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Ask HN: Best budget Linux laptop for a developer?
84 points by gustuy on Apr 11, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments
I am looking for a laptop to use for Linux development. There have been a number of "Ask HN" topics about this, but this one is a little different - I am not looking for a brand-new, top-end machine, but rather something to use alongside my MacBook Pro (which runs macOS and Windows via Boot Camp). My budget for this machine is only around $300.

If I spend the money on another MacBook (Air or 13" Pro) I am probably looking at a machine of 2011/2012 vintage. Unfortunately I'm not sure the Air machines will be sufficiently powerful for my needs (low-voltage CPUs, only 4GB non-upgradable RAM). Also, all of the the pre-retina MacBooks seem to be let down by their screens: glossy, TN panels with (except for the 13" Air) at most 800 vertical pixels.

Another option is a Lenovo ThinkPad, again probably from around 2012 (with the traditional 7-row ThinkPad keyboard). The ThinkPad X220 seems good, but is let down by its poor quality "clickpad" and, again, poor screen resolution (but at least IPS is an option). The T420s has a more traditional ThinkPad trackpad and better screen resolution, but no IPS and inferior battery life.

So, all of these machines have downsides. For my needs, I think the T420s is probably the best compromise.

Would you recommend (for or against) a ThinkPad T420s for use with Linux?

Is there another machine available for around $300 that I should consider?




The Thinkpad W520 is the last workstation version with the better keyboard and the speed to feel comparable to current laptops, and is what I currently use. You can find these for around $300-400 on eBay for 16GB of memory and a SSD drive. Lower if you choose to upgrade those features later. The main drawback is that the W520, and its heftier AC adapter, is heavy.

The question is how much battery life do you want. I get around 3 hours with an older battery. I can push out more with different settings.

The Thinkpad T520 is probably an option with better battery life, but I have no experience with it. It's likely also significantly lighter since I don't think it requires the larger AC adapter. I'd try the T520 if I wanted something more portable.

I'm currently running Ubuntu 14.04 and run Windows in a virtualbox with no issues. I've used this machine since 2015. I don't notice a performance difference between this and my older desktop (2010-ish, 16gb, i7) running Ubuntu 16.04.

Edited to add: If anyone from Lenovo sees this thread, I'm snap upgrading if the Thinkpad "retro" is released.


I work part time with a friend refurbishing retired business machines and re-selling them online. We get a LOT of Thinkpads obviously, but the T520 is an especially common machine and man is it awesome. Easy to clean, easy to repair, great Linux support, and built like a tank. Best of all, you can get a nice used one really cheap and throw in the max RAM and an SSD for under $300 total.

Edit: 2010~2011 era Thinkpads actually make great cheap Linux dev machines. If you want something a little smaller than the 15" T520, the T420 is great too. And if you want something "ultraportable" the X220 is a great choice and can be had for under $100 used on Ebay.


Yes Thinkpads are great, specially second hand ones.

Many companies tend to replace them after a few years so there are a lot of them on the market, and they are generally quite cheap.

Once thing to keep in mind however is the screen. At least for older ones, it tends to be bellow average (low resolution, low contrast, low fidelity colors, etc) as companies tend to "forget" to check the "good screen" option. It's obviously a generalization, there are some with good screens, but keep it in mind.

I'm the happy owner of an x61, upgraded with 4Go of RAM and an SSD, plus a new battery, it still going strong.

Personally, I'm always reluctant to pay a lot for a laptop. A laptop can, easily be stolen, fall one the floor, be damaged in any way. Cheap secondhand thinkpads fit my needs wonderfully in that regard. A few years ago, just 2 weeks after I bought my x61, I slipped on an ice patch, fall on it heavily and the screen was dead. I just bought another one, exactly the same, swapped the disk and I was good. It wasn't a big dent on my budget, it would have been a different story with a brand new Macbook Pro.

Other notes:

I've a thinkpad T460s (i7) at work, it tends to overheat a little, I would not recommend it. And there are a bunch of X1 carbons there to, they are not very reliable machines. Personally I would stick with the basic X2x0 or T4x0 models.

Thinkpads are really easy to repair, easy to disassemble and there are a lot spare parts on ebay (keyboards, battery...)

I couldn't find it again, but back in the day, there was a webpage which gives you the configuration details from the type number at the bottom, it was really convenient to get all the config beforehand from the seller, you just needed to ask in this type number. Don't know if it still exists.


I'm also using a W520, running Ubuntu 16.04, and it's working fine as a dev machine. Of course I stuffed it full of RAM and swapped in an SSD. I don't schlep it home very often, but it's nice to have the option.


I use the w520 w/ubuntu 17.04 and love it. 1TB SSD, 12GB ram I think... good times. Would recommend.


If you have already have a Macbook Pro, just buy an external USB 3.0 SSD drive, and install linux on that. It's cheaper and lighter than a second laptop, and will perform as well or better than a $300 laptop.

You can install Debian onto the USB SSD using the instructions here: https://wiki.debian.org/MacBook#Install_Debian

Notes:

- Don't cheap out and use a regular USB 3.0 flash drive. It must be an SSD drive. I use this 60GB one (https://world.tmall.com/item/520064055360.htm?id=52006405536...) but 120GB or more would be better.

- Ignore the instructions about rEFInd: you don't need it for this use case

- You might need to do something special to get the webcam working, but the info is on the page

- If you're using a mix of retina and non-retina screens (e.g. retina MBP with regular 1080p monitor), you should know that linux doesn't make it as easy to get working as OSX does


Whoa that's so cool USB SSD is it as small as an ultra fit? Will look


Size compared with a Beijing subway card: https://goo.gl/photos/2W3JjfdLcjsggwSy6


Oh snap that thing is massive. No offense or anything. I thought they condensed SSD into a USB. I use this SanDisk Ultra Fit USB 3.0


Yeah you can run linux from your ultrafit, but it would be slow. I think you can even run it from an SD card, but it would be even slower.


I'm using a (Thinkpad) T42p from a dumpster, works fine. 1600x1200 screen, good keyboard, trackpoint and touchpad, up to 6.5 hrs on a single charge. I put an SSD in the thing (using a $2 PATA-SATA converter) which makes a world of difference. Since most development happens on servers anyway the relatively underwhelming performance (1.8GHz Pentium M, max 2GB) is not much of a problem.

Especially if you plan on developing web apps I can only recommend to use an older-generation machine. While this might sound counter-intuitive, it is an easy way to make sure your programs work well on both older as well as newer hardware.


I'm currently using a T43 I was given it by a friend.

I completely completely agree with you regarding the concept that older hardware results in better-designed and faster software. (If I had the money and I could deliver a pallet of T42s to Google's front door as a protest-prank, I would.)

I'm hesitant to put an SSD in mine though. The disk is swapping about 65% of the time I'm using the machine (although I have 2GB)... I fear I'd wear through the flash cells in 6 months. I'm completely serious.


No problem there, the flash wear problem is overstated to begin with, SSD prices have plummeted so even if you were to wear the drive out in a few years - months would be close to impossible on an old, bandwidth-restricted machine like this - you can just buy a new drive. My (120 GB, Intel) flash drive on the T42p (maxed-out at 2GB) has worked flawlessly for about 3 years now, with no sign of giving up. S.M.A.R.T. data is unreliable on this device, unless you really believe it has an uptime of 904608h+33m+15.150s, 5468289 uncorrectable errors (increasing by 2 per second), etc. More believable are the host write 32MB (81785) and NAND write 1GB (3726) numbers. Media wear sits at 0%.

I.e. just put an SSD in the thing and be done with it. Just make sure to get a big enough device if you're worried over write exhaustion as write lifetime is directly related to device size.


> [E]ven if you were to wear the drive out in a few years - months would be close to impossible on an old, bandwidth-restricted machine like this

[ Sound of penny falling on head and subsequent facepalming ]

Of course, why didn't I realize that. Good point. I have an SSD here with some data on it; if I can figure out where to stash that I might install it, heh.


Would you get a warning before the SSD completely failed/was unusable?


In theory, yes. In practice, maybe. Techreport did an endurance test on SSDs which gives some insight in the failure mode. The last article in the series can be found here, links to earlier episodes can be found through the article:

techreport.com/review/27909/the-ssd-endurance-experiment-theyre-all-dead

Some excerpts on the failure mode:

...all of the drives wrote hundreds of terabytes without any problems. Their collective endurance is a meaningful result....

...The Corsair, Intel, and Kingston SSDs all issued SMART warnings before their deaths, giving users plenty of time to preserve their data...

...Samsung's own software pronounced the 840 Series and 840 Pro to be in good health before their respective deaths...

...If you write a lot of data, keep an eye out for warning messages, because SSDs don't always fail gracefully. Among the ones we tested, only the Intel 335 Series and first HyperX remained accessible at the end. Even those bricked themselves after a reboot. The others were immediately unresponsive, possibly because they were overwhelmed by incoming writes before attempted resuscitation....

...Also, watch for bursts of reallocated sectors. The steady burn rates of the 840 Series and 840 Pro show that SSDs can live long and productive lives even as they sustain mounting flash failures. However, sudden massacres that deviate from the drive's established pattern may hint at impending death, as they did for the Neutron GTX and the first HyperX....


Man it sounds somewhat involved. It's not as easy as drop-in with regular HDD's. Still I get the benefit... so what do you do? Based on its class, estimate the lifetime? How would you do that? Do an average read/write count per day or something?

Thanks for the info. This is separate technology than the emmc or whatever that's prevalent in new "cheap" laptops now that is used for main memory. Like the laptops that come with 16GB storage haha.


Make sure to have an up-to-date backup of the important bits on the drive (I'm using rsnapshot [1] with a 1h interval, backing up to a mirrored server), otherwise just use the thing for what it was intended to do. I've had quite a few magnetic drives fail without warning as well so I assume storage to be unreliable and act in accordance.


Heh, my storage situation is interesting. I'm currently trying to squirrel spare change away where and as I can so I can get a ZFS pool; it's mildly irritating that the "perfect" price/performance ratio means you need to get $1k in drives before you can begin.

I'm aware of ACD (https://redd.it/5s7q04) but I'm in Australia, where "real" internet (ie, upload speeds above 100KB/s) are a dream for 95%+ of the country (including me), so the ~5-8TB of (un-deduplicated) data I have here would take at least 1090 days to upload if I did it 24/7 and had perfect and unwavering 100KB/s upload. During which my entire connection would be unusable because TCP. Heheh.

The "send me a HDD" route won't work because the data has been sliced-and-diced in various ways (the worst case example being a disk image tar+split'd to fit on a FAT32-formatted HDD) and I need to de-Rube-Goldberg everything first. That would take me about 6 months, and I'd definitely want a properly mirrored setup for that.

Moral of story: I probably don't want your old computer with its tiny HDD. (And if I could go back in time and tell myself that the hotswappable disk thing I was hearing about in 2006 most emphatically did not apply to my two 486s, and that plugging that HDD in with power on would not only take out the PSU but also the floppy drive controller, that may have helped things a bit... what I had to do in the end was duplicate the HDD contents between the two machines in question so I had my files available on both - the triplicates-of-my-duplicates snowball started there, I think.)

I honestly won't be surprised if, once I've deduped everything, I only have about 50GB of truly important stuff, and a few hundred gigs of "I can redownload that if I need it".


do you use fdupes? I wish it would combine all the files into the same "copy" folder rather than scattered, whichever one happens to be the "index" copy that is left.

I guess your alternative could be to use local storage.

haha, I cry about my own problems with 1Gbps connection.


I ran fdupes on a random directory once, very interested to see what it would do. After spending an extraordinary amount of time checksumming everything (I don't even remember if it had a progress bar) it spat out a very confusing text file I wasn't able to make sense of at all.

My plan is to write a multithreaded disk [re]indexer (since full indexing sadly seems to be the only solution at the moment; no filesystems have a "fast dump" mode yet), along with a bunch of utilities that try to make sense of the generated index.

(By "[re]indexer" I mean that, if you pass the indexer an old database, and any file has the same size and mod/ctime as what's in the old database (or matches any other rule you specify), the checksum for that file won't be recomputed. You could also pass in an old database and simply tell the indexer to scan a specific set of subdirectories on disk that you know have changed, and the indexer would copy simply copy the old database to the new for every path/file outside the ones you've specified.)

Building an index and then working off of that has a lot of benefits - instantaneous visualization without needing to rescan the disk on every program start, realtime similar-file searching, listing every file with the same checksum as you browse around, etc.

Obviously this tool will wind up on here when I eventually (:P) do write it. I probably should think about starting on it already but in all seriousness I'll likely be motivated to start working on it once it looks like I'll finally be able to put my ZFS pool together. (Hopefully that plan doesn't backfire, and I don't get the remaining $ all at once and abruptly wind up with a bunch of disks and no tool... and we wind back to the first approach, of just starting now)

Local storage is definitely the goal, once I can afford it (expensive medical issues that prevent me from straightforwardly getting a traditional job are really fun, FYI xD). I don't really find cloud storage flexible enough for my requirements at this point.

Sadly the NBN has been sufficiently politically meddled with that it's not likely to be 1Gbps - and indeed current installations are only 100Mbps with no path past that. But I heard recently on a news story (on the radio of all places) that if people need an upgrade path with the NBN, that that will be available. Nobody mentioned how much said upgrade would cost, but I'd be willing to drop a few hundred on it once I have a job. What on earth issues do you have with your connection?! lol


BTW, +many on the suggestion to deliver some old iron (or, rather, titanium and magnesium) at Google HQ. For some reason they are amongst the worst offenders when it comes to creating sluggish JS-heavy pages. Given the performance of their earlier, JS-free search site this is both confusing as well as disappointing.


Ah yes! @OP, if you buy a second hand ThinkPad, buy a 'p' version (T43p, T60p). Those have the high-res UXGA screen, which has almost as much pixels as full HD, just another dimension. But watch out, there are different versions made of the P ThinkPads. Some have the UXGA screen, others the SXGA+ with 1400x1050 which you don't want.


>Especially if you plan on developing web apps I can only recommend to use an older-generation machine.

This is very specific to the workflow of the developer. If you develop on a Windows Stack (through VMs) you very well could want the extra power to run the Visual Studio debugger. Or you may also want the extra power to run several Virtual machines. There are plenty of good reasons to get a high powered machines for web apps.


>There are plenty of good reasons to get a high powered machines for web apps.

Having 100 chrome tabs open at once


Great suspender ;) unless 100 tabs is your normal working set...


It's pretty dumb, but I found out you can scroll through tabs with your scroll wheel, when hovering over the tabs in a Chrome window.

No you quickly lose track of the "right" tab and then you're hunting through them all trying to figure out which one was most recently relevant. But I like that ability to open open open


I used the T60P before upgrading to a W520. The drawback of the T60P is that you're capped at 4GB with a CPU that shows strain if you want to do heavier lifting, but if you are severely budget constrained then it's a decent choice. I think the price difference between the T60P and T42P is negligible at this point too.

If going with the T60P or older, then a good SSD is an absolute requirement, IMO.


The main problem with the T60 series is that once they decide to start overheating they're apparently impossible to convince otherwise.

I have a T60 here with a fractionally misaligned GPU heatsink. If you take a look at the motherboard (http://i.imgur.com/lUOwImO.jpg) you can see that the GPU is covered by the lower-right-most portion of the heatsink - and there are literally no screws holding the heatsink down, only the force of the heatpipe. Mine's ever so slightly misaligned... and the system idles at ~72°C and easily gets to 85°C+ as a result :(

I've very carefully tried to bend the heatpipe into different positions (it's rather pliable copper and I'm afraid I'll break it) and while the heatsink is pushing down onto the GPU, it isn't pushing down squarely onto the chip perfectly.

So the system has hit its thermal limit once.

I use my much older T43 with the T60 sadly sitting to my left collecting dust on its keyboard. I'd love to use it, but apparently the thermal issues are unfixable (I asked a friend who's used ThinkPads for way longer than I have, and they promptly noped out.)


Nice question man, I've been scouring ebay for the same rough specs($300-$500). Long battery life, thin, 13.3", 8gb ram, i5 at least, 1080p screen minimum.

The ones I found were: Asus Zenbook, Samsung Ativ, Lenovo Ideapad (2-in-1)

The Ativs are really nice except for the "Windows 8 COA BIOS key in system, need to download copy of Windows 8 from Samsung" that was one ebay listing I saw.

The Carbon X1 is a good series but has fan, also battery life not good and 14"

I'm favoriting your question as I'm looking myself. It's tough man, a lot of the older computers don't have good battery life or are stuck with 4GB ram. Macbook Air 2013 is probably your best bet as far as actual battery life/build quality but it runs Apple OS, you could dual-triple boot that was an option I was considering myself however the battery life is partially software on Apple's side.

The Dell 13.3 edge displays are nice haha, surface book would be nice as well, but yeah out of budget.

There are some other ones that slip my mind. So many times I was sold on a laptop then found problems like heat/battery life/display problems.

Right now I get away with 13.3" (Samsung Chromebook 2 Exynos $140 (slow processor)) and Cloudbook 14 by Acer (battery life $99 good battery life longer in Windows than Linux with TLP I tested 9+ hrs), but these suck 4GB ram, 2GB ram respectively. The chromebook what's nice about it is the screen/size. I have crouton on the chromebook but it's not as convenient as just having full linux (watching shows better on chromebook side).

I'm mostly productive on my 8GB desktop though with 2 screens. Laying back coding in bed has yet to be proven productive for me haha but that's the "reason" I'm trying to find a good dev ultrabook for cheap. I'm also concerned about theft, so the idea of lugging around a Dell 13.3" edge display xps... I don't know what I would do if someone just stole that... so a "disposable" but useful laptop is appealing. This Acer Cloudbook 14 is close but that fixed 2GB ram damn...

Keep in mind my search is for ultrabook, hopefully the fans either don't exist or are positioned in a way where you can set your laptop on your lap.


Thinkpad x220 or t420s. You can get a USB3 port on the i5 t420s, but the battery life is generally shit.

x220, you need to get an i7 to get a usb3, but the battery life is great, and it's small, and you can upgrade to 16gb ram.

Stick with thinkpad. the 20 series is the last series to offer the classic keyboard. After that, e.g., x230, t430s, you get chiclet keys.

x61, x201, x220. Stick with those. I'd go with x220, but you could even get an x61, and put 8gb of ram in it...it's ddr2 though, so it will be expensive.


You can also install a classic keyboard in any 30 series. I have the X220 keyboard in my X230 now.

http://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Install_Classic_Keyboard_on_xx...


>x220, you need to get an i7 to get a usb3

Are you sure about this? I have an i7 x220 and it doesn't come with USB3. I think I remember having a tough decision between the x220 (USB2 + nice keyboard) on the x230 (USB3 + chiclet keyboard).


Yes, I'm certain. I have usb3 on my x220.

http://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Category:X220

"Three USB ports (of which one is USB 3.0 on the i7 model)"

I would check and make sure that you got one with an i7.


I got my X230 for £168 a year or so ago (i5-3320M, 4GB, 320GB, I shortly added a 256GB mSATA SSD for ~£50), the same place is currently selling T430 and T520 for the same price. I got an X61 a couple of years before that for £65.

You just have to find a decent refurb or recycling shop (i.e. those that take and resell ex-corporate stock); I imagine you've got an even wider choice in the US.


Unless you want a gaming machine, if you care about price, this is the only way to do it.


> the same place

What's the place?


I've bought a fair amount of used laptops - for around $100-$150 each - on eBay for real, paid development work.

For $300 you'll come out great. Any ThinkPad will do, but look it up on thinkwiki.org first.

There's a huge variety of these machines and they're all pretty solid. You can pick your flavor. I tend to optimize for being lightweight, high RAM, 64-bit. Make sure you get one with a built-in WiFi card and reasonable battery life. All this will be in the item description.


Not sure what the HN opinion of Reddit is, but they have a forum intended for your exact use-case:

https://www.reddit.com/r/SuggestALaptop/

Might be some help to find there.


I have a way cheaper machine myself that I still use everyday.

It's a T60 with upgraded CPU (T7600), second hand 60GB SATA II SSD, 3GB RAM (limited due to chipset bug), ExpressCard with USB 3.0 and a 9-cell battery which lasts for 1/2 hours.

I spend around $100 for this machine in total, only $25 for the T60 itself.

I'm not using this particular machine because the specs are so great, but because I found it on Ebay and it was painted yellow. It's such an awesome thing. It runs Debian with XFCE4 fine, but websites like Facebook in Firefox isn't that fast. For development purposes it's perfectly fine.

I'm thinking about upgrading this machine with a motherboard from a T60p with a FireGL GPU one day, but I have to research if that would work.

You could take the same route as I did, but if that's too much work I'd go for a X201 with SSD and 8GB RAM.


Ha I just finally stopped using my ~2008 T61 with similar specs (now acting as my pfsense router). Was a great machine, but realistically a core2 duo is just too under powered these days. I had 4GB ram and a 128GB SSD and even looked into upgrading the cpu for a bit. You could get the highest spec CPU from ebay, but cost for such little gain made it not worth it.


Yep, I have the highest spec CPU for the T60, the T7600 :)

I paid $15,- on Ebay for the CPU with free shipping.


Damn dude why so low ssd ? I think their performance goes down when at ~40%+ full.


I don't encounter any slowdown yet, it's 50% full. Maybe I will put a new SSD in this thing when I really need more storage for applications.


I recently went through a similar process. My budget was ~£300. I ended up getting a Thinkpad X230, i7, 8GB RAM, SSD from Ebay. I'm happy with my choice and the machine is a decent workhorse


I bought an x230 from Lenovo's outlet about 2 years ago. i5 with 4gb of ram and a 500 gb sata drive. I threw in an m2 SSD and 16gb of ram and it's great. I'll eventually replace the 500 gb sata drive with an SSD but for now it's fine and the total cost was probably $600. Has to be close to half of that now.


Have you considered running VirtualBox/VMWare Fusion/etc on your MBP and doing Linux dev in a VM?


Exactly what I was going to suggest.

If you're just going to mess around to see what it's like developing running Linux, save the $300 and do it in a virtual machine to start with. Then if you like it you can buy some hardware.


That's exactly what I do. My main machine is a 2015 MBP, and I use VMs for Windows & Linux. In fact, most of my work/browsing is done on the Linux VM.


or just install linux on your macbook. it's not that hard.


Very happy with a ASUS Zenbook UX305FA. Everything worked with no issues when I put Ubuntu MATE on it. It feels more-or-less identical to a 13 inch MacBook Air.

It was ~$400, but "used" in my case was relatively new and unused. I bet if you found a version with a blemish or two it'd be ~$300


Thinkpad is a good choice. If you live in the US and you budget is $300 you can easily get a T430s (s is thinner than non-s). If you are patient and willing to spend some time on ebay you could find X240 or T440 under $300. I would try to get FHD IPS display. If you can't find one, you can get one for ~$60-$80 and replace it yourself (very easy to do and manuals and howto videos made by lenovo are available online).

EDIT: Many used thinkpads come with HDD. I highly recommend replacing it with SSD. I got the cheapest 120GB sandisk SSD from amazon (~$50) for a X230 I got from ebay and I am very happy with it.


I use T430s and would recommend getting a regular T430 instead of T430s. The height difference is minimal but you can get a 9 cell battery for T430.


Good point. I did not know that.


I'm a huge thinkpad fan. I'd totally go with one of these if you have a bit more budget: http://www.laptopmag.com/articles/lenovo-thinkpad-x62-mod

If you're going for a regular second-hand thinkpad (which is also a fine choice for linux in my opinion), the poor quality trackpad doesn't have to be an issue. Many people swear by the trackpoint 'nipple', once they get used to it.


If you're going to be SSH'd into servers (or other devices) most of the time, a Chromebook could be an option. Just get one whose hard drive can be upgraded if need be.


Asus has good quality laptops for a reasonable price. These days you can get a new Asus laptop with 4GB RAM for less than $300. I always do a full install of the most current version of Ubuntu LTS, and it works great on Asus hardware, including Wifi. I purchased my first Asus laptop back in 2011, and its still running well, even after multiple OS installs and lots of heavy data transfers. Purchased another Asus in 2015 for $275, have not had any problems.


Thinkpad T500 is also very good for your usecase. You can swap the built in hdd or an ssd, and put the old hdd in a hdd caddy in the place of the cdrom.


I used a T420 for 3 years in university. Great sturdy laptop, great upgradability. Still up and running on Arch Linux at home.

You can have a similar config (2520m with the nvidia) with a T420s for pocket change as we speak. While it cannot have a 9 cell battery like the T420, you can swap the DVD Drive for a battery!

You can also put in a m.sata SSD and remove the 2.5inch drive.

Great hardware for Linux.


If you see a Chromebook that you like the specs on, the crouton project can turn it into a dual boot system with your distro of choice. I found it surprisingly easy to use and it works really well. Since it's a chroot under the hood, the new distro can use all of the device drivers from ChromeOS, so all the hardware works perfectly.


If you go for a Chromebook, check out this Xubuntu-based OS that's designed for ChromeOS devices: https://galliumos.org/

You can also permanently install a non-ChromeOS OS on (some?) Chromebooks, but you might have to fiddle with a BIOS flash and a write-protect screw first.


I use GalliumOS on a Dell ChromeBook 13 (i5/8GB). I don't have any issues except that the machine reboots itself during sleep sometimes. That's not a big deal for me, so I am very happy with the experience besides missing Ubuntu Unity after working on it for several years now.

EDIT: I used chrx to install it. I don't recall any issues during the process. I also upgraded the SSD to 256GB.


Others have mentioned using crouton with a Chromebook. I dual boot my Chromebook with GalliumOS, a distro just for Chromebooks, and have been very happy with it. Since Chromebooks have a limited set of hardware, you can see whether a particular model is supported before you install.


Is your Chromebook intel? I had the "misfortune" of picking an ARM-based Chromebook haha, only bad thing so far is I can't install VS code. Geany... haha what is that?!!!

Also the 4GB ram kind of sucks. How is GalliumOS to you? I use trusty (not os) primarily for i3.


> only bad thing so far is I can't install VS code

This is worth a note for many people. There are astonishingly few good editors that you can easily compile or get binaries for ARM CPUs. Upside: I ended up picking up Vim and Spacemacs because of this.

Also note that crouton can be a bit hacky on those devices - I set up chroagh 3 times, and for each time, the X11 integration stopped working after a couple of weeks for some reason. Working from the TTY is still pretty doable, though.

Also: Install the chroot on an SD card. Crouton requires you to put your device into Dev-Mode and press a hotkey on each boot. I ended up touching my spacebar during the prompt by accident once, and the thing happily wiped its flash memory.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you most likely won't be able to run a custom kernel, even if you boot your own system. So, there's no guarantee you'll have the fancier options at your disposal (iotop, setting inotify-limits etc).


Oh my god that happened to me the wiping memory. That's what happened? Good to know man thanks.

That super loud beep(s) too what the heck.

Does ChromeOS by default implement something like TLP? I installed it in Linux side, but not sure if when you run linux if the TLP carries over. Maybe it doesn't matter anyway , my Chromebook still has like 95% capacity thank fully and it pulls on average like 10 Watts with a 35Wh battery... but it lasts I don't know 3-5 hrs trying to keep it between 30-80% charge.

Thanks a lot for the great tips. What about read/write stuff on SD I think I heard it's hard on the SD card versus say USB 3.0 (use that for my Acer Cloudbook).

Also what's up with right-click on Chromebooks, weird ways.


> Does ChromeOS by default implement something like TLP?

I would assume the default system does power management quite well (at least on my device it does), so if you're running a chroot that shouldn't matter too much. If you boot your own system I'm not sure, though, I guess the best one can do is try.

If you follow the instructions to set up an Arch Linux[1] boot system for your device for example, it will most likely just copy the ChromeOS kernel over, so I would assume the support also depends on the device's system...

[1]: https://archlinuxarm.org/platforms/


Arch linux?! Whaaaaa haha, you think I have a brain to follow directions!

Anyway thanks for your time.

I can't seem to find 8GB chromebooks, they might not exist yet and when they do expensive oh well. Quit being poor is what I keep saying to myself. "Hey buddy why don't you snap out of it and quit being poor?" haha.


To clarify: I'm not suggesting you have to use Arch; pick whatever suits you most :-)

I only wanted to point out that they don't have their own kernels for some devices, which indicates that it isn't practical to use a completely self-compiled kernel for whatever reason (I would assume there are some crucial blob drivers).

Good luck with your setup!


At some point it does seem more effort than it's worth, you know how about you budget and save to get a decent computer.

yeah anyway thanks for the information


I faced the same dilemma this month. I was looking at the T420 as well as some other Lenovo and IBM laptops.

I went for a refurbished Dell E6410 from eBay (2.6Ghz i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD) and installed Ubuntu on it. I got it for £170 ($210). It is surprisingly good (especially considering the price).


As recommended on Reddit, an Acer Aspire ($350) stands out with considerably more mentions than the rest in the $200 to $500 range: http://laptopkarma.com/?price=200+AND+500


my $0.02: I would go for T420s.

- you don't really need IPS for development.

- you can swap battery easilly in T420s and you can get additional in the ultrabay if battery life is really big concern. (in any case always get a new battery if you are buying second hand laptop)


X220 is good. You'll want to start using the Trackpoint if you're using it regularly, and an external monitor is always an option if you need a higher resolution.

You may also look at X200 with LibreBoot. Quite a lot of places sell these.


I'm using a X220t I bought second hand and am pretty happy with it, too.

I have to ask, though: Are you an avid user of the track point? Are there any hidden settings or "techniques" I'm missing?

I really never got to terms with them and often still use the (not that great) mousepad if I really have to do something with the mouse pointer...

(Of course, since I mostly use Spacemacs/Qutebrowser, that's not too often the case anymore)


> You may also look at X200 with LibreBoot. Quite a lot of places sell these.

Those are very expensive, OP stated that his budget is $300, those are almost $600. I don't know any company apart from Minifree that sells those.


I loved the ThinkPad T420s when I worked with it at me previous job.

Extremely easy to upgrade, well built, difficult to damage, great battery life with minimal TLP configuration, and the slim form factor was great for mobility.


Thinkpad T420 even should have you some money left for ram or ssd upgrade. I use mine as daily driver and love it


A Chromebook would be the only non-crap new machine for that budget. You can install Linux on Chromebooks.


Thinkpad X201.


Thinkpad T420. $100 on Craigslist


I added a new keyboard ($40) and SSD I already had. Feels like a new machine.


Vagrant on the existing Mac or develop in the cloud. Why have ANOTHER computer?


If you go Air, the i7 are quite fast and can get 8GB RAM.


Thinkpad.


I would go with Chromebook with 8GB memory.

Thinkpad is overpriced. Zenbook is good alternative to Mac.




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