System76 unleashes another beast of a desktop

System76's Thelio desktop computer that is fully open source, a work of art, and seriously powerful. Jack Wallen shares the details.

System76 unleashes another beast of a desktop

Remember the day when the desktop ruled the PC marketplace? Even better, remember when desktops were built to be upgraded and expanded? Being of a certain age, I certainly remember those days. I also remember that wonderful period (between the late '90s and early 2000s) when building your own computer was a badge of honor. You'd hand-pick every component and create a machine that wasn't designed for near-immediate obsolescence.

In today's market, that's a bit of a challenge. Instead of finding a machine that can be easily upgraded as needed, you have to buy the machine you need for tomorrow (instead of today).

Leave it to a company like System76 to make us all feel like we've gone back to a more DIY-inclined time, with a seriously open source twist.

SEE: Computer hardware depreciation calculator (Tech Pro Research)

Redundant much?

Wait, doesn't System76 already produce hardware that runs open source like a boss? Why yes, they do. So isn't creating such a computer a bit redundant? Not this time. With this new machine, System76 has truly upped their game. The machine in question is the Thelio. What makes the Thelio special? The company has this to say about the machine:

"Thelio Systems are designed to be easily expandable, making personalizing the computer a tantalizingly easy process. Slip in drives, add memory, and upgrade graphics cards at will. Additionally, the open hardware design that Thelio is built upon allows the user to easily learn how their computer works and make modifications using this information. Customization is simple to ensure that the computer encompasses people's needs, as well as their personality."

On top of being easily expandable, these machines are an aesthetic work of art (Figure A) and can be decked out to meet serious demands.

Figure A

Figure A

The Thelio is a finely crafted machine.

But what makes the Thelio truly special is its open source nature. All three version of the machine (Thelio, Thelio Major, Thelio Massive), as well as the Thelio Io, are OSHWA certified open source hardware (Licensed under GPL v3 and CC-BY-SA). All files for the Thelio are hosted on GitHub, which means anyone can learn from what System76 has created, and adapt, improve, and make derivatives inspired by the Thelio design.

Made in America

Some time ago, System76 made the choice to move away from outsourcing hardware creation. Theolio brings that idea to fruition. To achieve that goal, System76 built a factory in Denver, Colo., (where their headquarters resides). That factory is helping to make the Thelio a reality. Even with that factory in place, not every component is actually made in the USA. The motherboard, memory, and drives are outsourced to other countries, but everything else is built inside the new factory. One particular component System76 builds in-house is the Thelio Io daughterboard (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

The Thelio Io daughterboard.

This component is critical to the performance of the Thelio. According to System76, the Thelio Io,

" a System76 designed chassis controller and hard drive backplane that moves proprietary functionality from the mainboard to the open source Thelio Io daughterboard. Moving chassis and thermal control to Thelio Io enables far more granular performance optimization. Motherboard data, fan speed, and GPU and OS data are used to coordinate optimal airflow."

You'd be hard-pressed to find a consumer-grade desktop computer that has enjoyed this much focus on performance and optimization.

Customize it

Like every System76 machine, you can customize the Thelio to meet your needs. Whether you need a base model (the Thelio) or a massively overpowered beast to far exceed anything you can toss at it (the Thelio Massive), System76 has you covered. Of course, with power comes a price--and the Thelio line isn't cheap. The three model specs look like:

  • Thelio (Up to 32GB RAM, 24TB storage)
  • Thelio Major (Up to 128GB RAM, 46TB storage)
  • Thelio Massive (Up to 768GB of ECC Memory, 86TB storage)

The Thelio can be configured with up to 32GB of RAM and 24TB of storage, while the Thelio Massive can handle an incredible 768GB of RAM and 86TB of storage.

What would that cost you? The base model Thelio starts at $1,099, which isn't bad, by today's standards. However, if you maxed out the Thelio Massive, you'd spend a jaw-dropping $77,780. Look out, Apple, that $13,000 dollar iMac Pro now looks like dollar store PC.

Anyone ready to take out a second mortgage on their home?

Don't worry, you can configure a very respectable Thelio for about the same price you would have paid for a Leopard Extreme desktop, which was my daily driver for the last five years. Before that Leopard Extreme finally goes the way of the dinosaur, I certainly plan on biting the bullet and speccing out a Thelio. Why? Because not only do I have a real respect for what System76 is doing, but I trust them. I've worked with a lot of their hardware and have yet to be disappointed. Given how much time and effort the company put into developing the Thelio, I can only imagine it will raise the already high bar System76 has set for itself.

You can pre-order your Thelio system today, but don't expect it to ship until sometime in late December.

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Image: Jack Wallen