Widespread laptop manufacturers fetish for plastics and non-glass screens

I have noticed weird things. Apple is pretty much the ONLY company, which produces full metal laptops with glass screens. All the other brands use flimsy plastics (if you push finger on keyboard region, it will bend quite a lot) and refuse to put glass in front of LCD panel (only touchscreen laptops have glass). It is ok to have bad build quality for cheap laptops, but it is not ok to have such build quality for expensive laptops. It is unacceptable for Purism to produce plastic, non-glass laptops for such premium prices [edit: Purism laptops actually are almost full metal, except the screen side of the lid and internal frame, it is plastic, for details look in responses].

If you take cheapest new Apple laptop (1000Eur) as an example, it has full unibody aluminum case (the case is milled from a single block of aluminum, which is expensive). The “cheapest” regular laptop which looks like it has full metal frame and glass is Microsoft Surface Book 3 (3100Eur). While I have maybe missed very rare exceptions, this is what I managed to find. Also keep in mind, that laptops, which claim that they have metal case only has portion of the case metal (usually it is lit, and almost never bottom). Also, why doesn’t manufacturers add glass to screen? Is glass really so expensive, that 1000+Eur laptop can’t have glass? I hate exposed LCD panels, because they are made of plastic therefor easy to scratch with keyboard, when screen is down. Also, glass gives rigidity, which mitigates horrible lid flexing, when opening/closing it.

I have not Librem laptops, but I have had several laptops from various companies over the last 9 years. Here are rough prices for these laptops: 200Eur (Acer netbook, 2013, shit), 400Eur(Acer laptop, 2015, not horrible), 550Eur(Lenovo laptop, 2017, total piece of shit), 950Eur(Asus gaming laptop, 2019, decent). All of these laptops has plastic case and no glass display. If you try to close the lid of these laptops from one corner, lid bends and puts stress on LCD panel, which becomes greens-ish is stress spots. Even the Asus laptop with metal lid has this problem. None of them had glass screens.

If Apple would not be anti-consumer (hard to repair, soldered on RAM, soldered on SSD, not enough ports), I would buy their overpriced hardware just to run GNU/Linux. And that’s coming from an Apple hater. I hate flimsy plastics and non-glass screens from bottom of my heart.

If Purism would produce metal and glass laptops, I would be willing to pay premium, just to escape plastics and non-glass screens.

OK, I get it, in general, but do not tally agree. Let me explain.

First the chassis. Having a full metal unibody design is of course nice but it also makes many things complicated and pretty expensive. Also the aluminum waste is high. We already have metal A, C and D shell, i.e. the lid, keyboard side and bottom side are full metal. Inside we have a plastic frame holding some parts plus a bunch of metal framing ṕarts holding others. This is not a metal unibody yet, but already pretty close and we are working on improving that with the factories.

Concerning the LCD and “glass” we purposefully avoided that, with good reasons. First of all we want to have a matte display, i.e. non glare. The reflections of glossy display is super annoying and most of our customers do not want that. The next reason is loss in optical quality. If you just add a glass surface on top of the LCD you will get reflections between the glass and the LCD. There is always a tiny gap between the glass and the LCD and with that you will loose a lot of contrast and brightness. The only way to get rid of that is optical bonding between the glass and the LCD. While this is possible is makes it super hard to repair a damaged LCD then, since you would also need to replace the LCD and the glass. Finally also the glass takes away some brightness of the LCD and it add significant weight - seriously the weight of a large glass like 14" is significant.

Then there are also other reasons. We also want users to be able to add things like the privacy screen filters. If you have a bezel frame and no glass on top then the privacy screen filter will sit nicely within the bezel frame, giving it a stable seating and makes it easy to attach and remove.

Finally I do not see any advantage of an additional glass surface on top of the LCD? For protection? We have now sold and shipped thousands of laptops and only very very seldomly see broken LCD. And even if then these are usually broken by external mechanical forces, e.g. dropping the whole laptop or something falling to the outside of the LCD lid (A-shell).

I hope this helps at least to understand our design decisions.



Wait, you are saying that laptop (Librem 14 version 1) outside is already metal? For me it is enough, uni-body is not mandatory. I just want to clarify some things. Is the entire screen assembly metal? You already said, that lid is metal, but what about the keyboard facing side of the lid (the side, where is webcam)?

Maybe there is an option in the future to offer customers with optional glass screen option?

The (very small) bezel frame (in the industry called B-shell) is plastic and we did this on purpose too. In the L13 and L15 we had this in metal and this had a severe problem - serviceability. You can not remove the metal bezel frame without bending it irreversibly. You would need a new bezel frame afterwards. But the LCD connector and other parts are located underneath so if one of these breaks you would also have to replace the frame. That why we now decided for a small plastic frame. Effectively this makes no real difference, it is less than 1cm thin.

The A, C and D-shell are indeed metal, i.e. outside LCD lid, keyboard side and bottom cover. This is important for us for durability,

Concerning the glass on top of the LCD, why would you want that? I honestly fail to see the necessity or advantage. I only see disadvantages (as described) and driving up cost (optical bonding is pretty expensive).



Appreciate the response around serviceability. Makes a lot of sense. One thing I do think is missing is higher-resolution screens (2K-4K).

Is there any likliehood of having a higher res screen option for the Librem 14?

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Well, ATM we have 1080p (1920x1080). Higher screen resolution is feasible but displays are hard to source, 4k in 14" is not very common and our quantities are still too low to make our own (for that you would need several 10k per year). The other problem we have been debating a lot is what to do with such resolution then? If you would stick a 4k panel into 14" you need to scale the UI in order to be able to use it. So far only integer scaling has been possible with GNOME, i.e. either 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x etc. But at 14" your are sitting a bit in the middle when 1x would be too small for 14" and 2x too big. You would need fractional scaling like 1.5x or so. So for now we not have concrete plans to get higher resolution displays but that can change in the future. Firs we want to get the L14 out of the door as-is and then work on improving it :wink:



And hopefully ‘out the door’ will be soon!!!
Are address verification emails going out in the next week or two?

We all hope for that :slight_smile: ! Sourcing consumer electronics is a total pain right now, shortages everywhere, everything takes longer and it is extremely exhausting to manage through all of that. But we are pushing super hard! Like we mentioned in the last blog post, we are still hopeful to be able to start shipping in February, so yes, these mails will come kind of soon.

We will also shortly have another blog post coming up, we are now heads down in Embedded Controller (EC) firmware development! This is the first time we do this for a laptop of ours, which is super exciting! But also a steep learning curve :slight_smile: But also super rewarding! The EC does so much stuff under the hood you, or at least I, want to get control over so this becomes this endless sea of opportunities :slight_smile: We hope to get everything together and aligned with product arrival but since it took sooo long to get first EVT samples we are far behind with that EC firmware development but trying our very best, Matt and I are hacking away, the EVT sample already boots up with LCD and keyboard working with the free EC and Coreboot. Getting there :slight_smile: Code will be shared soon…



Does this also have a positive impact on antennae placement?
In the L13/L15s I have, WiFi range is really the lowest of all devices I ever had, but I’m not sure if it’s because of the antennae / metal casing or a problem of the chip itself.


Glass gives more rigid feel. It makes the display harder and mitigates warping, when closing/opening lid. I think, that option to have it would not hurt anybody.

Oh, another thing. Is there any plans for 120hz screen? Before you say no, go to your nearest place where you can try out premium phones. Find Samsung Galaxy S20 (or S21) (or different phone with 120hz screen), then dig deep in settings and enable 120hz (smoothbrains at Samsung didn’t enable 120hz by default). Try 120hz for few minutes. Once you go 120hz, you don’t go back. It is like crack.

I have a few observations regarding laptop design. Metal cases do not automatically make laptops more durable and improve their life expectancy. The most durable laptops have plastic cases over metal frames. For example, look at the design of Thinkpad P-series with a magnesium-aluminum alloy structure frame and plastic case. In my experience, enterprise-class laptops (e.g. Lenovo Thinkpads, Dell Latitudes and HP Elitebooks) are more durable and more likely to last than Apple laptops, and they are certainly more repairable than Apple laptops.

Using CNC-milling to make cases from a block of aluminum like Apple does is a huge waste of resources and has a much higher environmental impact than using a plastic case. Making aluminum requires huge amounts of electricity (which is a problem if that energy comes from fossil fuels) and running the CNC milling machines is also very energy intensive compared to plastic manufacturing. Even if the waste from CNC milling is recycled and the case eventually gets recycled at the end of life, an aluminum case still generates significantly more CO2 than a plastic case. The general rule is that the longer an electronics device lasts, the lower its environmental impact, because roughly 80% of the total energy and total GHG emissions lie in the initial fabrication of electronics, so it is important to use electronics devices as long as possible to reduce their environmental impact.


Unlikely but maybe. The problem is more in the ATH9k side which is not the most performant, starting with the lack of 802.11ac support. But it’s the only M.2 card we currently have available that does not require a firmware at runtime.



Wouldn’t the Redpine Signals RS9116: 802.11 abgn 2.4GHz/5GHz from the Librem 5 work? Or is that not connected via m.2 on the Librem 5?

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Actually, yes, it would! Because with the L14 we very intentionally wired not just USB and PCIe to the WiFi M.2 slot but also a UART and drumroll SDIO!

But the RS9116 does not have better performance than the ATH9k.

I am evaluating another chipset but this will still take some time. But if that works we will create a new M.2 card which embeds the firmware and this chipset and these cards will then work in the L5 and the laptops and support everything we want, also 802.11ac and BT5. But again, this will still take some time and a lot of effort and money :frowning:



I gather that as we might eventually have…

Which makes the the advantage “better performance / more modern standards”, but still lacks a free firmware. Do you see any chance that a concerted effort can free up one of those things?

On a related note: On the Debian mailing list, they are currently discussing the problem of their default images not having the firmware needed to install net-installer images on WiFi-only laptops. I suggested a fundraiser to (eventually) have less of these problems, but there seems to be little enthusiasm towards freeing firmware :confused:

There is definitely enough enthusiasm: https://www.pine64.org/2020/10/28/nutcracker-challenge-blob-free-wifi-ble/. It’s just hard I guess.

I thought the RS9116 was had open source firmware available?


Ah just the drivers I guess https://source.puri.sm/Librem5/linux-next/-/merge_requests/258. Shame.

If you wanna see how great Apple products are, check out Louis Rossman’s videos on the subject on YouTube/LBRY. Apple’s so-called “unibody” is two pieces of metal glued together, with glue that goes soft when heated. Sitting right next to the hot exhaust ports. And that’s just one example in a long list of design flaws you invite when you let your people design for looks rather than function and durability.

I much prefer a plastic laptop that I can take apart and replace the individual parts of. Plastic, because unlike metal, it doesn’t easily deform permanently. It may crack when mishandled, but then you’d just replace that part and be done. With metal, when it deforms, it continually keeps applying stress to the electronics it holds. And that’s not something you want.

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