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Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2020-08
End: 2022-10
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MNT Reform

A trustworthy open hardware laptop

MNT Reform is a modular open hardware laptop, the first of its kind - designed and built in Europe. The project has high ambitions in terms of usability and user experience. A mechanical keyboard and an elaborate industrial design provide for professional ergonomics. MNT Reform uses RISC processors like ARM and has no built-in recording technology. It runs a free and open source software stack from the ground up. Third parties can easily contribute to the development of new modules. The modular approach does not only make the laptop more extensible but also improves sustainability, and supports the right to repair.

During the project, the team will develop two open hardware System-on-Modules. The first module is based on NXP LS1028A, and will increase RAM capacity to up to 16GB and make external GPUs usable. The second open hardware SoM uses an FPGA (field programmable gate array) to support the validation of open silicon SoC projects in a real laptop. Modules like this make the development of embedded computers easier for open hardware engineers by pre-solving risky and expensive challenges. Finally, we will develop an optional camera module for MNT Reform as part of the project, which will allow the laptop to be used for remote learning and video conferencing.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

When you go to a store to buy a laptop or mobile phone, you may see different brands on the outside but choice in terms of what is inside the box (in particular the most expensive component, the processor technology) is pretty much limited to the same core technologies and large vendors that have been in the market for decades. This has a much bigger effect on the users than just the hefty price tag of the hardware, because the technologies at that level impact all other technologies and insecurity at that level break security across the board.

In the field of software, open source has already become the default option in the market for any new setup. In hardware, the situation is different. Users - even very big users such as governments - have very little control over the actual hardware security of the technology they critically depend on every day. Security experts continue to uncover major security issues, and users are rightly concerned about the security of their private data as well as the continuity of their operations. But in a locked-down market there is little anyone can do, because the lack of alternatives. European companies are locked out of the possibility to contribute solutions and start new businesses that can change the status quo.

To break through this standstill, developer communities are working hard to deliver open, trustworthy and accessible alternative computer hardware that anyone can use, study, modify and distribute, just like they can with open source software. This project leverages existing open source software and open hardware to create a modular, repairable and entirely transparent laptop, from the software it runs down to the silicon.

Run by MNT Research GmbH

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This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.