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At System76, we empower the world’s curious and capable makers of tomorrow with custom Linux computers.
Updated: 3 hours 17 min ago

Open Up: Open Source Hardware — A Chat with Carl

Thursday 17th of September 2020 08:31:19 PM

System76 is now a couple years into manufacturing open source hardware, with our efforts expanding in the form of an open source keyboard. In this week’s blog post, we sat down with System76 CEO Carl Richell to discuss the company’s journey into open source hardware and where its future may lead.

What is open source hardware?

Carl: From a broader lens, to produce “open source hardware” means that we have developed and shared the recipe to create a high-end commercial product that can be learned from, adapted, and used by anyone else. In the same way we’ve stood on the shoulders of the Linux and open source software giants who came before us, we now get to be pioneers in developing open source hardware for those who come next. If you want to learn more how a computer is designed or how something is made, our schematics are the instructions for how to do it. It describes every step of the process, from each piece of the machine and its dimensions, to the type of aluminum used and how to bend it.

It’s similar to open source software in that you can learn from the product, adapt it to your needs, and distribute it. The difference is that it requires outside equipment to produce your own version. Open hardware has become more accessible with 3-D printing, but as we found when we were making acrylic prototypes of Thelio, you reach a point where it’s time to work with metal, which presents its own challenges. You have to cut it, bend it, and paint it, all of which requires specific equipment.

We’ve also laid the ground work for the supply chain, in that anyone can use the same vendors for the fans or the same specs for how long the cables are. All those small yet extremely important pieces are open source.

How does open hardware fall into the System76 philosophy?

The phrase “intellectual property” gets thrown around a lot. It is my opinion, and the opinion that we express in this company, that intellectual property is a false idea. That nothing was just born out of nothing in your mind and just becomes your property. All these things you came up with, someone else was part of the building blocks for you to get there in the first place. And so you can’t own it. You can’t have it. It’s not yours. Like that hinge you’re making, well you’ve had some good ideas, you’ve tinkered with it for a while, you’ve figured out a cool hinge. But I guarantee you’ve looked at every other hinge out there and learned a lot from that research, just as we’ve done with everything we’ve ever built.

The world is full of smart, incredible people, and these ideas are mostly locked up in institutions and companies through the desire to maintain power and control over them. This is a broader idea we don’t believe in. Instead, we believe that ideas are free; that there is no such thing as “intellectual property”.

Why does System76 use copyrights for its hardware?

The reason we use copyright is because reputation matters. Our reputation is our name, it’s who we are, it’s how people perceive our value and the value that we put into something as individuals and as a company. You can’t just slap System76 on everything and say it’s a System76, because we have a reputation that we maintain through the product we deliver. But everything about that product is owned by the user just as much as it’s owned by us. Those beliefs and ideas that exist within open source software are no different than with open source hardware.

Speaking of open source, if there’s anything that should be open source, it’s a vaccine for COVID-19. There’s no lack of supply or resources to produce a vaccine, yet people are hiding secrets from each other to win a race for money. It’s absurd! We’re the ones paying for it. It should be a completely open source effort. I have quite a bit of confidence that the scientists and others working on a vaccine are in it because they really care about the science and getting results. That’s a striking example of where open source would make a lot of sense.

What would you say to someone who is interested in building machines, but is worried that making them open hardware would negatively impact their business?

There’s a risk if you build anything that is a commodity. When your product is a commodity, it doesn’t take a significant amount of effort to make it unique in the marketplace. It’ll just be copied by someone who can make it cheaper, with cheaper labor. With open hardware, what you want is for your product to be innovative and constantly progressing so that you’ll always be the best deliverer of that product. I think we’ll always be the best deliverer of the Thelio desktop product line—even if we’re not, I’m okay with it. The purpose of he GPL license is to lift all boats. If someone else comes along and does something innovative with our designs, the tide has risen.

We built Thelio Io, which is an open source hardware PCB (printed circuit board). It’s a commodity, but it’s one component of the entire system. You could take this to a manufacturer and have them make it, and then you have a 4-slot backplane that you can use in your design. That means you have the recipe for an open source backplane, controller, firmware, and software thermal system. Now Thelio Io is available on another company’s system because they can use our work? That’s fantastic! If they adopt the same philosophy, something they do in the future would be available for us to use as well.

What it really boils down to is, it doesn’t matter if your product is proprietary or open source; if people like it and it gets highly adopted, it will just be made by someone else. By making it open source, maybe their path is a little faster, but with reverse engineering and how quick product development is these days, it doesn’t seem to matter. You have to disarm at some point, you know? And somebody has to take the lead disarming. We have nukes and they have nukes, so nobody gets rid of their nukes, because that’s our leverage. We’re saying we don’t want this leverage anymore. We want to lead by example. We’re going to disarm and give away the instructions for how to make what we make.

Want to learn more about our open source efforts? Check out the software and firmware installments of our Open Up series.

“It Just Works”: An Interview with Dexai Robotics

Thursday 10th of September 2020 07:33:38 PM

Dexai Robotics is a robotics company based in Somerville, MA that’s working to eliminate food deserts and reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses. This week, we (virtually) sat down with Director of Software Brook Stevens to learn more about the company’s experience with System76.

Let’s start with some background on Dexai Robotics.

Brook: Dexai Robotics started with Alfred, a robotic sous chef responsible for automating some of the repetitive work that’s done in the kitchen. Restaurants operate with incredibly tight margins, with their 3 biggest expenses being food, labor, and real estate. Alfred directly addresses one of those major expenses, in addition to being more sanitary. It’s fascinating how remarkably hard a problem it is, from a robotics and machine learning perspective, to be able to reliably pick out an arbitrary piece of food and put it into a bowl.

What’s the development process like for Alfred?

One of the interesting challenges Alfred presents is working out how to rapidly iterate when dealing with a robot that physically exists in the real world. To tackle that, we rely heavily on simulation. We developed a full in-house simulation of our robot including simulated camera data.

The iteration cycle is much easier when you’re developing in a local environment. Since you’re not connected through the Internet, there’s less lag time between processes, which allows you to iterate faster. Even when we connect to a cloud-based environment for machine learning work, that team still winds up doing some of that locally, so having more computational power on your own system helps move things along.

Why did you choose System76?

The simulators wind up using a lot of computational power, which is one of the reasons why we use System76. Portability is another. I really like the fact that I can run the full software stack on a laptop that I can always have with me. Previously, we had desktops sitting around in a lab environment, and people were often having to sign into them and borrow them. We needed a solution for new hires to have a computer they can rely on at all times.

How did you hear about us?

A co-worker mentioned that she bought a machine from you guys back in 2019. After she recommended it, I did a little bit of digging online for the best Linux laptops available, and you all were named a fair amount in those searches—so I ordered one. I was pleasantly surprised with how it just worked right out of the box. I wasn’t fiddling with drivers, I wasn’t dealing with bootloader problems and figuring out how to get a working desktop environment up; I just opened it up and installed a bunch of software and I was ready to go.

What computer did you end up going with?

I have the Oryx Pro. We got it for the RTX 20-Series graphics card. Some of the machine learning work we do here makes use of that particular GPU. It was so easy to use that it’s become the computer I buy for new hires.

Have you had a lot of issues in the past with jumping through hoops to get things working on Linux machines?

Absolutely. I think that’s one of the reasons a lot of people end up on the Mac platform— it just works without having to tinker with it. But here I’m able to do the same thing on an Ubuntu-based system that’s running the same software as the robots, with all the power and configurability that comes with Linux. Avoiding the huge headache of getting it up and running was just wonderful. I’m even talking to you on Zoom now and it just works.

Do you notice a difference in terms of being more productive in your workflow?

It’s been transformative for helping my team iterate faster. Instead of trying to find a machine that can run the specific software we need, we’ve been able to run the full software stack locally on the Oryx Pro. And rather than deploying software to the robot and seeing what went wrong, the final step consists of checking a box to confirm everything works. I can stop and start, compile, see it work, and I don’t have a one hour window where I reserve the robot time. It’s my machine, and I can work at whatever pace I want. The quality of the work feels a lot better because of that.

What’s next for Alfred?

Take over the world! We want an Alfred everywhere.

Check out https://www.dexai.com/meet-alfred to learn more about Dexai Robotics and their sous chef, Alfred.

How has System76 improved your workplace? Contact myriah@system76.com for more information on how to get your company featured in our next case study!

Launch into Learning (Sale) with the System76 Robots

Thursday 27th of August 2020 03:25:25 PM


After establishing a base in the Thelio System, System76’s trusty robot crew prepares to journey deeper into the cosmos. Rumor has it that the inhabitants of an unnamed star system have defied the laws of space, allowing them to transport powerful technologies with incredible ease. We hope to learn from their accomplishments and implement these techniques into future computers. However, in order to reach this star system, System76 and crew must acquire a warp drive located on a neighboring planet. This is where our mission begins.

Leading the retrieval expedition is the fearless Zoe, whose advanced features will be a big help for avoiding trouble. Alongside her is the recently upgraded 5iMON. He likes to help however he can. We’re also sending oliVIa and irVIng, a pair of prototype robots—notoriously nicknamed RogueBots—who we’re hoping will learn a thing or two from their well-functioning counterparts. Let’s check in on them in the hangar.

Wow, look how spacious it is in here! oliVIa and irVIng did an excellent job cleaning up the base last night. The space suits are freshly washed, the viewing window is clear of fingerprints, even the ship is— in pieces? Oh my. Apparently the RogueBots took “spotless” way too literally. According to our sensors, the ship has been digitized, and is now scattered in 5 separate sections across our website. Can you help us locate the sections for reassembly? DM us their location on social media and we’ll send you some swag as a thank you!

While you’re searching, check out our sale! Launch into Learning with discounts on laptops, desktops, and components. Who knows? You may even find a warp drive of your own! Upgrade and save through September 30th.

Things We Love About the New Bonobo WS

Thursday 20th of August 2020 03:01:52 PM

The Bonobo WS is a powerhouse of performance—as well as an actual house for tiny elves. There’s a lot to love about this new laptop, some of which we recite in song from our respective locations. Continue on for the non-melodic version:

Desktop-Caliber Components

Originally we made a desktop with an Intel i9-10900K CPU and an NVIDIA RTX 2080 Super GPU. But then we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if you could take this with you to a conference and show it off to your friends? So we flattened it into a laptop. Now you can go from home office to lab with the immense processing power required for efficient deep learning projects.

Up to 128GB Memory

Your cityscape is modeled, textured, animated, and properly lit…you think. Now you’re taking bets on whether or not the render will take even longer to complete than the project itself. Add more RAM to pad the bets in your favor! More. More. Keep going! There we go. The Bonobo WS is configurable with up to 128GB of RAM. Bring on the polygons, you cultured maniac.

Room for 3 (NVMe drives, that is)

NVMe speeds up load times and makes everything feel all buttery smooth. Rather than toss your drive in a frying pan for a quick sear, pair it with two more NVMe drives for a mouth-watering heap of storage space—up to 24TB. Fill out the last drive slot with a side of M.2 SSD and keep those files coming.

PSA: Please avoid melting your technologies on external heat sources. Thank you.

4K Display

Crisssssssssssssssssp. That’s the sound you make when you open up the lid on the Bonobo WS and see your work in either 1080p or 4K, depending on your desire for A E S T H E T I C S. Watch as your motion capture translates into fluid animations as provided by a harmony of components so powerful, even you sped up during the making of this film.

Open Source Firmware

System76 in 2020 can be summed up in three words: System76 Open Firmware. (If you are a time traveler from a future civilization interested in learning about the year 2020, please consult an historian.) System76 Open Firmware is designed with minimalism, resulting in faster boot times and increased security.

The Bonobo WS is also equipped with System76 Embedded Controller Firmware, which grants you access to important functionality such as your fans, battery, and keyboard. Another three words to define 2020: System76-manufactured keyboard! And we can’t wait to show you how it integrates with our firmware.

If you’re looking for a rigorous training program for your next algorithm or wish to conjure a planet from thin air, the Bonobo WS is the right portable workstation for you. Launch into learning and save up to $403 on a Bonobo WS through September 30th! Check it out!

Linuxizing the Office: An Interview with The Mad Botter

Thursday 6th of August 2020 03:01:08 PM

If you follow us on Twitter, you’ve probably seen software development company The Mad Botter dangling a System76 machine before your very eyes. Thanks to the company’s recent conversion to Linux, that’s not the only System76 machine you’ll find there! This week, we sat down with Michael Dominick, The Mad Botter’s Founder and CEO, to discuss his team’s switch to System76.

What kind of work goes on at The Mad Botter?

Michael: We’re a software development company. We mostly code on Python, along with some Ruby and Rust, coding IDEs, and using a whole lot of LibreOffice. One of our products is a radar display that runs on Linux and Windows. We actually use a Thelio as a flight simulator to test our software.

Our new product is an automation tool called Rabbot. It involves us having to very quickly spin up a bunch of Ubuntu servers for customers who need them. Having the .deb instances on our computers has made that process a hundred times easier, because we can deploy test units to our machines with the same docker container that works exactly the same as it does on our cloud instances.

Why is it called Rabbot? And what’s with The Mad Botter?

I went a little crazy with the Lewis Carroll references. I have a degree in literature, so I’m very familiar with Carroll’s work. When I moved from New Jersey down to Florida, the name of the company conflicted with a very large football team in Florida, and they did not like that. I had to rejigger everything. We already had a product called Alice at the time, so we decided to build around that.

How long have you been in business?

The Mad Botter has been around for 3 years, and the company before it in New Jersey was around for an additional 3 years. I’ve been running development businesses for around 11 years.

How did you hear about System76?

When I was hosting Coder Radio with Chris Fisher, he would always tease me for being an Apple guy. You know—hipster coffee, the whole thing. He told me, “If you really want a controlled experience to try Linux, take a look at these guys in Denver.” So I did. It wasn’t a huge investment to try on a laptop, and I ended up loving it, so I got the Ratel tower. That was the beginning of a long road to Linux purity.

What System76 machines do you have around the office?

I was the first one to adopt a System76 computer at the company. Now, to make life easy, we only buy System76 computers. Currently we have an older Galago Pro, a Thelio, and 3 Lemur Pros. There’s a couple of Darter Pros running around, too. All of our machines are running Pop!_OS 20.04.

Moving forward, we’re standardizing down to the Lemur Pro and the Oryx Pro. People who have to run VMs are getting the Oryx Pro because you can spec it up a little more. Everybody else is using the Lemur Pro, which is a great all-around computer. The Thelio is a special case because we have to run our flight simulation software on it.

What prompted you to bring your company fully onto Linux?

Honestly, it was macOS Catalina. We were having too many problems with people updating OS X and breaking Homebrew packages, to the point where we had to reinstall our custom toolchain every time we updated. The last guy on Mac updated to Catalina recently, and he had to struggle with Excel libraries because Apple moves things between OS versions. It just wasn’t worth it. I’ve been talking about it for about a year with my CTO.

All of our back-end service runs Ubuntu. Most of the client-side work we’re doing is for IOT devices, and that’s all Linux. We ended up basically having an expensive machine so that we could emulate Linux on anything. It didn’t make a lot of sense to keep using Mac, so we switched.

How was the transition from macOS to Linux?

Actually super easy! Once we wrote a few setup scripts and packages we needed for different jobs in our pipeline, we were up and running. We already had a bunch of scripting and automations for the servers we had, and they’re all on Ubuntu, so it’s not a big jump in terms of the command line.

How did you find the overall experience on Pop!_OS 20.04?

I found it pretty intuitive. Learning the keyboard shortcuts took about a week. I really don’t have any issues. I like the tiling, I use that every day. It definitely makes it easier to multitask on a laptop screen.

Have you tried other distros?

We had a brief stint with Fedora, but because all of our back end was on Debian or Ubuntu, it made sense to stick with that Debian world. We also tried Linux Mint briefly. But honestly the ease of being able to buy a system pre-installed with Pop!_OS that you guys support—where I can just go to your GitHub and see if there’s an issue—is an attractive option.

Have you had any experiences with our support team?

I have a bad habit of spilling tea and other beverages in my laptops… A few times you guys were able to walk me through my issue. I think the most recent one was with Thelio. There was an issue with the graphics card where only one of the DisplayPorts actually worked, so they walked me through trying different things and we were eventually able to figure out why that was happening.

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Committed to STEM education and open source software, The Mad Botter INC team is holding a Fourth of July contest for high school and college students! Create and share an open-source project that addresses ballot access or assists with voting, and you can win a System76 Thelio. Hey wait, that’s us! Check out the contest page for details on how to enter.

Michael Dominick is also host of The Mike Dominick Show, where he looks at the latest news from the worlds of technology and open source. Listen to his interview with System76 Principal Engineer Jeremy Soller—stay tuned for the teaser!

If you want to talk to us about how System76 has helped your business, contact myriah@system76.com.

Reimagining the Keyboard

Thursday 30th of July 2020 03:00:04 PM

Your keyboard is king when it comes to input. It’s responsible for your words and your code, carrying you from A to B faster than your mouse. By making the keyboard more efficient, we’ll vastly improve the way you interact with your computer. We’re approaching our keyboard in 3 different ways: Redesigning the keyboard itself, maximizing your efficiency when using it, and empowering you to fully customize your keyboard to your whims.

We’ll announce the release of our keyboard through our newsletter and social channels once the prototyping phase is complete. This will take some time.

The Keyboard

Keys, when done right, are addictive. They’re like the best retractable pen you’ve ever retracted, over and over and over again. We don’t want to build just any keyboard. We want to build a keyboard you’ll fall in love with. One that stays solidly in one place while you’re typing, and that feels comfortable for your hands. (Or feet.)

There’s nothing more enjoyable than typing on a keyboard for hours on end without hitting the wrong key. That’s why we strongly opposed adding a ‘WRONG’ key to the keyboard. That’s also why we’re sticking to 3 key sizes in the design of the keyboard: 1U (letter/number keys), 1.5U (tab keys), and 2U (shift keys). Traditional keyboards are laid out with incredibly long space bars so you can’t use your thumbs, your strongest digit, for functions other than space. Our testing revealed that most space bars are much longer than what’s necessary to reliably and consistently hit the bar, so we decided to break up the space bar into 2 2U keys. Not only did this shorten the length of the space bar and bring useful functions closer to the center of the keyboard, but this also allows you to remap another commonly-used key to where it’s easy for you to smash with your other thumb.

The new keyboard is designed to work in harmony with Auto-Tiling on Pop!_OS. CEO Carl Richell describes his experience testing the prototype: “I’ve found using the new keyboard layouts with Auto-Tiling is so addictive that when I go to another computer, it feels like I’m in a foreign land.”

The Fun Part

Of course, to be truly efficient you’d also want to physically change the keys on your keyboard to match the new layout. Keeping variations in key sizes at a minimum opens up the possibilities for where your keys can go. For example, you can put Space and Backspace next to each other to have both common keys under your thumbs. This configuration would also make for some exciting fidgeting. You’d simply pop out the Backspace key and switch it with the key in your desired location.

To help simplify the process, we’ll be releasing a software application alongside the keyboard, where you can easily configure your new layout. The app will also work with System76 laptops that have System76 Embedded Controller Firmware, which would enable you to use the same custom keyboard layout on both your laptop and desktop.

The System76 keyboard (Real Name TBA) will enable you to personalize your computer and maximize efficiency. Paired with Auto-Tiling and keyboard shortcuts, you’ll be blazing through your workflow at breakneck speeds like an all-powerful wizard.

Behind the Scenes of System76: Web Team

Thursday 23rd of July 2020 02:58:48 PM

On this installment of our Behind the Scenes series, we spoke to Mike Garegnani of the Web Team for an inside look at them Internets. Mike is a Full Stack Engineer, meaning he dabbles in front-end and back-end development—a man of many talents.

Check out our Behind the Scenes of Marketing article here.

What are the main duties of the web team?

Our main task is designing the website. We’re spending a lot of time working with various teams to improve the UX/UI experience. In addition to that, we manage the homepage on a regular basis. Those requests come in every time there’s a new product or an updated model. In those cases, we work with the Sales and Marketing Teams and [Product Manager Benjamin Shpurker] to make sure the new machine is featured properly. We work very closely with [Maria Komarova], who’s in charge of the user experience. She designs the website UI and we bring her dream to life from there.

There’s also the back-end administrative work, handling requests that come in from other teams. Like when someone accidentally posts their credit card info in a support ticket, we’ll manually go in and delete that to protect the customer.

Not to mention everything going on at the factory.

You name it, we probably have our hands in it. There’s the assembly side of things, where people are pulling down builds and shipping out computers. The systems we set up for them tell the Assembly Team what parts to use in a build, where things are located in the warehouse, prints the shipping labels, things like that.

One of our biggest responsibilities is building and supporting the inventory system. Early on [Sean Callan, Director of Web Engineering] was having to source a lot of questions with regard to looking up computers and different builds, which was taking up much of his time. We eventually decided to develop Samwise, our resident Slack sidekick who’s helped immensely with the workload.

What does Samwise do? (WDSD)

Samwise is a Slack bot that was originally developed to increase efficiency by quickly providing build and order data to the Assembly Team. Since then, we’ve taught him to help manage the build queue entirely in Slack, and equipped him to help the Support Team as well.

You’ve been working a lot with assembly and inventory systems lately.

Right now we’re trying to migrate away from our legacy PHP app, which runs the internal systems for various departments. It works, but it’s not sustainable long-term. We’ve been working really hard to get everything ported over to a different architecture on our Elixir app, which also has a front end for it.

Are those apps you build yourselves as well?

Yeah, for the most part everything has been developed in-house. But once we get our sales and support systems integrated, we’ll start moving away from our legacy app to a third-party system. This will help us increase efficiency with things like assigning support tickets, and in doing so it’ll enable us to continually improve the customer experience.

What is the next big project in your pipeline?

After the new integration, it’ll be a new configurator. We’re working with Maria and [CEO Carl Richell] to put together a more streamlined experience with regards to configurating your computer. We like to sell high-end products, so we want to create a high-end experience for our users.

Do you work a lot with open source tools?

Almost exclusively. For the homepage we use Nuxt and VUE. Elixir for the back-end is open source. Visual Studio Code has a pretty open architecture, but I’m not sure that one’s fully open source. I also use Atom which is a GitHub product, so that’s pretty much open source by default. When it comes down to it, open source is a way of life for me.

What do you enjoy working on the most?

I really enjoy having a team to work with. Having people to bounce ideas off of is a game-changer for me since I’ve always had to figure things out by myself. I like to call myself a “Google graduate”. I’m really good at googling things. But to answer the question, we really enjoy making tools to make people’s lives easier. Being helpful is really what we’re in it for.

What are you most proud of accomplishing so far this year as a team?

What we’re doing to improve support and sales will go a long way towards helping System76 grow. That, and all the ways we’ve made our own team more efficient is going to help us a lot going forward.

What’s the process like for developing a new feature?

We’ll start by getting together in Slack and discuss the most logical way to address the problem. From there, we plan out individually what tasks need to occur and assign them in Trello, which we use for project management. Before we write any code, we usually have several iterations of how we’re going to approach the problem. It’s got to be a combination of speed and approachability. We need to make it usable, and we don’t want it to be too complicated. Like with Samwise, we didn’t want to build a whole front end interface, so we integrated it with Slack. It’s been a really big success.

In terms of something that might end up on a user-facing page, we’ll bring in stakeholders to figure out what changes have to be made. Usually this means getting designs from Maria, and we’ll work off of the mock-up. Sometimes we have to use our imagination, and that’s always fun to collaborate with other teams in that regard.

How do you divide up the work?

We tend to go with our strengths. I’m more of a front-end developer so I’m charged with that, [Blake Kostner] will work on the back end, and Sean is really good with architecture.

Do you use a System76 laptop?

Absolutely! I’ve got an Oryx Pro 4.

How was the transition to Linux?

For development tools I’d actually say it was easier. Often on macOS I’m having to find software libraries that are ports of the officially supported tools, When I finally got a hold of one of these [System76] laptops and had to set everything up, it was like butter. Everything just worked. It was great.

Open Up: Benefits of Open Source Firmware

Thursday 16th of July 2020 02:59:45 PM

Previously on Open Up, we described how community plays a vital role in open source software.

This week, we shift our focus to open source firmware.

Firmware is a set of programs inside most electronic equipment responsible for performing its basic functions. It’s similar to the parts of the brain in charge of involuntary functions, which tell your lungs when to breathe and your heart when to beat.

When you turn on your computer, for example, your firmware directs power to every component, and then works in conjunction with your software kernel to boot into your operating system. Firmware is generally accompanied by a firmware menu, where you can change settings for these basic functions, choose boot drives, and more.

Almost everything here at System76 is under the GNU GPL, or GNU General Public License, including our firmware. This means you can adapt it, modify it, learn from it, and redistribute it with the condition that the benefits are also offered to the original developer (in this case, us). There is an inherent shared collective progress built into the license. Powerful thrust lifts all rockets. (As a note, when something we create isn’t under the GNU GPL, that just means it’s under an even more permissive license that allows the code to be used in any way without contributing changes upstream.)

So why go all-in on open source firmware?

Quality

Open firmware helps us build better products because it provides us control over all the functionality in our hardware. We fine-tune the CPU performance and fan curves to achieve the perfect balance between thermal output and acoustics, while also empowering you to prioritize maximum performance or extended battery life through the operating system. We design straightforward and simple firmware menus that only present valuable options while applying best-practice defaults for the myriad of settings and options that are present in most firmware.

Speed

Proprietary firmware tends to take up a lot of space, as vendors like to pile on a variety of firmware features. All of this requires code around it, which is a big reason why it takes so long to boot up your computer on proprietary systems. Ever turn on your computer, then go make coffee to pass the time? Bulky firmware code is the reason you have to pass time in the first place.

On the other hand, open firmware is streamlined, and this reduction in code allows for faster boot times. In the case of System76 Open Firmware, you better have your coffee already in hand, because you won’t be waiting long. We designed it with minimalism in mind so you can boot (or dual boot) into your OS as quickly as possible.

Security and Transparency

There’s no question that security is becoming an increasing concern for anyone who uses a computer. This is another area where open source firmware has an upper hand over proprietary systems. Open source code is accessible and auditable by anyone, so putting in a back door simply wouldn’t be feasible. Putting code in the public view keeps vendors honest and incentivizes them to make the best tool possible. That’s why we’ve greatly reduced our surface area for vulnerability by disabling the Intel Management Engine in our open source firmware.

System76 Open Firmware is a combination of coreboot firmware, the tianocore/EDK II development environment, and System76 firmware apps. See what’s inside here!

Ownership

When you get a computer from System76, you own every part of it—right down to its source code. Part of ownership is being able to look inside your machine and see how it works. System76 Open Firmware gives our users the opportunity to learn from and optimize their machines to their liking, expanding what it means to truly own a computer.

But we don’t stop there. We’re going even further. System76 Embedded Controller Firmware is already available on the Lemur Pro and Oryx Pro laptops, and we’re in the process of expanding this feature to the rest of our product line. Our EC firmware is GPLv3 licensed code that grants you access and control over functionality including your keyboard, fans, and battery. It allows you to customize hardware settings like remapping keys on your keyboard or adjusting fan curves for better thermal performance. While we work hard to optimize all of this before your computer arrives, we also want to empower our users whenever we can, and this EC firmware is an extension of that commitment. 

Technology freedom and security should be the norm in this race to create the highest quality product. With our open firmware project, we hope to prove why open source code should become the new standard for technology makers everywhere.

We’ve Remodeled Our Account Pages!

Wednesday 8th of July 2020 07:55:34 PM

As we enter the 3rd decade of the 3rd millennium, we’re updating our website with 3rd-decade-of-the-3rd-millennium technology. This first round of updates improves upon the look and feel of our website and how our account pages behave. Read on to see the new changes!

The first thing you’ll notice is a new look. This is normal. You’re likely older now. The website also has a new look, one that’s been modernized. The updated designs make the page more legible at a glance and easier to scan through information.

Your dashboard is your hub for everything. This page will guide you to whatever you need to do, including:

  • Check order status
  • View order history
  • Place orders from quotes
  • Submit a support ticket
  • Ask a sales question
  • Check messages from Sales and Support Teams
  • Manage contact info
  • Manage card info
  • Change your password
  • Manage Pop!_OS subscription

When in doubt, dashboard out.

From the support tickets tab, you can now use your product’s serial number to submit a support ticket. Your serial number can be found on the back or bottom of your machine. When you do this, our system automatically adds your machine to your account, allowing you to see the product details when you submit a support ticket. This replaces the “Add by Serial” functionality in our previous account pages.

In the orders tab, you can now check the progress of your order every step of the way with our groovy new progress bar! Watch as your new computer goes into assembly, gets shipped, and arrives on your doorstep in minty fresh condition. We’ve also changed the look of your order history, as seen in the image below:

And that wraps up the first wave of changes! We have many more changes to come as we work to ensure you get the best customer experience possible. Be on the lookout for more updates from us in the coming months!

The Meaning Behind System76

Thursday 2nd of July 2020 03:00:52 PM

System76 is more than just a cool moniker. To truly learn its significance, we have to look a few hundred years into the past, to the American Revolution. Get in the car, Marty. We’re off to be revolutionaries!

Here we are, the year 1776. The American Colonies signed the Declaration of Independence to gain freedom from the British Empire. Okay! Back in the car, Marty. Yes I’m aware we just got here, but now we’re departing… for the early 2000s!

Ah yes, the early 2000s, where the disks are scratched and the phones flip in circles. Zoom in on a basement-dwelling revolutionary named Carl Richell. He was quite fond of GNU/Linux and its community and thought it deserved its own dedicated hardware manufacturer, so he decided to be the one to provide it. In the spirit of the American Revolution, this new hardware manufacturer was named System76 as a declaration of independence from proprietary software. Months later, the first System76 computer shipped with Ubuntu 5.10: Breezy Badger.

Why did he declare independence from proprietary software? Excellent question Marty! Proprietary companies like to keep their special sauce a secret so no one can copy them, but we prefer open source software for a number of reasons. Unlike proprietary code, open source software provides full transparency into your computer. The ability to see all parts of your software allows you to hunt down potential bugs and security vulnerabilities and fix them promptly.

Similarly, open source software allows you to keep track of who is collecting your data and where it’s going. And if it’s going anywhere, you can hold the vendor accountable for taking what’s not theirs. We as people want our users to have full ownership over their data. As a company, it is also forever in our financial interest to maintain that relationship.

One of Carl’s goals when starting the company was to expand people’s access to technology, both by making it more available and more approachable. Open source software is generally cheaper (Pop!_OS is free to download, for example), and accessible code can teach you how the software works. This fosters communities of engineers, developers, and enthusiasts working to break down and improve on existing technologies—and the user in turn can apply these improvements to their own software, thus personalizing the experience.

Open source software is our freedom from the proprietary empires that seek to dominate technology, hence the System76 name. To this day we’re hard at work removing proprietary code from our products, from the Thelio IO daughterboard to the feat of putting System76 Open Firmware on NVIDIA-based hardware. And there’s even more on the way. Take that, empire.

Things We Love About the New Oryx Pro

Thursday 25th of June 2020 03:06:22 PM

Shortly after its debut on the big screen, the Oryx Pro established itself as one of our most loved laptops for its performance and versatility. And with this new model, it’s about to get even versatilier. Read on for the things we love most about the new Oryx Pro.

System76 Open Firmware

For the first time ever, we loaded System76 Open Firmware onto a machine with NVIDIA graphics. System76 Open Firmware is open source firmware that’s built from coreboot firmware and EDK2 in conjunction with System76 Firmware Apps. It’s designed to be lightweight on code for better speed and security. Furthermore, coreboot disables the Intel Management Engine by default, which has been tied to recent security vulnerabilities industry-wide.

What does this mean for you? Lightning fast boot times, enhanced security, and firmware updates accessible through your operating system. Plus, open source firmware gives you a look inside the code, so you can keep track of what’s happening with your data. (We may be a funny business, but we don’t DO funny business. Go ahead, see for yourself!)

System76 Embedded Controller Firmware

Open EC firmware is our next step towards removing proprietary code from our products entirely. System76 Embedded Controller Firmware is GPLv3 licensed code that grants you access and control over important functionality such as the keyboard, fans, and battery.

Switchable Graphics

With switchable graphics, get a boost of power when you need it and battery life when you don’t. Pop!_OS allows you to seamlessly toggle between Intel and NVIDIA RTX 20-Series graphics—you can even launch into a specific application using your GPU! So if you’re deciding between a laptop with good battery life or good performance, just choose both. It’s an easy decision.

Powerful CPU

The Oryx Pro is equipped with a 10th Gen Intel Core i7-10875H CPU, which has 8 cores and 16 threads. The “H” in the model name signifies that it’s a higher performance CPU than the U-class processors generally found in thin laptops. Because of their power, H-class CPUs are often found in laptops used for gaming. When you’re done compiling code or rendering a Blender scene, break out your controller for some leisurely zombie butt-whooping. It really calms the nerves after a long work day.

Super Portable

Weighing in at 4.39lbs (less than 2kg), the new Oryx Pro is thinner, lighter, and longer lasting than the previous model. And speaking of port-able, the Oryx Pro is equipped with a variety of video ports for setting up your command center. Hook up multiple displays to your laptop using 1 mini DisplayPort, 1 HDMI port, and 1 Thunderbolt 3 port via USB-C. So you can develop your cake, watch someone eat it, and discover it was a lie—all at the same time.

And that’s the lowdown on the Oryx Pro. For the highdown (high up?) on more things to love about this laptop, check out our website!

Jackal Pro 2U at the Lab: An Interview with the Institute for Protein Innovation

Thursday 18th of June 2020 03:11:22 PM

Located within the Harvard Institutes of Medicine in Boston, the Institute for Protein Innovation is a non-profit that works in designing protein structures to be used in treatment of diseases like COVID-19. This week, we sat down with Chris Bahl (Head of Protein Design) and Trisha Gura (Director of Communications) to see how System76 has improved their lab experience.

To learn more about IPI, you can read about their initiatives on their website.

Tell us about the Institute for Protein Innovation.

Trisha: IPI is focused on innovating in the protein sciences, accelerating research by providing scientists with tools and reagents, and improving human health. It’s a non-profit and not a business or academic institution, so it puts us in a very unique position. Borrowing the best of both, we can take on those projects that no one else can.

Chris’ team is focused on the cutting edge of academic discovery. It fills in the gap between genes and disease treatments. Most protein engineering is accomplished by clever lab techniques that can speed up what evolution naturally does—but in a test tube. This enables scientists to repurpose natural proteins to do new things. Chris’ group skips the evolution part and designs their proteins using computer software. This is where those System76 machines come into play. By starting with computational design, the team can engineer proteins in ways that would otherwise be impossible, and it is focused on creating disease treatments and diagnostics.

How did you hear about System76?

Chris: We previously bought a Gazelle from you guys. It worked so beautifully right out of the box that when we were figuring out who to build the servers, System76 was the first place we thought of.

Why did you end up going with the Jackal Pro 2U?

Chris: With the Jackal servers, we’ve built a small cluster that we use to design protein macromolecular structures.

When you think about it, proteins are like nanorobots. A protein’s function is dictated by its structure. We design these proteins from scratch and craft them to have functions that evolution could never produce.

You need a lot of computational horsepower to do these calculations, and a lot of clever sampling. One computer isn’t enough, so we need a cluster. We also write our own software for protein design which requires a native Linux environment to run in.

Our goal was to get the best price per performance on these systems, which is how we arrived at the Jackal Pro 2U. We bought the head node first and got that up and running in a few hours, so we chose that model again for our worker nodes to complete our cluster.

It was super easy to configure everything on the website. We purchased the head node about a month ago, and we bought the worker nodes very recently. They just arrived this week and they are already designing proteins.

What software are you using for this cluster?

Chris: We use Ubuntu for just about everything in our lab.

Where is your research going in the future?

Chris: The most topical thing we’re doing right now is designing mini-proteins that can disarm the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. The mini-proteins work in a similar way as antibodies, but they also have extra chemical bonds that make them super durable. Antibodies require special storage to regulate temperatures, which won’t help in places like the rural parts of India or Sub-Saharan Africa where refrigeration is scarce. So that’s where mini-proteins come into play. They don’t require refrigeration, and they’re also much more cost-effective to the manufacturer than the antibodies.

What we’re doing is designing mini-proteins to mimic a chunk of the human receptor ACE2 that the virus binds to. By mimicking what the human target looks like, we can trick the virus into binding to the treatment—and this makes it virtually impossible for the virus to develop a resistance to the treatment.

While antibodies are great and can also neutralize the virus, they need to be injected into a patient. Mini-proteins can be administered directly to the site of the infection by eating or inhaling them, so they’re potentially a much easier way to treat the virus.

Where antibodies fall short is that they can’t be used for environmental decontamination, but mini-proteins can. So we’re also working on developing mini-proteins to neutralize SARS-CoV-2 in the air and on surfaces in another project.

For more background on mini-proteins, check out Chris Bahl’s 2019 TED talk.

Things We Love About The New Serval WS

Thursday 11th of June 2020 02:50:38 PM

The Serval WS is the Miata of computers, combining the power of a desktop with the portability of a laptop together in a sleek chassis. It also features a large selection of performant components to choose from, such as NVIDIA GeForce GPUs and new 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen CPUs. There’s a lot to love about this laptop, so we made a list! Here are the things we love about the new Serval WS:

High performance, high value AMD CPUs

The Serval WS is fit with 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen desktop processors that really pack a wallop. Leading the charge is the Ryzen 9 PRO 3900 CPU, which is equipped with 12 Cores and 24 Threads—perfect for taking on heavy computational loads. Having this kind of desktop-calibur power in a laptop body helps if you need to run complex simulations at your desk or quickly render 3D scenes while on the road. Another bonus: AMD CPUs are known for having the best price per performance out there.

Powerful graphics

For your graphics needs, you can configure the Serval WS with an NVIDIA GTX 1660 Ti or RTX 2070. The GTX 1660 Ti offers high performance at great value, while the RTX 2070 provides the full package: higher performance, CUDA cores, Tensor cores, and ray tracing. The latter comes in clutch for scientific computing and competitive gaming.

Fast storage

Equip the Serval WS with up to 4TB NVMe storage for fluid results. NVMe SSD storage drives use a faster connection than SATA SSD storage drives, allowing you to read/write files, transfer data, and load games up to 6x faster. Store your OS on an NVMe storage drive to keep the experience as fluid as an ice cold beer.

Our highest performing laptop

The Serval WS combines speedy components together to create the ultimate computing experience. Take high-powered AMD processors, NVIDIA GeForce graphics, NVMe storage and up to 64GB RAM, and figuratively dump the components into a blender for a smoothie reminiscent of the esteemed Roadrunner. Or, to put it simply: The Serval WS is fast. Be careful not to get whiplash.

Jumping height

There’s many other things we love about the Serval WS, too, like how it can jump over 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) above the ground to land on its prey. Pretty cool, huh? If you happen to love all of these features as well, you can configure your own Serval WS to your liking on our website.

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