For me, Intel and AMD have lost all credibility with their refusal to release even a blank signed Intel ME firmware for Google, Purism or any other company. It’s obvious there is dangerous stuff hidden inside their chips.
ARM seems to have a lot more potential, with Rockchip creating some great SoC’s (Look up the Chromebook C201). Although there are still a lot of ARM chips that come with proprietary software (Look up the Samsung Exynos range).
It seems like OpenPOWER have a really good open stack, and might be one of the freest options out there. Unfortunately every single device that uses it seems to cost thousands of pounds and there’s not a lot of information about how to program the things.
For what it’s worth I would definitely buy your top of the range laptop if it used an ARM processor with free bootloader firmware. You could basically name your price.
Yes I have one. It is not blob-free. It can use both uboot and uefi, runs almost entirely on the mainstream kernel and thus runs any Linux OS.
Performance is stellar due to the 16 cores, 32GB (in my case) of memory, and an Intel Optane nvme drive.
I mostly bought it because I was totally amazed that such a powerfull ARM cpu exists, and because it would mean I can natively compile software for the Librem 5. It is currently sitting in a corner unused, waiting for spare time to repurpose it (and for my Librem 5).
Isn’t the future be to wait for RISC-V processors? Some companies seem to have interesting prototypes. I know there’s still quite a long way to go, but to me (with my very limited knowledge in that area) it’s seem the best choice in the long term.
Every time I’ve been in the market for new hardware over the past decade or so, I have checked to see whether there was anything suitable running an ARM processor, just for the energy efficiency. I won’t promise I’ll buy it if Purism makes it, but it is certainly something that would catch my attention if it showed up.
But I figure a fully “Free” ARM laptop won’t come within the next 3-5 years.
The MNT Reform is now shipping to the crowdfunders and its almost entirely blob free except for a tiny blob to train the LPDDR4 timing during boot. However it is limited to 4 GB of RAM and uses the same i.MX 8M Quad processor and RS9116 WiFi/BT as the Librem 5.
Nicole Faerber says that Purism is planning on making a tablet based on the I.MX 8M after the Librem 5, and I assume that it will have a detachable keyboard like the proposed Librem 10.
PINE64 is already making its Quartz64 SBC based on the Rockchip RK3566, but I haven’t been able to find out if it can boot without blobs. PINE64 is planning on making the PinePhone 2 and probably the PineTab 2 based on the RK3566.
I guess it depends on what you define as a “laptop” and how much processing power you need, but for me a tablet with a detachable keyboard is a “laptop”. However, what I really want is a laptop based on the RK3588 or the Alibaba XuanTie 910, but we will have to see whether they can be run without blobs.
This is true, and I don’t think the products you mentioned would fulfil all of my expectations about what a laptop is, but I am grateful that you brought them up, because I had not been aware of those specific products.
One constraint that I probably should have specified is that I do not see much value in an ARM laptop that does not significantly exceed the computing performance of my Librem 5 phone. I might as well spend the money on a laptop dock for the phone instead. This would be less of a concern for someone who had no intention of owning a Librem 5. A laptop-form-factor device using the same CPU could be made objectively better than a Librem 5 connected to a dock, in various small ways (e.g. thermal design, expose more IO directly rather than via a single USB C port) but not better enough for me to justify owning both.
But, on top of that, what I really meant when I said “laptop” was “desktop replacement”. Which, of course, is not the same thing as “laptop”, but subconsciously I was conflating the two concepts. So, I was inadvertently excluding a whole range of perfectly valid laptops that other people would buy, but which I probably wouldn’t.
“Desktop replacement” is itself a vague and widely-interpretable concept. For me it means that the CPU performs similarly to a contemporary mid-range PC. There should be a minimum of 16GB of RAM, space for 1 speed-optimised SSD and 1 capacity-optimised storage device, and a large screen. These are not my complete requirements for a laptop, which are more specific, but this is roughly the unreasonable baseline I had in mind when I said “laptop”. That is the kind of fully “Free” ARM laptop I don’t expect to see within 3-5 years.
The RK3588 might well be in the performance category I was thinking of, but my perception is that Rockchip has a track-record of producing chips with poor long-term software support and a requirement for blob drivers.