System76 Announces American-Made Desktop PC with Open-Source Parts

System76 Thelio Computer

Early in 2017—nearly two years ago—System76 invited me, and a handful of others, out to its Denver headquarters for a sneak peek at something new they'd been working on.

We were ushered into a windowless, underground meeting room. Our phones and cameras confiscated. Seriously. Every word of that is true. We were sworn to total and complete secrecy. Assumedly under penalty of extreme death...though that part was, technically, never stated.

Once the head honcho of System76, Carl Richell, was satisfied that the room was secure and free from bugs, the presentation began.

System76 told us the company was building its own desktop computers. Ones that it designed themselves. From-scratch cases. With wood. And inlaid metal. What's more, these designs would be open. All built right there in Denver, Colorado.

We were intrigued.

Then they showed them to us, and we darn near lost our minds. They were gorgeous. We all wanted them.

But they were not ready yet. This was early on in the design and engineering, and they were looking for feedback—to make sure System76 was on the right track.

They were.

Flash-forward to today (November 1, 2018), and these Linux-powered, made in America desktop machines are finally being unveiled to the world as the Thelio line (which they've been teasing for several weeks with a series of sci-fi themed stories).

The Thelio comes in three sizes:

  • Thelio (aka "small") — max 32GB RAM, 24TB storage.
  • Thelio Major (aka "medium") — max 128GB RAM, 46TB storage.
  • Thelio Massive (aka "large") — max 768GB RAM, 86TB storage.

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All three sport the same basic look: part black metal, part wood (with either maple or walnut options) with rounded side edges. The cases open with a single slide up of the outer housing, with easy swapping of components. Lots of nice little touches, like a spot for in-case storage of screws that can be used in securing drives.

In an awesomely nerdy touch, the rear exhaust grill shows the alignment of planets in the solar system...at UNIX Epoch time. Also known as January 1, 1970. A Thursday.

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They come in both Intel and AMD CPU varieties. So you get to pick between an Intel chip (ranging from i5 to i9 to Xeon) or an AMD chip (Ryzen 5 or 7 or Threadripper) with a bunch of GPU options available, including an AMD RX Vega 11, RX 580, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080, Titan V3 and a quite few others (both beefier and less so).

Temperature control is assisted by a custom daughterboard that controls airflow (along with power and LED), dubbed "Thelio Io". This daughterboard has open firmware and is certified by the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA).

That last little bit is what I find most interesting about this new endeavor from System76. The more open a design is, the better for all. Makes maintenance and customization easier and helps others to learn from the designs for their own projects.

Thelio hardware is not completely open. But the company says that's what it's working toward. As System76 puts it, the company is "chipping away at the proprietary bits until it's 100% open source." This is a big move in a wonderfully open direction.

Also...wood. The case is partially made out of wood. A computer. Made with wood.

A wooden computer.

There need to be more things like that in this world.

Bryan Lunduke is a former Software Tester, former Programmer, former VP of Technology, former Linux Marketing Guy (tm), former openSUSE Board Member... and current Deputy Editor of Linux Journal as well as host of the popular Lunduke Show. More details: http://lunduke.com.

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