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:
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 🙂