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GNU is Not Unix Hardware Hacking Open Source Portables Build Hardware Linux

Librem: a Laptop Custom-Made For Free/Libre Software 229

Bunnie Huang's Novena laptop re-invents the laptop with open source (and Free software) in mind, but the hackability that it's built for requires a fair amount of tolerance on a user's part for funky design and visible guts. New submitter dopeghost writes with word of the nearly-funded (via Crowd Supply) Librem laptop, a different kind of Free-software machine using components "specifically selected so that no binary blobs are needed in the Linux kernel that ships with the laptop." Made from high quality components and featuring a MacBook-like design including a choice of HiDPI screen, the Librem might just be the first laptop to ship with a modern Intel CPU that is not locked down to require proprietary firmware.

Richard M. Stallman, president of the FSF, said, "Getting rid of the signature checking is an important step. While it doesn't give us free code for the firmware, it means that users will really have control of the firmware once we get free code for it."
Unlike some crowdfunding projects, this one is far from pie-in-the-sky, relying mostly on off-the-shelf components, with a planned shipping date in Spring of this year: "Purism is manufacturing the motherboard, and screen printing the keyboard. Purism is sourcing the case, daughter cards, memory, drives, battery, camera, and screen."
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Librem: a Laptop Custom-Made For Free/Libre Software

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  • I definitely want one. The NSA is workig to be in the BIOS / radio firmware etc., but this is a very good first step, besides looking gorgeous with a replaceable battery and a DVD drive...take me there.
  • by unixisc ( 2429386 ) on Tuesday January 20, 2015 @12:35PM (#48857429)
    This is based on a 4 Core (8 Threads) 3.4GHz Intel i7-4770HQ. So has Intel released the HDL model of that CPU for these Librem guys, in case they wish to change anything inside it? B'cos they make big claims about the kernel, OS, software, freedom and privacy, so it would be interesting to see if they go all the way. Heck, they should start it right from the bottom - make a GPLv3 based CPU (whose HDL models are all publicly available). It would probably have to be a VLIW CPU or something, in order to force the source code to be always available. Not an x86 or an ARM.
    • by ssam ( 2723487 ) on Tuesday January 20, 2015 @12:50PM (#48857591)

      You have to take steps to make progress. You can take something useful and make it more open (like librem) or you could start from scratch and make something very basic that is completely open.

      You can take bigger strides towards openness and get something like Novena, but then you make other sacrifices (size, cost, performance).

      I guess if you had infinite money you could make a high spec, completely opensource laptop.

      • The main cost in developing a laptop is the high cost of tooling for the injection molding. http://openlunchbox.com/ [openlunchbox.com] plans on rapidly printing laptop cases to get around this problem and making all the main components as modules. SLA resolution is in the sub-100 micron range vs well over 100 micron for FDM. It's also an order or two of magnitude faster.

      • You have to take steps to make progress. You can take something useful and make it more open (like librem) or you could start from scratch and make something very basic that is completely open.

        This. Stallman himself took the former, more pragmatic approach when he began Gnu. He started with an existing proprietary Unix system (Sun OS?) and used it to develop parts of Gnu, with the goal of replacing the entire OS eventually with Gnu.

      • by lkcl ( 517947 ) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Tuesday January 20, 2015 @06:17PM (#48860925) Homepage

        You have to take steps to make progress. You can take something useful and make it more open (like librem) or you could start from scratch and make something very basic that is completely open.

        You can take bigger strides towards openness and get something like Novena, but then you make other sacrifices (size, cost, performance).

        I guess if you had infinite money you could make a high spec, completely opensource laptop.

        interesting that you should say this :) i am taking a different approach. i am also developing a laptop where the goal is to reach FSF-Endorseability *and* high-end specs. i am doing it one phase at a time, as you suggest... however where instead of having infinite money i am instead using creativity and ingenuity (posh words for "persistent bloody-mindedness combined with desperation stroke eye-popping frustration").

        sooo, i decided to go the "modular" route, but had to first create a decent hardware standard - one that will still be here in 10 years time but is simple enough for the average person (or a 5-year-old, or an 80-year-old) to use. it's based on an old "Memory Card" standard - you may have heard how PCMCIA is no longer being used? well, the case-work is still around :) so, re-using PCMCIA it is. and all the benefits of "Memory Card", you now get "Computer Card".. upgradeable, swappable, saleable, transferrable, storable "Computer" Card. ... but then, of course, because of that, yaay, you now have to design entirely new casework, not just a motherboard. talking to casework suppliers didn't um go so well, so i have to do it. bought a mendel90 6 months ago... ... but mendel90's don't do injection-moulded plastics, they do 3d-printed filament plastics. and when presented with a potential $USD 20,000 cost for creating injection-moulding (you send your STL files off, someone adapts them, CNCs out two steel halves and then a little *team* of chinese people sit there for weeks on end polishing out all the CNC burrs.... then you find out it's *completely wrong* and have *another* $USD 20,000 to pay... no wonder ODMs quote $USD 250,000 for developing laptops!!!) ... anyway so that's all completely insane, so i thought, "hmm, i wonder if you can create reverse-3d-printed moulds to do injection-mould prototyping" and it turns out that you can. so i could at least - on a low budget - make a few runs out of very-low-temperature plastic (so as not to burst the 3d-printed plastic under pressure), hell i could even use plasticine for goodness sake, just to get a proof-of-concept, *then*.... and this is the hilarious bit.... there's a girl who's been doing LostPLA home-grown aluminium casting.... *using 1500W microwave ovens* :)

        http://media.ccc.de/browse/con... [media.ccc.de]

        so in theory i could quite conceivably even try doing the casting of the inverse-moulds for plastic injection *myself*, out of landfill-designated aluminium bicycle rims. do watch that talk: julia is surprisingly subtly funny, there were lots of jokes that the audience didn't get (not a native english speaking audience), and a few later that they did.

        bottom line it *can* be done... if you make the decision, and damn well stick at it until success. if you're interested to follow along, here's the links:

        * micro-desktop (launching very soon) which has the first EOMA68 module: https://www.crowdsupply.com/eo... [crowdsupply.com]
        * the 7in tablet (due to go to assembly this week) http://rhombus-tech.net/commun... [rhombus-tech.net]
        * the 15.6in laptop (currently developing the casework) http://rhombus-tech.net/commun... [rhombus-tech.net]

        on the laptop - as yo

  • after the sort of prayer you use when things hit the fan?
    • When things hit the fan, at least it will be relatively easy to clean out.

      Kudos to them for making the fan semi-easily accessible. You have to remove the entire back panel - but that seems to apply for access to HDD and RAM as well anyway. Hopefully it tilts and slides right away from the fins as well and you don't have to unscrew and lift those off (potentially putting stress on the CPU/GPU).

      ( Also yay for keeping the speakers away from the top / not using a fine mesh grille that just gets gunked up with d

  • Most CAD applications are usable only with two-button mice and trackpads - although 3 button mice and trackpads are better.

    (besides, I personally prefer the tackpoint (AKA "clit") to the trackpad, but I can't even hope to have such open-source laptop to have that option - that's asking too much, I guess)

    • Are their serious OpenSource CAD Programs for Linux?
      If they are not Open Source then you shouldn't worry about having a fully open source laptop.

    • If you want a mouse, just plug one in. No one stops you from using CAD level hardware with this laptop.

      The trackpoint is owned by Lenovo currently, feel free to approach them for an open spec, but expect to be laughed at.

    • Nowadays, the 2 buttons are actually buried beneath the single trackpad, so that it's 1 piece. I don't really like it, but that's what it is. What's worse - previous generation laptops would have a separate button that would disable them, but that's gone from current models, so that one needs touchfreeze, or disabling the trackpad from the control panel
  • "One Pop-Down RJ45 Network port" ??? Pop-down? Does that mean it isn't just a normal port you plug in, but is one of those spring loaded ports that pop out? Ya'know, the things horrible notorious for breaking?

    I guess it doesn't matter. Googled the chipset, first result: "Realtek r8169 not working in CentOS" - Sounds good to me!

    "Three USB 3.0 ports" - I would seriously pay MORE for more USB ports, even if they are 2.0 ports. I hate having to travel with a USB hub just because manufactures don't want to shove

    • r8169 works well in most cases. I'm sure the particular chipset used in that laptop has been tested.
    • Can't you just connect one of the ports to another USB hub, and use that to connect to your other peripherals? And use the primary ports just for low speed USB devices, like keyboards, mice, et al?
      • Correction: I meant use the connected USB for low speed peripherals, like keyboards, while using the primary USB ports for things like printers, USB drives, et al
    • Some of the newer laptops are too thin for a RJ-45 jack. The bottom part of the jack folds down a few MM (my wife's laptop has this "feature") so you can get the RJ-45 into the slot. I haven't noticed too much of an issue with it, I believe it's going to be common now that laptops are thinner than the RJ-45 jack because otherwise you can't have a RJ-45 without a bulge in the case.

  • Why HDMI? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArhcAngel ( 247594 ) on Tuesday January 20, 2015 @01:17PM (#48857913)
    If they were going for free wouldn't DisplyPort [displayport.org] have been a better option? I mean HDMI is at its roots video DRM. With DisplyPort you can opt to output to almost every modern video connection available including HDMI.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Tuesday January 20, 2015 @01:30PM (#48858079)
    Some key specs on this thing:

    3.4GHz Intel i7-4770HQ
    Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200
    375 x 244 x 22mm 2.0Kg
    14 x 9.6 x 0.86" 4.4lbs
    48 Wh lithium polymer battery
    Up to 8 hours usage

    That battery life is a pipe dream. The Macbook Pro 15 (which is much better optimized for battery life than Windows) w/o discrete graphics gets 8 hours under light use on the same CPU using a 95 Wh battery. This thing is more likely to get 4 hours best case, probably closer to 2-3 hours since most open source software won't be optimized for power savings on this exact hardware. (Yes I've tested this, when I put together my NAS/VM server. I plugged it into a Kill-a-Watt and measured power draw from a variety of OSes. Windows came in best at 30 Watts idle. The best default install of a Linux distro was 35 Watts idle. The worst 55 Watts idle. All were right around 105 Watts under load.)

    Most of the Windows laptops with an quad core i7 (without Iris Pro graphics) managing 4 hours under light use have a 60+ Wh battery. The two with 52/54 Wh batteries (Lenovo Y50, MSI GS60) come in at 3-4 hours battery life in reviews. An 8 hour battery life in this thing is going to be attainable only in the useless "I leave the laptop sitting there powered on, but doing nothing" case (where BTW the MBP 15 hits 14 hours due to its gargantuan battery, and the 60+ Wh Windows laptops manage about 8 hours).

    Which brings us to the weight. Given the short battery life, why not increase the weight to put in a bigger battery? Obviously they're trying to match the Macbook Pro 15. But if you can't match it, sacrificing battery size to keep the weight low is probably the worst compromise you can make. As it is, this thing is going to be an super-light (for a 15" notebook) ultra-portable laptop that has to sit on the desk plugged into AC power most of the time. People who buy ultra-portable laptops buy them so they can take it with them and use it away from the desk and power outlet. People who don't mind short battery life don't mind it because their laptop usually sits on a desk plugged into AC power, and thus weight doesn't matter as much. Pick one or the other.
  • by dcooper_db9 ( 1044858 ) on Tuesday January 20, 2015 @02:29PM (#48858813)
    Just yesterday I was reading about the Novena and a couple of similar and related projects. It struck me that all of these projects are tackiling this from the ground up. It seems to me that more people could contribute if different projects could focus on separate modules. That way I could maybe buy an open hardware video adapter to fix a laptop screen. Or an open hardware disk controller to restore a burnt HDD controller. Having open hardware components available would make it cheaper to repair computers. I'd love to be able to stock a single drive controller card and flash the firmware to match the drive it's controlling. Right now I have a complete laptop with a broken hinge and damaged power port. I'd love to be able to take all the parts out and put them into an aftermarket case. I don't mean a replacement case from the original model. I mean a standardized case that would allow me to swap out parts. Why does no such case exist? Why do I have to order an exact match when the case is just molded plastic and each component is pretty much the same size and shape?
  • What was wrong with standard Linux distributions such as Debian / Ubuntu / whatever?
    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      Those Custom OSes that hardware manufacturers like to use are almost always rebranded and slightly modified versions of existing distros. I wouldn't be surprised at all if their Linux distro is just Debian with their logo image bundled in. Maybe a few tweaks to make it a little more battery efficient, which it's going to need if they want to get 8 hours of runtime on a 48WH battery and a Core i7.
    • What was wrong with standard Linux distributions such as Debian / Ubuntu / whatever?

      The FSF explains that here [gnu.org]

  • Or will it only run GNU/Linux?
    • This will be a question similar to the one about running Linux on a MacBook the other day. If you wanna run something like Debian, Ubuntu, Mint, Mageia or Fedora, then why would you get something like this? When you can get an off the shelf laptop from, say, Dell, and then run Linux.

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