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System76 on US Manufacturing and Open Hardware

Linked by Paul Ciano on November 27, 2018


The philosophy around Thelio’s design was fourfold. The design should reflect our company character and culture, the design must support the maximum performance of the fastest available components, be easy to service and upgrade, and must represent the open source roots of System76.

We moved an eight-person engineering and operations team over in March of this year and the rest of the team a few months later. We began converting the design from prototype to production. At our facility, we take in US-sourced sheet metal, aluminum extrusions, and other raw materials. We use production machinery to cut it, bend it, powder coat, etch, and then assemble the parts together along the way to producing the final product. We use components that we source outside the US, like the motherboard, memory, and drives to assemble orders to the customers’ needs. Technically, Thelio is “Designed and manufactured in the US with domestic and foreign components”.

A completely open computer includes every part and component. The computer case, the motherboard, the drives, the memory, the cabling, the buttons, the ports, etc. The strictest definition of an open computer is that every single part of the product has openly licensed design files, schematics, and code. No one is there yet. We all understand that it’s not practical to start at the end. So we’re chipping away at the proprietary bits. There’s a lot of work to do. Those of us working to build open computers are taking different approaches and in doing so we all contribute toward this end. The important thing is that we’re all on the same trajectory. There’s a massive market out there that’s dominated by companies that don’t care about making open source hardware. We must make better products than they do if we are to turn that tide.

So, what makes Thelio open hardware? The Thelio design we’ve worked on for three years is open source. That means anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design. You can send the design files to a metal shop to make your own Thelio. You can adapt the design for your needs. Open source hardware is the physical version of open source software. We believe it’s important to apply the same passion we have about software freedom to the hardware itself. The open hardware community is young and small compared to open source software. We hope adding Thelio and Thelio Io to the ranks of open hardware will encourage others to join the movement and make their designs free as well. We’re very excited to see what people will do with free hardware designs. This is relatively new territory.

This is just the start for us. Next, we move to designing laptops with open hardware designs and controllers. An open source keyboard? We’d love to make one. Motherboards? We’ll experiment there too. Having a factory opens up all kinds of possibilities. It’ll take time and a lot of work, but we sure like where we’re headed.

In some ways, they are not as far along as Purism, but the more companies pursuing open computers, the better.

Paul Ciano

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