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Coming soon: A new, open laptop from the creator of Chumby

This hand-crafted Linux device will feature 'uniquely open source components,' its maker says.

Open source software has become an increasingly widespread part of the computing world thanks to the ever-growing popularity of Linux, Firefox, LibreOffice, and other prominent examples. Fully open hardware, however, is still much less common.

Just a few weeks ago we saw the emergence of the Raspberry Pi-style A13-OLinuXino, but over the weekend another interesting contender came to light: a new, open laptop from the creator of the Chumby Internet device.

"We are building an open laptop, with some wacky features in it for hackers like me," wrote renowned Xbox hacker and Chumby creator Andrew "Bunnie" Huang in a blog post on Sunday.

"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," Huang added. "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."

Huang may launch a Kickstarter campaign to offer the resulting ARM-based device up to the public, he said. In the meantime, here's a rundown of how it's shaping up.

Raspberry Pi compatibility

Currently code-named "Novena," the new DIY device uses a Freescale i.MX6 ARM Cortex-A9 quad-core processor running at 1.2 GHz and a Vivante GC2000 OpenGL ES2.0 GPU.

A mini PCI-express slot, a resistive touchscreen controller, a three-axis accelerometer, 100 Mbit Ethernet, and a Raspberry Pi-compatible expansion header are also among the laptop's many intriguing features.

Perhaps best of all, however, is the openness of the device. Only a few features require a closed-source firmware blob, but the system is functional and bootable without, Huang notes.

The Novena's circuit board is pictured in the annotated diagram above. Source files for the current prototype are available on the Novena wiki.

'A low-volume laptop'

The project was launched in June, and prototype motherboards arrived last week, Huang says.

Next, he plans to spend a few months validating features and porting drivers and a Linux distribution.

It certainly sounds compelling, but be aware that the device's price may not be as low as some we've seen.

"I'm not looking to break any low-price records for this laptop--if you just want a cheap Linux laptop, you're better off buying a netbook or EeePC," Huang noted. "This is a low-volume, hand-crafted laptop made with uniquely open source components, so the pricing would be consistent with such crafted goods."

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