DIY Laptop

In preparation for retirement (has it been nearly two years already?) I purchased a new MacBook Air and a new Mac mini. Both with the (then) new M1 silicon. I had put off purchasing new computers for about as long as I could and I figured I might as well do it while still gainfully employed. At the same time, I also purchased a new ThinkPad from Lenovo on the somewhat dubious notion that I needed a Windows machine. If for no other reason than to upgrade firmware on my ham radio equipment, but also with consideration for Windows apps like N1MM+ and VarAC and a few other platform dependent applications. I chose a ThinkPad because I had been impressed with my work related laptop and thought that hardware would hold up nicely. It has, but I haven’t found nearly as much use for it as expected.

With plans to make a deep dive into the world of GNU Radio, I’ve been kicking around the idea of installing Linux on the ThinkPad and co-opting it for new development work. Having been a Linux user since the pre-1.0 kernel days, I was somewhat keen to make that move. Not that I had abandoned Linux, I have a dozen machines here still running some variant of the operating system, though no longer as my daily driver, and the thought of a return to the OS of my youth on a full-time basis has me buzzing a bit. Having survived that awkward period when I was a red hot Linux evangelist expecting total world domination like a born-again believer expects imminent rapture, I eventually grew out of that embarrassing period and came to peace with other operating systems, mostly on the Mac. Along that journey I used various distributions of Linux beginning with Slackware and then SUSE, RedHat, Debian, Fedora, Gentoo, and eventually Ubuntu where I have happily remained for many years.

After noodling around with all this for a bit I came up with an alternate crazy notion – yet another computer?

Let’s say I keep the ThinkPad for its intended purpose, the seldom used Windows option. I buy another machine that becomes my new Linux box and daily work machine. But what hardware and what distribution? While kicking that around a bit I became enamored with the Framework 16 – a do it yourself, upgradeable laptop. Check this out:

While not yet a fully baked plan, I am considering pre-ordering this laptop and making it my new Linux machine to use for exploration and development of various SDR components and software in 2024. Oh, I’ve similarly kicked around which distribution I might pair it with and have been focused on Arch Linux, a lightweight distribution that has my interest right now. It’s modern, minimal, and updated frequently enough to be useful for the kind of work I intend for it.

This comes with a small risk. The Framework folks have already tested the hardware for compatibility with Fedora and Ubuntu. Still, that risk is minimal and at worst I have to re-install a different distribution. If this all seems fairly crazy it just might be. I admit to having come up with this quickly and more research is definitely required before I pull the trigger and place an order.

You’re bound to have a few thoughts on this idea — let me know with a comment. Thanks!