My laptop is a little underpowered these days and I’ve been having a bit of trouble with up to date support for the AMD Radeon graphics hardware it packs, so I’ve been thinking about upgrading for a few months. I wanted to get a machine designed for Linux, rather than a buying a Windows machine and installing my distribution du jour on it. There are a couple of reasons for this desire. First, it seems to be getting more difficult to be sure that a machine designed for Windows is going to work well with a Linux distro, thanks to features like NVIDIA Optimus and UEFI secure boot, and second I object to paying for an operating system I have no intention of using. I’d rather my money went to the projects and supporters of the open source communities that provide the operating system I choose to use.
The only viable options I found for a well specified bit of laptop kit designed for Linux are the System76, ZaReason and Dell. There are others providing Linux laptops but mostly as cheap or refurbished options.
I have a couple of specific requirements other than good Linux support. I want a 15.6 inch 1080p flat panel, because my eyesight is pretty good and I value screen real estate because I use software like photo editing suites and development environments that have big complicated user interfaces. Having run short of memory on a couple of projects recently I want at least 8GB memory, and I want decent processor. I’d like a fast hard disk or an SSD, and I also want to avoid NVIDIA and AMD graphics hardware and stick with Intel graphics, as I don’t do anything that needs epic graphics power and I’d rather have graphics hardware with a good reputation for long-term Linux support.
ZaReason, a US-based company, offers the Verix 530 which comes close but packs NVIDIA graphics hardware and needs both the memory and hard drive boosting to meet my spec, bumping up the price. Dell only offers one Linux laptop which is a bit pricey in comparison to the others and doesn’t have many customisation options. In only offering one machine and whacking a “Dell Recommends Windows” banner on the pages for their Linux machine, Dell’s not building my confidence that they really know what they’re doing with Linux.
System76 won my business with their Gazelle Pro. It comes close out of the box and I can customise the couple of other options I need without breaking the bank. The important options I chose are:
- 15.6″ 1080p Full High Definition LED Backlit Display with Glossy Surface (1920 x 1080)
- Intel HD Graphics 4000
- 3rd Generation Intel Core i7-3630QM Processor (2.40GHz 6MB L3 Cache – 4 Cores plus Hyperthreading)
- 8 GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz – 2 X 4GB
- 500 GB 7200 RPM SATA II HDD
- International UK Keyboard Layout – Including Pound, Euro, and Alt GR keys
It’s a shame they’re based out of the US as it adds shipping time and cost on. I also wasn’t sure exactly what happens about paying UK taxes on the import. I put the order in last week and the machine arrived today. Next up, unboxing and first impressions!