horsepower, I fire it up as needed on AWS. It did take me a couple of days to adapt to the keyboard's layout and a smaller shift key on the left side. Having a touch pad with a left and right mouse button also was an adjustment for me. I'm back to full :tractor: :computer: mode now though. The pi-top price is inline with what you might pay for a Chromebook or equivalent machine but it feels so much more capable to me. The slide out keyboard is outstanding when working on wiring up a project with the Pi. I don't have to carry around debug cables and extra Pis along with my laptop anymore. pi-top _is_ my laptop.