Bunnie Huang is building a laptop

Virtuoso hardware hacker Bunnie Huang is building an open hardware laptop. Want.

We started the design in June, and last week I got my first prototype motherboards, hot off the SMT line. It’s booting linux, and I’m currently grinding through the validation of all the sub-components. I thought I’d share the design progress with my readers.

Of course, a feature of a build-it-yourself laptop is that all the design documentation is open, so others of sufficient skill and resources can also build it. The hardware and its sub-components are picked so as to make this the most practically open hardware laptop I could create using state of the art technology. You can download, without NDA, the datasheets for all the components, and key peripheral options are available so it’s possible to build a complete firmware from source with no opaque blobs.

Building my Own Laptop


  1. As always, Bunnie Huang is my hero. I might not be much of a maker, or even remotely skilled at electronics, but i think the type of thought and work he puts out is very important since he’s constantly pushing for not only open source but also openness as far as process goes.

  2. I assume that this will be about twice as thick s the standard laptop.  There’s a few million dollars of engineering that goes into the typical laptop these days, making the motherboard fit into the case, around the battery pack, disk and DVD drive.

        1. Not to mention what ever “corp” you bought it from isn’t who really made it.

          HP, Dell, Acer don’t build laptops, they just assemble kits.

    1. From the article, I read that it’s about 14mm for the board. That doesn’t too bad – it’ll be about 20mm at the end..

      Not exactly a macbook air, but respectable…

  3.  If it does what I want it to, I don’t care if it’s an inch thick. Thin is nice, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

        1.  Bogosity alert!  My 2004 Thinkpad X40 is 1240 grams, and its 3-hour battery is 190 grams…  Have things change that much in a few years?

          1. Sounds like things have changed some since 2004 then. The MacBook Air is 1080g, and its battery is 450g. So the laptop weight has gone down quite a lot (they’re packing more power into 630 non-battery grams than yours has in 1050 grams), but they’ve made up for it by considerably upping the weight of the battery (the MacBook Air lasts 5 hours while on continuous WiFi).

            Still, 40% isn’t “almost all,” it’s true.

          2. Well it really depends on what you want in the laptop.  For your ultra thins, then yes, the battery probably comprises half of the total weight.  For one that is more heavily oriented toward work or graphics (say 17″ with an optical drive) the battery weight is probably a quarter or less the weight of the total.  Battery weight is fairly stable among laptops.

          3. I’m not sure.  I have a desktop replacement laptop (Latitude E6510) and the battery is still a substantial fraction of the weight of the laptop.  If I pull the battery out, the machine is almost disconcertingly light for how bulky it is. 

    1. he’s likely to make more money from this than he would had he designed it as an employee at HP, DELL Apple. by being the owner of the brand and the host of the projects website. he has first pick od customers willing to buy the worlds first truely open source laptop. The open source community are known for their generosity (look at humble bundle donations by OS for example).

      Lady Ada gave a few good talks about setting up a successful business model around open source hardware.

    1. Honestly without software not much.  All the i/o pins are nice, especially if they can make a way to access them externally.  But the real magic would be the software to use/interact with them in a fairly simple and straight forward way.

    2. New Windows 8 machines are now locked down to the point that you must have Microsoft’s permission to install non-Microsoft software. That includes the OS iPhones you have to hack to install non-Apple approved software. Macintosh is headed down that path.  Part of the intent is to mollify Hollywood’s desire to own every path to your eyes – part is to drive up revenue to Apple and Microsoft.

      What you’ll get is the freedom to choose what software runs on your computer without having to ask for permission.

      1. “New Windows 8 machines are now locked down to the point that you must have Microsoft’s permission to install non-Microsoft software.”

        Keep drinking that Kool-Aid.

        1. From arstechnica.com:
          > On ARM Windows 8 systems, Microsoft’s certification rules prohibit entering “custom mode”—users must not be able to add certificates of their own—and prohibit disabling secure boot completely. The ARM systems will all require the use of a signed operating system loader, and that operating system loader must be signed by Microsoft.

        2. Installing unsigned drivers on non-ARM Windows 8 requires a fairly lengthy process of temporarily disabling the “Driver Signature Enforcement”. Maybe it’s not “asking for permission” but they have certainly made it difficult.

          1. “lengthy” in people-time not CPU-time.  It requires the command-line and multiple restarts.  Maybe there is an easier way but I haven’t found it yet.  I had to figure it out just to install Arduino drivers.

  4. Someone quote me a price on building and casing the thing. I am /not/ capible of doing this kind of work, but i wanna show support.

  5. I see a great start for a slim desktop PC. Something that could hang on the back of a monitor, or underneath a desk.

  6. This is hopefully the start of a very big project– can Bunnie be our hardware Linus?  Please?!
    The time is ripe for open source computers for general purpose computing– walled gardens in every direction make me claustrophobic.

  7. Once upon a time laptop building was the new hot thing with gaming pc builders. There were a few cases out there with batteries/power supplies built in, and the requisite monitors were available from the usual parts sources. If memory serves the trend died rather quickly. It wasn’t any cheaper than buying an existing laptop, parts options were very limited, and the available cases were significantly thicker. There were also cooling issues iirc. This was probably around 98. Haven’t seen anything on laptop building since. Always seemed like a fun project, but it never seemed very practical.

  8. I like the look of this – although it’s being pushed as an Open Source laptop, it seems to me more like a single-board computer that has been designed so that you *could* use it as a laptop, but actually fills a niche quite close to the one currently taken by Mini-ITX computers.

    Arduino —> Raspberry Pi —> This thing —> Mini-ITX —> PC Desktop

    All of the above can be used for interesting hardware projects, but their CPU power (and size) increase the further you go to the right.

    1. This is a prototype board, which means that its form factor is extra-large for testing, not compressed for fitting into a laptop case.

      Expect the final laptop design to be dramatically different in size and shape.

  9. Look better: i.MX6, it’s a Freescale ARM CPU. This isn’t something you can easily buy, there’re not a lot of ARM laptops and the cheaper ones are full of closed source blobs and very hard to get fully working with a standard Linux distro (as opposed to whatever the Chinese manufacturer ships, often without complying to the GPL requirements).

      1. Full of blobs, with binary drivers working only with the software they ship with, often no support and without the source code the manufacturer should offer, don’t even think about asking full hardware specifications. And if they come with Windows RT the bootloader is encrypted and it’s not possible to load a different OS.

        1. The iMX6 is a chip, it only gets a Windows RT bootloader or binary blobs if you choose to build them into whatever you’re building – the whole point about open source hardware and software is that you get to choose that stuff for yourself

          1. Maybe I didn’t explain myself: of course the Freescale i.MX6 is a CPU but you can’t do a lot with a CPU by itself, you need all the rest, and “all the rest” when you look at ARM boards is all but open. Including the ARM laptops and tablets you can buy.

    1. Take a look on armdevices.net – lots and lots of arm powered laptops and tablets etc. some very, very, cheap, like $70.

      1. Full of blobs, with binary drivers working only with the software they ship with, often no support and without the source code the manufacturer should offer, don’t even think about asking full hardware specifications. And if they come with Windows RT the bootloader is encrypted and it’s not possible to load a different OS.

  10. There are single-board ARM computers a lot more powerful than a Raspberry: TI’s Pandaboard, ST Ericsson Snowball, Samsung-based ODROID-X and ODROID-X2, and a few others I can’t remember now. This board has a few nice things you don’t usually find on ASoCs who are more or less glorified smartphone components: more networking (most of the boards come with a single USB FastEthernet, if they have it at all), upgradeable RAM, SATA…

    EDIT: this was supposed to be a reply to http://boingboing.net/2012/12/15/bunnie-huang-is-building-a-lap.html#comment-739281805

  11. Put me on the list! I still have my left kidney up for sale and would swap it for one of these in a heart beat (heart already taken)!

  12. The only thing I don’t like about this board is the non-replaceable processor (and the rest of the hardware only for it). Basically, the nonuniversal design. BUT, Otherwise, these things are great. I just got a raspberry and it’s awesome. There is no reason people shouldnt learn Linux/unix. When you’ve got unix under your belt, the computer becomes less about the OS holy wars and more about what you can DO with it. Mine is becoming a CNC controller after I’m done goofing around with it.

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