The Most Powerful Laptop in the World | The 16-Core / 32-Thread Threadripper Laptop

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you: The Most Powerful Laptop in the World

This Threadripper 16-core / 32-thread processor-based laptop started as a quest for mobile compute power without paying too severe a premium for mobile hardware. I searched for an ITX Threadripper-compatible motherboard, but came up empty-handed, except for a few forum posts that said a small form factor Threadripper was a terrible idea. Immediately I knew I could be the one to make that mistake and set out to put an untamed 180 watt TDP processor in a laptop.

First, I had to establish the design elements were necessary to deem this a laptop. I figured it had to be a fully self-contained system, including the compute hardware, the familiar 'clamshell' interface of screen, keyboard, and trackpad, and sufficient onboard battery power to run for a reasonable length of time away from an outlet.

So it was clear from the outset that the challenges of delivering power and removing heat were going to require some relatively extreme solutions. Additionally, to keep costs low, most items would either be used or salvaged from e-waste.

The smallest Threadripper-compatible board I could locate was the Micro ATX Asrock X399M Taichi, which I picked up used. For the processor, the current price-to-performance trade-off favored the AMD Threadripper 1950X 16C/32T 180W TDP processor, again picked up used. For the critical cooling components, I looked to the server world, selecting a Dynatron A28 1U passive EPYC heatsink (also compatible with the mounting points of the sTR4 socket) and twin Delta BFB1012HH blower fans. Some additional heatpipes, fins, and small fans would provide additional cooling and air exchange.

Power delivery was one of the trickiest parts of the build. I needed a lot of juice in as little space as possible. I looked at power stations -- the giant power bannks with AC outlets -- but between the size of the components, plus converting to AC only to convert back to DC with a (then-onboard) laptop power supply, this seemed too bulky and inefficient. I looked into custom battery packs, but few went to the amperage ranges I was looking for and then I'd need to work out a charging solution. I looked at USB-C Power Delivery (PD) power banks and spoofers that call for up to 20V. This could have worked and I almost went with 5 Zendure SuperTank power banks in parallell. These support simultaneous / pass-through charging with 100W in and 60W out. So, 5x60W = 300W out and with some overhead to charge the batteries up at the same time if they had been depleted before plugging in.

Ultimately I went with 6 Dell Power Companion 18,000mAh power banks. These are designed to go inbetween your Dell power brick and Dell laptop, topping up the Power Companion's battery when you're plugged in and keeping the laptop chugging along longer when you're unplugged. Importantly, these can deliver 90W while plugged in and 65W unplugged. 6x65W = 390W, which is near the max 400W of the HDPlex DC-ATX power supply. This is all fed by two Dell 330W laptop power supplies.

You might have noticed the RCA wires on the front. These are for spoofing the Power Companions that they are being charged by a Dell adapter or that the Power Companions are charging a Dell thing. Red-to-red connects one of the power brick's communication pins to all of the Power Companions, saying it's a Dell OEM charger. The Power Companions seem to pass through power but not charge themselves if this signal is not present. White-to-black connects the power brick outputs back to their inputs -- this is necessary for a battery-only startup for the Power Companions to stay active, otherwise they will shut down after several seconds; if started via AC power they seem to keep running indefinitely even without the looped-back signal).

Run time on battery is determined by power capacity divided by power usage. The 6 Power Companions are 18,000mAh, which works out to 66.6Whx6 = 399.6Wh, so that's our capacity (Watt-Hours is as it sounds: Around 400Wh together means these can pump out around 400 watts for around an hour, provided that the batteries support a discharge rate as high as the Wh number, which these do). At full tilt, say running a benchmark or rendering a video, between the 180W TDP of the 1950X, the GPU, screen, and other components, DC conversion inefficiencies, and fans that can themselves draw a few to several watts, let's say we're at 280W total. 399.6Wh / 280W constant draw = theoretically around 1.43 hours on battery power at full processor utilization. Maybe around an hour if it is a very GPU-intensive load as well. For less compute-intensive tasks, the battery run time could extend to a few hours.

The lengthiest part of the project was building the case and laying out all the components. I repurposed an HP media center PC case, effectively shortening it to around 2 inches high (to accomodate the motherboard IO, ram, and heatsinks), and salvaged parts from an Alienware m18x.

Other key components were Corsair LPX DDR4 3600Mhz, which fit the bill of being low profile and matching the motherboard's top ram speed spec., a Zotac GTX 1050ti, a GPU mining riser to mount the GPU horizontally, an 18.3 inch portable 4k monitor, and panel mount jacks for HDMI and power.

Many sketchy hacksaw cuts later, we have a Threadripper laptop.

If I had any sense, I would have gone with the Ryzen 9 3950X, which has similar horsepower at a lower TDP, but this is still quite expensive for the processor itself (and I just wanted to say "Threadripper Laptop"). Some Clevo-based builds already use the 3950X processor, which would outpace the 1950X if it could attain its full TDP, but, alas, it is locked into eco mode, reducing the many-core performance below that of the unfettered 1950X, which makes this the fastest laptop in the world.

I haven't had a chance to do much with it yet: a quick XMP profile application, boot into Bionic Pup, and Blender BMW / Classroom benchmark session. Things are looking good so far and I expect this will be my video editing machine for the forseeable future.

There is obviously room for improvement. After I ditched a 16x-to-16x PCIe ribbon cable, I was able to mount the blower fans lower than expected and thus can drop the height of the palmrest to be more consistent with the height of the m18x chassis this borrows some parts from. Fans can probably be throttled-down at idle / low temps for a bit quieter operation, and I need to run some extended benchmarks to see if the sysem is really tapping into the additional heatpipes/fins.

If you made it this far, thanks for checking this project out and let me know what you'd like to see it do or thoughts on how it should evolve.


Parts List:

Threadripper 1950X 16 Core / 32 Thread Processor (used): or
Asrock X399M Taichi Micro ATX Motherboard (used): or
HP Media Center PC Case, Power Switch/LED's (salvage)
Corsair 32GB DDR4 3600Mhz (new): or
Zotac GTX 1050ti (used): or
Dynatron A28 1U Passive Cooler (new): or
2x Delta BFB1012HH Blower Fans (used): or
4x High CFM 40mm Fans (e.g. FFB0412VHN, used): or
2x 1-to-2x Fan Splitter Cables (new):
4x Dual Ball-Bearing 50mm Fans (new):
1-to-5x Fan Splitter Board (new):
8x Copper Heatpipe (new):
5x Copper Heat Dissipation Fin Sections (used?): (YMMV what you find, or search for "1U heatsink" and cut as needed:
HDPlex 400Watt DC-ATX Power Supply (new): (alternatives for lower wattage projects: )
8-Pin to 2x6+2-Pin Splitter Cable (new):
2x Dell 330Watt External Power Supply (used): 
7.4mm Barrel Jack (repurposed, cut from something like these: )
HDMI 2.0-compatible Female-Female Panel Mount Jack (repurposed from wall socket):
DisplayPort to Mini Displayport Cable (used):
6x Dell Power Companion 18,000mAh (used): or
4x DC Power Bus Bar (new):
Misc. Current and Signal Wire, solder, and heat-shrink tubing (salvage)
Misc. rivets, nuts, bolts, screws, zip ties (salvage)
Square Steel Rod (salvage, something like: )
Alienware m18x lid, display frame, palmrest, base, hinges (salvage): , etc.
RCA Cables (salvage -- I would have used a switch, but didn't have any handy):
18.3 Inch 4k Portable Monitor (new):
USB A to Micro USB (used): 3.0
Motherboard Connector to 2x USB 3.0 (used):
Perrix Peripad 504 Touchpad (used): (although for creative applications, I wish I thought to use a 3-button trackpad)
Dell Slim Keyboard (used):
PCIe 1x to 16x (Mining) Riser (used):
USB 3.0 Flash Drive (w/Bionic Pup)(used):
Rosewill Aluminum Server Case Crossbar (salvage):

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