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Review of the Purism Librem 13 (botondballo.wordpress.com)
103 points by ingve 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

I own one of these as my personal laptop. I pretty much agree with this review. Unless you care about more niche things like coreboot, there is nothing really special about the laptop. There is nothing really bad about it, either. It meets my practical needs, and I am happy to support the limited market of more-"free" hardware.

I have not tried to use PureOS. As soon as I received it, I tried to install Qubes OS, but I was not successful. I ended up installing Debian stable, which has been my OS of choice for many years. I have not had any hardware support issues so far on Debian.

What had you hung up on Qubes?

I used it for some time on my librem and it worked well, but I generally needed better Windows in a VM support for work.

After the installation, it would not boot from the drive. I tried to reinstall, and it still didn't work. I wasn't in the mood to troubleshoot it, so I just gave up and installed Debian. It was likely I would have switched to Debian later on, anyway.

Would the touchpad be usable for precise design work (e.g. working with pen tools/bezier curves in vector programs)?

This review talks about using a Wacom tablet with it: https://www.davidrevoy.com/article341/review-purism-librem13...

I find the touch pad to be accurate and usable on Manjaro, but I only use it to move around the terminal, IDE, and VMs.

I am not sure. I almost never do anything graphical, and I mainly work from the keyboard.

Does highlighting text (click, dragging the cursor over text) work well? That's all it needs to do, point click, and be able to control the dragging.

In my experience frequently not. I couldn’t highlight text in terminals sometimes.

And the | key isn’t functional without a systemd patch.

I recently discovered debian offers netinstaller images with nonfree wifi firmwares included in the image. It still fits in an USB stick.

I installed it. Apart from the fact that windows bars and menu are still too big for low resolution, debian is so good, light and fast.

I bought one a few weeks ago and I'm now in the process of returning it.

- First, I don’t mean any slight on Purism. At all. This is meant as an honest review.

Physically the Librem 13v3 is a bit bigger than a 13 inch MacBook Air. A little thicker but nothing significant. It does need two hands to open it though.

The trackpad, while good is unreliable. I found myself frequently trying to select text in a terminal and the cursor would not move with the trackpad held down by my thumb.

The keyboard. Firstly the key that does both | and \ is mapped incorrectly in hardware. This requires a systemd patch in PureOS. Also I frequently found keys didn’t register when I was typing.

The operating system. PureOS is basically Debian GNU/Linux. It seems mostly decent and obviously helps Purism ship patches for things like the keyboard. But it’s also buggy. I would frequently boot into a GNOME session with no UI elements. A lot of things like the functionality to suggest programs that aren’t installed never worked, there’s no working Bluetooth on the machine, as far as I can tell the headphone jack doesn’t accept a 3.5mm headset.

The load on the machine at basically idle was high. If I had more than a browser with a couple tabs open it was over 2.00 constantly. The WiFi and camera switches are neat but the indicator lights didn’t match the switch status. The whole experience generally felt worse than the experience I had with my previous ThinkPad (T400s) and that had the worst trackpad I’ve ever dealt with.

I’m going to try another Dell XPS.

I'm curious if most of your issues were related to Pure OS. And if that's the case.. why ship with it installed?

Overall I'm not a fan of these additional spins of linux. System76 does this too with PopOS.

Our experiences are nearly polar opposite and the only difference I can detect is the OS.

I can say that the bluetooth works as expected (currently using a mouse). There is a bit of configuration that had to be done to get a Plantronics headset to work with LinPhone for my VoIP line, but that really isn't something I'd expect to work seamlessly in my environment.

For the headphone jack mine clearly works as expected. Though I haven't tried Apple's earbuds which may be a more common test item. I'm using Shure earbuds and the connections are flipped.

That load is high. I'm averaging 0.71. Maybe you're doing something more intense than I am, but generally I have a Windows VM (MS Office open) and Firefox/Slack/WebStorm running.

I tried booting Ubuntu on it, similar problems.

What model do you have?

Librem 13v3.

I bought the base model then bought upgrades separate - 16GB of RAM, 1TB NVMe, and 2TB SSD.

I suppose it's possible you got a lemon, but unfortunate as these things should be tested intently.

I'm currently running a Librem 13 as well. I came from my modded x230 (FHD display mod, coreboot, upgraded speakers).

Mostly it's been a great experience. Like the author I also miss the trackpoint.

Between the author and I, I think we cover most of the mainline OSes you'd see on these machines (debian and arch). I'm running Manjaro (xfce) with no issues.

In total though the Librem 13 was about $300 more expensive then other similar laptops.

I believe there's a lot value in that extra cost. The privacy and open source efforts mainly. We have to support these efforts more and more if we want to protect ourselves from the larger companies that continue to mine our data.

I've got a very similar setup, except with a T430s rather than an X230 (and no new speakers, even though that's probably the thing I hate the most).

I'm probably not ready to replace it yet; it ends up being a terminal more than anything else and the performance is fine for where it's at. But... every now and then when I'm browsing, it'll slow to a crawl, and I pine for the fjords/something newer.

I've been holding back partly because it's still difficult to get more than 16GiB of RAM easily, but: is the Skylake-based Purism 13 a large or incremental step up in performance?

It's difficult to quantify, but I'd say the only thing I notice is battery life. On the x230, before the mods I've made to modernize it a bit more, the battery life was somewhere south of 4 hours.

With the Librem 13 I do get 6-10 hours depending on work load.

Cheers for that; I'll stick with what I've got for a while longer then :) (but I'll admit the battery life is killing me currently).

I remember how much praise the Purism laptops got for the hardware kill switches on the microphone/camera. It seems like it would be easier for the 90% of the target audience, who probably never uses the mic or the camera anyway, to just remove those pieces from the hardware altogether and let those who need it plug in a USB mic or webcam.

I added a hardware switch to my x230 camera (I had it opened up anyway to do the FHD mod so I figured why not). It switches the power line of the internal USB port that the camera connects to. I placed a subminiature slide switch next to the camera, cut a notch in the casing, cut the supply trace between the camera's connector and filter capacitor, and soldered wires to the switch to either side of the cut trace. Then I drilled two 0.5mm deep holes with a drill bit held by hand for the bumps of the switch to sit in, and glued it in place. Works fine. I added a touch of glitter paint to one side of the switch slider so it's glittery when the camera has power. I haven't got around to doing the same for the mic.

(yes, I do electronics for a living)

I guess I would fall in the 10%. I have a desktop I use for most stuff, and the only Mic I have is in a USB headset. But if I'm going to video chat with family, it's almost always with the built in hardware of my laptop. I wish it had hardware switches.

I personally love that feature!

I work remotely, and we do regular scheduled video meetings. I don't want to carry around a dongle, but I also want to know that it's fully off when I'm not in a chat.

This way I don't need to trust it's off - I know hackers, malware, etc can't turn it on.

I have tape over my Macbook camera now, and I use Micro Snitch for the Audio, but I'd love a hardware solution.

I was able to order my ThinkPad without a camera or a microphone and I saved $35.

I left mine in because it it only knocked a few quid off and very occasionally I might need them.

Both disabled in the BIOS and I taped over the camera though.

Camera taped over obviously it's unusable.

Do you trust a Lenovo BIOS to truly disable the microphone?

As much as I trust an American chip, a Japanese SSD or Korean RAM.

At a certain point you just have to trade one thing for another, frankly my phone worries me more.

Cool! Which model?

It's a T540p.

Dell offers the same option on some models.

I'm not the target audience, I still wouldn't miss them. I almost want to call them Apple-isms, because for the longest time only Apple did that kind of stuff; and, at least with any Apple or non-Apple laptop I've tried, they're kind of useless. The microphone on my Macbook Pro can't even hear me properly.

Like, I could get a C922 and be lightyears ahead of any of the garbage that comes built into any given laptop or iMac-esque desktop. Thats a $80 gizmo that has working 1080p60 camera, HW zoom, and a little desktop tripod for those that don't have desktop monitors.

I actually think most people do use Skype or other video chat on their laptops, either for personal or for work.. that’s been my experience in any case.

I’ve never had any trouble with webcams working on Windows. Linux is another story...

As usual the touch pad is a major weakness of not only this but almost all non-Apple laptops. Apple seems to have some kind of soft monopoly on really great touch pads.

My experience of it was such that it was actually basically defective.

Why do people regard the fn position as right or wrong? Especially if you come from Apple clearly lenovo does it "right". Isn't it all about flavor?

Although.. Can't we all agree putting fn right to space would be right?

They want the control key in the bottom left.

My preference is control next to space, like command is for Macs. Luckily this remapping is easy with XKB settings.

Still have to include closed firmware blobs, Intel Firmware Support Package (FSP) or AMD AGESA firmware.


Pretty much the only option today with open source firmware is Marvell's ARM. And they recently bought Cavium with their ThunderX2 server grade CPU. Hope soon we'll have it.

I have a librem 13v2, too.

While I like it from an idealistic point of view - in terms of hardware build quality the current generation does just not get anywhere near a macbook pro. Maybe the next generation can close this gap further. As long as it is that big it cannot become my main device.

Hey, if you are not using your Librem 13v2 then I'll happily take it off your hands.

Help my third-world a$s that can't afford anything more than my current 2009 Dell with broken hinges.

Thank you!

I am using it as 2nd device when doing linux stuff. I would have preferred to be able to use it as the one and only main device.

$1,399.00 for the basic spec

Price of effort to freedom.

Anyone run OpenBSD on one of these?

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