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Ask HN: suggested sweet laptops for running Ubuntu?
44 points by mark_l_watson on Sept 1, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments
I run Ubuntu on an MacBook Pro and on an old Toshiba. I don't want to give Apple anymore of my money so I am looking for something like a MacBook Air, SSD drive, etc. Suggestions based on your own experience?



I'm jumping ship from an Air to a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon: http://www.lenovo.com/products/us/laptop/thinkpad/x-series/x...

It's a standard Intel kit, so it should run Linux just fine. Unfortunately, roughly the entire stock bound for the US has been held up in manufacturing and isn't expected to be properly released for another two weeks.


I've been using two Dell laptops over the past 5 or so years with Ubuntu. Usually they work fine, but every release breaks some little thing that used to work before. Sometimes it gets fixed with an update, but more often than not you're stuck with an annoyance for the next 6 months, until it gets fixed and a new annoyance pops in.

For example, in upgrading Karmic my previously-working Intel graphics card was blacklisted for some reason; in the Pulseaudio release (Jaunty? Lucid?) I had to have "killall pulseaudio" bound to a hotkey because it shat itself so often; in Oneiric my previously-working AMD graphics card failed to update window titles, making the system unusuable; in Precise Compiz crashes every few hours and window previews don't work any more.

Basically, if you can configure your laptop to use as much Intel hardware as possible, you should be OK. Whatever you do don't get AMD graphics (I've been dealing with it for two years now and it's my biggest regret in my laptop) and make sure to get Intel wifi. Do a quick Google search for every piece of hardware just to double check, and you'll be OK.


That's true for other laptop and other distro as well. It seems that every release has its own quirks. At some point I even forced to learn to create a (buggy) kernel module to enable brightness control.


AMD graphics supported by the open source driver should work pretty well (unless you need 3d performance). The proprietary driver is complete shit though.


The open source driver does work OK except that the power management is messed up, so when I use it my laptop's fan goes at full power 24/7. That gets pretty annoying after a while, which is why I end up using fglrx (which of course has its own terrible problems).


I've found Atheros wifi chips to work well too.


Historically Thinkpads have been the best option for a Linux laptop. I have a Sandy Bridge X220 that is mostly ok, but there have been issues like this xorg-video-intel bug that was recently fixed:

https://bugs.freedesktop.org/show_bug.cgi?id=48525

and I still get occasional compiz window manager crashes but they are few and far between these days. If you want something along the lines of an Air have a look at the Thinkpad X1 Carbon.


The hardware on thinkpad's lean toward Intel motherboards, chipsets, cpu's and integrated graphics. Thinkpad's also have superb build quality.

I believe IBM conceived the thinkpad and nurtured it trying to engineer a solid product for corporate world. Retaining customers and creating a perception as a safe choice fit with IBM's ideals.

I believe dell put salesmanship slightly ahead of creating a reliable device. Gateway and HP opted to make a shiny chassis, cheap hardware substitutions, difficult to maintain and subsidized with shareware.

At the end of the day, I do believe Lenovo carries on the thinkpad visage of being a safe choice and not cutting corners like some of the competition.


Thanks to everyone for the suggestions!

re: Thinkpad X1 Carbon: looks like a great option! Thanks.


I'm a big fan of System76's laptops: https://www.system76.com/ -- they're well priced for the power they pack, and I've never had a hardware problem. Plus they come pre-configured with the appropriate drivers for their webcams, fingerprint readers, and the like. Smoothest-running Linux laptop I've ever had (although I defintely heavily customized their shipped config).


Is the hardware good? It looks clunky in the photos.


I quite like my 15" Samsung 9, though there's room for improvement - the vertical angle on the screen is limited (horizontal is good), and the keyboard, while I'm used to it, could be a little quieter. I'm using Ubuntu 12.04 and have come to love the bomb, err, Unity. Only recently have I found settings that disable the touchpad while typing. I was planning to self upgrade it to a 256G SSD and 16G memory, but Samsung's recent showing of a new Series 9 with a 2560x1440 resolution matte 13" screen makes me think they'll probably have a 15" with improvements soon enough.


I asked people on Reddit, and they answered in this thread: http://www.reddit.com/r/linux/comments/yue0s/what_laptop_sho...

Good luck!


I second/third/47th the recommendations for Thinkpads. Everything people say here regarding graphics drivers is true, unfortunately.

You will have problems with pulseaudio hosing video playback timing and a host of other stuff if you run Ubuntu. My solution is to just remove pulseaudio entirely, which forces me to use an alsa-based volume widget, but that's pretty trivial and the hard volume keys work out of the box.

If you get thermal issues, pull the machine apart and make sure the heatsink is applied correctly - on my T400 there was a serial # sticker over one edge of the CPU die that was holding the heatsink away from the die. Also, the cooling air intakes have filters that get dirty easily and make a massive difference to cooling efficiency (the fan isn't just pulling air from inside the case as things appear).

As for keyboards, the keyboard on my T400 is my favorite on any computing device I have right now. The layout on the W520 my employer provided is the same as the T400, which is basically the same as it's been forever, but the keyfeel is a lot more rubber-dome-y than the T400 which feels highly mechanical.

The other thing I'll say for Thinkpads is that after a few years of maintaining my wife's laptops, I was pleasantly surprised on opening up my T400 to clean out it's heatsink that Lenovo's engineers actually didn't hate me and want me to die as is the case with other, fruitier manufacturers. There's still a good bit of "remove WXYZ to get at A", but these are much more maintainable machines than typical.


I use an old Toshiba NB255 with a SSD.

With the SSD I moved to btrfs, a mistake (look into dpkg, fsync and btrfs before going there.)

Everything brand/netbook specific resolved in the 11.X versions. But a screen with bellow ~768 vertical resolution isn't well supported (odd since I think Unity started in the netbook distribution?)

Samsung has some nice high resolution small screens.. But I'll be waiting for SATA3 and USB3 to permeate the low end before my next upgrade.


Lots of endorsers of Linux+Thinkpad. See my comment link below for my not-so-great experience running Ubuntu on an X220. I'll admit that I'm someone who just wants things to work (a mindset I probably owe to Apple).

tl;dr Fan spun constantly, machine ran hot, trackpad was basically non-functional. May just be X220-specific. Not sure.

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4428967


I have an X220 with an i7 and have no issues with the touchpad although I use the trackpoint most of the time and it doesn't run particularly hot. I have verified that cpu throttling and fan control both work perfectly so you may have a configuration issue. I didn't do anything to explicitly make it work for me. The notes at https://help.ubuntu.com/community/X220 do mention that the touchpad is a bit shaky, so maybe that it what you seeing. Honestly I wish they made a Thinkpad without a touchpad at all. I much prefer the trackpoint which allows me to keep my fingers on the keyboard where they belong.


For a while I tried to use the Trackpoint exclusively. I love the position of it and I love the idea of having a very keyboard-centric setup. Ultimately, I stopped using it because I could never control the slight drift that happens when I'm trying to stop over something. I always seem to go past my destination and then have to navigate back. Maybe I'll give it another try.

As mentioned in linked comment, Ubuntu running in Virtualbox presented no problems at all and I'm happy with current setup.


I've noticed the same drift. To combat this I've developed a twitch, when drift starts my left thumb swipes the trackpad. This zeros the trackpoint and stops the drift.


The ThinkPad X40 and X60 series were TrackPoint-only.


I'm running Linux Mint on an Asus Zenbook (basically a cheap copy of a MBA). The only real issues I'm having is that I haven't worked out how to get the laptop to sleep, and there's a weird order of steps I have to take to get an external monitor working. Oh, and the keyboard isn't great.

After a few months I've got used to the problems, but I do miss OS X. (I'm more than happy to give Apple my money to make things Just Work.)


I wouldn't say Asus was 'cheap', they are lower cost. I like Asus laptops now, although at home I have a Thinkpad R61, but for work I have Asus.


Thinkpads are excellent for Linux. I've had many, currently the T520.

All the bells and whistles are supported, like the Trackpoint, web camera, special keyboard keys, LED light, etc. The only gotchas I've run into are with NVIDIA graphics drivers.


I've got the Lenovo ThinkPad T430s (The i7 edition that includes a thunderbolt port).

"stock" Ubuntu 12.04 runs great, bar an issue with suspend/resume.. But - Grabbing the official test packages[1] for the 3.5.0 kernel have sorted everything..

I don't have any Thunderbolt devices to test with, but DisplayPort monitor's certainly work on the Thunderbolt port..

EDIT: I should add.. avoid ANY laptops from ANY brand that include "dual" graphics eg NVidia "Optimus" etc. I've got the Intel HD 4000 card, it runs Unity perfectly..

[1]: http://packages.qa.ubuntu.com/qatracker/milestones/223/build...


Best choice: http://system76.com - Preinstalled Ubuntu, great tech support, guaranteed to be free of compatibility issues.

Second Best Choice: Ubuntu Certified Hardware. http://www.ubuntu.com/certification/desktop/ Tested and validated against current Ubuntu images.

Third Best Choice: Ubuntu Friendly (choose 4 stars or higher). Community tested. https://friendly.ubuntu.com/


I am loving my Thinkpad T530, got a 1920 by 1080 screen, great battery, up to 16 gb ram and the discrete nvidia gpu Optimus runs perfectly with Bumblebee if you aren't satisfied with the built in GPU. Everything else pretty much just works.

But yes, use intel hardware.

About the only issue I have had is a weird speedup of flash videos with the built in chrome flash driver.

Oh, and I'm running Mint, not Ubuntu, which I highly recommend.

If the t530 isn't powerful enough, there's always the W530 for a more powerful processor and 32 gigs of ram.


I'd definitely recommend a thinkpad. However if you buy a high-end model with optimus graphics, you'll need to use some workarounds like these:

http://sagark.org/optimal-ubuntu-graphics-setup-for-thinkpad...

http://sagark.org/thinkdisp-about-installation/

*Disclaimer, I wrote this guide / app


Checkout the Dell Sputnik project. (http://content.dell.com/us/en/enterprise/d/campaigns/sputnik) It looks like they are going to start selling a small SSD laptop with Ubuntu. Right now you can get the laptop with Windows and then download their Ubuntu image.


The ASUS zenbook primes with 13" 1920x1080 screens sure look nice, but I've seen mixed reviews of Linux compatibility. Does anybody have any experience here?

They seem like serious MacBook Air killers with similar hardware and much, much better screens. But they'd have to run Linux, of course, because they can't be taken seriously if they're crippled with Windows.


I haven't (yet) tested Linux on mine, but I have to agree with you that it's leagues better than the Air. I actually like Windows (I'm running the 8 RTM from MSDN), though I use Linux as well. I seem to be pretty alone in that position.


Running latest Ubuntu (12.04.1, 64-bit) off of a 3.75gb flash drive in the side of my ASUS Zenbook UX31A DB571. It is amazing. Fast, responsive, works almost out of the box. With USB 3.0, there's very little noticeable IO slowdown, even when compared to the SSD I use for Windows. I highly recommend the combination.


I have a Toshiba Portege Z835 (13", thins, SSD) and am very happy with it. Everything works under Ubuntu, including suspend/resume, changing screen brightness and volume with function keys and that stuff. The build quality is not the toughest, but it's pretty cheap, too.


I put Ubuntu 12.04 on a Lenovo T410. It's not thin and it's not that speedy, particularly when it comes to 3D graphics performance, but everything worked out of the box with absolutely no configuration or fuss, and on that basis I would recommend it.


Sony VAIO VPCF1 and Dell Vostro 3700. Both have been running Ubuntu 11.10 and are now running 12.04 with kernel 3.5.2. The only thing with VAIO is it freezes completely whenever I unplug the power, but I sort of learned to live with it.


I would like to get a Dell XPS as my next laptop, so that I can try out their Sputnik project, which I think has some interesting ideas ( config management built into a desktop for switching between different development profiles ).


My current one is based on a Mecer http://www.mecer.co.za/notebooks - No problem at all (except a little bit too noisy when fan is on).


I too am going to recommend Lenovo. my x201t has everything working out of the box. Very good quality in general too.

only problem is that laptop has some issues ever since the roof leaked on it.


I recommend samsung np900x3c-a01. It has actually better screen than MB Air. Though you'll need to return preinstalled windows within 2 weeks from purchase.


Where do these guys pull these weird model numbers from. Can't they choose some thing simpler to remember.


and beware: if you mistake in a couple of symbols you'll get a crappy TN screen with absolutely awful viewing angles (like in mb air)


I typed this post on an MBA while looking down at my screen at approximately 30 degrees from vertical.

What is wrong with the MBA viewing angle? I just notice the colors are a bit off when I sit in this ridiculous position.


[laclinux](http://laclinux.com/gnu/Laptop) is where I got my Lenovo Thinkpad. Recommended.


I dual boot 12.04 on a Lenovo X230, very pleasurable experience. Great laptop overall. I've also used a W510 without any problems.


Dell Inspiron N4050 here, running Ubuntu 12.04 64-bit. Everything works as expected, great performance for the price.


I originally wrote more but HN gave the 'unknown or expired link' error when I hit post.

Gist of it: I <3 my ~4 year old netbook.


don't buy ASUS if you're a programmer because of their newer keyboard layout (right_shift, up button, Fn button are aligned)

my right pinky, instead of punching right_shift, always accidently press up button (in vim it's mutable, but in console it throws me out of flow every time)

Older ASUS are fine, they have big, wide right_shift button


I'd generalize this all the way out to say: most modern hardware runs Linux just fine with a little effort; most modern keyboards, however, are far from ideal for extended use.

I have no idea why things have gone so steadily downhill for so many brands, but especially the ASUS/Acer types are just painful. Track down in person any model you are considering and give it a whirl before you place your order. As others have said, start with Lenovo, since they do an above-average job.


I have the ASUS Zenbook UX31A (the updated version of the UX31E) which came out about two months ago and the right shift is nice and fat. The Fn key and the arrow keys are all aligned on a row just below the row with the right shift key. The keyboard layout on this machine is great.


I've had a great experience with the Thinkpads (Lenovo). Can't praise them enough. They are ugly, though.



check out https://www.system76.com/laptops/model/lemu4 they make laptops which natively runs ubuntu.


Thinkpad T/R/X series with intel graphics/wifi.


+2 for ThinkPad X1 Carbon +1 for DELL XPS 13


DELL VOSTRO V3360 RED :)


system 76


thinkpad's work well.


I'm currently running Crunchbang on Acer 14inch laptop with an i7 processor and 4gb ram, I removed the stickers so I don't know the model number but this machine runs like a beast when using Crunchbang. The distro is based on Debian but I'm sure ubuntu or any other GNU/Linux distro will work fine with it too. I'd recommend it, its pretty fun to use and portable too (14inch screen is just the right size for programming whilst also maintaining true portablity, you don't want to be running around with a 17inch laptop do you?). Also its pretty affordable too, I got it around 10 months ago for £550 which was a great deal


I'm curious why you do not run debian and install openbox? What does crunchbang add to the miox?

not trolling, genuinely curious


CrunchBang is the best-looking distro I've come across. It also comes with scripts that will install common proprietary software like Chrome or Dropbox.

Obviously you could accomplish all of that by installing Debian and spending hours configuring it yourself, but that seems unnecessary when others have already done it for you.


Spending hours to install Chrome?

    apt-get install chromium
Or just go to the chrome download page and download the official chrome debian package?

I'm also not sure that chrome ios "proprietary software."


To be clear, the part that takes hours to accomplish is "best-looking distro I've come across".

Of course it's not difficult to install Google Chrome (or Chromium for that matter). It just saves time to have it installed automatically.




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