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In their recent blog posts titled 'System76 on US Manufacturing and Open Hardware' the Linux hardware vendor shared some details and thoughts about what they're up to.

For those not up to speed, System76 will soon be putting up their new Thelio desktop computer for pre-order. This will be their first in-house production using a case they made themselves. It's going to be quite exciting, so it's good to get some details cleared up before the big reveal on November 1st.

They've been working on the design of the Thelio system for three years, a lot longer than I originally thought. The actual design of the unit is made to offer "the maximum performance of the fastest available components" along with being easy to service and upgrade. 

One thing people took issue with is how they've been saying it's an open source computer, because technically that isn't quite true. They touch on that too, mentioning that they're "chipping away at the proprietary bits" and there's a lot of work still to do. They went into more details, to mention that the actual design is open source so "anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design". Quite a nice approach that actually. Additionally, it will be using components from outside the US including the motherboard, memory, and drives. Although, with the metal, aluminium and other raw materials they "cut it, bend it, powder coat, etch" and so on themselves inside their new facility.

They confirmed again how they're removing proprietary functionality off of the motherboard (something the System76 Founder mentioned to me previously on Twitter), with a daughter board they're calling the Thelio Io. This daughter board "manages thermal and chassis control while also providing a storage backplane for the drives". System76 said they're working towards open sourcing more functionality, which will take more time along with mentioning that "Eventually, all that will be left are proprietary hardware initialization bits and convincing Intel and AMD to open up there."

As for what comes next, they're going to move onto designing Laptops with a similar approach to this with their own designs.

See more on their blog post.

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spiffyk 30 October 2018 at 7:21 pm UTC
I think this is rather clever. Some things just need to be achieved gradually, instead of all at once. The gradual approach could be sort of a proof-of-concept that will show others that the open-source way is indeed viable for hardware, too. I like it.
tmtvl 30 October 2018 at 9:47 pm UTC
Announcement: we're releasing an open source PC!

Clarification: well it's technically not completely open source...

...Gee, who could've seen that one coming? Almost like that has happened before.
techieg33k 31 October 2018 at 1:09 am UTC
I like what they are doing. Maybe someday RISC-V would be a solution then it really could be properly open source.

I'm really looking forward to what they do with the laptops.
chomwitt 31 October 2018 at 4:21 pm UTC
I agree with tmtvl.

The company tries to pull the apple-marketing tricks.
Bad? Nop .
But as linux programmer i would like more facts and less cartoons.
1970's Altair 8800 with the S100 bus would beat System76's in the open-hardware rank by far!!
Ardje 1 November 2018 at 4:28 pm UTC
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GuestAn engineer from Raptor Computing Systems (POWER9 desktops) recently laid out the details of what it means to have a fully open platform.
Indeed, it is impossible to say open when talking about intel architecture.
Of course open exists: 386 line, I think that's about the last one.
So if anybody says a broadcom, qualcomm or samsung is not open, then let him list the ones that are open.
I think the softcores in fpga comes to mind :-).
In any other case it is a slider with multiple entries. On exynos certain things are not available without the right signatures (actually only HDCP comes to mind). On old arm architectures, the java bytecode engine required a signature to enable (it's now obsolete, and nobody used it anyway).
But the intel architecture these days have secondary or actually primary controllers running software that you can't control or have insight into. That's such a big difference between not being able to HDCP your HDMI vs not knowing what your CPU does. Not being able to use HDCP is in the order of buying a cheaper CPU which have a few cores fused to disabled.
Ardje 1 November 2018 at 4:36 pm UTC
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From the blog:
QuoteTo that end, we designed Thelio Io, a daughter board that manages thermal and chassis control while also providing a storage backplane for the drives in Thelio.

Now that is good news.

Especially since companies like Supermicro has shut down the root access to their motherboard controllers, thanks to some people calling root access insecure.
It's now very insecure (like any motherboard controller that has closed down root shell support) because it is now impossible to restrict access with ssh key only and firewall anything.
DarthJarjar 1 November 2018 at 6:12 pm UTC
techieg33kI like what they are doing. Maybe someday RISC-V would be a solution then it really could be properly open source.

I'm really looking forward to what they do with the laptops.

I'd rather they went for a stack based ISA instead of a registers based ISA.
We're going more and more toward multi-core, multi-thread based applications. The cost of context switching might become problematic in the future.
Also dealing with calling convention, and change of calling convention is a PITA.
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