Update on Our Laptop (aka Novena)

Back in December, I posted that we’re building an open laptop. The post generated hundreds of comments, and I was surprised there was so much interest.

To be honest, that was overwhelming. Also, there were many who didn’t get what we’re trying to do — as indicated by suggestions along the vein of “use a Core i7 and a fast nVidia graphics chip and sell it for under a hundred bucks and then I’d buy it”.

Rather than try to convince the Internet about my opinions, or suffer the distraction of running a Kickstarter campaign around a very complex and risky project, I decided to hunker down and stick with what I do best — hacking hardware.

Despite the lack of updates here, the project is alive and kicking. All our progress has been publicly trackable via our git repos and on our wiki. There’s also a discussion forum, although I tend to check in only once every month. The board-bringup process and feature validation matrix is noted here, and the list of changes from EVT to DVT is documented here. We also had a little adventure writing code that could calibrate wire delays on the DDR3 bus for a variety of SO-DIMM modules.

The TL;DR version of the wiki documentation is: the board has gone through a major revision, and received a few upgrades that I think really refines its vision.


For me, the integration of the FPGA is a real point of differentiation, so I beefed it up; the DVT version sports a bigger Spartan 6 LX45 FPGA and an upgraded power supply to feed it. I want to be able to use the FPGA to do more coprocessing and data acquisition, and so I added a 2 Gbit DDR3 buffer, connected via a 16-bit, 800MT/s bus. And finally, I want to be able to plug in various high-speed data acquisition modules, so I dropped the Raspberry Pi header and low-speed analog I/Os, replacing the entire cluster with a single high-speed expansion header. The new high speed header breaks out 21 differential pairs plus some single-ended pins. This is sufficient to mate dual 8-bit 500++ Msps ADCs onto the FPGA, making for a fairly decent signal acquisition system.

The Display

I really care about having a lot of pixels on my laptop. So we revised the LCD interface to be easily upgradeable and interchangeable using mezzanine adapter boards. The first adapter board we designed is for a Retina display. We’re now using an LG LP129QE: 12.85″, 2560 x 1700 pixels (239ppi), with a 24-bit color depth. It looks gorgeous.

Below is what the mezzanine board looks like. Dual 24-bit LVDS channels, power, PWM, I2C and USB are fed into the mezzanine via a custom flex cable. The board itself has an LVDS-to-displayport converter chip, and connects to the display via the new IPEX-style micro-coaxial connectors.

I’ve spent some time on the ID, but I’m not ready to share those details with the world yet; however, I will say that the case will use leather and aluminum, and it’s designed to be open, accessible, and easily upgradable to future versions of the motherboard.

In the meantime, we’ve been developing on the system in an “exploded” fashion. The system below shows all the essential elements together and working; keyboard/mouse, LCD, hard drive, mainboard, hosting its own development environment. The desktop environment shown below is stock armhf Ubuntu with our custom kernel, but that is far from a final decision; we’re testing a broad field of distros for compatibility and convenience.

The Router Case

We’ve had a lot of interest from people wanting to use the Novena system as a secure router — the openness of the system is a selling point to many in that space. To that end, we’ve made a conversion case that can house the mainboard alone in a design suggestive of a conventional router.

The 2.5″ hard drive is shown for size scaling.

The lid is anodized aluminum, and most of the screws on the top are decorative. I wanted to buck the design trend of mysterious black monoliths and playing hide-the-screws. Instead, the screws are featured front-and-center, inviting the user to twist them and open things up. “There is no magic in this box. Open me and you shall understand.

Above is the “router” with the lid off and all the ports filled. Probably for the partners I’m working with, we’ll depopulate all of the ports except for the dual ethernet, OTG, and the power jack to reduce cost.

The First Hack (Romulator)

Already the DVT version of Novena has been put to task in helping with our hacking projects. We implemented a “romulator” using the high speed interface, FPGA and DDR3 combo.

The idea is to do real-time, in-circuit emulation of NAND FLASH using the FPGA + DDR3. The FPGA faithfully emulates a NAND device, whose contents can be monitored and modified real-time by the i.MX6 CPU — the DDR3 interface has oodles of bandwidth, and the interface macro provided by Xilinx is configured to provide four virtual access ports to the RAM. In addition, 16MB of the DDR3 is reserved for a logic analyzer-style trace capture of the NAND traffic, so we can dig through the time history of complex transactions and figure out what happened and what went wrong.

A small flexible circuit board adapter plugs into the high speed expansion socket. The board is thin enough to be soldered underneath a FLASH chip for passive monitoring, or directly to the target motherboard for active emulation.

Other boards will be made that plug into the high speed port. My short list includes a high speed ADC board, variants focusing on digital signal acquisition, and PHYs to standards such as USB or HDMI.

The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, we’re having fun building the laptop we always wanted — it’s now somewhere between a python-scriptable oscilloscope, logic analyzer, and a laptop. I think it will be an indispensable tool for hacking, particularly for doing signal analysis which requires coordination across multiple protocol layers, complex trigger conditions and/or feedback stimulus loops.

As for the inevitable question about if these will be sold, and for how much…once we’re done building the system (and, “done” is a moving target — really, the whole idea is this is continuously under development and improving) I’ll make it available to qualified buyers. Because it’s open-source and a bit quirky, I’m shy on the idea of just selling it to anyone who comes along wanting a laptop. I’m worried about buyers who don’t understand that “open” also means a bit of DIY hacking to get things working, and that things are continuously under development. This could either lead to a lot of returns, or spending the next four years mired in basic customer support instead of doing development; neither option appeals to me. So, I’m thinking that the order inquiry form will be a python or javascript program that has to be correctly modified and submitted via github; or maybe I’ll just sell the kit of components, as this would target buyers who know what they are getting into, and can RTFM. And probably, it will be priced in accordance with what you’d expect to pay for a bespoke digital oscilloscope meant to take a position at the lab bench for years, and not a generic craptop that you’ll replace within a year. Think “heirloom laptop”.

Anyways, that’s the update. Back to hacking!

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149 Responses to “Update on Our Laptop (aka Novena)”

  1. trengr says:

    This looks amazing!! I agree with all of your choices w.r.t. quality, and especially the focus on screen quality. I am very much hoping that this can be my next laptop.

  2. Any chance you could drop in a LX45T so we can have the high speed GTP interface? It does steal most of Bank 0, but it’d let you do 1080p, SATA, PCI-e and other really interesting thing…

  3. Numair Faraz says:

    I really, really love that you’re doing this, and that you’ve remained committed to finishing it. Good job on keeping your head down and building, rather than wasting time “liveblogging” or running a fundraising campaign. At the very minimum, you can expect to have one of these machines sold to me. Email me when you’re ready — I’m more than willing to write a JavaScript application. ;)

  4. joe green says:

    bunnie, i really hope you can get an industrial designer to do the ID. this is not meant as a slight – you’re extremely talented at electrical engineering and it shows in this hardware design. you have years of experience in engineering. you also have 0 years of experience in industrial design.

    in my experience, engineers tend to be horrible when it comes to matters of aesthetics and design – as horrible as designers are with engineering (“hey guys, i designed this awesome flying car, the walls and floor are transparent OLED displays and it runs off graphene batteries!!1”)

    unless i’m mistaken, from looking at your router case, you have six bolts on each side, of which two are actually needed for opening the case. they all look identical. making your user unscrew 12 bolts instead of four to open the case, only to find out that 8 of them are non-functional, is a huge design fail. the idea of having non-functional bolts that look identical to real bolts is completely antithetical to encouraging people to open your laptop.

    this project is amazing from a hardware standpoint. but if you want to make a “heirloom laptop”, the industrial design has to live up to the standard of the hardware.

    • I don’t think you really know or understand Bunny’s Work ;)

      • daedalus2u says:

        The extra, non-functional screws are a “feature”, built-in spares to use when the functional screws are lost, so that even in a post-Apocalyptic world, where the industrial capacity to make replacement screws has been lost, the cover can still be safely secured. ;)

      • tomflack says:

        I feel that your reply addresses zero of the concerns in the comment it was replying to.

    • Paul Graham says:

      I’m not sure how you can be more oblivious to hardware. Why in the hell would you spend all the time and money on industrial design when you don’t even have a product?!? NO ONE IN THE WORLD DOES THIS, NOT EVEN APPLE. You’re complaining about the color of the drapes WHEN THE HOUSE DOESN’T EVEN EXIST YET.

      No one who makes hardware worries about ID this early. You don’t know what your components are or how much space you need. It’s called a prototype. Jeebus Christmas, some people….

      • kaidenshi says:

        Yes, because one man with help from a few people is comparable to Apple or other manufacturers. Have you considered the fact that he’s doing this the way he wants because it’s a hobby, not a multimillion dollar enterprise? If you want to design and build your own open laptop, and you want to hold off on ID til the end, that’s your prerogative. Stop trying to be the Maker Police, and people will stop seeing you as the jerk you are.

      • archenroot says:

        you are really big jerk

      • J05H says:

        As an Industrial Designer who also does circuits, you, sir, are a blow-hard. Good spiral development looks at an attempts to cover all bases of a project from the start. We use this process to more rapidly fill in unknowns in a project.

      • Seth says:

        You would think so however you are wrong. Some companies are happy with what they have then they see something new and say, I saw this shape. I like it. Draw it. I like it the market will love it put components in it I want to spend no more than ….$ and want to have a minimum of x,y, and z specifications. GO!”

        It is a really silly way to do it in some markets however what it looks like is a huge factor. If the market says that people want thin macbook air size laptops this being designed into the size of a Merriam-Webster dictionary would just be silly.

        “You’re complaining about the color of the drapes WHEN THE HOUSE DOESN’T EVEN EXIST YET.”

        No it is more comparable to complaining about the style roof, the amount of windows, or the shape of the house.

        They all seem like little issues and in the grand scheme of things are. I can’t have this roof without the house. However, they are all very functional parts of the hows and in the end really help or hurt the house.

        Side Rant:

        I feel that although the point of this is for hackers this is really also the chance Linux could use to it’s (as a whole) advantage. Getting people to spend $700 on a laptop mainly because it is Windows Based V.S. Spending $800 (I have no clue what the actual price points are) on a “Swiss Army Knife” is a no brainer. I would rather run Linux and have a tool that I can use everywhere rather than know I need 4 more tools to do the same job.

    • Robert Taylor says:

      How about this instead: YOU buy the kit an YOU build your own fucking case?

      How about that?

      Bunny does what bunny wants. Who the hell are you to to tell others what to do with their free time and their own projects?

      The mind boggles.

      • bunnie says:

        Guys, let’s keep the tone cordial and the language family-friendly. I appreciate the passion in the thread, and everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I’d prefer it if we didn’t have to wear asbestos armor to participate in the comment thread.

        That being said, it’s not exactly true that I have zero experience in industrial design, but being of little experience is exactly the reason to try (and fail) to do it. That’s how I learn new things; everyone is a beginner at some point, and neither fear of failure nor complacency of expertise should prohibit one from starting new adventures.

        It is true, my intent for the ID is going to be very “me-centric”. Probably, I will be the only person in the world who likes it — I’m very fond of bare metal and circuit boards — and I will receive a lot of criticism for it. But, I’m not looking to win any awards or get into MoMA.

        The design is open, and the ultimate expression of openness is when everyone can make their own bespoke design suited exactly to their own taste.

        • jayvee says:

          I agree bunnie.
          There has to be “me-centric” before “we-centric” in a project like this.
          The current technology trend is towards hamstringing the individual.

  5. Johnny5 says:

    Sounds like I will be buying one of those. Not that I have any specific idea of what I will use it for yet. But a little bit of DIY and hacking is enough to get me interested. It’s like Lego, and you will (hopefully) be surprised how much interest this board will get!

  6. Jay Vaughan says:

    Count me in as a hacker who will definitely apply DIY to make this laptop better .. I am 100% behind your goals and can’t wait to hear more news from you about how close you are to actually manufacturing a few for the hackers you deem qualified!

    If I had one of these, I’d personally be working on putting that FPGA to use as an archaic architecture emulator. As a big fan of reviving old computing platforms and putting them to modern use, for example I’d get an Oric-1 up on that FPGA as quickly as possible! In fact, I don’t think I’d use this laptop for work – only for the purposes of reviving the machines of the past. If that is interesting, I hope it qualifies me for purchaser status .. ;)

  7. djm says:

    This looks even more awesome than your last report. What are you planning to do for the keyboard? If you can pull off something as ergonomic as the thinkpad’s keyboard then you can take my money ;)

    PS. Please consider a trackpoint

    • John Morris says:

      Well I’m typing this on a Thinkpad keyboard so obviously I agree. But since Lenovo doesn’t even use Thinkpad keyboards anymore I’m not sure how they could be obtained. I suppose there might still be some in the supply chain as spares for now, but this product won’t ship for at least another year and supplies will probably be too tight to design the thing around something that will quickly be limited to used parts on eBay.

      • djm says:

        Note that I didn’t say “a thinkpad keyboard” but something with similar ergonomics. I agree it isn’t likely that there will be a reliable source of real thinkpad keyboard around to design against.

    • bunnie says:

      I like the Thinkpad keyboards. I like the Thinkpad trackpoint. I hate trackpads of any kind. They lack the precision necessary for doing serious CAD work.

      Because of this, we’re actually planning on buying thinkpad OEM keyboards and installing them in the chassis, trackpoint and all.

      • djm says:

        You’ve made my day. If, at any stage, financing via preorders will help get this project through manufacturing then I’ll be there.

      • Hamish says:

        That sounds fantastic! Just one question – the older classic keyboard style (like in your picture above) or the new, current, ‘island’ keys style?

        If the older ones, I might have found an answer to my worry about what laptop to try getting now that lenovo have jumpped the shark with their new keyboards.

  8. No Name says:

    This looks awesome bunnie. The FPGA is a very interesting feature.

    Over at sigrok we’ve begun developing a portable FPGA firmware for logic analysers derrived from the SUMP/OpenBench Logic Sniffer Family. The idea is that many FPGA containing boards can be made into a Logic Analysers, and then we have a suite of tools ready for immediate use.

    I don’t like the word synergy, but there might be some between your design and sigrok.

  9. Hi,

    have a look at soekris.com; that’s Søren Kristensen, who builds and sells routers. He will sell you a single router that it takes you a day or two to install, if that’s what you want. I still have a Net4501 with a low serial number. Very nice kit.

    I don’t know what Søren did to avoid getting stuck doing customer support, but he seems to have handled the issue successfully.

  10. Bunnie, I pay a huge respect to your skills and vision. This product is just excellent, I lack words to describe my exact awesome feeling about all this. I would do whatever is needed to get one. Just thanks, and congrats.
    I’m preparing a french translation of your update for the french community.

  11. Mike G says:

    Shoutout to all the people crazy enough to work on side projects that will change the world. You’re the force behind all things good in this world, thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  12. […] Update on Our Laptop (aka Novena) « bunnie’s blog. […]

  13. sergeykish says:

    “Router” ports are quite useful. One would be able to connect all home wire:

    * LAN
    * Audio
    * Storage
    * Display

    Instead of plugging them in notebook. And achieve home/portable separation .

  14. pc crack says:

    Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed.
    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off
    topic but I had to tell someone!

  15. Adam says:

    Please, make light for a traveller like me

  16. H says:

    I am sold! Open hardware? packing it into powerful laptop! It’s great vision, risk factor is high but the thinking is good, the boost it would give hardware hacking is immense, graduate engineers get such exposure in already set manufacturing units, very less to learn, the experience of building from scratch or near scratch would help those involved not only in terms of skill, knowledge, but thinking also, how we view electronic gadgets, tablets and computers great project

  17. Ben Scherrey says:

    “We’re now using an LG LP129QE: 12.85″, 2560 x 1700 pixels (239ppi), with a 24-bit color depth.” – God bless you Bunnie!! Don’t know if you recall the last time we met (and you were kind of enough to explain the state of the hardware industry all the way from sand to customer convincing me to avoid the embedded software biz for now) but I was going on about how frustrating the move towards HD-style video resolutions was for me. The FPGA and other wonders are just crazy cool as well. I must have one (or two or three). And regarding your concern about returns – you can have it back when you pry it out of my cold dead hands!

    Seriously what’s it gonna take to get an early version of one of these? I’d prefer laptop style but the router case (or similar) might be a better initial option for trying things out if the laptop case is too far away.

    — Ben

    • John Young says:

      I second Ben’s comments (and we’ve met a few times in SG). And I would concur that selling in kit form only would tend to weed out customers who would be expecting a lot of support. If you’ve got such a thing yet, please put me on a list to preorder. Happy to help defray costs of the project early on.



  18. Zach says:

    Idea: It would be awesome is if the HDMI output can drive 4K+ resolutions. I’m not taking in order to watch movies and play games etc, It’s rather frustrating to try and test 4K screens to see if they work correctly (part of my job), when no laptop will correctly drive one. You have to bring along a giant PC with a top-end-graphics card to get some 2D action.

    Since there’s an FPGA, and lots of FPGA dev boards include the components to drive HDMI, it would be awesome to take advantage of that in a laptop form if nothing else, maybe with some selective routing, maybe the HDMI drive from the main processor can drive it normally. All else failing, I’m sure the high-speed connector could be used with a board to drive it.

    Thanks a ton. Awesome work! I really look forward to this system.

  19. lpm says:

    This is some very impressive work!

    I don’t know if you’re taking requests for future posts, but I am curious what your thoughts are about best practices for drawing schematics of complex systems like this. You have clearly taken some care in the drawing of your schematic. At large though, there seems to be a trend towards treating schematic capture as a ‘hoop’ to jump through on the way to layout instead of the vital documentation step it really is (IMO). This compounded with abuse of off page connectors and the fact that everything is a highly integrated/speciallized box with pins can lead to some really opaque schematics… You seem to manage it all very well though, so I’d love to hear what your techniques/philosophies are.

  20. […] Update on Bunnie Huang’s open laptop About half a year in, Bunnie Huang is providing an update on his open laptop project. It won’t be cheap, but it’ll be a solid device that can handle high resolution displays, and the board will also be usable as the basis for a router or other open, hackable device. It won’t be cheap. Huang says to think of it more like an “heirloom laptop” meant to last for years. [Hacker news/bunnie:studios] […]

  21. Wait, “FPGA apoptosis option”? You’re going to persuade an FPGA to do this?:


  22. jy-p says:

    this is great to see. i would _love_ to get an arm laptop and i believe several OSes already have support for a lot of the iMX6 peripherals.

    there are a lot of ppl that want a DIY-style laptop and are willing to accept quirky or buggy behavior. keep up the good work!

  23. jetdillo says:

    Put me down as one who would like to “qualify” as a buyer. I’m not afraid of hacking stuff, I build robots, we’ve met and talked before. Please let me know when these are ready for poking/prodding at in detail.

  24. Calvin says:

    Could there be potential for a “lite” cheaper version without the FPGAs or dual ethernet? I’d love an open, free, and high-quality Linux laptop, but I’m no electrical engineer.

    • Robert Taylor says:

      Oh god damnit. Did you even read the damned post? Jesus. Next, you will be asking him to use Intel video chipsets …

      … please. If you just want a consumer laptop go get one of those.

      In the mean time, please please try to understand what this is and STOP apply consumer logic to bespoke products.

      Damned kids.

      • Dr. Eddy says:

        Firstly, you should calm down. Really, what made you so angry? Did you know you can just ignore comments you do not agree with? Or at least disagree calmly…

        Secondly, since Bunnie is preparing version for routers, what wrong the the question? What do you need FPGA in a router for? And if you’re not gonna put that FPGA into a router, why not use that board for a laptop?

    • czesiek says:

      Or at least you could try to make the design (a bit) modular. I realize a balance between modularity and the device integrity is hard to strike. I for one have no use for an FPGA (yet) and at the same time I’m extremely cautious about the weight of the device(s) I carry and travel with. I think there is more of us.

      Having said that, I love that you try to make a device you’d love to work on. I think it’s crucial to it being a good design. If there is no lite version, I’ll probably go and try to make one myself as this is open hardware.

      Ok, I’m a little torn apart about the weight thing as I’d love an aluminum/leather case. ;)

      Great work, you make the future better. Keep it up!

  25. Christof says:

    I’d like to second the suggestion to leave a high quality audio-out on the router version, as it’d be nice to use it to stream audio via MPD.

    I’d also love to hear your thoughts on how a software-defined radio (maybe something like the HackRF) might be paired with the Novena.

  26. Ivan says:

    The FPGA feature sounds very exciting!

    What will the FGPA development environment/toolchain look like?

    Is there some minimal version of Xilinx’s IDE (WebPack) that will work on an ARM? Or are there other toolchains that will be made available?

  27. Anon says:

    This is so exciting! I’d love a laptop like this and would pay top dollar for it.

    Keep up the good work guys.

  28. John says:

    I’m curious what your running cost is so far for this project? Have you been keeping track?

  29. ccy says:

    I just heard about this project for the first time. Awesome. Sounds like a great learning tool.

    As for the support: I would assume there would quickly be a community around this device that could give basic community support for not so experienced users.

    Also, would you consider doing a version without leather (e.g. a version with artificial leather)?

  30. Working on my translation. I the “IPEX-style” connector smaller than UFL, or is it the same?

  31. Dan Fraser says:

    In what way is this an “open” laptop? It is a very nice little embedded computer, but open? It’s chock full of highly proprietary and patented hardware and firmware technologies.

    I don’t think that a published motherboard schematic suddenly makes a computer system “open.”

    • Nick says:

      Perhaps you need to keep a more open mind.

    • Perhaps you could do a little research and tell us which part is not open enough for you?

      hint: the wifi card is the only part know not to be, and is only an optional component.

    • Robert Taylor says:


      The amount of stupid here is astounding.

      Congratulations for outing your self.

  32. Jonathan deWerd says:

    Any chance of getting an FPGA with a transceiver on there? Going from an LX45 to an LX45T adds about $15 (comparing the cheapest LX45 and LX45T on digikey) but it adds some very significant functionality that I think you (and I) would be interested in, namely 4 GTP transceivers.

    Transceivers allow the FPGA to talk in a programmatic manner (vs fixed-function) to modern serial busses at decent data rates. Without transceivers, GPIO is limited to the clock rate of the FPGA, which depends on the design and is typically much less than the highest theoretical clock. Even attaching a 500Msps ADC to GPIOs seems very optimistic (the DSP units are rated at 390MHz and, in my experience, typically get 300-350MHz). At these speeds, using the FPGA to play around with “software-defined” SATA, high-speed USB, and HDMI is out of the question without transceivers.

    I hope I don’t come across as one of the “MOAR POWER PLZ” crowd, but as much as I absolutely adore the idea of integrating an FPGA into a laptop, those GTP Transceivers make or break the Novena as an awesome hardware hacking testbed for my purposes. Either that or I am missing something: I am much less experienced than you at hardware hacking in general, so it’s a distinct possibility. I had the chance to play with some Virtex 6s awhile back (from the software side), which is why I am familiar with this issue. I guess you could use a separate PLL + latch setup, but to my modest EE skills that seems hard enough to not be worth $15 (or $50 for the ADC)?

    PS: If you want high-speed serial *AND* high-speed ADC (where high-speed means >clock speed of the FPGA), you need the LX75T, which has 8 GTP transceivers, and seems to cost about $50 more than the LX45T.

    • bunnie says:

      Unfortunately, the LXT’s aren’t pin-compatible with the LX’s. And the LXTs are significantly more expensive in production volumes than the LX.

      I’m a little hesitant to commit to the LXTs until I’ve really figured out what I’m going to do with the transceivers. I agree they could be fun to have as an option, but because of the lack of backward compatibility with LX it’s a one-way door.

      Actually, the I/Os on the LX can go quite fast — up to 900 MHz using the on-board SERDES, and I’ve overclocked them to 1.2GHz on occasion with good results. I’m hoping it will be adequate for the ADC interfacing.

      • Lennie says:

        When you mention router and FPGA, my mind goes straight to the NetFGPA project which uses a Xilinx Virtex-5 TXT FPGA and has 4x10Gb/s. I’m no expert on hardware or FPGAs, but maybe that is the sort of stuff the LXT’s could be used for.

      • Jonathan deWerd says:

        Ah, so I *was* missing something big. I guess its better to learn now as opposed to later, no?

        Interesting point on the bulk pricing. That explains why all of the “bring FPGAs to the masses” boards have LXs, which is a pity.

  33. Bill Stewart says:

    Bunnie – I’d recommend leaving a USB port on the router version, even if you’re stripping off most of the other ports you don’t need in that configuration – there’s always something that needs it, whether it’s config backups, software updates, etc.

    • Robert Taylor says:

      Don’t forget that, depending on what Bunnie decides to do, you will probably be able to just buy the ‘laptop’ version and use that in the case.

      I get what you are saying though. The tantalizing possibility of having a custom set of ports on a router is very cool!

  34. Rohm U Lyn says:

    Go with d-link and save a bundle, and do something with your life instead.

  35. Justin Brown says:

    Awesome project. Thumbs up for your dedication to seeing your vision through to this point of development. I’m sure you will complete this to your satisfaction – and if there is anything you had to cut from the final Revision, there’s always V2.

    As for all the people who are suggesting to drop this port, or that port, etc..why not just offer up a secondary product line of Kits that people can piece together themselves? Naturally, you would ship with the majority of the hard work completed, but if it ends up as modular as you seem to want it to be, there shouldn’t be much issue with letting people pick and choose how many Ethernet ports are in the box, or if they get a Standard vs HighQuality sound module…

    With the whole router-box testing it almost seems like you are developing two separate products from the same hardware – The main product being your Open Notebook design, and the secondary product being a micro-desktop/NetTop system…

  36. ChuckM says:

    Nicely done, personally I think that the next “tool” that EEs will have will be a laptop/oscilloscope/logic analyzer/signal generator gizmo. We are getting closer to that every day.

    That said, too late to put in a Zynq chip? That would integrate the dual ARM9’s and the FPGA. Cuts the board count down a bit and you can have DDR3 memory with the same speed access to both the CPU cores and the FPGA.

    • andrea v says:

      just my two cents, me think that a Zynq is a very very different beasts than a SP6 and you are eventually forced to make complex design just to have the basic ARM system runnning.
      keeping FPGA and CPU separated should be seen eventually as an “expensive” way to improve efficiency in development, because time for recompile a firmware for a Zynq system is WAY bigger then the time for a SP6 extension.
      lastly, as someone raised question that ISE is not available for the ARM/linux OS, i just want to point out a relevant project that’s trying to push for a open source toolchain and that’s already working for SP6LX9:
      maybe that’s a good starting point for a SP6LX45.

      • David Warman says:

        I like the idea of using the built-in LX to act as an intelligent interface to a giant Zynq expansion. Already did something like that with a 3000 driving a 5000 in 1995 or so. It really helped having the host interface intelligence separate from the application intelligence.

        I have an idea requiring giant arrays of picoprocessors I’ve wanted to build for decades. Tech is finally catching up. But I do not really like the idea of a PCIe eval board in a PC as a solution. Not enough wiggle room.

        Not concerned about recompile time. Mostly because I will be abstracting the upper level of the App and running that on a hardware VM in the zynq.

        It’s only me, but I think I want …

  37. […] Nouvelles de Notre Laptop (aka Novena) […]

  38. Steve Jones says:

    Why wasn’t this invented and developed by Africans? Can anybody tell me?

  39. JennB says:

    Good job and keep up the work. I’m looking forward to getting one. :)

  40. Taniwha says:

    Excellent! it’s coming along nicely – you spoke before about wanting to encourage case makers to go crazy and design their own cases for it – but how about providing some guidance/suggestions for the form factor for add on boards for that high-speed connector (including face/back panels) – that way people can create add-in cards that fit with cases – if you make a card that meets these mechanical dimensions it’s likely to fit in people who make cases with these in mind – but of course at the same time don’t discourage people from making other stuff that’s outside the guidelines

    (perhaps fab a dummy card as an example)

    I’ve written here before about how I bemoan the fact that ‘slots’ have gone away – there’s nowhere for people to make high performance stuff and add it to modern day machines, especially laptops – with an FPGA/memory in place you’ve created much of what people need to make all sorts of things – not just ‘scopes and logic analysers but high end video, cool bespoke signal processing stuff – a lot of cards might just be a connector or two (what you say you want 20 USBs?)

    Also how about a couple of the pins on the connector being designated for an i2c board ID (they can be repurposed after boot for something else) – might be as simple as a “grab your xylinx code from here” URL, or a default image itself, or just a unique number

  41. James says:

    Awesome idea… Two killer features that were never seen in regular laptops are:

    1) SDR for RF hacking

    2) The ability to use the onboard keyboard/mouse/monitor as a KVM. Suppose you’ve got your laptop and you want to KVM into some tower in front of you, there should be a way to plug in, and get hacking… You’ve got all the hardware, maybe all you need is the right cable. Maybe a switch on the laptop could toggle you from laptop use and KVM use.


  42. Matt Taylor says:

    Although it may be thought of for now as a EE platform, the idea of a laptop that can be hacked, modified for specific use is breathtaking. How often do we have to resort to software solutions on inappropriate spec hardware, for specific purposes. With a laptop that is this open, ppl can re-engineer and re-factor for specific purposes. Personally I’m into low power mesh networks in extreme environments – would love to have a laptop with multiple inbuilt networking options. With Novena it becomes potential that I can pull open the case, and extend/enhance and importantly eliminate things to meet my need. Maybe reusing space for other things.

    Some of the comments seem to come from people just wanting a slightly-better laptop. I dont think that is the point of it – its more like a rpi “to go” or a “chumby for big challenges” in that its a platform, not a final “just turn me on” shelf product for a big box retailer.

    Bunnie’s ingenuity and vision could spawn a whole new approach from vendors into making products that people can make their own, again and again, depending on what they need to get done at the time.

    This is awesome in so many ways I hope the guys at Wired hear about it so the rest of the world can too.

    • Robert Taylor says:

      I don’t think it will force existing vendors to do anything. Watching the industry for the last 30+ years, their economics simply don’t allow it.

      I think what it might spur is more hacker vendors such as Bunnie to come up with cool stuff.

      I would love to design my own case for the project.

  43. MikeB says:

    Not going to enter any pseudo-technical verbosity, just wanted to say that this looks such a fantastic project and I want one.

  44. ant says:

    I can’t thank you enough for taking the initiative to start this project… If you do decide to sell these, I will be totally on board… HA no seriously though I want one

  45. I’ll probably get one so I can learn to code, maybe use it as my primary portable.

  46. metasonix says:


    You are doing good work.

    Ignore the people above me.

  47. This looks extremely delicious, but I’m worried about the “priced like a bespoke oscilloscope” comment — does that mean it’s going to cost $50 000?

    • bunnie says:

      Goodness no, not that much! I think the bigger point is it’s not going to be cheap for a laptop, but reasonable for an oscilloscope.

      • Robert Taylor says:

        I was wondering the same. This range of prices is fine by me.

      • CyberPK says:

        So, how a poor student as me can enjoy the openess of this platform?
        If the board cost something like 5-10k$ is really a big deal…

  48. pelrun says:

    The laptop looks better and better… but I’m actually far more interested in that displayport mezzanine board right now. Can’t wait until the design is released!

  49. Robert Taylor says:

    Bunnie, awesome project.

    This has all of the features I am looking for and the price point is within range of what I am comfortable with.

    Sign me up for any kit you decide to release.

  50. CyberPK says:

    This board is awesome!
    Probably i’ll not be able to buy one :/
    I think that an expansion board based on the HackRF sdr design could be easily built.
    I would really like hacking to get this idea work!

  51. anonymouse says:

    So it’s not so much a laptop as a digital oscilloscope that happens to be in a laptop form factor and have a built-in ARM CPU running linux. Still, if it’s not too expensive, I’d consider buying one to replace the fleet of ARM laptops that I’m currently using and that will eventually die. Incidentally, I imagine the FPGA and high-speed connector would be useful for producing add-in cards to interface to all kinds of weird I/O ports. Something like SDI video output or even input might be useful to someone, and easy to do once you have access to an FPGA with fast I/O.

  52. gwenhastings says:

    You just sold one here.. please email back purchase details
    ie github script

  53. Duncan Bayne says:

    Please email me as soon as they’re available for sale. I’m very happy to put up with development quirks. (Incidentally, I hope you do end up using a ThinkPad keyboard ;)).

  54. Roger says:

    Wow! I really want to do the same thing. Im writing a compiler for a vliw processor. I’m designing them together. Did you build every part yourself?how does one go about building the hardware?

  55. I’d second the suggestion to allow for the LXT FPGA.

    Also, the Spartan 6 is looking a bit old hat now… is jumping to a Kintex device going too far?

    • Aaron Holtzman says:

      The smallest Kintex device is 2x the size of the 45LX and has a price to match. Also it’s still too soon to use 7-series parts; the Xilinx rule of thumb is wait 2-3 years for them to fix all the bugs in the hardware and software. The price will come way down by then as well.

      A good argument for the LXT would be that you could use the PCI endpoint to interface with the ARM.

  56. oiaohm says:

    I know odd question does sata port support port multipilers.

    Combination of ports I look at this and think small file server/nas. Owncloud or equal. Of course 1 port is not enough todo that role well. 5 from a multipier would make a decent box.

    Something else. The board I guess is booting from on board sd card. So laptop to power conserve should be able cut power to harddrive and fire it up when user is back.

    • i says:

      I second this question,
      I wasn’t able to figure out whether they are supported or not on i.MX6 so far..

  57. […] [编译自:slashgear , 来源:Bunnie Studios] […]

  58. […] [编译自:slashgear , 来源:Bunnie Studios] […]

  59. fkpwolf says:

    So it is Chrome Book + FPGA? And also Chrome book used a Retina screen.

  60. Alex says:

    Hi Bunny (or anyone else who wants to answer this),

    I’m a hobbyist who has been trying to set up a high speed digital acquisition system on a hobbyist budget, specifically I need to capture the binary readout of a laser diode for an hour (I’m dumping the content of a proprietary laserdisc format from the 80’s).

    Although I’ve had some luck with pocket USB logic analyzer, its been nowhere near stable enough to make a proper binary dump that I can then begin to analyze and work out the file system, ideas?

    • Derek says:

      Hey Alex :)

      If you provide some way of talking away from the comments I think you’d get a few more responses. Email, or a forum thread somewhere like the EEVBlog? Also more information, maybe a link to a description of your setup and goals. A lot is going to depend on your data rate and required resolution.

      Bunnie, the project is looking great and I’m quite looking forward to working with that FPGA. I’d bet that you’ll be able to get quite a few preorders when you’re ready to sell and we’ll get a good economy of scale discount. Cheers to you.

  61. debian_user says:

    CPU 4 core @ 1.2Ghz…. I am afraid it will need heatdissipator + fan to cool it down.
    What is the nm geometry of transistors of the SoC?

  62. Daniel says:

    I am loving this concept, and would like to buy one futher down the road. I like the focus on the hardware, and the focus on openness should in theory be a very good selling point in it self. I also very much understand the concern about people not understanding what this project really means. I just want to wish you good luck, and many thanks for actually bringing your dream to reality :)

  63. syrekron says:

    Looks wonderful. I’ll be in line to buy one of these! CPU + FPGA in a decent priced platform seems very difficult to find these days.

  64. Simon says:

    opensource 3d printed case design

  65. Jay Looney says:

    I imagine I’ll build this with a friend or two and keep it for myself, from the sound of it you’re designing and implementing my dream machine. Freshman year in high school I sketched out something quite similar in terms of both the schematic and design goals. I then got lazy and opted to buy separate equipment. :/

    Wish I would have continued, good luck.

  66. […] We already know that [Bunnie] is building a laptop. Here’s an update on the project. […]

  67. […] We already know that [Bunnie] is building a laptop. Here’s an update on the project. […]

  68. […] We already know that [Bunnie] is building a laptop. Here’s an update on the project. […]

  69. […] sabemos que el [Bunnie] es la construcción de un ordenador portátil . Aquí una actualización sobre el proyecto . Hackaday alumbre [Caleb Kraft] continúa su útil […]

  70. […] We already know that [Bunnie] is building a laptop. Here’s an update on the project. […]

  71. RoTTe says:

    Hi there!

    Can you give us some details about that gorgeous LVDS-to-DP ? Mainly the IC used.

    There is a lot of LVDS-iMX.6-outputs there that need my love -highres love-


  72. Tachyon says:

    Looks awesome. I like where you’re going with this.
    In fact about the only change I’d make is to substitute a Chromebook Pixel display for the Retina display because the form factor/aspect ratio is, IMO, more useful.

    Anyway, thanks for the update. Keep posting, as you’ve found out there’s a lot of us interested in this project. Good luck!

  73. Adam says:

    I know that the case design is still in early stages (or nonexistent), but I’d throw my money at this laptop even harder if the case had some empty space inside for extra hardware, maybe something like (in my case), an SDR, some LEDS, etc. that would interface with the high speed expansion socket. Also, Bunnie, how much of the PSU would be integrated into that board vs. being an external unit that one could tap into more easily to power the stuff I mentioned earlier? I see a power jack on it, but is that just for the time being or is the PSU already in there?

  74. Eli says:

    Hi! I am very interested in your project and am looking to build an i.MX6 board of my own (home automation controller). I just was wondering where you got the pinout for the chip. Thanks in advance!

  75. Joey Carlini (@moocow1452) says:

    Big fan of Hardware, Open Source, Portable, Mobile the works. Are you planning on releasing specs or build plans.

  76. RSAXVC says:

    Is anyone interested in making an ExpressCard/54 FPGA? It could use an onboard USB-programmer to program the FPGA, and once programmed, communicate with the host via PCIe2.0 at 5Gbps. I think we could fit one or two small DRAMs on the board as well. Heat would be a problem though, and I/O would be limited to what we could fit on the outer edge, unless a breakout was used.

  77. Darla Frink says:

    I think that it would be cool to build your own laptop. Me, I am not very educated on doing something like this. But my brother in law built his own computer, it is huge and so nice. Expensive to do but well worth it. I am in awe when someone can do something like this. It takes a talent to do. Congrats on the wonderful job.

    • Simon says:

      When you say he built his computer, you mean he bought some parts and stuck them together? Designing a laptop is a little tougher…just a little. Putting the laptop together, pretty easy.

  78. Manny Barros says:

    Hello! I have been perusing the details of your project, and I am in awe that you have designed and created what seems to be an extremely complicated and sought-after object. I have been looking into doing a similar thing, but more specialized in a specific direction, and I was wondering where you started? I’m sure you have some sort of degree in electrical engineering or something similar, but it’s not like most “DIY” projects, where I can find an instructable on how to do this; making a laptop board is more of something you do when you know to a very far extent how to do such a thing, and it’s just a matter of getting equipment and materials.

    If there are any resources at all that you think could get me to a point similar to that, I would be extremely grateful to have them.

    TL;DR: How to?

    Thanks in advance.

  79. arf says:

    Arrrgh. I managed to survive 2013 without learning javascript.

    And many years ago, the day I finally decided to learn Python, I found a Ruby example script and totally fell for it.

    Thus, while I am willing to pay an insane price for a working and fully populated Novena board (I will set up my own case, batteries, keyboard and other paraphernalia to hack on), it appears I’ll have to start learning Python… ouch!

  80. jp says:

    This looks great! I’m a bit if an electronics hacker myself so i’d love to get one to tinker with. Sign me up!

  81. ben says:

    Is there any tech from other open source projects that can be used when making a project as complex as this laptop?

    I’m thinking specifically the Minnowboard (an open source motherboard), and Red Pitaya (an open source data acquisition board)?

  82. Adam says:

    Nice one Bunnie!

    I’d love to see this as an awesome debug tool, high capture rate oscilloscope / spectrum analyzer / SW radio / full feature logic / protocol analyzer with HW trigger mode modes, HW fuzzer, JTAG / BMD, OpenOCD I/F, Eclipse debugger plugin, deep sample buffer, clean / fast I/F to Linux back end… and Bob’s your uncle.

    All that common HW could be very useful and produce a test device / debug tool that would rival anything currently offered at a nice price point, just depends how gonzo you want to go with the analog front ends.

    All this is possible…

    Since the Spartan 6 sports partial re-configuration, if you are careful about the way you partition your FPGA design, you can swap in different instrument cogs real time.

  83. Marcus says:

    I am very excited for this. I’m tired of the closed nature of today’s hardware and I’m especially tired of the magic sliver box nature of most laptops made today. I enjoy having modular components and something that doesn’t look like every other iDevice on the market.

    Cheers to your efforts and looking forward to ordering what comes of them.

  84. Simon says:

    Thanks Andrew Bunnie. Now can you work on an opensource handheld running Linux :)

  85. AC says:


    /Seriously, thought – nice project.

  86. pdxpatzer says:

    I wonder if you could consider some privacy-related features on your design. Like for example physical switches to turn off specific features like wireless, webcam, microphone and so on …


  87. kingof9x says:

    This is amazing. I would gladly pay $1000 for a laptop with open source hardware.

    If you happen to make it with a transparent case (1995 hackers movie style) I would gladly pay $1000+

  88. Per Andersson says:

    This project is amazing!

    Just heard about it on Bdale’s talk on FreedomBox at DebConf13 today. Definitely interested in having this as a router/server at home.

    Of course it is also really interesting to use it as originally intended; as a laptop. Regarding the casing I would ask for a non-leather version. Possibly some sturdy canvas, latex or synthetic leather.

  89. Raphael Jacquot says:

    The router version, as it stands, could also be used as a set top box device, it just needs some form of OLED display and an IR receiver in the front…

  90. bob says:

    What about to design a board to replace a board of an existing laptop? out there there are a lot of old laptop (i.e. Thinkpad T40/T42, etc) than canìv be used as “box” for new electronic boad, NOVENA board, of course.
    Open the T4X, replace the board, close the T4X: here it is Novena laptop with ARM “mind” and IBM “skin”.

    The challenge is to support the different connectors…

  91. David says:

    I love your vision for a ‘laptop’ that gives me a whole set of essential design/test/hacking/making tools in one circuit board. I quoted the word ‘laptop’, because I too can imagine several non-traditional-laptop uses. I like the RasPi, and I think it dreams of being a Novena when it grows up! I really like your clever use of existing connector technology on the battery board. I am also an RC hobbyist, and have plenty of the multi-cell LiPo packs that your board can balance charge. I’m really excited about getting my hands on one of these, but by all means, take your time and follow your vision. I like it just the way it is, and really don’t care about packaging. I’ll carry it around in a padded ESD bag for now, and figure out an enclosure later. That’s what I’m doing with my new BladeRF board, after all.

  92. foreign shopper says:

    Really happy to see such high end model. I wanted to buy how much ever the cost may. All the best keep going

  93. Denis 'GNUtoo' Carikli says:


    Your work is really important.

    Thanks a lot for trying to make a laptop that could be free of proprietary software.

    All the recent Intel X86 laptops are too hard to liberate:
    Someone ported coreboot to the Lenovo X201,a “recent” Intel laptop, while doing it he also replaced the non-free RAM initialization code(which is not free software for the chromebooks).
    Then he replaced the VGA option rom(with a different approach than the one I took for the Lenovo X60).
    So the code running on the X86 Intel CPU should be mostly ok(maybe there are some small(easy to replace) non-free things remaing).
    Some things like suspend to ram don’t work yet, but I belive that beside that the laptop is “perfectly usable”, in the sense that things work, not that they should or can be used(see below)…

    One that want to have a free laptop might think that, after looking if anything remains to replace for coreboot, and after replacing them if any, he would be fine.

    The issue is that the work to do doesn’t stop here:
    The Intel X86 CPU is not the only CPU in that laptop…
    Beside the CPU in some peripherals, like the wifi card(that could be replaced easily by a card compatible with the ath9k driver for instance), there is another, very dangerous/powerfull one in the PCH(Platform Controller Hub, an Intel term which descibes the chip that now combines the northbridge, southbridge and superio).
    The CPU in the PCH is connected to the RAM and owns the network cards that comes with the laptop(like the wifi and ethernet cards that were there when the laptop was bought).
    It usually run a firmware called AMT[1] but it can also run other kind of firmwares and has to(otherwise the laptop shutdowns/reboots after 30min in that case, or doesn’t boot at all for more recent hardware).

    The issue is that:
    * The code running on that CPU which is in the PCH is signed(The PCH CPU has a bootrom).
    * It seems that nobody has enough interest and skills(some people have skills or interest in it, but not both at the same time) for avoiding or replacing that code.

    I guess that the importance of having hardware that can be freed is already understood here (otherwise it void the free software crypto that works(they just get the data before or after the encryption/decryption), and creates other issues too.).

    With that laptop we would only need to adapt some 100% free GNU/Linux distributions to it, like trisquel, parabola, or gnewsense, which is probably a more reasonable work and the workload can more easily be distributed.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Active_Management_Technology


  94. Wonderful ideas…. i hope the laptop supports less dramatic interfaces …. such as i2c , SPI , CSI-3 I am rooting for this to succeed. Case design can be supplied by many vendors. Add-ons can attach to bottom of case. Hooray and please keep it all open source and shared openly. Best to you. from Denver, CO

  95. gordon says:

    Oh god, what should I do to get one of those?
    I had an idea to make my own laptop based on Olinuxino boards, but if there is a single chance to get this thing during next year – I will wait…

  96. […] exercises” was a flex adapter for emulating a TSOP NAND FLASH chip, which I had written about previously on this […]

  97. Travis says:

    Any plans to support any of the BSDs?

  98. I do accept as true with all of the ideas you have introduced for your post. They are very convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are very short for beginners. Could you please extend them a little from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

  99. crypt17 says:

    I was wondering if there had been any milestones reached on this project. I have been interested in this project for the last year and would love to have one of these machines as my next laptop.

  100. Aroundwaves says:

    Incredible work. When i read about ” We also had a little adventure writing code that could calibrate wire delays on the DDR3 bus” thats mindblowing :) pure work from the hard grounded hardware :D Regards !

  101. […] For now. Since Novena is receiving a lot of ‘I want one too!’s, Bunnie and Xobs are (somewhat reluctantly) planning a crowd funding campaign to produce more units. The campaign is estimated to launch […]

  102. bvernoux says:

    This mainboard is amazing, congratulation for the hard work behind !!!

    I think the only missing stuff USB 3.0 ports which does not exist on iMX6 (IIRC) even if there is Gigabit Eth.

    Also a must will be to have an hydrbid Linux Kernel which only use 2 or 3 CPU cores and let free the 4th to realtime embedded stuff (with direct connection to the FPGA).

    Best Regards