Enthusiasts put together a laptop on electronic paper. Choosing a display and chassis

Since the E Ink Corporation patented electrophoresis-based display technology in 1997 and registered the corresponding brand, various manufacturers have purchased licenses and integrated e-ink into their devices. The first were reading rooms Sony librie in 2004 and Amazon Kindle in 2007. These displays do not flicker in principle, do not tire the eyes and consume practically no energy while displaying a picture, so they are ideal for reading.

Since 1997, the technology has improved a lot. The displays have increased, color has appeared, and the screen refresh time has decreased. In recent years, smartphones and tablets with colored paper have finally come out (Hisense, Onyx Boox).

But for a quarter of a century, no one has made a normal laptop. Why?

There were really attempts. You can remember Pixel Qi and OLPC, Boox typewriter, Yoga Book C9309 and ThinkBook Plus… But none of them became demanded by the market for various reasons: UX / UI flaws, weak technical characteristics, high production costs, problems with licensing and technology integration.

However, there was a lot of activity in the modding community. Firstly, different gadgets are made from e-book readers: calendars, wall photo frames, tablets for GNU / Linuxand Pine64 recently announced a single board computer Quartz64 with native e-ink support.

All these projects inspired the enthusiast Alexander Soto to create the first full-fledged laptop on electronic paper. To do this, he launched a public initiative EI2030… Already the first working groups were formed and the selection of components began

Thinkpad T480

At first, the Thinkpad T480 was chosen as a donor for the chassis, which seems to be quite suitable for this purpose:

Plus, the T480 has plenty of room to turn around.

Display. Dasung HD-FT

Alexander Soto He speaksthat the Dasung display noticeably surpasses the Onyx Boox Max 2 tablets in terms of refresh rate and performance. In addition, recently there was news that Onyx violates the terms of the Linux kernel license and refuses to publish the sourceso it’s best not to deal with them.

Since Dasung monitors are connected via HDMI and powered via USB, it is important to have all the necessary ports on the T480 without an adapter.

Directly from the monitor, that is, without external software, the following settings are available:

  • Change of operating modes (M1, M2, M3, Fast, Fast +, Fast ++, Black, Black +, Black ++)
  • Contrast adjustment
  • Screen cleaning
  • Backlight on / off

Working groups

Within the framework of the EI2030 initiative, working groupsthat will focus on specific tasks that are of interest to them. They will exchange information and resources.

For example, a working group Low-Power E-Paper OS will study real-time operating systems and develop a Linux port for Ambiq Apollo 3 and 4 processors or similar low-power microprocessors for embedded Linux systems.

Another working group will delve into low-level management tasks, that is, the development of an open source driver for the display. In focus – various systems on a chip with an integrated controller, microcontroller families i.MX7 / 8 and RK3566

A separate task is to design a new chassis / case, which will become the basis for future laptop models. After all, it’s clear that the Thinkpad T480 donor is a temporary solution to get started. In the future it is planned to make an open and free design. A hacker’s homemade laptop is cited as examples. Olimex TERES-I and similar projects VIA OpenBook, MNT Reform and EOMA68… It is advisable to design the design with open source tools.

Two more working groups will explore different non-emissive display technologies such as e-ink, Display Electronic Slurry (DES) and Reflective Liquid Crystal Display (RLCD), and psychological benefits of working with electronic paper… For example, low levels of eye fatigue. The same group will study user-friendly interfaces that increase the comfort of work.

First tasks

In the EI2030 project, an initiative group of about ten enthusiasts was formed, who outlined three main tasks to begin with.

Display selection

We consider e-ink panels in the range from 10.3 “to 13.3”. In addition to the above Dasung displays, there are ES103TC11, ED133UT22, ES133TT33, Waveshare and Sony panels on the market. You can buy panels in bulk, on the secondary market, or remove them from other devices. According to the first negotiations, the minimum batch from a manufacturer is from 10,000 to 50,000 pieces.

RLCD and DES are also being considered.


Full color 10.1 ” Display Electronic Slurry (DES) from Good Display with a resolution of 2232 * 1680 pixels, a source

On the other hand, RLCD Supports refresh rates up to 60 FPS, so this technology shouldn’t be overlooked either. Such displays are known for projects One Laptop per Child and Pixel Qi, and are also installed on many models of smartwatches. But there are no large size and high resolution RLCD displays on the market yet.

Display interface

there is three ways display control:

  • Special controller chip for screen control.
  • System on a Chip (SoC) with an embedded controller.
  • Fast microcontroller unit for emulating a controller with GPIO.

A few examples:

You can create a database of panels that are used in all e-ink devices, and select compatible open source options. The base will become a reference for those who buy devices on the secondary market.

Chassis

Laptop chassis is another important consideration to think about when building a laptop. The aspect ratio on the available 10.3 “and 13.3” screens is 4: 3, and notebooks with that ratio are hard to find.

Here you can create a chassis from scratch or take one of the existing options. As mentioned above, the Thinkpad T480 is considered as options. VIA OpenBook with open design, MNT Reform and EOMA68, which also made their design files open and available to others.

The design of the Olimex TERES-14 model notebook for 240 euros is also open. PCB and chassis files for printing are in KiCad and FreeCAD format.


Olimex TERES-14

Why not consider the option of revising Olimex TERES-14 by connecting an electronic paper display to it?

Enthusiasts EI2030 invite everyone to join the project.

In the discussion on Hacker News pay attentionthat now is not the best time for hardware endeavors, because there is a shortage of components on the market. For example, engineers at one company often have to redesign printed circuit boards because the supplier does not have a particular capacitor.

In general, design is only 10% of the work, and most of these projects do not even reach the prototype stage.

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