Help buying a nice laptop with Linux pre-installed
April 16, 2016 5:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to buy a nice new Linux laptop and having trouble finding many reviews online of the various options.

Right now I'm leaning toward a Korora Penguin GNU / Linux Notebook, but I could only find one (glowing) review and it is two years old. Even fully tricked out with all the upgrades (including 16 GB RAM and 960 GB SSD) it's under $1500, and I like the size (14.1" screen, 3.7 lbs). The only thing giving me pause is the lack of reviews.

I've also looked at some System 76 and Zareason laptops, but those don't have many reviews either. I was drawn to the System 76 Lemur, but was a bit discouraged by some Amazon reviews saying it looked cheap -- I'm trying to buy myself something "nice". The company Zareason seems to have a good reputation and the Spec X360 looks cool but has no reviews I could find (and advertises only "up to 2:30 hours of battery life" which seems too short).

I've also looked at some more mainstream brands, like Dell's XPS 13, but those tend to have fewer options and be less customizable -- I haven't found anything really appealing there.

As I said above I like the stats of the Korora (14.1" screen, 3.7 lbs, 16GB RAM, 960 GB SSD) and the price ($1500) but I'm willing to be fairly flexible on all those points if the machine is really good quality and looks/feels nice. I'm still a beginner when it comes to Linux so I think I want to stick to something already set up, probably with Ubuntu.

But being a beginner I'm very open to advice and suggestions and would be grateful to hear what the hivemind has to say! Does anyone have experience with any laptops like the ones above? Extra bonus points if anyone has bought a laptop recently with Linux preinstalled and loved it!
posted by parkin to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know specific models (technically any Chromebook is tightly restricted linux box :-) but installing linux these days is pretty trivial, I'd suggest looking for the best hardware for your needs and choosing the linux works for you and doing the 30 minute install yourself. Ubuntu is pretty friendly but Mint has become quite popular.
posted by sammyo at 5:57 AM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

honestly, hardly anyone buys these things. if you want a nice laptop with linux you buy a thinkpad and install it yourself. the hardware (of obscure brand, made for linux laptops) is usually not anything like as nice. you may have more luck finding somewhere that actually does this for you (but they then tend to be older models). edit: a quick google turns up these people, for example.
posted by andrewcooke at 6:01 AM on April 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

Thirding. Buy yourself a really nice laptop sans OS, and install Linux Mint. It's a very newbie-friendly but fully featured distro, and installing is a breeze.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:11 AM on April 16, 2016

I will fourth that. It makes no sense to spend $1500 on a laptop just because it has linux pre-installed. You can buy a 2 year old thinkpad in warranty with similar specs for half the price on ebay.
posted by 0bvious at 6:29 AM on April 16, 2016

Thanks for the tips! I did look at the option of installing linux myself for a while, but then veered away from it as I got worried about troubleshooting, and started finding all these computers that already have linux on them. I like the idea of having a number I can call to get help that I am paying for, rather than to always rely on the kindness of strangers when I run into trouble.

But if the computers that already have linux just tend to be not as good, then maybe I'll go back to planning to do a self-install. I guess hopefully between Ubuntu and Mint at least one of the two options will work well with whatever computer I buy...on that note: does anyone have any suggestions of a specific type of laptop and a specific type of linux that work really well together? Thank you!

(I'm also not opposed to finding a company that does the combining for me, as andrewcooke suggested above -- does anyone have any experience with those?)
posted by parkin at 6:32 AM on April 16, 2016

The kindness of communities like Metafilter compels you to buy a thinkpad and install linux as a second boot option.

Feel my kindness (for free)
posted by 0bvious at 6:35 AM on April 16, 2016

Just to be a contrarian, I have a System76 Galago Ultrabook (sadly discontinued model) at home and a System76 Gazelle laptop at work. I love them both. I installed Arch over the stock Ubuntu on the work machine and am very pleased with how well it works. The Galago is a much more appealing form factor (14", highly portable) than the Gazelle (kind of a brick), but they both work great. They now have Lemur in 14" and Oryx Pro for a portable 15" (and 17"). Oryx Pro is the closest thing to what you are interested in (and what I'd buy if I was buying today).

It's not bad advice for Lenovo ThinkPad for your linux machine, the hardware has a well-deserved reputation, and they tend to work out of the box with Linux. Lenovo is where I started for my work machine. However, I bought a 15" ThinkPad that arrived with a ridiculously bad TFT low-res screen. Lenovo would neither agree that the misorder of the display was their fault, nor even allow the machine to be returned. As a result, Lenovo is dead to me (and for all purchases made by my office). Great job, craptastic customer service!

I've heard great things about the Dell XPS 13. I can't deal with laptops that small (I get it that they are super portable, but honestly...13" for a productivity machine??), but Dell has had a renewed push to support Linux lately, which is refreshing.

Be wary of buying anything with an HDPi display (aka Retina). Linux is really sketchy with support across the board for that. Also be wary of buying machines with known linux wifi driver issues and/or graphics issues. Linux works great for lots of machines, esp. well known in that bunch is Lenovo ThinkPad and Dell XPS 13, but there are machines with misc proprietary hardware that can cause a linux install to be a royal, royal pain. This, along with supporting a company that embraces Linux, is what had me purchasing from System76. I don't think it was a mistake and I would do it again.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:51 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been using System76 laptops for 6 years now - a Lemur and then a Galago Ultra Pro. They are good, sturdy machines and the company is pleasant to work with. I'd used many Linux distributions on many kinds of laptops for nearly a decade prior (as well as regular experience with Windows and Macs). I wanted to use Linux, but was sick of having to fiddle and waste time getting things to work. System 76 and Ubuntu fit the bill for me. I do wish they came with mint, but I'm not that picky about distribution.
posted by congen at 7:04 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have the System76 lemur and I love it. I installed Linux Mint and it was pretty easy. I have mint on my "netbook" as well. I've used ubuntu, fedora, centos and I think scientific linux and mint is my favorite thus far. The laptop itself is 4 lbs and 15" iirc and it was exactly what I was looking for. I think you could try getting it and testing it out for yourself and returning it if you don't like it. Btw, the battery life is fantastic and does not feel cheap to me at all even though it was inexpensive.
posted by lunastellasol at 8:03 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Did you check out the Oyrx Pro? It seems "nice". I would definitely buy that if I didn't feel having 3 computers was a bit excessive. But that one looks like a solid beauty with excellent specs and within your price range.
posted by lunastellasol at 8:10 AM on April 16, 2016

Sigh.. I missed the typo window.. It is the Oryx Pro. And it is definitely going to be my next one. Happy shopping!
posted by lunastellasol at 8:18 AM on April 16, 2016

Being contrarian with those above who say to just install it yourself ...

I have done about a dozen desktop / laptop installs of Linux, but in your situation I still would definitely look for a laptop with Linux pre-installed. Everything will work out of the box. One of these things will invariably NOT work if you do the install yourself, and then you are in google / config hell trying to fix it:

- sound
- wireless networking
- video decoding / flash
- built-in camera / mic
- external monitors
- lid-close suspend and resume

Usually I'll have a problem with one of the above that remains unsolvable, and I just get to the point where the machine as a whole is good enough and just live without that feature. But not before sinking far too much time into it.

Unless your time is worthless, skip all that nonsense, buy pre-installed!
posted by intermod at 12:08 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks all! I just put in an order for a Lemur after all, after lunastellasol's recommendation above and after finding another nice review online. It's also nice that it seems like it will be easy to return (minus some shipping costs) in case I hate it. I looked at the Oryx Pro for a while but decided it was probably bulkier than what I was looking for and too pricey (at least with the upgraded RAM and SSD that I wanted) to be worth buying if it wasn't going to be a slam-dunk (I wish these things existed in stores where you could play around with them!). I'll come back to report how it works out!
posted by parkin at 12:51 PM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

You might find this thread on Hacker News interesting. System 76 gets several nods.
posted by cameradv at 1:22 PM on April 16, 2016

I'm a computer moron, and have had little trouble buying laptops and installing Ubuntu. Watch out for proprietary wifi drivers. Those can be a PITA.
posted by jpe at 2:17 PM on April 16, 2016

intermod has some good points. I tried twice to install Ubuntu myself as the sole OS on a Thinkpad. It worked once and did not work another time.

The people who sell laptops with Linux pre-installed for $1,500 or more are way overpriced.

There is a middle option. Buy a Thinkpad, used or new, and have a local geek shop do the Ubuntu install. Then they can do the troubleshooting.
posted by megatherium at 2:56 PM on April 16, 2016

or just some local nerd. i'd do it for someone in santiago if they wanted (on a no-blame basis!).
posted by andrewcooke at 3:04 PM on April 16, 2016

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