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At System76, we empower the world’s curious and capable makers of tomorrow with custom Linux computers.
Updated: 4 hours 46 min ago

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.

What We Love About the New Lemur Pro Laptop

Thursday 9th of April 2020 02:48:14 PM

The Lemur Pro is System76’s newest addition to our laptop line. You might have some questions such as, “What’s different about this laptop?” or, “WANT!” which we’ll certainly accept as another question. Here’s a few of our favorite things about the Lemur Pro:

Our Longest-Lasting Laptop Yet
The Lemur Pro’s strength is in its long-lasting battery. Having a laptop with up to 14 hours of battery life allows you to finally break free of the leash that is your charging cord. Work wherever you want for however long you want, without having to drop everything in order to find an outlet.

Our Lightest Laptop Yet
This laptop is designed to be lightweight across the board: Bloatware-free open source firmware, a snappy operating system, and performant components—all inside a 2.2-pound chassis. We’d say you could throw it like a frisbee, but we wouldn’t want you to scratch its sleek body.

Our Best Docking Experience Yet
When you buy a monitor with your Lemur Pro, you can use a single USB-C connection to hook your laptop up to an external display, while also charging it. There’s room for your keyboard and mouse there as well. Think of it as monitor-based docking. And if you prefer an additional display, you can daisy chain to a second monitor or connect via HDMI.

Our Most Flexible Hinge Yet
The hinge on the Lemur Pro opens up to 180 degrees, so you can work in whatever convoluted contortion makes you most comfortable. (For example, our vampirical users like to do their hematology research in an inverted position.)

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

Head over to our site for a closer look at the new Lemur Pro!

Meerkat in the Lab: An Interview with Day Zero Diagnostics

Thursday 2nd of April 2020 03:14:06 PM

Day Zero Diagnostics, a life science company based in Boston, MA, is using genome sequencing and machine learning to modernize infectious disease diagnosis and treatment. They’re also a System76 customer. To get a better sense of what role our hardware has in their research, we sat down for an interview with Software Architect Walter Gillett, Product Director Ronda Kalis Taylor, and Manager of Sequencing Technologies Ian Herriott.

For more information on Day Zero Diagnostics and their work on infectious disease diagnostics, visit https://www.dayzerodiagnostics.com/.

Can you give a bit of background on what you do, in a nutshell, at Day Zero Diagnostics?

Ronda: If you get a severe infection, like sepsis, you could be extremely ill within a matter of hours, but current diagnostics for antibiotic resistance can take 2-5 days or never return a result at all. This puts you, and your doctors, at a severe disadvantage.

At Day Zero Diagnostics, we are developing rapid, whole genome sequencing-based diagnostics to modernize infectious disease diagnosis and treatment. We are building technologies to provide the species ID and antibiotic resistance profile of a bacterial infection within hours, rather than days, so that patients can be treated with the most effective antibiotic quickly. Faster treatment with the right antibiotic saves lives and reduces the cost and complications associated with extended episodes of care.

In addition, we are very focused on HAIs (healthcare-associated infections), and last year we introduced epiXact, a rapid, sequencing based service, which provides definitive determination of the relatedness of pathogens in a suspected outbreak. epiXact provides the clinician with the information they need to rule in or rule out an HAI transmission and helps them avoid implementing costly interventions when unnecessary, and to go after transmissions aggressively when an outbreak is confirmed.

What type of hardware is required to do this job, and why do you choose System76 as your solution?

Walter: Starting with a blood sample from a patient with a suspected bacterial infection, we isolate out the bacteria, sequence its DNA, then use machine learning tools to figure out what kind of bacteria it is (e.g., MRSA) and which drugs it’s likely resistant to. The goal is to inform the doctor how to treat the infection.

We use System76 computers to run the software that manages our DNA sequencing. We need computers with a fairly powerful CPU and lots of storage space, but also with a tiny footprint since they are taking up precious bench space in our wet lab. Day Zero is a Linux shop, another win for System76 vs. buying a PC then having to install the Linux OS ourselves and ending up with a configuration that is not supported by the PC vendor.

How did you discover System76 as a company?

Walter: System76 came to my attention probably 10 years ago from a colleague at a previous company I worked for. Based on that, I purchased a Galago Pro laptop, and was very impressed with the great support I’ve had with that machine, so when the time came to choose computers for the lab, System76 was one of the top on the list. We chose the Meerkat because it’s a perfect combination of small footprint and powerful computer.

How are the Meerkats currently helping you achieve your goals?

Ian: The DNA sequencing technology that our Meerkats are running is a platform that I’ve been working with for over 5 years, and IT requirements have increased as that technology matures. I’ve tried several different computer workstation solutions, but the Meerkat is proving to be the best of a lot of worlds: reasonably portable, affordable, doesn’t take up precious lab space, and is applicable in many different settings — it’s great for our needs.

Many people who run these sequencers actually run them on laptops, and that’s what I had done before. So when Walter suggested a Desktop, I had a preconception of what that would mean in terms of footprint and just had a bit of a bias against desktops. But the Meerkat has an even smaller footprint than our laptops, so they’ve actually freed up space — it’s a net win over the laptop. There’s also a lot of advantages in other specs like storage and memory etc. And if we wanted to take this DNA sequencer into the field for use at another lab, for example, we could, since the Meerkat is pretty portable.

We do have several teams that rely on DNA sequencing outputs daily. We do a lot of parallel and staggered DNA sequencing runs and the generous capacity of the solid-state disks on our Meerkats allows us to connect up a lot of instruments simultaneously and often we’ll accumulate terabytes of data in the span of a couple days. These little Meerkats have been great for the volumes of DNA data we generate.

How could you potentially use them in the future?

Ian: As a startup company we want to be clever about our resources, so our workstations should be multifunctional. As an example, we are moving towards increasing use of robotics and liquid handling automation in the future so having Linux workstations that can do double duty and handle multiple tasks in the lab will be extremely positive for our productivity.

Making a Keyboard: The System76 Approach

Tuesday 17th of March 2020 10:02:53 PM

We like knocking down the garden wall wherever we can. Your technology is your technology after all; you should be able to change it in any way that suits your needs. That’s why we’re making a keyboard. Everyone uses their keyboard differently due to ergonomics, convenience, or to account for a dominant hand, and it’s time we created a keyboard to accommodate that.

CEO Carl Richell sat down for an interview with us at a CDC-approved distance to discuss plans for System76’s latest project: The Launch Configurable Keyboard.

What were the most important things you wanted to address when designing a keyboard?

Most keyboards that we’ve studied were derived from what already existed. Instead we’re thinking about hands and fingers and how we use keyboards to interface with operating systems—a keyboard is a tool first. In our research, we found that spacebars typically, for example, are way too long, which means your strongest digit, your thumb, isn’t very useful. Most of the time you use your pinkie because useful keys are out at the extremities of the keyboard—so we wanted to change that. We wanted a better layout.

The second piece is configurability. A lot of our customers are experts in their field and they have their own unique shortcuts and tools—making a keyboard programmable for specific tools makes it a better interface for using that tool. Easy configurability—we made all the keys only 3 sizes so you can swap them. And we’re building software that makes it easy to change your configuration and add function layers to suit your needs.

Did you have any outside inspiration for the design?

Yes. Since we went about this project from a “tool first” design, we drew inspiration from other specialty tools in adjacent industries. For example, John Grano, our mechanical engineer, has a mouse which has 360-degree movement that’s specific to CAD work, but even for a novice, it makes things easier. Another example is the Davinci Resolve panels which make editing videos easier for that specific task. We wanted to apply those types of ideas to make a keyboard more useful for everyone.

So we made a tool that works with Pop!_OS to make your tools better and problem-solve easier and more efficiently.

What’s been the biggest challenge in the project?

Well, because we always take an iterative approach to everything we do, it hasn’t been extremely difficult to develop. We’re also a company full of keyboard geeks so we had a lot of existing knowledge to pull from. We started with theories and ideas, we found some of them worked very well, and some things didn’t (like the 1-unit right shift key), and we moved forward from there, repeating the process as necessary. So it wasn’t really a challenge, but the natural part of developing a product: You conduct research, make assumptions, test, iterate, then do it all again.

Has System76 ever tried to make a keyboard before?

Nope, this is the first time around on this particular project!

What are you most proud of with this project?

The harmony between physical hardware and the operating system. For example, auto tiling in our upcoming Pop!_OS 20.04 release is designed to work extremely well with this keyboard, and I think that people are going to really respond to it—it’s going to be a completely new and amazing experience, and I think that folks are going to start to really see why we’ve decided to bring all of the different silos, from hardware to manufacturing to OS, all in-house under one roof.

What about a total beginner, what would they get out of it?

It doesn’t necessarily have to feel like something different—you can plug it in and use it like any other keyboard. But you’re going to have less strain on your hands, because instead of using your pinkies, you’ll use your thumbs for common keystrokes and key combinations. Or instead of having to reach very far, keys like backspace can be very easy to reach now.

Another thing that we found with our research is that most people use either their right or left thumb for the spacebar, but rarely both. So we split the spacebar so that you can assign one button to another task if you are one of those people, like shift or backspace. 

Also, because the keyboard lacks a number pad, your mouse will be much closer so you won’t need to reach as far when you need to go to the mouse.

When will it be available? 

Late summer is when we’re hoping to bring it to market.

What else have I not asked that you want to tell people about this keyboard?

The harmony between our System76 hardware and our Pop!_OS software is really going to be key for this particular project.

A Look Back at Manufacturing

Wednesday 11th of March 2020 06:06:56 PM

The past couple of years have been a wild ride. Thanks to your support, we were able to transition from cozy office space to roomy warehouse to take our computers to the next level. And while we have more amazing projects in the works, we wanted to take a moment to appreciate the hard work and popcorn-fueled energy that’s gone into manufacturing our desktops.

Our Production and Assembly Teams are at the forefront of our manufacturing journey. On a daily basis, we see them put effort and care into each handcrafted system. As we grow, we’ll continue to upgrade our manufacturing equipment to help reduce their workloads and improve efficiency. For example, creating bend lines on the chassis with our new laser-punch combo machine has eliminated the need to draw those lines by hand, which allowed us to cut down on the time and effort it takes to build each machine. We were also able to lower the price of Thelio as a result of the new process.

Manufacturing in-house empowers us to iterate on our ideas. When we wanted to more accurately gauge fan noise on our machines, we built a soundproof room for acoustics testing. (It looks like a Rubix cube.) Within weeks, we had exponentially reduced noise levels on Thelio, Thelio Major, and Thelio Massive.

One of our first challenges in iterating Thelio’s design was to prevent shipping damages. Components would shake loose during shipping, and heavy GPUs sometimes sustained damage from the journey. In redesigning the GPU brace, we were able to support more of the GPU’s weight and keep it from jostling around inside the chassis. Shrinking the drive cage, meanwhile, secured the 2.5” storage drives against Thelio’s lid. These improvements have gone a long way towards reinforcing Thelio in transit from our planet to yours.

The man behind these changes is the fearless John Grano, our Mechanical Engineering Lead and designated laserman. John keeps Thelio performing at its best. Preventing throttling is one of his top priorities, as it ensures your high-performance components can perform to their greatest potential. One of many fixes was to add “feet” to the chassis, which widened Thelio’s base and allowed us to stabilize the chassis and cut additional ventilation ports into the design. We’ll take a more in-depth look at Thelio’s thermals later on this spring.

With industrial design and production in the same office, we applied these changes within days of completion, if not hours. Once we have 100% confidence in any design improvement, we apply that to our production line to improve the experience for as many people as possible.

Keeping industrial design and production together also opens up the door for experimentation. In our latest endeavor, our CEO Carl Richell and many others at System76 had a lot of fun trying out new color options for Thelio by staining the birch veneer. We released three of these colors last week: Neptune Blue, Martian Red, and Dark Matter. You can see these for yourself on our website, and learn more about the staining process on our blog.

As we move into manufacturing laptops, the factory will provide an ideal environment for research and development. We now have the resources to create more accurate prototypes in-house to get an up close look at various materials, chassis builds, keyboards, and more, empowering us to create a computer fit for the incredible creators, makers, and builders of the world.

Each day at System76 presents new challenges to overcome and new opportunities to dive headfirst into open source innovation. Despite the aversion among U.S. companies to manufacture domestically, it’s actually really fun. We’re excited to delve deeper into manufacturing computers, and we can’t wait to show you where our adventures take us.

New Color Options Means More Character for Thelio

Thursday 5th of March 2020 02:20:13 PM

System76 began with the mission to inspire users to create, make, and build their imaginations into existence. And in 2018, we built an inspiring computer of our own. As an open hardware computer, Thelio was the culmination of our vision of an open source future. We infused Thelio with design elements that best represented our journey and began manufacturing these computers in our founding city of Denver, Colorado.

Hundreds of iterations and over a year later, we’re expanding our color options for Thelio to include Neptune Blue, Martian Red, and Dark Matter wood stains. These colors give Thelio a modernized aesthetic that’s fitting for creators, makers, and builders on the cusp of new discoveries.

Our veneers are real wood that is cut, sanded, and finished in-house. While walnut and birch color options are finished with linseed oil and maintain their original color, the Neptune Blue, Martian Red, and Dark Matter colors are stained birch veneer hand-polished with polyurethane. To produce wood veneer in these colors, we apply a water-based stain to the entire surface of a birch veneer.

The stain takes 3-5 minutes to set and an hour to dry before it’s time to cut the veneer using our laser (which is much cooler when spelled with a ‘z’). Once the lazer has finished cutting the veneer down to the size of the system, they are mounted to the front panel of the chassis. To preserve the color, we seal the stain with a layer of polyurethane, rub the splinters off with 1000-grit sandpaper, and finish with a second coat of polyurethane.

Check out our site for an up-close look at Thelio’s new colors.