TERES-I DIY Open Source Hardware hacker’s Laptop update


keyb

It’s have been long time since I blogged about our laptop project.

What is the status – we have first PCBs prototyped and most of parts works fine.

We had to make Matrix keyboard + I2C touchpad to USB converter board. We did this with small AVR.

For this project we couldn’t use any of our standard connectors – we had to source all new: mini HDMI connectors, USB host connectors, power jack, audio jack connectors all they had to be low profile and embedded inside the PCB, hence this off form of the main PCB:

PCB

The LCDs used in laptops are not as the normal LCDs, they are very thin only 3mm or less and as their cable is special as must have as low as possible number of thin wires knitted together in very thin round cable, is has to go through laptop plastic’s hinges and normal cable can’t fit there. This is why all laptop LCDs are not parallel RGB neither LVDS but use eDP interface.

For bad luck A64 do not support such interface so we start to search LVDS/HDMI/RGB to eDP converter ICs. What we found is that Western suppliers solutions (TI etc) are more expensive than A64 chip itself so no go. We found Chinese solution for $1 NCS8801 and we said – well this is our solution🙂 we made PCBs prototype and sourced few chips then we struggled by the lack of documentation🙂 The ‘datasheet’ is 30 pages and the only code which is on the net initializes registers at addresses not mentioned in the datasheet, after spending almost 4 weeks on this we gave up and start looking for another solution. We found ANX6345 which is a bit more expensive but has some code in Linux Kernel and seems used with Rockchip ICs, so we hope this to solve LCD issue. We designed new board and got the new prototypes few days ago so they wait open window on assembly line to be assembled, crossing fingers everything to work🙂

The mechanical parts has their history too. In June we placed orders to several different suppliers for the plastic parts, speakers, touchpads, power adapters, screws, hinges, total 40 different parts which are inside the laptop. The orders were complete in July and consolidated as one shipment on August 6 they were expressed with TNT and 2 days later were at Sofia airport, but the troubles just began🙂

To import something may seems very easy for outsiders, but has it’s tricks. Usually every component can be classified in several positions in customs tariff, for instance LCDs have at least 7-8 different codes at which they can be imported, like they can be classified as display for computing equipment, as display for TV, as display for signage, as display for metal processing machine, etc etc. The trouble is that all these positions had different import tax🙂 and of course Bulgarian customs try to force you to pay on the highest tariff code unless you prove them other. Another issue is that there work mostly people with economic education and very few know electronics matter. Import tax starts from 0% for computer parts and go up to 4-5% for TVs and machines, not small amount when you talk for $200 laptop parts! So laptop parts were sitting on customs 3 weeks as customs officers were trying to tariff every hinge, screw, plastic etc part as different product to tariff it with the highest code. Fortunately after 3 weeks of thinking somebody with common sense allowed all laptop spare parts to be imported as such with 0% tax and we got them today, but the fight will continue as this was only 10% of the order which we wanted to receive promptly paying expensive air transport, remain 90% parts still travel by sea and will arrive end of September, so let’s see how they will tariff these when arrive🙂

We get lot of request when the laptop will be done and we love all our impatient customers🙂

Guys be sure that we do anything humanly possible to release it as soon as we can, but to design something from scratch which you had never did before is not easy, once we do this I’m sure we will easily make 10 other laptops, but first time is always more difficult, to arrange logistic of so many parts and produce is not less challenging.

 

P.S. I hope you like the “Super” key on our new keyboard above🙂

36 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lucio De Re
    Aug 31, 2016 @ 14:49:41

    And every bit of feedback is welcome as well as reassuring.

    Thank you.

    Reply

  2. Michael Noel
    Aug 31, 2016 @ 15:04:49

    Well done Tsvetan!🙂 In Romania is almost the same with the custom’s offices!

    Reply

  3. Julien Del
    Aug 31, 2016 @ 15:05:31

    Ah, nice. The PCB looks lovely, thank you for your feedback!

    Reply

  4. Bobby
    Aug 31, 2016 @ 15:10:10

    Any outstanding issues that hold back the release of A64-OLinuXino, except the GBIT PHY?

    Reply

  5. Lyra
    Aug 31, 2016 @ 16:06:56

    WOW! Awesome news!

    Buuut I don’t really like that arrow keys, but nevermind, arrow keys aren’t necessary, because there are C-p C-n C-f & C-b :3

    Reply

  6. Not A Laser
    Aug 31, 2016 @ 17:36:52

    That super key is the best🙂.

    Reply

  7. zoobab
    Aug 31, 2016 @ 18:59:06

    Solution is to relocate to Honk Kong.

    Reply

  8. SK
    Aug 31, 2016 @ 19:32:59

    Nice job, let’s hope for a full-sized laptop later.
    P.s. RK3399 has eDP and also PCIe (that could replace/compensate lack of SATA).

    Reply

  9. Edward M Lukacs
    Aug 31, 2016 @ 21:28:40

    This is so very true! “Guys be sure that we do anything humanly possible to release it as soon as we can, but to design something from scratch which you had never did before is not easy” I speak from other design experience, but this is so true! Doing it by yourself can be slow and difficult, but it has advantages. You do not have to please a boss or a committee, so the design is yours and it functions and looks as YOU wish it! Great sports cars have always been built by hand by artisans who each leave their individual marks on finished product. To be sure all such “roll your own” devices have their oddities and idiosynchrasies, but that is what makes them desirable. Keep it up! I’ll be watching and encouraging our efforts.

    Reply

  10. 99guspuppet
    Sep 01, 2016 @ 01:08:25

    I realize that it is a lot to ask ….. can you supply mechanical dimensions and PCB schematics and PCB layout files. Are they done with Eagle or KiCAD or ?
    Best
    Gus in Denver

    Reply

    • OLIMEX Ltd
      Sep 01, 2016 @ 08:40:37

      we use Kicad, no problem to upload our work files, but they are in no useful state now, better wait to solve LCD issue as there will be changes

      Reply

      • 99guspuppet
        Sep 02, 2016 @ 02:30:09

        Except for the LCD…. the IO will remain the same ??? and the PCB dimensions will stay the same ? Are there mechanical dimensions for the case ?

  11. SK
    Sep 01, 2016 @ 09:18:39

    Please make sure to use high quality and reliable connectors. One of the weaknesses my current laptop suffers from are bad connectors – in the matter of 100s of connection-disconnect cycles they start to fail in making good electrical contact. My audio jacks are already replaced and I try to not put much stress on the HDMI because it also isn’t feeling good. And this is not some unknown brand but one of the most selled ones.

    Reply

  12. jef
    Sep 01, 2016 @ 12:23:26

    Doesn’t using the LCD interface for the display mean we get pretty limited color resolution? According to A64 datasheet the LCD interface has only 6 bits per RGB-channel instead of the normal 8. That would be a bit of a showstopper for me.

    Reply

  13. darth_llamah
    Sep 01, 2016 @ 16:53:59

    I just LOVE the penguin on Super key🙂
    Nice to hear what progress did You made, looking forward to see a working prototype (not to mention production run in Your store).
    @jef- most laptops LCDs still use 18bit color, eg my Acer v3-571. I have a modified UEFI with additional settings enabled, by default LCD runs @18bit, changing it to 24 makes picture totally distorted.

    Reply

  14. nano
    Sep 01, 2016 @ 22:26:48

    are buttons of keyboard replaceable? i would like to hane localization in my language.

    Reply

  15. vincele
    Sep 02, 2016 @ 11:42:05

    Please try to get keyboard light, either as a back-lit one or with something like :
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_ThinkPad_ThinkLight

    Reply

  16. Edward Lukacs
    Sep 06, 2016 @ 16:52:54

    There is no question. It would be best if your keyboard had replaceable keys. I use a “Canadian Mltilingual” or a “Swiss” layout for the various accent marks for writing in several languages.A keyboard with replaceable keys, when combined with a Lnux-based keyboard programming utility would allow literally everyone to set up the keyboard in their own language. Of course, ideally, the replaceable keycaps would be fairly generic, so that replacement keys would be readily available for customizing. As far as back-lit keys, I’d love to have that but not if it would restrict me only to English. I assume your keyboard manufacturer can supply different key sets?

    Reply

  17. SK
    Sep 06, 2016 @ 21:03:28

    Do the keyboards you ordered have anti-ghosting (diodes)? I just tested my cheap USB keyboard and it turns out it is 100% susceptible to ghosting which is not good. I guess 100-ish diodes would not cost much in volume manufactured keyboards.

    Reply

  18. LinuxUser
    Sep 06, 2016 @ 23:57:43

    Uhm, what a superb “super” key. This alone makes it worth of buying the whole enclosure. Let OpenSource rock the world. Just because we can!😛

    Reply

  19. LinuxUser
    Sep 07, 2016 @ 00:01:17

    > We had to make Matrix keyboard + I2C touchpad to USB converter board.
    I wonder if this really needed, at least for touchpad. These days Linux supports plenty of I2C touchpads directly as far as I know.

    Reply

  20. adddsisjdidifi
    Sep 11, 2016 @ 13:43:33

    Eh.. I’d by now..

    Reply

  21. trashelectronic
    Sep 12, 2016 @ 00:14:45

    Great project! I volunteer as tester🙂

    Are you planning an accessible IO expansion port as outlet too? For example to have access to i2c/UART/spi when working on projects? Or maybe even to extend the laptop with more functionality.

    How do you plan on documenting the ports/space inside the laptop? Because I’m thinking about building a Alter SoC FPGA based motherboard variant.

    I know, I have a lot of questions, so this is tje last one: What capacity will the battery and do you have an estimation on the runtime?

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply

  22. notzed
    Sep 14, 2016 @ 10:53:22

    “to design something from scratch which you had never did before is not easy”

    No doubt! Thanks for the update.

    Reply

  23. redmosaic
    Sep 21, 2016 @ 02:23:27

    Consider developing motherboard for retrofitting old thinkpads. They have very nice case and keyboards with trackpoint. Batteries still available. Displays are not that good but I believe that there may be modern displays with compatible size. With modern ARM motherboard and display old thinkpad would have very long battery life.

    Reply

  24. Chris
    Sep 28, 2016 @ 16:22:41

    OH MY GOD YOURE ALIVE I’m so happy to see this post I thought the laptop was dead, dude make your kickstarter already so I can throw my money at you

    Reply

  25. mohit310
    Oct 04, 2016 @ 07:24:04

    awesome job guys!!! can’t wait for the laptop…

    Reply

  26. Silur
    Oct 09, 2016 @ 18:11:22

    This is the only reason I’m waiting before buying a new laptop

    Reply

  27. Edward Lukacs
    Oct 10, 2016 @ 15:32:36

    Same here. Recently I restored an old laptop, a Compaq Presario 2200, instead of buying new one. My next new laptop will not be Intel-based. Instead it will have a RISC processor, hopefully ARM. Also it will boot and run either BSD or Linux native, without being encumbered with any Android or similar crap software forced on me by the manufacturer. I’ve had enough of having to replace crummy Windows every time I buy a PC and I will never do it again. My only reservations with Teres-I are its small screen size and 16:9 format, mainly because I write fiction and my go-everywhere word processor is my laptop. I would be far happier with a 15 inch 4:3 screen or a 15.6 inch 16:9 screen but if this is what is available, I’ll wait for it.

    Reply

  28. Alex
    Oct 24, 2016 @ 15:11:35

    I wish PgUp\PgDown keys were at a better place and were not Fn-ned. And you have a spare space close to the up arrow.
    (You know, those keys come in very handy when one of your hands is busy playing with a cat.)

    Reply

    • Edward Lukacs
      Oct 25, 2016 @ 17:35:28

      I see your point, but using those four keys twice via the Fn key releases other keys for four other functions. My only problem with the keyboard is that It still has a Caps Lock key. Since Fortran 4 and old COBOL, Caps Lock is no longer really necessary and I always disable my key. Perhaps that key could be used for a whole lot of specialised functions? For example, since the keytable in Linux is editable, you might use the Capslock key for two functions(SHIFT selectabile with lower and upper case), two more with the Alt key, two more with the Fn key and finally if someone actually needs to set/unset the Capslock by doing Ctrl/Alt Caps Lock? There we’ve given one near-useless key with SEVEN auxilliary functions; a huge advantage within the space restrictions of a compact laptop keyboard!

      Reply

  29. Anton Zinoviev
    Nov 12, 2016 @ 15:59:29

    Hello,

    I’ve watched your talk at Openfest. With so much empty space inside the laptop, I think it would be great if it was possible to plug an USB device that would stay inside the case. I don’t know if there is enough space for an USB SSD disk but there are certainly other types smaller USB devices that one might want to have permanently installed in his laptop.

    Also, for security point of view, it will be interesting to have an open hardware portable product without any integrated radio devices. Whoever wants Wifi or Gps, let them install their own USB module inside the laptop. Please notice that people who care about security usually are willing to pay more. Even if you don’t have many customers who want radio-less laptop, be sure that they will be willing to pay more for such a product.😉

    Reply

  30. Markus
    Nov 27, 2016 @ 12:13:18

    I am excited and cannot wait for it. Go for it!

    Reply

  31. Nicolas Guilbert
    Dec 01, 2016 @ 11:49:03

    Would it be possible to download the CAD files for the casing? Just for experimenting with some customized (colored, embossed, what-have-you…) 3D printed designs with the kids.

    Reply

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