Novena open laptop: First impressions

The Novena has been mentioned a few times here before:

Novena is a 1.2GHz, Freescale quad-core ARM architecture computer closely coupled with a Xilinx FPGA. It’s designed for users who care about Free Software and open source, and/or want to modify and extend their hardware: all the documentation for the PCBs is open and free to download, the entire OS is buildable from source, and it comes with a variety of features that facilitate rapid prototyping.

As it happens, I backed the “Just the Board” option back in April, and it came in late December. I just got around to setting it up a few days ago.


First impressions:

  • There’s useful stuff on the wiki and in the forums, but it’s not super organized.
  • The documentation on has probably been most helpful, especially this quickstart.
  • I partially got this board because of the FPGA and this critter. FPGAs are way over my head right now, but I’m hoping they eventually won’t be. The little blinkenlight demo is easy to run through.
  • This is designed as a laptop board, but what I’m putting together is going to be something more like an esoteric all-in-one / server.  It’s compact, so my chosen enclosure should have plenty of room for drives, little displays, and other addons.
  • I don’t have a working monitor for this system yet; searching around hints that the HDMI-to-DVI cable setup I was using might just not work.

That last point proved a little bit frustrating, since the machine was visible on the network and responding to ping but not SSH. I was able to get a console using this USB to TTL serial cable and run through the initial setup script, after which it’s been working fine as a headless system. If I’d paid closer attention to the docs the first time through, this would have gone faster.


Startup notes:

  • Make sure system’s off / unplugged.
  • Make sure monitor and keyboard are disconnected.
  • Plug in an FTDI cable as shown in the quickstart. If you’re lacking an FTDI cable but have the aforementioned USB to TTL one (purchased, perhaps, for a Raspberry Pi or Beaglebone), then you can match the pins. (Black to pin 1, red to pin 3, green to 4, white to 5.)
  • Plug in USB, connect to your local equivalent of /dev/ttyUSB0 with a terminal at 115200 8-N-1 (I used PuTTY).
  • Power up the Novena board and watch your terminal.

The system’s overall pretty responsive, except where file IO is concerned. The SD card as main storage is definitely a limiter. It looks like SATA is supported, so I’ll probably be adding an SSD. Display headaches and a few configuration speedbumps aside, this is a cool device that offers tons of possibilities and I’m expecting to make it a centerpiece of my home development environment. More notes to come…

Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

Join 35,000+ makers on Adafruit’s Discord channels and be part of the community!

Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.

Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!

Follow Adafruit on Instagram for top secret new products, behinds the scenes and more

CircuitPython – The easiest way to program microcontrollers –

Maker Business — Moving manufacturing out of China

Wearables — Take control of your LED sequins

Electronics — Current limiting!

Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: ESP32 Web Workflow for CircuitPython, CircuitPython Day 2022 and more! #CircuitPython @micropython @ThePSF @Raspberry_Pi

Adafruit IoT Monthly — Detect Radiation, ML Baby Monitor, and more!

Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Thank You!

EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey

New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — New Products 8/11/2022 Featuring #adafruit 14-segment LED Alphanumeric Backpack – STEMMA QT!

Get the only spam-free daily newsletter about wearables, running a "maker business", electronic tips and more! Subscribe at !

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.