Looks like I have a little more time to play while node.js compiles...
I started designing my next laptop. I'm pretty happy with the Chromebook and it's taught me just how little computer I really need to haul around with me but I've been kicking around some ideas about the perfect laptop (for me that is) for awhile and I'm finally at a point where I think I could put the whole package together.
I'm setting a budget of around $500.00USD which I think is reasonable because I've already got the heart of the machine in-hand (although most of the budget will be going into the display). I've made a few sketches and assembled a few diagrams, but at a high-level the ingredients look like this:
The rationale behind these choices comes from all of my laptop experience leading up to this point, along with the applications I use a laptop computer for most.
The Parallella at the center of the design has an ARM CPU that provides simular Linux performance to my Chromebook, but contains a few extras that make it very interesting. First off the ARM chip includes a slice of FPGA that is user-programmable. This is used by default to provide a display adapter, but could be customized in the field for specialized applications whenever needed. Even more interesting is the 16 core Epiphany "supercomputer on a chip" co-processor which can be used for any suitably paralellizable problem (there are 32 and 64-core versions on the horizon, so an upgrade path exists as well). The board also includes a ton of GPIO which could be extended outside the laptop's case (with suitable buffering and protection electronics) to allow the laptop to be used with all sorts of field equipment and interfaces with almost anything imaginable.
The outstanding feature of the Pixel Qi display is that it is clearly readable in full sunlight as well as the dark. It's not the highest-resolution display available (nor the cheapest per square inch) but it has a grey-scale transflective mode that not only is more usable outside than traditional displays, it also uses a lot less power.
A custom keyboard is a necessity, so why not make it great? I've never owned a laptop with what I'd call a great keyboard, and having used a Daskeyboard Model S Ultimate for a few years now going back to a mushy low-travel board is a non-starter. A custom keyboard built with sturdy mechanical (and clicky) keyswitches along with unlabeled keycaps is an essential ingredient.
The keyboard design, along with the size of the display and the desire to leave ample room for additional processors/co-processors and an enormous battery led me to a design similar to the classic GRiD Compass (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grid_Compass). Considered by many to be the origin of all laptop designs, the GRiD is an amazing machine in its own right, but it also bears a resemblance to the 286 laptop that was my first as well (turns out this isn't a coincidence, Tandy bought out the GRiD IP, and my first laptop was a later Tandy model).
In addition to the above the design will incorporate as large a battery as possible, allowing it to be used for extensive field work and potentially a solar charging panel as well. Other considerations are a wireless data network interface (considering 4G but looking into other options) and associated long-range antenna, etc.
I'm excited to set some time aside to play with this over the winter. I'm sure that the Chromebook will hold up until I'm able to get a prototype together, but the idea of having a "daily driver" built to this specification is very exciting.