FreeBSD on the GPD Pocket

In the distant past before smart phones became identical black rectangles there was a category of devices called palmtops. Palmtops were a class of PDA PC thing that fit in the palm of your hand. Today the Psion 5 series of devices most often capture peoples attention. Not only are they small and awesome, but they have something like a real keyboard.

This form factor is so popular that there are projects trying to update Psion 5 devices with new internals. The Psion 5 is the sort of device I have complained isn't made for a long time, at some point I picked one up on ebay with the intention of running the NetBSD port on it.

Earlier this year the world caught up and two big crowd funding projects appeared for modern Psion like palmtop devices. Neither the Gemini or the GPD Pocket campaigns convinced me that real hardware would ever appear. In May reviews of the GPD Pocket started to appear and I became aware of people that had backed and received their earlier campaign for the GPD WIN.

With a quirk in indiegogo allowing me to still back the campaign I jumped on board and ordered a tiny little laptop computer.

GPD Pocket vs Psion 5mx


FreeBSD is the only choice of OS for a pc computer. Support is good enough that I could boot and install without any real issues, but there was enough hardware support missing that I wanted to fix things before writing a blog post about it.

Somethings don't work out of the box others will need drivers before they will work:


The most obvious issue is the display panel, the panel it self reports as being a high resolution portrait device. This problem exists in the bios menus and the windows boot splash is rotated for most of the time.

GPD Pocket FreeBSD bootsplash

Of course the FreeBSD bootsplash and framebuffer are also rotated, but a little neck turning makes the installer usable. Once installed we can address the rotated panel in X, accelerated graphics are probably in the future for this device, but the X framebuffer drive is good enough for FreeBSD hacking.

With X we can sort of the rotation problem. xf86-video-scfb is required to use the framebuffer.

# pkg install xf86-video-scfb

And the following lines have to be added to /usr/local/etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/driver-scfb.conf

Section "Device"
    Identifier "Generic FB"
    Driver "scfb"
    Rotate "CW"

 Section "Device"
     Identifier    "Card0"
     Driver        "scfb"

GPD Pocket FreeBSD

The screen resolution is still super high, there doesn't seem to be anyway to do DPI hinting with the framebuffer driver (or in i3 at all), but I can make terminals usable by cranking up the font size.

Keyboard and touchpoint

A Keyboard is vital for a usable computer, out of the box the keyboard works, but the touch point does not. Worse, touching the touch point caused the built in USB keyboard to die.

Some faffing trying to debug the problem with gavin@ at BSDCam and we got both keyboard and mouse working. For some reason my planck keyboard presents as a mouse among other things, pluggin in a mouse and power cycling the USB device caused ums(4) to correctly probe and attach.

Manually loading ums(4) at boot got the touch point working correctly. In fact, ig4(4) also attaches when manually loaded.

Add these lines to /boot/loader.conf


The dmesg shows some problems with ACPI probing, this is probably the source of some of the device problems.

Other devices

Wifi, bluetooth and graphics are bigger problems that will hopefully be caught up in others work and made to work soon. The touchscreen controller is adding a driver and support for Cherry View GPIO, there are datasheets for these and I am working on them.

No battery level indicator makes it annoying to use the GPD Pocket out and about. Without a driver the charge controller is using a really low current to recharge the battery. Datasheets are quite readily available for these devices and I am writing drivers now.

GPD Pocket

The Pocket is a great little device, I think its 'cuteness' makes everyone fall in love with it on first sight. I am really looking forward to getting the final things working and using this as a daily device.

Gherkin 30% keyboard


I like keyboards, I have been using an OLKB Planck as my daily driver for 18 months now. I saw a really nice ortholinear 30% keyboard go by on mastodon and I had to have one.

The keyboard I saw was actually the excellent gherkin by di0ib. di0ib has worked in the true spirit of open source and provided all of the design files and firmware for the gherkin. Beyond that they have included child proof instructions to order pcds.

Gherkin PCB

I tricked some friends into agreeing to build boards if I got a run of PCBS and set off. Amazingly was offering 5 more boards (10 vs 5) for just $2 extra. I managed to get 10 sets (board, key plate and base) of the PCBs for about £80.


The build was really easy to do, there is some advice for the socket on 40 percent club, but if you test fit everything as you go it should be straight forward. A build is probably around 2 hours depending on proficiency.

Parts Per Keyboard:

1  Keyplate PCB
1  Bottom PCB
1  Main PCB

16 M2 Spacers (14mm length)
32 M2 screws

30 key switches
30 key caps

1  Arduino Pro micro
1  machine pin socket (wide 24 pin (2x12))

30 3mm leds (your choice of colour)
30 1N4148 diodes
1  100 ohm resistors
1  100k ohm resitors
30 470 ohm reistors
1  mosfet (probs A04406A 4406A)

Key caps are a harder thing to buy (so many awesome choices) so I ended up using some spares I found in a desk drawer.


Flashing the firmware to the keyboard was a little harder to figure out. Eventually I found some instructions that included the correct avrdude flags on, you also need to use a switch pulling RST down to GND to put the micro controller in programming mode.

Pro Micro flash switch

Most of the work is done by the TMK make file, but you must manually specify a target for the program command. The command I used looks like:

# programming directive
MCU = atmega32u4
PROGRAM_CMD = avrdude -p $(MCU) -P /dev/tty.usbmodem1411 -c avr109 -U flash:w:$(TARGET).hex


With the board built and programmed (first try) it is time to figure out how to use it. It took a couple of months of daily use to get used to using the planck, it will be the same with the gherkin. To help learn I have printed out the keyboard layout and the combination of layers.

Gherkin Layout

I modified the default layout a little to make it more similar to how I normally type. I moved space bar to my left hand, made 'X' a repeatable key(gotta be able to delete chars in vim) and added a 'CMD' key. I have a fork of the repo with my layout and Makefile changes.

The layer system is easy to use, if you hold any of the keys on the base layer it will enable the alternate function for a meta key or it will switch to another layer for a layer key.

Findlater Castle

Findlater Castle

Reading: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Difference Engine

Aberdeen, Scotland: 14°C, Mostly cloudy starting in the evening.

More bread

I did more bread, but at batch 8 this is no longer really interesting to anyone other than me.

People have been complaining that my tweets are marked as offensive material, which is really funny I only really tweet about bread and technology. I looked at my settings and the 'mark as offensive' option was enabled on my output.

I'm sure I accidentally enabled it, but the twitter documentation does say they will add it to accounts that have flagged posts.

I have no love for twitter, if literally anything else had the communities I want to pay attention to posting I would move away. Ideally something federated, but that is only a pipe dream.

Yes my phone autocompleted flour to four, you can't edit twitter posts and phones are the worst thing ever.

It is Sunday, so that makes seven days of writing.

Reading: The Moon is a Hard Mistress, The Difference Engine

Aberdeen, Scotland: 15°C, Clear throughout the day.

Notification Band Thing

Last night I converted by pebble from being a single contained unit, to a 3 part kit.

I am probably going to have to replace it.

Pebble the company is dead, I can still get replacement hardware from amazon or ebay and I suspect it will be generally available at reasonable prices for a year or two.

I used my pebble for 3 things

  1. It's a smart watch, so I used it as a watch for time and date
  2. I used it for weather, with the awesome relaxing watch face
  3. The vibrate function is amazing for notifications. My phone hasn't been off silent for since I got the pebble, notifications for calls and messages are awesome. Better I can forward notifications from a service bus app like pushover and generate them based on things I want.

I can just wear a watch to deal with 1, for 2 I am probably going to use the awesome app and not rely on being able to casually check the temperature.

For 3 I am really at a loss what to do. I could just replace the pebble, but really I think I want a smart band with a vibration motor for notifications.

If what I want doesn't already exist, it is probably too niche to ever become a thing.

Reading: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Difference Engine

None, Scotland: 15°C, Partly cloudy until afternoon.