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This freedom-loving laptop discovered how to make Intel CPUs boot without closed firmware

Gordon Mah Ung | Dec. 19, 2014
You may be rolling an obscure flavor of Linux on your new laptop and sporting a Free Software Foundation bumper sticker on your bio-diesel powered V-Dub, but chances are your laptop isn't really that "free," thanks to closed firmware binaries hidden deep inside hardware itself.

Changes in design, but not in ideology

Purism has already made changes to its original crowdfunded design from just a month ago by jettisoning the Nvidia discrete graphics for Intel's Iris Pro graphics. This decision was made because QubesOS developers wanted a particular CPU with VT-d and VT-x visualization, which wouldn't work with discrete graphics in a hybrid mode. Weaver also said using an Nvdia graphics chip would require another closed binary which would also be a step backward for the freedom-obsessed laptop.

The LIbrem 15 now also offers an option to buy a 4K resolution panel as an upgrade.

Many have dinged the LIbrem 15 for being overly expensive compared to an off the shelf laptop but Weaver defended the pricing. He said the project doesn't have the scale of a Dell or Lenovo to get prices lower and its a minor miracle they could negotiate manufacturing for such a small number of laptops with factories that are used to cranking out orders magnitudes larger. That in turn has driven prices up but it has given them the ability to ask the motherboard manufacturer to also set the CPUs to run unsigned binaries. 

The Librem 15 was originally intended to have its crowdfunded round close in December, but Weaver said it may be extended to the end of January, which was the original timeline. He said he doesn't believe funding for the Librem 15 should be an issue as most crowdfunding backers climb aboard at the end.

Why this matters

For regular citizens happily rolling a Microsoft or Apple OS that they have faith in, it doesn't matter one bit. But for those who truly want to be able to see as much code as possible on their computer it's a big step forward. Even if the Librem 15 doesn't get full funding, the discovery that proprietary firmware isn't necessarily mandatory on a laptop should open the way for future open laptop designs.


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