The Purism Librem 13 is a 13" laptop that's similar to the Macbook Air but slightly heavier and thicker, from what I understand. I have the v4 means it's the fourth hardware version of the device. This is the latest incarnation of the angela node.

  1. purism-librem13v4
  2. Specifications
    1. Semi-standard power connector
    2. Good monitor
    3. Liberated boot
    4. Excellent Linux support
    5. Good speakers
  3. Issues
    1. Weird keyboard layout
    2. Limited USB-C port
    3. Shipping delays, DOA
    4. Bright LEDs, not accessible when lid closed
    5. No ethernet port
    6. High cost
    7. Questionable politics

Specifications

The machine came with a 250GB Crucial SSD drive with PureOS pre-installed, even if I ordered it without storage.

Semi-standard power connector

The power connector is somewhat standard: 19V DC on a 5.5mm sleeve with 2.5 positive pin, with a C5/C6 cable for the AC side (as opposed to the more standard C13/C14 coupler, mind you). I was able to find a "universal 19V adpater" for ~60$ at a local store that also supported other barrel connectors.

It would be better if the laptop would charge through USB-C, naturally, as that is slowly becoming the standard for charging computing devices, but that will have to do for now.

Good monitor

The monitor shipped with the Librem is actually quite good by my standards (1920x1080 / 1080p / FullHD). It does mean messing around with HiDPI settings which I haven't quite figured out yet.

This post seems to have good resources. From what I understand, the resolution of the screen is actually 166dpi, which takes some configuring to display properly. This can be computed from the aspect ratio (16:9), the resolution (1920x1080) and the diagonal of the screen (13.3"). According to this calculator, this is the formula:

Display size: 11.59" × 6.52" = 75.59in² (29.44cm × 16.56cm = 487.64cm²) at 165.63 PPI, 0.1534mm dot pitch, 27434 PPI² 

All this does make my old monitor (which I found in the basement) look like crap. So I need to find a new monitor, arguably not a problem with the Librem per se of course...

It seems the Librem can drive 1440p, so not "4K UHD" (3840x2160), but "QHD" (2560x1440) which should be more than enough.

Liberated boot

The Purism folks did a pretty awesome job at liberating their BIOS. They run their own version of coreboot they call Pureboot. In theory, it should be easier to setup a trusted, SecureBoot but in practice I have yet to set that up.

I did try to configure the laptop with an encrypted /boot, but that didn't go so well. First, I get a double password prompt: once in grub and once in the initramfs. But more annoying is the grub prompt has no retry: if you fail, you drop in the rescue shell which is really impractical.

Finally, Pureboot doesn't support encrypted /boot so it actually makes it harder to implement trusted boot.

The coreboot stuff needs to be updated, and instructions are available on the Purism website.

Excellent Linux support

On top of the liberated BIOS, it must be said the device has excellent support for free operating systems. Every device on the machine has full support in the Linux kernel, even the "older" version in Debian stretch (Linux 4.9). No binary blobs, no proprietary drivers, even for wifi.

That is just awesome. It's the first device, in a long time, that gives me this freedom, so it should be acknowledged and celebrated.

Update: I still have some non-free packages installed:

When building the initramfs, there are warnings about the i915 graphics controller, which is solved by installing the firmware-misc-nonfree package, but the graphics card works without the firmware. Apparently, the warnings are harmless and indeed PureOS fixed the bug by simply disabling all such warnings.3

The Debian-specific stuff is also documented in the Debian wiki.

Good speakers

The builtin speakers sound great.

Issues

I have a few issues with the device.

Weird keyboard layout

The keyboard layout is strange: the key above enter, instead of sending \ or |, sends "chevrons". This is due to the Purism folks expecting you to pick the "US international" keyboard instead of the "US" keyboard, which is a very strange pick, as the "US" keyboard seems pretty standard. The workaround is to drop this in your udev configuration, say in /etc/udev/hwdb.d/90-purism-pipe-symbol-fix.hwdb:

evdev:atkbd:dmi:bvn*:bvr*:bd*:svnPurism:pnLibrem13v4*
 KEYBOARD_KEY_56=backslash

Then running:

sudo systemd-hwdb update
sudo udevadm trigger

The keyboard layout, in general, is a little unique: the sound buttons are split across the F4 key (mute) and -/= (volume up/down keys) for some reason.

The PrtSc key can be as SysRq but is backwards (ScrLk PrtSc) to their usual order (PrtSc ScrLk).

Limited USB-C port

The USB-C port does not support video which makes it limited to charging and data transfer. It can also not charge the laptop itself, as there's a separate power connector, losing many of the benefits usually associated with USB-C.

Ideally, a USB-C port might be used as a universal docking port: one wire to plug and you have power, video, audio, and USB for keyboard and mouse. Unfortunately, I'm still stuck with about 4 wires to plugin when I come into the office, something I was hoping to avoid. People have looked for a dock station without success.

Shipping delays, DOA

I waited almost four weeks to have my laptop delivered. Presumably this was due to a warehouse move but I found that communication about the issue could have been better. Worse: the laptop was dead on arrival (DOA) so I had to return it, adding another week delay for getting an actual working laptop. FedEx even charged me for the return even though Purism actually issued a shipping label, something I still haven't quite resolved.

Bright LEDs, not accessible when lid closed

There are three leds on the top right of the keyboad: one for wifi, battery and power. They are very bright and even though they can technically be dimmed, the firmware is not open so there's no way to dim the LEDs.

No ethernet port

That was a deal breaker for me originally, but I changed my mind. First, I don't need gigabit transfer speeds that often. Then my office doesn't have wired connectivity yet, so it is not that useful. Plus, I can afford to have a USB dongle there with a gigabit ethernet port, indeed, I already have one of those USB hubs. So not that big of a deal.

High cost

Those devices have a hefty price tag! At 1500-1700USD, it's definitely not something a student or even I, in my previous job, could afford. It's only because my current work was generous enough to pay for this machine that I was able to shell out the cash needed for this luxury item, clearly targeting the "high-end" crowd like Apple fans...

Questionable politics

After I bought the device, I found out that Purism wouldn't take a stand against racism and nazis on their servers. As a hardware manufacturer, that would be only a slight annoyance, but they recently got into the business of hosting social networks, emails and so on, so this is a big problem. I have written about the rationale in details in 2019-05-13-free-speech, but I cannot in good faith recommend doing business with Purism anymore, unfortunately.

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