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The Balthazar laptop: An all-European RISC-V Free Hardware computer
Plus new developments in the world of the MNT Reform
FOSDEM The Balthazar project is designing an all-Free Hardware laptop based around RISC-V and several existing standards.
Balthazar is an interesting hardware project which we were told about at the Open Source Policy Summit in Brussels last week. It's a project to build a standards-based, fully open source RISC-V laptop "for all children age 9-99".
The plan is to put a RISC-V SoC in an EOMA68 form-factor package. Long-term readers may remember that we wrote about such kit in 2012, when it was the first product from AllWinner, whose processors later went on to power several devices from open hardware vendors Pine64. This will fit in a chassis that has its own ergonomic keyboard layout, but can also accept a ThinkPad X2** series keyboard, a firm Register favourite as well as of this particular vulture, who has about five of them.
Our attempts to contact the project have been in vain, but there has been activity on their GitHub pages in recent months. The Dutch open internet foundation NLNet is a backer, and the project has received funding from NGI, the EU's Next Generation Internet initiative.
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The project puts us in mind of several forerunners. Of course, given that the renders are green, it has a slightly weird keyboard, and it has educational aspirations, it puts us in mind of the lamented One Laptop Per Child XO-1, which is now quite a sought-after device.
Another is the MNT Reform Arm-based laptop, which we've mentioned in the past in connection with its mechanical keyboard. (If the keyboard appeals, you can buy it separately.) Although it's Arm-powered, the Reform's CPU cores are not very powerful – it's comparable to a Raspberry Pi 3, and of course Arm is not a Free design. Nonetheless, the Reform attracted a lot of interest, raised several times its intended crowdfunding, and a new model should arrive later this year.
A Pocket model is also in development, and there are plans for an adapter to give it a brain transplant via a Raspberry Pi 4 Compute Module – if you can find one to buy – to give a welcome performance boost. ®