“A Linux-powered machine where every component can be modified by the user. Anyone who owns one will be able to rewire and reprogram individual components.”
“The actual design of the laptop itself is fully open, and users can adapt it to suit any other use cases they can think of.”
“Appealing to hardware hackers, a new build-your-own laptop kit, called Novena, puts you in the manufacturer’s seat.”
“developed for those who want to build your own computer without having to be limited to the choices made by various manufacturers in the market.”
“This is a compact, modifiable solution for any kind of software or hardware development needs.”
“They’ve worked on many Adafruit products/projects and an open source hardware laptop needs to be celebrated.”
“Novena is more than just an open hardware laptop; it’s designed from the outset to be a flexible compute platform”
“This is proof of the demand that exists among developers who want the freedom of doing hardware experiments.”
Novena is a 1.2GHz, Freescale quad-core ARM architecture computer closely coupled with a Xilinx FPGA. It’s designed for users who care about Free Software and open source, and/or want to modify and extend their hardware: all the documentation for the PCBs is open and free to download, the entire OS is buildable from source, and it comes with a variety of features that facilitate rapid prototyping.
Novena was originally offered with four variations (Just the Board, Desktop, Laptop, and Heirloom Laptop). Currently available is the “Just the Board”, with a case kit available for separate purchase.
All configurations will come with Debian (GNU/Linux) pre-installed, but of course you can build and install whatever distro you prefer!
This is not a machine for the faint of heart. It’s an open source project, which means part of the joy – and frustration – of the device is that it is continuously improving. This will be perhaps the only laptop that ships with a screwdriver; you’ll be required to install the battery yourself, screw on the LCD bezel of your choice, and you’ll get the speakers as a kit, so you don’t have to use our speaker box design – if you have access to a 3D printer, you can make and fine tune your own speaker box.
A number of extra parts parts and add-on are available for a-la-carte purchase. See the product bar on the right for current offerings.
The first thing you’ll notice about the case design is that the screen opens “the wrong way”. This feature allows the computer to be usable as a wall-hanging unit when the screen is closed. It also solves a major hackability issue with a clamshell arrangement – it can be difficult to access the internals for hacking, as it’s blocked by a keyboard mounting plate.
In the design shown here, you can access the internals without having to remove a single screw – in fact, the laptop opens itself for you. With the slide of a latch, the screen automatically pops open thanks to an internal gas spring. As the internals are naked when the screen is up, this is not a computer for casual home use. Another side benefit of this design is there’s no fan noise – when the screen is up, the motherboard is exposed to open air and a passive heatsink is all you need to keep the CPU cool.
Another feature of this design is the LCD bezel is made out of a single, simple aluminum sheet. This allows users with access to a minimal machine shop to modify or craft their own bezels – no custom tooling required. Hopefully this makes adding knobs and connectors, or changing the LCD relatively easy. In order to encourage people to experiment, we will ship desktop and laptop devices with not one, but two LCD bezels, so you don’t have to worry about having an unusable machine if you mess up one of the bezels! Please note that the case kit by itself only ships with one LCD bezel.
The panel covering the “port farm” on the right hand side of the case is designed to be replaceable. A single screw holds it in place, so if you design your own motherboard or if you want to upgrade in the future, you’re not locked into today’s port layout. The DC power jack port in the desktop, laptop, and case kit configurations is located in a position designed to be used with a Senoko board. If you will be using the case without a battery/pass-thru board, you will need to manually modify the port farm plate to expose the DC jack on the main board, or just remove the plate all-together.
Finally, the inside of the case features a “Peek Array”. It’s an array of M2.5 mounting holes (yes, they are metric) populating the extra unused space inside the case, on the right hand side in the photo above. It’s named after Nadya Peek, a graduate student at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms. Nadya is a consummate maker, and is a driving force behind the CBA’s Fab Lab initiative. When we designed this array of mounting bosses, we imagined someone like Nadya making their own circuit boards or whatever they want, and mounting it inside the case using the Peek Array.
Comes with exactly what is seen in the picture above. Please read the contents of the kit carefully, as you may need to procure additional parts to complete your build - most notably, extra mounting screws for your main board, SSD, LCD or anything else (mostly M2.5).
Includes the motherboard above, with the following case and accessories:
Gen-2 hacker case — not for casual home users
13.3” amorphous silicon TFT active matrix LCD
LVDS to eDP adapter board
Internal accessory connectors
Most components are pre-assembled in the case, including the internal accessory connectors, the motherboard, and eDP adapter board. User assembly required for LCD bezel selection.
All of the components from the desktop version above, plus:
SATA-style connector to route power and control signals to the main board
Works with battery packs used by most RC enthusiasts
Classic Molex disk connector for battery connector
Learns your battery pack
STM32 master controller
SATA-II interface (3Gbps)
Samsung 840 EVO series or equivalent (SanDisk drive in the photos is a throw-away for our dev purposes only, we would not subject end users to such a drive)
Full desktop Debian firmware load
5000mAh 3-cell lithium battery pack
User can swap in their own battery pack
Cable adapter from Molex to in-line 4mm bullet connector provided
330 mm x 225 mm x 27mm to bezel surface (30mm with socket cap screws)
1.36kg (3 pounds) in configuration as pictured
All of the electronic components included in the standard laptop above, except with a 480GiB Samsung 850 Pro SSD, a Lenovo Bluetooth trackpoint-keyboard, and an outstanding hand-crafted wood and aluminum case.
This case has no specs, as the concept behind the heirloom laptop is it is an omakase experience: you are buying into the craftsmanship and artistry of Kurt Mottweiler, and trusting him to build a work piece of outstanding quality. Kurt is a designer-craftsman situated in Portland, Oregon and drawing on his background in luthiery, builds bespoke cameras of outstanding quality from materials such as wood and aluminum. This collaboration is enabled by the open nature of our hardware specifications, and we’re proud to have this offering as part of our campaign.
For the prototype case, Kurt is featuring rift-sawn white oak and bead-blasted-and-anodized 6061 aluminum. He developed a composite consisting of outer layers of paper backed wood veneer over a high-density cork core with intervening layers of 5.5 ounce fiberglass cloth, all bonded with a high modulus epoxy resin. This composite is then gracefully formed into semi-monocoque curves, giving a final wavy shape that is both light, stiff, and considers the need for air cooling.
The overall architecture of Kurt’s case mimics the industry-standard clamshell notebook design, but with a twist. The keyboard used within the case is wireless, and can be easily removed to reveal the hardware within. This laptop is an outstanding blend of tasteful design, craftsmanship, and open hardware. And, to wit, since these are truly hand-crafted units, no two units will be exactly alike – each unit will have its own grain and a character that reflects Kurt’s judgment for that particular piece of wood.
After the campaign launched, we decided to offer four stretch goals. We’re thrilled that all four goals were met. As a result, all Novena users will benefit from libre 2D/3D software graphics drivers developed by Jon Nettleton and his collaborators. In addition, everyone who purchased a system package during the campaign received some hardware goodies at no extra charge. Some of those goodies are now available for separate purchase.
bunnie loves to design and undesign hardware. His past work includes discovering and publishing security exploits on the original Xbox, designing silicon chips for various startups, and designing and manufacturing the hardware behind chumby. He spends a lot of time in Shenzhen exploring the lesser-known aspects of hardware supply chains. He got his start in hardware in part because his Apple II came with schematics, and he is hoping to enable others to follow his path by providing a contemporary computer with open documentation.
Xobs is a consummate firmware hacker, and enjoys figuring out how hardware and software interact, learning new things, and canoeing. Occasionally he finds himself thinking C is too high-level a language. His past work includes architecting and deploying the firmware for chumby products, as well as discovering firmware exploits in the microcontrollers embedded within microSD cards. He is an active Linux kernel developer. In his spare time, he goes outrigger canoeing in the ocean.
The main board for Novena is on its third and final revision, and has been delivered in volume to OEM customers. The main boards are manufactured by AQS. We consider this core part of the design to be production-ready.
The plastics and aluminum pieces will be manufactured by a network of contract manufacturers in south China, typically coordinated by project managers at AQS. Prior to this, we’ve manufactured several consumer electronics devices, and so we have good relationships with many qualified manufacturers.
We will determine the composition of the final supply chain based upon the volume of orders generated by the campaign. If the volume is fairly low, we will lean more heavily upon foreign US-based contract manufacturers who specialize in doing low-volume production. If the volume is high, we’ll implement the supply chain using local manufacturers in southeast Asia. Regardless of the scenario, we have designed or selected sub-components that have multiple options for fulfillment, giving us the agility to respond to multiple volume scenarios.
The heirloom laptop is subcontracted to and manufactured exclusively by Kurt Mottweiler’s studio in Portland, Oregon.
This is not a device made for consumer home use. The internal electronics are exposed during normal operation to facilitate easy access by developers and professionals. As such, you must be aware of the hazards of operating exposed electronics, and are familiar with standard anti-static procedures for handling bare electrical components. You must never spill liquids or drop conductive materials into the case. Dropping liquid or conductive elements into the case can cause permanent damage to the circuit board, fire, or personal injury.
We also don’t do rigorous drop-testing or crush-testing of the design, so it’s expected you will handle the device with care. Think of it more as a piece of lab equipment, and less as a device for entertainment or recreational use.
A laptop is a complex product — not just for the hardware, but for the software too. We fully expect that there will be bugs in the firmware drivers, but we also fully expect that over time things will improve as the community of developers grows around Novena and more people contribute fixes and patches to the code base.
suspend/resume: power management functions tend to be unstable, particularly as we are targeting the latest release candidates of Linux
graphics: there are no Free Software drivers for the 3D core. There is an ongoing project to reverse engineer and develop Free Software graphics drivers. Significantly, the 3D graphics standards for Linux are in a state of active evolution, with Wayland, Mir, SurfaceFlinger, Mesa, etc. vying to replace the aging X11 standard.
video: there are no Free Software drivers for the hardware video accelerator DSP, but there are gstreamer libraries available.
UI integration of system management features: everything can be adjusted using the command-line, but some items lack UI integration.
That being said, the kernel runs stably and we routinely use this hardware for development purposes core to our business with good results. In other words, it’s great as a development platform, but it’s not a great system for playing games.
On the hardware side, a few small system integration details are still yet to be nailed down. For example, the USB ports on the front of the case need to be moved down a couple millimeters to allow cables to clear the bezel when the screen is opened, and we’re debating the use of a lit power button. None of these are major risks, but it does mean the design will be altered slightly from the images shown on the campaign today.