Over the last decade or so, it’s gotten more difficult to upgrade personal computers. Most smartphones and tablets, many laptops, and even some desktops have processors and other components that aren’t meant to be replaced.
But for the past few years the folks at Rhombus Tech have been working on the EOMA68 project to build a modular PC platform that would allow you to upgrade the hardware on a notebook, tablet, or other device by swapping out a card with the CPU, memory and storage. Want to upgrade your notebook’s performance while keeping the display, keyboard, and other hardware? Just swap out the EOMA68 card.
At least that’s the idea. Execution has been rather slow going… a tablet project never got off the ground, and the latest version of the EOMA68 card is using a pretty old, low-power, ARM-based processor.
That said, developer Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton is showing off an interesting application of EOMA68 technology: a laptop powered by the board.
The Libre Laptop isn’t exactly a super-computer. It has a 15.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display and use a microSD card for storage and the EOMA68 card that powers the laptop features an Allwinner A20 ARM Cortex-A7 dual-core processor.
But there are a few nifty things about the Libre Laptop: It uses a 4.3 inch capacitive touchscreen display as a touchpad, it’s designed to run (mostly) free and open souce software), and theoretically it should be pretty customizable, since it’s basically a PCB, some off-the-shelf components, and a bunch of 3D-printed parts.
The prototype features a 10,000 mAh battery, an external USB port for peripherals as well as a few internal ones for wireless cards, storage, or other hardware.
While the idea of an upgradeable laptop is pretty intriguing, right now this is a device only an enthusiast of modularity and open source software could love. It’s not particularly powerful, and there isn’t really any upgrade card that would offer better performance yet… and there may never be. But you have to start somewhere, right?
There is at least one other EOMA68 CPU card in the works though: testing is underway on a model with an Ingenic JZ4775 MIPS-based processor.
hi brad thanks for posting this – nice to see! yes JD i have to start somewhere – i’m working on this pretty much alone, so there is a lot to do: i will work upwards as-and-when resources (in the form of sponsorship etc.) are available. the primary focus at the moment is to create an FSF-Endorseable (RYF Certified) Laptop for my current sponsor.
moving on from there, instead of being forced to redesign a totally new laptop, i can (and am) designing a quad-core 64-bit ARM64 CPU Upgrade… and later in the year will be doing a design with an Intel low-power Atom, which will empower people to be able to run Windows on EOMA68-compliant hardware if they really feel inclined to do so.
so what that means is that people who commit to this design form-factor will, over the next decade (at least), be able to continuously upgrade their compatible products… WITHOUT needing to throw away a perfectly good battery, screen, keyboard etc. at a fraction of the cost of replacing (discarding) an entire product. there’s much more to it – many more possibilities – i outline many of the scenarios in the whitepaper i wrote – https://rhombus-tech.net/whitep…
this is NOT a small project – it is starting out small as a way to ensure that even the *development* of the project has a minimal environmental impact. re-using lecacy PCMCIA housings, sockets and assemblies is a big part of that (instead of requiring an investment of $USD 0.25m or above to design the tooling, as would normally be done). permaculture concepts as applied to computing product development.
sverris, when i started i thought i would end up making something “slick” too – but the more i think about it the more i am inclined to prioritise “creative environmental solutions” over “sleek and slick… and expensive”. turns out that a reasonable metric to go by is that the final cost of a product reflects pretty accurately the environmental impact that the product’s development had on our world.
hilariously however, when 3d-printing the parts, when it came to doing the central panels i went “omg i am SO not printing out some boring plastic rectangles, ahh what can i use instead.. oh i know, let’s go with bamboo plywood” – so ironically the environmental impact was reduced through laziness on my part, not a deliberate design choice. don’t tell nobody ok? 🙂
p.s. if you’re going to be at fosdem2016 i’ll have the prototype there to show, all weekend
You have to start somewhere. The Apple I was pretty rough around the edges.
I have a background in product design, with many years of experience. The older I get, the more I like these DIYs – and the more I ‘hate’ the sleek-aluminum-design-wannabe stuff.
I like sleek and pretty, but I also like upgradable. I’d rather have a laptop that’s a little chunky with a replaceable battery, upgradable RAM and HD, than a paper thin one with everything soldered together. I miss the days when companies cared about producing serviceable electronics.
Well, the initial prototype looks, well, like a prototype, but I can get behind something like this. The idea of a mostly modular laptop with swappable system board tickles the fancy in the DIY part of me. 🙂
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