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Using a mini PC on an airplane...

Using a mini PC on an airplane...

Old Apr 2, 21, 6:48 pm
  #1  
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Using a mini PC on an airplane...

During covid, I've been working on a number of projects and got to tinker with quite a few things.. When I go overseas, I'm usually carrying a large laptop to power through a few things when I hit the destination. Unfortunately due to the power requirements, I can't use it for extended periods when I'm on the plane (and to be honest, sitting in Y or PE, I don't really want to). Over the past while, I've acquired a few mini PCs and have been setting up a few homelab clusters for various scenarios.

So, to the point, has anyone set up a mini PC (eg, 1L or smaller) and gotten it to work on a plane? I know there was one YTer who set up a LAN party in air, but I'm curious as to other setups. I'd think that it'd be more comfortable for me to pull out the mini PC and a multi-media keyboard (sitting in Y or PE) and to work on my own projects or to watch local videos vs. a laptop which will dig into my stomach and with uncomfortable viewing angles. I'm not looking for wifi or ethernet although I'm sure they'd be useful (just not in my use case... I actually enjoy being disconnected from the flood of emails and so on). The only problem I have at the moment is the "monitor". Most IFE don't have an input that I know of and the resolution is crap. I can bring (and power) a portable monitor, but I don't think there is any system capable of hanging a small FHD monitor (eg, 13.3in) off an airline seat (preferably at eye level). The size isn't usually an issue (eg, a 13.3 monitor will fit an airhook), but they're not the lightest things. The people who did the LAN party used suction cup holders modified to hold the screen to the IFE screen, however those could likely damage the IFE and I don't approve of that.

(Yes, I know it's a FWP and with limited use cases... there could very well be no solution, just trying to make my trip a little more comfortable)

Curious to see what is out there. TIA.
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Old Apr 2, 21, 8:22 pm
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Not sure if you're specifically looking to run Windows apps in this hypothetical scenario but if you're OK with Linux I'm sure there is a Raspberry Pi enthusiast out there who has tried something like this and specialist hardware for that platform abounds...
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Old Apr 2, 21, 9:13 pm
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Trying to juggle a mini PC, a small monitor and a small keyboard, in the small confines of an airplane seat? At that point, I think the answer is to just get a second laptop that has the power/battery requirements you need. So much easier to deal with, and likely lighter to carry.

I suppose you could also try getting a Microsoft Surface - hang that from the seatback, and instead of the typical cover keyboard, use a Bluetooth keyboard.
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Old Apr 2, 21, 9:39 pm
  #4  
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Originally Posted by YYZC2 View Post
Not sure if you're specifically looking to run Windows apps in this hypothetical scenario but if you're OK with Linux I'm sure there is a Raspberry Pi enthusiast out there who has tried something like this and specialist hardware for that platform abounds...
Platform-wise I'm pretty agnostic, but I'd likely to want to stick to full fat Windows or Linux as it'd be easier (for me) to run VMs inside (for testing purposes). Pi4 would work for me as well and I have seen someone setting up VMs within one but I don't need to go that small and with a little bit of additional size, I can get vastly more horsepower out of it, That said, it's the display that is stumping me.
... I'd like some sort of mount that could handle a 13.3 HDMI or USB-C monitor and doesn't risk me damaging the IFE monitor. The mini PC I'm not concerned about (just need to plug it in and place it under the chair or in the magazine holder (depending on what fits...
). Multi-media keyboard/pad (like the Logitech K400) would cover what I need (or I could add a BT mouse) or if I know the airline is nervous about radio transmissions, can stick with a small wired set KB/MS. The only real problem is how to safely mount a monitor (I'd happily go with a little smaller but not sure there are that many portable monitors that are also FHD). As you can see from the first video, they used suction cups which I believe will either damage or scratch up the monitor. The airhook looks nice, but takes the tray and has limited strength to hold up the monitor (although it should fit). If it could handle the weight, figuring out a table layout should be easy (technically if using a multi-media KB, I don't even need the tray.

Right now it's an interesting project since flying right now is not advisable (and I do have others to consider) but when we're back in the air...
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Old Apr 2, 21, 9:46 pm
  #5  
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Originally Posted by SEA-Flyer View Post
Trying to juggle a mini PC, a small monitor and a small keyboard, in the small confines of an airplane seat? At that point, I think the answer is to just get a second laptop that has the power/battery requirements you need. So much easier to deal with, and likely lighter to carry.

I suppose you could also try getting a Microsoft Surface - hang that from the seatback, and instead of the typical cover keyboard, use a Bluetooth keyboard.
It's entirely possible that there is no solution available right now other than another smaller laptop, but breaking the thing apart works for me (if possible). I had considered the Surface Pro, but price-wise it's not ideal for me. The mini PC give me the opportunity to add on additional RAM and storage that a Surface would not afford me. And with me messing around with 2-3 VMs (depending on the project), I just need the flexibility.
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Old Apr 3, 21, 7:18 pm
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Originally Posted by StuckInYYZ View Post
I'd happily go with a little smaller but not sure there are that many portable monitors that are also FHD). As you can see from the first video, they used suction cups which I believe will either damage or scratch up the monitor. The airhook looks nice, but takes the tray and has limited strength to hold up the monitor (although it should fit). If it could handle the weight, figuring out a table layout should be easy (technically if using a multi-media KB, I don't even need the tray.
lately, there's plenty of FHD (even 4K) portable monitors, ranging from 10" to 22", from off-brand products to ASUS. you should be able to run this off USB-C or USB-A(maybe the airline USB port is enough, need a voltmeter/ampmeter to check?)

you do have to work within the confines of the (typically) 100W power plug limit.
https://www.asus.com/us/Displays-Des...Screen-MB14AC/

check amazon + "portable monitor", i have a 11" 1080p one. multiple variations (some running off USB-C only, some with HDMI + microUSB fo rpower, some are USB-A only using DisplayLink. some have touchscreens, some have speakers)

11.6 inch 1080P FHD Capacitive Touch Portable Monitor(T116A)
https://www.amazon.ae/Touchscreen-Po.../dp/B07FKJ6WP1

(it weights maybe 1 pound, i currently use these 3M velcro to tape it to my kitchen wall. dont see any issues using it in airplane seats)
(velcro holds 16 pounds)
Amazon Amazon

Last edited by paperwastage; Apr 3, 21 at 7:25 pm
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Old Apr 3, 21, 7:31 pm
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just note that (powerful) miniPCs have a price premium and could even have a performance degradation due to cooling issues

why not just get a ryzen laptop with onboard memory/storage? their mobile CPUs are pretty good now, can trade blow-for-blow with desktop chips

(some reason their battery test didn't work, anandtech had much better results on battery) https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020...d-its-awesome/
https://www.anandtech.com/show/15708...0hs-a-review/4


if you are price sensitive, a $650 option isn't that bad (unless you go with a pc-on-stick or intel NUC or have spare parts, your miniPC will likely be more expensive)
https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020...ove-its-class/
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Old Apr 3, 21, 9:12 pm
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Originally Posted by paperwastage View Post
lately, there's plenty of FHD (even 4K) portable monitors, ranging from 10" to 22", from off-brand products to ASUS. you should be able to run this off USB-C or USB-A(maybe the airline USB port is enough, need a voltmeter/ampmeter to check?)

you do have to work within the confines of the (typically) 100W power plug limit.
https://www.asus.com/us/Displays-Des...Screen-MB14AC/

check amazon + "portable monitor", i have a 11" 1080p one. multiple variations (some running off USB-C only, some with HDMI + microUSB fo rpower, some are USB-A only using DisplayLink. some have touchscreens, some have speakers)

11.6 inch 1080P FHD Capacitive Touch Portable Monitor(T116A)
https://www.amazon.ae/Touchscreen-Po.../dp/B07FKJ6WP1

(it weights maybe 1 pound, i currently use these 3M velcro to tape it to my kitchen wall. dont see any issues using it in airplane seats)
(velcro holds 16 pounds) https://www.amazon.com/Command-Pictu...dp/B073XR4X72/
I did a search originally but never really found one that worked. But I did not know about the 14 series from Asus (interestingly it never showed up or I just assumed it was the 16in version). I have the 16AC version. (except for price, I would recommend) I would just need to use one of the mini PC that has USB-C display for output (currently have several versions floating around). Touch isn't a concern. HDMI would be nice but as long as I can output to a display I'm happy. Audio isn't an issue as I would likely be hooking a headphone off the main unit.

I don't think power would be an issue. The units I typically work with usually don't consume a lot of power (25-45w with the brick usually powering up to 65w). Just need to pick up a few longer length cables but that's a lot easier. Thanks!

Originally Posted by paperwastage View Post
just note that (powerful) miniPCs have a price premium and could even have a performance degradation due to cooling issues

why not just get a ryzen laptop with onboard memory/storage? their mobile CPUs are pretty good now, can trade blow-for-blow with desktop chips

(some reason their battery test didn't work, anandtech had much better results on battery) https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020...d-its-awesome/
https://www.anandtech.com/show/15708...0hs-a-review/4


if you are price sensitive, a $650 option isn't that bad (unless you go with a pc-on-stick or intel NUC or have spare parts, your miniPC will likely be more expensive)
https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020...ove-its-class/
I realise there is a price premium to a nuc/mini PC, but the main point of this is/was to come up with something a bit more comfortable on the plane (why I call it a FWP). I wasn't flying as much as many of the others here and mostly in Y or PE (and more TPAC than domestic/TB) and even now I'm not, but I'm trying to plan ahead as things are starting to look up. In Y, I can fit, but if I were to use a 15" laptop to do any work, more often (way more often) than not, I'd be holding the laptop at an angle. I'm still carrying the laptop for off the plane and client meetings on site, it'd just sit in it's carrier for the transit portion. Honestly, I don't need THAT much additional horsepower (more is nicer, but not really a concern... I just need enough to run 2-3 VMs to test my scripts). This is specifically on the plane. Since the components are effectively broken up, I can shift things around so I can actually breath. The fact that I can also raise the monitor to eye level is a bonus. If I can watch local videos, another bonus.

I'm perfectly happy to be disconnected from the world for the 14-25 hours of transit (assuming TPAC), but I often find the IFE lacking and often if I can get a few hours in of productivity then it's better for me when I hit the ground (to or return). Ideally if the airline could provide a screen for me, it would alleviate some of the issue, but I am not expecting them to offer more than what is already there. I know the business class seats of some airlines have what I want, but the chances of me riding up front are unlikely at best.

On a different note, I am starting to see 5000 series Ryzen showing on laptops so hoping to see them in the mini space as well. I'd love to see Epyc processors in the mini space, but wrong market and likely so overpriced/badly configured it wouldn't make sense.
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Old Apr 4, 21, 1:21 pm
  #9  
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The path of least resistance here is probably a battery pack that will power the laptop.

Power on board is fine for charging but Id never want to be reliant on a device that requires constant power to run. Too many power interruptions from the plan itself, from loose plugs, etc.
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Old Apr 4, 21, 6:48 pm
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Power isn't the issue (well, it kinda is but that's an easily remedied issue). I've got workarounds for that (between my power bar and plug adapters, I've never had the plug slip out of the receptacle before. Even if it does and it corrupts the active VMs, I'm not too concerned as they're usually clones with some imported data that I can easily re-import. I'm just looking for something a bit more comfortable in the seats I travel in (vs. putting a guillotine to my stomach). If/when things get back to normal and if I could travel in J for long hauls, then this would not be an issue. But since I am stuck in Y or PE, I'm willing to rejig some stuff to make my trip a bit more easier on me.
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Old Apr 4, 21, 6:58 pm
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Originally Posted by StuckInYYZ View Post
During covid, I've been working on a number of projects and got to tinker with quite a few things.. When I go overseas, I'm usually carrying a large laptop to power through a few things when I hit the destination. Unfortunately due to the power requirements, I can't use it for extended periods when I'm on the plane (and to be honest, sitting in Y or PE, I don't really want to). Over the past while, I've acquired a few mini PCs and have been setting up a few homelab clusters for various scenarios.

So, to the point, has anyone set up a mini PC (eg, 1L or smaller) and gotten it to work on a plane? I know there was one YTer who set up a LAN party in air, but I'm curious as to other setups. I'd think that it'd be more comfortable for me to pull out the mini PC and a multi-media keyboard (sitting in Y or PE) and to work on my own projects or to watch local videos vs. a laptop which will dig into my stomach and with uncomfortable viewing angles. I'm not looking for wifi or ethernet although I'm sure they'd be useful (just not in my use case... I actually enjoy being disconnected from the flood of emails and so on). The only problem I have at the moment is the "monitor". Most IFE don't have an input that I know of and the resolution is crap. I can bring (and power) a portable monitor, but I don't think there is any system capable of hanging a small FHD monitor (eg, 13.3in) off an airline seat (preferably at eye level). The size isn't usually an issue (eg, a 13.3 monitor will fit an airhook), but they're not the lightest things. The people who did the LAN party used suction cup holders modified to hold the screen to the IFE screen, however those could likely damage the IFE and I don't approve of that.

(Yes, I know it's a FWP and with limited use cases... there could very well be no solution, just trying to make my trip a little more comfortable)

Curious to see what is out there. TIA.
very interesting thread so far, but im having a difficult time understanding your use case. what are your hardware/software requirements in the sky and budget? why would a massively overpowered semi-modular laptop gaming beast not be sufficient for your needs?
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Old Apr 4, 21, 7:26 pm
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Originally Posted by GundamWing01 View Post
very interesting thread so far, but im having a difficult time understanding your use case. what are your hardware/software requirements in the sky and budget? why would a massively overpowered semi-modular laptop gaming beast not be sufficient for your needs?
Actually a modular setup is what I am looking for. Having a laptop jammed into my gut when I'm flying doesn't help me if I want to work. (Y or PE) I'm looking for a modular setup so I can work in (somewhat) comfort. A mini PC (for example, a NUC or Optiplex micro or Lenovo Tiny) works (I just need enough resources to run 2-3 low end VMs). My original issue was being able to connect a monitor of sorts (like a decent IFE monitor or a portable monitor). I saw a youtube video that had some guys do a hack, however I felt their monitor setup is likely to damage the IFE system (which I would not like). With a sufficiently powered mini PC, I can shift the CPU component to the ground/side of the seat and use the KB/MS on my lap. The only problem was hanging a monitor onto the seat.

There are some portable monitors out there that might work, but the off-brands were often out of stock or not spec'ed enough or of questionable quality. One of the other posters suggested Asus (and I have the 16in version of the recommendation) which I was unaware of. If it works as advertised, I will pick one up when it goes on sale (as currently I'm grounded indefinitely) and hopefully problem solved.

Hopefully that answers your question?
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Old Apr 5, 21, 1:40 am
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Originally Posted by StuckInYYZ View Post
Actually a modular setup is what I am looking for. Having a laptop jammed into my gut when I'm flying doesn't help me if I want to work. (Y or PE) I'm looking for a modular setup so I can work in (somewhat) comfort. A mini PC (for example, a NUC or Optiplex micro or Lenovo Tiny) works (I just need enough resources to run 2-3 low end VMs). My original issue was being able to connect a monitor of sorts (like a decent IFE monitor or a portable monitor). I saw a youtube video that had some guys do a hack, however I felt their monitor setup is likely to damage the IFE system (which I would not like). With a sufficiently powered mini PC, I can shift the CPU component to the ground/side of the seat and use the KB/MS on my lap. The only problem was hanging a monitor onto the seat.

There are some portable monitors out there that might work, but the off-brands were often out of stock or not spec'ed enough or of questionable quality. One of the other posters suggested Asus (and I have the 16in version of the recommendation) which I was unaware of. If it works as advertised, I will pick one up when it goes on sale (as currently I'm grounded indefinitely) and hopefully problem solved.

Hopefully that answers your question?
appreciate the clarification. i have many things to say about your situation, but im going to try and make it quick.

one of the very first things to consider is the practical nature of your environment and any absolutely required activities. i have no clue about your professional nature, destinations, or frequency of travel, but constantly packing a budget VM modular workstation that lets you stay productive (w/ security + privacy) or have LAN parties on the plane sounds totally impractical to me. but you sound like a smart and capable person so feel free to run a crypto mining rig at 30,000 feet.

personally, a combo of powerhouse laptops/tablets/phones have always been the answer depending on my limited/compact environment. for example, fully loaded MSFT surface book 3, surface pro 7, and XPS 15/17. also, many lenovos are very capable. depending on the class of flight, i limit my work to my given space. you may also have limitations on your carry on luggage. if im flying Y, im only using a tablet, notebook, phone. otherwise, its full on sky office space in J/F. PE is acceptable, but the nature of your VM rig would require J or F for real productivity and quiet privacy. theres no way you will get anything done with people looking over your shoulder even with a privacy screen. such a rig just brings unwanted attn.

since you are in YYZ, i assume you are a heavy AC flyer. which hard product do you usually fly? B787s? i dont see how you can get anything done in Y. PE is the minimum for laptop space. but it really depends on the length of flight, connections, and urgency to get work done in the sky. do you fly mostly short haul domestic or TPAC, international, multi-segment complex itineraries w/ crazy short connections? you gotta stay flexible, even as a carry-on only flyer.

furthermore, i would focus on getting real work done within the YYZ lounges like maple leaf. not sure if you are Aeroplan 35K or Star Alliance Gold, but i assume you have the amex AR or TD/CIBC VIP w/ cross border banking. personally, staying compact, flexible, mobile and efficient plays a key role for me. i dont want to constantly build my mini PC in the sky for every takeoff and landing even flying J/F. i also dont want to worry about random local laws, power constraints and passing security. not all airport security/customs are equal.

data security would also play a key factor. lets say youre headed out to Black Hat or DEF CON vegas. i would never bring anything remotely resembling a VM rig. global Anonymous elites could be sitting next to you or staying in the room next door. all public plane and hotel wifi are compromised. no amount of VPN Tor Sandboxing will help you. operational security is paramount. and due to the pandemic, many properties now use contactless room entry. you can only imagine the security risks. depending on the demographics of my destination, nothing except for used dirty underwear ever stays in my room.

anyway, i got carried away and i didnt really answer your question. sorry. im sure you already know what youre looking for and will proceed accordingly.

Last edited by GundamWing01; Apr 5, 21 at 2:29 am
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Old Apr 5, 21, 3:29 am
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If I wanted to make the most portable most powerful system then I'd add a Sonnet Puck eGPU to the Minisforum X35G.
The X35G is 13612139 mm, can be powered from USB C and has TB3. The Solo can provide 60W to the host so one brick could drive both. It's 152 x 130 x 51mm so you could stack them. Of course the brick is huge. But I think this wins the size/performance competition.
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Old Apr 5, 21, 8:06 am
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Originally Posted by StuckInYYZ View Post
Actually a modular setup is what I am looking for. Having a laptop jammed into my gut when I'm flying doesn't help me if I want to work. (Y or PE) I'm looking for a modular setup so I can work in (somewhat) comfort. A mini PC (for example, a NUC or Optiplex micro or Lenovo Tiny) works (I just need enough resources to run 2-3 low end VMs). My original issue was being able to connect a monitor of sorts (like a decent IFE monitor or a portable monitor). I saw a youtube video that had some guys do a hack, however I felt their monitor setup is likely to damage the IFE system (which I would not like). With a sufficiently powered mini PC, I can shift the CPU component to the ground/side of the seat and use the KB/MS on my lap. The only problem was hanging a monitor onto the seat.

There are some portable monitors out there that might work, but the off-brands were often out of stock or not spec'ed enough or of questionable quality. One of the other posters suggested Asus (and I have the 16in version of the recommendation) which I was unaware of. If it works as advertised, I will pick one up when it goes on sale (as currently I'm grounded indefinitely) and hopefully problem solved.

Hopefully that answers your question?
Instead of a real monitor, have you considered virtual monitors? Soon, Oculus Quest 2 will have infinity office built in to support multiple virtual monitors. Currently you could use Virtual Desktop for 1 monitor, or multiple monitors for ImmerseVR. The virtual monitors are really nice except for the issue that you can't see your keyboard, but infinity office is supposed to have a Logitech keyboard that you can see in your virtual office.
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