Best Linux Laptop?
December 25, 2006 7:57 AM   Subscribe

What is the best laptop to run linux on? I need it to be fast and to support at least 2 monitors - three would be better.
posted by jclaborn to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
If the internal screen counts as a monitor, the Dell Inspiron 9X00 series are pretty good for Linux; they use bog-standard chipsets, and most of the current distros will recognize everything out of the box. Make sure to order it with an NVidia graphics adapter (which I think is the default), as their Linux drivers are better. Do NOT buy an ATI card for Linux use.

If you want true open-source drivers (NVidia's, while good, are just a binary blob, which irks a lot of free software people), I think the Intel chipset is about the only decent one. They are very weak chips in terms of 3D, but do 2D just fine, and the drivers are more open than pretty much anything else.

I'm not aware of any current laptops that will drive two EXTERNAL monitors at once, much less three. You might be able to find an older laptop that would... I think there were once laptops that had separate VGA and DVI ports. But offhand, I'm not aware of any new ones that offer two external monitor ports.

Matrox makes a weird, but interesting device that might help... it hooks up to one port, tells the system that it's a really gigantic screen, and then sends signals to three separate monitors. I believe it would work with Linux, although I haven't read any reports of people trying... I think it's just a matter of telling X that you have an insanely huge resolution.

I think X has special code for dealing with multiple monitors that won't get used in this approach. It thinks it is dealing with one huge screen, rather than three smaller ones. I've never used multihead X, so I don't know if this is really a problem. That said, I'm not sure there's any other way to do what you're asking.
posted by Malor at 8:55 AM on December 25, 2006

Alienware has a $1,500 minimum Aurora laptop that has dual display output. Or, rather, DVI and VGA outs. This is the only notebook I know with this capability, and I believe the first.

Matrox's DualHead2Go, of which I own two, will drive two displays from a single output. It does so by sending a stretched, dual-width resolution output to the secondary output, which means your taskbar spans the monitor. A bit wonky, and the DualHead doesn't handle widescreen outputs, though the twice-as-expensive TripleHead2Go can drive two 1680x1050 displays, or three less-insane displays.

Visit for their TripleHead2Go line. They'll run you about $240 at the VERY cheapest. And they probably won't work well with Linux at all.
posted by disillusioned at 9:21 AM on December 25, 2006

some of the newer Dells, when coupled with the more expensive docking station, will actually drive 3. you do have to get the docking station (which does have DVI and VGA out), and I can't remember which model does it (AFAIK I saw it on one of the newer Latitude D420s or something of that nature).
posted by mrg at 9:55 AM on December 25, 2006

Ok, running external monitors on Linux from a laptop is a super pain in the ass. Xorg doesn't detect monitors when they're plugged in, and if they're not plugged in when Xorg starts, those displays are disabled. To re-enable them, you need to restart Xorg.

(If someone else knows otherwise, please chip in -- I'm far from a novice user, and I spent weeks unsuccessfully researching a solution for my old Thinkpad.)
posted by Coda at 1:47 PM on December 25, 2006

I've not used them myself (they advertise in Linux mags I read) but EmperorLinux say that on their systems, "External X display to your desktop monitor or an LCD projector is fully supported".
posted by Abiezer at 4:19 PM on December 25, 2006

Usb to vga adapters.
posted by baylink at 10:03 PM on December 25, 2006

If you're planning on ever accessing wireless internet (though, with three monitors, maybe not), do your research for the type of wireless card installed. I have a Broadcom card in my laptop and it was a world of hurt getting it to work right with Ubuntu due to driver issues. From what I've read on the forums, I was definitely not alone. It works quite smoothly now, but it sounds like the Intel wireless cards would have been a lot easier.

(Getting off on a tangent, using wifi-radar instead of the gnome network-manager suggested in most of the Ubuntu forums seems to have been the key to getting it working for myself).
posted by Gary at 1:15 AM on December 26, 2006

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