This may be the most expensive 'free' computer you've ever seen

Raptor Engineering hopes to build a nonproprietary motherboard that'll fit in ATX cases, and be 'Made in the USA.'

You can have an open-source operating system on your PC, but it’ll never be truly “free” because all modern x86-based CPUs and chipsets feature secret firmware “blobs” that are proprietary to AMD and Intel.

That’s something Raptor Engineering is hoping to address with what may be the world’s first modern ATX motherboard using a Power8 CPU (a product of IBM’s open-source OpenPower group).

Dubbed the Talos Secure Workstation, Raptor Engineering said the CrowdSupply.com project aims to build ATX motherboards that will work with IBM’s first OpenPower CPUs. Unlike CPUs from Intel and AMD, OpenPower CPUs have no proprietary firmware and are developed in the open with partners.

Why this matters: Those concerned about the secretive firmware Intel and AMD bake into their CPUs and chipsets really have no alternative using modern hardware. In addition to the strict licensing models, open-source and security experts object to the black box nature of proprietary firmware, which could potentially expose users to hacking and to government spying.

The Talos Project motherboards will support a single Power8 CPU, up to 256GB of RAM using registered DIMMs, and two x16 PCIe slots. And yes, the ATX spec means many off-the-shelf PC ATX cases should work with the motherboards.

Making Power-based PCs great again

The Talos motherboards aren’t cheap, but they did get an unexpected price reduction, the company says, thanks to the election of Donald Trump. Late last week Raptor announced that it had cut the price from a projected $4,100 to $3,700 for the boards.

“Why were we able to do this? To put it simply, Raptor Engineering is not your typical engineering company,” the company said in a CrowdSupply update. “The market conditions in the U.S. have recently and quite unexpectedly shifted to favor our business model, and we are passing the resultant savings directly to you, our valued customers.”

To put it bluntly, a company official told PCWorld that Trump’s protectionist stance favors Raptor’s practice of building everything in the US.

Unlike most computers, the vast majority of the components on the motherboard will be sourced in the United States. The CPUs, meanwhile, will be manufactured by IBM in New York.

“For now, Talos is as close as anyone can get to a fully ‘Made in the USA’ computer that not only respects your freedom, but is competitive with high-end machines for serious development work,” the company says.

Of course all of this is dependent on support. For the motherboards to be built, the company has to hit $3.7 million bucks in the next month; it’s currently raised $350,000.

Besides funding the motherboards, people can also opt to buy completely built systems. But yeah, that doesn’t really make it much cheaper. A Talos Desktop will cost $7,100 and get you a Talos motherboard, 128GB of ECC DDR3 RAM, an AMD Radeon RX 480, and two WD 4TB hard drives in a case with Debian Linux preinstalled.

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Gordon Mah Ung

PC World (US online)
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