A few weeks with the System76 Gazelle Pro

After writing about choosing and unboxing, I was going to write this post after two weeks of using my new laptop. It’s been over a month because I’ve busy with a Coursera course and – well – the laptop has just kinda worked. In fact, it’s been so uneventful that there’s not all that much to write about, but I’ve now tried three distributions on it.

Ubuntu 12.10

It arrived as described with Ubuntu installed, and pretty much everything worked, as you’d expect. The problem I could find was pointed out thanks to @TechHomeBacon on twitter:

@brabster @system76 comes out of the box saying graphics “unknown”

— Tech Home The Bacon (@TechHomeBacon) April 25, 2013

However, the folks @System76 replied, explaining how to resolve the issue:

@techhomebacon @brabster sudo apt-get install mesa-utils’ fixes the description. mesa-utils isn’t installed by default.

— System76 (@system76) April 25, 2013

A minor niggle. As I said in my previous post, I’m not a fan of the Unity desktop so enough of that – the first thing I did was start again and install Kubuntu.

Kubuntu 12.10

The install of Kubuntu, a derivative of Ubuntu based on the KDE desktop, was uneventful. There were no problems and everything worked out of the box – sound, graphics, touchpad – all working. Not much to say, but Ubuntu to Kubuntu use the same underlying distribution and I’m already familiar with both, so I decided to try something a little more challenging.

Arch

Arch Linux is an fairly popular lightweight distribution more geared to folks who like to get their hands dirty, so the setup is more involved and exposes more of what’s going on. It’s not based on Ubuntu, and this machine wasn’t built with Arch in mind. I should also mention that I’ve never used Arch before, so I was expecting more problems.

The setup was certainly more interesting, but entirely due to the more involved nature of Arch and my lack of general smarts. The hardware worked just fine, picking up the right packages without any special configuration. Dammit, still nothing juicy to talk about!

I have noticed a couple of things that often don’t work properly. First, Ctrl-F7 toggled my display between laptop panel and external monitor out of the box, which is fantastically helpful as I’m constantly plugging in an external monitor. Next, my USB hub has an ethernet port and sound hardware on board – these also both worked out of the box.

In Conclusion

So far, I would recommend to a friend.

All the hardware works under all three distributions. Although I bought the lowest-spec i7 processor and the Intel graphics hardware is relatively modest, KDE is a joy to use, silky smooth through all the desktop effects. It’s very quiet in normal use with no discernible fan noise. The laptop keyboard has enough space and tactile feedback to be comfortable in use for extended periods – this is of course subjective, but it works well for me. The display panel is clear and bright when the ambient light isn’t so bright as to cause excessive reflections, as you’d expect.

An Aside

I find it surprising that people still write articles criticising Linux as not ready for the desktop, or the casual user. Quotes such as “Is it bad if I say that I was impressed that sound worked right out of the box?” on a recent Ars Technica article brought this to mind as I bought this laptop, and my experience with a multitude of distributions over the past few years leads me to the opposite view – that many distributions tend to work without fuss and seem quite capable of meeting the needs of a typical, casual user. I may try and talk my wife (a Windows 7 user when she’s not tapping and swiping on her iPad) into trying out a suitable distribution for a while, to try and see the experience from a more casual perspective…

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15 thoughts on “A few weeks with the System76 Gazelle Pro

  1. Hi Paul, thank you for reviews! It’s hard to find information about System76 across the network.

    I’m looking to buy Galago Ultra Pro (https://www.system76.com/laptops/model/galu1#), and it looks perfect for my requirements:

    * 14.1″ inches display with IPS panel
    * newest i7-4750HQ processor (with Intel Iris Pro graphics 5200)
    * configurable storages

    My only concern, which still remains, is the quality of laptop. I’ve found the article on Reddit, where author complains about bad quality of his System76 laptop (http://www.reddit.com/r/linux/comments/jh42h/system76_disaster/).

    So that, could you provide your feelings on quality of laptop now (3 months after last review).

    Thank you in advance,
    Bohdan

    • Hi Bodhan,

      Glad you found my reviews useful. I’ve had no problems, the hardware on my machine is all fine. The general build quality is holding up to a bit of light travelling without incident. Still happy with my purchase!

      Cheers,

      Paul

  2. I’m considering this laptop for grad school. I’ll have to walk 2 miles per day with it back and forth from the train station. Since you said you’ve done some traveling with it, have you found the weight of the Gazelle off-putting? Also, does it run hot on your lap? Thanks for your review. It really is helpful!

    • Hi Lori,

      Glad my review is helpful! OK, I’ve had no problems with this machine for the occasional travelling I’ve done but I’d think twice before recommending it for the daily walk you’ve got. I carry it over both shoulders in a backpack, and I think it’d be too weighty to comfortably carry it some other way. If I were you, I might try and find a big book (at least A4 size) that weighs around 2.5kg, and try carrying that on my walk for a few days before parting with the cash. An encyclopaedia or an atlas might do it. I think that would give you a good idea whether this laptop’s suitable.

      As for heat, it’s warm under the left hand side but not hot in normal use – browsing, editing photos, that kind of thing. If you were working it hard, it’ll probably get hotter but it’s certainly cooler than previous laptops. I guess a smaller machine might suffer more with heat on your lap.

      Cheers,

      Paul

  3. I have been thinking about buying a Galago UltraPro. I’m a bit curious about your thoughts on the keyboard. Most reviews I have read are centered around the keyboard not registering key presses correctly and that the track pad is buggy as well. Are you still running Arch?

    Thanks,
    Max

    • Hi Max,

      I am still running Arch. The keyboard has been completely fine. I use a USB keyboard a lot, but I’ve certainly used the built in keyboard a fair amount as well and had no problems – pretty good actually. The trackpad is pretty much as I’d expect, not brilliant but no worse than other laptops I’ve owned.

      Cheers,

      Paul

  4. Thanks for the review. I am thinking of buying galago ultrapro too and installing arch. How much average battery life are you getting on this? also are you using tlp for power savings or any other scripts/packages.

  5. Hi Paul,
    I think the laptop has a Full High Definition display (1920 x 1080), that makes it 141ppi.
    When you installed arch, I was wondering whether you had to do any special X11 configuration, so that the fonts are not too small?
    Best
    Kilian

    • Hi Killian,

      I didn’t do any special X setup and I found the font size fine – but I like my fonts quite small anyway. If I recall correctly, the controls in XFCE all worked as they should to control visual aspects like that.

      I’m using Fedora on the machine now, that also works fine FWIW.

      Cheers,

      Paul

  6. Hi Paul,

    I’m about to purchase the Gazelle but have come across a variety of reviews on System76 and their products online, including less encouraging ones. I was wondering what you think about your laptop now 3 years later? Have there been issues (and if so, did System76 respond well)? Did you do any upgrades? Do you have any suggestions, thoughts?

    Thanks a lot in advance!

    Nic

    • Hi Nic,

      Well, three years later I’m still using the same machine. I used it for eight hours a day as my work machine for the last year and a half and it did just fine.

      The only problem is the battery life. It’s down to 20 minutes now, but after three years I think that’s to be expected. It’s certainly comparable with other laptops I had in the last – batteries don’t last forever. It’s also quite expensive to get a replacement, but again they always are!

      I haven’t had any issues, so I can’t speak for System76 in that regard, but I do know that they picked up some comments on Twitter so maybe that’s a good sign?

      Upgrades? I haven’t done any to this machine. My work machine now has an SSD and it really does make a noticeable difference for boot and application start, so for a purchase today I would get a solid state drive. I might also make sure I had USB 3, anticipating future high bandwidth peripherals.

      When the time comes to upgrade, I’ll certainly be considering System76 favourably.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks a lot, your answer was very helpful (and got me more excited :)! I’m really rather keen on the Gazelle but some of the review threads are quite bad. Have you had issues with the hinges? I have a Lenovo where I don’t want to close the lid anymore because it may pry apart the bottom of the laptop on one side (the other side is adorned with one of those big paper clips to keep it together…).

    • Great to hear! I ordered the Gazelle and if you have any questions, I’d like to return the favor in case you have questions 🙂

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