Librem 15v4 first impressions

I managed to acquire a lightly used unit, but all of these comments should apply equally well to a new one. I just offer this by way of feedback to Purism. Contrary opinions welcome.


  • 4K matte LED is just stellar. It isn’t dim and doesn’t suffer from lopsided illumination. Not hot or cold pixels. No video artifacts from bad sync. All in all, rock solid. From now on, give me 4K matte, or I don’t buy your machine. It absolutely pisses on the competition, dollar for dollar, and singlehandedly compensates for a lot of lesser drawbacks. I’m not going back to FHD, but I’m fine with paying for the upgrade option, going forward, so as not to piss off the FHD crowd.

  • To my astonishment, 4K 60 FPS video under MPV actually plays so crisply that my friend said it looked like the movie was reality unfolding behind a giant hole in my panel!

  • A lot of people will disagree with me, but on close inspection, I find that the headset jack is indeed mechanically sound and is indeed (indirectly) screwed into the chassis. I was going to glue it in place with Liquid Nails, following all the complaints posted on this forum, but found that to be unnecessary. Perhaps I have a more recent v4 spin?

  • And again, despite so many complaints here, I found the LED panel to be mechanically solid. I think the folks who broke the hinge violated the cardinal rule of panel etiquette: open a laptop by putting one of your thumbs at the center of the bottom, and your other one at the center of the top, then pry apart like a clamshell. Never ever yank it open by a corner!

  • The camera/microphone disconnect is just lovely.

  • The wifi disconnect works flawlessly. It does, however, disconnect all wifis, so if you’re planning to disable the onboard one so you can plug in a USB wifi and pretend to have a different MAC, you’re outta luck. At least, if you don’t actually connect your internal wifi to a router, I don’t think your MAC will get cached in any database.

  • Boots really fast, both from firmware and from low latency PureOS startup.

  • Super simple firmware boot interface.

  • Fat panel bezel that everyone hates. I happen to like it because it provides a good contrast barrier between my workspace and the background environment (but I know it’s slated for removal whenever Librem 16v1 happens, which is OK).

  • I have lots of complaints below because I’m a snob for security and quality, but frankly, it’s a highly competitive laptop. They could well be one iteration away from producing the best in the world for the buck, which says a lot, considering their high base price, totally distributed workforce, and paltry capitalization.


  • It would be really nice if the headphone jack also accepted a microphone. It’s output-only, probably this is because including a microphone input would complicate the microphone kill switch, which would now need to disable the input stripe (but not the output stripes) on the male pin plus the environmental mic built into the chassis. But this is worthwhile effort. Please fix this. Just please don’t add a separate jack dedicated to the microphone, lest we need to use an analog splitter (yuck!). Environmental mics, by the way, are just awful for communication purposes, not to mention an inability to record analog music competently.

  • This is well known, but the review would be incomplete without saying: please give us more cores, and if only one megahertz option is available, make it the slowest, as battery life trumps trivial performance pissing contests. Hint: Tiger Lake would be real nice and seems to be giving AMD a run for its money. Xeon would be even better if it means we get ECC memory and a mountain of cores. But I guess we’ll have to suck it up if the TDP is to damn high for good battery life.

  • The fan growls like a disgruntled cat, depending on the workload. This is somewhat unavoidable due to the wimpy CPU struggling to keep up. I was on a conference call and one of my peers asked “Who’s running the vacuum cleaner?” (It doesn’t help that there’s no mic plug, so the mic is so close to the fan.) Hopefully this will improve with lower TDP going forward. Yet another reason to support more cores at lower megahertz. It might also be improved by expansion of the heat spreader, but this is easier said than done, and might entail making more cooling slots in the chassis underside.

  • The camera suffers from lots of visual noise in addition to being only 720p. Personally, I don’t give a fck because it’s permanenently disabled, but telecommuting fanatics might.

  • The LED panel is mounted to a hinge, and the hinge is mounted to the chassis. All in all, you can milk it for 2 or 3 millimeters of play, which explains why my panel was mounted obliquely. Not the end of the world, but definitely something that needs to be done right the first time, not left to the user to unscrew and adjust.

  • Keyboard illumination is white, which is retinally offensive. Red would be far easier on the eyes, or perhaps orange if they don’t want to run afoul of EU regulations which say that red can’t be used for anything other than an alert (so I’ve heard). It leaks out of the bottom of the keys, too, which makes the problem even worse, as it lasers us in the eyes. It would be better to emulate vendors which have keys that extend deeper into the chassis, blocking the light coming directly off the LED. All we need is a little brightness just to type in the dark. In that regard, I do indeed appreciate the high/low/off options of Fn+F10; adding superlow would be nice, especially if you insist on keeping it white.

  • Keyboard layout is the most awkward I’ve ever used. To begin with, it has the 4 arrows with no “pimple”, so you never quite know where they are unless you’re particularly dextrous or look down all the time. Worse, it doesn’t even allow for the Fn+(arrow) shortcuts for Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn, let alone have dedicated keys like a proper developer-oriented keyboard. You end up having to toggle NumLock in order to use the keypad for navigation purposes. That wouldn’t be so bad, but for the fact that as soon as you want to, say, select a whole page of text (Shift-PgUp) or the rest of a line (Shift-End), the Shift ends up inverting the interpretation of NumLock, resulting in a bunch of digits. As I’ve read elsewhere on this forum, it seems like System76 has the best keyboard layout in the business. Note also their proposed keyboard real estate optimization scheme outlined in their blog. To be fair, Purism has made some effort to inquire with their user base about which layouts make the most sense, so hopefully this is soon to improve.

  • Acer, Asus, and System76 all produce plastic (and some metal) cases which actually adhere to tighter mechanical specs than Purism’s metal chassis and its slightly “negotiable” screw holes. This might be in part because the chassis is actually slightly too small, on account of the height of the heat spreader. I hope the mechanical team looks at those other laptops, or buys some used ones, for comparison. Many of them are also lighter.

  • I’m a spoiled brat for anonymity, so I’m gonna complain that the MAC address doesn’t change every time I turn on the wifi kill switch. I don’t care if I can’t choose one (because that would let me impersonate others, which is legally dubious), but please, randomize it every time automatically, ideally at as low as possible a level on the networking stack, such as in hardware. I don’t care if this forces me to reenter the router password, or if I need to flip yet another mechanical switch. It’s worth it.

  • Single-channel DRAM is slow. Doubling the number of memory lanes would be a great enhancement for the buck, even if it meant that we all had to buy 2 DIMMs.

  • I prefer touchpads with actual mouse buttons. A small majority of you don’t. Can we make it a shipping option, considering how cheap these things are?

  • Packaging could be more recyclable.

  • Smells like electronics. Not the best, but offgasses pretty well after several days. Just stand back when opening the packaging for the first time.

  • At the PureOS level, Gnome Videos is a fartpile. Fails on all manner of videos within seconds. Bad sound rendering, bad color rendering, total garbage. Please replace it with MPV if that would be acceptable under PureOS’ licensing requirements. If not, just ship with no video app because it’s so embarrassing.

  • Also in PureOS, it would be really nice if we didn’t need to reenter the password over and over again, even within the usual few minutes’ tolerance window, when installing software.

  • Would be nice to have an install option for “single-user machine”, so the drive encryption password could be reused as the user password without having to enter it twice. Apple works like this, which is one of its few advantages. If you want to change the password (which is rare if you avoid public spaces), either reinstall or don’t use this option.


  • This is a yesteryear laptop with a few mightily attractive enhancements. Starting with dumb hardware just to prove a concept does make capitalist sense. Concept proven. Time to move on.

  • Are you going to fix these issues in Librem 15v5 or Librem 16v1? Good, take my money. I’m looking forward to it.


Given that this improved in the transition from the Librem 13 to the Librem 14, you should be optimistic about this for a hypothetical Librem 16.

Seems fair.

I wouldn’t expect you to have to supply a password because of a change of MAC address because I think the password is being stored against the SSID.

Of course if you are filtering access in the wireless access point by MAC address (generally a bad idea anyway), this is going to be horrible. As such therefore such a change would have to be optional.

The best way of doing this is for the WiFi card to support changing the MAC address i.e. host supplies a new MAC address and the WiFi card uses it. Someone else would have to confirm whether the specific WiFi card in use supports that. If this works then this is just a software change and could come along later on, even retrofit to existing laptops.

Given that this improved in the transition from the Librem 13 to the Librem 14, you should be optimistic about this for a hypothetical Librem 16.

I think we covered that adequately at Touchpad buttons for enhanced security and ease of use and Touchpad buttons on Librem laptops?

Cool - unless the the movie was scary stuff in which case you and your friend could be freaking out by now. :slight_smile:

I would expect more cores in a hypothetical Librem 16. As above.

I really really wouldn’t expect either Xeon or ECC - it would do bad things for both cost and TDP / time between charges.


@kieran Yes, we discussed the track button issue before; I just felt that it deserved to be on the list because it should be considered as a shipping option.

Hopefully the plugin mic on Librem 14 will be wired to the same mechanical kill switch as the environmental mic. It’s architecturally obvious but easily forgotten.

More slow cores would indeed be lovely. More fan noise necessitated by overpowered CPUs – not so much. So I’ll take whatever I can get within a miserly TDP envelope, ECC or not. Bonus points if there’s an option to buy it with underclocked memory as poor man’s ECC.

Whoever solves the MAC problem, be it in hardware or software, would be a hero, but it can’t be a solution where the wifi powers up and in any way broadcasts its default address before later pretending to be something else. I hope Purism puts some deep thought into this. It’s a major selling point.

All in all, thanks for the detailed feedback. I’m more optimistic now about the next spin of this laptop.

I agree with most of the things. Particularly, the screen is absolutely magnificent.

The camera is not super great, though, not as crappy as the one in the Acer laptop I had before this and some other laptops I’ve used.

I find it more blue-ish. Would have preferred purple myself, but…

Nah. I kind of like the feel of the keyboard. And love how it actually has a numpad unlike many other small keyboards. And the F-buttons work as F-buttons and are not some weird media keys b default. No really glaring inconsistencies—e.g. my Asus laptop has a dedicated “home” key but not an “end”! this is so frustrating.

Another thing I like about the keyboard is that it’s easy to clean. There are no ridges (besides the outer bevel) for dirt to get stuck behind or between.

I do agree with this. Would have been nice to have this under the Fn-arrows instead of sound volume setting.

It could be more user friendly but this is possible with some network-manager deep settings. We discussed this at some point here: PureOS default hostname?
The thing is, you want to be able to set this on a per network basis, to avoid running head-first into MAC filters.

Isn’t this a direct consequence of the tamper-resistant sealing? Can have it one way or the other :smile:

@vmedea Good feedback.

Keyboard illumination with any sort of blue component is philosophically incompatible with nighttime computer use, as it destroys melatonin and inhibits sleep. So does the screen, and much moreso, but that can be managed with one of the various blue dampeners available on Linux.

Definitely, we need PgUp, PgDn, Home, and End. If there’s no space for dedicated keys, then at least Fn+(arrow). Another option is to make it so that Shift+(NumPad) doesn’t toggle the NumLock state, so you can actually have Shift+Home work as “select to start of line”, for instance, instead of reverting to “7”. Surely, there’s a software solution to that, but I have no idea how to implement it.

Thanks for the link back to the discussion about MAC manipulation via the network stack. I do think there needs to be a straightforward interface for toggling MAC randomness, be it in a mechanical switch or via the UI. Again, the software approach is tricky because it needs to happen before the MAC address can be broadcast, as could happen for a variety of reasons during startup. I don’t care if this breaks all the MAC filters out there. Let the IT people discover that it’s misguided policy.

I guess you’re right about the electronics stench. At least it goes away after a week or so. (And one could just run high workloads overnight to accelerate the proecss.) Tamper-resistance takes priority.

You could toggle the Hardware Kill Switch for WiFi during startup for preventing a similar scenario.

Ahem. If I want to use a computer overnight, I certainly do not want to fall asleep while doing so.

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TIL this is a thing at all :blush: On my (Ubuntu) desktop’s keyboard this goes only one way. When in number mode, Shift-Key selects home, arrows instead. When in arrow mode, Shift doesn’t enable numbers. On the Purism it’s as you say. Weird.

I looked around a bit and it turns out this behavior is configurable in software! (haven’t tried on the laptop yet)

Yes, you have a point, though the added complication of having to design custom WIFI hardware and firmware is a hard sell. In the long run hopefully WiFi is available as open hardware and this will be less of an obstacle. Integrating a FPGA based SDR that happens to be able to handle WiFi would be kind of badass—but is expensive and might run into regulatory issues in some countries…

Mind that everything the card actually does: enabling the antenna, scanning for available networks, connecting to a network, is initiated from software. In many network drivers it’s even the software side that takes the MAC from the card’s EEPROM and sets it.

So then the software side does have a window where a MAC can be set without chance of the original identifier leaking. But it does have to be carefully designed—which would be true for a hardware solution as well!

I understand their side as well. Even on a large home network it’s nice to be able to know what devices are active, say to be able to diagnose bandwidth issues when my boyfriend’s new game console is trying to exfiltrate terabytes of data :slightly_smiling_face:

Randomizing MAC seems to be something one’d want 1) before connecting to any network, and 2) for public networks. So having said that, maybe having it on by default isn’t a bad idea for privacy.

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Not forgotten though:

I don’t think that works. If the HKS works as advertised then the WiFi will be dead as a dodo. So you can’t send it any commands e.g. to override the MAC address. As soon as you flip the HKS, and give power to the WiFi, it could in theory leak its MAC address.

So as far as I can see, three safe options are:

  • the WiFi card has non-volatile storage for an overridden MAC address that can be rewritten many thousands of times
  • the WiFi card guarantees not to transmit anything after power on until the operating system has had a chance to configure a random MAC address - but as noone controls the firmware of the WiFi card it would be difficult to accept such a guarantee
  • the WiFi card powers up with no MAC address (let’s say 00:00:00:00:00:00) and simply doesn’t have a realistic address to leak until the operating system sets the MAC address - but the WiFi card does provide some means of at least supplying to the operating system (at least) the top three bytes of the MAC address.

I found the setting under Tweaks: Keyboard and Mouse (on PureOS Byzantium, GNOME Wayland), it’s named slightly differently now but it seems to work:


@vmedea Good find! That page you linked has all the details on how to fix the issue. Would be nice if the next PureOS spin just enabled the “Microsoft” behavior by default.

@Dwaff Don’t worry. Less bluish hues on the keyboard LEDs won’t make you fall asleep! It’s more that they won’t inhibit sleep. This is a serious issue that Apple, Android, and others have tackled pretty well.

@vmedea @kieran Thanks for bringing up all these annoying nuances around MAC initialization and randomization. This is a MAJOR privacy issue that needs attention and deep thought from Purism. I trust that they’re reading your analysis and considering the tradeoffs. Ultimately, I would think that software-defined radio would be the answer, simply because it promises to do for wifi modules what FPGAs did for ASIC design. But I realize we’re not there yet, and for the time being, prefab wifi modules are still the norm, which constrains the solution space and introduces the potential race conditions above. Random MAC by default would be so lovely.

@kieran Kudos for finding out that Librem 14 will already have my microphone wish list item. My motivation to invest in some other brand of laptop is decaying by the day.

Do note though @vmedea’s comment above that SDR for WiFi may run into regulatory issues, either now or in the future by the time “we” could get it working.

I agree, mostly, with the keyboard, fan, and memory part. As for keypad with buttons? It’s 2020, trackpad buttons went away with the physical keyboards on phones. It’s also visually horrendous; Jony Ive would be horrified. Since it’s mentioned to look at how other vendors do it, that should include the trackpad, too - which many don’t use anymore.

As for keyboard color, I’d opt for a softer blue or red for an easier transition from looking at the keyboard to the screen - since there are odd key placements. Aesthetically, orange contrasting in the dark is like a karate chop to the eyes.

I don’t mind PureOS, but I prefer another distro - which works fine. I wish I could update the BIOS without having to log into PureOS. If I have to do it from another distro, I usually have to pull the update line out of the script to run it. Otherwise, it fails for the reason “${software} isn’t installed”.

@kieran The answer to regulatory issues is to receive the laptop in a less regulated country. Of course, doing that virtually guarantees shipping interdiction (per Snowden), and I’m not totally sold on the concept that glitter nail polish is a sufficiently robust countermeasure. It’s something to consider in the context of MAC randomization. That’s why I would accept a hardcoded selection list of nonneighboring MACs as a fallback. I don’t see how that could be a problem, at all, considering that MAC ranges are assigned on a per-vendor basis. It would likely be worth Purism joining an industry consortium just for this purpose, if necessary.

@tzoi516 There are good security reasons for having trackpad buttons, mainly with regards to the elimination of misinterpreted gestures, such as dangerous middle-click-paste that can’t always be disabled, which result in unwanted behavior. I’m only proposing it as a build option, as trackpads are cheap and often interchangeable.

Potentially, yes.

Note though that my comment about regulatory issues was specifically and exclusively referring to SDR. There may be other regulatory issues with changing the MAC address - although I don’t think that is the main focus of the authorities at the current time. (I think the main focus is the IMEI.)

while testing an external usb-C (3.0) to RJ-45 (10/100/1000 ethernet NIC) addapter i had to call my ISP to be able to access the www again (when reverting to the integrated LibremMini NIC for www access)

err … let’s not jump to conclusions just yet … :sweat_smile:

@kieran That’s an important distinction, and I suspect you’re right, simply because harvesting MACs requires hacking all firmware for all routers on an ongoing basis (big boys’ club only), whereas harvesting IMEIs just requires sending Uncle Boris and his brass knuckles down to the local telecommunication company headquarters. So for fck’s sake, let’s have as much randomness as possible, provided that it still looks like a credible address from a real manufacturer. Fine by me if it’s disabled by default.

Just a side note… I discovered that the mechanical switch behavior is different for camera/mic vs. wifis. While the wifi switch will kill all wifi devices plugged in, the camera/mic switch won’t cut off a USB mic – just the onboard. I don’t consider this a design flaw, necessarily, but it’s an asymmetry to be aware of.

Yes, to be aware of.

External USB devices are fundamentally different in that you can’t really hardware kill them.

Are you sure that the WiFi switch will kill a USB WiFi device? It can be disabled in software but then so can a USB microphone.

Try opening at least a 13v3 at the corners. You can’t even get a grip despite in the middle. I for myself always acted carefully with my laptop. Never physically stressed it. Always opened in the middle. When the left hinge broke loose at the display-side i even managed to quickly stop the movement after only opening the lid for well less than 10cm. So after experiencing a broken lid myself, i can not agree with your assumption. The reason in my case were either: Increasing resistance in the hinge itself and/or weakened fixpoint in the display (plastics i assume).

But i think, it’s nothing to worry about. On one hand Purism’s support is(was for me) top notch for such a small company. On the other hand - if i remember right - Purism changed the manufacturer once problems were observed.

@kieran Yes, the wifi kill switch kills USB wifi, but the mic kill switch doesn’t kill USB mics. Obviously killing specific classes of USB devices is a software thing, so there’s a good second of latency involved. It’s weird to have this USB policy schism, but it is what it is.

@ajlok Thanks for the update. I’m glad that they’re aware of this and seem to be taking mitigation action.

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