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My new System76 Thelio is hands-down the best desktop PC I've ever tested

I recently retired my old Thelio desktop, and instead of getting something new, I opted for the latest iteration of the same thing. Boy, did I make the right call.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
My new System76 Thelio r3.

As The Tubes once sang, "She's a beauty."

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The System76 Thelio r3 is available now, starting at $1,300.00.
  • It's sleek, beautiful, powerful, and can handle anything you throw at it.
  • Some might find it pricey but the longevity, performance, and attention to detail of these System76 machines is worth every penny.

I've been a big fan of System76 for years. They've been champions of Linux machines for a long time and every time I get a chance to work with one of their new computers, they never fail to impress me on every level that counts.

I purchased my first system from the company (a Leopard Extreme) back in 2013. That machine served me for six years, at which point I upgraded to their latest offering, the Thelio. That was back in 2019, and it performed like a champ until just recently, when the On/Off button stopped working and one of the HDMI ports ceased to send a signal.

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Although the second machine didn't last nearly as long as the first, I had to remind myself that I purchased that first Thelio as soon as they were released, meaning it was a first iteration. Since then, the company has made serious changes to the Thelio line-up and improved each machine all around.

View at System76

When my original Thelio hinted that it was on its last legs, I had to act fast. I spend a lot of time working at my desk, and that machine is essential to my day-to-day. So, I started configuring my new PC and quickly decided I was going to do something I'd never done: shrug off Intel. That's right, I went the AMD route with a Ryzen 9 7900X (12 cores/24 threads). The rest of the custom specs look like this:

  • RAM - 32 GB DDR5 4800 MHz (1x32)
  • Internal storage - 500 GB PCIe4 M.2 SSD
  • GPU - 8 GB AMD Radeon RX 7600
  • Top ports - 1x USB 3.2 Gen2 (Type-C), 1x USB 3.2 Gen1 (Type A), Mic, Headphone
  • Rear Ports - 2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (Type-A), 3x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (Type-A), 1x 2.5Gbps LAN, USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (Type-C)
  • Rear Audio - Mic, Line out, Line in
  • Networking - 2.5GbE, built-in Wifi 6E (a/b/g/n/ac/ax) with Bluetooth 5.2
  • Dimensions - 12.87″ × 8.15″ × 11.46″ (327 × 207 × 291mm)
  • OS - Pop!_OS Linux
  • Price - As configured, just over $2k.

My original Thelio included an Intel i9 CPU and 32 GB of RAM, but depended on the integrated Intel graphics card. That machine was a beast and didn't blink at anything I tossed its way, from virtual machines, containers, video rendering, and just about anything I required.

Having to say goodbye to that r1 Thelio was tough, but I knew its time had come. When its replacement arrived, however those concerns were immediately assuaged. Upon pulling the computer out of the box, I was immediately struck by how the machine had evolved from the first iteration. Yes, there were plenty of similarities, but the differences made this an entirely new experience.

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First off, having ports on the top of the case is a welcome improvement. I often have to switch out different peripherals (such as card readers, external drives, etc.) and hated having to pull the case out, grab a flashlight, and switch 'em out. Now, I can do that with ease.

Also, I opted to go with the etched panel (instead of the wood insert) and I'm glad I did. This addition gives the case just enough flare to make it stand out.

But the flare doesn't stop there. Open the case and you'll find all sorts of artistry on display, such as the small rocketships carved out of the chassis. I've always felt that System76 never failed to go above and beyond and this new Thelio proves it.

An inside view of a System76 Thelio.

Could this machine take me to the moon and back? Maybe.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

But what about performance?

So far, I'm seriously impressed. The AMD CPU is outperforming the Intel i9. Of course, the power could be bolstered by the Radeon RX 7600, so it's hard to tell. But the overall effect is that the r3 Thelio is a big improvement over the r1…and that's saying something.

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When you've been working with a brilliant piece of hardware for years, swapping that out for something else can be a crapshoot. But when you're dealing with a company like System76, you know the kind of effort they put into improving their machines and they did not disappoint with their latest Thelio incarnation.

This machine is exactly what I wanted and needed and should serve me well for years to come. Although I've not really stressed it with any heavy workloads to speak of, I've spun up a number of virtual machines, and gone through my usual workday for about a week now and have been impressed at every turn. The System76 Thelio is all upside and doesn't suffer from a single issue.

ZDNET's buying advice

Of all the computers I've ever used, the System76 Thelio is, far and away, the best. Hands down. End of story. If you need an upgrade to the hardware you're currently using, you cannot go wrong with one of these beasts.

If you're looking to replace your current desktop computer, you'd be hard-pressed to find a machine that is equal parts power and beauty like the Thelio. Trust me when I tell you that you won't regret the purchase.

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