Linux laptop?
July 31, 2014 3:58 AM   Subscribe

What is the most excellent Linux-friendly laptop I can buy?

What is the most excellent* laptop I can put Linux** on without too much hassle***?

I know this was asked recently, but I'm not particular about a track-nipple. I can cast the net wider.

Let's assume money is no object. Am I on the right lines with the Lenovo Thinkpad X240 or X1 Carbon 2014?

* Excellent? I would like as many of these things as possible, but no one is a deal-breaker:

- Retina-ballpark pixel density
- Lots of storage. I have a baby. All the photos.
- Battery life north of 6 hours
- SSD for some if not all of the storage
- Stupid RAM
- Lightweightness. I know with the spec I'm after, MacBook Air-like thinness is probably out, but thin and light is still desirable
- Power
- Sezziness. Understated. Black all over would suit. You know. Thinkpad-like.
- Great keyboard for much typing
- I don't need or want a touchscreen, but I wouldn't rule one out if the laptop is otherwise fabulous.

* Linux? Not to derail myself, but unless someone tells me otherwise it's going to be Ubuntu. If you have a strong feeling that I can do better, learn me up please :)

*** Hassle? I'm in the UK, where my pre-installed options extend to the Dell XPS 13 Developer edition and no further. I don't mind tweaking things for a few hours, but I am not yet a Linux hobbyist. Writing my own device drivers isn't an option.

Thank you. I love you.
posted by nthdegx to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: System 76? They ship to the UK, and you can customize them roughly the way you'd customize a Dell or any other major-brand laptop, so tons of options. They're not quite as pretty as a Thinkpad, but they're far from ugly too.
posted by Krop Tor at 4:25 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was coming to recommend System 76 too-- extremely customizable, though based on the (limited!) sample that I've seen, they definitely do not all fit the lightweight requirement.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:38 AM on July 31, 2014

Best answer: I have a Thinkpad T440s. not even a month old. Has an ssd + 1TB of internal storage, 2 batteries BY DEFAULT and everything else you asked. here are my specs via ixni

System: Host: luke-ThinkPad-T440s Kernel: 3.15-5.dmz.1-liquorix-amd64 x86_64 (64 bit, gcc: 4.8.3)
Desktop: LXDE (Openbox 3.5.2) info: lxpanel dm: lightdm Distro: Ubuntu 14.04 trusty
Machine: System: LENOVO (portable) product: 20AQCTO1WW version: ThinkPad T440s Chassis: type: 10
Mobo: LENOVO model: 20AQCTO1WW version: SDK0E50510 PRO Bios: LENOVO version: GJET77WW (2.27 ) date: 05/20/2014
CPU: Dual core Intel Core i7-4600U CPU (-HT-MCP-) cache: 4096 KB flags: (lm nx sse sse2 sse3 sse4_1 sse4_2 ssse3 vmx) bmips: 10775.2
Clock Speeds: 1: 756.00 MHz 2: 756.00 MHz 3: 756.00 MHz 4: 1300.00 MHz
Graphics: Card: Intel Haswell-ULT Integrated Graphics Controller bus-ID: 00:02.0 chip-ID: 8086:0a16
X.Org: 1.15.1 drivers: intel (unloaded: fbdev,vesa) Resolution: 1600x900@60.0hz
GLX Renderer: Mesa DRI Intel Haswell Mobile GLX Version: 3.0 Mesa 10.2.3 Direct Rendering: Yes
Audio: Card-1: Intel Lynx Point-LP HD Audio Controller driver: snd_hda_intel bus-ID: 00:1b.0 chip-ID: 8086:9c20
Card-2: Intel Haswell-ULT HD Audio Controller driver: snd_hda_intel bus-ID: 00:03.0 chip-ID: 8086:0a0c
Sound: Advanced Linux Sound Architecture ver: k3.15-5.dmz.1-liquorix-amd64
Network: Card-1: Intel Ethernet Connection I218-LM
driver: e1000e ver: 2.3.2-k port: 3080 bus-ID: 00:19.0 chip-ID: 8086:155a
IF: eth0 state: down mac: 28:d2:44:a7:4e:42
Card-2: Intel Wireless 7260 driver: iwlwifi ver: in-tree: bus-ID: 03:00.0 chip-ID: 8086:08b2
Drives: HDD Total Size: 1016.2GB (13.4% used)
1: id: /dev/sdb model: SanDisk_SSD_U110 size: 16.0GB serial: 142478410205 temp: 0C
2: id: /dev/sda model: WDC_WD10JPVX size: 1000.2GB serial: WD-WXD1A2430243 temp: 36C
RAID: No RAID data available - /proc/mdstat is missing - is md_mod kernel module loaded?
Unmounted: No unmounted partitions detected
Sensors: System Temperatures: cpu: 47.0C mobo: N/A
Fan Speeds (in rpm): cpu: 0
Info: Processes: 237 Uptime: 6:05 Memory: 1926.2/11712.8MB Runlevel: 2 Gcc sys: 4.8.2
Client: Shell (fish running in /usr/bin/termin) inxi: 1.9.17
posted by tahu363 at 5:09 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

One to look at would be the Dell Latitude E7440 (14") or E7240 (12"). Lightweight, 1080p screen in touch or non-touch, 16GB max RAM, Thinkpad-like looks and durability and certified for Ubuntu Linux (Source).

Some downsides for your needs would be the high price (though there are many on the Dell Business Outlet, where you can get a deep discount if you buy at the right time) and storage. The 7240 is mSATA SSD only while the 7440 can take a hard drive but only has one bay so you'd have to decide between SSD or HDD.

Other downsides I've read about are a less than perfect keyboard, even for a laptop (I have used one briefly and I didn't think it was too bad) and kind of lousy battery life for a Haswell processor.
posted by coreywilliam at 5:11 AM on July 31, 2014

Thinkpads in general have a fantastic reputation for being Linux-friendly. The list of Ubuntu certified machines is certainly a great place for verifying this friendliness with models that you consider.

The X240 or the X1 Carbon are excellent choices. I personally have a X230, which is incredible. The new style keyboard is amazing, and for me, it really has cut down on typing errors. Just make sure you get one with an IPS screen for that retina look.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 5:32 AM on July 31, 2014

Best answer: Long-time lurker, first-time commenter (so please be gentle).

Ok, you've stated your needs but could you give us a sense of what your comfort with the command line is? This is important as, depending on the Linux distribution you choose, you might quickly end up in configuration file-editing territory in order to get a few important things done (or to reverse out of an unintended mess). I love that stuff but you might quickly feel you don't have the time unless you've got a passion (and patience) for nutting such things out. I say that having only recently emerged from the new-parent Fog of Waaah.

If you are keen to get yer tech on, then the Crunchbang (#!) distribution is a good place to start. It's a pretty minimalist, Debian-based distro that doesn't waste the machine's resources trying to behave sexily. In my experience, it has a *very* n00b-friendly community. They seem to pride themselves on being the friendliest and I often found myself smiling at members' genuine efforts to assist the lost and hapless.

Otherwise, it's Ubuntu all the way. It's mostly very polished* and seems to be going from strength to strength. Canonical have done a terrific job of masking the complexities behind a not-overly-flashy UI and their online knowledge-base is first-rate. As ever with things dear to geeks, you'll find passionate detractors for some of Canonical's technical choices but the whole package holds well together.

You mentioned the need for plenty of storage for photos (esp of the baby). Whatever the distro, the Linux-based photo management options are variable, though improving. Being in a similar position vis-a-vis the toddler photo torrent, I'd suggest a better, safer alternative to relying on fat laptop storage (which is amazingly easy to run out of) is to put your photos on a NAS (backed up to "teh cloud" via something like Crashplan - please, seriously) and use the laptop for editing/library management/posting to social media where pics are concerned.

To your original question: There was a time when I would have said Lenovo Thinkpad all the way. With the latest generation, however the company seems to have abandoned all but the pretense of quality control. I have an earlier generation T400s that is still soldiering on admirably (with Crunchbang, btw), but I had nothing but trouble with a newer x230t (since sold). The main Thinkpad-related forums (,, have a worrying number of folk unhappy with the latest Thinkpad Yoga (terrible ghosting) and even, sadly, the newer Carbon X1 (softkeys going haywire, general incompatibility) with apparently little more than lip service from Lenovo (if they deign to respond at all). I can't imagine the x240 (even with its recently updated screen) will fare much better. Debate rages about whether the newer keyboards are a step down but, as a former journalist and all-round keyboard zealot I reckon the new-style keys have removed one of the great advantages Thinkpads had over "the rest." Man, I loved me some Thinkpad action back in the day but I can't recommend them in good faith any more.

It's for this reason, if you're determined to go Linux, I suggest the very latest 13-inch macbook air (or if you can wait until October, the almost-guaranteed-to-be-retina-upgraded edition). Say what you like about the manufacturer and cult-ish following it engenders but they are well-made and have a set of internals well-scrutinised by the tech community so kernel/driver compatibility is not an issue. This article from one of the better Linux-oriented commentary sites (Phoronix) bodes well for such a marriage, as does the fact that a number of high-/low-level coders who work around me have chosen the macbook (albeit the 'pro')+linux combo and seem pleased as punch.

I'd ordinarily love to support the little guy (System76) but agree with previous posters that slenderness and lightness are not their strong points.

Best of luck with your choice.

*Bluetooth is still an unmitigated mess in Linux. It badly needs new/stronger/coherent community leadership (and, I suspect, better funding).
posted by Lesser Spotted Potoroo at 6:00 AM on July 31, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think you're going to have to compromise on one of these:

- SSD for some if not all of the storage
- Lots of storage. I have a baby. All the photos.

Since SSDs are lower capacity [and much more expensive per GB]. Personally I'd go with the SSDs and some external storage solution.

For Ubuntu compatibility you can search for specific laptop models on the Ubuntu community wiki [unfortunately they don't seem to be well organized in their own category but I think they're all listed under the hardware category] or the old general support forums. I definitely recommend looking there once you have a model in mind to see how easy/difficult it is to get everything up and running under Ubuntu.
posted by xqwzts at 6:01 AM on July 31, 2014

> *Bluetooth is still an unmitigated mess in Linux.

Oh ffs yes. BT is an utter disaster. There are several competing ways of managing devices, each of which do roughly 45% of what you need to do, and none of them play well together.

(At least it's better than MIDI on Linux. Even with real-time kernels and days of configuration, I've not managed a latency under half a second.)
posted by scruss at 6:51 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a System76 Galago UltraPro and I love it, more than my 13" @ work MacBook Pro (running ArchLinux, thankyouverymuch). If you follow the money-is-no-object theme of the question, you can make a hell of a machine (as I did) by putting a really fast and large SSD in it, maxing out the RAM, and upgrading the processor. Completely maxed out like that you are looking at $1500ish. The 1080p matte display is fantastic, though I will say 1080p in 14" will force you to do a lot of customization of things like the terminal and firefox (nosquint add-on) so you can read it easier.

While I would (today) not choose Ubuntu as my distribution, it came nicely installed and configured with ZERO hardware compatibility issues (forgetting bluetooth, which you should in Linux), so I stuck with it. Unity sucks, but you don't have to get rid of Ubuntu to fix that. I'm running Gnome3 and love it (really).

By contrast, it took me a few days to get the MacBookPro running properly with ArchLinux, despite excellent wiki documentation for it. It's now running smooth as butter, but that initial headache (UEFI bootloader, btrfs, networking) was pretty painful.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:13 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

xqwzts implies that you have to choose between SSD and HD but on some laptops you don't have to, you can have both. I have an x230 with a 500Gb hard drive and a 32Gb SSD mSATA. I run Ubuntu on this and I'm happy with the compatibility.
posted by bdc34 at 7:14 AM on July 31, 2014

I should add the Galago UltraPro hits every one of your question's criteria except for battery life. I think I get 4-4.5 hours on mine.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:16 AM on July 31, 2014

I ran debian on a macbook for a long time. Then I dual booted. Now I just run VMs on a MacBook Air. Everything works, the hardware is delightful and supported and the install is crapware free.
posted by mce at 8:36 AM on July 31, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you very much, everyone. Lots to think about there, but on balance, I think a System76 Galago UltraPro is best for me. Thanks again.
posted by nthdegx at 12:57 PM on July 31, 2014

Some useful links for you, nthdegx:
• Support forums for System76 (hosted by Canonical) are here.
• The Clevo unit that I believe System76 use as the base for the model you're considering is here.
posted by Lesser Spotted Potoroo at 4:56 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Best response to very late texting from someone...   |   addicted to giving away money Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.