Technology

Best Linux laptop for 2021: Which one should you buy?

If you’re looking for a new laptop that ships with Linux pre-installed, read Jack Wallen’s top five picks.

I remember, back in my early days of Linux, finding a laptop that could run the open-source operating system was tricky business. You might get a distribution to work with the video chipset. You might even find one that interacts with your soundcard. If you could manage to get wireless working, you were something special.

That was then, and this is a very different time. Now, you can find Linux pre-installed laptops all over the place. Companies like System76, Tuxedo Computers, Juno Computers, Dell, Lenovo and HP are all producing laptops that support or are even fully certified to run Linux. 

In those early days, if you were to find a company that sold a laptop pre-installed with Linux, the choice was easy. Now? Not so much. With more and more companies selling even more devices, the choice has become a bit more complicated. I would say, however, that’s a good problem to have.

But when you do have to make that decision, which laptop do you go with? Let’s take a look at five possible entries, one of which is certain to meet (and exceed) your needs.

The System76 Lemur Pro tops my list of Linux pre-installed laptops, not just because the machine is a beast, but because System76 support is the best I’ve ever experienced. The company cares not just about the products they create, but it cares for the users who purchase and use its hardware. Beyond the best-in-class support, this System76 laptop can be configured with either an Intel i5-1135G7 (at 4.2 GHz with four Cores, eight Threads, and 8MB of Cache) or an Intel i7-11657G (at 4.7 GHz with four Cores, eight Threads, and 12MB of Cache), 8-40GB of DDR4 RAM, and from a 240GB SSD to a 1TB PCIe Gen4 SSD. Claimed battery life is up to 14 hours, weight is 2.4 pounds, the chassis can be folded to 180 degrees, and the display is a 14.1″ 1920×1080 FHD with a matte finish. To make the Lemur Pro even more attractive, it includes open-source, embedded controller firmware and the open-source coreboot bootloader. Price starts at $1,299 and can be specced out to $2,897. The Lemur Pro ships with their in-house Pop!_OS, which is based on Ubuntu.


System76

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Another absolute beast of a laptop is the Tuxedo InfinityBook Pro 14. This laptop is all about business with a 16:10 Omnia display featuring 3K high resolution running at 2880 x 1800 resolution, a 16:10 aspect ratio, and an extremely thin bezel. The chassis is all magnesium, and the CPU is an Intel 11th gen Tiger Lake H35. Because of the heat generated by the CPU, this laptop includes two fans and two heatpipes to keep the system cool. You can optionally select an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU (with 4GB GDDR6 graphics memory) to turn the laptop into a powerful mobile gaming console. And with an oversized glass trackpad and backlit keyboard, your productivity will skyrocket. You can expect up to 12 hours of battery life from the InfinityBook Pro. As for ports, the device includes a Thunderbolt 4, and HDMI 2.0, two USB-A, a full-sized SD card reader, a headphone jack and mic input. The cost of the InfinityBook Pro 14 starts at just under $1,400 and can be configured up to around $3,500. The InfinityBook Pro can be purchased with either its default TUXEDO_OS (based on Ubuntu) or your choice of Ubuntu, Kubuntu or Ubuntu Budgie.


Tuxedo Computers

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The Juno Neptune 15 V3 is a beautiful laptop that is supercharged for whatever work (or play) you throw at it. What’s truly amazing about the Neptune 15 is the graphics. You won’t find a smoother display on a Linux laptop. The base unit ships with an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 MAX-Q graphics chip with 8GB of GDDR6 memory. You can bump that up to an RTX 3080 with 16GB of GDDR6 memory for an even better experience. Either way, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better display on a Linux laptop. Speaking of base-model specs, the Neptune ships with an Intel i7 with eight Cores at 2.3 GHz, 16GB of SODIMM RAM, a 256 GB SSD drive, a backlit keyboard, three USB-A ports, both mic and headphone jacks, and a microSD card reader, and an ethernet jack. The base price is $2,199, but if you bump up the graphics card and RAM, you can get that baby up to $3,172. 


Juno Computers

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You’ll find the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition on just about every “best Linux laptop list” of the past few years. With good reason. This laptop is sleek. The carbon fiber chassis is to die for. In fact, you won’t find a more elegant-looking piece of hardware on this list. That alone is worth the price of entry. Add an 11th-gen Intel i5 (at 4.2 GHz with an 8MB cache) up to an 11th-gen Intel i7 (at 5GHz with a 12MB cache) and that beautiful machine becomes a powerful workhorse in a very portable form factor. The base unit ships with Intel Iris Xe graphics, 8GB of LPDDR4x Memory, a 256 GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD, a 13.4″ FHD+ (at 1920 x 1200) anti-glare display and a four-cell 52Whr battery. You can bump the specs up to 32GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD, and a UHD+ 3840 x 2400) touch screen display. The machine starts at $1059 up to $2419.99. The XPS 13 Developer Edition ships with Ubuntu.


Dell

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The KDE Slimbook is beautiful. The 17mm thin, silver magnesium case is reminiscent of many an ultrabook from back in the day. It’s not the lightest on the list (coming in at 3.3 pounds), but it’s rugged enough to pack around without much concern. And with KDE Plasma, the operating system is just as elegant as the hardware it runs on. The base KDE Slimbook ships with an AMD Ryzen 7 4800H with eight Cores and 16 Threads (up to 4.3GHz), 8GB 3200 MHz RAM,  and a 250GB SSD NVMe internal storage. The display is a 14-inch IPS LED cover 100 sRGB. As far as ports, you’ll find two USB 3.0, one USB-C, one USB 2.0, one HDMI, and one RJ45. The OS that ships with the KDE Slimbook is KDE Neon. You can bump the specs up to 64GB of RAM, and a 2TB NVMe SSD drive. The base price is $988. Fully specced, the cost comes in at $1,977.


Slimbook


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