OpenBSD on the Framework laptop

Framework laptop outside

While preparing for my first week at Chainguard, the CEO mentioned that I should order my own laptop. As a ~15 person startup, there isn't an IT department to handle these sorts of things.

In 2022, the default laptop of choice for a software engineer working on cloud infrastructure is the Apple M1 Powerbook. They hit nearly all the checkboxes: a great screen, powerful CPUs, and battery life that is the envy of any laptop in their class. The arm64 based Macs are fantastic: in fact, I'm typing this from my personal M1 MacBook Air. Ever the contrarian, I however felt that:

The clear hardware choice for rebellious open-source developers in 2022? The Framework Laptop. It ships with open-source firmware, is available without a closed-source operating system, and is designed to be user upgradeable.

OpenBSD has always been a contumacious alternative, particularly on a laptop. That said, if you work in computer security, you owe it to yourself to try OpenBSD some time: if only to learn about the impact of a secure-by-default stance has on user behavior. While I expected OpenBSD to be painful on a laptop, I was comforted when I found this another blogger, Joshua Stein, who had detailed their experience (with much better photos)


Framework Laptop Opened Up

The Framework laptops come in two varieties: a pre-assembled laptop with Windows, and a DIY laptop without an OS. Since I wasn't planning on running Windows, I opted for the DIY version to save money. I won't repeat what is already in the excellent Framework Laptop DIY Edition Quick Start Guide, but I'll share some notes.

Installing the network card

Difficulty levels:

Framework I/O port installation

Standout features:

Due to the compatibility issues documented at OpenBSD on the Framework Laptop, I bought the older Intel AX201NGW wireless card for a mere $13 on eBay.

Flashing an OpenBSD USB stick from macOS

I find I learn more about software by installing it from HEAD, or at least a recent snapshot of it. OpenBSD offers nightly snapshot images, so I opted to download OpenBSD from there. I don't typically do so, but due to my interest in the software signing space, I decided to follow the instructions to confirm that the install image matches the expected SHA256 signature:

curl -O 
shasum -c SHA256 --ignore-missing

I had no idea that the shasum command could pull hashes out of a text file like that. This is a great way to avoid corrupt downloads, but doesn't help at all for avoiding supply-chain attacks, as the checksums and the image share the same mutable distribution mechanism.

Writing the install image to disk on macOS is the same as with other operating systems. Find the device name for the USB stick:

sudo diskutil list                                                                 

In this case, it's a 128GB Samsung Stick connected via USB-C, hiding at /dev/disk4:

/dev/disk0 (internal):
   #:                       TYPE NAME                    SIZE       IDENTIFIER
   0:      GUID_partition_scheme                         500.3 GB   disk0
   1:             Apple_APFS_ISC ⁨⁩                        524.3 MB   disk0s1
   2:                 Apple_APFS ⁨Container disk3⁩         494.4 GB   disk0s2
   3:        Apple_APFS_Recovery ⁨⁩                        5.4 GB     disk0s3
/dev/disk4 (external, physical):
   #:                       TYPE NAME                    SIZE       IDENTIFIER
   0:     FDisk_partition_scheme                        *128.3 GB   disk4
   1:                 DOS_FAT_32 ⁨UNTITLED⁩                128.3 GB   disk4s1

Unmount the disk, and flash it with OpenBSD:

sudo diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk4 
sudo dd if=install70.img of=/dev/disk4 bs=1m                                         ```

First Boot

During the first boot, I found myself staring at a black screen for a few minutes. It turns out that this weird behavior is expected when booting a standard open-source operating system due to Secure Boot.

Once I rebooted, hit F2, and disabled secure boot, the laptop booted directly to USB.

Welcome to the OpenBSD/amd64 7.9 installation program.
(I)nstall, (U)pgrade, (A)autoinstall, or (S)hell?

Since this is a corporate laptop, I certainly wanted to use Full Disk Encryption. I followed the OpenBSD Full Disk Encryption, which meant selecting the (S)hell option.

While setting up the disks, the laptop suddenly lost power. What The Fudge? I was pretty sure it was related to my hardware, as I wasn't fully confident about was the DIMM insertion, so I attempted a RAM dance (something I learned from working in a Google Datacenter over a decade ago), but it happened again.

I then tried reseating all the components, and it happened again. I found a scary sounding forum thread, but it wasn't a complete match for what I was seeing. The power loss only seemed to happen while I was typing, and only after a couple of minutes.

In my 3rd install attempt, everything worked mysteriously. It was only later that I realized I was battling the same touchpad power event [](detailed here). After the installation, I never encountered it again.

One post-installation surprise was that the Intel Wireless card didn't work – due to a missing firmware blob. I used an older EDIMax USB wireless card, and not only did it work great, but it magically allowed the Intel wireless card to work properly as OpenBSD downloads the necessary drivers during boot time via fw_update: if it has a working internet connection to begin with.


I floundered about for a bit trying to choose which desktop environment to use, but eventually settled on XFCE. I never did get Gnome to work, but MATE worked properly once I ran:

doas rcctl enable messagebus avahi_daemon
doas rcctl start messagebus avahi_daemon

I was very impressed that nicities such as hot-plugging a new display and my gnubby key worked out of the box. The OpenBSD of 15 years ago wouldn't have. Since this was a laptop, I enabled power management, though I'm not honestly not sure if it helps at all:

rcctl enable apmd
rcctl set apmd flags -A
rcctl start apmd

Once the machine was installed, I configured doas to allow the users in the wheel group (me) to easily execute commands as root:

echo "permit persist :wheel" > /etc/doas.conf

I set the hostname:

echo | sudo tee /etc/myname
sudo hostname $(cat /etc/myname)

I copied the network configuration from the EDIMax USB ethernet to the Intel card I was using:

doas cp /etc/hostname.urtwn0 /etc/hostname.iwx0

OpenBSD disables audio/video recording by default, which makes it difficult to use video-conferencing software. I added these values to /etc/sysctl.conf:

To allow regular users access to the video device, you'll need to set ownership — even after every upgrade:

sudo chown $USER /dev/video*

I configured OpenBSD to default to using my USB microphone for input and output. Oddly enough, there doesn't seem to be an easy way to enumerate audio devices in OpenBSD, so none of the graphical audio switchers work well.

doas rcctl set sndiod flags -f rsnd/0 -F rsnd/1
doas rcctl reload sndiod

I couldn't get screen sharing to work in Google Meet in either Chrome or Firefox, but eventually made it function in Firefox by disabling the pledge sandbox, as per the mozilla-firefox port docs:

echo disable | doas tee /etc/firefox/pledge.gpu
echo disable | doas tee /etc/firefox/pledge.content
echo disable | doas tee /etc/firefox/pledge.main
echo disable | doas tee /etc/firefox/pledge.rdd

To keep Firefox and other behemoths from suddenly crashing, I joined the staff group and increased the per-process memory limits in /etc/login.conf:


To play music, I installed ncspot, a terminal Spotify player. The Spotify web client requires DRM (Digital Rights Management) extensions, which are not supported on OpenBSD. ncspot requires extended terminal settings to avoid corrupt output: env TERM=xterm-256color LANG=en_US.UTF-8.


The current annoyances with my configuration are:

In Closing

I found that most of the heartache in OpenBSD is related to one of two things: