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MNT Reform: DIY portable computer (mntmn.com)
199 points by mntmn on Oct 19, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 57 comments

Tiny quibble, but it's mentioned more than once in the article that the NXP i.MX6 is an "ARM9" processor. It is not.

i.MX6 uses ARM Cortex-A9 which is very different from ARM9.



ARM has the stupidest, most confusing naming scheme ever for their CPUs, architectures, and instruction sets.

You are right, although I found only one place where this was stated. It is corrected now. Thanks!

There's also "ARM9" in the "fake amazon" pic from the article: http://mntmn.com/reform/photos/fakeamazon.png

I prefer desktops because they are more modular, which gives me the ability to precisely choose components and upgrade incrementally. This also helps foster a competitive marketplace without thirty layers of vendor lock-in.

However, I'm not against laptops intrinsically, and if someone could make a modular one I'm all for it. When paired with a docking station connected to multiple monitors, keyboard, mouse, speakers, etc then laptops lose most of their downsides in terms of productivity and ergonomics.

My love of mechanical keyboards is a limiting factor, of course, but this keyboard looks half way decent.

This is just fantastic, because it gives us laptop owners a way to prevent "planned obsolescence". I'm very sure many of us HN readers would like not only to repair our computer ourselves {which can already be done with regular laptops, to a certain extent}, but also to upgrade them fully.

This is very much like the Novena[1] laptop from 2014.

[1] https://www.crowdsupply.com/sutajio-kosagi/novena

Yes, I referenced the Novena multiple times in the article. I also read bunnie's book, The Hardware Hacker. While Novena is a brilliant pioneering effort, you have to spend 550$ only on the board, though. Our board is less ambitious and cheaper, though, and we target a complete DIY package including a "chassis" in the 500-600 EUR range.

Exciting project! That thing looks like a lot of fun.

I agree on the trackball.

I'm interested in having something like a XD75RE ortholinear keyboard on it. Using all 1x1 keys should simplify the build.

i have DIY ortholinear keyboard. 1x1 spacebar, and lots of usefull buttons under my thumb, i was thinking about making it low powered portable device which can work as a regular keyboard, onion or raspberry with small powerbank an 7" screen. I really hate modern laptop keyboards, we can make them so much more usefull and convenient, but yet, all fancy new devices come with ancient typewriter layout which was result compromise resulted from engineering and mechanical challenges. We have no mechanical challenges now, but still using misaligned, less usable keyboards, why?

Pure opensource device would be really nice, i am not willing to waste money on MS Surface(it can run linux well, and i can use my keyboard with it) or experiment with low powered cheap raspberry, should be enough for typing notes, communication, and vim, something more powerful with proper keyboard, or just a tablet would be perfect for me

I hate the tiny key travel, flat keycaps, removal of pgup/down/ins/del, and putting the function keys as secondary functions of media keys I never use.

> We have no mechanical challenges now, but still using misaligned, less usable keyboards, why?

Inertia. And I have trouble finding an intuitive reason why an aligned grid would make typing easier; just sounds like something slightly different for my muscle memory to adjust to. I can imagine something like the combination of aligned keys spread into a slight arc shape being nicer, just because of the angles involved.

Grid is a bit more intuitive for me, i am not sure how curves and arcs will do for me, grid is really easy mental map, befor this grid keyboard i was not 10-finger typist, now i am, even on regular keyboards.

Biggest downside of regular keyboard - spacebar lots of useless space, put 5 buttons instead of one, your thumb can push a lot of buttons while other fingers do not leave home row, make 2 of them space, shift, ctrl, backspace buttons under your thumb. This is main reason ErgoDox or Kinesis are good, and regular backspace and return key position sucks, keeping index finger on J while pressing Backspace with pinky is a challenge that moves your palm.

I'd go with a ThinkPad X60 or T60 keyboard + trackpoint plugged in via the ribbon cable. Hundreds of them on eBay + many loyal fans looking for a modern housing.

This is really cool. I've wanted to do something similar for a while now. I've lately just taken to buying stupid cheap laptops from chinese manufacturers. That way if they go belly-up I'm not out more than a few hundred dollars.

I may have to try building one of these sometime though.

> I've lately just taken to buying stupid cheap laptops from chinese manufacturers. That way if they go belly-up I'm not out more than a few hundred dollars.

If size and weight is not a big problem you can just buy a bunch of old Lenovo T410/T420/T510/T520 from Craigslist/ebay. They are fully serviceable and you can replace all the parts on your own

My most recent purchase was the ChuWi Lapbook 12.3 which is about as light as a Macbook Air.

I'm not concerned with weight so much as having at least a 1080p screen. I find anything smaller makes it harder to actually get much done without a second monitor. I guess I'm spoiled a little since I have a triple-monitor setup for work most of the time.

I keep having similar thoughts as well. Something based around a raspberry pi, with a thinkpad style keyboard, including the pointer stick. Then have a small (~7inch) touchscreen and you're good to go.

I've been inspired by this:https://gizmodo.com/heres-a-pretty-legit-gibsonian-cyberdeck...

Me too! I put together something similar a while ago [1]. It was great fun to build, but doesn't make a very ergonomic computer :)

[1] http://makezine.com/2017/06/15/commute-deck-keyboard-device/

Have you heard of the GPD pocket [1]? It's not so far from what you describe, although I often find myself wishing it had an extra inch or so: the keyboard is pretty cramped.

[1] https://www.windowscentral.com/gpd-pocket-review

I hadn't heard of the GPD (thanks for sharing). I have been keeping an eye on the Gemini: http://www.zdnet.com/article/a-retro-computer-brings-touch-t...

Interesting. I've found that used business-class laptops from several years ago do nicely. I use a ThinkPad L420 and EliteBook 8460p daily, and they both work well for me. They are reliable and robust.

My old employer once had a batch of L512, they did not feel great. X or T series got much more love from Lenovo and should be easy to get pre-used.

Agreed. I wouldn't buy an L series myself. The EliteBook is mine and the ThinkPad belongs to my employer.

I need more RAM (for chrome's greedy self) than a pi can offer. But that is the only area where that sort of project falls short. Other than Chrome all I need is VPN capability and a terminal.

agreed. I use the cheap machines I mentioned as a cheap light-weight development machine. I required probably at least 6GB of RAM for the machine to run smoothly, which is still pretty low for a dev machine.

Raspberry Pi laptop: https://pi-top.com/

An e-ink option is mentioned but I wonder where they can even find a supplier for the screen. I looked but could never find one.

And I love this. I would buy one in a heartbeat

it looks like 9.7" e-ink displays are pretty easy to source, I wonder if a bezel around it would help move toward an e-ink display.

This has a PCIe x1 if I gather correctly. Not sure how would you attach a USB C chip to that.

Speaking of, I really would love if someone assembled a tiny computer with an USB C socket on one end and an M.2 key M (just PCIe 2.0 x2 is enough) with a simple copying firmware thus creating an external enclosure for M.2 key M disks. As Intel does not allow selling Thunderbolt enclosures empty there really is no other way. But, this could work and while 10 gbps is not the fastest, it's still quite a bit faster than 6 gbps SATA... Right now, the cheapest you can get is the BOXNUC7I3BNK and then probably run networking over Thunderbolt which is stupidly limited to 10gbps as well...

You probably mean USB 3.1 for which PCIe 2.0 x1 Bandwidth seems not sufficient, but USB-C can also serve USB 2.0 and charging independently of that, or am I wrong?

Notably this is the same person behind InterimOS[0], which is a from-scratch OS targeted at the raspberry PI.

0: http://interim-os.com/

That link has an interesting write-up which includes a story about a computer he made himself using a micro-controller and then it goes on to talk about making the OS for the Raspberry Pi and also has some criticism of the Raspberry Pi. Would recommend reading.

Interesting. It's a bit of reinventing the wheel (Novena, Pandora/Pyra), but I can definitely see the appeal. This is a way to truly "own" your own system, because you have complete control over every aspect of its existence.

The Novena is a really cheap reverse-engineering work station but it's also a really expensive underpowered laptop. I think this is a different class of device.

> , Pandora/Pyra),

The Pandora and upcoming Pyra don't have FOSS GPU drivers available at all, though. The Pandora is ridden with GPU bugs because the current GPU drivers were never properly supported and have some broken OpenGL implementation.

Complete control of parts list, you mean?

This is exactly something I've been looking to do for myself. Highly inspiring!!!

A side note, and probably I am completely wrong, but wouldn't it be possible to use/find a suitable pre-made "normal" mini keyboard?

It seems to me a lot of work to assemble even the keyboard, switch by switch and cap by cap...

For a small project I made (using an old decommissioned "thin client") I used and el-cheapo (paid it some 5 Euro) mini USB keyboard, and while surely it is not a model M, it feels much better than a number of "recent" laptop keyboards (with 0 or almost 0 key travel) I happened to try.

This is really cool! One of my dreams is to own a modern Tandy 100/200 - a hackable, portable ARM machine that preferably lasts forever (hopefully the battery thing is straightened out..)

Two rows of function keys! That's an interesting design decision, I suppose as long as you have the real estate, why not.

There is only one row. The one below the top is a strange and alien one called "number keys".

Sure, I am used to them being doubled up on laptops, nice to have dedicated keys for a change.

Interesting. Does this have a built-in speaker or speakers? What about a headphone jack?

The first prototype doesn't have speakers, but I want to include some in the second prototype. This is something that I missed putting in the article. For sound/headphone jack, I am currently using a tiny Renkforce USB audio adapter.

It was very mature of them to admit defeat on the trackpad and put a trackball on it instead.

A lot of big PC manufacturers really shouldn't bother putting trackpads on their computers until they manage to manufacture or source a decent quality one.

Happy to see the love for trackballs here. I was using a trackball as a relief from hand joint pain and found it kind of nice and more exciting than a mediocre trackpad. (But: the idea is to have the input/pointing device of your choice!)

Looking at the thickness of the device (I do realize you want to thin it out a bit), I would use the area as a storage bin for a wireless mouse:) Seriously... I'm not kidding - I can't get comfortable with anything else.

I can imagine having a sliding panel in that area that closes securely and seamlessly - so as to blend nicely with the casing.

I like trackballs, and I would much rather use one than most track pads.

I love trackballs, so I applaud this decision. Although, comfortable trackballs are the big ones.

The trackball also fits in perfectly with the whole nostalgic vibe of this project.

why reinvent the wheel on keycaps?

I want to turn my 60% keyboard into a C64 clone and the full keyboard would have fit in there. also would have just used an ipad for a screen.

Openness of their component parts was a key goal. Reusing a legacy keyboard and using a super-closed platform like an iPad to get a display going seems really counterproductive in that regard.

Additionally, how would you link the iPad display linked to an i.MX board in the first place? Some kind of remote desktop app? Sounds like a terrible solution to me...

Amazon sellers have replacement iPad screens going for less than $50.

Open source display adapters do exist: https://hackaday.com/2014/03/12/an-open-source-ipad-display-...

Someone in the comments linked a cheaper alternative: http://abusemark.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&...

Seems that the firmware for this cheaper alternative is not open source but from what I gather it doesn't need any proprietary drivers on Linux. Since it interfaces over Display Port and USB I don't think it should be able to do anything nasty so the closed firmware doesn't matter much IMO.

It's not clear to me whether either of the one you linked and the one I linked has touch support.

Yea, too bad the Vivaldi tablet project died.

how come the motherboard isn't a small desktop form factor such as mini-itx?

Nice attempt, too many regressions.

Needs just a bit more aesthetics, compute* and ios.

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