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Ask HN: Best ultrabook for Linux?
60 points by b01t on Mar 24, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments

Chromebook Pixel has been an awesome sometimes-Linux laptop for me. I'm still spending most of my time in ChromeOS, but the crouton project/extension allows me to have another linux chroot running for when I need to do work. There's a number of supported distros, although I've stuck with Ubuntu and XFCE, mostly because it stays out of my way.

The fact that you can have the entire chroot or an individual app run in a window under xiwi as though it were a regular Chrome tab makes it even better. I regularly have everything running in ChromeOS except Sublime running in its own tab while I'm coding.

Someone else can probably chime in as far as how well it works if you want to go full-Linux on the thing.

FWIW, I believe Linus Torvalds uses a Chromebook Pixel running Fedora. [0]

[0]: http://www.zdnet.com/article/chromebooks-biggest-fan-linus-t...

Can anyone comment on how difficult it is to put Linux on a chromebook? Is it locked down with a need to "root"/jailbreak or is it just a matter of some startup keys? I have avoided chromebooks because ChromeOS always seemed like a limiting factor and potential privacy issue. Can someone summarize the ChromeOS -> Linux process and pain factor?

For crouton, which is still tied to chromeos, absolutely not. All that's required is developer mode enabled. For a full, clean linux install, it varies device to device, but is in general a bit more of a pain. There's a full list of compatibility on the arch wiki I believe.

I've done it, it's an absolute cakewalk. No need to do crazy rooting.

I'm running vanilla Ubuntu on it (wiped out Chrome OS) with linux-samus kernel (https://github.com/raphael/linux-samus) since the day I bought it - everything is perfect. The fact that AdmiralAsshat already mentioned, that it's the choice of laptop of Linus Torvalds himself should say a lot already.

I feel like the 64GB SSD would be really limiting for development, though. I'm using about 200GB of space on my work machine, and I don't think I'm doing anything crazy with it.

Does the pixel do the thing where your linux partition gets wiped out if you ever run down the battery? Because that scares me.

The Pixel 1 did, but not the Pixel 2.

I can confirm that. Saw the comment of google rep last year on pixel's forum answering exactly this question.

Can't say that's ever happened to me, but I don't recall how many times I've ever let my Pixel completely run out on battery.

It's a year old but I'm still really happy with the ASUS Zenbook (UX305FA) I got:


I got an ASUS U31JG (13" non-ultrabook) about 5 years ago and added RAM and an SSD and it is still going strong (and nice to have HDMI and VGA). I think the Zenbooks evolved out of that line so an ASUS Zenbook (UX305) will be my likely replacement. Although I have also been eyeing the XPS13. It will likely be between XPS13 and UX305(FA or CA). But like I said, this 5 year old ASUS (with a few upgrades) is still chugging along.

Same here, great experience with Linux on UX305FA. I switched to multi-boot setup, shrinking Windows partition and giving Ubuntu 14.04 half of the 256GB SSD. Switched window manager to i3, which is excellent, can't imagine going back to floating windows after i3. UX305FA is supposed to be a relatively slow processor, but most everything seems snappy to me, and power handling is excellent (with TLP package).

Also, UX305FA is fanless. I love having no fan, hope to never again have a laptop with a fan.

If you're not trying to do anything too taxing (not planning on playing games):

ASUS Zenbook UX305FA-ASM1 model M (the fanless processor) gives me great battery life, and works nicely with Arch.

Thought I'd add, I love my UX51VZ three years later.

And updated UX305CA works great with a 4.5 kernel.

How do you get on with the CPU - is the Core M series much different in practice?

Well, I wouldn't run Gentoo on it. Compiling Chromium takes about a day, and I'm not a big multimedia user. But in day-to-day development work (both client-side and server-side) I've never had any issues. I had actually forgotten it's a Core M.

I can endorse the Dell XPS13 9343: small, light, great battery life, great screen/keyboard. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. Some folks decided to replace the Broadcom wifi with Intel, because it's not ideal for linux. I believe that the newest XPS13 uses Intel instead.

I'm pretty salty about Dell these days. I recommended my grandparents get a Dell so I wouldn't have to do too much tech support (I'm really rusty at Windows these days), and Dell decided that a machine manufactured and purchased in late 2012 is "too old" for them to bother making working Windows 10 drivers for. That's some real bullshit there.

Of course, Microsoft has no idea, so the machine gets updated to Windows 10 and tries to send 60hz to the 50hz built in monitor, which decided (actually sensibly) to just blink at you until you fix it.

That was a great experience...

I in-place upgraded three computers to Windows 10. All three had serious problems with the upgrade. On one the graphics became slow because it had Intel HD 3000 which apparently doesn't work well in Windows 10. On another the monitor would not turn on when resuming from sleep. On the third, the entire installation screwed up and required a wholesale reinstallation.

Those were one HP, one Lenovo, and one homegrown PC. So don't blame it on Dell.

I can certainly blame Dell for not supporting a Windows upgrade for computer that was only 2.5 year old on retail release, never mind previews and betas. It means they see their computers as disposable objects almost immediately after purchase, so why would I ever purchase one?

How is the build quality? I've had Dell laptops in the past given to me by my employer and the screen hinge has been a source of failure on two of them.

The touchpad on the skylake 13 is bad (not sure if it is broken).

Macbook touchpads are still a tier above the rest, but the Skylake XPS touchpads are pretty good (and better than the previous XPS 13) based on the reviews.

Better than the HP Elitebook I had previously, and no problems after 9 months.

I have one. Build quality is excellent! No complaints.

It's excellent IMO

What about the surface finish, isn't it prone to fingerprints etc?

The soft-touch carbon fiber finish can hang on to a smudge, but the aluminum outer shell is very smudge-resistant. It's much better than plastic.

It's not bad. If you get & use the touch screen, that gets smudgy. Not really sure what to do about that.

I have to agree the XPS 13 is perfect for linux. I have been using the XPS 13 9333 for about 3 years now. I run debian, 7 but now 8, and it just works for most things. I had to install the firmware for the wireless card but that was simple enough. I just got the new XPS 13 9350 a couple of months ago and am using that daily running Debian 8. I had to add the firmware for the wireless, base broadcom controller, and it works great. USB-c works well too. I also have the Dell TB15 thunderbolt 3 dock but that does not work unfortunately. Once the thunderbolt 3 drivers for the dock are working I will have the prefect laptop. Right now I have to manually connect montitor/keyboard/power. Once the dock works its one cable to plug in at the office.

There are lots of posts on the dell forums with steps to get linux installed on the XPS. The current developer edition is not supported on the latest hardware, 9350. Once the thunderbolt drivers are done they are supposed to release a new developer edition with Ubuntu. The dell Sputnik team posts on the forums regularly so you can stay up to date on the progress. They are fostering a very good community for linux enthusiast.

The one problem I've had with the 9333 is with the fan, which has started acting erratically lately, causing the machine to come close to overheating. Other than that, I've had the machine for quite a while, and have been very happy with it up till the fan issues began.

If/when the developer edition of the 9350 comes out over here in Rightpondia, I'll certainly be getting it.

This is partly why I'm interested in fanless models now, such as the Asus Zenbook (CA/FA line afaik). Do we need moving parts in laptops any more?

For higher performance machines where heat issues are unavoidable, we do, but the vast majority of laptops really ought to be fanless at this point, not least because moving parts are a recipe for failure.

Unfortunately, only 16 gb RAM.

If you want 32GB+, need a gaming notebook: P series from Lenovo sucks for linux (keyboard and touchpad).

We are basically left with Asus ROG machines. They're very comfortable to work on and touchpad is great, but really heavy and battery lasts for ~3-4 hrs. However, they have a fast Nvidia card for neural nets + can run 5 VMs at the same time.

Ah, that is why Dell Germany no longer lists it as available!

The 4th Gen X1 Carbon looks pretty awesome http://shop.lenovo.com/us/en/laptops/thinkpad/x-series/x1-ca...

$1857 gets you:

i7 6600U processor 16gb ram 512gb SSD 2560x1440 WQHD Screen

WiGig OneLink+ Mini DisplayPort™ HDMI™ 3 x USB 3.0 microSD™ Weight Starting at 2.6 lbs (1209 g)

Damn I think I might have just convinced myself here!

I've got a 3rd gen and I like except for button-less mouse, the weird touch-strip for the function key. They fixed both of these with the 4th gen though.

I use Arch and pretty much everything "just works," the camera, sound, wireless, etc.

I have third gen X1 Carbon and I love it, I run openSuSE leap on it and I have never been more satisfied with a linux distro on a laptop.

I wonder what the heat is like. All these slick looking things seem to get rather hot. Real X-series with throttling seems OK.

It's rather absurd. Even the Nexus 9, doing light tasks, gets uncomfortably warm.

If it was a bit cheaper and had a 13" screen (or a smaller rim) I'd go for it. Right now the XPS 13 has an edge for me.

I really want to get this one but have a few concerns -

> Malware in BIOS preinstalled by Lenovo > Is dual core processor sufficient?

I'm running a Lenovo S540 (the line has been discontinued but it is an ultrabook). It's processor isn't as good as the 4th gen X1 carbon you can check the comparison here: https://www.cpubenchmark.net/compare.php?cmp%5B%5D=2608&cmp%...

My S540 has an SSD,16gb ram and the slower processor and it churns through work fine, I mainly do Java development and on top of that I use the Play Framework which compiles to both Java and Scala so it's more CPU intensive.

I can easily run one or two IDE instances alongside 10+ chrome tabs,several terminals and mongo/mysql db GUIs.

I keep been tempted by these.

I've been using the Razer Blade 2015 and I highly recommend it. It's expensive, but the machine itself has Macbook-level build quality and internals. The screen is great and everything works out of the box with Ubuntu. While I do have dual-boot set up, I run Ubuntu 95% of the time and it's been basically flawless. (Caveat: I haven't tried the webcam or hibernate, and I don't use the Nvidia card.)

It's by far the best 14" machine I found when I was shopping around last year. While it's marketed as a gaming laptop it also happens to be a fantastic general-purpose or development machine, especially since Linux runs so well on it. IIRC they recently announced the 2016 model which is cheaper and lighter yet.

Downsides are 1) it's expensive; 2) proprietary parts means no DIY repairs, and Razer requires you to ship your machine in for their very expensive in-house repairs; 3) the black/neon-green color scheme is a little silly, though it's not nearly as bad as pretty much any other laptop marketed as a gaming machine. I bought a round matte black sticker to cover the logo on the lid and it fits pretty well.

Just in case others are looking at Blades...

My 2012 blade went in for repairs several times and has the worst keyboard I've ever used on a laptop.

I don't know if they've improved their quality control any, but AFAIK they're still using terrible keyboards. Be careful and try one out before you commit!

Personally I've found the keyboard on mine to be just fine, but I'm using a 2015, not a 2012. For those of you who are interested in a try-before-you-buy, when I was shopping around they were selling them at Microsoft stores and had a demo unit set up for people to play with.

Here's my take on it:

- Macbooks

overall good, decent battery(if you configure it right), but terrible wifi and broken cam(some fiddling required, possibly unstable hibernate), no sysrq

- Thinkpad X1

Probably the best support good battery, but no thunderbolt 3, so no external graphics, 16gb ram

- X260 Awesome battery, slower SSD than its competitors 16gb ram, good cpu, mobile broadband, only HD520 graphics(if it had thunderbolt 3 you could upgrade it with a discrete external GPU, shame really ...)

- Dell XPS 13, overall good up to 16 gb ram, Iris graphics, thunderbolt 3, so you could use a razer external discrete GPU(priced at 500 USD though). worse battery than the macbooks

- Surfacebook/Pro probably my favorite device, but linux support is flakey see:



Personally i'm still holding off i have a macbook retina 2013 and an air mid 2013. the retina screen died and i'm aching for a replacement but i want both graphics and battery, but that seems to be a no go. I'm leaning towards the x260, unless surfacebook magically starts working by the time i'm getting a new device.....

I use MacBook Air and Vagrant to run Linux (Ubuntu). Everything I need from Linux is a shell :) For other things OSX is enough.

What things do you do in Vagrant that you couldn't do in your OSX shell? I'm just curious.

I'm in the same boat, and I have to use Vagrant + VirtualBox for just about anything docker related.

Nice! I just joined the waitlist.

Managing docker-machines manually on non-Linux platforms was really starting to get tedious. Hoping this works as seamlessly as I imagine it would.

I was played on MacBook and everything run fantastic.

Probably chromebook pixel 2,asus ux305 or xps13

Ditto for the Pixel. I also have a ux305 and it's nice in a lot of ways but doesn't really have the battery life I want. The Pixel (what I'm using now) does, beating even my old MBA. As a bonus, I get to run low-maintenance ChromeOS and real Linux simultaneously via Crouton, including niceties like clipboard integration. Haven't missed either the MBA or the ux305 once since I got this.

I second Chromebook Pixel 2015 - quality tops macbooks.

I'm running Arch on my Pixel 2015 LS.

Regarding HiDPI: Gnome 3 and Cinnamon both work very well. I don't use many apps besides gnome-terminal, chrome, virtualbox, emacs, skype, and banshee. Except for Skype and Emacs, all of those worked with HiDPI out of the box. For Emacs, I just increased my font size. The skype buddy list is really small. I haven't investigated really changing it because I use it infrequently and it is still legible.

There has been huge variance in the build quality of the 2015 Pixels. I've had several RMA'd due to squirrelly disk controllers/flash devices failing (and disappearing from dmesg). There are common reports on the Google+ group of the keyboard rattling as well.

They are really nice machines when they work. The keyboard is great. The trackpad is great. The screen is gorgeous. The camera is good. Speakers are loud. Microphones are clear. The expansion is decent with 2 USB 3.1 Type C and 2 USB 3 Type A and an SD reader (unfortunate that the SD reader is USB2 and not USB3, due to all of the USB3 ports being exposed externally). The disk is undersized at 64GB, but acceptable for me to allow mobile development (This isn't a docker-friendly machine if that's your thing).

I think the Chromebook Pixel 2015 suffers from the same HDPI problem with Linux distros that I've got with the 2013 version. I've got GalliumOS (https://galliumos.org) working, but it's somewhat unusable.

Linux Mint supports HDPI out-of-the-box, so that's what I'm going to try next...

I'm running Arch + Cinnamon on a Pixel 2 and HiDPI is not a problem at all. The last problem application for me as the Arduino IDE, but that has recently been fixed.

I'm running vanilla Ubuntu and not a single issue with HiDPI screen - it's razor sharp and after setting the right scale settings every component is the right size. HiDPI is not the future, it's present, and if some applications still haven't caught up with that - let's not blame the hardware.

Try a MacBook Air or a Dell XPS 13

XPS 13 Developer Edition has been out for a bit and it comes with Ubuntu http://www.dell.com/us/business/p/xps-13-linux/pd

Not sure if it is an ultrabook but I am extremely happy with my Fujitsu Lifebook S904. Put Archlinux on it and it works fantastically well. Great battery life and performance. Only problem is its HiDPI screen which way too much software cannot handle (Hi Java!).

I have a System 76 Gazelle(https://system76.com/laptops), which I use as my travel machine. It runs Ubuntu 14.04. Very nice machine.

the thinkpad t460s is amazing...and supports up to 20gb ram.

I'm surprised a lot of people are recommending the X1 Carbon, with little mention of the T-series. The T-series is a favorite among a lot of people I know, and the T460s is very similar to the X1 Carbon, offering a WQHD screen, similar internals, similar battery life, at a lower price point. It's just slightly heavier, but it also has a port for a docking station which the X1 Carbon does not have, if I recall correctly.

For a more low-budget option the Lenovo L-series thinkpads are also pretty cool.

I have a T440S and love it. Decent legacy keyboard, not chicklets. All the devices work, including the fingerprint reader.

I would prefer the T460 (or the bigger T560), just because the battery of the T460s isn't user replaceable.

I'm using a Asus UX305L with Ubuntu/Gnome and very happy with it.

I went with 2015 model because I wanted the 1920x1080 non-touch screen to save battery.

Ubuntu on the XPS 13 was unavailable in the time period I made the purchase and I didn't want to deal with the wifi hardware issue.

One advantage of the XPS13 is a PCIe connection for the SSD.

You didn't mention cost, but the Asus will generally be a little cheaper.

I was going to get the XPS 13, but decided to perform some upgrades on my desktop at the same time. So to save a few bucks I got an X250 from Lenovo, and I've been very happy with it. It's a little bulky since I also got the large second battery, but the battery life is absolutely phenomenal, and everything works great on Arch.

I'm running Debian Unstable on a Macbook Pro Retina 13. Easily the best Linux box since the Thinkpad era.

How are your touchpad drivers doing? On every Macbook I've used with Linux, the touchpad was terrible, because it was missing palm detection and had awkwardness when using more than one finger.

Seems fine to me but I don't really use the touchpad much, just occasional web surfing etc. I did remember it being a pain to setup customised acceleration etc for it in X.org but apart from that not too bad.

curious to know the 'what works / what doesn't work' here.

I truly believe this battle to be between xps13 / retina 13.

Everything I use works, hardware media keys, brightness controls etc. The only thing I am not sure about is bluetooth as I don't use it.

I am not the biggest fan of the XPS 13, the few I have encountered all seem to have hardware issues of some sort. I bought one for my partner about 2 years ago (the developer edition with Ubuntu) and it had horrible screen whine that Dell wasn't interested in fixing.

The Asus Zenbook UX501. Great screen and specs. Runs Linux out of the box.

Have one. Support is a little flaky if you're on a distro that doesn't have >=linux 4.4 yet. Other than that, I agree

The T460s or the Thinkpad Yoga are brilliant ultrabooks. They are not as thin as the Carbon/Macbook Air, but they are definitely very good.

Chromebook Pixel 2 users, i5 or i7?

i7, LS edition. And I still get >10hrs of battery life.

Lenovo Yoga 900

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