I’m typing this on a unibody MacBook Pro, probably the most infamous laptop on the planet when it comes to lack of repairability and modularity. But in the drawer next to my desk is a Raspberry Pi and a loose LCD I bought from Adafruit. My heart is in that drawer. Figuratively. In every way, a MacBook is a superior computer, but a Raspberry Pi is more than a computer: it’s an invitation to do something new and different with computers.
Now a Bulgarian company called Olimex is doing something new and different with laptops. It recently announced an open source DIY laptop kit called TERES-I, based on its modular hardware. That means instead of buying one hyper-integrated board that has all of the laptop’s brains and I/O on it, you buy several little boards and wire them together. Then you put them inside a mostly finished case built by Olimex — although if you want to go ultra DIY you can 3D print your own case, too.
Everything, from the shell’s CAD design to the motherboard’s wiring, is available on GitHub for perusal or modification, and the modular nature of the internals means you can add a more powerful chipset or modify just about anything you find unsatisfying about the computer if you have the know-how or if Olimex or others offer compatible parts.
But, unfortunately, almost everything about this laptop is unsatisfying right now. It runs a quad-core ARM64 chip, though x86 and MIPS chips might be offered later on. It has a tiny 11.6-inch screen, a huge bezel, a tiny trackpad, a cramped-looking keyboard, and a whole lot of plastic. The OS (Linux, naturally) runs off a microSD card. At least the LCD comes in a 1080p variant, because the default 1366 x 768 resolution is a real throwback. There’s even 802.11n Wi-Fi, which has me questioning what decade it is. All these unimpressive specs can be yours for the reasonable price of €225, about $242 USD.
Unless you’re excited to build your own computer, you’re probably better off getting any old Chromebook and throwing regular Linux on it. But that’s not really the point with a project like this. Open source hardware is still relatively rare, and Olimex’s project might not result in the computer of my dreams, but it does scratch a certain itch that off-the-shelf proprietary computers never will.