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At System76, we empower the world’s curious and capable makers of tomorrow with custom Linux computers.
Updated: 7 hours 19 min ago

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.

What Makes a System76 Computer?

Thursday 28th of May 2020 03:04:41 PM

In homage to the revolutionary age of 1776, System76 revolutionizes open source technology and declares independence from our proprietary rulers. But what are the key ingredients that go into making a computer so revolutionary? The following delicious details outline the qualities we value in all of our computers. Note: Licking your screen is not an effective way to taste the deliciousness of this blog post.

Maximum performance capability

System76 users depend on heavy computational power to get their work done, and in some cases require a literal heavy computer. Our hardware is designed to support top-line processors and graphics cards, allowing you to consistently plow through your workload. We’re not going to call on a sedan to do a bulldozer’s job.

Many hardware vendors install these performant components and leave it at that. We’re not them. We put in the work to ensure you get the full performance out of these components that you paid for. A large part of that is the work we put into thermals, so you can push your computer to the max without it throttling. Check out last week’s blog post for an in-depth look into our thermal engineering process.

Serviceability

Being a pro-Right to Repair company, we want our users to have access to all parts of the machine. That means being able to repair your machine when you need to, as well as having access to written instructions for those repairs that are easy to follow. And when you need an upgrade, you shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to swap out the component.

Our Thelio desktop line was built to accommodate adjustments to internals. Its spacious design gives your hands enough room to play around. Also important to us was the ability to quickly swap out 2.5” storage drives, so we added a hot-swap drive bay to streamline the process—and provided screws in the side of the chassis to keep them from getting lost. Best of all, potential component upgrades are pre-wired. Adding a GPU? The power wiring is already there. Adding a drive? It’s already wired to a backplane, just slip the drive in. No headaches required.

Uninterrupted workflow

Your computer should work for you, not against you. We’re constantly developing open source software and firmware to help you create, make, and build utter amazeballs. Your discoveries and innovations impress us on a daily basis, and we’re eager to see what advancements come next. So we build hardware, software, and firmware to get you there as quickly as possible.

Hardware compatibility is a must. Drivers are pre-installed so that your mouse, your graphics card, and even your printer—that Proterozoic nuisance—work on startup.

Openness

Here’s a little secret for you: We enjoy being open. Open source is a collaborative effort between company and community to make the best products possible. Plus we get to meet a lot of interesting people along the way! As we grow, we plan to chip away at all the proprietary bits of your machine until we’ve fully achieved open source enlightenment.

Thelio is open source hardware designed for maximum performance and serviceability, and we’re confident in our engineering team to give you the best experience. That said, Thelio’s design files are available for anyone to download, make their own changes, and take to a shop to get their designs made.

As the names suggest, System76 Open Firmware (based on Coreboot) and System76 Embedded Controller Firmware are open source firmware. Our open firmware is faster and more secure, while our EC firmware gives you access and control over functionality such as your keyboard, fans, and battery.

In the wake of its 20.04 LTS release, Pop!_OS has established its identity with features like Auto-tiling and Keyboard Navigation. Thanks to your feedback, our open source software continues to evolve as a fun and convenient experience for users. As we move through laptop R&D, we’ll be on the lookout for hardware solutions that keep this feeling consistent with our software. Having a satisfying keyboard and a variety of ports are especially required.

Customization 

With open source technology, your computer becomes truly personal. Build your computer with the components you want, from CPUs to GPUs. Encrypt your drives. Add software extensions to make your OS feel like home. You can even change the theme so that everything is a blinking rainbow (not recommended). There’s a whole world of possibilities for you to enjoy, so what are you waiting for? Go forth and compute.

Keeping Cool with Thelio: The Secrets of Thelio’s Thermals

Thursday 14th of May 2020 10:32:59 PM

One of the largest considerations when developing any computer is the cooling system, also known as the thermal system. That fan that kicks on so your computer doesn’t overheat? That’s part of the thermal system. In developing our Thelio desktop line, we tackled the thermal systems with the goal of preventing thermal throttling of the components. Of course, people generally don’t want their fans spinning up a Category 5 hurricane, either. In this week’s blog, we’re taking an in-depth look at Thelio’s cooling systems to show you our process for optimizing thermals in our desktops.

For additional information, take a look at Phoronix’s tests on Thelio Major with AMD’s Threadripper 3990X CPU.


Method

In our R&D phase of building Thelio, we found heat pipes to be the most effective method of cooling the system. “Heat pipes are a fantastic way to move thermal energy,” says Carl Richell, one of the engineers involved with thermal optimization, as well as CEO of System76. Heat pipes use what is called a closed-loop phase change. Copper pipes containing liquid are set up from the processor to the heat sink. When the liquid inside the pipes heats up, it turns into a gas. The heated gas travels away from the processor toward the heat sink fins, where the energy is dissipated and the gas changes back into a liquid. The cooled liquid returns to the motherboard, and the process repeats. Heat pipes ensure that heat is rapidly drawn away from the processor.

Shortly after Thelio’s release, we received a lot of questions regarding why we chose not to use “liquid cooling”, which uses a pump to move liquid instead of phase changes.  “What I see too often is people equate liquid cooling to not using air, which is a big misconception,” Carl says. “We use heat pipes to move heat away from the processor and fans to exhaust heat out of the chassis, and liquid cooling does the exact same thing.” Liquid cooling uses fans on the radiator to remove heat, so it’s a hybrid of liquid and air rather than solely liquid.

So why use heat pipes? For starters, we found that liquid cooling pumps tend to fail, making them largely unreliable. The pumps are also louder, and liquid cooling systems still require the use of loud fans. We found heat pipes to be more effective, space-efficient, and quieter. As Principal Engineer Jeremy Soller puts it, liquid cooling is more of an effective stopgap for custom builds when you don’t have the means to manufacture with heat pipes. “If you’ve got a bunch of third party items sitting in an unrelated case, the most effective way to cool is to set up liquid cooling.” If you’re designing and manufacturing the chassis for specific components and their thermal properties, you optimize space and performance by using heat pipes.


Airflow

Of course, heat pipes alone aren’t enough to cool the entire system. Fans draw in cool external air and move heat out the exhaust port. To do this, we use 140mm fans in the bottom of the chassis and 120mm fans in the side. Large-bladed fans can move more air in a single rotation, so we can cool the chassis at lower RPMs. This results in quieter cooling at lower temperatures and higher processing power at higher temperatures.

Each desktop is designed to support its highest performing components. A single 140mm fan combined with a high-end, ducted heat-pipe CPU cooler  cools Thelio’s high-end CPUs and GPUs with extra headroom. Thelio Major’s components, including up to dual GPUs and 280-Watt processors, require additional cool air input and up to triple fan output. Additional large fans reduce system noise by requiring fewer RPMs as well. We made adjustments on Thelio massive as well to support dual CPUs. Further engineering enhancements support the thermal load produced by the dual CPUs and quad GPUs present in Thelio Massive.

Thelio’s thermal engineering also depends on the processor. For the release of AMD’s Threadripper 3 CPUs on Thelio Major, we added a duct and dedicated an additional cooling channel specifically for the CPU. That’s because Threadripper 3 processors (especially the 3990X) ran at a higher performance that required a higher wattage. Because it generated more heat, we needed to direct a higher volume of cool air into the chassis. Each one is unique to prevent throttling, allowing the machine to perform to its fullest potential.

Fan Curves

Q: How long did it take you to get a fan curve that you liked?
A: My entire life. And I’m not there yet.

—Jeremy Soller, System76 Principal Engineer

Fans don’t always have to run at full speed to keep your system cool and performant. This is where the fan curve comes into play. The fan curve determines your fans’ RPMs at different temperature levels.

Carl’s approach towards configuring Thelio’s fan curves began with observing how the system managed thermal output of the processor while idle. “In Thelio, we don’t have to turn fans on at all because of how the chassis is engineered. The thermal capacity of the system is sufficient to absorb and dissipate the heat produced by the processor and GPU at idle and during moderate computing tasks.” In Thelio Major, however, its idle temperature is slightly warmer than in Thelio, so we run the fans at about 30 percent (virtually silent) to exhaust the heat. The sound booth we built on our factory floor helped us reduce fan noise by up to 7 decibels across the Thelio line.

Once the bottom of the fan curve is set, we look at the top level. This involves stress-testing the CPU over a longer period of time. “I’ve found that 8 minutes was enough time to determine if the thermal load can be dissipated continuously,” says Carl. “If you’re not sustaining an internal temperature beyond that point, you have to either add more air or engineer a different technique to exchange heat” The Thelio Major with Threadripper 3990X required some extra finagling to sustain a performant temperature, hence the new intake duct and exhaust port.

With Thelio, almost the entire thermal load of the system’s processor and GPU only requires about 50 percent fan speed. Only in rare cases, when the processor approaches its highest temperatures, do the fans need to accelerate past that point.

Laptops add another variable to consider when making fan curves: skin. While your computer could theoretically operate while the chassis is at high temperatures, it’s rather unpleasant when your computer roasts you like a Thanksgiving turkey. Jeremy Soller was highly involved in creating the fan curve for the Lemur Pro, and his methods will likely be used with future systems as well.

Jeremy began with power output of the processor and set it to the maximum limits and set fan speed to 100 percent. From there, he worked out what the system was capable of exhausting, which turned out to be heat generated from about 23 Watts of power. To maintain a comfortable temperature for the user, he brought that down to about 20 Watts. While the CPU could technically reach a maximum of 100 degrees Celsius, it starts throttling around 88 degrees to remain at a comfortable temperature. “My goal was to make sure that under any workload, the CPU could get 20 Watts and remain underneath 88 degrees Celsius. Anything above 20 Watts would reach that mark.”

To establish the fan curve, Jeremy measured the laptop’s thermals under workloads of a single thread, two threads, four threads, and eight threads against utilizations of 25, 50, 75, and 100 percent. This data set allowed Jeremy to look at what fan speeds work with certain temperature ranges that prevent issues for the user, including rapid fan acceleration/deceleration and hot surface temperatures. Balancing fan speed, processor performance, and thermal output is important at all levels of utilization. 

The work we put into optimizing thermals is especially apparent in higher end machines. There aren’t a lot of manufacturers out there making quad-GPU workstation systems, so the ones you do find generally don’t have a chassis designed to sustain that level of performance. What sets Thelio systems apart is that we designed them to exhaust the large quantity of heat that those higher components generate, meaning you’ll get to enjoy the full level of performance you paid for.

Open Up: Benefits of Open Source Software

Thursday 7th of May 2020 03:50:29 PM

Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS is open source software built atop layers of previously established open source software. It’s like an onion of software. But why open source? What benefit does it add for System76 and our users? Reduced cost certainly plays a role, as most open source software is free to download; however, the real magic sauce is the community. Read on to see why community gives open source software the upper hand over its proprietary counterparts.

Transparency

In a world of Big Data™, it’s easier to trust your software when you have the ability to watch its every move. With open source software, there’s always eyes on what’s going on behind the scenes. The open source community is filled with privacy-conscious technology professionals who like to see data stay put. Stay. Good boy, Data. Open source software is often created by those same professionals who believe that users should have full access to their data. That’s why Pop!_OS doesn’t collect or store any info from user installations. It’s your data, not ours.

Quality

With so many eyes on the source code, it’s easy to snuff out software bugs. Community members are often responsible for fixing bugs or providing driver support, making for a more polished piece of software. This includes fixes for security vulnerabilities, ensuring confidence in your software tools. Whereas proprietary software makers sometimes leave issues unsolved for months or sweep them under the rug, open source developers resolve issues with the swiftness and tact of a mob boss. Why use a walled garden when you can enjoy a functioning fortress?

Customization

Linux provides a highly personalized user experience. People with strong preferences for a specific window manager or application launcher often want to see it available across distros, even if it means building it themselves. With a swath of tweaks available to you, personalizing your software is easy. Extensions like Dash to Dock or Dash to Panel bring your application launcher to your desktop. The Isolated Workspaces extension, meanwhile, allows you to open new instances of an application in a separate workspace. And of course, the new Pop!_Shell is available as an extension on distros using the GNOME desktop environment.

Synergy

Every bit of software out there has a community of users who absolutely love their tool. What sets open source software apart from its proprietary counterpart is a community of developers who absolutely love the tool they helped build. It allows people the chance to contribute to a project and be a part of something bigger. This establishes a close relationship between software creators and users/developers, whose feedback helps direct what features are added in future updates.

Support

Because people can see how the software works, community members can help you make it work on occasions when it doesn’t. Having a community attached to software means you don’t have to wait for help to arrive when you have a question. Chances are, the answer is already available online. Pop!_OS users can get their own questions answered from System76 engineers and community members over at chat.pop-os.org.

What’s New with Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS

Thursday 30th of April 2020 10:09:13 PM

Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS is our biggest OS release yet. We’ve got lots of new features and improvements for you to enjoy, including the talk of the town, Auto-tiling! Read on for more info on all our favorite new features from Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS.



Pop!_Shell

While most operating systems use the mouse as the main navigator, Pop!_OS takes full advantage of your keyboard. New and expanded keyboard shortcuts create a fluid experience—one in which your hands rarely have to leave the keyboard. Seriously. You can be just like those Hollywood hackers who never ever ever ever ever ever ever use their mouse at all. Ever.


Keyboard Navigation

The new keyboard shortcuts allow you to launch an application, switch between applications, toggle settings, and much, much more (as we’ll cover here shortly). In place of the default shortcuts, you can also use Vim shortcuts to navigate your desktop—without having to leave home row. For a good look at the full capabilities of keyboard navigation on Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS, click ‘View All Shortcuts’ in your system menu in the top right corner of your screen.


Auto-tiling

Auto-tiling organizes your windows for you as soon as you open your application. With organization taken care of by your operating system, Pop!_OS gives you more time to focus on your work and less time to waste on fiddling around with windows. Keyboard shortcuts make auto-tiling a breeze—you can move, resize, and swap windows to your liking without touching your mouse. Auto-tiling can be toggled on or off in the system menu, so it won’t affect your workflow if you prefer petting the profane rodent.


Workspaces

Meanwhile, workspaces allow you to keep relevant content together and irrelevant content out of site. You can use keyboard shortcuts to quickly switch between workspaces, as well as move your window between workspaces.

Auto-tiling, workspaces, and keyboard navigation work in tandem to make up Pop!_Shell, a keyboard-centric workflow experience on Pop!_OS. It’s buttery smooth. Like a moist biscuit at your fingertips.


Flatpak support with the Flathub repository

We’ve integrated Flatpak support in the Pop!_Shop. Now when you download an application, you have the option to pull packages from the Pop!_OS, Flathub, or Ubuntu repositories. Flatpak/Flathub support expands our software library and the number of applications available to you. Furthermore, applications packaged through Flatpak have significant privacy advantages, as these applications are limited in their access to only what the application requires to function.



Hybrid graphics

Previously on Pop!_OS: Laptops with Intel and NVIDIA graphics have the power to Jekyll and Hyde between integrated graphics and the dGPU.

Now on Pop!_OS: In addition to switching between Intel and NVIDIA graphics, you can choose Hybrid Graphics from the system menu. In Hybrid Graphics mode, your laptop runs on the battery-saving Intel GPU and only uses the NVIDIA GPU for applications you designate. To do this, simply right-click on the app icon and select “Launch using Dedicated Graphics Card”.



Application developers and maintainers can configure their applications to use the dedicated GPU by default by setting the following flag in their .desktop file:

X-KDE-RunOnDiscreteGpu=true


Automatic firmware updates

Update your firmware with a push of a button. Pop!_OS Firmware Manager supports firmware updates for System76 hardware, as well as any hardware vendor distributing firmware updates through LVFS. Firmware settings can be accessed on Pop!_OS through the Firmware tab in Settings. No, you don’t need to own a System76 computer to benefit from this feature. Yes, you do need to own a System76 computer to score batches upon batches of brownie points from our engineers.
Application settings in the top barCertain applications such as Slack, Dropbox, and Discord use application indicators in the top bar on your desktop to make app settings more accessible. These application indicators are supported by default in Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS.


Offline OS Upgrades

Pop!_OS provides the latest features and security patches through rolling updates and periodic OS version upgrades. Additionally, version upgrades allow you to download the upgrade in the background and then apply it offline when you’re ready to perform the upgrade. This way, you can get all the new features and security patches without missing a beat.
To upgrade to Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS from 19.10, simply click the notification to upgrade in your OS, which will take you to the OS Upgrades tab in Settings. In 18.04 LTS, you can upgrade through the About tab.

Alternatively, type the following command into your Terminal:

pop-upgrade

Important: This upgrade includes changes and additions to your keyboard shortcuts to accommodate the arrival of Pop!_Shell. To see additional keyboard shortcuts, open the tiling menu in the top right corner of your screen and click ‘View All Shortcuts’.

Fresh installs of Pop!_OS now set your desktop environment to Dark Mode by default. If the dark side doesn’t suit your style, you can change your DE back to Light Mode in the Appearance tab in Settings.

How to install

Looking for a fresh install of Pop!_OS? You can find it here!

Like what we’re doing? Help fund amazing features down the road by supporting Pop!_OS with $1 a month.

Behind the Scenes of a Product Launch: Marketing

Thursday 23rd of April 2020 03:14:38 PM

Our Behind the Scenes series serves to outline the magic it takes to launch a System76 product. It’s a great opportunity to teach people how the process works in different fields. First up in the series is the Grape Vine Mother. The devil of desire. The catalyst of material salivation: Marketing.


Background Research

When selling a new product, it’s essential to ask the important questions. What is this machine’s best aspect? How does it compare to competing products? Who would be most excited to buy this machine? Does it shoot lasers? This first step involves gathering information from online communities, relevant websites, and other departments at System76 to get a well-rounded view of why this product matters to the people we want to reach.

Establish Direction

The next step is determining how we tell the people we want to reach the reasons why this product matters. Not everything can be sold via deodorant centaur or an epic animated space journey through the fictional cosmos! Email and social posts are the fundamentals for any announcement. Once we have an idea for the campaign, we can add other elements, such as videos, comics, digital ads, swag, and anything else so long as it fits within that idea. At time of writing, the Marketing Team assigns members tasks in Trello to keep track of progress.

Make The Things

This is where the direction we decided on materializes into messaging. During this time, the team creates everything that needs to be shown after the product launches. This includes a list of creative assets (i.e. pictures, words, designs, audio) for our website, social media, email, and our blog—as well as any videos for promoting or detailing the product. By rule, these assets should always be on-message and on-brand. No reason to talk about the ground while flying to Mars! Everything from voice to fonts used should be consistent across the board.

Page Mockup

Once all the pieces are in place, they’re sent to assembly for Voltronesque fusion. This is where we take the product photos, lifestyle photos, and product page copy—a fancy way of saying “company words”—and lay out the product page in Figma. Figma is a tool for mocking up Web pages and navigation, and helps provide an easy handoff to the Web Team once the page layout is finalized. Then we review the information with other departments to ensure technical accuracy before the big day.


Liftoff

The Web Team presses the big red button, and the product is launched! From here, we monitor the Web for chatter, check in on how excited people are for the shiny new machine, and share blogs or press articles that surface post-launch. Then we get together in Slack, pop our virtual confetti, and get back to business. Like business people, only covered in confetti and absolutely not like business people.

The Nerd’s Guide to Working From Home

Thursday 16th of April 2020 02:09:25 PM

Many articles on improving productivity at home say that establishing a routine, dressing in work attire, communicating often, and remembering to take breaks are essential towards maintaining a quality work-life balance. However, these articles don’t account for restlessness caused by COVID-19 and Stay at Home mandates. So to help you work from quarantine, we came up with some tips of our own:

Keep up on Coronavirus news

Pandemics are distracting. Like a rock in your shoe, the very presence of a pandemic acts as an ever-present obstacle to focus—and that’s okay. Don’t shame yourself for not being as productive as you were a month ago, and don’t panic. Check in on pandemic updates daily for a clear picture of reality. The certainty of data will ease your mind and prepare you for the long haul.

…but set a timer.

It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos. Give yourself 10 minutes to absorb the latest from health experts, and then close your browser window. When you do, you’ll see that nothing at present is on fire. You’re home now. You might as well make yourself comfortable.

Build an office fort

Apartments and houses can feel cramped when you’re confined to them for long periods. Keep things fresh and exciting by changing up your work environment. Set up a tent in your living room. Make an elaborate snack dispenser and mount it above your desk. Create the office you’ve always dreamed of, and cast out any dread born from daily mundanities.

If you already have a home office, try sticking this outside your window for a good laugh:

Dual boot work and relaxation

Don’t live where you work. Partition your work area away from everything else, and only work in this space. Likewise, don’t work when you’re not in this space. Apply this to both physical location and software. Having a work-specific distro emulates the feeling of an office setting—and leaving it at the end of the day. After work, boot into a different distro or experiment with one you haven’t tried yet. You may discover a new window manager or daily driver you enjoy.

Listen to game soundtracks to avoid distraction

It’s Thursday, the tantalizing 4th day of the week. Tomorrow you plan to beat DOOM Eternal, but today you’re chipping away at the longest work week of your life. Oh, why wait? Your gaming PC is right at your feet. Five minutes can’t hurt…

Instead, open your music player and blast the soundtrack to your game of choice. Simulating a gaming experience while you’re working helps you fight the urge to actually play a game—and also makes you feel like a professional badass. Stay focused on the task at hand, save time on deciding what to play when you’re done. It’s a win-win.

Find your inspiration

When you lose your motivation, it’s important to look back on what drove you into this work in the first place. Who in your industry do you admire? What projects out there blow you away? What problems or methods are you working to improve? Having a goal in mind that isn’t directly related to your current task can help you appreciate your work, and fits the task into your bigger picture. It’s easier to push forward when you’re making progress towards your personal goals.

Work together on Jitsi

Part of what’s so isolating about working from home is the absence of office culture. Stay connected on Jitsi, a free and open source tool for video conferencing and messaging. It also comes recommended by our Customer Happiness Team! Invite your co-workers to an online work session and banter-filled conversation. Just make sure you mute them if you plan on taking any calls. 

Engage in hijinks with your living companions

In the absence of co-workers and office shenanigans, partaking in goofs with the people around you will vastly improve your daily mood. Present data to your pets. Pretend your coffeemaker is the new intern. Hide notes from Ulysses the Apartment Ghost for your roommate to find. Take your spouse on a breakfast date in your kitchen. Go out of your way to make every day enjoyable.

Go outside whenever possible

You don’t have to hide from the outside world, only from outside people. Feel the sun on your face, listen to the birds—and cross the street when someone comes your way. Strolling around the neighborhood amid social distancing regulation reminds you that you’re still in control. Go outside to make staying inside more bearable.

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