System76's Thelio Review
At the start of the summer my ThinkPad T420, was getting hotter than usual, I opened it up, and turns out the fan was struggling to stay alive, which was kind of expected after a long and happy 10-year life, so I started looking for a replacement, that’s when a friend of mine reached out and offered to send me a Thelio Desktop he bought but never used, knowing how much of a Linux geek I am, and I happily accepted.
Now 2 months have passed since I received it and that’s been enough time for me to form an opinion about it
System76, the company behind the thelio, allows the user to pick every component in the machine, they offer a good selection of options for Graphics Card, RAM, and CPU and a bunch of optional accessories as well, which is something not that many companies do nowadays, anyways here is the configuration mine came with:
- 32GB of RAM
- AMD® Ryzen 5 3600x 6-core CPU
- AMD® Radeon RX 550 GPU
- 120GB SSD
Since I got my pc, system76 stopped offering my exact configuration, but the closest build to mine that you could get right now would cost around $1300
The thelio looks absolutely stunning, it avoids that generic RGB gamer look but is still extremely elegant, the side of the case is made of quality wood that extends to the back. it is also pretty heavy and feels very well made when held.
There aren't any USB ports on the front to keep the clean look they were going for, but I honestly wouldn't mind a single port on the front for the occasional flash drive, they redeemed this by having 7 Ports on the back.
As for the hardware, there isn't much to complain about here, you get to choose every component that goes into your machine and they have documentation for upgrading/replacing every single component, one thing that's a bit annoying is that you can't use 3.5″ hard drives, only SSDs, and 2.5″ hard drives.
Update: one of the coolest things about this desktop and the entire line-up of desktops and laptops in general is that almost everything in it is open source, you can even find the CAD files (among other things) that they are using for the case on their github repo and make it yourself
Pop OS: it's not all roses
The thelio (and everything else that system76 sells) comes installed with Pop OS, their own Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. Pop OS is very well designed, it's my favorite out of the ubuntu flavors, but it doesn't offer anything special functionality-wise
The team has made packages to control the fans and drivers and more, these are pre-installed in Pop Os (run
apt search system-*) which was nice to see
speaking of firmware packages, When I got the pc, I installed Arch Linux (because that's what I am comfortable with) and immediately I noticed that the fans were louder than usual and were running all the time even when idle, which, as you could imagine, was very irritating. apparently, I was missing some firmware packages, I thought that was an easy fix given that the system76 had the packages on arch, so I installed all of them, rebooted, and then to my surprise nothing happened, I contacted support and I got this:
[...] As our QA does not test other distros from Ubuntu or Pop we can't confirm that these packages work as they should.
After scouring the internet for a little longer and not being able to find any solution, I gave up and went back to Pop OS.
I am not sure how I am supposed to feel about this on one hand, there are hunderds of linux distros and they can't support and check all of them, on the other hand the user shouldn't feel stuck on one distro just because they couldn't get some drivers to work.
The thelio is a remarkably beautiful computer for people interested in Linux and Linux enthousiasts alike, as long as you'll stick with what comes pre-installed.
I think it's a fantastic choice if you have a 1200 to 1500 dollar budget, but if you've got more than that to spend than I think buying something else and installing Pop Os on it would a better choice.
if you've enjoyed this article,consider buying me a coffee. currently I am saving up for a better microphone!
Can the fans curves be set via the BIOS? I typically never tune fan speeds at the OS level.
To your experience with Arch and lack of support: once it matters enough to someone to fix, it'll be fixed! I don't run Arch nor do I own a Thelio, but I and others will be happy to answer questions and help you along if you decide to dive in. My guess is system76-acpi-dkms is not installed or somehow erring out on your Arch install. https://chat.pop-os.org/pop-os/channels/development