I think doing a review on the MNT Reform is an important thing that I hope will help anyone reading to better understand the laptop as well as its capabilities. I’m looking at this from a wider customer audience than perhaps the more niche one a laptop like that might immediately appeal to. As such benchmarks, charts, and graphs are not going to be found here.
The Reform that is shipping now uses the same SoC as the Purism Librem 5. Purism is doing a lot of work for the platform and this benefits the Reform inadvertently. They each use the NXP i.MX 8M SoC. Where the Reform differs in this regard is that it is using the chip in an unconstrained power envelope versus the Librem 5. It also has 1 additional gig of RAM, to make 4 gb total. The SoC is broken out via the mainboard that the SoC slots into via an interconnect. What this means is that MNT can release new SoCs via new boards that can be slotted into the mainboard. This mean that your system is upgradable in a way, that only a company like Framework comes close to. Being discussed on the forums and the IRC channel there is a lot of work going on now for additional platforms one could upgrade to. This is one of the Reform’s most important selling points. When MNT says that the Reform is a computer designed to be with you for a long time, they really mean it.
Lending to this longevity is the literal tank like construction of the Reform’s enclosure. Thick anodized black aluminum covers the internals with the exception of the port covers and the bottom lid of the Laptop. Both of these items ship from MNT with acrylic based coverings. MNT all has steel expansion port covers, which I promptly purchased. I was not worried about the original covers breaking. I am not in the habit of ramming things into ports on my computers in general, but I did like the strengthened nature of the new covers. The bottom cover being acrylic based is necessary so that Wi-Fi signals might be able to penetrate and leave the Reform laptop.
Furthermore, the way the Reform is designed also increases the durability of the laptop’s key components. The hinges are a great example here. Because the lid closes over a lip of the base, it looks the display from moving along 2 axis’s and this means the hinges which are quality themselves are not getting stressed will the laptop is being handled in transit. Magnet ensure that the lid does not just flop open either. It is very satisfying to open and close the lid on the Reform as such.
I have no doubt, that the Reform will outlive all of my laptops, to include the Framework one I have. I am ok with that. The 11” size of the laptop is something that is no longer present in the laptop world at large. Most laptop manufacturers considers 13-14” laptops are their ultra-portables. The form factor harkens back to late 90s ThinkPads and is an ode that I personally love and appreciate. I would love to be able to keep using the trackball and keyboard for as long as I can.
I will gush about the trackball first. 90’s laptops would often sport trackballs instead of touchpads or trackpoints. Either you love them or you hate them. I personally like that I never run out of mousing room with them, and are more precise than a trackpoint. To me the trackball is another example of the uncompromising nature of the Reform’s design. Still if it isn’t your thing you can get your Reform with a trackpad instead.
The keyboard is a completely Kailh CHOC low profile based one. Fully backlit when desired. The layout is a big unique. However, I tried it and was able to pick it up quickly enough. I think my experience moving between keyboards of various layouts helped here. There are keys I do use on it ever, and I just need to get around to remapping those keys, which is more than possible. The keyboard contains a circle key on which allows you to control the LPC on the Reform with various key combos. The LPC is a little microcomputer that control the keyboard backlight and battery states. It is a unique way to getting information about your current charge state and current system power draw. It is a unique element of the Reform that you get used to quickly, as in: it would be nice if this feature existed on other laptops. And this feeling of being able to observe the laptop in whatever you want is an overriding intentional thing with the Reform. You are able to individually check batteries, easily replace them if necessary, and in general feel as though the system is truly yours. I have caught myself caring the Reform somewhere only to flip it over just so I can look at the guts of the laptop. There is something very appealing and pleasing to being able to do that.
Performance is a subjective matter. My first computer was an IBM 5155 with an 8088 CPU in it. I am not so averse to waiting a little here and there, while the computer works. I thought this would be the case with the Reform, but it is surprisingly snappy. I would highly recommend that you use a NVME SSD with yours, as this significantly contributes to that snappy feeling. I could use the Reform as my daily most of the times. If I consider that I can SSH into and VNC control other machines comfortably with it, then I really could use it for my daily. Up until now, about the ONLY thing I haven’t been able to get running on it yet is Steam, but I am sure it is possible.
For me this was quite a shock. I was fully expecting the Reform to kind of get regulated to the toy zone as so many of my other purchases have. However, it simply refuses to be labeled thusly. It has dreams of being a daily, and it can deliver. Because of the strict open-source, nature the laptop adheres to the CPU is limited in comparison to other x86 based laptops. However, this limitation does not really exists. And with the current upgrade boards being worked on, will be even less of a non-limitation in the future.
Thanks to the Raspberry Pi foundation ARM based Linux has received, and continues to receive a lot of attention and support. As mentioned Purism has done a lot to mainline many elements of the i.8 as well. This all contributes largely to the effectiveness of the Reform.
So why did I buy the Reform? Well I loved the design. That is the primary reason. I justified that reason by saying it would be a great way to get into working on ARM Linux development, and it is. As ludicrous as it might sound I am half tempted to tell you to get it just because of the design, but the point of this review is to tell you that the Reform is a laptop intended to replace your old laptop. It is designed to do real work and be really used. To that end, and in my own experience, it really can be your daily.
And because of that I look forward to writing more about the Reform much further down the road! Long live the laptop designed to last as long as you want.