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Building an E-Ink Laptop (alexsoto.dev)
348 points by alex-a-soto 52 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 158 comments

Hey folks, I've recently had the idea of building an e-ink laptop from the devices I had at home. I decided to document the process and share each step of the way:

Some of the posts planned for the series are: Dasung Paperlike HD-FT teardown, Thinkpad T480 teardown, Creating the prototype, Installing and configuring NixOS, M-x e-ink-laptop-mode

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out.

What a coincidence! I just (2 days ago) started planning a somewhat similar project. I'm converting a different model thinkpad, adding an e-ink display. I will be watching this project with great interest for tips, inspiration!

Thank you for writing it up.

Thank you! And I agree, what a coincidence! What Thinkpad and panel are you thinking of using?

I look forward to your project as well. Best of luck!

Can you have RSS on your blog to follow the next posts?

I just replied in a Twitter DM with the details. (A DM instead of here for reasons explained in the DM, but basically if it was a week later in time I could post about it here).

I would also appreciate an RSS feed

Great project - I’ve also thought about this kind of thing.

Have you experimented with the Dasung Display much? I tried one and found it too noisy at displaying text.

Admittedly it was just connected to a Mac, but it deterred me from keeping hold of it.

Also - does ‘M-x e-ink-laptop-mode’ refer to a real thing, or is that a placeholder for something you are going to write?

Thank you! Yes! I own a Dasung Paperlike Pro and Dasung Paperlike HD-FT. The Paperlike Pro required a driver to change modes/make adjustments. The Dasung Paperlike HD-FT is excellent; you don't have to install any drivers.

I've used the monitors for a few years now, and some adjustments need to be made and vary on the operating system used, the fonts/text being one of the settings to change.

The M-x e-ink-laptop-mode, was about emacs. I spend most of my time in emacs, and I intend to write an "eink-laptop-mode" that adjusts color, text, makes it more suitable for writing, etc.

> I've used the monitors for a few years now, and some adjustments need to be made and vary on the operating system used, the fonts/text being one of the settings to change.

I found the Mac desktop didn’t work particularly well. I was considering trying a text only setup - e.g. Linux with i3, but never got around to it.

> The M-x e-ink-laptop-mode, was about emacs. I spend most of my time in emacs, and I intend to write an "eink-laptop-mode" that adjusts color, text, makes it more suitable for writing, etc.

That’s what I guessed. I agree e-ink needs software adaptation to get the best out of it.

I've used the monitors with Manjaro, NixOS, primarily using i3wm, and it has worked well for me. I agree; part of the software problem is the high price tag on the hardware creating a smaller community as a result.

Can you please add an RSS feed for your blog? Would like to subscribe for updates.

Thank you for the reminder! Will do!

What program do you use for rss subscriptions?

NewsBlur[1] for syncing, Reeder[2] for reading and backing up to local OPML file (can also be done via NewsBlur's web app: Preferences > General > "Backup your sites" > "Download OPML").

[1] https://newsblur.com/

[2] https://reederapp.com/

I use Feedbin, which can’t find an RSS on https://alexsoto.dev/index.html either

I've been thinking about such a project for a long time (maybe incorporating a raspi & Dactyl mechanical keyboard instead) but never got around to building something (bought an M1 instead haha).

Congrats on the build and write up, it looks awesome and I'll be following your posts!

Thank you! The Raspberry Pi and a Dactyl mechanical keyboard sound like a lovely combination. If you ever decide to go ahead and build it, let me know!

Good stuff!

I did a screen conversion on a thinkpad t430s which I still have (not Eink, just a better LCD). Do you know of any 16:9 eink displays that take eDP as input? Or anything that would fit in a 14” chassis?

Just beginning to get into the eink world so some direction would be super helpful. Would definitely be up for swapping one into my thinkpad.

Awesome! I did something similar with my Thinkpad X230. I don't yet know of any 16:9 eink displays that take eDP as an input. I'll do some digging/research and let you know.

Awesome project. I wonder what custom .nix files would be involved with this setup.

This is about porting a distribution to hardware. Nixos is really great at bootstrapping/rebuilding a system against your own clone of nixpkgs.

The complaints of the article ends with any Linux distribution and docker. I'm not sure which distributions would use docker in their own porting process. Most distributions have a huge distinction between users and maintainers and probably no one who is a target of that article is aware of the pains of maintaining a Linux distribution when they agree traditional distributions are fun.

Seems like a very interesting project - please keep us updated!

Nice project! How is the expirance of reading books online on the device? How long does the battery in the T480 last?

The reading experience is excellent! It depends a lot on the software that you are using and how it's customized. I mostly use emacs on the day-to-day. Battery life in the range of 10-13 hours, depending on the task.

Cool project. What's the refresh rate of the screen? Can you scroll down a webpage without a lot of latency?

Thanks, according to arandr, the screen refresh rate is 75hz; when adjusting the modes(M1, M2, M3 etc) it's entirely usable. I've used it for watching videos, meetings and doing my day-to-day activities with it.

It's going to be bad. Like 500ms probably.

Scrolling is pretty much worse case. The more of the display you repaint the longer it's going to take.

There's also a trade off...getting faster refresh means worse resolution and contrast.

So for lots of UI interactivity like scrolling etc. it might make sense to automatically adjust the resolution and contrast to optimize for speed (so you know roughly where you scrolled at) and then do a proper refresh once it is idle again. But I suppose this is out of the current scope of the project ...

Has anybody tried to retrofit a transflector into a laptop LCD screen? I've got no idea if this is even possible but I'd love to be able to just trigger a brightness=0 and see a smartwatch-type display that doesn't strain my eyes.

This is precisely what the OLPC screen did and it worked really quite beautifully.

Sadly doesn’t look like the spin off company producing the displays went anywhere :(


I came across a forum post asking about this. As it says you need to remove the polariser layers which is fairly easy (last time I replaced a laptop LCD it fell apart on disassembly and I was presented with many layers of plastic), but OP couldn't find a transreflector layer that was suitable. Without that it's too bright in sunlight, but maybe for indoor use it's good enough. I wonder if something like window tinting films would work (as they are partially reflective depending on the tint level).


How about carefully placed strips of retroreflective tape behind the display?

Reminds me of old-school passive matrix LCD displays (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_matrix_addressing) on laptops in the 1990s.

It is certainly possible, just not a popular demand for most laptops.

A Pebble monitor, that would be wonderful!

I used to have a Toshiba r500 with a transflective screen, it was kinda great outside but kinda crap inside, the viewing angle was abysmal.

Not a retrofit, but the HiSense Q5 seems to be this, new. I don’t own one, but considering it.

You can use Parabola-rM[1] with a reMarkable 1 tablet as an all-in-one solution, and like the T480 can be totally freedom-respecting using only libre software.

[1]: http://www.davisr.me/projects/parabola-rm/

Does it also work with reMarkable 2?

No, only RM1, but TBF no one has tried much low-level stuff with RM2.

Lenovo had a dual screen botebook with e-ink


Yes, but the e-ink screen was on the wrong side of the device. People like me and the author need an e-ink display for writing in broad sunlight.

What Lenovo need to do is to make a hybrid version of the ThinkBook Plus and ThinkPad Twist, and rename it as Lenovo BookPad for laptop with a twist-able dual e-ink and conventional monitors [1].


Probably not what you are looking for, but this: https://getfreewrite.com could be good for you.

Thanks a lot for the link! So this is like a remake of the Alpha Smart but with e-ink screen. Apart from the price it's nice but unfortunately I need one Windows program running on such a device (a specialized Word processor with features no other word processors have).

I would love an e-ink laptop because the screen backlight is one of the biggest battery drains.

It'd be interesting to see what the battery life of an e-ink laptop actually is. A laptop with the battery life of a kindle seems like an impossible dream

Ha, this is a good write-up on a very interesting topic I’ve been thinking about a lot myself recently.

The setup I’ve been thinking of putting together is similar, except I’ve been wanting to pair an e-ink monitor with something like a Raspberry Pi 400 (https://www.raspberrypi.org/products/raspberry-pi-400) for a kind of deliberately-slow, ultra-low-wattage dev and writing environment. End result would be extremely goofy I imagine, but that’s also part of the reason I want to do it!

Anyways, excited to see the rest of your posts on the project :)

Thank you for your kind words! The Raspberry Pi 400 is a fantastic computer, and I came close to purchasing one and using it for this project. Sadly, the classic style keyboard of a Thinkpad and a trackpoint won.

I love your idea for creating "a deliberately-slow, ultra-low-wattage dev and writing environment." Keep me posted on it! It sounds like it would rock!

Lenovo sells the Thinkpad style external usb keyboard. That could be torn down and connected to the Rpi. That was my idea anyway.

Or one from https://tex.com.tw/

The RP400 is all but "deliberality slow, ultra low wattage". It is actually faster and consumes more power than some low-end x86 laptops (Celeron, Atom)!

If slow is what you are looking for, there has finally been some movement on building controllers for bog-standard e-ink panels like you find in kindles. Refresh rate is far below the 75hz in this project, but the price is too. my 10 second search didn't find the project notes I had in mind but I'm pretty sure this is the same end result: https://www.waveshare.com/7.8inch-hdmi-e-paper.htm

The pi-400 seems to be a great match for an eInk display, I would be very interested in any progress you make!

$1000 for the screen. These E-ink patents can’t expire soon enough.

So what I don't get, is there's no shortage of jurisdictions where intellectual property doesn't seem to be worth the paper it's printed on, and really convincing counterfeits flood some well-known markets.

Where are the e-ink knockoffs? What sort of enforcement are these folks doing that nobody else seems to be able to?

The truth is that most real consumers (as apposed to us technologists) don't want e-ink technology. It is monochrome, can't do video, limited interactive due to refresh rate and ghosting... the only real thing it has going for it is low power usage. And that pairs well with applications where you spend a long time staring at the screen, and periodically initiating a compute burst to change the screen contents. In other words, e-readers and note-taking devices.

And consumers are fairly satisfied with devices that get charged once every day, and can take a 15 minute quick-charge to add multiple hours of additional usage to them.

Power consumption is not the only thing going for e-ink. The major win for e-ink IMO is readability in direct sunlight. If it's a nice day outside I have to stay indoors (or at least in shade) in order to do work. The only reason is that I can't see my display well.

As noted, we already have e-ink phones that can do both colour and video[1], while there is some ghosting it's getting to the point of usable. Just need a big display to match it.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EakZQlPvgIY&t=9m35s

But other screen technologies have actually _better_ contrast than eInk in direct sunlight (e.g. reflective LCD, mirror-backed). State-of-the-art eInk technology these days has actually WORSE contrast than in the early days! -- https://blog.the-ebook-reader.com/2021/01/20/contrast-on-e-i... (proving how much people care about it)

eInk's primary advantages are power (and only if your idle period is long enough; if you have to update it with any frequence you're going to lose pretty soon to a memory LCD); and angles/polarity (specially compared to LCD), which some people also claim produces less headaches.

Transflective LCD, ie pixel Qi.. look vastly more difficult to see in sunlight; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UEqd-AnGeI

The company also doesn't exist and only produced 10" 1024x600 screens, which are barely usable. If you know of another usable product, or have anything to back up your claims, please do share.

To put it simply: ask people who have the Pebble. Most of them incorrectly believe it is an eInk screen, but it is a reflective LCD.

I also have the Metawatch. These are purely reflective, not transflective. They boast whopping 20:1 contrast ratios -- https://www.sharpsma.com/products?sharpCategory=Memory%20LCD... . Even at its best days (carta) eInk didn't reach that 15:1 https://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/E_Ink_Carta , and nowadays it's more like 10:1.

Are there any reasonably-sized reflective LCD monitors?

A hybrid display, both e-ink, and either an OLED layer or an LCD layer sandwiched inside, seems like it could be done. It would be perfect for a tablet or phone format device. Active lit display when necessary, passive reflective display otherwise. It would be very expensive, but is probably already technically feasible today. I do hope something like that comes to the market affordably eventually.

A transflective LCD already does both of these to a very large degree. They're used by many watch manufacturers that prioritize outdoor use (e.g. Garmin) and/or battery life (e.g. Pebble, now defunct).

I've owned two devices with them so far, and quite frankly the newer one works just as well (if not better) than E-Ink outdoors but still has a backlight when necessary. Also, it can display color and smooth motion. The minor downside I see is the lack of an ability to display an image with zero battery consumption, such as on E-Ink, but the consumption is still so low that the transflective LCD watches can last weeks with an always-on display.

There is some new Eink phones out that have colour! But wihtout google play store, and they are still probably a long way off from having 10" + screens with colour. https://goodereader.com/blog/reviews/hisense-pro-cc-color-e-...

>But wihtout google play store

With the refresh rate of e-ink, wouldn't the google play store be useless anyway? Most apps would be unbearable (games a non-starter, scrolling a no-no, etc).

The marketing material for the display used in TFA shows a video being played at (almost) acceptable frame rates with little ghosting, for what it’s worth.

The "Patents are Bad!" trope always comes up in any e-ink thread. Not sure why. I love e-ink (I prefer to read books on a kindle), but I think if the demand were there the prices would come down, as you pointed out.

Demand doesn't bring prices down. Or not much anyway.

Everybody would like a Ferrari/Rolex/etc., but they don't get cheaper because of it. In fact, high demand combined with a monopoly means you don't need to lower prices at all. (You lower price to raise demand, but you don't need to if you have strong demand at your current prices).

Competition does lower prices. And with patents competition is impossible. As if for a competitor to make improvements to the process/technology, while still using parts of it (they would still infringe).

> Demand doesn't bring prices down. Or not much anyway.

In my experience in the display industry, the main driver of price is cost and the main driver of cost is volume. If a customer puts in a signed escrowed order for a million displays lilke what Apple did, then processes get scaled, factories get built, and per-unit prices go down.

That my understanding of how 6" matrix E-Ink displays went from costing thousands of dollars per display when they were being built in low volumes of hundreds of displays to costing sub-50 when they were being built for Sony, Amazon and others in volumes of hundreds of thousands of displays. The same is true of the LCD industry and the OLED industry. The same is true of the cellphone industry.

> And with patents competition is impossible

I can't understand what exactly you're talking about. Is this the E-Ink-is-expensive-because-of-patents trope? I've asked before whenever I see this trope on HN, what specific patent are you referring to? Patent thicket? This extraordinary claim requires evidence. I go to SID, never heard anyone claiming this kind of stuff. Tonnes of competition but physics, featureset, costs, volume, customer demand gets in the way. It is why even well funded companies like Liquavista-Amazon and Mirasol-Qualcom didn't make it.

>I can't understand what exactly you're talking about.

I'm talking about exactly this: if a company holds patents on a technology, other companies can't improve the same technology (using parts of the patented tech and improving specific aspects with inventions of their own) without licensing it.

>This extraordinary claim requires evidence.

Nothing extraordinary, and it's not about E-ink being cheap or expensive, it's just an invariant where there are patents.

> if a company holds patents on a technology, other companies can't improve the same technology

You're making a claim equivalent to saying Microsoft holds patents on operating system technologies, other companies can't improve the same technology.

I'm guessing you're not actually involved in the display industry because you chose not to reply with a clearly defined specific problem that is blocked by patents. I actually work in the display industry so I just see the repetition and self-citation claims (OP's article refers to yet another HN throwaway post) on HN as being disappointing.

>You're making a claim equivalent to saying Microsoft holds patents on operating system technologies, other companies can't improve the same technology.

No, I'm stating the fact that other companies can't improve the same exact technology (as defined in the patent).

If Microsoft has patents on aspects X, Y, Z of filesystems, other companies can still make filesystems, even improved ones.

But they can't make a filesystem that also leverages X, Y, Z (or any combination of them) unless they license, and also can't make a filesystem with an improved version of X, Y, or Z lest they infringe on the X, Y, Z pattent.

So this isn't about other companies still being able to make improved eg. OSes in the general sense, but if they can build improved OSes that also leverage the same patented techniques where needed (and they can't).

> I'm stating the fact that other companies can't improve the same exact technology (as defined in the patent).

That's equivalent to saying Samsung can't improve the same exact technology used by AU Optronics. Rightfully so.

> So this isn't about other companies still being able to make improved eg. OSes in the general sense, but if they can build improved OSes that also leverage the same patented techniques where needed (and they can't)

I think I've explained my point clearly enough. I'll wait for you to give some factual evidence as to which patent you believe is giving rise to your statement of "they can't".

>That's equivalent to saying Samsung can't improve the same exact technology used by AU Optronics. Rightfully so.

Well, that "rightly so" is where we disagree - and what patents were made to provide. If you are pro-patent, then that's that.

> If you are pro-patent, then that's that.

:-) I wouldn't describe myself as pro-patent. I would say I'm pro-fair play. If Alice spends years in front of a fume hood developing a new ITO coating or polymer that reduces cost and improves manufacturability of a product, then she deserves to be protected from corporate VP Big Bob getting his engineer to just reverse engineer Alice's work. If you agree that Alice's work deserves some protection for some period of time, then we both share the same concept of right/wrong. Whether patents are the best way, and how they can be made more effective and less vulnerable to turkeys and vultures, is a discussion we could have in good faith. But at the very least we would need to base the discussion on facts rather than what I see in some other posts (not alleging you have done this) where they're writing Kiplingesque just-so stories to explain display product pricing while not knowing the difference between ITO and AgNP.

Thanks for taking the time to argue with this person. I withheld--despite the downvote brigade--because I presume he has some other agenda for promoting this story.

Thanks for passive aggresively talking to a third party about me as "this person" and thanking them for the courage to discuss with me.

Thanks for having some persecution syndrome or conspiracy theory about "the downvote brigade" and about me having "some other agenda for promoting this story".

In actually, I don't give a duck about the E-ink industry, but I do dislike the effect patents have in general, and am talking out of general principles about that.

You might be happy with E-ink patents in particular or patens in general. You might also be an E-ink industry insider (wouldn't that make you the one that is more possible to have an "agenda" ot at least a vested interest?), and have far more information that me, a mere e-ink consumer, about the impact of patents there.

You could still respond (or not respond) on a thread about the impact on patents (on e-ink and in general) without being rude and second-guessing the other person.

How about that?

From what I read, the way eInk conducts their business, it is very difficult to launch new eInk products. This limits the available offerings which means there is no competition to drive the market priced down. I bought a reMarkable 2 because it seems to be perhaps the only device on the market which doesn't require a jailbreak or such to do even the most basic customizations. The only other alternative I have seen so far are DIY projects attaching a raw eInk screen to a Rapberry Pi.

> From what I read, the way eInk conducts their business, it is very difficult to launch new eInk products.

I have not read such claims. What I have read are individual small-scale customers approaching base layer producers like E-Ink and being disappointed after expecting assistance in getting their product ideas to market. That's analogous to a 10,000 unit/month or less customer approaching say a liquid crystal supplier, or AU Optronics and expecting any form of support or assistance. The outcome of such an interaction is pretty much guaranteed. Even the top tier distributors won't talk to you unless you're expected to order at least 100,000 units a year. Anything less and you go through the normal OEM development path of which there's tonnes of partners. You do what everybody else who has a display product idea does, which is go to SID or maybe just CES, and talk to OEM vendors. If you've got an E-Ink product idea, probably somebody like Netronix would be your OEM partner but even they probably won't talk to you unless you're putting down big NRE. That's just how it is. Volume drives the products. You can't have small volume and cheap unless you're reusing some component that someone else has driven the volume for. That's just as true in the display industry as it is in any other tech industry, eg: LCDs, OLEDs, CPUs, memory, sensors, even passives like resistors and capacitors!

Thank you for your comment. I updated the article and did a strikethrough in the sentence about e-ink and patents, 'Correction, this is an unsubstantiated claim.'

This sounds like a chicken or egg argument. Of course you'll give me wholesale pricing on volume in any market. But are product creators scared off when a big part of each unit's cost will go to license the screen technology?

> This sounds like a chicken or egg argument.

I don't follow. I also don't see how it is different than any other industry be it bricks or CPUs. Buy a few and the per unit price is high. Buy millions and the per unit price is low.

> Of course you'll give me wholesale pricing on volume in any market.


> But are product creators scared off when a big part of each unit's cost will go to license the screen technology?

I keep seeing this claim. I believe it is wrong and asked for evidence. In response to which OP has promised to correct the article. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26247268

Well I'm asking since you work in the industry, how much does it cost to license e-ink technology?

I don't know what you're asking. What does "license e-ink technology" mean specifically? It would be equivalent to asking how much does it cost to license Microsoft technology or Google technology? I hope you can see how the question is unanswerable.

I think it comes up whenever there's the opportunity because patents are legitimately bad. And I think it's the other way around - if prices were low and volumes were high lots of people would make cool marginal products with them.

They apparently buy up any competition to keep the market small. There have been other similar tech promised by startups but they buy them up. Pretty interesting! Infuriating too, of course. But the system is what it is. I'm surprised they can't make more money by cross licensing the tech and just granting royalties. I'm no economics expert though.

> "They apparently buy up any competition to keep the market small."

Which companies / patents did they buy up? I keep seeing this rumor floating around but their Wikipedia article lists exactly one acquisition (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_Ink#Acquisition) and a casual Google doesn't show any others.

One thing I don't get: Aren't the patents from the 90s? And US patents last 20 years, right? So why haven't they expired already?

They are constantly creating new patents:


Man, I didn't expect that to be 36 pages long. Crazy amount of patents.

They've got patents with issue dates through the mid 2000s.

Is there a particular year coming where it becomes a free-for-all?

The PixelQi display spun from the OLPC project was really good and clearly affordable, considering the original target market. Granted, E-ink is superior in many aspects, but I'd settle for a sunlight readable, low power monochrome LCD display. As an added benefit it updates much faster than E-ink.

> The PixelQi display spun from the OLPC project was really good and clearly affordable,

I am curious if you work in the display industry. Do you know what the pricing for PQi displays actually was? Did you actually use a PixelQi display on a daily basis yourself? To be clear, I'm not attempting to be negative, but I actually work in the display industry and found the PixelQi display on the OLPC-XO-1 to be unusable. My perception of the display was one with very low quality color with backlight; and terrible viewing angle and unreadable contrast levels in bright sunlight. It also had low resolution. The XO-1 display I had access to had lots of pixel defects. If I am not mistaken (as I do not know actual pricing that Quanta got for the PixelQi displays) they were more expensive than LCDs and required additional parts that made managing their supply chain overall difficult. Most experts in my industry that I talked to expressed the opinion that it was a reality-distortion field type charismatic executive who managed to convince people at OLPC to try that idea. It was funded by UN and money from developing countries budgets who were excited by the promise of being able to educate their masses. Sadly it looks as if those countries were taken for a ride, rather than benefiting from a genuinely merit based idea.

So I am very interested to hear what details you will share to back up the "really good" and "clearly affordable" parts of your claim. If your claim is true then it would suggest that my whole industry ought to abandon our current design and architectural roadmaps and switch to Jepsen's design! :-D I say that in a humourous context because last I heard in 2019 Jepsen abandoned badmouthing the entire display industry and switched to talking about telepathy and VR.

It appears that the Pixel Qi company no longer exists unfortunately:


When does the patent actually end? I see it noted here that the invention was 1997 and a typical patent is 20 years? What's the missing variable? (I know nothing about patents nor e-ink besides my paperwhite)

It is sad to see that this article itself is literally citing a throwaway HN comment about patents and E-Ink as if it was a fact. I questioned the veracity of that claim and never got a response from the poster.

I'll paste what I last commented about this because I'm already giving up trying to get any form of sane discussion on it.

" As I have stated, I was looking for evidence or proof for OP's claim about patents and did not find it, nor does OP appear to be able or willing to back up his/her claim. My opinion is that display pricing is driven primarily by volume, and secondarily by a lot of other rapidly fluctuating variables related to ITO/TFT manufacturing costs. I'm sure patents has some effect on the industry, but most likely negligible as I've never heard companies being impacted by it. At least not in my corner of the industry.

To be frank, I believe OP's claim about patents is wrong and is just some kind of worldview that for some reason has caught on recently in HN and is getting repeated without being challenged.

The simplest evidence I can give that volume is the main driver of pricing is to compare EPD 6" matrix display pricing between 2007 where it was 100x more expensive than it is today. Patents haven't changed. Volume has. That was driven by large scale buyers like Sony, Amazon, and others.


Thank you for providing this information; you are correct; I will update the original post.

Thank you for this information!

This is absurd. Not only we have no evidence whatsoever that any patents whatsoever are hampering e-ink in any way, but not only this does not prevent people here on HN from continuously claiming that, but in fact the very TFA's only source for this claim is HN ITSELF!

What's next, people will continue to repeat this bullshit while citing this article as source? Will we go full circle?

Yikes, sorry. There only seems to be a vague notion of supposed “limited market use” for e-ink which means that volume is low and therefore R&D investment is low and so on. Patents are a convenient scapegoat, for lack of something more convincing. I admit my opinion was shaped by the HN peanut gallery.

It seems kind of obvious to me that if it was cheaper people would reach for it more often and find cool uses for it. There’s some more circular logic for you.

The backlight on the Dasung HD-FT in the picture from the blog post seems to be way too bright, makes it appear to be lower contrast than it probably is..


Thank you! I'll make sure to include pictures without the backlight on.

Even the picture hurts my eyes

I wish I had a large e-ink display for coding. I imagine a large screen would be prohibitively expensive, and the latency will be terrible. Too bad. It would be nice for my eyes.

I did this. Latency sucks but that didn't matter for text editing.

But the drivers sucked and the screen was too small and you want to have a white background text editor just for the eink screen. Switch that to the wrong screen and you're suddenly blinded.

Was fun, but I wouldn't recommend it. Making everything dark mode is easier, or keeping screen brightness super low is the easier option.

"Latency sucks but that didn't matter for text editing."

Huh? Don't matter to you, or don't matter so much to you? Because I get annoyed, when there is a system stutter and I am editing text, because then the edits are not always where they should be.

I also get very frustrated by high latency text editors, but a consistent 1hz rendering can be slightly less frustrating if renders get applied consistently and you're confident your key strokes were recognized and will be applied.

It was a known limitation before the purchase. But, It was consistent. All the keystrokes went in in order and you get used to the new framerate really quickly.

Your issue (which I agree is mildly annoying) is about inconsistency.

Dasung recently revealed 25 inch eink monitor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTok6imfgoM

There was an actual picture of one on /r/eink and the screen surface was glossy. That's certainly curbed my enthusiasm.

I just want one for reading docs, specs, etc. Yeah the latency could be bad, but I recall reading somewhere that they can reach around 20hz overclocked which can’t be that bad. I’m pretty sure I’ve played games limited to 20fps before.

Hmm. Perhaps my experience with my nook and kindle are biasing me here. But those are also using the screen as a touch interface, which might be the bigger source of latency.

I'd mostly emacs in it, which seems pretty suitable for e-ink displays.

Usually you get the OS provided mouse though, running at 30 or 60hz. >20hz mouse movement is oh so horrible

I haven't used e-ink for a while, but the last one I did had a refresh rate of something like 1Hz. Is this still an issue with modern technology?

Correct, still about 500ms to get decent levels of separable reproducible grayscale. Claims of 10Hz like Dasung's A2 are often marketing interpretations of unstable 1-bit states. This is a limit of the physics of electrophoresis. To make it faster, they would have to abandon bistability. Some startups have gone that route, eg: ClearInk but they have not yet reached commercial scale.

What is bistability in this context? Confidence that the ink will rest in 'on' or 'off' configurations?

How does that relate to greyscale with multiple configurations and how does ClearInk manage pixel state?

Clearink does not rely on the foreground pigment particles coming to "rest" at a fixed position relative to the background pigment, ie: achieving a stable state. Instead they rely on driving the field for as long as the foreground is needed. As soon as it decays, the background pigment instantly rises back to the internally reflecting top plane. This allows the display to achieve much faster speeds since the pigments can be optimized for speed rather than stability.

From what this description sounds like, the foreground pigment would only remain at the forefront so long as a charge was applied. Doesn't this defeat the energy savings of eInk in that once you have updated the display it doesn't cost anything to hold its image?

Yes, it would lose the image once the display is no longer driven. The main attraction is the removal of the need for a backlight and the sunlight readability and all the other advantages that come from using actual pigments.

Great effort. I compromised and bought a Boox e-reader with a 10" screen, it runs Android so pared with a BT keyboard it is quite the productivity machine for when I need to write an essay or similar offline no distraction activities.

What you didn't say is that Dasung displays cost thousands of dollars. It's just too expensive to play with.

My apologies; I should have stated it in the post. You are correct. My hope with this project is to document the process, share what I learn, and in the future, iterate on this project and make it accessible to more people.

Very interesting - wasn’t familiar with these e-ink screens. I wonder if the power draw is low enough at you could power the screen and a Rpi4 off a USB battery bank.

You could make a rear “shield” that connects to the monitor via VESA. The shield could hold the the Rpi, batteries, and an adjustable kick stand. You’d connect a keyboard via USB.

The upcoming Quartz64 [0] mentioned in the article might simplify this, thanks to the included ePD connector. Unfortunately I haven’t been super impressed with my PineBook Pro. Mostly the suspend bug is annoying.

Maybe a luggable form factor and e-ink display would help, since there’s no lid to close and the low-draw display can stay on longer without killing the battery. [0] https://www.makeuseof.com/quartz64-e-ink-sbc/

I had the same thought. Found this after a quick search: https://github.com/tommythorn/Paperlike-Raspberry-Pi-4

There used to be Siemens-Fujitsu laptops with transflective displays for working in direct sunlight quite a few years ago. They were extremely expensive. I had a search running on eBay for several years but not a single unit turned up. They must be woefully outdated by now.

I think the right way to bring this to market is a snap-on macbook pro display:


>Imagine if you could do legitimate work for 4 straight hours while sitting in the park.

If that work involves scrolling or anything like that, I imagine those "4 straigt hours" having the productivity of 30 minutes in a regular display.

A very different eInk laptop recently was at https://hackaday.io/project/177716-the-open-source-autarkic-...

Also note my tech EDC/emergency kit at https://imgur.com/a/xmRmYSn which also uses a Dasung device, the 7.8" not-eReader as an external monitor to an also 7" laptop.

Also note Dasung within the next few months intends to start shipping in China at least a 25.3" eInk monitor.

Amazing project! Thank you for sharing. I will be following for progress/updates. How do you like the 7.8 not-ereader. I've contemplated getting their 103 model.

It was love at first sight. Since the Android update it's even better. It does what I want from it: it reads eBooks and becomes a second screen in an emergency. Most of my work is text focused so black-and-white is not a problem here. I know in theory it could do even more but I don't need that. I am reading a lot, I had an eReader with me for more than a decade now always and if it doubles as an emergency monitor, that's insanely valuable to me. I can't really say how good a tablet it is, I have zero interest whatsoever in using it as such.

Thank you for sharing! I was thinking of getting the 103 for all of the reasons you mentioned, alternating reading ebooks and using it as a second screen. I'm going to add it to my list!

Crazy idea: Add some form of laser dot for the mouse pointer...

That's a good idea! Thanks!

I did try to hack something simmilar to this by the way of Onyx Boox e-reader running Android and supporting my bluetooth keyboard and it was more of a novelty than anything else :D

But it was fun to write in direct sunlight, in just a slightly less of a hipster fashion than using i.e. https://getfreewrite.com/ :D

Interestingly this will benefit from terminal apps that were optimized for slow TTY lines, which will require less screen updates.

I've been thinking of something similar: a super lightweight (n)vim machine using Raspberry Pi (originally RaspPi Zero but performance went through the floor with my number of vim plugins, so likely a beefier one).

I think the lack of syntax highlighting is going to be the major hindrance for me moving forwards.

Very cool! I once ran an E-ink display as an external monitor on a laptop to that I could work outside. I recall the latency was pretty much unworkable for typing, but that may have been the way the driver was setup. Curious to hear how usable this is for work - would love to see a video of this thing in use.

Follow-up post: Dasung Paperlike HD-FT Teardown


As there are now several eReaders on the market which have a 10 inch eInk screen, it would be so great, if there was one which implements displaylink and could just be plugged via USB into any computer. This would immediately enable a lot of usages.

I have an Onyx Boox Max Lumi, which is a 13.3" and can use it as a USB monitor easily. I believe I just set to monitor mode and plug it in.

I find even with its top end refresh rate, it still is hard to get into a good workflow with it, but it is possible.

Thanks, that is valuable information. It is quite a bit more expensive than the 10 inch readers, but then it offers a bigger screen. I will certainly give it a lot of consideration.

Yes, it comes at quite a premium, but it does run Android, so you can also add custom apps via ADB. And you can read DRM e-books and it has a front-light.

I in many ways prefer the ReMarkable, but the Lumi does have a lot of features for different use-cases, like using as external monitor.

would go hand in hand with this project: DIY E-Ink Monitor


Did you record the difference in battery life before/after the eink monitor?

I need to run more tests; with the eink monitor connected to the T480, I was getting about 8 hours of battery life, could probably optimize settings further. However, I may try instead powering the eink monitor with a power bank.

Finally a nice hacking project that doesn't use a Raspberry Pi at its core! Every Pi article on HN has the same comments about how old repurposed laptops or nucs/usffs are better for the current usecase, its nice to actually see a project that takes that to heart.

Thank you! In past attempts, I've used an e-ink monitor with a raspberry pi, Intel Compute Stick, an X230T, etc. I agree; it wasn't until the Raspberry 400 came out that I thought about re-purposing an older laptop.

I accept viewed from the 7billion people problem olpc achieved only millions. None the less, olpc did achieve the scale of millions. It says quite a lot that 3 millions is failure. I guess it depends how your goal is measured.

(I never worked on it, no skin in the game)

I loved my OLPC, especially the sunlight readable, low power display!

Could it easily be grafted onto something like a RasPi, maybe with a mechanical keyboard and trackpad and lots of Li cells?

The word "easily" aside, yes. My reasoning, it was actually talking to an arm RTOS core which was the soft bus to the cpu doing the gui and sugar.

Good point, thanks. The OLPC once was heavily documented, perhaps the relevant portions still exist somewhere.

Searches peter out around 2017/2018 for people trying to do what you want to do. the qanta screen was interesting but it didn't become ubiquitous, so its down to the scavengers who have an olpc and want to hack. Circuit diagrams I think will be easy, block-logic-structure stuff.

I did find people who cheated and used X $DISPLAY. I don't think thats quite the goal here :-)

My life would improve dramatically if I could work outside..

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