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System76 Thelio: A Review (nora.codes)
142 points by FunnyLookinHat on Feb 24, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 111 comments

I don't understand why these boutique Linux system vendors all end up gravitating towards rolling their own distributions -- Pop!_OS (ugh) for System76, PureOS (https://www.pureos.net/) for Purism, etc.

I've been running Ubuntu on my machines for something like a decade now, and have experience with Debian and Red Hat/Fedora from before that. I know what to expect from these distributions. When you tell me you've rolled your own distribution, I have no idea what to expect, which turns me off from your product. And if the answer is "you can expect exactly the same as what you'd get from Ubuntu/Debian/Fedora/whatever," then why bother rolling a new distro in the first place? Why take what should be a simple sales pitch and make it more confusing?

They seem to think the idea of learning my way around Yet Another Linux Distribution is an enticement. It isn't -- especially when the only community around the distribution is a single small company, which means that anything I do learn is unlikely to be useful beyond using that company's products. As soon as I buy from someone else, or that one small company goes out of business or loses interest in maintaining the distro, I can take all that knowledge and toss it in the bin. No thanks.

(Weirdly, the only company in this space that seems to really get this is Dell. I feel like I'm living in the Mirror Universe.)

This entire comment is a non-issue since you can specify what distro you want.

Let's not get focused on a red herring because one person decided to shoot out a verbose comment.

I've looked into buying a System76 laptop (and probably will at some point this year), and it's definitely an issue for me as a consumer. Debian and Ubuntu are known quantities; I'd like to know why Pop!_OS is even an option, and whether I'm losing out on something I might want by not selecting it.

With the same drivers?

Yeah, with the purchase of the machine you can specify Ubuntu 18.04. They also have a ppa where you can install all of their drivers from, which works on both pop and Ubuntu.

I couldn't agree more. Rolling your own distribution is in general a bad idea, unless you have lots of resources to develop and maintain it. Plus a very good reason to do so!

But Dell often also screws it up. I ordered a really expensive workstation from them (>$15k), configured with Ubuntu as OS. However, it was not vanilla Ubuntu as advertised but a patched Ubuntu of the latest LTS. The machine always got stuck in an infinite loop after setting the timezone and entering user details within one of the welcome dialogs. Totally unacceptable.

I installed the very same Ubuntu LTS version, just a vanilla one, and everything worked fine.

I had this happen as well with a brand new precision model. What I found was that Dell had patched broken drivers in the kernel and then pushed the fix upstream (bless them for that!) Once the hardware was about 6 months old the vanilla kernel had the fixes and I was fine installing stock Fedora on the machine.

I was pretty happy with this compromise (tho I wish I had known up front about the custom driver). They didn't delay shipping but did future proof it. If they ever don't push the fixes upstream tho, they'll be dead to me ;-)

I agree completely, and have only popped in to note that you can order System76 with regular old Ubuntu.

I suspect it's because in the end all they're really selling is a barely differentiated commodity. Sure, they might spec one bluetooth chipset vs another etc with their contract manufacturer to get the needed driver support. But once that's done, it's a pretty bog-standard PC with the main value add being not including and charging for a Windows license. Rolling their own theoretically different, but really largely just a re-branded, distro gives them a way to differentiate even though it's largely a distinction without a difference. If all they shipped was a vanilla distro on top of the hardware, they'd really only be offering configuration and tech support services for competitors who will just ship a PC with the same hardware configuration for a few bucks less and point them to the same vanilla distro.

> they'd really only be offering configuration and tech support services...

I think you are severely undervaluing support and the logistics of running a business.

Support is, in fact, their strongest selling point. A new distro diminishes their offering (for me). We all understand that it's not something you toss together. It takes effort and as a buyer, I'd rather see that effort used for support, hardware testing, etc..

Selling hardware (even if it's rebadged), providing support, allowing returns, taking responsibility for key updates, multi-year warranties, etc... this, I think, is what most people are after in a vendor. Along with competitive pricing...

We can all install Linux (or try to) on Windows laptops but many of us don't want to deal with the headaches if we encounter a problem. We just want it to work out of the box so we can get to work soon after opening the box. There's an awful lot of value to this.

I can't help but think about Litebook (https://alpha.store/) and the disaster it turned out to be during the entire process[0]. All of the failures were based on the support side, customer service, shipping, hardware testing, etc.

Their reputation was already developing, in the early stages, but users still wanted to believe in a "bang for the buck" Linux laptop running a time-tested distro (Elementary OS when they first started). The business crashed and burned. It had nothing to do with the distro.

[0] https://old.reddit.com/r/linuxhardware/comments/7rn0l4/alpha...

You missed the key part of that sentence: '... for competitors' I was only speaking to the 'why spin their own distro?' question and pointing out that differentiation of System76 hardware (which is standard and also available to their competitors) or software (which is free/open source so also available to their competitors) is very, very difficult to do without spinning their own distro. And even then, the differentiation is minimal on the product side. This is a problem for them because undifferentiated commodities tend to compete purely on price... hence the distro.

I assume it's because they think it builds brand loyalty.

That is, they believe that the ppl who opt into Pop OS over vanilla Ubuntu, are likely to fall in love with Pop OS and therefore purchase more System76 machines down the road.

The downside is perceived to be limited since new customers can opt out of Pop OS.

Without inside knowledge around customer retention and top of funnel conversion rate, it's hard to know whether it's a good or bad business decision.

Pop OS is basically Ubuntu with some additional theming and tweaks to improve the desktop experience and automatically install the various Sytem76 drivers.

I think they decided to create their own distro because they were wary that Canonical was going to be more focused on the server space when they decided to shutdown Unity and switch to Gnome for their desktop. System76 decided that they wanted to step up and take a little bit more of an active role in building a desktop experience.

In reality there is very little difference from Ubuntu and so you can install any Ubuntu packages or follow any Ubuntu based how-to.

In the case of System76 they do allow you to choose ubuntu as your OS.

Right, I know, but that just adds more confusion. You can get it with Ubuntu, for instance, but if you want it set up with full-disk encryption you have to choose Pop!_OS for some reason. And since Ubuntu is presented as a second-class alternative to the preferred Pop!_OS, when I choose it now I'm wondering if that's going to have consequences should I ever need to try and get support from System76. Are they just going to tell me I should install Pop!_OS?

Honestly, seeing as how you can download Ubuntu and install it yourself I think they'd be better off (from a sales perspective, I mean) just omitting the Ubuntu preinstall option altogether. Anyone who wants it could still get it, and it'd take a "wait, what?" moment out of the experience of using their configurator.

It's easier for them to ship Pop!_OS with FDE, because they have their own OEM style installer for Pop!_OS that's specifically suited for this type of thing. This is one of the reasons that Pop!_OS exists.

Since they offer both, I can't imaging you'd have any issues with their support due to running ubuntu instead of Pop.

Seems to me your making this much more of a drama then it actually is.

I guess they want to cater to people who think a product works best if the hardware and software are both made by the same company. And many people think so probably because of Apple products.

They want some control over their OS.

Ubuntu have dropped Unity support and OEMs couldn't anything about it. Suddenly user experience changed and transition Unity-> Gnome wasn't smooth. This was breaking point.

OEMs wasn't happy about it and to make sure they don't have to be same situation again they have made their Ubuntu flavors/distributions

Good as long as the distribution is compatible with & uses the official repositories, with just a 'few' tweaks & enhancements.

Agreed, and Purism should have used Plasma Mobile as well, instead of reinventing the wheel for Librem 5.

It's because they want control over app delivery.

They aspire to be another Apple w/iOS, or another Google w/Android.

Embracing GNU/Linux and the free-software ecosystem is the shortest path towards achieving this goal. These companies aren't necessarily concerned with supporting libre software in reality. It's just the most convenient option for the moment, what realistic alternatives are there? They aren't pursuing control over the access to and deliery of apps without any intention of leveraging it should they succeed in acquiring sufficient market share.

Personally I'm in favor of continuing to support independent operating system vendors and paying hardware manufacturers for standardized hardware we can use with any standards-compliant operating system of our choice.

It's unfortunate that the more GNU/Linux matures, the more it enables the proliferation of vendor-specific distributions competing for control over the software their users consume.

I could be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure all the software in both Pop and Pure come from their upstream distro’s packages. The hardware companies don’t package software themselves minus maybe a couple of firmware/driver things. I guess they could, if they wanted to, but they have very little incentive to do so and it’s not like they have complete control over the market like Apple and Google do. Pissing off their target market would be suicide and would keep potential customers buying used ThinkPads instead.

Or maybe your totally misinterpreting their motives of a company that has spend years investing into linux and supporting linux.

I've never had a good System76 experience - over a decade of System76 use. I've repeatedly asked to have them purchased, merely to help the community, and every single one has disappointed.

The build quality is such rubbish, and you begin to feel it almost immediately. I'm careful with my kit, not terribly hard on anything and I manage to flake bits of plastic or metal off each System76. They've always been in neoprene cases within a laptop backpack - because I'm that paranoid. They're just rubbish.

At this point Ubuntu (or Mint, or Debian!) on Alienware is my laptop of choice, and I run those Kingdel desktops.

> The build quality is such rubbish, and you begin to feel it almost immediately.

I would really like to buy another System76 laptop, except for the build quality.

PRO: Linux worked out of the box, the price/performance was much better than a MacBook, and the customer support was great.

CON: IIRC went through 4 keyboards and multiple other part replacements.

Afterwards, I bought a ~2015 MacBook Pro, installed Ubuntu, and it stills runs great.

I want to chime in a contrasting opinion here. I had an old Galago that I adored. Came with Ubuntu, swapped that to Arch then stayed happy with it for years! It was a plastic frame, but it was tough enough to shove in a backpack and take longboarding. After 3 years, the Ethernet port's spring clip finally snapped off (user error), but still worked. I also accidentally bent the audio jack, but it still worked. It finally "died" when my pup knocked it off the couch with the charger still plugged in. The charger plug, still in the port, hit the floor at just the right angle to snap the port's inner prong off making it impossible to charge. I didn't notice until the next day when the battery used it's last bits of juice then shut down.

Very happy with my System76 purchase. But! I've only ever used the one device.

I wanted to add my experiences with System76 too, which agrees with the parent comment and disagrees with yours.

I’ve owned a large desktop and laptop from System76 and had tons of issues with both, along with consistently awful customer service, needing to argue for example that I should not have to pay shipping fees when returning the desktop that arrived with a non-functional motherboard when it was first shipped to me, and then later also having to argue for System76 to manage doorside pick-up for me to mailback the return (I live in a city without a car and no way to physically carry a huge desktop PC to the nearest UPS store, and I’m not paying for a taxi to mail back something that was broken on arrival).

I’ve since switched to Lenovo laptops and just reformat at install Ubuntu on them. Much simpler process, much better customer service.

You're aware they're all relabeled Chinese hardware yes?

That's true of System76's laptops, but part of their pitch for Thelio is that it marks a shift towards them doing their own design and manufacturing in the US. See https://blog.system76.com/post/179592732883/system76-on-us-m... for details.

Are there any computer brands that aren't manufactured in China?

They mean that System76 doesn't use an OEM, they use a white box ODM. You can buy the exact same laptop from several different companies.

I suspect they’re selling rebadged clevo laptops like almost everyone

This idea that they just re-label an existing laptop and call it a day really is not accurate:


I've heard similar complaints from others. It would be great is someone from System76 could join the conversation and have a spin-less discussion on the topic.

Is Alienware a good choice for laptops now? I’d always heard they were overpriced for the hardware you get.

I'm really happy with my Alienware 15 r4. The hardware has been great.

But I don't run Linux, so I can't speak to any hardware/driver support issues.

I would recommend avoiding laptops with nvidia cards if you are planning to run linux. They are a big hassle due to bad driver support.

Only if you HAVE to use the open source driver. Running linux with the driver from NVIDIA themselves works really well these days.

Then again, it’s proprietary software, and much of the reason for using a System76-esque machine is for the FOSS-all-the-way-down (as much as is practical on modern-ish hardware).

Not only that but when it comes to Linux the FOSS-only systems are also easier to install and maintain.

NVIDIA driver is in the repositories and is installed just as easily as the rest of a modern repository-based distro. It literally just works.

Two of my last three laptops have had nVidia graphics and neither of those have had problems with the nVidia drivers; the newest one, a Lenovo T480 with an MX150, is completely fine with Nouveau.

The really big problem are the systems that don't work well enough with nouveau. If you are unlucky you can even end up with a computer that only boots to a black screen, which requires some nomodeset trickery to install the proprietary graphics.

That's true. My go-to is to do nouveau.modeset=0 on any machine with even a hint of trouble, which gets me where I need to go.

Currently on that T480 I use the Nouveau drivers with the built-in panel plus two external 1440p monitors via a Lenovo Thunderbolt dock and it's great.

After the busy work of using Linux and making a hobby of configuration (I think I started in 1992 with Slackware), it was so nice buying a System76 laptop last fall and having everything ‘just work.’

I use a high-end System76 for work (~10+hrs a day) and love it. The only problem seems to be multi-monitor support. The screens go into strange resolutions. They flick on and off.

I've never had strange issues on other system with 2 or 3 monitor support (currently do this at home w/ a Lenovo + 3 monitors and with my wife w/ a MBP + 3 monitors.)

I haven't had this problem with my "Oryx". I'm running the laptop monitor, a dell 24" vertical and old dell "Dual link dvi" 30 monitor.

Sometimes I plug into a hight dpi 28". Thats hit or miss depending on the applications. There are a few that don't scale well at all.

The only problem I have sometimes is the apple thunder (lightning?) adapter sometimes doesn't wake up, so I have to unplug the usb cable thats powering it.

I have the laptop too. It does just work in a way that made phasing out my Mac book pro easier than expected.

It’s not perfect but I haven’t had to spend much time on dealing with the os which is what I wanted and their “value add”. I don’t do much Linux system work, I just want to develop.

For a desktop I’d expect replacing Linux would be easier, but if it’s like their notebooks having a easy to support system it probably worth the premium.

That being said, what’s wrong with larger desktops that support 3.5 inch drives. I like cheap slow storage, but I work in bioinformatics.

How's the battery life? I'm deeply considering a non-Apple laptop as my next purchase, but have read that System76 laptops just don't last battery wise.

You need to compare apples to apples though...The MBP doesnt have a high-end NVIDIA card.

My System76 lasts about an hour w/o power. However you can shut off or reduce the power on your GPU and it will last longer.

Wow that’s more like a desktop with a UPS than a laptop.

I work at a GPU-powered in-memory DB startup. So well...fast GPUs and memory are pretty important :-) So in that light, the System76 is a lifesaver.

It is nicer than a desktop as many of us take the laptop home. Also, for light lounge usage and workshops/presentations, we usually turn off the GPU for longer life.

I can get 2-3 hours on my system 76 if I switch to the internal intel graphics.

The machine I have requires a restart to do this. It’s one of the more annoying things because it won’t drive an external monitor without the Nvidia stack.

So it’s more like a portable workstation than a “work at the coffee shop all day” kinda of note book

I use Dell XPS (2015) 4k model with Linux installed. I'm super happy with the laptop so far. I bought a refurbished i7 model when I was student, it still is the best laptop investment I've made so far. The issues I've had with it:

1. I had to change my power adapter twice. I dunno why it has such low life. But an original new one is just costs around $20.

2. Since, it was non-developer edition came with broadcom wifi card, I switched it to Intel which has much better Linux drivers IMO. I think they now use some "Killers" wifi module. I've no idea how they are.

3. After 3 years, it stopped charging because the power socket was damaged. I think it wasn't unexpected because of my rough use, and often bending the cable there. I got it fixed for around $130. In hindsight, it probably wasn't hard thing to fix, as long as I can get the part from eBay.

4. After 3.5 years, the battery life got really bad (like < 2 hours on 4k). I bought an original battery from eBay and replacing it was pretty easy. Now I think I get like 7 hrs on 1080p, and maybe little less than 5 on 4k.

5. Using 4k resolution on GNOME is kind of laggy. I think its mostly software issue than hardware. Unity used to work great, and I think Windows was smooth too.

The body is still solid, and I think I can use it for another couple years for all my development needs. I really like the carbon fiber finish. Its usually pretty warm and comfortable (when you first open it), unlike aluminium bodies which gets chilly.

Also use a 9350 (I think that's what you have). I have absolutely no idea why Dell use such terrible wifi cards. It gets worse - the 9380 (this years' model) has a "Killer" card that's soldered in. Back to Lenovo for me.

If you find a source for the rubber strips on the bottom of the Dell, let me know. Dell's answer is to replace the entire bottom panel at a cost of $300AUD.

I've one gen older -- 9343 (early 2015).

>> I have absolutely no idea why Dell use such terrible wifi cards. It gets worse - the 9380 (this years' model) has a "Killer"

That absolutely sucks. It is particularly annoying when a product that is so close to being perfect, screws up with something so trivial and obvious. A bad wifi is definitely a dealbreaker, whatever the other upsides are.

Maybe its just easier to buy the complete bottom panel from eBay, which is still much cheaper than $300 AUD.

[1] https://www.ebay.com/itm/OEM-DELL-XPS-13-9350-SERIES-BOTTOM-...

Whoa. Wonder who's laptop service ID is under that flip tab. Thanks for that. Ended up just gluing the rubber back in place.

I went this route, but I went with the Dell XPS 13 Developer edition, which comes with pure, supported, Ubuntu. Great battery life. Even the track pad is solid.

Agreed, that was my experience buying a gazelle laptop a couple of years ago. I still use it daily and have never had an issue with the software. They also make it trivial to reinstall by providing all needed drivers in installable packages.

Now if they could just get the build quality where it needs to be it would really be a great experience. With mine, generally, the software was the high point and the hardware was the low point.

While I haven't used a system76 Thelio, while we're discussing System76, I can speak about a Galago pro that I bought from system76.

Noteworthy, because I was one of those Mac refugees who needed a non-mac machine now that I don't like the new macbook keyboards or insane price bump that macs got.

I bought a 16 GB Ram, 14" Galago pro with 512 GB SSD with Ubuntu on it. Battery life is around 2 hours. Not too good compared to a macbook.

- Keyboard is pretty nice, each key has a comfortable travel to it.

- The trackpad is awful or at least compared to what I'd gotten used to using the macbook for last many years. The trackpad feels rough, is not as responsive or smoother as the mac touchpad either. The click buttons aren't too nice to click either.

Bottom line is that the next time I need to buy another Linux laptop, I'll be looking to try out the newer System76 to make sure they've fixed their touchpad, if not, I'll go with Dell XPS developer edition, no questions asked.

Surprisingly, the touchpad being what it is, I've not seen it mentioned in the reviews of Galago pro all that much, I suspect it's because there are not too many ex-mac owners buying these, the touchpad feels like it belongs to year 2008.

If anyone knows of a trackpad that's even 90% as good as the MacBook ones I'd love to give them a try.

This is honestly one of the biggest things locking me into the Mac ecosystem, I haven't found an alternative trackpad that even comes close. I even like Apple's new MacBook keyboards (even with them breaking all the time… at least they fix them).

Presently, no trackpad under linux will give an OSX-like experience.

This is mostly a software limitation with the linux desktop IMO... e.g. web browsers like chrome and firefox lack basic features like kinetic scrolling under linux:



And linux desktops don't really have any kind of gesture integration (the only one I'm aware of is gnome on wayland, and it basically only has one gesture available, switching desktops)

I prefer using linux on my laptop, but this is definitely a big annoyance

Our copywriter was force-switched to a new Darter for several days (he was previously a Mac user too) and said he really loves the trackpad on it, so that's definitely work looking at. He cited things like the finger tracking and the smoothness of the surface as top reasons. That, combined with the 6-7 hour working battery life make that a really compelling machine.

I have the same build. Largely I'm satisfied, but I agree with your touchpad woes. I found after I turned the sensitivity of the touchpad up to max, it didn't feel so bad.

The last shop I worked at had System76 PCs for all the devs and they are great. I have since switched at home also and recently test drove their new PopOS since I needed CUDA and Tensorflow and they package them so it is as easy `apt-get install` and it was also great. I would highly recommend looking at their PCs and PopOS.

I just wish PopOS was built on Debian and not Ubuntu.

> I just wish PopOS was built on Debian and not Ubuntu.


Since Debian is not built with a commercial interest (Canonical is a corporation at the end), the OS doesn't feel like a "freemium product".

As a person who uses Debian for a long time, and Ubuntu for throw-away VMs; Debian feels more "pure" from a system perspective, and it's not just skin deep.

Debian is set-up to be a leaner OS out of the box. Everything is within reach, and deeply configurable from command line. Desktop environments are add-ons to the system, not integrated (even in desktop versions). I don't find surprising choices or hard to reach configuration stuff in Debian.

Even though derived from Debian, Ubuntu "standard" comes with packages from Amazon, et. al., and sends analytics. This is not something that I like. Also, when I install Ubuntu server, I get subtle ads of "Canonical Landscape" and their paid offerings. This signals me that I'm using a freemium product, and as a user, I'm not their primary focus.

Debian is of course sponsored by a lot of corporations, but at the end they are independent and they do as they wish at the end. I'm part of the process, and can talk with devs, and my bug reports and commits are not pre-filtered with "commercial" interests before even discussed.

These are my feelings and experiences though. YMMV.

To be fair, the analytics are opt-in, and they show you the json that gets transmitted prior to sending. It's by far the best implementation of telemetry that I've seen in terms of respecting the user.

The thing I think Ubuntu has over Debian is that they package proprietary software, which often means better driver support. Considering System76 is building the computer, though, this is probably not an actual issue.

> To be fair, the analytics are opt-in, and they show you the json that gets transmitted prior to sending.

IIRC, that visibility is rather new. Nevertheless, it's a step in the right direction.

> The thing I think Ubuntu has over Debian is that they package proprietary software.

Debian also has the non-free repository for a long time, which contains firmware and drivers.

However, building a computer with AMD graphics cards and Intel network adapters rarely needs any big binary blobs, maybe except the firmwares.

System76 Dev here. WRT to Amazon packages and analytics, this is not something we include in Pop_OS. All Pop_OS installs, despite being based on Ubuntu, are free of any type of analytics or other tracking types of software, outside of what is bare-necessary to have a Debian OS. We even switch out the Ubuntu connectivity checking that comes by default with our own, since this service could theoretically be used to log your IP. The server we use for this is controlled by Pop_OS/System76 (whom you need to inherently trust if you're using our software anyway; I technically have root access on any Pop_OS user's computer), and is configured not to store any access logs outside of server-side error messages.

FWIW, recent Ubuntu versions support a “minimum” installation. You get vanilla Gnome with Firefox and that’s about it. No LibreOffice, no Amazon anything. Quite lean and nice.

That's a nice feature. However, it also shows the stark difference between Debian and Ubuntu rather well. Debian's minimal installation is ~500 package install with no desktop environment and anything. Just a base installation with enough utilities to install the remainder according to requirements.

The equivalent for Ubuntu is Ubuntu server: https://help.ubuntu.com/lts/serverguide/installing-live-serv...

Fwiw I agree that the default Ubuntu desktop is a little heavy - but I also realize I'm not the typical target user.

I use xfce ubuntu on the desktop, but the vast majority of machines we have (c. 2500) are servers, which by default doesn't even install sshd.

Compared with a "minimal graphics" centos server build I did - which required a mouse to install the thing, I think I know where "little heavy" lies.

Yes, I know. But it also comes with little advertisements of "Canonical Landscape".

The thing I like about Debian is everything is inside a single ISO, and it's still an independent Linux distribution. FWIW, I don't like to use a distribution made by a for-profit company.

For whatever unknown reason suspend/resume was completely broken on my laptop with vanilla Debian and works mostly ok with Ubuntu. Stock XPS 9350 Dev. Edition. Trackpad driver was also the wrong one, but easy to fix.

Ubuntu feels more polished out of the box for me on a laptop but a stripped down Debian can’t be beat for servers.

> For whatever unknown reason suspend/resume was completely broken on my laptop with vanilla Debian and works mostly ok with Ubuntu.

One of the downsides of the Debian is, its stable branch is very slow, and generally very outdated for desktop use. For a more "rolling" and modern release, which is more suitable for desktop/laptop usage, Debian testing is more preferable. While it's called testing, it is as stable as Ubuntu stable.

> Ubuntu feels more polished out of the box...

That's a fair point, and since Ubuntu is a desktop first bistro, that's expected.

> ...a stripped down Debian can’t be beat for servers.

When setup right, a Debian box is a set-and-forget it affair. I personally lost a server in the system room since it was working as it should and the hardware didn't die. :D

What Amazon thing does Ubuntu install?

It's just a link that opens amazon.com in your browser. A single item in the dock, in recent versions, that is very easy to remove (right-click, details, uninstall). In Unity versions, it was a little more difficult to get rid of, but still simple. I understand they need money and provide a free product, but it always seemed a little user-hostile.

Use Ubuntu MATE and you won't suffer the advertisements, analytics, or Gnome3.

> The smallest Thelio, designated “thelio-r1”, stands 32 centimeters tall, 20 centimeters wide, and 28 centimeters deep, coming to only a total of 18 liters in volume, a good deal smaller than even the tiniest commercial full-GPU mITX form factor cases, most of which are at least 22 liters.


https://www.sfflab.com/products/ncase_m1 - 12.6L https://www.dan-cases.com/dana4.php - 7.2L

There's a pretty big community that builds high-end gaming rigs / workstations in these cases. I've built in both. Originally I built in the Ncase but sold it to a colleague when I moved abroad. Recently I just built in the DANcase and wish I had have stuck with the Ncase. The extra 4 liters of volume goes a long way in improving thermals, due to the extra clearance for a CPU cooler.

Anyway, just found that line in the article annoying, even a cursory Google search shows that there's a plethora of 7-12L SFF PC cases out there.

I take commercial to mean lian-li (who made their old cases), cooler aster, antec, etc. Large volume manufacturers.

It's probably easier for them to vertically integrate the case into their business than go with a low volume niche manufacturer and deal with the hazards that come with that

Fractal Design is a pretty large manufacturer, and their Node 202 case \w full GPU support is only about 10 liters.

IIRC, Lian Li is the manufacturer of both the Ncase and the Dan A4. At the very least I know that the Dan A4 is using a lian pci riser.

I appreciate that the author linked to another review if users were coming from an OS X perspective. Or, when a review explains its biases or what is important to the reviewer, it helps make sense of the content for me as a reader.

I was super interested in buying one of these, but the markup is just too much for my tastes. I built out a reasonable workstation (9900K, 16 GB RAM, 500 GB NVMe SSD, 1TB SSD, RX 580) and the cost came out to $2,359 versus the $1,582 it would take to build it myself. I could understand a markup over retail of $100-200, but $700+ just isn’t a good value in my opinion, especially when I wasn’t selecting affordable parts.

Has anyone tried a system76 laptop with Elementary OS? I’m curious if there’s any issues. I’m thinking of getting a Galago but just read there’s some multi monitor issues. Curious if there’s any other caveats I might not know.

If you end up doing it, please make a blog post for people who have the same questions as you do now.

I read all that and still have no idea what the point of it is, nor how performant or usable it is. It reads like an amazon review if someone trying to justify on overpriced purchase to themselves.

Meanwhile it looks like this product is targeted at the very people who know how to configure their distros for their hardware, precisely nullifying the value-add, as far as I can tell.

> Both of the Thelio’s vents show the solar system at the time of the UNIX epoch.

Money well spent

(But at least the I/o board is “reliable”!...ok)

Personally, I thought the solar system thing was a cute gimmick. I wouldn’t buy it just for that, but if I were in the market for a smallish Linux desktop where everything worked out of the box, the rest of the review makes it sound like a decent option. Whether you mind paying a modest premium for that, versus doing the research/confit yourself is a personal decision obviously.

Also, the author is a college undergrad writing on her own blog. If there’s ever a time and place for rationalizing something, that’s it!

Their CS department has 2 faculty! I think the math department was 4-5. Must be a pretty small school or I’m missing something.

I would loved to have seen benchmarks.

It is like buying a coach built, hand made automobile rather than a mass produced German sportscar. The former uses some 'crate' engine, probably from the German sportscar but it has notional appeal for people that buy such things. If you do racing on the track and have to fix the thing every weekend then the off-the-shelf mass produced car won't cut it. For most people though the mass produced car with the up to date infotainment is what you want.

A 'coach built' tower PC is fine, however, have you seen how the independent manufacturers such as System 76 compare in laptop land? The Dells and the Huawei PCs have bezels around the screen that you have to squint to see, the System 76 type of laptops have bezels wider than I can remember them being in 1993. Then there is the general girth of the things, it is like you need a padded wrist support to reach the keyboard.

With autos there are people with rose tinted eyewear products that can remember the good old days when you could fix everything yourself with just a Haynes manual and a set of spanners. They moan about the modern cars that might as well have the bonnet welded shut. I am a bit like this with PCs but when it comes to actually putting money towards a PC I prefer the new and shiny rather than the 'coach built'. Sure I want to run linux but I would gladly risk my chances with those 'Windows only' machines from the likes of Lenovo, Huawei, Dell and HP rather than go with something designed for Linux.

The greatest draw for me in looking at purchasing a System76 machine is coreboot support. My understanding is that coreboot is supported (sometimes) on older hardware, but not much modern hardware aside from Chromebooks. Ideally I'd like to build a machine myself, but it seems difficult to do at present with recent hardware and full coreboot support. Am I correct?

Our Coreboot support right now is very experimental, and doesn't currently support things like UEFI, but we are progressing on it rapidly. We've gotten lots of help from both Coreboot and Intel in getting everything to work.

One major downside is that right now the supported models are Intel-only laptops, but in the future it's highly likely that we'll be able to fully support all of our systems.

My principle concern with any boutique desktop systems is that in order for the business model to be viable, they need to add significant mark up to the BOM. However I most enthusiasts can just assemble a desktop for themselves and save hundreds of dollars. One of the easiest ways to save hundreds of dollars I am aware of.

There is some value in having a vendor who can provide some assurances that this specific combination of hardware and software will actually work when it's all put together.

Enthusiasts don't mind spending hours trying to figure out why their new system won't POST, but most people by far are not enthusiasts and see that as frustrating and tedious. Charging those people a markup to work all that stuff out for them in advance isn't unreasonable.

A site like pcpartpicker makes this easier. It tells you the cost of all your parts, where to buy those parts from and importantly, if they're compatible with each other socket- and space-wise.

Easier, yes, but not as easy. If your PCPartPicker-approved parts arrive and it turns out they actually don't work together, you can't call PCPartPicker and get support or replacements.

Don't get me wrong, I build my own PCs, because I enjoy choosing just the right components and then putting them all together. I just don't kid myself into thinking that, just because this stuff is fun for me, it is therefore fun for most people. It isn't. Most people consider this stuff work, and they just want to take the thing out of the box and have it all work when they press the power button. A system vendor can provide that, and most people view that service as worth spending a little more for.

Even then you may hit some hurdles. I bought a Ryzen3 APU system for my parents, delivered to their house because I was visiting shortly after. When I got there I assembled the thing and it wouldn't POST.

It turned out that I needed to upgrade the motherboard's firmware for it to support APU CPUs. I ended up taking the system back to my place, disassembling and using my own non-APU Ryzen CPU to upgrade the new motherboard's firmware and assembling both systems again. Massive PITA even though everything was compatible.

PS: Aside from that, I'm still surprised by how well that system works. I definitely recommend low-end ryzen APUs for "office" usecases!

Doesn’t every manufacturer of anything have to have a markup?

Yes, but there are economies of scale that Dell or Apple enjoy which will never apply to a seller targeting a niche market.

Not only do they get lower costs on parts, but they can afford lower margins per unit since they have much higher volume relative to the fixed costs of running the business.

So the niche market shouldn’t be served?

What the thread parent (bgorman) saying is that boutique desktop systems (as with any niche product) have to add significant markup. But, for computers, the target market of these manufacturers can also often build a computer themselves and avoid the huge markup.

If you sell ultra high quality waterproof headsets to audiophiles for $2500, including a $1000 markup, your customers have only the choices of A) not buying or B) paying the markup. With desktops, they get the 3rd choice of building it themselves for $1600/1700.

What's missing in this analogy though is that computers need to run an Operating system.

When building your own system (and running Windows), you can be pretty sure that windows will work without issues.

With linux though, it's more of a gamble, which is why a vendor that tests/pre-configures/supports linux can be appealing

True, but here, you're paying for not just the hardware and the people who select and design and assemble it, but the development of a Linux distribution -- which nobody seems to want (see above), and which we're told "well, you can just ignore it and use Ubuntu instead".

I lived through Progeny Linux. Never again. Ubuntu is the one Debian fork that I've seen survive, and it began with a huge financial outlay from an individual. It's just like the old joke: How do you make a million dollars? Start with a billion dollars...

seems a bit overpriced.

Other than that, it's a decent workstation.

I wouldn't balk at paying a little more for a build-to-order system over an off-the-shelf thing; I'd expect that. It would be okay as long as the charge is not too egregious and you're getting a decent build for it. And it sounds like you do.

Why put the images on the page at all? They don't provide much additional information being so small.

The problem isn't the images but rather the poor site design that uses large images as tiny thumbnails but then doesn't make the thumbnails clickable. The images themselves are actually viewable much larger if you right-click on each one and open the image in a new tab.

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