What is the difference between Purism and System76

We use System76 and Pure in our business. Both are great and both have their, how would one might say, teething issues. System76, because it ships with better resources, tends to end up in the hands of engineers whereas the Pure laptop, which is more suited for managerial positions, ends up in the hands of … you guessed it.


They are both very good companies and worth supporting. As I see it, System76 paved the way, by showing that there was a viable market for a Linux laptop company, but Purism took it a step farther in terms of using more FOSS, and now System76 is trying to catch up.

System76 is closer to the open source mentality of we like freedom, but we want functionality and performance foremost, whereas Purism is closer to the GNU free software mentality of we will give up functionality if it means compromising freedom.

System76 showed the world that people will pay extra for laptops designed around Linux, and they made nice and stylish Linux laptops for years, with a Linux key instead of a Windows key in the keyboard. They also demonstrated that a laptop maker could make their own Linux distro.

Purism set out with the goal to get to as close to 100% free software as possible and created a “freedom roadmap” to eventually get to 100% free software. Purism was the first company to design a new laptop and sell it running a FOSS BIOS (Coreboot and SeaBIOS), and it was the first to sell a laptop that disabled Intel’s Management Engine. Purism’s example has pushed System76 to do the same.

Purism worked on porting their laptops to Coreboot between mid-2015 and June 2017, and have been selling Coreboot laptops ever since. System76 was inspired by Purism’s example, and started work on porting their laptops to Coreboot in June 2018. They still don’t sell any laptops with Coreboot preinstalled, but it will likely happen in the future.

Purism announced in March 2017, that it was working on disabling the Intel ME and it announced that it had achieved it on October 17, 2017. On November 30, 2017, System76 announced that it too would disable the Intel ME. System76 also commented that it was asking Intel and AMD to make it possible to use their processors without proprietary initialization firmware, which is something that Purism set as its goal back in late 2014 when the company was founded.

Purism announced in 2017 that its Librem 5 phone would run on 100% free software and get the FSF’s Respects Your Freedom certification to prove it. Purism is one of the few hardware companies that actually works with the FSF, and respects its goals. In addition, the case and motherboard design in the Librem 5 will be open hardware.

System76 is pushing the envelop with its Linux workstation, Thelios, which uses an open hardware case and daughter card and is manufactured in the US. See:

As I see it, we need both of these companies. System76 is expanding the Linux market for people who need Linux workstations and high-performance laptops, and Purism is pushing to get to the ideal of 100% free software. Both are pushing open hardware into new areas, where it didn’t exist before. I just wish that I had the money to buy all their lovely hardware. :slight_smile:


Excellent write-up! :+1:


from the above

An open source keyboard? We’d love to make one.

https://ultimatehackingkeyboard.com/ > https://github.com/UltimateHackingKeyboard

Yep, definitely! :moneybag:

I’m quite confident no Purism staff are censoring you. Just other forum users who question why you even peruse these forums.

But for what it’s worth, I have not flagged any of your posts, despite the fact that you really come off as an extremely unpleasant person. And no, it’s not just because I disagree with you on almost everything you post.

as i see it one represents the bridge and the other the free-software land (with liberating hardware STILL on the freedom-road-map)

Ergodox, GH60. Try google them.

We use both System76 and Purism at our place of work. System76 uses Clevo for their upstream models. We have had mixed results with the quality of System76 laptops that we believe is a direct result of Clevo quality. We’re a small firm with 5 System76 laptops deployed. 2 of them have had issues related to motherboard problems.

The laptops themselves, in terms of performance, are a touch superior to the Purism laptops. I believe this is due to the generation of the underlying processor. Because System76 isn’t addressing the Intel ME issue, they are free to use faster processors.

It’s my hope that System76 will be able to free themselves from Clevo and manufacture their own laptops or have greater control of their suppliers than they do. And it’s my hope that their desktops fall under that rubric. I am rooting for both firms and wish them success.

More on Clevo if you’re interested: https://www.clevo.com.tw/clevo_prodetail.asp?id=1128&lang=en


Nearly every new Linux laptop (which isn’t a rebadged Lenovo, Dell or HP) is made by Clevo. System76 (Colorado), ZaReason (California), Station X (UK), Entroware (UK), ThinkPenguin (New Hampshire), Slimbook (Spain), VantPC (Spain) and Tuxedo Computers (Germany) all use Clevo base models. The only companies that make their own Linux laptops are Purism (California), PINE64 (China/California), Star Labs (UK) and Dell (US). Some of them used to offer MSI base models, but now it seems that they all are using Clevo.

One of the challenges with making your own laptop is the problem of getting spare parts. One of the reasons why I haven’t bought a Purism laptop is because laptops have a lot of moving parts that can fail, and Purism can’t always guarantee that it has parts to fix its old laptops. On the other hand, it allows Purism to do innovative things that other companies can’t.

On my Thinkpad T450s, I have replaced the screen, the SSD, the power adapter and the keyboard and I added RAM. The fan is starting to fail, so I’m soon going to have to replace that as well. My T410 lasted me for 5 years, and I’m hoping to get 5 years out of my T450s, because it is so easy to find cheap parts on ebay for old Thinkpads.

I really want to buy a Linux laptop when my T450s dies, but I think that I’m going to buy from ThinkPenguin, because I can get parts from https://clevoparts.com or other sources. It is definitely a trade-off between what you think is important.

For me it comes down to balancing many factors. Here is how I rank the companies:

Free software:

  1. Purism. CoreBoot preinstalled since 2017; first to disable ME; created a public petition asking Intel for CPU not requiring binary blobs; created a 100% free software distro; RYF phone with 100% free software; Liberty services based on free software to offer alternative to proprietary web services.
  2. ThinkPenguin. Uses Atheros Wi-Fi that doesn’t require binary blob; offers Trisquel without binary blobs as an option; disables the ME.
  3. PINE64. Actively collaborates with many free software projects; uses CPUs that don’t have a ME; its Allwinner A64 and Rockchip processors can be run with mostly free software.
  4. System76. Its Coreboot port is nearly complete except for the Thunderbolt port and it was the second to disable the ME. Unfortunately, it selects nVidia GPUs and Wi-Fi cards that require binary blobs.
  5. Slimbook. Recently started working on a Coreboot port. Says “GNU/Linux” and “software libre” but it also says “open source” to appeal to both camps. Unfortunately uses nVidia GPUs and Wi-Fi which require binary blobs.
  6. Tuxedo Computers. Recently started working on a Coreboot port.

Open hardware:

  1. Purism. GPL 3.0+ license for the Librem 5 circuit board; its SPC charter requires it to release the hardware schematics that it creates under a free license.
  2. System76. Free license for its Thelios case and daughter card.
  3. PINE64. Publishes the schematics in PDF, but without a free license.

Environment / Longevity

  1. Dell Precision. Sells parts for 5+ years and ebay has parts; provides public service manuals; designed for repairability. Free recycling in the US and Europe.
  2. PINE64. Sells parts for the PineBook on its web site and designed for easy disassembly, but no recycling policy on web site.
  3. System76 offers service manuals and free recycling in the continental US and some models have option for extending battery lifespan by limiting charge capacity. Doesn’t publicly sell replacement parts, although may sell if contacted privately.
  4. Clevo laptops in Europe. Parts available from many sources, but most Linux companies do not publicly sell parts, although they may if privately contacted. Free recycling required by European regulations.
  5. ThinkPenguin. No recycling policy on web site. Doesn’t sell parts on its web site, but will sell parts if contacted privately. Clevo parts can be obtained from other sources.
  6. Purism. No recycling policy on web site. No public service manuals, but easy to disassemble and repair. No public selling of replacement parts. Will sell replacement parts if contacted privately, but often doesn’t have parts for older models.
  7. Dell XPS. Sealed case and non-replaceable battery. Free recycling. Strongly recommended to not buy because not designed for repairability.

Note: Recycling is important because it gets rid of toxic e-waste, but it does little to lower the environmental impact of computers, so I rank it as less important than repairability and upgradeability, because these help extend lifespan, which is the most important thing for the environment.


Does this count as public service manual?

I don’t know if the replacement parts are really a big issue. I understand why they don’t offer them publicly as that is a big additional logistic load.

But I assume that whenever they send out a replacement laptop they should receive on with spare parts in return.

If they can’t offer a replacement part, it would be nice to be offered a new model at a big discount in exchange for the broken machine, so they have parts for the next one to ask.

I guess that sort of counts as a service manual. I would like to see instructions for how to replace the screen, since that often isn’t obvious.

I seem to always have something break. Let me use my Thinkpad T450s as an example:

  1. After one year, the Down key stopped working, so I had to replace the keyboard. I decided to replace the screen with an 1080x1920 IPS screen and upgrade to 12GB of RAM.
  2. After two years, I broke the power cord connector.
  3. After 2.5 years, I accidentally spilled water on the keyboard which would have fried the motherboard on a normal laptop, but Thinkpads are designed to handle that. I also recall the laptop flipping off the top of my desk and landing in a way that would have cracked the screen on a normal laptop, so the MIL-STD-810G standard does matter.
  4. After three years, the HDD died, so I upgraded to an SSD
  5. After four years, the fan is now dying.

If I had bought something like the MS Surface that doesn’t allow anything to be replaced, then I would have been forced to throw it out after 1 year, so that does make a big difference. Spilled water often fries a motherboard, and I don’t know if Purism sells them and whether the price is reasonable. I know that I can get replacement motherboards for Thinkpads on eBay for a price that it makes sense to replace the motherboard rather than buy a whole new laptop. It would be interesting to ask Purism if it has replacement fans for the laptops that it sold in 2015.

I’m curious to know whether it is possible to get replacement motherboards and fans for Clevo models that were sold 4-5 years ago. Dell, Lenovo and HP offer 5 year support contracts for their enterprise laptops, so they have to stock the parts, and I’m guessing that those same OEMs that make their parts also sell them to other groups, because I can find new replacement parts on eBay. From an environmental perspective, an enterprise laptop (Thinkpad, Latitude, Precision or EliteBook) is the best option.

Hearing you talk about Thinkpads so much makes me depressed. When IBM owned them they were a beacon of hope in the tech industry. After Lenovo bought them things looked good for a while, but I’ve seen improvement upon improvement, and I’m not quite the namesake is being milked and that is it.

Still I have a x220t and x230 that are both still going strong. I bought the x220t in 2011 and it still work without any problems. Got the x230 in 2014 and have used it nearly ever day without any problems.

I originally got the LIbrem because it was US ‘made’, supported replacing the battery, and was made to be serviceable.

If Lenovo didn’t have security issues with the US government occasionally, and if they didn’t keep cheapening the hardware of thinkpads, I’d probably never would have bought any other brand.

Make me sad too, while I use my x201. Been shopping around for a new lightweight machine. The X1 carbon caught my attention, but the price point for 16 GB was giving me pause. Thinking about the Librem 13, but curious about how portable it really is, and debating the import costs.

I think it’s worth also mentioning R&J Technology as a good supplier of Clevo laptops. They aren’t explicitly linux, but they are the only SI I’ve found to let you customize basically everything. You can actually get the laptop without an OS, or even without a drive preinstalled if you are migrating an existing install.
For coreboot, you have to pick through their list of hardware to make sure it all will work, so not as newbie friendly as System76 will be. Major downside is disabling the ME requires a flash writer.

IIRC, their laptops are actually about $100 cheaper than identical Windows laptops, unless I am confusing them with another company.

Nope, System76 definitely sells more expensive laptops. Take their Darter, for example. The closest Windows laptop I could find is the HP ProBook 450 G6, which is $335 cheaper with the same processor, the same RAM, and more SSD storage.

I’m talking about almost exactly the same; a while ago, I saw a laptop with the same case as the Serval, but with Windows and $100 more expensive. I’m having trouble finding it, so maybe I’m confusing it with this, but I’m pretty sure I saw it somewhere…

technically you are correct, the companies officially selling linux laptops in addition to windows laptops (Dell and either acer or asus once was offering that) they usually sell linux option cheaper (discounted onto cost of OEM license - cca $20-30).
But yes those focusing on linux only are usually more expensive with identical windows specs.

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I prefer smaller IPS screens. Any good experience with this ones:
11.6-inch Star Lite Mk II (Intel® Pentium® N4200): https://starlabs.systems/pages/star-lite
13.3-inch Star LabTop Mk III (Intel® Core™ i7-8550u): https://starlabs.systems/pages/star-labtop