Building The Novena Laptop

The latest hardware project from [Bunnie] is the Novena, a truly open source laptop where nearly every part has non-NDA’d datasheets. This is the ideal laptop for hardware hacking – it has an FPGA right on the motherboard, a ton of pin headers, and a lot of extras that make interfacing with the outside world easy.

While the crowdfunding campaign for the Novena included a completely custom laptop, it was terribly expensive. That’s okay; it’s an heirloom laptop, and this is a DIY laptop anyway. With the Novena now shipping, it’s time for people to build their laptops. [Ben Heck] is the first person to throw his hat into the ring with his own build of the Novena laptop, and it’s fantastic.

The second video of the build was dedicated to what is arguably the most important part of any laptop: the keyboard. For the keyboard, [Ben Heck] went all out. It’s a completely mechanical keyboard, with backlit LEDs built around the Phantom PCB with Cherry MX switches. Because this is a DIY laptop and something that is meant to be opened, the keyboard is completely removable. Think of something like the original Compaq luggable, but turned into a laptop that looks reasonably modern.

The laptop enclosure was constructed out of a sandwich of an aluminum and laser cut plastic. These layers were glued and screwed together, the parts were carefully mounted into the case. The USB keyboard was attached directly to one of the chips on the motherboard with a few flying wires and hot glue.

The finished build is fantastic, even if it is a bit thick. It’s the ultimate hacker’s laptop, with an FPGA, Linux, open source everything, and even a cute little secret compartment for storing tools and cable adapters. A great build from one of the best builders around.

Continue reading “Building The Novena Laptop”

Hacklet #5 – Hackerspaces and DIY Laptops


Did you know that has a hackerspace index? That’s right, you can enter your local hackerspace’s info, pictures, videos, and social media links. Members and crew can link their profiles and drop comments about their latest projects.

The map up at the top of the hackerspace index’s page is interactive too – zoom in on your country and local area to see any spaces nearby. It’s like one-stop shopping for awesome. Well, except that this awesome is free.

It really is great to see all the pictures of spaces large and small. Some of the most stunning shots are from c-base, in Berlin, Germany. Founded in 1995, the c-base crew have created an incredible space. Take a look at the workstation in the photo. Is it Steampunk? Matrix-punk? Heck no, that’s 100% c-base.



Do It Yourself Laptops

You don’t have to be Bunnie Huang to build your own laptop. All it takes is some time, ingenuity,and a good hot glue gun.


Our first laptop is actually inspired by Bunnie’s Novena. The OpenTech-Laptop uses two binders as it’s shell, but inside hides some decent computing power. [OpenTech] used a miniITX motherboard with an ATOM N2800 CPU. The screen came from an old laptop (long live matte 4:3 screens!) [OpenTech] even hand wired a Low Voltage Differential Signaling (LVDS) cable so the motherboard can push those pixels. A wireless keyboard, hard drive, and speakers round out the build. [OpenTech] is still looking for a portable power solution.Why not follow Bunnie’s lead and grab some R/C Plane LiPo batteries, [OpenTech]?


Next up is a MiniBSD laptop computer created by [Jaromir]. MiniBSD is based on RetroBSD, a PIC32 based BSD single board computer. Rather than use a premade platform like the Fubarino, [Jaromir] laid out his own board with everything he wanted – a microSD socket, SDRAM, real-time clock, and all the trimmings. He then added a graphical LCD, a LiPo battery, and a sweet retro keyboard from an old Czech computer company called Tesla. [Jaromir’s] next task is a 3D printed case. The only problem is the case is 2cm wider than his current printer’s bed!

You didn’t think we’d leave the Raspberry Pi out, now did you? Laptop-pi is [Bram’s] project to convert an old DVD player (remember those?) into a Pi Laptop. Not only did [Bram] build a QWERTY keyboard from scratch on perfboard, he also hacked together an on-screen keyboard so he can type with just a D-pad. He’s currently fighting with a dodgy audio amp, but we’re sure that’s just a temporary setback. We think Laptop-pi will be a killer portable for retro gaming!


That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, stay tuned for next week when we bring you more of what’s happening at!

Make your own laptop

[Richard] pointed out this mini-itx laptop. The idea behind this particular design is to enable upgrading every component as needed. The case is aluminum, and the wiring inside is an exercise in patience. It’s not the first DIY laptop we’ve seen, and it doesn’t have batteries, but it’s the first I’ve seen with two internal hard drives.

Update: There is a battery, it just gets very little mention. It’s hiding under the DVD drive and one of the hard drives. Anyone know what kind it is?