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


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

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
  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
  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

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.