Experience with System 76?

Wondering if anybody here has had experience with devices from System 76, specifically their laptops? The products from S76 have a pretty steep price and reviews on Reddit seem to claim the quality can be hit or miss. Before I developed an interest in privacy I had a generic HP laptop running Windows 8 (and later Windows 10). That laptop has sat unused for a number of years now. They ship with Pop_OS installed and allegedly disable Intel ME/AMD PSP (this is reported by both the company and Michael Bazzell in his book ‘Extreme Privacy’).


System76 seems like a pretty reputable operation, and they’ve been a Linux focused company for many many years. I don’t personally prefer their distro outside of certain specific contexts, but I see them as a positive player in the world of Linux. Like many vendors, System76 doesn’t actually design or make their laptops (at least they didn’t last time I looked into this around 2020/21), they use an OEM, I think the name is Clevo, who makes laptops for various other PC brands also. But S76 does of course have some control over the specs they choose, and I’m sure checks and tests each model they use to make sure it is compatible with Linux. If you are somewhat new to Linux, and want a device that ‘just works’ System76 hardware + Pop!_OS (or Ubuntu) would be a very reasonable combination, that minimizes the chances of poorly supported hardware. Other ‘linux first’ laptop brands include Framework, Starlabs, Tuxedo.

I believe this was only the case up to 12th gen (?) Intel CPUs. IIRC something changed in the hardware or firmware that makes it no longer possible to disable the ME to the extent that they were previously doing. I believe they discuss this on their blog, so maybe see if you can search their blog for more info.

I consider Intel ME to be for extreme threat models. I’m not sure if anyone but government agencies would have the ability to utilize this, or if true 0 day vulns are out there in the public.


AMD PSP would be an equivalent alternative. And ARM still has a long way to go to be ready for Linux desktop, i.e. for creators, no Blender, Android Studio, no hardware video encoding in various video transcoding software, etc., and for users, spotty DRM content support in 64-bit browsers, so no Netflix, Prime, etc. on most distros (Ubuntu included), also no hardware video decoding in the browsers (Firefox recently supports h264 hardware video decoding on ARM Linux). Also, the pricing of many ARM SBC out there are not convincing at all. There are a lot of Intel N100 mini PC that are cheaper than Raspberry Pi 5, while 2x faster and supports everything.

I almost get the Pi 5, but it seems the situation is much worse than when I got my Pi 4 years ago.

To the thread’s topic. I want to support System 76, but the hardware design is not to my liking at all. If I want to get a Linux laptop today, I would buy a Framework.

They get a very conditional recommendation from me right now.

Their current laptops are all rebranded Clevos, so the hardware itself is nothing special. Most of their current laptop lineup come with their coreboot implementation. This is much more limited than traditional BIOS, with important features like Secure Boot support only available in the newest versions (not shipped to older models yet), and other useful features like BIOS admin passwords not available at all. On the plus side, coreboot boots much faster than BIOS and S76 ships security updates to it more often than many vendors whose BIOS doesn’t/hardly gets updated. However, their implementation is relatively young and has had it’s share of issues.

Their Thelio desktops are pretty cool. I like the cases. The fans are loud under load, but silent when low duty. One important caveat of the desktops is they require the system76-io-dkms and system76-power packages to tune the fans. Without them, the case fans will run at 100% all the time, being excessively noisy and wasting power. The DKMS requirement limits your distro choices. There’s unofficial Windows support, but it’s not easy to set up. Note that my experience is with the 1st gen Thelio. The new ones seem to have more fans, so I don’t know if this applies to them.

Overall, some nice to haves, but the pros may not outweigh the cons depending on your preferences, model, and luck. Their guaranteed linux support is not so special with Framework, Dell, Lenovo, and more all selling linux laptops.