Linux

Fine-tune a System76 Leopard Extreme to meet your needs

Jack Wallen spent months considering how to replace his desktop workhorse, and he finally purchased a System76 Leopard Extreme. Find out how he fine-tuned the system to perfectly meet his needs.

system76_logo.png
System76, a company in league with open source, sold me the single most powerful and elegant desktop PC I have ever had the privilege of using.

The Leopard Extreme arrived in a sizable box (Figure A), with System76 emblazoned on the side. When I unboxed the machine, I was presented with impeccably clean lines and an immaculate internal layout. At first blush, I would say this is how the designers of Apple would build a Linux-based desktop machine -- it's that clean and precise.

Figure A

Figure A
  
Stealth cat not included.

I mentioned that it was powerful, but let's take a look at some information that end users can wrap their brains around:

  • 10 second boot time
  • Apps open instantly (almost before your finger releases the mouse button)
  • No matter what you throw at the machine, it doesn't slow down
  • Unity actions and animations are smoother than I've ever seen
  • Converting large Audacity (.aup) files to .mp3 takes seconds
  • Rendering OpenShot video files takes half the time it did with my previous machine (Lenovo Idea Center i5 with 16 GB of RAM)
  • Audio is perfect (although I still employ my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 external sound device for more flexible audio input)

I ordered the machine with a 120 GB SSD. I knew right away that I was going to have to add in standard drives for data. When I shut down the machine and opened the case, I was shocked to find out how incredibly easy it was to add those drives. I simply followed these steps:

  1. Screw in posts to the sides of drives (included in mount/cable kit)
  2. Slide SATA drives into bay
  3. Slide retaining bar up

That's it. After booting the machine, the drives were listed in the Unity Launcher and ready for use (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B
The Leopard in action.

“Butter fs”

Although writing data to those SATA drives isn't nearly as fast as writing data to the SSD, the performance was still remarkable (even when recording very large audio files to to the SATA disks). Eventually I would like to replace those SATA drives with SSDs -- but replacing three terabytes of storage would be quite the costly endeavor. For the time being, I'm good with SATA data drives.

During the boot up process, I did notice System76 opted for the btrfs (pronounced “butter fs”) file system. This is a very wise choice, as btrfs is optimized for SSD drives by default. If the file system doesn't detect the presence of rotating drives, the optimizations are put into place. I spoke with an engineer from System76 who said:

“Optimizations for the SSD are actually handled within the OS and the file system. We have seen with some large file uses where it may be necessary to manually do a trim operation (like through a cron job), but most day-to-day tasks do not require anything additional.”

By “large files,” the tech was referring to single files in excess of 80 GB. To that end, I left the system as-is. I did, however, opt to reformat both HDs to the btrfs file system for consistency across the SSD and SATA drives. The reformatting was handled, thanks to Gparted.

Ubuntu One size issue

There was one issue that I had to figure out how to overcome. The combination of the small(ish) SSD as the main drive and Ubuntu One could eventually cause problems. I purchased extra space for my Ubuntu One account (I currently have 25 GB). I'm only using roughly 53% of that account, but that's still over 12 GB. At some point, that 25 GB could become an issue as the primary drive drive fills up. For that, I had to move the Ubuntu One directory that lives in /home/USERNAME (where USERNAME is the name of the user). I decided the best location for this directory was on one of the SATA data drives. Here's how I did it:

  1. Open up /etc/xdg/ubuntuone/syncdaemon.conf in a text editor (needs root permissions)
  2. Comment out the line: root_dir.default = ~/Ubuntu One (place a “#” character at the beginning of the line)
  3. Copy the syncdaemon.con file to ~/.config/ubuntuone/
  4. Change the owner of the newly copied syncdaemon file with the command: sudo chown USERNAME.USERNAME ~/.config/ubuntone/syncdaemon.conf
  5. Open ~/.config/ubuntuone/syncdaemon.conf in a text editor (does NOT need root permission)
  6. Uncomment the line root_dir.default = ~/Ubuntu One
  7. Change the newly uncommented line to root_dir.default = /DESIRED/PATH (where /DESIRED/PATH is the exact location needed -- in my case /media/jlwallen/DATA/UbuntuOne)
  8. Log out of Unity
  9. Log back in

You should now have your Ubuntu One default folder out of your /home/ directory. Space saved and disaster averted!

My next goal was to change the default locations within Nautilus, because it did me little good to have shortcuts within the Nautilus file browser that point to unused locations. Also, the “Most Recent” folder was no longer in use, but I'm a big fan of that particular feature and wanted it back. To change those default locations, I followed the steps below:

  1. Open the ~/.config/user-dirs.dirs
  2. Change each of the XDG_ directory entry to reflect your needs (Figure C)
  3. Save the file
  4. Restart Nautilus with the command: nautilus -q

Figure C

Figure C
How to edit the default directories configuration.

I've been using the Leopard Extreme now for a couple of weeks. The performance and the customer support still blows my mind. After this experience, I can't believe I hesitated, even for a second, to make a purchase from System76. You can be sure that I'll be making all of my future PC purchases from this well-run, open source supporting company. Unboxing a desktop computer and having it immediately boot into Linux is a treat for someone who has been watching the ebbs and flows of Linux for nearly two decades. It is my hope, in the next few years, that more people will be turning to companies like System76 for their PC purchases.

Bravo System76 for delivering beyond my expectations! I look forward to getting a lot of years out of this machine. When the Leopard Extreme finally gives up the ghost, I won't hesitate to replace it with whatever “beast” you have ready to purchase. 

Have you purchased from System76 or another open source supporting company? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.


About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

7 comments
Cicuta2011
Cicuta2011

Build your own PC and you won't have any problems...If you know what you are doing; if not, it is time for you to learn, after all...PCs have been around for more than 30 years.

moyashi
moyashi

I read somewhere that you like Bodhi Linux; is that what we see in the screenshot, or is it vanilla Ubuntu?

ssalter
ssalter

I got a darter laptop from system76 five years ago - a fine machine then and still fine! Best customer service, too, with all my inquiries handled promptly and thoroughly. I am finally getting ready to replace it - of course with another System76 product!!

James Stevenson
James Stevenson

We need more Linux computer vendors. This could take off, especially if Canonical eventually releases Ubuntu touch. I installed Xubuntu not too long ago and love it. I have it on an old WinXP machine and on my laptop. I wish more people tried it and took the plunge. I guess it's the fear of change.

pmuhly
pmuhly

I'm a big fan of System 76, too.  Great support! I'm not a noobe, but I am certainly not expert with Linux.  Nevertheless, I much prefer Linux to Microsoft and Apple. The staff at System 76 are very understanding of my limitations and are extremely patient. I own a Leopard Extreme and it is fantastic!  It is the best desktop I have ever had.

herrstiefel
herrstiefel

Anyone have experience with laptops from System76? I'm considering the Galago UltraPro, but I'm curious about case size relative to other 14.1" laptops. I currently own an HP dm4 14", and I'd like to keep that sizing.

Randy.earl
Randy.earl

Eleven months ago I finally broke down and replaced my decade old desktop with a Wild Dog Performance from System 76.  While not the 'beast' you got (I couldn't afford that level of performance), I'm very pleased with the performance from my Wild Dog.  I would willingly speak volumes on the joy of being able to supporting open source with my purchasing dollars.  However, to keep it brief, what I wanted to mention here is the customer service.  Just a few weeks ago I started experiencing boot problems and contacted system76 - we diagnosed that one of my RAM cards failed.  They sent a replacement under warranty free of charge.  Of the many reasons I chose to purchase from System76 this time customer service was top of the list, precisely because my most recent desktop purchase prior to this (for my sister, not the above desktop a decade ago) was a customer service nightmare.  I bought from a major vendor (name starts with a D...) and it arrived with a faulty drive controller.  Getting that resolved took hours on the phone, escalation to supervisors, begging, threats and resulted in my swearing never to buy from that vendor again.  They lost a customer who had bought four machines from them over the years.  All that pain aside, I'm happy that it resulted in my finding and purchasing from System76 - I plan to be a loyal customer to them for many years to come and can't wait until my laptop dies so I have an excuse to make another purchase from them.

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