Meet the New Linux Desktop Champion: System76 Thelio


The American dream has driven millions upon millions of people to come to a country filled with possibility and opportunity. Sometimes, you get caught up in the gears of enterprise and learn that the machinations of big business tend to run counter to that dream. But, sometimes, you start a company on an ideal and cling to that initial spark no matter what.

That’s what Carl Richell did when he created System76. That was more than a decade ago, when the company’s goal was to sell computer hardware running open source operating systems. System76 has been a bastion of hope for Linux and open source fans, as they’ve proved, year after year, that the dream can be fulfilled, that Linux can be sold on the desktop and laptop space.

The launch of the game-changing System76 Thelio only solidifies this open source dream. CEO Carl Richell oozes the open source ethos, and that ideology comes through, to perfection, in their latest offering, the Thelio desktop, a machine as beautiful in design as it is in execution. The Thelio was created, from the ground up, to offer as much open hardware as possible, while delivering a beast of a computer, housed in a chassis that is equal parts form and  function. Every detail (from the planetary alignment, marking the date System76 was formed, to the design of the fan output grill, and the ease with which the machine can be upgraded) has been executed to perfection. The Thelio is a hand-crafted computer that any user would be thrilled to own.

What Makes the Thelio So Special?

The easy answer to that question is “everything,” but that serves no purpose, especially for those considering dropping the coin for this desktop beauty. So wherein lies the answer? There are so many ways this new machine exceeds all other desktop computers I’ve seen (which is impressive, considering my daily driver for the last five years has been the—no longer available—System76 Leopard Extreme, which has been truly amazing).

While getting the grand tour of the new System76 headquarters, I was privy to the official Thelio “dog and pony show,” which solidified my assumptions about the company and what they have been and are doing. I was able to watch engineer Ian Santopietro demonstrate how they’ve designed the Thelio in such a way as to optimize air flow through the chassis, so the CPU is capable of running at its listed speed (see video).

Video 1: Air flow has been optimized for the Thelio.

With so many other desktop computers, the listed speed of a CPU is often negated by poorly designed cooling systems and airflows, rendering them incapable of running to spec. The Thelio blows this issue out of the water (or, better yet, out of the back cooling vent). Watching smoke flow through the device was impressive, especially considering how hush-quiet the machine was (with all cores being pushed to the max).

Figure 1: Extra screws are always at the ready.

The ease at which the machine can be upgraded is equally impressive. With a hot-swappable drive-bay that is easily accessible, the Thelio is an upgraders dream come true. And with highly refined tolerances, you can trust that chassis will come apart and slip back together with ease. System76 has added a number of touches most other companies wouldn’t even consider. Take, for instance, the spare drive bolts housed conveniently inside the case (Figure 1). No more will you have to scramble to find that small bag of screws you tossed aside when you unboxed the computer. When you go to add a new drive, you have plenty of screws waiting to be used. A nice touch, for sure.

Those curious about the System76 open source claims for the Thelio can download the files for the chassis, as well as the Thelio Io Daughterboard (Figure 2, from GitHub).

Figure 2: The Thelio Io daughterboard.

The Io daughterboard offloads control of the cooling, the passing of data from the motherboard to the storage drives, the power switch, the USB system, and more. This means System76 is able to better control how these systems function (it also means users can benefit from the open source nature of that particular piece of hardware).

The Operating System

As with all of the System76 machines, you can purchase the Thelio with one of the following options:

  • Pop!_OS 18.04 LTS

  • POP!_OS 18.10

  • Ubuntu 18.04 LTS

I would suggest, however, purchasing the hardware with System76’s own POP!_OS, as it offers more control over, and has been optimized for, the Thelio. Although POP!_OS is designed with creators in mind (i.e. developers), one does not have to be a developer to use the OS. In fact, System76’s version of Linux is a general-purpose operating system, only with a few tweaks and inclusions for creators. No matter which operating system you choose, you can be sure to enjoy an unrivaled experience with the Thelio.


To say the Thelio is impressive is an understatement. This is a machine that could easily be mistaken for something produced by a much, much larger company. But make no mistake about it, few large companies put this level of care and heart into the design and execution of a computer desktop. If you’re looking to purchase one of the most impressive pieces of desktop hardware to date, look no further than System76’s new Thelio.