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Best Ultrabook for Linux?
133 points by chashaz on March 18, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 172 comments
Hello,

I'm a programmer and I'm looking for some recommendations as to what type of Ultra-book I should buy for myself. I use Sabayon Linux (Gentoo based) and I would mainly use an ultra-book for programming and perhaps some light gaming.

I'm looking for hardware that is fully supported / compatible on Linux & I'm interested in hearing more about your suggestions.

Kindly note that I'm willing to make sacrifices regarding hardware incompatibilities with stuff like fingerprint reader, etc. as long as most stuff works fine on Linux.

Also I'm on a limited budget so I would prefer if the ultra-book doesn't come with a high price tag.

Thanks.




I see a lot of comments here recommending a Macbook Air and I wanted to inform you, just so you are perfectly aware, that this computer does not even have an ethernet input. Perhaps not a game changer, but it gives a picture of what kind of features Apple has scraped away in order to reduce it's size.

Personally I would choose a Thinkpad, were I you.


In addition, most non-OS X operating systems boot on Intel Macs using their EFI BIOS emulation layer, which doesn't quite give you the native hardware control that booting straight EFI does.

I work with enterprise deployed Macs and I'll tell you that most Linux distributions, when booting Macs via EFI BIOS emulation, do not properly control CPU and GPU power and tend to run them at full tilt. Apple's Bootcamp drivers for Windows address this issue but Apple hasn't released equivalent drivers for Linux.

The end result is that, if you intend to use Linux multiple hours a day, nonstop, on a device as space-constricted as an Air, with CPU and GPU running full tilt - yes I know when running in BIOS mode a Mac's fans stay permanently at max speed - you are going to COOK that little unit.

I've seen it more times than I care for.

I'd -really- suggest looking at a different machine if this is your use model.


There are still linux distributions that don't do EFI? Arch and Ubuntu, at least, run fine on intel macs, without the whole crazy power problem issues you're talking about.


Ethernet is an interesting feature when it comes to ultra-portables. It's curious that we've come to a point where the rj45 port is actually thicker than the body of some computers (the air included). If you absolutely need it, there are some USB->rj45 adapters out there.

I have both a thinkpad netbook and a macbook air. I've found that 98% of the time, I'll grab the macbook air. Runs windows and linux just fine, and the hardware feels a lot more solid.


So no chance of a Token Ring making a comeback on Thinkpads then?


When was the last time you connected a laptop to something with a wired ethernet port? I honestly can't remember...


You would think that, but more than half the hotels I stay at still don't offer wireless.


And they charge and arm and leg for that. I go to StarBucks or Maccas and use the free wireless there when I travel.


Ethernet? I can live without. But page down key? Backspace and delete? F keys? Mouse buttons? Price?

And that's the superficial stuff.


> And that's the superficial stuff.

That's also weird/misinformed stuff to say the least:

> Backspace and delete?

The Air has a backspace key, and a forward delete can be achieved via Fn-backspace (on OSX at least)

> F keys?

Of course, 12 of them

> Mouse buttons?

Yes, two.

> Price?

Same price category as most other ultrabooks.


Fn-backspace is no good. You just don't "get" the almighty Thinkpad.


I'm not sure what you're trying to say, and what the reference is about.

Is Fn-Backspace sub-optimal for forward deletion compared to a dedicated key? Sure. But it's there.


Last December I bought a ASUS U31 (U31SD-A1 Intel Core i3 2310M 2.10GHz 13.3" 4GB Memory 640GB HDD NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M) and I absolutely love it. I don't know if the same model is available but I would definitely look into it if you can find it. For Linux I use Mint and you although it uses the Optimus stuff for video bumblebee works great. You don't need to run in NVidia mode to get 3D effects either I only use bumblebee to turn it off. I get 10hours+ of battery life, the keyboard is awesome (chicklet style). I did replace the internal drive with an SSD drive which makes it boot much faster, less than 5 seconds. Also dual boot windows for games and the NVidia graphics are great for that.

EDIT: removed some of my !!!!s since they made this sound like it was written by a teenage girl. (I really do love this laptop)


Another vote for ASUS U31SD!!! (I am also excited like a teenage girl about this laptop!)

I bought it for $650 from Amazon almost a year ago. It is not really an Ultrabook. But, I think it is perfect. The screen size is a 13", it is incredibly light, yet still has a full-size keyboard, all ports you will ever need, and quite A LOT of power (4Gb RAM expandable to 8Gb, 2 cores, 4 hardware threads). I use Ubuntu with Unity, with a lot of browser windows, a heavyweight IDE (NetBeans), lots of terminal windows and it works very snappy. It also never gets hot. The battery life is terrific.. 7-8 hours!

I didn't buy an SSD yet, but I intend to, in a few years when they get cheaper.

I dual boot Windows for gaming, and I've even played some relatively recent video games (like Just Cause 2, Mass Effect 3), with maxed-out resolution on an external monitor. Works like a charm.


Nice! Happy to hear that there is another person running Linux. I honestly get a good 10 hours (or at least that's what the power manager reports). It boots so fast with SSD I don't think I'll ever go back :)


Thanks, will look this one. My favorite machine is still an eeepc1000, but since then, all i saw from Asus was crap. hopefully they are back to decent designs


The Lenovo ThinkPad X220 is really great, and it's also Ubuntu certified since a long time (10.10) so it should be okay with others distros.


The X220 is the nicest non-Apple small laptop I've seen in a while.

It can also take an mSATA SSD, so you can load it up with a big spinning disk for media storage, and a small boot SSD for the OS/apps/etc.


Every notebook in the planet can. You don't have to a) wait the manufacturer to offer you b) pay the amount they ask


This isn't true. There are notebooks that have the slot inside but not the mSATA support.


didn't know that. what do they have instead of SATA?


It's just the usual mini PCI-something slot that would hold a WWAN card.


X220 is a great line, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a Linux notebook with better hardware support. It can also get extremely competitive battery life with a little bit of kernel tweaking.


Can you give examples or links that explain what sort of "tweaking" you're referring to?


I've added the following to my grub options (this helps a lot if you use Gnome3 like me): pcie_aspm=force i915.i915_enable_rc6=1 i915.i915_enable_fbc=1 i915.lvds_downclock=1

Which makes the complete entry look like:

    title  Arch Linux
    root   (hd0,0)
    kernel /vmlinuz-linux root=/dev/sda5 ro pcie_aspm=force i915.i915_enable_rc6=1 i915.i915_enable_fbc=1 i915.lvds_downclock=1
    initrd /initramfs-linux.img
I also use thinkfan to keep reasonable fan speeds along with the ondemand cpu-frequency scaling policy on battery power keep power usage down. I also minimize disk usage by taking advantage of my 8GB of memory and placing /tmp in tmpfs. These days I usually get 8-10 hours of actual use on a single charge, but most of that is writing/running code and browsing the web. If you usually do something more CPU taxing, you'll probably run closer to 5-7 hours. That's using the 9-cell battery that juts out from the case slightly and a low power SSD.

The most annoying part of the X220 is the buttonless clickpad. It works really well if you use the tap to click features, especially since the multi-touch lets you scroll around and double/triple click with multi-taps, but in the end I just couldn't get used to tap to click. Using the actual click/button, click and drag is so horribly broken with clickpads on Linux (and even Windows, if you ask me), that I gave up on that fairly quickly too. Finally I just disabled the touchpad in the BIOS. The touchpoint works too well to bother stressing over the ill-conceived touchpad on this model.

The IPS screen is great, but there is some occasional ghosting. It's only a temporary effect though, so it's a price I'll gladly pay for having a better image than any of the external monitors here in the house. It's also extremely bright, so I suggest turning down the brightness a few steps and letting your eyes adjust, otherwise you'll unknowingly burn your eyeballs out.

The battery also has a little bit of looseness when it's locked in. Based on what I've seen on other forums, this one's hit or miss, with some people having the same problem and many others not. Overall though, the laptop feels fairly solid without being heavy, but it's not nearly as solid as the X120e (which feels dependable) or the aluminum-body Macbooks.

Finally, the keyboard on this thing is great. The keys are nice and big, the escape key is prominent and in the right spot, and the quality of the tactile feedback is perfect.

If I had to choose all over again, I would've gotten an X220T, since I underestimated how much I use my wacom tablet, but other than that, I'm quite happy with the X220.


The ips screen has more up/down blind color spots than the cheap version.

Can't say about color quality, but I'm cursing myself for getting one since i have to move my head up/down when i have to read the very top and very bottom of the screen with a dark colored image


also the battery life beats any ultrabook


The x and t thinkpads have the same price issue of apple.

Plus the added disadvantage of no physical retailer to see the machine before buying.


MacBook Air (I have an early 2011 11" with Ubuntu and GNOME3) works pretty well, though sometimes I have issues connecting to WiFi access points that work fine on my other Linux devices.

Some notes about the setup: http://bergie.iki.fi/blog/11-macbook_air-the_best_computer_i...


How about the touchpad? Because on a Macbook Pro + Ubuntu, the touchpad is sucks.


How much battery life do you get with that setup?


Used to be 3-4 hours, now after a year slightly worse.


He mention price. Didn't he?

No matter how much you downvote me, it still will cost 3x more than another model for the informed consumer. I know because all notebooks i have costs at least 1/3 of the apple equivalent.


> He mention price. Didn't he?

He also mentioned ultrabooks. Last time I checked, all ultrabooks are in the Air's price range (give or take 10%, and not necessarily in the Air's disfavour).

> I know because all notebooks i have costs at least 1/3 of the apple equivalent.

It might just be that none of your notebooks are in the same category.


Ok just read wikipedia to know that ultrabook is a Intel trademark. And that it's not a beefed up netbook as i assumed.

So none of the 3 i have are ultrabooks.

And neither is the apple stuff according to wikipedia, so off you go downvoting all apple suggestions here on the same base.


> And neither is the apple stuff according to wikipedia, so off you go downvoting all apple suggestions here on the same base.

Feel free too, don't be surprised if you are badly received considering the very blueprint for the "ultrabook" classification if the second-generation Macbook Air.


The cheapest ultrabook on Newegg is the Acer Aspire S3 at $799. That's nowhere near 1/3rd of the price of a MacBook Air.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE...


If you limit ultrabooks for the Intel trademark definition, there will only be the expensive models, of course.

But then, it will exclude the air as well.


Not an ultra; but I was looking for something similar, I think to what you were looking for.

Small, but still useable, light, fast, good build quality and hopefully cheap.

I did a alot of research and watched slickdeals.com regularly for deals and ended up with an Asus 1215b with an E-350 processor. It comes with 2gb of ram, but I put another 4gb stick (22$) to bring it to 6; and replaced the hard drive with an ssd ($100).

all in all I have about 450 bucks into it and it's great. Everything works in linux; but graphic drivers aren't quite upto snuff. With windows 720p played fine; on linux it is sometimes jumpy; even with hardware acceleration.

It has no optical drive (a feature for me). It also has usb 3.0 which was a must-have for me.

Main downside is that the touchpad has a flaw and you have to fix it yourself. If you are going to put in an SSD anyway (and you should/have to) you will beable to fix it while you are doing that. Otherwise its like a 5-10 minute fix depending on how comfortable you are taking apart laptops.

The other big downside is that replacing the hard drive voids the warranty (or at least, you have to break through a sticker that says if tthis sticker is broken the warranty is void).

But all in all I am super happy with this laptop. The function keys work, the wireless is solid; with an SSD it boots up in seconds; everything is lightning fast. Only a dual 1.6 ghz so if you are doing lots of heavy compiling it isn't probably not for you.

I have not done much gaming on it; I have played a little bit of heroes of newerth on ultra low settings and it was playable.


Odd. I have the Thinkpad equivalent (x120e) and I agree on almost all your points except performance. 720p plays fine in linux, 1080p plays fine too but only with vaapi acceleration. Have never booted windows on it, so I can't compare there.

Gaming wise, it can handle Xonotic at native resolution (1366x768) with most of the effects cranked up at 30 fps.

Did I mention changing the hard drive does not void the warranty?


I would buy that in a heart beat over what I have. Not sure what is wrong with my video.

Nor why I ended up with what I have. I honestly thought I looked for something just like that. I really like the nipple; but all the Thinkpads (i thought) were out of my price range.


I have an x120e too - how did you get suspend to work? With either the open source or the ATI driver, suspend would break if left suspended for more than an hour or so (screen won't turn back on, requires battery pull to fix).


I got the 1215b E450 and I'm very happy with it. It came with 4GB RAM.

I didn't notice any touchpad problems. I disabled the two-finger multitouch scrolling in favour of the one-finger vertical scrolling region because I just couldn't get used to it after a few weeks of trying. It requires me to hold my hand at an odd angle which feels uncomfortable. Then I re-enabled it because I found myself trying the two-finger gesture (in vain) in certain situations, so now I'm using both depending on how I sit and I'm happy. Except that sometimes it doesn't seem to detect the scrolling (for either method) but it's not like the touchpad-issue as I saw it on the YouTube videos.

One thing you really should consider is that IMO the display quality is not all too great:

One, I got a bit of LED-bleeding on the left side of the screen, nothing too serious, just a bit brighter than the rest, but enough to at one time trick me into wondering "huh I don't remember jEdit's line number margin had a gradient in it?".

Two, sometimes the white appears blown out, like over-exposed. At first this was way worse and I almost took it back until I found out it wasn't happening always and it turned out to be some sort of power-saving setting. However after disabling that, it's still not very good. For instance I need to turn my display at an angle in order to be able to read the lightest "dead" comments on HN, which I did not have to do on my last netbook.

Third, if the sun's shining outside, even with the (semi-translucent) shades drawn, watching a dark scene in a movie is difficult. Of course it's no optimal condition and my last netbook had trouble with it as well, but not as bad. Maybe it helped that the netbook's screen surface was diffuse and this one's got a reflective surface. I don't know why they make reflective screen surfaces anyway??

There's a slight possibility that some of these problems are software, since I run Ubuntu on the netbook and this one's still got Win7. I will see.

Otherwise, it's a great device!


I use 1215b with E450 and I can agree that it's a good product.

I'm also using 6Gb RAM in it, but I don't understand purpose to put SSD in such book.

If you put SSD in 1215b - price becomes comparable with ASUS UX21E. "True" ultrabook.


What is the touchpad flaw?


From the users stand point; it just gets jumpy; and your input doesn't match the output.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ak20j48w1A

If you have ever used a non-laser tracking mouse on a wood surface you have a good idea of what its like.

What appears to be happening is that there is a short from the output of the touchpad to the motherboard. Removing the little piece of foil that appears to be 'grounding' the trackpad from the screw 100% fixed it (for me).


Just so you know, the Asus 1225b is out and has the E-450 at (I think) the same price.


Dan Bernstein recently posted a page on getting Ubuntu working with a current-gen MacBook Air: http://cr.yp.to/hardware/air.html

Some of that information might be useful.


Beware of touchpads with multi-touch and integrated buttons (a.k.a. "clickpads"). A lot of laptops nowadays seem to have these MacBook-esque touchpads, and especially ultrabooks since they're often trying to mimic Apple products. But driver support for PC clickpads in Linux is hit and miss. Often you'll find it very frustrating to perform right clicks and drag-and-drop operations. Cutting-edge distros like Ubuntu 12.04 finally include rudimentary support for clickpads, but my experience in a non-ultrabook clickpad-enabled laptop was far from ideal even with the 12.04 beta.


I could never own a laptop without 3 hardware buttons, ideally set up like a thinkpad:

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_nVGyx975u38/SkzCHnkMbAI/AAAAAAAAGg...


You realize Macbook touchpads are buttons right?

They have left click and right click with button action. It's just as intuitive as having 2 separate buttons, and even more so because of how customizable it is.


Not quite the same. For example, what happens when you run out of room on a drag-and-drop operation? You're holding down the whole track pad so you have two options: add a second hand to hold the button, which can make the cursor do weird things, or start over giving yourself more room. With a hardware button this isn't an issue.

That said, the Apple track pads are incredibly high-quality and I generally like them. I do miss the hardware buttons from time to time, though.


How do you drag? I do the initial click with my thumb on the bottom of the track pad and then drag around with my index finger. As long as the pad is depressed with the thumb, you can lift up and set down your index finger however you want to continue the drag.


Although I prefer the IBM TrackPoint -- to the point of buying desktop keyboard versions -- I'm currently using a Macbook Pro with a trackpad. I'd prefer to keep my fingers on the home row, but it's much better than all the alternative touch pads I've tried. Like you, I still miss the hardware buttons. The ergonomics of clicking while dragging just don't work for me.

But I've found a solution that works pretty well for me. I'm using KeyRemap4MacBook to create virtual right and left click buttons. Currently I have Function set to left click, and CapsLock to right click. I tap to click for things like following links, but hold and drag for text selection and the like. Since I usually am dragging with my right hand, using left pinky for "clicking" works quite well.

Highly recommend that you try it if you miss the hardware buttons. In combination with BetterTouchTool, I mostly have things working the way I want, and am almost (but not quite) past being tempted to get out the Dremel tool and retrofit a red nubbin in the middle of the keyboard!


Or you can just lift you finger, move it up where there's more space, and start dragging again, it's not complicated, actually it is very easy and fast.


I don't know how others prefer to drag, but I have the three-finger gesture enabled: holding down the fingers counts as a dragging motion, and if you release the fingers, it gives you about a second to lift the fingers, move them elsewhere, and continue the dragging motion. This way you can drag infinitely if you so desire, without a hardware button.


I lay my thumb on the bottom of the trackpad and hold it down, then my pointer is free to drag, lift away, reposition, and drag more. It's extremely convenient and certainly one-handed.

The trackpads are also multitouch, so they handle multiple hands as sensibly as you might expect.


> I lay my thumb on the bottom of the trackpad and hold it down

That's an awesome tip. I didn't know that the Apple trackpads would do that. They're less reliable if you just try to throw a second finger into the mix, which seems to generally lose the drag and turn it into a secondary click scenario. The bottom of the pad seems to be special-cased to avoid this.


But no middle click, which is something that the ThinkPads have and something I use every day. I also prefer the track point nub, as it lets me keep my fingers on home row.


Yes. I have had to completely disable the trackpad on my Lenovo X220, and I use its 'nipple' mouse button instead.


Its clitmouse. :) and i recommend you enable the touchpad for scrolling. On X you can configure all the area.


You're getting down-voted for the first bit I'm assuming :)

Actually, the 'nipple' plus the centre scroll button works quite well. Just hold down that button, and apply pressure to scroll.


I'm waiting for a notebook with touchscreen, and no touchpad at all. For me its just wasted space.


I haven't gotten Ralink RTS390 wifi adapter to work, either (Ubuntu, HP laptop) tho I only spent 45 minutes on it and got busy with other stuff


See if you can find a special on a thinkpad x220 if you don't want to go the air route. Unlike the air, you can max it out at 8GB of RAM and it comes with full voltage processors rather than ULV processors like in the MBA.

I was running gentoo on my x220 (have since gone to a T420 on mostly for the higher resolution screen) and getting 11 hours battery from the 9-cell. Also would recommend the IPS option, though they've had some quality control issues with those screens. I had problems with mine and Lenovo replaced it, no questions asked. One of the best screens I have seen on a laptop. For the wireless, I found the intel 6205 to work best with gentoo. The hardware on the thinkpads is generally really Linux friendly.

It's worth noting that there's an impending ivy bridge refresh. I'm thinking an x230 might come out in the next few months.


Speaking of X230, it's worth noting that you might be able to get 1600x900 in the next version. Other laptops are offering higher resolutions, including 1080p in 11-12" in one ASUS ultrabook, and there's at least one 12.1" 1600x900 panel floating around. So that's another reason to wait.


Exactly what I'm hoping for, actually. X220 was perfect, except 1366x768 a bit harder for me to be productive on.

For most programming I do it's fine as I use vim and don't need a lot of real estate...but for large projects for which I use eclipse, it was a bit painful.

Also on the way is the T430U, the 14" ultraportable version of the T420. Might be nice too. Would take a 1600x900 x230 over it any day though.


Actually, you can even stick 16GB ram into the x220. i agree that it is a great notebook, esp. with the ips screen! if only the resolution was a tad higher :)


One thing that has always killed me in regards to non-Apple laptops is the touchpad. Everyone does it wrong. By this I mean that they're small and not very sensitive, the attempts to integrate scrolling are janky. Anyone care to comment on the current status of that?

A lot of people dislike Apple but the subtle things like this are what keep me here. It's so simple to scroll and click and right click with just light and simple taps.

Is it primarily a software issue? OSS hasn't caught up?


I tried running other operating systems on my Apple laptop with the large touch-pad and none of the other laptops I tested were able to reduce the sensitivity or do typing detection properly to prevent random mouse clicks while I type. With the large touch-pad, part of my palm rests on the touch-pad while typing. Without good detection the laptop becomes almost useless.

It's such a minor thing, but it is the major reason I went back to OS X over Linux. It was also the item that really made me appreciate how much detail Apple puts into their interfaces.


I was also wondering about that -- why are touchpads on most laptops so small? But I don't agree that OSS hasn't caught up, scrolling by sliding along the edges of the touchpad (my personal favourite) has been available in GNOME for years.


But then the keyboard on Mac laptops is a hell to work with. The | character is not even represented on the keyboard, and requires the combination alt-shift-L.

Edit: this is on a non-US keyboard, belgian or french azerty layout.


This is just plain wrong.

http://images.apple.com/macbookair/images/design_multitouch....

The | character is under the delete key above return.


Completely agree, I had a MBP and a MBA with German (qwertz) keyboard and Apple's layout sucks big time.


I think your character must have come across wrong, or you're referring to non-US MacBooks? | is shift-\ just like everywhere else. alt-shift-l gives me a Ò.

(This was typed on a MacBook Pro)


It must be on Azerty keyboard then. Each time I have to work on a mac I need to ask how to type the pipe character.


Yes the AZERTY Apple keyboard is full of suck (then again, so's the base one — at least the french layout, AltGr + 6 for a pipe? How about no?)


You must be on a non-US English keyboard; on the US English keyboard, | is between Return and Delete, with \. alt-shift-L produces Ò for me.


This is absolutely not true - I know because I'm looking at one right now. I would say Mac laptop keyboards are the best that exist. Thinkpads are the only thing that come close, and they only come close.


I've experienced very good as well as bad touchpads on normal laptops. I believe it's the hardware, actually. My ALDI Medion Akoya netbook was simply excellent (I believe it's a rebrand of the MSI Wind), my current ASUS EeePC 1215b E450 touchpad leaves a bit to desire compared to that one (even though it is bigger).

On the other hand, when I have to use a friend's Apple touchpad, I usually find them awkward to use. But given that Apple's got such a good name I'm certain it would just be a matter of getting used to its "feel" if I had to use it more.

Maybe you got the same experience in reverse, that even the good touchpads feel strange to you because you're used to Apple touchpads.


Why are you not being down voted? The OP didn't ask for you opinion of non-Apple products versus Apple products.


Panasonic's Let's Note line of laptops (sold as "business rugged" Toughbooks in the U.S.) has what I'd call a great trackpad, preferable to anything I've ever used, including the Apple trackpads (except for the things you can't do with it because you're running Windows).


Two-finger scrolling on both axes works well here on my Thinkpad T520, which is at least a massive improvement over edge scroll IMO, especially with limited space. Unfortunately the touchpad is quite small.


Nott sure what you mean, could it be that you are just too accustomed to the apple touchpad? I can scroll and move the pointer just fine on mine.


If a cat is born and kept in a dark room during it's infancy, it will grow up to be blind... it's a metaphor, but you don't know what you don't know. So try it out, understand how it works and then you can make a proper appraisal. I guarantee you will think every other means of scrolling is inferior...

For example, I can scroll (smoothly) in every direction, that means diagonally and in circles, whichever way my two fingers want to go on the trackpad. I can accidentally rest a few fingers on the trackpad and, click down with my thumb and move one of the fingers and I will successfully select and drag my selection, try that anywhere else, Linux does not support this even on the Mac trackpads, although they are making inroads...

I have successfully installed Ubuntu 11.10 on a MacBook pro and it works great, you can triple boot Mac, Windows and Linux, so at this point the trackpad issue is a software problem for Linux to solve.


You wouldn't know until you've used the touchpad on an Macbook.

Give it a try for 1 week. Guarantee you won't be able to go back.


Tried to switch to Apple hardware, actually. Got a lot of hate towards them. Sensitivity is good, but precision is awful. Mouse has strange dynamic, leading to irrepeatable behaviour.

I'm genuinely surprised that Apple turned me away by having lots of small details done WRONG.


Been using a MacBook Pro for over a year; this will be the first and last Mac I intend to use for either work or personal activities. I miss the Thinkpad TrackPoint every time I'm forced to use the trackpad on the Mac (or any other laptop, for that matter).

Whenever I'm using the MBP trackpad, I feel that it's meant for people who don't stay near home row because the wrist motion of displacing my wrist/hand is incredibly wasteful. In the case of my Thinkpad, though, I can much more easily transition from clicking around to typing something up.


Had to use one for months, went running to the better sensitiveness of my eeepc from Asus (model 1000, when they had quality parts) and the think pads clitmouse (i use touchpad there only for scrolling, all the area is a scroll wheel)

i think you are mostly comparing apple drivers to windows drivers.

The question is clearly about Linux. Where there's no such thing as bad scrolling implementation


I'm not aware of any fully supported ultrabook. Something always seems to be unsupported or not fully supported but usually inessential, like a fingerprint scanner, or an accelerometer.

A friend of mine is using a Zenbook but it takes some serious efforts to get it to run properly https://help.ubuntu.com/community/AsusZenbook

It's also a matter of what you consider an ultrabook. I have a Dell V131. It's a laptop IMHO but it has a 13.3" screen, weighs 1.8kg, gets 6hrs of battery life (with wifi on a 6 cell battery) and works under Ubuntu 12.04 OOTB (except for the fingerprint scanner :)


I'm using a zenbook and with the 3.2 kernal (included in ubuntu 12.04beta) almost everything is working great. There is a small change that is needed to enable suspend, but otherwise everything works out of the box with no extra drivers needed (including wifi, two finger right click, camera, 3d graphics, etc.).


Can you tell us how the battery life is?


Under linux (normal web browsing, coding, etc.) I get around 5 1/2 hours. With windows that goes up to around 7 hours. I think much of the windows battery saving comes from the very low power mode it switches into automatically when you unplug the laptop. This mode can be a little annoying though as it powers down the cpu and you can't do basic stuff like watching a high quality video smoothly, etc. As far as I can tell under Linux the power saving mode is much more conservative.


The touchpad on the Zenbook is absurdly bad, nearly unusable. I was hoping they would stick with the Elantech found on the Eees (these are rather well supported) but instead it's a 'Sentelic.'


Actually Zenbooks ship with two different touchpads, mine has the Elantech and works OK.


You can get one of those from System76. The 14" Lemur Ultra looks like what you may want, though I'm not really sure if that's an ultrabook. Their price is among the best (if not _the_ best). https://www.system76.com/laptops/model/lemur


I haven't heard of System76 before but their pricing is pretty competitive not to mention they claim to officially support a linux distro. Thanks for sharing :)


Not sure if this is helpful but I was looking for the same thing about six months ago and ended up buying a macbook air, decided to give OSX a chance and stuck with it. As far as I'm aware most of the things are compatible but trackpad support isn't quite there yet.


How do you deal with absence of PgUp/PgDn and Home/End? I've honestly tried for 2 weeks to get comfortable with MacBook, but feel that the keyboard is simply bad.


Me too until I found that Fn+Up/Down,Left/Right do what you want. Also Fn+Backspace to delete.


Tip: You can use KeyRemap4Macbook [1] to map the stupid eject button on MBP to delete. And if you use vim, you can map Escape to Delete and vice versa. Very useful.

[1] http://pqrs.org/macosx/keyremap4macbook/


That's a poor substitute. These tiny arrows are hard enough to hit on their own. Chording doesn't make it better, especially since often you need Shift-PGUP, Shift-Home etc.


Fn+backspace to delete is a new trick for me! Thanks a million!


All the usual emacs keybindings work in all applications, so it's arguably nicer than the ones with extra buttons.


The keyboard is fine but the lack of home/end/pgup/pgdn is indeed a royal pain in the ass.

After 3 years of running OSX on my Macbooks one would think I should be used to it by now. But it still annoys me enough so that I use an external keyboard for any programming work.


Take a look at BetterTouchTool. You can bind any key combination to home, end, pgup, or pgdn.


What do you guys use those keys for? I never had to use them before.


Not sure why I was down voted, it was a genuine question. I'm currently on my friend's MacBook so I can't try them out...


Well I mostly use cmd or fn + left, right, up, down now and find it a lot more useful, also find myself using cmd+shift and the arrows a lot for selecting to the beginning/end. The thing that took me the longest to get used to is the delete button, I still miss it but I survive by using the aforementioned combinations. I find the overal experience so much more pleasant that I'm willing to put up with it.

Thanks to zimbatm I just found out you can use fn+backspace for delete!


M-v, C-v, C-a, C-e?


The various warnings about drivers, touchpad and wifi in these answers is almost amusing if not a little depressing. Remember the promise of the Linux Desktop? I remember giving ubuntu a good try in 2006, but after nightmares with xorg configs, flash, audio drivers and a clipboard that couldn't copy and paste across different applications I eventually switched to mac. It doesn't look like things have changed much in the last five years.


If you're willing to restrict yourself to a couple of models like you have to with the Mac, then you can get a laptop that comes with Linux, like those from System76[1].

The only reason you have warning is because people want to use Linux on machines not supported by the manufacturer, but guess what: the same thing would happen with OS X.

[1]: https://www.system76.com/


I just got myself a Dell v131. Very happy with it. Small, slim and fast enough, with easy access to expansion. Not a Macbook, of course, and not an ultrabook, but half the price.


We're talking about Ultrabooks here. Which is a "new" form factor with, probably, weird hardware to get the size/weight down. You can't install OS X on a Thinkpad, either, the hardware wasn't meant for it. So yes, as long as OEMs don't provide Linux drivers, you won't be able to install Linux on any random device without worrying about hardware issues (and I'm not trying to say that they should provide Linux drivers, no value judgement going on here).

However, if you use hardware that is fully supported, the Linux experience is trouble-free. Just like the OS X experience is trouble-free if you use a fully supported device (a Mac).


Just like the OS X experience is trouble-free if you use a fully supported device (a Mac).

You obviously haven't tried using Bluetooth audio with a recent Macbook: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3200456

It's hard to believe, but I can honestly say that this is a case where Linux audio handling is much easier to deal with.

(I understand the general argument you're making, and agree with it, but "trouble-free" felt overly generous.)


I've been running Linux on laptops since 2004 or so. Used Debian, then Ubuntu and never had any bad hardware issues. The worst issues would require connecting the ethernet cable and downloading missing modules (that couldn't be distributed on the CD).

I just got myself a Dell Vostro v131 n-series that came with Linux preinstalled. I updated it to the latest Ubuntu and everything works flawlessly. Just about any average notebook will run Linux well, unless it's specifically designed not to. My second option was an HP netbook, but HP insisted I'd have to buy it with Windows if I wanted the 768x1366 screen.


I've been running a T420s with LMDE for 4 months now, and the one issue that's been bugging me is battery life. Boot up the windows partition: 6.5 hours. Linux partition: 1.5 hours.


That's weird. Can you run a power metering tool to find out what is using so much energy? What the GPU it uses?


I'd love to try that. You mean a hardware metering tool?


Try to run "powertop".


Thanks! I updated my tunables, but top of the overview is the laptop fan.

Update: it's also possible the GPU is the culprit: http://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=786665


Nice!

Let us know what happens.


Here's a snapshot from my powertop:

    Usage     Device name
   3598 rpm     Laptop fan
    1.7%        CPU use
  100.0%        Display backlight
  100.0%        PCI Device: Intel Corporation 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family PCI Express Root Port 4
  100.0%        PCI Device: Intel Corporation 2nd Generation Core Processor Family Integrated Graphics Controller
  100.0%        PCI Device: Ricoh Co Ltd Device e823
  100.0%        PCI Device: Intel Corporation Centrino Ultimate-N 6300
  100.0%        PCI Device: Intel Corporation 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family SMBus Controller
  100.0%        PCI Device: Intel Corporation 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family 6 port SATA AHCI Controller
  100.0%        PCI Device: Intel Corporation 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family PCI Express Root Port 2
  100.0%        PCI Device: Intel Corporation 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family PCI Express Root Port 1
  100.0%        PCI Device: Intel Corporation 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family High Definition Audio Controller
  100.0%        PCI Device: Intel Corporation 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family KT Controller
  100.0%        PCI Device: Intel Corporation 2nd Generation Core Processor Family DRAM Controller
  100.0%        Radio device: iwlagn
  100.0%        PCI Device: Intel Corporation 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family PCI Express Root Port 5
    0.0 pkts/s  Network interface: wlan0 (iwlagn)
    0.0 pkts/s  Network interface: eth2 (e1000e)


With both my desktop and my wife's, I can't remember the last time we had a major hardware incompatibility with Linux. Both were built piecemeal. Since Ubuntu added their restricted drivers installer, I haven't had a problem with many hardware issues. Wireless cards, video drivers, it's all been there.

There has just been one thing I haven't been able to get working quite right and had to compile my own driver for, and that's a Logitech G13. It's different enough that generic drivers don't work, and rare enough and complicated enough that no one else had submitted drivers before.


I have the complete opposite experience, but I tried Ubuntu in 2008 (and stayed with it). I think the 8 series Ubuntu was really already a good Linux for the desktop and they kept getting better after that.

Installing for example was much easier than anything windows.

Linux was a mess in 2002 with nothing working out of the box in Red Hat, the UI was super slow (browsing the net was about half the speed compared to windows on the very same computer).

So maybe we can surmise that it got really good around 2007-2008?


I honestly don't understand the driver issues - I've installed Linux on a number of different machines, and I've never had any driver issues myself (certainly not when using a preconfigured DE).

That said, I don't think the MacBook Air is the only (or even the best) solution for an Ultrabook. I've heard good things about Lenovo's series, and while it's not an Ultrabook, my HP Envy has always run Arch Linux splendidly - I couldn't be happier with it.


I use a Toshiba z830, and it works brilliantly under Ubuntu, I can assume it does as well with other Linux distributions.


I have r830 with Arch, so a less-ultra but quite similar stuff -- everything works, after some tuning it can eat only 7.5-8W during normal activity (with Compiz).


Nice, what kind of tuning did you do? I hover around 9W, which is already really good... A link to share for your tweaks, sir?


I got a Thinkpad x301 (if you can get one) using Arch Linux and newest KDE. I am completely in love. Everything works lovely and fast with its 128GB SSD except for the fingerprint reader (haven't bothered to check if I can get it to work).

It has modest battery life but you can replace the DVD drive with an extra one. Amazingly light, perfect wifi and a light that illuminates your keyboard from the top.

I can do light gaming (age of empires 2, or America's Army 2.5) with integrated intel. KDE just flies.

I set circular scrolling and high sensitivity in touchpad, that way I can scroll without ever lifting the finger and work faster than with a mouse.


Well most of the issue I have with Linux is graphics compatibility, that being said, I'd recommend any with an nVidia GPU over one with an ATI one. With that you will certainly have a much better experience.


Nit-pick: the "Ultrabook" brand specifically means an Intel CPU with built-in GPU. Even outside the brand, there aren't many laptops with that form factor with a non-Intel GPU these days.

Having said that, for window compositing the open-source radeon drivers seem to work fine as long as you don't go for a bleeding-edge chip.[1] For games, the proprietary nvidia drivers are likely better and might be worth the extra hassle (but realistically, booting into Windows is less hassle and gives a bigger choice of games... Also, realistically, you won't get a powerful 3D chip in a thin & light laptop).

[1] I've never tried the open-source nouveau drivers for nvidia chips; they have apparently been improving in leaps and bounds.


>the "Ultrabook" brand specifically means an Intel CPU with built-in GPU

Reference?

There are Ultrabooks with discrete GPUs.

http://blogs.nvidia.com/2012/03/real-ultrabooks-have-gpus/

http://hothardware.com/News/Upcoming-Acer-Ultrabook-To-Featu...


"Ultrabook" currently specifically refers to a system with a Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge based ULV CPU, all of which have integrated on-die GPUs.

Re the announced system: interesting - does Optimus work on Linux these days then? Last time I checked, the GPU on Optimus systems was dormant on Linux.


Ever since Acer Aspire ultra book came out with nVidia GPU, it's no longer the case.

Optimus is not used on Linux.


So have they basically disabled the intel GPU then?


On the contrary I suggest either Intel or ATI graphics because unlike nVidia, Intel and ATI actually contribute to their open source drivers.


On the other hand, NVidia proprietary drivers actually work better than ATI drivers.

I suggest Intel because of the lower power consumption.


On the other other (third?) hand, sometimes you want GPGPU which even in laptops can give some speedup, not to mention not having to debug it on large computer. With intel, you're out of luck there.

But I think they promised OpenCL for Ivy Bridge.


Read the ati support list before buying an still closed source driver board.

Nvidia may seem better because they only have close source drivers. Compare it with catalyst, and they are pretty much the same (except you will not get dual monitor easily with Nividia)


I have ATI cards in all my linux machines. They work /ok/, but it really seems like ATI only gives lipservice to being linux-friendly. After making promises for over a year about how big there commitment is, the improvement has been disappointing.


I own an HP dm4 (http://goo.gl/uCRa) running Ubuntu 11.10, it's not an ultrabook, but everything run out of the box and all working (except fingerprint device - which I don't care a bit about it). HP in my case has been always a choice, their products work excellent with linux and just right out of the box. I recommend you also, that you make sure that everything is Intel (including the wifi card) because previoulsy I had another HP laptop with Atheros wifi that was unusable!


Considering the price ultrabooks are being sold for, I'd suggest a Macbook Air. From their spec sheet, they should be well supported and they are exceedingly well built and the screen is the best 13" out there.

I must admit, however, I'm not convinced by this ultrabook "trend". It looks a lot like PC makers got tired to compete in price in the netbook range and wanted to beef up the hardware a little and increase their margins. For that, however, they had to invent a new category.


Since this is a notebook-thread, I would be interested in 15" thin and beauty notebooks for linux. They are not ultrabooks because of 15" screen, but I really can't stand <15".

Thank you.



It's not an ultrabook, but the dell 14z is only 4 lbs and thinner than any laptop I've owned before. I got it for around $400. It was the only black friday sale laptop that had an i5 but not a dual graphics card (such as nvidia optimus, which you can get working in linux, but sometimes is a pain). Everything worked flawlessly with ubuntu, and when I dual boot to windows, plenty of games work fine, too, including the new microsoft flight simulator.


I have a dell Inspiron N4010(intel cor i3, 4GB ram), with Ubuntu 11.10. Was using Ubuntu on it since 10.10. Works like a charm, just sometimes the wireless(broadcom b43xx) doesn't work, which will work again by just turning off and on. It was shipped with windows at first. But it even works smoother under Ubuntu. Though I don't suggest you to buy Dell. I can see a fan problem with most Dell laptops that I've see and also cheap hardware.


I use a Macbook Air (Mid 2011) and run Arch Linux on it. Works fine, only thing that doesn't work is the Thunderbolt port. I picked the Air because the model was on its second year and had a history of people having Linux run on it. The touchpad works fine with xf86-input-mtrack, which lets you customize some of the finer details on the trackpad. ... Just my two cents.


I bought an Asus Zenbook. It works pretty well, I installed Ubuntu on it using these instructions https://help.ubuntu.com/community/AsusZenbook

There were some manual configurations, as you can see, but for the most part everything works fine...


In general, ThinkPads are the way. Business line Dells also are quite well supported. (This has to do with the user community for those machines. And that community keeps their software running well)

I am as well looking for a Ultrabook, but I decided to wait for the ThinkPad T430s.


I like the Lenovo U300s a lot. You need a tweak to make suspend work (search for "suspend ubuntu lenovo u300s" and look at the bug report).

Also, the amount of totally-off-topic non-Apple-product bashing in this thread is making me incredibly sad at what HN has come to.


I've been fairly satisfied running Ubuntu on my Zenbook.

Everything doesn't work out of the box but the wiki has fairly detailed instructions on resolving most issues.

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/AsusZenbook


Slightly off-topic - a laptop and not an ultra book. I use Toshiba satellite C640-X4012. Fedora runs smooth. It has Intel core i5-2430M @ 2.4GHz and 4GB ram. It has only 2 USB ports - the only drawback I have felt.


I've been interested in purchasing a Macbook air for some time. The hard edge of my Macbook Pro is really uncomfortable and it looks like the Air may have this same comfort flaw. Does it?


Borrow a dremel. Tape down a cloth to cover the keys, ports, fan exhaust, and the monitor. Go along the edge with a grinding tool on low speed. Go along it again with a sanding tool. Finally, buff it. (All cheap parts in the default kit).

Wear a mask.

Also, the amount of grinding necessary to get a smooth edge is not much at all. This is a quick job, and leaves the same grey color.

Finally, there are covers that remove the hard edge.


Wow, that's tempting! Have you done this? Any downsides to speak of? How deep did you go? This seems like a great mod.


I followed the steps mentioned at http://dustwell.com/macbook-pro-sharp-edge.html

I basically just gauged it by eye. Light, slow, take your time.


I don't think it's as bad.

I use a Pro at work, and have used friends' Airs at times. Since the Air is much thinner, I don't recall the hard edge being a problem.

As always, best to just walk into a store and try it out!


My experience is that the 11" is unusable and the 13" is fine. Definitely something to test in the store!


not technically an Ultra book but I've been a huge fan of the Thinkpad X series for sometime.

Currently have an X220, works great, the X1 is also nice and some of the Ideapads are more "consumer grade" but would fit nicely into the "Ultra Book" territory. With Thinkpads you never really (or I haven't ever) run into issues with *nix due to the amount of love they seem to garnish from the tech community in general.

Between the cozy keyboard and the overall durability of the Thinkpad line I keep coming back to them year after year.


I'll second this. I'm currently using the X220 with Gentoo and it works perfectly except for the trackpad (which shakes the cursor in some areas). I have to use the keyboard mouse pointer. I was also concerned about price and managed to get mine used on Craigslist.


I have a 13" Thinkpad Edge E325 and it's great. I use Ubuntu on it and everything works, 7h battery life. Cost me £350.


I picked up a Acer Ultra-book. Fedora supports the entire thing short of the multitouch on the touchpad...


It doesn't matter what Computer you throw against Linux - it will just work (with tinkering of course). My prefered setup years ago was Gentoo on a MacBook (the black , plastic ones fom the 90ies).

Today I would recommend a MacBook for its display. You can then wipe the disk or swap them, as I did with my work notebook from Lenovo (x201) - running FC16. I heard Mint and Ubuntu is great too.


Just work = without tinkering.


Yes, finding notebooks with good screens is very hard nowadays, and Apple is one of the few that's still shipping them. While I don't like their business practices, my next notebook is still probably going to be MacBook.

I seem to remember some bug with macbook touchpad handling in linux, something that made the cursor jump around when the touchpad is switching from one finger to two finger mode and back, and it made two finger scrolling impossible. Anyone knows if that was fixed?


I'm not sure if it helps but I head the HP Folio 13 support Ubuntu well out of the box.


This, guy, Linus Torwalds, uses a MacBook Air for Linux.

He even says on his Google+ page that he couldn't find anything better, and that even Lenovo stuff is crap.

Just sayin'.


The MacBook Air was for his kids: "if you have anything to do with security in a distro, and think that my kids (replace "my kids" with "sales people on the road" if you think your main customers are businesses)...".

P.S. Out of curiosity, could someone explain me why I'm being downvoted?


No, it's one he uses. He talked about it several times. Here's a photo of his desktop: http://micro.dentarg.net/post/18516355410/linus-torvalds-has...

And here's a quote of his in his G+ blog: "Point me to a better laptop. Trust me, I tried. They don't exist. It's sad. They are all big and clunky." (Someone suggesting Lenovo) "no, Lenovo doesn't. I have the Lenovo X1. It's bigger, plasticky, and has worse battery life."

(As for above, probably he has one for his kids too or his kids also use his --or he just mentioned it in the example above to refer to a usability issue for the "common user").

In the past he also had a G5 (Linux) as his desktop machine, and an iBook with OS X for writing his autobiography.


"Torvalds"

Do you have a link?





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