My 100% free computers


Even with a free operating system such as GNU/Linux most everyday computers still require proprietary software to function properly. Because this is usually required for things such as GPUs and Wi-Fi cards that people want to use, most GNU/Linux distributions ship with this proprietary software included.

In order to exclusively run free software you will have to make sure that all of your hardware works without proprietary software. This is more than just ensuring compatibility with free operating systems and drivers, but includes running free BIOS firmware and CPU microcode as well. With all of this taken into account the choice of hardware becomes very limited.

In most cases hardware that is compatible with free software is not the latest and newest hardware available. If the original manufacturer did not release specifications of the hardware this means that the hardware will have to be reverse engineered, which can take a long time. This means that if you want to use 100% free software like me, you’ll have to settle with some older (but still good) hardware.

The Free Software Foundation runs a “Respects Your Freedom” certification program. The companies listed here go out of their way to create free software compatible hardware. All the hardware used for Jiyu Software is RYF certified or is similar to RYF certified hardware.

Lenovo Thinkpad X200

My Thinkpad X200

For most of my everyday computer tasks I use a Lenovo Thinkpad X200 from 2008. At the time it was a top of the line portable workstation, with a list price of €1200 to €1800 depending on your configuration. Today in the year 2021 this is not a very impressive machine but it is still capable of doing everything most people expect a computer to be able to do, such as running a web browser and instant messaging.

The small 12 inch size makes this machine still very nice to carry around and with a fully charged battery it will last about 5 to 6 hours without a power source. The only thing missing for some people on this machine is a touchpad, but I prefer using the TrackPoint anyway.

Personally I’ve had quite a history with this particular machine. Hardware like this usually ends up being sold online as “refurbished” for a very low price when they are written off by other companies after 4 to 8 years of use. I managed to pick this one up for only €100 in 2014 and I’ve used the machine ever since. Probably the best barkie I’ve spent in my life.

Today the machine is quite a bit different than when I first got it. I’ve upgraded the memory to the maximum size of 8 GB and swapped the 160 GB hard disk for a 250 GB solid state drive. I had to replace the default Intel WiFi card with a free software compatible one from Atheros. I’ve upgraded the battery to a brand new 9 cell unit and I’ve also replaced the screen because the backlight broke after about 11 years of use.

Most of the reason I’m still using this 13 year old laptop today is because it is part of the last series of laptops using a Intel Core2Duo based chipset. Newer Intel chipsets are not (yet) capable of running free boot firmware such as Libreboot.

Because of the limited capabilities of this machine I don’t run a whole lot more than just a web browser on this machine. I make sure I can do everything including software development from inside my browser using a web based development environments. Most of the computing I do on this machine is actually being done by my server, which is coming up next.

The powerhouse

The server

The real backbone of Jiyu Software is sitting right here in the corner of my living room, my server. Currently this machine is running 2 Pleroma instances, Jitsi, a VPN, a fileserver, my development environments, software builds and many other things. Everything my X200 can’t do efficiently is offloaded to this machine. The blog you’re reading right now is also hosted on this machine.

The server

This server uses a RYF-certified Asus KCMA-D8 motherboard supplied by Vikings. This motherboard has support for dualsocket AMD Opteron 4248 CPUs giving me a total of 16 physical cores.

Getting all the parts together and building this computer was an interesting journey. You can read more about the server here.