"... being able to swap-out parts when they’re broken or for upgrades, is something the others should strive to include in their respective platforms."
"Every single inch of this uniquely positioned notebook has been designed to be as hacker, user, and open source friendly as possible. It also boasts some seriously unexpected touches, like a mechanical keyboard, a 5-button trackball..."
"We’re thrilled to see how production ready the Reform is looking and can’t wait to hear user reports as they make their way into to the wild!"
"The goals of the project are to provide an open-source hardware laptop that avoids binary blobs as much as possible and is environmentally friendly. These goals guided many of the technical decisions."
"The MNT Reform is a laptop designed for folks who want to be able to understand, modify, and truly understand every aspect of their computer."
"MNT Reform is the one and only OSHWA certified laptop that I could find (on May 9, 2020)"
"Le MNT Reform est une machine 100% Open Hardware, elle est conçue pour des gens qui veulent comprendre comment marche un outil informatique, comment c’est construit et quels rouages logiciels sont en jeu pour fonctionner."
Mobile personal computers are becoming more and more opaque, vendor controlled, and hard to repair. Modern laptops have secret schematics, glued-in batteries, and components not under user control, like the Intel Management Engine or the Apple T2 security chip. Many people decide to tape over the built-in cameras of their laptops because they don’t know if they can trust the device or the software running on it.
Reform goes in the opposite direction. It is designed to be as open and transparent as possible, and to support a free and open source software stack from the ground up. It invites you to take a look under the hood, customize the documented electronics, and even repair it youself if you like. The Reform laptop has no built-in surveillance technologies, cameras, or microphones, so you can be confident that it will never spy on you. Built not around Intel technology, but NXP i.MX8M with 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 cores, Reform has a much simpler architecture than conventional laptops. This simplicity also makes for a more pleasant developer experience.
Reform is designed to stay with you for a long time. From open hardware input devices to user-swappable 18650 battery cells, we designed it to be the most repairable and best documented portable computer. We selected its components to strike a good balance between open source and usability. Reform is not bound to any cloud services, contracts, user agreements, or tracking. You can extend it and customize it as you like.
Reform doesn’t have any microphones or cameras built in, and Wi-Fi is provided by a removable PCIe card. You can even install your operating system or sensitive work data on an SD card that you can simply eject before travelling. Full-disk encryption is easy to set up with LUKS, and the system has no "management engine" or other remote control features that could be used to attack you.
Instead of following the trend of making ever thinner and smaller devices and sacrificing the typing experience, we decided to put a mechanical keyboard into Reform. Our open-hardware keyboard uses Kailh Choc Brown switches with 3 mm travel and 50 g operating force with n-key rollover and fully customizable firmware.
Reform runs a wealth of free productivity software like LibreOffice and Firefox, Inkscape, Scribus, and GIMP that have matured to easily rival the feature sets of their commercial counterparts while requiring significantly less system resources.
The main SoC family of Reform (i.MX) is well known as an industrial and automotive workhorse that doesn’t easily give up in a bit warmer or colder environments. The modular design of the notebook and a trackball that can be used with gloves makes Reform adaptable to workflows on field sites or in factories.
Emulation and cross-compiling are nice, but Reform has enough performance to be used for editing and compiling software on the "real thing", and is a more convenient all-in-one package than a Single Board Computer with a bunch of dongles.
The GPU in Reform supports OpenGL ES 2.0 through the open-source etnaviv driver that is part of the Linux kernel, and high fidelity audio is delivered by a Wolfson DAC on the motherboard. Reform’s rugged construction and repairability makes it a good fit for live environments.
Because Reform is designed to be taken apart, studied, and reassembled, and our production process is unusually open, it can be a useful prop for teaching electronics engineering (with KiCAD), applied computer science, or lean manufacturing.
The motherboard spans the complete inner width of the device (around 27 cm) and ends with external ports on both sides. It has the following features:
The Reform motherboard is open source hardware designed with the free KiCAD EDA. You can find the sources here:
The CPU, GPU, and hardware implementations of standard interfaces like USB 3.0, PCIe, and MIPI DSI are all located in the NXP i.MX8M, which is called a System-on-Chip (SoC). This SoC supports LPDDR4 memory, which in our case has 4 GB capacity. The SoM features an Atheros Ethernet PHY chip (AR8035). Both SoC and memory chips sit on a System-on-Module (SoM) that we source from Boundary Devices, a US company that specializes in i.MX reference designs. We selected their "Nitrogen8M SOM" module for Reform because it is the only available module for which you can download the complete schematics and understand what every component does. The SoM plugs into the Reform motherboard’s central 200-pin SO-DIMM connector. This means that anyone will be able to design a replacement SoM to power Reform with a completely different CPU or an FPGA, for example.
We developed a custom aluminum heatsink for the i.MX8M that allows Reform to run fully passive-cooled, eliminating the need for a fan.
The black-anodized and sand-blasted aluminum case, designed by industrial designer Ana Dantas, is one of the aspects of Reform we’re the most proud of. We made one more iteration to improve haptics and assembly ergonomics/speed and ended up with 5 CNC milled parts:
For easy (dis)assembly, Reform uses only M2 screws with Phillips-head everywhere (with one exception: M4 on the hinges).
When closed, the case is held shut by 8 little neodymium bar magnets which are located in the front edge of the screen enclosure and in the front of the main box.
The port arrangement features on the left side:
On the right side:
When not connected to a wall adapter, Reform is powered by 8x 18650 LiFePO4 battery cells. Each has a nominal voltage of 3.2 V, and all cells are linked in series, which means an operating voltage of 28.8 V. This arrangement has the upside that we can monitor and balance each cell individually. You don’t have to factory-match cells like you would have to in a parallel arrangement. You can buy replacement cells for Reform for around 2.50 EUR each. The LiFePO4 chemistry trades some energy density for many advantages:
We have teamed up with Fully Automated Technologies to help us optimize Reform’s power system for the final motherboard revision. Our goals were to be able to charge from a wide range of voltage inputs and to squeeze out more efficiency from buck voltage conversion.
The hinges for Reform are made by Smooth Group, model number SMS-ZZ-219. These are the same that we used in Reform version 1. They are very robust and allow the Reform screen to be opened to an angle of over 180 degrees.
We iterated on the keyboard several times to arrive at a layout that is a successful tradeoff between ergonomics and cost:
The keyboard not only works as a USB HID device, but it also has a direct UART cable connection to the system controller on the motherboard. By pressing the circle key, you can interact directly with the system controller, bypassing the main SoC. To give you visual feedback for this interaction, we added a tiny 128 x 32 pixel OLED on top of the keyboard. From here, you can check charger and battery cell status/health without any operating system support on the main SoC (even while you’re still installing an OS). The keyboard OLED and direct interaction mechanism has more potential future uses, like a password manager/wallet or notification display.
The display used in Reform is a 12.5" IPS eDP (embedded DisplayPort) panel from Innolux, model number N125HCE-GN1, with 24-bit color and 1920 x 1080 pixels. It is sharp, bright, and a pleasure to do text work on. It has a great color gamut for watching movies, as well. We ordered custom 30 pin I-PEX cables to connect it to the motherboard’s eDP 2 mm DuPont header. Brightness is controlled directly by a PWM output pin of i.MX8M and works with standard Linux backlight drivers/tools.
We employ two 1 W mobile speakers by PUI Audio (AS01808AO-3-R). These are mounted directly below the display.
The new Reform trackball has five buttons, so you don’t have to worry anymore about how to do a middle click or use the trackball as a scroll wheel (hold bottom left or right button and roll the ball up and down). Of course, because our trackball firmware is open source, you can adjust the button functions to behave exactly as you like. We developed a custom SLA-printed mechanical housing for the trackball. For the ball’s optical motion tracking, we are using a Pixart PAT9125EL laser sensor interfacing with a ATmega32U2 MCU with open source firmware.
If you prefer a trackpad over the trackball, you can choose it as an option. The trackball and trackpad are interchangeable modules. The trackpad is based on the capacitive multi-touch sensor module TPS65-201A-S by Azoteq. Like the trackball, we drive it with a custom ATmega32U2 PCB and our own open source firmware.
|MNT Reform||MacBook Air||Pinebook Pro||Librem 13 V4||ThinkPad T480|
|Comes with Schematics||Yes, KiCAD||No (secret)||PDF files||No (secret)||No (secret)|
|Open Hardware Keyboard/Trackball/Trackpad||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|3D Files of Case||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|User-exchangable Batteries||Yes, 18650 size||No (glued), custom size||Yes, custom size||Unknown||Yes, custom size|
|Designed for Linux/BSD||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Open System / Power Controller||Yes||No||Unknown||No||No|
|Blob-free Operating System/Drivers||Yes (except for optional HDMI output)||No||No (display and Wi-Fi need blobs)||Unknown||No|
|Blob-free Boot||Almost (DDR4 controller needs non-ARM blob)||No||Almost (DDR4 controller needs blob)||No||No|
|CPU||Quad-core 1.5 GHz ARM Cortex-A53 plus ARM Cortex-M4F||Dual-core Intel i5 up to 3.6 GHz||Quad-core 1.4 GHz ARM Cortex-A53 and Dual-core 1.8 GHz Cortex-A72||Dual-core Intel Core i7 7500U up to 3.5 GHz||Dual-Core Intel i5 7200U up to 3.1 GHz|
|GPU||Vivante GC7000Lite, OpenGL ES 2.0||Intel HD Graphics||Mali T-860||Intel HD Graphics 620, OpenGL 4.5||Intel HD Graphics 620, OpenGL 4.5|
|SoC Production Lifetime||10-15 years||unknown||unknown||unknown||unknown|
|Storage||PCIe-based SSD, SD Card, eMMC||PCIe-based SSD||eMMC, SD card, PCIe-based SSD (with adapter)||PCIe-based or SATA SSD||SATA HD/SSD|
|RAM||4 GB LPDDR4||8 GB LPDDR3||4 GB LPDDR4||8 GB unknown||8 GB DDR4|
|Internal Expansion||Mini PCIe slot, M.2 slot||No||M.2 slot||No||No|
|Display Size||12.5" Matte IPS||13.3” Glossy IPS||14” Matte IPS||13.3” Matte IPS||14” Matte|
|Battery Chemistry||LiFePO4 (safe)||Li-Polymer||Li-Polymer||Li-Polymer||Li-Ion|
|Chassis Material||Aluminum||Aluminum||Magnesium Alloy (?)||Aluminum||Glass-Fiber Reinforced Plastic|
|Gigabit Ethernet Port||Yes||No||No||No||Yes|
|Cooling||Passive Heatsink||Fan||Passive Heatsink||Fan||Fan|
|Weight||1.9 kg||1.25 kg||1.26 kg||1.4 kg||1.63 kg|
|Price (USD approx.)||999||1099||199.99||1399||1429|
A ready to go, open hardware MNT Reform laptop.
A fully assembled MNT Reform with 1 TB NVMe SSD, an mPCIe Wi-Fi card, and our custom Black Piñatex Leather Sleeve (vegan) made in Berlin by fashion designer Greta Melnik.
You assemble MNT Reform yourself from the individual boards, display and case parts, and print the manual on your own (if you want). All circuit boards are populated; no soldering required. Save some money and have a great learning experience building your own laptop.
For trackball option:
For trackpad option:
If you want to develop software for the Reform platform or want to build your own device based on it, this is the pledge level for you.
Just want to support the development of an open hardware laptop and get a nice shirt, too? Then this Fair Wear certified MNT Reform T-Shirt made from 100% cotton is for you. Color: Black. Screen printed in Berlin by blackink.
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