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A free/open computer on a card that you swap in and out of a 3D printed laptop (boingboing.net)
74 points by MilnerRoute on Aug 5, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments



A step closer to the Sandbenders computer from William Gibson's "Idoru":

...he used to tear up her hardware, the designer's, and put the real parts into cases he'd make in his shop. Say he'd make a solid bronze case for a minidisk unit, ebony inlays, carve the control surfaces out of fossil ivory, turquoise, rock crystal. It weighed more, sure, but it turned out a lot of people liked that, like they had their music or their memory, whatever, in something that felt like it was there... And people liked touching all that stuff: metal, a smooth stone... And once you had the case, when the manufacturer brought out a new model, well, if the electronics were any better, you just pulled the old ones out and put the new ones in your case. So you still had the same object, just with better functions.


This reminds of something...

As a kid, I played the game "Neuromancer" (1989, Interplay) which is based on the book of the same name by William Gibson. The images of "decks" (portable computers) always struck me as odd and quite visually disconnected from the combination appearance of my Amiga 500 and its Commodore monitor. And yet, looking at a MacBook Pro from the front or side, it looks a great deal like those renderings of decks in that game (minus some of the features that make the images in the game more than just rounded rectangles). I know laptops existed earlier than that time, but to think they got a futuristic drawing so right it astounds me (not that we're quite to "deck" level with tech just yet).

Screenshot from the game: http://www.lemonamiga.com/games/popup_screen_index.php?id=77...

The front-closed profile of a MacBook Pro for comparison: http://www.notebookcheck.net/fileadmin/_migrated/pics/shape-...

Edit: I guess it's not a big jump though, considering these were some contemporary laptops of 1989: http://www.roughlydrafted.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/200...


hooray! you know what, i am so pleased that someone finally noticed. congratulations :)

the hilarious thing is, i read that book too - i confused it initially with the computer that Hiro opens up at the beginning of Snowcrash.

even more hilariously i had clearly totally forgotten about both books when developing this laptop concept, but just as clearly there must have been something in my subconscious that was still working on it... because i've implemented the damn thing :)

so, thank you from the bottom of my heart for noticing :)


I'd certainly like a 13 inch laptop housing that I could plug progressively newer raspberry pi's into. When all you do is ssh-ing and using atom or Jupyter notebooks on remote servers, that would be a very nice computer to have.


yeah exactly. now, here's the thing: if you want to plug in newer hypocritical-boards...

... i'm sorry, you may be confused by the use of that phrase - allow me to explain before completing the sentence. broadcom is a highly unethical company that was caught completely off-guard by the rbpi phenomenon. their MOQ for this processor is 5 million units. the only reason they allowed it is because it was for "education" and it was one of their own employees working on it.

now, when you get one of these "education" boards, the first thing that happens is that a proprietary program is uploaded to the GPU, which then and only then turns on the CPU. this should be ringing massive alarm bells already for anybody who knows that respecting the privacy of children is fundamentally important.

but if that's not enough, if these children wish to watch films on these "educational" devices, they are forced to pay $2.50 to a cartel in order to obtain - not information but a PROPRIETARY library.

so here's the message that broadcom tells kids: "we want you to get educated! you're free to do so... except no further than WE say you can. fuck off kids if you want to educate yourself about the way our cartelled business makes money".

total hypocrisy.

now, i'm keenly aware that they're under enormous pressure to release the GPU's inner details, but dumping the tools onto the software libre community and expecting them to pick up the pieces doesn't strike me as being particularly responsible either.

anyway so back to answering your comment... :)

so if you want to plug in 15mm high boards you need a housing that can cope with 15mm high boards. you want a pi-top in other words not this one. if you've seen the pi-top, however, you'll notice that it's almost 1.25 in thick, possibly even more! there are other issues with it as well, such as: the team haven't fulfilled their promises to be open with the schematics or the 3D CAD files.

i've taken a heck of a lot of issues into consideration in the design of the 15.6in laptop housing, basically as a demonstration to the industry that there is another way.


The pi includes h264 and mpeg4 decoding support. You only have to pay to activate the VC-1 and mpeg2 codecs. But, I don't see why you are blaming broadcom and raspberry pi for this, the cost comes from the MPEG LA's license fee for using their patents related to the video codecs. I guess you are saying broadcom or raspberry pi or someone else should have paid the license fee for the users, instead of having the users pay the cost themselves? They did that for h264, which is probably the most needed codec.


enshrined in patent law is the right for anyone to implement a single instance of a patent, so that they may improve on it.

source code that's downloaded and then compiled thus constitutes "a single instance".

if the fuckers at broadcom had stopped for one second and thought, "we really should release the full source and just let people get on with it, because after all this is about education", then there wouldn't BE any need for them to collect royalties.

instead they went "we make money from this, therefore we should continue to exploit school children".

broadcom DOES NOT have to distribute binary versions of their CODECs. they COULD have chosen instead to release full source code under libre licenses. the fact that they are distributing binaries tells you everything you need to know.


Impractical and gimmicky.

"You can literally plug in a new CPU -- or swap your CPU into a variety of devices. (Laptops, phones, tablets -- all powered by the same motherboard!)"

My phone's battery would last 2 seconds if it used the processor my laptop would use. And my laptop would be slow as shit if it used a processor compatible with a mobile phone.

"you simply PRINT OUT REPLACEMENT PARTS with a 3D printer"

3D printers have terrible quality. They are for prototyping. You'd be printing out replacement parts every month.

"you can connect the computer card to your TV set to continue working if your monitor fails"

I've never had a monitor fail on me, is this an actual problem?

Aside from hobbyists, I'm not sure anyone actually wants this product. Open to some feedback here!


I'm constantly frustrated when people make claims like that about 3D printers. You can absolutely make durable parts on a home 3D printer. I designed a whole remote control car to prove that [1], and even the gears are 3D printed. Despite the car having 1/4 horsepower and being able to flip itself backwards with all that torque, the gears never wear out. There is no such thing as "3D printers are for prototyping". They're a machine. They're for whatever you want them for. If you consider the parts okay for your non prototype use, then that's fine.

Also, this absolutely is for hobbyists. I'm not sure how that detracts from anything. Maybe the marketing is too suggestive that general consumers will want to build their own laptop, but that's fine. That's marketing. Personally I think the product is excellent as I've wanted an open laptop that runs all free software.

I've also had a laptop monitor fail on me, and had to connect it to an external monitor to recover the files.

[1] http://makezine.com/projects/3d-print-badass-rc-race-car/


totally cool, alexander. btw look up "Flex3Drive" esp. my reports on it - best of both the direct and bowden worlds and more. the guy behind it is a quiet genius who worked in the automotive industry.

regarding the laptop monitor failure: were there instructions online on how to repair the screen? because what i'm doing is about empowering people with not only the concept "right to repair" but one that seems to be quite novel these days called "right to own" - anyone with an apple product knows exactly what i'm talking about - as well as "right to not be spied on" and "right to not be afraid of your computer any more".

frickin love the RC car :)


> 3D printers have terrible quality. They are for prototyping. You'd be printing out replacement parts every month.

You might be confusing appearance and durability. The appearance of 3D printed parts is usually far from designer's tastes, but they are really durable.

I have 3D printed whole flying drones and structural robot parts many times, and they are sufficiently strong and durable for the task and last a while.

My main 3D printer is mostly made of 3D printed parts that are load-bearing, and none broke over the last 5 years or so.

Only problem i ever had was a reel of bad Chinese plastic that degraded quickly under sunlight. Easy to avoid by not buying on e-bay...


I'm pretty sure that for the same amount of similar material injection molded parts are generally stronger than 3d-printed ones.


True. Also, aluminum parts are stronger than plastics. And magnesium parts are stronger than aluminum. But we don't make everything out of magnesium.

The question is not "could it be stronger?", to which the answer is always yes until you've hit the extreme end with some kind of inconel/titanium/carbon nanotube mix, but "is it strong enough?". Also cost to manufacture, including tooling costs, is an important factor in choosing the best manufacturing method for a given part.


Sure, and it's much faster too.

But the former is a rigid industrial process needing complex machinery, while the latter is a fully configurable process with machinery you can make out of assorted scrap at home.


> My phone's battery would last 2 seconds if it used the processor my laptop would use. And my laptop would be slow as shit if it used a processor compatible with a mobile phone.

A powerful ARM CPU, down-clocked and/or in a big.little configuration would cover those cases, somewhat. Low clock during mobile operation, higher clock+power usage when docked in a non-battery situation. The concept seems to work fine with phones + ARM Chromebooks that are out there now.

> Aside from hobbyists, I'm not sure anyone actually wants this product. Open to some feedback here!

Still true. Most people probably don't want to upgrade that often, deal with their phone not working when the CPU is stuck into a dock, etc. I still like the idea of this kind of upgradeable hardware. Maybe it would make more sense to have different form factors for cards, with adapters to connect smaller cards into larger enclosures. It seems like that kind of schema would provide the greatest coverage of different use-cases (although, it'd require either standard buses/data connections through the entire line of hardware, or conversion hardware included in the card adapters).


I'm having trouble finding actively cooled ARM boards that are clocked higher than 2Ghz. I don't even care about the fact that I might need to buy multiple boards and form a cluster but for a cluster of 8 rasperry pi 3 including sd cards, network equipment, etc is more expensive and still far slower than of some cheap AMD CPU like the fx8300 with 8GB RAM, a 320GB hdd, psu and case which can be had for less than $300.


There are some POWER boards that offer much better single-package performance vs. ARM, but they are also much more expensive than an x86. In the mid-to-high-end laptop/desktop business it's hard to beat the economies of scale that x86 has.


> "you can connect the computer card to your TV set to continue working if your monitor fails" > I've never had a monitor fail on me, is this an actual problem?

In one monitor I've had a contact go loose that would black out the screen. Positioning it in a special way would reestablish it.

As for laptops.. the only cases I have seen are user caused, like closing the screen on some earbuds in a rush.


I've had two laptops where the hinge started failing over time (I'll gladly admit I'm not the nicest to my hardware) but this resulted in the fragile little LVDS cable running through the hinge getting messed up.

My TiBook (which is well known for cracking hinges) would only display blue unless I had the display propped just right.


i'm taking that into consideration with this design - the hinge parts are separate (10mm high and about 25mm long) so that if those really do get broken you're not looking at a total replacement of all the casework parts.

i'll most likely be 3D printing just these parts alone in Polycarbonate or Nylon just to make absolutely sure they don't break.

the cable i've had to think about quite a lot, and there's now a spacer which keeps it away from sharp edges as the hinge rotates in its socket. last thing you want is a 90 degree turn and the socket to rub continuously against the cable, breaking it within a matter of weeks.

but, man those LVDS cables are thin. a 3.5mm bundle (wrapped in special cloth tape) of 28 wires! just incredible.

anyway, repair and maintenance will be fully documented so that people can sort their machines out. i really don't want these things ending up in landfill.


Or consider the case of a child or teenager being careless with the hinge on a laptop (I regret that I was in 1995, when it was uncommon for a 14-year-old to have a laptop). Wouldn't it be nice if just the housing could be replaced or repaired?


> My phone's battery would last 2 seconds if it used the > processor my laptop would use.

lucky we ain't gonna be using processors that are in the laptops that you're currently buying, then, eh? :)

> And my laptop would be slow as shit if it used a > processor compatible with a mobile phone.

again, luckily, it's possible to upgrade this design (for a fraction of the cost) so that that's not such a problem, then, eh? :)

if you look at the videos i made you'll find that the performance is "good enough", and if you truly consider it not to be "good enough" (for you) but you'd still like to back the project so we can get to the point where it's "good enough (for you)", you can always get the pass-through card.

https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micro-desktop/updates/spe... https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micro-desktop/updates/web... https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micro-desktop/updates/ced... https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micro-desktop/updates/pas...

basically i've come up with a strategy where i can reach the goal that you're looking for.... in financially responsible steps that allow me to retain 100% control of the project. no VC funding. sponsorship only. that we've got this far, if i'm allowed to assess it impartially: that's pretty fg awesome all on its own.

> 3D printers have terrible quality.

china-produced 3D printers are even worse than terrible: they're illegal (copyright-violating) and* the only thing that's good about them is that you end up with a stack of parts that's cheap. people who've bought them instantly regret it.

no, you have to be REALLY careful about where you get your 3D printer from. the one that DJDemon made - an all-aluminium design - is pretty damn good. https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micro-desktop/updates/pri...

> You'd be printing out replacement parts every month.

correct... if you pick the worst-quality PLA available on the market, today. if however you use high-quality PLA such as that from Faberdashery, or if you use Polycarbonate or Nylon.... no.

also it's down to internal design: the base back part that i designed uses an internal structure similar to that used in Gothic Cathedrals. the result was a part so strong that on attempting to snap it with my hands i actually became concerned for my safety due to the amount of pressure i was applying to be able to bend it.

> They are for prototyping.

that's right. so what we will be doing when this gets to MOQ 2500 and above is: going to injection-molding... BUT - and this is really REALLY important - the parts will be EXACTLY THE SAME so that people can, on buying a mass-produced variant of this laptop housing, go down to a local library or go to UPS's web site and order a replacement.

if they really want high quality they can go to shapeways and get it powder-printed. it'll cost them a fortune but they'll get a "decent-looking" replacement part.

> I've never had a monitor fail on me, is this an > actual problem?

this was a way to illustrate flexibility. lots of people were saying "what happens if the LCD on the laptop breaks and i can't replace it" etc. etc.

and yes i have actually managed to break monitors by running them at higher-than-rated refresh rates.... oops :)

> Aside from hobbyists, I'm not sure anyone actually > wants this product.

well, we're almost up to 1,000 backers so i must be doing _something_ right!


Look at the new MacBook airs motherboard sometime


I kind of wish that this was simply transferring the userland (maybe state) from one device to another instead of carrying as much computing power you can cram into a credit card sized device.

I want my laptop to last 10h while being very portable, so I will gladly sacrifice performance there whereas when I am at my desktop I do not have the same limitation.

If I could simply unplug this from my desktop and plug into my laptop to resume my work that would be interesting to me, or work to home etc., but as is it feels more like a gimmick.


You kind of can already, stick linux on an ssd and just carry it about. I say ssd because not only are they fast, they can be powered over USB.

I suppose the optimal version of this would be to have your userspace carried on a cell phone, so you could plug your phone into any desktop and use it. There's already kind of versions of this, one where the laptop is basically a dumb terminal, and another called drivedroid which allows you to treat your phone as a bootable disk.


> I kind of wish that this was simply transferring the > userland (maybe state) from one device to another > instead of carrying as much computing power you can > cram into a credit card sized device.

yehhh that's a software thing... look how that's worked out in a completely oversaturated market that's controlled by a few massive incumbents with profit-maximisation as their sole objective.

... not working out so well, is it?

> I want my laptop to last 10h

that's just about doable with this design, and you can always get one of those portable 10000mAh external battery packs - just make sure it can do 12V and has a 5.5mm DC pin positive jack.

> while being very portable,

... how does 1.1kg grab ya? :) or, how about 40 grams for the computer card?

> If I could simply unplug this from my desktop > and plug into my laptop to resume my work > that would be interesting to me,

you can simply unplug this from the desktop housing and plug it into the laptop housing - that was the whole idea man! :)


I think you missed the point of the comment you're replying to. If I understand correctly, the parent commenter doesn't want a low-power processor, the kind that's appropriate for a phone or tablet or laptop, in their non-battery-powered desktop.

That said, you're right that the likes of Microsoft, Apple, and Google haven't had any incentive to make it easy for someone to easily transfer their whole computing configuration from one machine to another.


allo mwcampbell, did i see you on reddit a few days ago? so much has happened so fast :)

i understood it differently, but there are definitely people who don't want today's low-power tablet-style processors in a desktop computer.

(aside: let's remember that tomorrow's desktop processors will be lower power and more powerful even than today's tablet-style processors!)

those people are the ones that i'm specifically not targetting, here. i'm targetting the "good enough" crowd. and the makers. and the libre people. and those who are fed up with being spied on through devices that they paid for. we don't like paying to be snooped on, that's just f*g cheek.


> allo mwcampbell, did i see you on reddit a few days ago? so much has happened so fast :)

No, but I'm the one that pointed out this HN thread on the arm-netbook list.

Edit: Oh, and I talked to you a little on the #arm-netbook IRC channel a few weeks ago. I use the same nick on IRC as here.


A fun thing is that it is possible with the Qubes architecture, since VMs can be saved to a file and resumed at will (although qubes-rpc may not support it properly). Xen also has some other useful features like live transfer.

Note: I have not actually tested any of this due to lack of time, but is seems quite possible, although some software modifications may be needed.


the Allwinner A20, amazingly has Virtualisation: it's a Cortex A7 (the baby brother of the A15). google "Xen allwinner A20" for instructions on how to set it up. i'm looking forward one day to trying out android where it belongs: as a highly restricted and compartmentalised "application" that can be run full-screen on the desktop of a trusted OS.


It had also occurred to me that virtualization might be the best way to get Android running on an ARM-based EOMA68 computer, especially in a desktop or laptop housing. The Shashlik project (http://www.shashlik.io/) might be useful as a starting point for getting there. My one concern is that, in my experience with virtualization on a Windows PC, audio in a VM always has noticeable latency. But maybe it'll be better with Linux as the host OS, especially if the Android guest OS can be modified to cooperate more closely with the virtualization layer. Some equivalent of VirtIO for audio.


I like the concept, especially the compute module you can move around. But the this call to action for a crowd funded platform is based on "truly open" ? Given that I was a bit disappointed it was using an Allwinner A20 CPU, at this point shouldn't "truly" open source use a chip with a RISC-V core?


1. Is there any RISC-V silicon available?

2. Is there even a complete spec for RISC-V?

3. At that level of paranoia, you're always going to probe deeper... Suppose someone inserted backdoors into your RISC-V core. Suppose the fab house has backdoors in the layout tools. Suppose an oversight committee got paid off...


> 1. Is there any RISC-V silicon available?

not anything useful

> 2. Is there even a complete spec for RISC-V?

yes.

> 3. At that level of paranoia, you're always going > to probe deeper... Suppose someone inserted backdoors > into your RISC-V core. Suppose the fab house has > backdoors in the layout tools. Suppose an oversight > committee got paid off...

the damage that would be done to the reputation of any company stupid enough to allow backdoors to be slipped into their tools would be... they'd be finished. absolutely NOBODY would trust them EVER AGAIN - not their billion-dollar customers or the Military or the Intelligence Services that utilise their tools on a daily basis.

no - what you're suggesting is, far from being a plausible scenario, is in fact those companies WORST NIGHTMARE scenario because it's the day that they go out of business and probably have agents from all over the world queueing up to murder them! i love that film with john travolta, "this is incredible. i never seen anything like this. ya actually gotta get in line to whack this guy"....


My understanding is that the Allwinner A20 is one of the very few systems produced today that can be used with 100% free software. Not that Allwinner themselves helped very much, from what I've read — the sunxi community has spent a lot of energy on reverse engineering.


I was briefly involved with this back when the project started --- I quit after having one run-in too many with the project lead, who was, um, difficult --- and the Allwinner kernel was best described as a ghastly mess.

It had, e.g., a big chunk of code bolted on that loaded a binary data file at boot time and configured the various peripherals. My suspicion is that that was the init code from an entirely different operating system completely that they'd just duct-taped onto the Linux kernel. Unwiring that was a problem.

The chip itself is pretty nice from the hackability perspective. It has a boot rom, like the processor in the Raspberry Pi, and is capable of loading the kernel from flash or an SD card, so you can build unbrickable hardware with it. (For years I ran my personal website off an A20-based TV set-top-box nailed to a plank.)

It's not entirely true about running entirely free code. Apart from the boot ROM, which I suspect you can change if you pay Allwinner enough money, it's got a Mali 400 GPU. There's some of an open source driver here: http://limadriver.org/ ...but I don't know how usable it is. If you want full acceleration I believe you need a blob.

It's still a four-year-old semi-obsolescent SoC, of course. Perfectly adequate for low-end work but compilation on it is for masochists. (I should know; I did.)


> the project lead, who was, um, difficult

ah! it's been so long, i've been so busy i couldn't remember who you were, out of curiosity had to look you up. yes. i remember. from successful experience of 10 years using wikis for note-taking in reverse-engineering projects, you insisted on posting unstructured information to a mailing list where it was then utterly impossible for anyone to find it (i don't mean me), help you with it (i don't mean me), collaborate with you on it (i don't mean me)

so... let's rewrite what you said to reflect it from your perspective.

> the project lead who has a lot of experience in > complex reverse-engineering, ongoing documentation, > information management and software libre, asked > me to respect certain rules... and i refused to do > so, causing his life and everybody's life to > become, um, "difficult"

you were causing me a significant amount of work by having to cut/paste things that you were writing to the list instead of putting them in the wiki and sending a link as i asked you to do, so that i was the one that was forced to clean up after you. not really very fair of you to do that to someone is it... but you blamed me for that? uhn??? how does that work??

so... yeah - that you left the list was a good thing because i was able to focus on what i was doing rather than having to clean up after you. sorry if you felt that that was unfair or "a run-in" or was "difficult", but it's real simple: when trying to find important information, if it's unstructured, it might as well not ever have been written. there's only so much that a google search can achieve. i trust that in the intervening years you've learned that by now.


  It had, e.g., a big chunk of code bolted on that
  loaded a binary data file at boot time and
  configured the various peripherals.
that's all been reverse-engineered, in fact the source for boot0/boot1 is now properly GPL'd.

i don't know who you are but we probably both contributed at different times - i was the one who released the first linux and u-boot kernel source to the public via my server, and later on did a usb sniff of the USB-FEL traffic by putting LIVESUIT.EXE into qemu, configuring qemu to give it access to one of the USB ports and uploading an OS to one of my Computer Cards. that was enough for Henrik (hno) and others to complete the fex-boot program. i love doing that stuff.

anyway, upshot is: after a LOT of work by a LOT of people (including yourself it sounds like), the A20 is one of the few china processors that's fully libre reverse-engineered for its boot process, contains no DRM, and even the Video decode engine and 2D GPU are now reverse-engineered.

there aren't very many processors you can say that about - if you do know of any please tell me because i will need to make an in-depth evaluation.


You're right, I forgot about the GPU. I consider that a very optional part of the computer.

I've also used an A20 for compilation... briefly. And not much was compiled in the brief period ;)

As for the boot ROM blob, do you know if that is the 'boot0 and boot1' that Olimex apparently published the source code for?

http://linux-sunxi.org/BROM#Source_code_for_boot0_and_boot1


I'm way out of touch these days, but it looks like it.

I wonder if anyone's verified that the code in the boot room on this device really is what you get when you build the boot0 code? I wonder what sort of maliciousness you could fit in there if you tried...


hno has extracted and part-reverse-engineered the eGON boot ROM, it's clearly visible and available as the allwinner engineers didn't have time (or funding) to rush out anything other than what you see. imagine the shit-storm that would occur if they tried. you really think that in today's cut-throat market they'd even remotely risk "being found out"?

no, the chances of them making a glaring and incompetent accidental mistake that compromises on security are far, far higher than them getting involved in deliberately adding malicious spying code into the device.

you have to remember that the A20 was designed along "unbrickable" lines, so that they could help out incompetent OEMs and ODMs who took it on themselves to "experiment" by making random changes to the design. any kind of DRM would be a serious impediment to that... so they didn't add any.



While the current SoC may not be, the interconnect between the card and the rest is.

http://elinux.org/Embedded_Open_Modular_Architecture/EOMA-68


we don't have a lot of choice at the moment, from a practical and self-funding perspective which retains 100% control and thus can remain true to its ethical business roots. i outline a SMALL selection of the dozens of processors evaluated over the past five years, here:

https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micro-desktop/updates/pic...

since then i've been alerted to 2 more processors... but anyway the point is: out of all the ones on that list, the A20 is by far and above the most "ethical" one - irony that, given allwinner's background - that we can GAIN ACCESS to, that is also capable of running 1080p60 video so that people can go "ehhh.... yeahh okay, i could put up with that for a year whilst these guys figure out the next Computer Card".

now, there's been a lot of discussion and evaluation on various other forums including phoronix and reddit about RISC-V, i was going to do a separate update about it, but basically, RISC-V is not ready for prime-time.

or, more specifically, the people doing SoCs based around RISC-V haven't yet put something together that would match the minimum functional requirements of EOMA68. those requirements are quite modest, including 18-pin RGB/TTL @ 1366x768, SD/MMC, I2C, SPI, UART, PWM GPIO, EINT GPIO and 2 USB interfaces... but they still haven't actually managed that. the closest team that has is the lowRisc team.

now, on top of that, we need operating systems. it's no good trying to think you're going to raise $1m on crowdfunding selling 10,000 computers if the only OSes available are based on "linux from scratch" or "buildroot" for embedded computers. you need debian, you need android, you need chromeos, you need arch, parabola, gentoo - everybody needs to get on board.

once you become aware of these things you start to realise that RISC-V based SoCs and required OSes are at least 3 to 8 years out, so it would be much much better to start with something like MIPS64 for now.

if you know of a way to raise between $5m and $10m i can start that process NOW and have a chip ready in about 18 to 24 months. i've been through the process back in 2012 (google "Towards an FSF Endorseable Processor slashdot") so know what needs to get done.


So...what exactly is in the little card?

> You can literally plug in a new CPU -- or swap your CPU into a variety of devices.

Either they're using the term "CPU" in a colloquial sense to refer to the processor plus other things, or it's literally just the processor. If it's the latter, what's the point? The CPU is hardly the important thing when I'm switching between devices. If anything, I would want a set of devices that all boot from the same storage device.


where did you see that misquoted? there was an article on zdnet which was so badly written that i refused to put it on the campaign front page - the editor totally garbled pretty much everything about the project.

the CORRECT phrase to use is:

"You can literally plug in a new COMPUTER CARD -- or swap your COMPUTER CARD into a variety of devices".

does that start to make much more sense now?


I find the PCMCIA format a bit too restrictive.

I would prefer to have a larger card with female HDMI (or DP) and USB (female for power and eventual storage access by a beefier host and male to use the mouse and the trackpad and other USB ports on the laptop or dock.


there really are very few form-factors that could be considered. here's where i've exhaustively evaluated all the ones that i could find: http://elinux.org/Embedded_Open_Modular_Architecture

the A20 computer card has Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB-OTG and Micro-SD. it's effectively the same as one of those USB dongle computers in that regard, so we're providing the option for people to pledge for a "cable kit". take care if you're going to source your own! make damn sure it's the right type, you want one that's "OTG Host Power" - many of the ones that you can find online DO NOT do the bidirectional power provision that you need.


The idea is that all the major ports etc will be covered by a shell going around the card.


Maybe they can sell this to F-16 squadrons. The F-16 loads its targeting information from a PCMCIA memory card. They're having trouble getting machines that can still talk to PCMCIA cards.


it's not PCMCIA compatible. the connectors and housings are still available - the problem is getting hold of the chipsets. yes there are a few processors around that can do PCMCIA, but they're rapidly going out of production nowadays. you might be able to bodge something together because PCMCIA is effectively just the ISA bus... anyway... digression... :)


Um, it has:

- Micro-HDMI Interface (for 2nd monitor)

- Micro-USB-OTG (bi-directional power)

USB-C would be great though


> USB-C would be great though

when the USB3 world stabilises - even intel can't get it right. also it'll be a while before GPL-compliant SoCs come out that have stable USB3 hardware. it's quite costly at the moment and the low-to-medium end tablet/smartphone fabless semi companies can't justify the cost.


What we need/want is to use our phones.

There should be a dock that lets the phone use a faster processor and GPU etc. Data would be stored on the phone and accessible but for desktop performance and full os it would need to be docked.


It exists. It's called a computer and it can read the files you store on your phone while using a much more powerful processor and a more complete OS.


This. If the "dock" is using a better processor for computing then it's not just a dock, it's its own computer.


* how compatible are all the different file-formats? * have you worked out how to bypass the DRM inherent in many of these phones? * does the device even have a means to transfer the data! ipads force you to use "cloud" services (other people's computers) for goodness sake!

:)


lots of people also answered this but what you're referring to is called a "Lapdock". the first ones that brought this to the mainstream were the "Motorola Atrix Lapdock". google "Atrix Lapdock Hack" for some fascinating reading - if you're going to replicate it make damn sure you track down a Version 1 because version 2 has DRM in it.

or you could look up the "NexDock" or the "Superbook". ooor..... you could get one of the EOMA68 15.6in Laptop Housings plus a "Passthrough" Card and use that... :) https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micro-desktop/updates/pas...


This feels like what windows continuum is (was?) trying to do. Maybe if Microsoft and Intel hadn't both given up on phones, we could have a continuum phone with an x86 processor, so the full windows library while docked.


> Maybe if Microsoft and Intel hadn't both given up on phones

maybe there's a backlash against the wintel cartel that leads people to no longer trust them. maybe the DRM-locking that goes onto the microsoft phones and intel-based phones respectively is enough that people are absolutely sick of them.


While neat in theory, this have zero practical possibility.

It could be improved a bit if they used a smartphone instead of a card, but that still leaves the problem of there being no "base stations" around.

Perhaps a better idea would be something like an HDMI computer - a stick that carries everything and is pluggable into a regular TV, but that's invented already.


> While neat in theory, this have zero practical > possibility.

how so? at the time of writing almost 1,000 backers would disagree with you.

> It could be improved a bit if they used a smartphone > instead of a card, but that still leaves the problem of > there being no "base stations" around.

smartphones are typically DRM-locked, have unethical OSes that make it impossible for people to say that they truly own their own devices, are so full of spying at the HARDWARE level it's just flat-out nuts, and the components are so cartelled it's just.... gahh :) google "qualcomm 900 million security vulnerability" and you'll start to understand why i didn't start with a smartphone!

> Perhaps a better idea would be something like an HDMI > computer - a stick that carries everything and is > pluggable into a regular TV, but that's invented already.

it is... but look at what you have: a morass of cables. by total contrast, you can simply plug the Computer Card snugly into the Laptop Housing (or any other Housing) and it won't get destroyed accidentally.


> Perhaps a better idea would be something like an HDMI computer - a stick that carries everything and is pluggable into a regular TV, but that's invented already.

Would it even be possible to make a free/libre machine which uses HDMI? One of the reasons I don't use HDMI/HD equipment is because of they use DRM (and, of course, because there's nothing wrong with my VGA equipment)


HDMI does not mandate HDCP. You can use it as just DVI with audio if you want. That's the default mode for all PCs and the Xbox consoles, which only switch to HDCP mode if you try to play DRM-protected content like Blurays.

PS3 is shitty and runs in HDCP mode all the time, but that's Sony for you.

As far as I'm aware even on HDCP-compliant hardware none of the Linux drivers can even use it if they wanted to.


the DRM on HDMI is so broken - even the master key has been reverse-engineered - that it's completely open, now.




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