Looking to buy Qubes-certified Hardware - NovaCustom NV41Questions


I have recently taken a greater interest in Qubes, online privacy/security, and learning more in-depth about computers in general. As such, I am committing to buying a Qubes-certified laptop, particularly considering the NV41. To preface, I am still quite new to most intermediate/advanced computer subjects and have limited knowledge/experience with Linux, but plan to learn as much as possible before purchasing and learning trial-and-error as I go.

My primary candidate is the NovaCustom NV41, since it seems to have the most customization options that will help right out of the gate. While I figure most Qubes-certified hardware is at least going to work out of the box, of the available laptops on the QCH list, is this a good choice? My goal is to get the most secure setup possible without needing to physically tamper with or disassemble/reassmble hardware (other than unscrewing a panel and flipping a switch or something like that), while also having it be somewhat new(er) user-friendly. The main issues I want to avoid are anything that would require adding/removing/tampering with hardware, purchase options that are incompatible with Qubes that are irreversible or extremely difficult to change/troubleshoot, or counter-intuitive options that harm security and reliability (such as having Qubes pre-installed, etc). As such, buying a non-Qubes-certified laptop and making modifications or building one from the ground up is not an option. Most of the options seem self-explanatory, but I did have these specific questions regarding these:

  1. Firmware - The Heads firmware is one of the only options on the page specifically warning that it is for very advanced users (which I clearly am not). Would trial-and-error learning with Heads pose a legitimate risk to the security/functionality of the machine, or is it more of a “this will be a massive headache/learning curve to use comfortably compared to not using it” warning? It is also only a pre-order currently due to waiting on full support with Dasharo coreboot, and as such likely hasn’t had a chance to be tested/vetted by the general user base. Pre-ordering anything tends to be a red flag at worst and yellow at best, and if the benefits Heads provides are not worth the risk/hassle (and 72$) compared to simply disabling the Intel ME, is it better to simply avoid Heads on purchase?

  2. Pre-Installed Qubes - Unless specifically stated otherwise on the page, I assume Qubes is compatiable with virtually any configuration of this laptop as Qubes-certified hardware. There is a statement under the Qubes option stating if it is pre-installed (which I didn’t plan on since I have read extensively that it defeats the purpose, which makes sense), it is guaranteed fully compatible with Qubes. While I assume this is more of a liability statement than anything else, is there any reason this would make a difference? Are there any other hardware/software options on the page that might cause issues?

Assuming the above point isn’t an issue, and I plan to install Qubes myself, is it worth having Ubuntu/Mint (thoughts on which is better???) Linux pre-installed, or simply order it with no OS? Is it worth it learn some concepts using one of the available Linux distributions, even if I eventually plan to replace it later? Would it defeat the purpose of using Qubes if it is not the first/only OS to be used on that machine, or is not uncommon to install Qubes on machines that have previously had another OS (particularly other Linux versions) and be fine?

  1. WiFi Card - The blob-free Qualcomm Atheros Wifi card states it is only comptatible with GNU/Linux and not Windows. Is this Wifi card compatible with Qubes (being a Linux-based OS), or does this card specifically only work with GNU/Linux? My assumption would be that it is compatible with Qubes, but I’d rather be sure before purchasing. I tried finding it on Qubes HCL but didn’t see anything specifically regarding the WiFi cards. Much of my work involves reading very specific wording, so it just in my nature any time I see something that says “only works with [general platform X]”, I like to be sure that it will work with things that might be another version/derivative of X, but not specifically X itself.

Overall, I might be overthinking it since these laptops are certified and advertised to be specifically built for Qubes, and any setup they offer will likely work (unless specifically stated on the page), but I would just like to avoid having to resolve issues that would require me to essentially waste my money. I am willing to learn/troubleshoot just about anything as I go, outside of having to extensively tamper with hardware. Other than those main questions, any other advice, tips, or knowledge regarding this laptop and other options on the QCH list and setting them up for Qubes and learning the OS is greatly appreciated. If it would be helpful to list the setup I planned on buying and have it looked over, I am more than happy to do that. Thanks.

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I wrote a long and extended review about this laptop NovaCustom NV41 laptop review

there is a mention somewhere on the website that the extra cost to have Qubes OS installed is to sponsor the work on coreboot firmware

works fine with Qubes OS, but it’s super slow (12 MB/s maximum)

Thanks. Review was a huge help.