System76 "Thelio" , a successor to CaseLabs? Maybe if we make it so?!


Supreme [H]ardness
Jun 9, 2003
Calling all enthusiasts! Those like myself who lament the passing of CaseLabs are surely frustrated with the limitations and expense of cases today. CaseLabs was never cheap, but they were reasonable given being made out of top quality materials (full aluminum and powder coated), designed/fabricated IN the USA in a true rarity, were entirely modular and able to be flatpacked (no rivets), were built for edge-case level enthusiast customization and most of all, were never out of date (so long as the company was around, of course)! Since going out of business in the wake of aluminum tariffs (admittedly there were other things going on, but that was a heck of a straw to drop on the camel's back) a few years ago, there haven't been many that offer a similar experience. Today there are increasing amounts of $300+ cases, but many of them lack the flexibility and features of CaseLabs while their costs are even more difficult to justify given overseas fabrication in cheaper locales.

However, one bright spot seems to be System76 - Linux users may be familiar with them for their whiteboxed hardware tested with their own PopOS; a desktop focused Linux distro built on Debian/Ubuntu as a base. In recent years they've gone beyond whiteboxed laptops to have some of their own custom hardware (as well as firmware ) created - they use the Coreboot BIOS/UEFI system alternative, a custom embedded controller firmware etc... and have created a "Thelio IO" which is a combination backplane and chassis control/fan/thermal control system - FOSS on every level! There's a lot more (they have recently crafted their first peripheral custom, the Launch keyboard with mechanical keyboard enthusiast features and of course free/libre too), all of which can be found on their Github page - - which has everything from CAD and design documents for hardware specs, to firmware, to software in the many repos - its a very laudable endeavor and pushes forward openness in computing along with Linux significantly. However for what we're discussing today I want to call attention specifically to the "Thelio" project for the System76 desktops -

Thelio is the new line of custom chassis desktops by System76 and those who may remember CaseLabs and other boutique manufacturers may see some similarities. The Thelio cases are made fully in the USA from top to bottom, sustainable (noteworthy also for thew real wood accents on the case), and have a unique design aesthetic and functionality profile. One of the downsides however is that they are made exclusively for System76's self-built systems; that is to say, they are not sold a la carte. This does pose the problem of both accessibility for a fully ready to go case and some of the design elements, though obviously made for buyers of Thelio systems to upgrade, tweak, and otherwise mess around in them (ie everything is secured with thumbscrews, no rivets are necessary) they are designed specifically for S76 systems not myriad aftermarket builders. There is no option for a tempered glass / windowed side panel, nor placement of cooling resources to be favorable to AIO or custom liquid radiators, no lighting controllers, a single vandal-style power button with no front panel I/O, and only the largest models have any sort of side venting or grille. However, going to the individual about pages for the different sized Thelio cases you can see the care of their well ducted designs, pre- arranged tooling / expansion connectors/cables stored internally, and thoughtful cooling for their in-house solutions - some have told me it reminds them of the best versions of the MacPro, but far less proprietary. So where we stand now seems to have all the "pieces" of a CaseLabs successor - there are just a few different steps and paths possible that could lead us to a beneficial conclusion.

Option A - Do it ourselves) - With Thelio's design documents, schematics, and the like all made available in public in theory a project could find a local, US based fabricator to make them to spec. Alternately, members of the community with the interest and and skills necessary could edit the schematics prior to fabrication; adding features to improve flexibility for cooling solutions, thermals, or any other sort of utilitarian or aesthetic benefit. While bringing this from an idea to a fully realized project could be daunting, it is possible for those with or able to make the proper connections to bring to fruition; something like crowdfunding for a boutique run of either replica S76 case models or an enhanced enthusiast variant could help fund the project.

Option B- Partner with existing boutique projects - There are a number of boutique manufacturing projects out there that may be worth working alongside. However, as always it would need to be the right fit, willing to accept the core elements of the project and seeing the value in the principles it is based upon. I can think of a couple off the top of my head that are worth investigating, but as always there's no guarantee.

Option C - Convince System76 to sell cases a la carte - Clearly S76 has the resources, ethos, and drive to make a made-in-USA, boutique case and their company has been experimenting and expanding with different product lines. If they were willing to sell their Thelio cases a la carte, make some alterations for enthusiast cooling and feature sets while still keeping what makes their hardware and design great, and support upgrades and modular compatibility it would be a great step forward For what its worth, I broached the idea with one of their reps before the pandemic and they seemed interested but of course as a relatively small company had to be careful not to overextend and take their time. I am unsure if they'd be more willing to move forward now but given some of the circumstances in tech, the subsidies and overall interest in local USA fabrication and "right to repair" growing even beyond traditional demographics, maybe they'd be willing to take the step forward? This would likely be the quickest way to get the cases onto the market with the fewest complications.

Ultimately, a handful of ideas have coalesced more or less into this post. Maybe it will develop more with input from others, discover other alternatives and avenues, or perhaps go nowhere at all but given the System76 crew have given us this excellent libre/open hardware specs and schematics I think its worth discussing.


Jun 21, 2015
I'd gleefully buy 3 Thelio Major cases from S76 or someone else. Many of us including myself derive pleasure from building computers though so I don't want to buy a (desktop) computer from them.