novena_full-e1389122192543Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.

On Makezine, hardware hacker Bunnie Huang writes about designing and building his own open-hardware, open-source laptop computer. He wasn’t satisfied with the current choices available to him, and he didn’t want to “downgrade” to a phone or tablet, so he and a friend put in the time and effort to make one themselves. While it doesn’t exactly look pretty, and it wasn’t exactly cheap, Huang reports it works well, and stands up to rugged use.

After over a year and a half of hard work, I’m happy to say our machines are in a usable form. The motherboards are very reliable, the display is a 13-inch 2560×1700 (239 ppi) LED-backlit panel, and the cases have an endoskeleton made of 5052 and 7075 aluminium alloys, an exterior wrapping of genuine leather, an interior laminate of paper (I also love books and papercraft), and cosmetic panels 3D printed on a Form 1. The design is no Thinkpad Carbon X1, but they’ve held together through a couple of rough international trips, and we use our machines almost every day.

The design has been well-received by hackers, and Huang is in the planning stages for a crowdfunding campaign, apparently to make and sell them. (Not sure whether he’s planning to sell them in assembled or kit form.) He has also made specs, schematics, and source files available for hardware hackers who would like to build one themselves.

The nuts and bolts of the project are beyond my technical ability to assess—I know nothing about circuit board design, which is basically what he’s done here—but I have to admit it’s a neat idea. Might be a little past its due date, though, given the declining use of laptops in tablets’ ascendency. On the other hand, maybe that means it’s the best time for a project like that—as fewer companies make laptops, if you do want a laptop it gets harder to find one with decent specs at a good price, so maybe you have to build your own to get a truly good one.

Who knows, perhaps people will be building their own tablets before long? Oh, wait, that’s already happened, too, thanks to the Raspberry Pi. From a link in the sidebar of that article, Maker Shed evangelist Michael Castor talks about how he rolled his own tablet out of a Raspberry Pi board. Clearly, the sky is the limit for making portable hardware if you’ve got the technical knack.

In some ways it harks back to the original birth of the PC—in the time of the Apple I, it was commonplace for computers to come in the form of naked circuit boards that the builders had to solder the components onto; the Apple I was the first computer to come with a pre-assembled circuit board so all you had to do was put it in a case and attach components. From such humble beginnings, look where we are now.

I wonder what these open laptops will end up costing crowdfunded, and if enough people will be interested to buy them?


  1. It would be interesting to know the cost of components and the number of person-hours that were required. With that info, one might compare with a comparable commercial product to better understand whether this is mostly for recreational value or for optimizing return on investment. DIY PC tower computers can often be assembled for a lower cost of components as compared with equivalent commercial products. This isn’t always successful as we learned from several attempts to build the equivalent of the late 2013 MacPro (see: Considering only component costs, the DIY versions were significantly more expensive.

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