17 votes

The MNT Reform is an ARM-based open source DIY laptop for hacking, customization, and privacy

19 comments

  1. [6]
    hungariantoast
    Link
    I thought this was a neat, niche project worth sharing. Unfortunately I don't have $1,000 to drop on a whim, or I would probably order one. Offering an interchangeable trackball option, instead of...

    I thought this was a neat, niche project worth sharing. Unfortunately I don't have $1,000 to drop on a whim, or I would probably order one.

    Offering an interchangeable trackball option, instead of only a touchpad, is interesting. Using individual 18650 cells instead of a single battery unit is cool as well.

    I also like that they offer blank keycaps for the keyboard, something every laptop should offer if you ask me.

    And, to top it all off, Jack Humbert, creator of the Planck keyboard, wants to design an ortholinear keyboard that can go inside this laptop, which would be amazing.

    7 votes
    1. [5]
      petrichor
      Link Parent
      What's the upside of an ortholinear keyboard (aside from looking sick)? Wouldn't putting keys on a grid instead of staggering them make it easier to mistype?

      What's the upside of an ortholinear keyboard (aside from looking sick)?

      Wouldn't putting keys on a grid instead of staggering them make it easier to mistype?

      1 vote
      1. hungariantoast
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Honestly, there isn't any proven upside. There's basically no research on the speed, accuracy, ergonomics, etc. of ortholinear versus staggered keyboards. It just comes down to personal...

        Honestly, there isn't any proven upside. There's basically no research on the speed, accuracy, ergonomics, etc. of ortholinear versus staggered keyboards. It just comes down to personal preference.

        One of the popular theories though is that ortholinear key arrangement reduces finger travel slightly, by (slightly) reducing the diagonal movement of the fingers between rows, compared to a staggered keyboard.

        Also, an ortholinear arrangement allows you to stuff more keys into a smaller footprint by reducing each keycap to a 1-unit size. You could do this with a staggered keyboard as well, but I'd reckon that would be even more difficult to adjust to.

        Finally, the ortholinear arrangement might just be more logical to some people. Staggered keyboards are an arbitrary holdover from typewriters, there's no actual reason we still produce them the way we do other than historical inertia, just like how we still use QWERTY even though (objectively) superior keyboard layouts exist.

        Personally, it took me less than a day to adjust to the ortholinear arrangement of my Planck, but some people also have a lot of trouble with it.

        5 votes
      2. [3]
        Octofox
        Link Parent
        On split keyboards they make typing nicer because you have one finger per column. On one piece keyboards they are debatable because your arms are pointed inwards.

        On split keyboards they make typing nicer because you have one finger per column. On one piece keyboards they are debatable because your arms are pointed inwards.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          hungariantoast
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          Yeah, the biggest downside of the Planck, Preonic, and similarly sized keyboards is that your wrists are bent at a "wide-V" angle, like 120° or something, which can cause problems for people. A...

          Yeah, the biggest downside of the Planck, Preonic, and similarly sized keyboards is that your wrists are bent at a "wide-V" angle, like 120° or something, which can cause problems for people.

          A decent solution if you can't find a split keyboard that you like, is to just buy a slightly larger ortholinear keyboard, such as the ID75.

          As the name suggests, it's a seventy-five-key keyboard, which is enough keys to place a number pad in the middle and split the letter keys in half. It still isn't quite wide enough to get your wrists straight, but it's better than nothing.

          Double points if you're a programmer and put certain keys, such as []{}() in the middle instead of a number pad.

          I really, really wish there was a commonly available, split 75% 80% keyboard though... Probably will have to build it myself.

          2 votes
          1. Octofox
            Link Parent
            I have had the ergodox for over a year now and I really like it. The Moonlander board looks like it fixes all of the minor issues I had with the ergodox.

            I have had the ergodox for over a year now and I really like it. The Moonlander board looks like it fixes all of the minor issues I had with the ergodox.

  2. [10]
    MeckiSpaghetti
    Link
    As much as I want to love open hardware, approximately 5 hours of battery life just doesn't sound good for a device that thick.

    As much as I want to love open hardware, approximately 5 hours of battery life just doesn't sound good for a device that thick.

    6 votes
    1. [9]
      mat
      Link Parent
      That, the amazing ugliness of the enclosure and worst of all the 4GB of from what I can tell is not-upgradable RAM. One thing I always seem to upgrade on my systems is ram, a new stick of ram can...

      That, the amazing ugliness of the enclosure and worst of all the 4GB of from what I can tell is not-upgradable RAM. One thing I always seem to upgrade on my systems is ram, a new stick of ram can get at least a few more years out of otherwise aging hardware.

      I love the idea of such things but they never spend enough money on design and they often seem to be specced by people who are happy to use the console for everything.

      4 votes
      1. [8]
        Thra11
        Link Parent
        The module containing the SoC (SoM, System on Module) is replaceable, so there may be more powerful processors with more RAM available later. For example, I believe they are currently prototyping...

        4GB of from what I can tell is not-upgradable RAM.

        The module containing the SoC (SoM, System on Module) is replaceable, so there may be more powerful processors with more RAM available later. For example, I believe they are currently prototyping this LS1028A SoM.

        4 votes
        1. [7]
          mat
          Link Parent
          Oh cool so if I want more than a pathetic 4GB I can't just buy (or reuse from elsewhere) an off the shelf SODIMM, I have to junk the entire board - which is useless for anything else - and buy a...

          Oh cool so if I want more than a pathetic 4GB I can't just buy (or reuse from elsewhere) an off the shelf SODIMM, I have to junk the entire board - which is useless for anything else - and buy a new one? Which doesn't exist yet.

          Real smart, user-friendly, sustainable bit of design there...

          3 votes
          1. [6]
            Thra11
            Link Parent
            The ecosystem's still at a very early stage of development, so don't be surprised that it doesn't have suitable offerings for all users yet. Assuming they manage to establish an ecosystem of...

            The ecosystem's still at a very early stage of development, so don't be surprised that it doesn't have suitable offerings for all users yet. Assuming they manage to establish an ecosystem of different SoMs, then you wouldn't have to "junk the entire board", since you'd just buy the SoM that fits your needs in the first place.

            Having the RAM on a separate module such as SODIMM would not be without its disadvantages. It's much less efficient in terms of energy, and produces more waste heat.

            2 votes
            1. [5]
              mat
              Link Parent
              That's a huge and, to be honest, unrealistic assumption. This project is extremely unlikely to get anywhere near popular enough to even get a second board into production, let alone establish an...

              That's a huge and, to be honest, unrealistic assumption. This project is extremely unlikely to get anywhere near popular enough to even get a second board into production, let alone establish an 'ecosystem', because their initial offering is over-priced, over-ugly and under-specced. Even if all I did was write text into a terminal I'd still think twice about purchasing such weak and limited hardware. Especially for $1000 (plus my time assembling the thing!)

              Not using standard parts and standard connectors is a bad design decision, unless there is a very good reason not to, and I can't even see a convincingly bad reason not to in this case. They got it right with the batteries and wrong with the memory.

              Sure there, are downsides to SODIMMs but pretty much every other device on the market manages to work around those downsides. You know what's an even bigger downside than SODIMMs when it comes to selling hardware? Shipping 4GB of non-upgradable RAM in 2021. On a device which claims to be all about "hacking" and "customisation", that's almost laughably badly thought through.

              3 votes
              1. [4]
                Thra11
                Link Parent
                They had a hugely successful crowd-funding campaign, as far as I can tell have achieved (and in some cases exceeded) their initial aims, and are going from strength to strength. I would be very...

                This project is extremely unlikely to get anywhere near popular enough to even get a second board into production

                They had a hugely successful crowd-funding campaign, as far as I can tell have achieved (and in some cases exceeded) their initial aims, and are going from strength to strength. I would be very surprised if their second board didn't get into production.

                Sure there, are downsides to SODIMMs but pretty much every other device on the market manages to work around those downsides.

                Most computers sold these days are smartphones and tablets, neither of which ever has upgradeable RAM, SODIMM or otherwise.

                You know what's an even bigger downside than SODIMMs when it comes to selling hardware? Shipping 4GB of non-upgradable RAM in 2021. On a device which claims to be all about "hacking" and "customisation", that's almost laughably badly thought through.

                To be honest, 4GB is plenty for most computer usage. There's no real reason for RAM usage to increase from year to year. People aren't doing anything now that's dramatically more RAM intensive than they were a decade ago. If anything, improvements in disk speeds and innovations such as zram mean that you can often get away with less RAM than you could before, while maintaining performance.

                This device clearly isn't designed with you in mind. Don't assume that everyone is like you.

                2 votes
                1. [3]
                  mat
                  Link Parent
                  Ah. Sorry, I wasn't very clear. I was talking about laptop-class devices. Apologies if that didn't come across. You can't, and I wasn't trying to, compare this device to a tablet or phone (in part...

                  Most computers sold these days are smartphones and tablets, neither of which ever has upgradeable RAM, SODIMM or otherwise.

                  Ah. Sorry, I wasn't very clear. I was talking about laptop-class devices. Apologies if that didn't come across. You can't, and I wasn't trying to, compare this device to a tablet or phone (in part because almost all tablets and phones are more powerful and useful for far less money!)

                  To be honest, 4GB is plenty for most computer usage.

                  Is it though? Most* usage? I would argue that most usage of this class of device is a web browser with a bunch of tabs open. On my system Firefox alone is currently using 6GB over 12 tabs (two of which are tildes!). Forget about trying to use anything remotely demanding with only 4GB on hand. Windows 10 probably won't boot, and I know it's not intended to but still. Most usage is windows. Libre Office Calc with an even remotely complex spreadsheet would crap itself. Forget about running a database server with anything more than test amounts of data, or anything involving ML. 4GB is enough for some very niche use cases and nothing more.

                  Ram use increases because things get more complex and demanding, in part because ram is more available over time. So it gets used, which is fine and good and it makes things better. Sure, we could all browse text-only, no-JS websites but let's be realistic. It's not happening. I remember the old days and they were mostly rubbish and for every very annoying all-JS website which somehow runs sluggishly on my i7 there's a huge majority of things which are just.. better. And that's just the web.

                  If you think a big NVMe is remotely comparable to actual ram then by all means load a moderately complex model in Blender on a machine with only 4GB and see how utterly not it is. Even with twice as much ram that's not happening. I know this machine isn't targetted at people who want actual compute power but SSD != RAM yet by a very long way. Otherwise nobody would use ram any more.

                  This device clearly isn't designed with you in mind. Don't assume that everyone is like you.

                  Oh, I'm absolutely not doing that. Most people don't run linux. Most people don't know what a terminal is, let alone use one. Most people don't use anything which isn't a web browser. Most people couldn't care less about privacy or even upgradability (the designers fall into the second category, at least). I like the idea of this device, I just think it's very poorly executed.

                  The makers of this device are designing for a microscopic niche. People precisely like them, and that's why this will fail. I think it's not unreasonable to assume that a significant percentage of their entire market has backed their campaign already. Almost nobody wants to spend $1000 on device that's less capable than a $200 phone.

                  1 vote
                  1. [2]
                    Thra11
                    Link Parent
                    Even with laptop-class devices, SODIMM is getting less common. Microsoft surface/surface pros, all M1 macs and many other laptops now have their RAM PoP-stacked or soldered on. The vague...

                    Ah. Sorry, I wasn't very clear. I was talking about laptop-class devices. Apologies if that didn't come across.

                    Even with laptop-class devices, SODIMM is getting less common. Microsoft surface/surface pros, all M1 macs and many other laptops now have their RAM PoP-stacked or soldered on. The vague possibility that at some point in the future you might decide you need more RAM, while still being perfectly happy with your current CPU and other non-upgradeables, isn't generally worth the trade off in efficiency and device thickness.

                    On my system Firefox alone is currently using 6GB over 12 tabs (two of which are tildes!). .. Libre Office Calc with an even remotely complex spreadsheet would crap itself.

                    I have 4 tabs loaded in firefox and have opened a moderately complex spreadsheet in libreoffice. Currently sitting at 1.1GB total memory usage (including window manager and various services running in the background). Libreoffice Calc is running just fine.

                    Forget about running a database server with anything more than test amounts of data, or anything involving ML. 4GB is enough for some very niche use cases and nothing more.

                    Why would you want to run a production database server on a laptop? For testing / dev or local application purposes, you won't need that much memory. ML is pretty niche and everyone I know who works with ML generally has a dedicated server or desktop for any non-trivial number crunching.

                    SSD != RAM yet by a very long way. Otherwise nobody would use ram any more.

                    I never suggested they were equal, but with appropriate settings, zram / an SSD can be pretty good at picking up the slack. For example, if it had to, linux could probably swap out most of the memory for the 11 firefox tabs which you're not currently looking at and swap it back in again fast enough that it wouldn't affect usability.

                    Oh, I'm absolutely not doing that.

                    You do seem to be repeatedly predicting that they'll fail, based mostly on the fact that it's not right for you.

                    2 votes
                    1. mat
                      Link Parent
                      Nope. It can't. Keep opening tabs (playing youtube videos at high-res is a good way to suck up ram) until you get into swap and see how it goes. Blech. I'm sorry, I don't think I'm explaining...

                      linux could probably swap out most of the memory for the 11 firefox tabs which you're not currently looking at and swap it back in again fast enough that it wouldn't affect usability.

                      Nope. It can't. Keep opening tabs (playing youtube videos at high-res is a good way to suck up ram) until you get into swap and see how it goes. Blech.

                      You do seem to be repeatedly predicting that they'll fail, based mostly on the fact that it's not right for you.

                      I'm sorry, I don't think I'm explaining myself very well. I'm saying it won't do well because it's hyper niche, not because it doesn't suit my needs. I never mentioned my requirements but just to clear up that point no, it's absolutely unsuitable for me. I need lots (lots) of compute, a bigger and more capable screen, way more RAM, actual upgradability (I have a modern, slimline laptop with several SODIMM slots which is often cited as a reason people like Thinkpads , so perhaps there is a demand) and considerably faster IO. My current machine cost about what the pre-built version of this costs and utterly destroys it on all hardware specs. I can't upgrade my battery easily so that's not perfect but still. Little, heavy, thick laptops aren't really something I personally need and to be fair I don't think I ever claimed I did.

                      But, and this is the point I've been trying to make - the reason this won't do well is because it no good for most people due to low spec hardware. Most people need more capabilities than this delivers. Maybe not much, but this is below the spec of a $250 laptop in most regards. Also most people don't have that sort of money to throw at things that are in most regards crappier than their phone. There's a reason high-end (in price) laptops are a minority of sales. The final nail in it's coffin is that it's ugly and like it or not, that matters too. People buy ultrabooks that are lower spec and higher price than marginally thicker/heavier machines purely because of how they look.

                      I am a niche user. It sounds like you are even more so than me. If you're running a minimalist DE on Linux, you're already in the single percentages of all PC users (only having four tabs open in your browser I suspect is even more niche!). If you want a low capability, ugly device for doing terminal stuff and very light other use and you have an absolute shitload of money to spend on doing that - great! This is perfect for you and I genuinely hope you enjoy your weird device. Despite what you probably think I am a big fan of weird computing devices. But the people in the weird Venn diagram of high cost, low hardware requirements and unusual ethical choices where the device lives are a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of computer users.

                      Believe me, I've seen so many projects like this over the past 25+ years that I've been paying attention and not a single one has come to anything of note. The backers of this might get a machine, if they're lucky - and I really do hope they do, and I don't doubt for a moment that the project will do their utmost to make sure that happens. But that is about as far as it will go.

                      1 vote
  3. [2]
    petrichor
    Link
    Some other hacker-ish laptops that have popped up recently: Framework Librem 14 Pinebook / Pro

    Some other hacker-ish laptops that have popped up recently:

    4 votes
    1. JXM
      Link Parent
      I really love the idea of the Framework laptop. The only thing holding me back is the fact that modularity doesn't matter if the company disappears in two years and stops making parts or upgrades...

      I really love the idea of the Framework laptop. The only thing holding me back is the fact that modularity doesn't matter if the company disappears in two years and stops making parts or upgrades for it.

      3 votes
  4. arp242
    Link
    The keyboard is a huge turn-off: that Del and -/_ squished on the left side, right shift weirdly squished, very unconventional bottom row with spacebar, alt, etc., no gaps between F4-F5, F8-F9....

    The keyboard is a huge turn-off: that Del and -/_ squished on the left side, right shift weirdly squished, very unconventional bottom row with spacebar, alt, etc., no gaps between F4-F5, F8-F9. I'm not sure about the trackball either (and I've been using a Logitech trackball for years).

    1 vote