The Hardware

I’ve decided to run FreeBSD as my daily driver desktop.

Decision made. Easy.

What about hardware? Hrmm…

Now, this ain’t Winders, so I can’t just go out and buy whatever laptop looks the coolest to me (I’m looking at you Razer Stealth 13!) Figuring out how to maximize the f(cool, usable) function will take a bit of effort, but I do have a little bit of a head start.

Years ago, I briefly turned to the dark size and starting using Windows. I know. I know. It happened and I’m not proud of it. Anyhow, I bought an IBM X1 laptop. I really liked it. It probably was the second coolest laptop I’d owned. Maybe it was even the second laptop I’d owned up to that point. Semantics aside, the form-factor was right, the screen was bright and the keys clicked. Great. Do they still make these things?

Fuck yes they do.

Lenovo makes them now. And even though most of Lenovo’s other laptops are complete shit, the X1 seems to still be of excellent quality. The prices on new units seemed a little high so I opted for a used model. Besides, this FreeBSD thing is an experiment and I’d like to avoid paying the depreciation on a new laptop if it doesn’t work out. Well, and if you’re buying a PC laptop to run an open source unix, even Linux, you’re probably better off getting a model that’s about year or so old (and even better off if the majority of the developers of your favorite OS use that model) so that you can be reasonably certain that at least 80% of the hardware will work.

So, I stalked eBay for a few weeks until I found a 7th Gen X1 Carbon that was pretty well stacked. It has an i7 thinker w/1TB space, 16GB memories and the UHD screen. I hear that the UHD screen sucks the battery down, but since I mostly work while plugged in, that didn’t really bother me much. I’m also spoiled by Apple’s incredible Retina displays. Yikes they are good.

Speaking of operating system developer’s choice in mobile computing platforms, the research I did seemed to indicate that at least in the FreeBSD and OpenBSD camps, the X1 is the choice. So, not only do I like the looks and specs of the machine, it turns out that the main contributors to the projects I’m interested use the same laptop. So, good. Hopefully if I run into problems (and I will run into problems) at least more than a few people have the same hardware as I do.

So I waited 3 days (three!) for the my new (to me) laptop to arrive. The box with my new (to me) X1 arrived on-time and barely able to contain my excitement I tore open the box and……….got to configuring Windows. I still use Windows for a few electrical engineering applications like OrCAD and such. to make myself feel less dirty I proceeded to partition the drive in half so I had somewhere to install FreeBSD. Much better.

The memories came flooding back. I recall many hours spent partitioning drives, learning about cylinders, heads and sectors, using flaky tools hoping that you didn’t wipe out the entire hard drive because you’re sharing the PC with your parents and they have all their financials on the Windows side of things.

Things are different, though, too. UEFI instead of the BIOS. GPT instead of MBR. When I first started using Linux, a box with more than one processor was exotic. Now my box has one chip with 4 cores and 8 threads per core. Jebus.

Apple hardware is really nice because there are no real decisions to be made when purchasing. The choices are limited but usually what I would have chosen had I decided to spend 20 hours learning about the newest processor technology.

I’m fortunate that even though becoming addicted to the Apple ecosystem has rotted my circa-2001 PC hardware knowledge, even if I could remember everything I knew in 2001 it would all be useless. PCs of 2021 are as recognizable to 2001 as 2001 PCs are to 1981 PCs. There may be some magic in the microcode that allow modern CPUs to still run ancient 8086 code, but they are (obviously) very different beasts.

Anyhow, as I said, I got the drive partitioned in half. I went out and got the FreeBSD 12.2 memstick intaller, dd’d the image onto my memstick, plugged it into the X1, rebooted and voila! I was greeted by the FreeBSD installer screen.

So I thought, “Great! How hard can this be?”

Very Hard. It turns out…

–josh