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How to buy a laptop for Linux



The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8 (14
Lenovo

When you buy a new laptop for Linux, don̵

7;t just buy the Windows laptop you like and hope for the best – you need to plan your purchase to make sure it works well with Linux. Fortunately, Linux hardware compatibility is better than ever.

Most desktop Linux distributions are installed on PCs that were never built with Linux in mind. The hardware may not work perfectly with Linux – and if it doesn’t, the manufacturer doesn’t care. A little research now can save you a headache later on.

Laptops included with Linux

Dell's XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop
Dell

It is actually possible to buy a laptop with Linux pre-installed. This is a great option if you are serious about Linux and just want your hardware to work. It’s not just the fact that Linux comes preinstalled – you can do that yourself in minutes – but that Linux is well supported. By installing Linux, the manufacturer says they’ve done the job of making sure the hardware is working properly and has Linux drivers. Their support people will take you seriously if you have a problem with Linux. They don’t just rip you off and say they only support Windows.

Here are some Linux laptops you can buy right now:

  • Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook Developer Edition: This laptop is based on Dell’s well-reviewed XPS 13 ultrabook, one of the best Windows laptops you can buy right now. The Developer Edition ships with Ubuntu Linux instead of Windows. It is the product of Dell’s “Project Sputnik” designed to create a Linux developer laptop. It’s a trustworthy brand, and we’re happy with our XPS 13 laptops here at How-To Geek.
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8 with Linux: Lenovo offers a version of its Thinkpad X1 Carbon laptop that comes pre-installed with Ubuntu or Fedora Linux. The Windows version of this laptop has been well-reviewed, and reviewers compliment the lightweight construction, beautiful display, and great keyboard. It’s a solid business laptop with a lot of customization options.
  • System76 laptops: System76 specializes in laptop, desktop and server hardware with Ubuntu pre-installed. That’s all the company does – System76’s laptops even have an Ubuntu logo on their “Super key” instead of the Windows logo found on most laptops. System76 sells a variety of laptops, from a 14 “” UltraThin “to a 17” monster designed as the Linux equivalent of a powerful Windows gaming laptop.
  • Purism Librem LaptopsPurism sells laptops and other computers focused on free software and privacy. Purism says its laptops are “chip by chip, line by line, designed to respect your rights to privacy, security and freedom.” If you’re looking for a laptop manufacturer that is deeply committed to these values, you might want to check out Purism.

Note that we don’t own most of these laptops ourselves – although we’ve happily used Dell XPS 13 Ultrabooks – so we can’t necessarily recommend them. You need to look up reviews for the most recent versions of these devices to make your own decision.

The Chromebook option

Linux installed on a Chromebook
Chris Hoffman

Chromebooks can also make inexpensive Linux laptops. Chrome OS is really just a custom desktop Linux with a different interface, so a Chromebook’s hardware supports desktop Linux. You can install a traditional Linux desktop system alongside Chrome OS and use the exact same hardware drivers that came with the Chromebook, so the hardware should work perfectly.

Updating: You don’t need to install a separate Linux environment on a Chromebook to run Linux apps. Chromebooks already run a Linux kernel under the hood. As of 2018, modern Chromebooks now have built-in Linux app support for developers.

The downside to using a Chromebook as a Linux PC is that Chromebooks aren’t really designed for this. They have a small amount of storage space and are designed as lightweight systems for getting on the Internet. They are not ideal if you want to use multiple virtual machines while compiling code. However, they are significantly cheaper than dedicated Linux laptops. If you just want a cheap little device running Ubuntu, a Chromebook might be for you.

We’ve covered the things to keep in mind when buying a Chromebook for Linux. Pay particular attention to the difference between ARM and Intel-based Chromebooks.

RELATED: Set up and use Linux apps on Chromebooks

Laptops not shipped with Linux

You may also want to buy a laptop that doesn’t come with Linux and install Linux on it. This also allows you to keep Windows installed and dual-boot Linux on your laptop.

More hardware is more compatible with Linux than ever, but you’ll still want to do some research ahead of time to make sure you don’t run into any issues.

For example, Ubuntu has an “Ubuntu Certified” hardware database. The certification process allows hardware manufacturers to certify their laptops, desktops and servers as Ubuntu compliant. Buy a certified laptop and you’ll be smooth sailing installing Ubuntu – and probably even other popular Linux distributions.

If you have your eye on a laptop and it isn’t available with Linux or isn’t certified as compatible, you may want to do a Google search for the laptop’s name and ‘Linux’ or ‘Ubuntu’. Check out what other Linux users have to say about their experience with Linux on that hardware. Make sure you are looking at the correct version. Beware of information pertaining to last year’s laptop version as the details may be out of date and the latest laptop with modern hardware may not be as well supported by Linux.

Buying a laptop for Linux is easier than ever. You can buy recent laptops with Linux from manufacturers as big as Dell or buy many Windows laptops and everything will work fine. Chromebooks have also added a new option for low-cost, lightweight, fully Linux-compatible systems, but you’ll still want to do some research before choosing a new laptop.




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