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Tech For Everyone #6: All System76, All The Time

Tech For Everyone #6: All System76, All The Time
By Jason Evangelho • Issue #6 • View online
IMPORTANT: Earlier you somehow received a very broken, very early draft of the newsletter. I apologize for that. I’m still not sure how it happened, and I regret the mistake since it was probably frustrating to read. Let’s try again, shall we?
AHEM. Once more, with feeling!
# # #
Do you get WAY too excited about stuff like fan curves on laptops? Do you find comfort in having total control over your CPU temps and power profiles? Do you find interviews with hardware engineers ridiculously compelling, especially when they can make what they’re talking about easy to understand? 
Do you also love System76 with all their cool robots and poems about keyboards?
Then this issue of Tech For Everyone is here for you. 
(I’m also here for you – on Twitter and Mastodon. Or you can just hit the Reply button on this email!)

Someone shared this meme with me today. First time I’d seen it! I’ll admit, it made me laugh out loud until I realized a few seconds later that it’s perpetuating a myth about modern-day Linux that people shouldn’t believe:
Linux has seriously evolved over the past two years, folks. Installing Nvidia’s graphics driver is easier on Linux than it is on Windows. Yes, it’s easier! 
If you decide to use the increasingly-adored Pop OS from System76, for example, the Nvidia graphics driver is active and working even during the installation of the operating system! 
If you prefer Ubuntu, installing the proprietary Nvidia driver involves literally one click. 
Many popular Linux distributions like Manjaro can auto-detect and auto-install the driver with little to no user interaction required. 
There’s no hunting for the right version on, no registration or login requirements, no hassles. 
Modern Linux distributions are also starting to deal with hybrid graphics laptops (that’s Intel CPU + Nvidia GPU) more elegantly, too. 
This needed to be said. Thanks for indulging me! 
In the last issue I pointed out Intel’s awkward Anti-Apple campaign with former Mac spokesperson Justin Long. Well, you certainly had opinions on that! Here are some of my favorite responses.
Jerry Morrison
@killyourfm It is so cringey and out of touch. It really is desperation at this point. AMD is surpassing them as the CPU of choice for most HEDT users. Apple has been making high powered chips that beat Intel for years now. They were just in phones and tablets.
Adam Jones
@killyourfm I've never seen anything so out of touch
Michael Staggs
@killyourfm @intel Intel iGPUs are the consolation prize of graphics. We know you didn't win a real GPU, so we're going to leave you with this small parting gift to try and keep you from jumping off a bridge on the way home, because that would be bad publicity....
In which the Chuck Norris of Linux explains what your laptop is actually doing when you toggle that power mode on your laptop. Let’s get nerdy!
System76 Badass Engineer (not official title) Jeremy Soller
System76 Badass Engineer (not official title) Jeremy Soller
System76 is a Colorado-based company that makes Linux-first desktops and laptops. I’ve never heard an interview with anyone there that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. 
Maybe I’m biased since I’ve hosted two interviews with them (check out the LINK LOVE section at the bottom of this newsletter for those). 
Well, this morning I listened to a new interview. I didn’t host this one, but kinda wish I had. 
It comes courtesy of the excellent new podcast “How The Saasage Is Made.” And it features the Chuck Norris of Linux, Mr. Jeremy Soller (follow him on Twitter here). He’s an engineer at System76, and the guy is a genius. 
By the time I was midway through this conversation, I was so pumped about Pop OS and Linux in general, I had a feeling I’d be banging out at least 800 words about it. 
If you’ve used Pop OS before, or really almost any Windows laptop, you’ve seen various power modes you can switch between. Normally they’re called something like “Balanced,” “Battery-Saving,” and “High-Performance.” 
Sure, the names imply the end result, but what’s actually happening behind the scenes? In the interview, Jeremy Soller delivers the knowledge, and I was pretty enthralled by all of it. 
So, if we look at the latest System76 Lemur Pro, for example: “the way a system heats up is controlled entirely by the Intel CPU’s power levels,” says Soller. 
I played with the Lemur Pro in this video
I played with the Lemur Pro in this video
You probably already know that the 3 Pop OS Power Modes (Battery Life, Balanced and High Performance) adjust those power levels. And that affects the laptop’s heat output, which in turn affects how the fans operate. But each mode is also controlling the maximum temperatures that are allowed before those fans start spinning, and how fast they spin to control temps. 
It’s quite a complicated little dance.
“When you’re in battery mode, it reduces the throttling point for the CPU, as well as the power limit for the CPU,“ he says.
In this power-saving mode, the power limit gets cut in half, from 20W to 10W for the long-term power limit. And the short-term power limit goes from 30W to 20W.” This means the Intel CPU can still go into its “Boost Mode” and deliver immediate performance and higher clock speeds, only when that’s needed. 
Another component that’s part of this power, cooling, and temperature puzzle is something called TCC. That stands for Thermal Control Circuit. Ordinarily, that is set at 88 degrees Celsius, but switching that desktop toggle to Power Saving sets this at 70 degrees Celsius. 
“When that happens, the fan does not have to act at all. Battery Mode ought to be completely fanless on the Lemur Pro,” Soller explains.
Did you know that there’s an upper level of the laptop’s fan curve that you can’t even access until you activate High-Performance mode? 
This certainly changes with the hardware, but on the Lemur Pro, the fan normally won’t go higher than 65%. “High-Performance Mode changes the TCC so it’s set at 95C,” Soller says. “So the CPU can get really hot! Additionally, it raises the long-term power limit of the CPU to 25W, and to 40W for the short-term power limit.” 
How does that translate to performance though? System76 measured a CPU performance boost of 18%
“But the chassis heats up!” Soller warns. So you won’t want to have the system on your lap, and you will want to have it plugged into the wall. And you’ll need to accept those fans will be working hard. 
So High-Performance mode is ideal for sustained workloads such as encoding a video or perhaps compiling a new software build or kernel. 
#TheMoreYouKnow, right?
I encourage you to listen to the entire interview because it’s educational and entertaining from start to finish.
Here’s some news you may not know about…
In the future, System76 will be introducing user-selectable fan modes into Pop OS. So in addition to those 3 power mode choices, we can look forward to 2 brand new fan modes: COOL and QUIET. 
Soller explains that the “Cool” mode will keep the chassis cool to the touch, by running the fans at slightly higher RPMs at lower CPU temperatures. “Quiet” mode will do the opposite for times when silence is paramount: the fans won’t spin up even at higher temperatures (within reason of course – System76 understands that no one wants to fry their hardware). 
“Having those two toggles lets somebody choose ‘Do I want to optimize for never having the fan turn on?’ When it’s on the desk, you may want to do that. ‘Or do I want to optimize for the chassis being cool?’ 
In a nutshell: mix and match to make the laptop more comfortable for what you’re doing. Just an extension of what Linux excels at, which is giving people an abundance of choice!
Might as well keep the theme going, right? Here’s more System76 stuff to consume or bookmark for later. 
The System76 Guide to Gaming on Pop!_OS
Linux For Everyone: The System76 Superfan Special
Yes, her actual title IS "Happiness Engineer." My conversation with Emma at System76
Yes, her actual title IS "Happiness Engineer." My conversation with Emma at System76
Story Time!
Story Time!
This weekend I’ll be sending you a very short email with a very easy question. Your answers will help shape the future of this newsletter. Be on the lookout for it! 
If you’re enjoying this newsletter, sharing it with a friend who also loves tech and Linux stuff is easy as forwarding this email. 
Have a terrific weekend, and until we chat again, take care of each other!
Did you enjoy this issue?
Jason Evangelho

Linux, gaming and tech conversations for everyday people. Delivered to your inbox with a heavy dose of storytelling and fun!

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