Campaign Focus: EOMA68 Environmentally Responsible Computing Devices

Upgrading a computer is an expensive ritual most of us have become resigned to doing at least every 3-4 years. Hardware becomes obsolete at a frightening rate. And that’s if the hardware lasts that long without needing any repairs. So much of modern hardware seems to be intentionally designed so you can’t so much as replace a laptop battery without a trip to, and bill from, the repair shop. Of course, the impact doesn’t stop at your pocketbook either. E-waste is a serious and growing problem, with discarded electronics increasingly contributing heavy metals, plastic particulates, and other toxins to the waste stream. The clever folk at Rhombus Tech want to change that, and they’ve come up with a unique and clever solution: EOMA68 Computing Devices.

The core technology of EOMA68 is a small card roughly the size of a credit card which contains the main CPU, RAM, storage, video interfaces, USB interface and other associated circuitry. You can think of it as a pluggable, swappable computer on a card. The card is based on the EOMA68 Specification, an open standard developed by Rhombus Tech and the community to define modular, card-based computers. The EOMA68 standard repurposes the connectors, housing, and receptacles of the PCMCIA expansion slot and cards that were popular in the nineties. This is more than just an exercise in retro-techno-hipness, reusing existing hardware is both environmentally responsible and saves a ton on development costs.
It also means that EOMA68-based computing devices can be easily upgraded or moved from enclosure to enclosure. The heart of your computer lives on the card, which you can plug into a laptop chassis, a desktop chassis, a tablet, or, since the standard is fully open, anything else the community can come up with (there are already lots of ideas, ranging from gaming consoles to media player/set-top boxes). Rather than sending an expensive, obsolete laptop to the landfill, upgrading to a new CPU is as simple as swapping out a $65 card. Instead of investing in a desktop computer for your office and a laptop for the coffee-shop, you can simply move your EOMA68 card from chassis to chassis.

Initially, two chassis models are available:

  1. A laser-cut micro desktop housing made from sturdy, attractive stacked 3 mm plywood veneer panels
  2. A 3-D printed 15.6” laptop with all the usual features of a modern portable computer

The desktop housing provides connections for USB, VGA video, a Micro-SD card and DC power. Of course there’s also a slot for the computer card itself. It has a very compact 4.5” x 4.5” footprint. It’s easy to park on your desk, hooked up and ready for the computer card when you sit down to work.

The laptop case is almost as remarkable as the card computer it houses. Because it is 3-D printed, replacement parts can simply be printed out as needed. All of the CAD and other files are freely available, so users can even print out their own parts. In fact, they even offer a print-it-yourself kit so you can build up your own machine from casework you print with your own hardware.

EOMA68 computer cards and the laptop itself are designed around a low-power strategy (the laptop sips around 15 W of power). Without the need for heatsinks, metal frames to support heavy batteries, fans, etc., the laptop is very light, allowing the case to be made from lightweight PLA material with bamboo inserts. Careful design that takes advantage of the directional structural strengths of filament-based 3D printing means the case is surprisingly strong, despite being very light. Structural testing of the rear part of the case showed it was so strong, the test had to be stopped for safety!

Beyond these unique features, the laptop has everything you’d expect in a modern computer:

  • 15.6” 1366 x 768 LCD screen
  • 10 Ah battery (approximately 6-8 hours running time)
  • EOMA68 Computer Card slot (user-upgradeable)
  • Full-sized QWERTY keyboard including numberpad
  • 3 USB2 ports (2 internal, 1 external) plus one USB-OTG on Computer Card microSD Card slot
  • 1 W Stereo speakers,
  • Built-in mic
  • CM108AH USB Audio with stereo headphone socket
  • 4.3” Capacitive touch panel and backlit LCD (instead of trackpad)

Open design 3-D printing is another way EOMA68 demonstrates a commitment to “longevity computing.” The ability to easily generate replacement parts means these are products that can provide long-term service rather than ready disposability. Of course, the low-power, low-heat design also contributes to the product’s longevity and reliability. You can learn more details about the case construction, and see a video of a part being printed, in this campaign update.

In addition to treading lightly on the planet, the EOMA68 project is committed to both openness and security. The project is unusual in that it has been a Libre hardware and software project right from its start. In addition to pursuing certification from the Free Software Foundation, all of the CAD files, schematics, and data-sheets for all of the components and casework will be made freely available. The idea behind all of this is to encourage the creation of community organized around the standard who can create and innovate without being hamstrung by proprietary software or hardware. For more information, visit Rhombus's page on the open development process.

In the initial release, two different EOMA68 compliant computer cards are available, both based on the Allwinner A20 Dual-core ARM A7 processor:

Libre Tea Card

  • A20 Dual-Core ARM Cortex A7, 1.2 GHz
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 8 GB NAND
  • Micro-HDMI Interface (for 2nd monitor)
  • Micro-USB-OTG (bi-directional power)
  • Micro-SD Card Slot
  • Pre-installed with Parabola GNU/Linux-libre Operating System
  • Respects Your Freedom (RYF) Certification from the Free Software Foundation (still pending, but nearly done)

Practically Perfect Card

  • A20 Dual-Core ARM Cortex A7, 1.2 GHz
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 8 GB NAND
  • Micro-HDMI Interface (for 2nd monitor)
  • Micro-USB-OTG (bi-directional power)
  • Micro-SD Card Slot
  • Pre-installed with Debian GNU/Linux Operating System

As of mid-July, the campaign has raised more than 25% of its goal, with about six weeks left to go. To learn more about EOMA68 computing devices, visit their Crowd Supply campaign page.

Header photo credit: Pieter Hugo