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Ask HN: Laptop for Linux Software Development
18 points by ishbits on Nov 29, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 21 comments
So the article on the main page regarding Dell's laptop got me thinking I need a new laptop for development. I'm currently still using a 2008 Lenovo X61 when I'm away from my desktop. I initially chose this laptop back then as it would be pain free when it came to drivers, and that it was.

I'd like something a little bigger - perhaps 14"? Ideally quad-core, and can handle 16GB of RAM as that would allow me to replace my desktop with it.

Anything fit the bill?

I've ran Linux on probably 15 different Dell laptops over the past 10 years. My current is a Precision M6500. It has a 15" LCD at 1920x1200. Probably something like that available now.

I don't really use it mobile very often, but everything works well enough. I always get a discrete Nvidia video card and use their proprietary driver.

I am using a 17" Sony Vaio Z series with and SSD and 1920x1080 screen for a long time. Quite happy with everything. Sony laptops work better than expected with Linux, though this is by chance rather than Sony's support. Next I ll check one of the ultrabooks and Dell XPS Sputnik

Sony is evil. Avoid buying their products if you value your independence.

They might put rootkits on your machine. In fact, they've already done it to others [1].

They might reach out through the cloud and revoke your ability to run Linux on hardware after you've bought it. After all, they've already done it to others [2].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_rootkit

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OtherOS

I bought a Sony laptop and it hasn't hurt my independence. You're not saying things that make sense.

Other than some Macs, the screens all suck. I am fond of Lenovo other than the screen resolution - matte is important to me. I swapped my 2007 vintage T61 for a T430s. Everything works fine out of the box. I did replace the DVD drive with another battery since this model doesn't have the stick out batteries like other models do.

The specs are a dual core/quad threaded i7-3520M, 16GB of RAM, 500GB 7200rpm spinning disk and a 250GB mSata SSD stick. I got the version with a Thunderbolt port although I haven't tried using it. IIRC you have to get the i7 and no Nvidia to get Thunderbolt. Memory, drives and msata are cheaper anywhere other than Lenovo.

For Lenovo stuff I highly recommend the forums at notebookreview.com.

I would personally recommend a Samsung Series 7 15.6" laptop. It has a super thin bezel around the screen so it form factor is more like a 14" laptop. It is less than an inch thick, and is very portable. Mine has an 17-2675QM quad core in it, and it is expandable to 12gigs of ram(4 gigs is soldered on the motherboard). It also has a radeon 6750m in it. But most importantly, it has a 1600x900 MATTE display. I run only ubuntu 12.10 on it, and it does take some configuration out of the box to get set up right, but a quick google search is all it took. Few minor things don't work on mine, but overall I am extremely happy with it.

You might as well get a laptop with a 1920x1080 display if you're going for 15.6". Or get a 14" laptop if you want 1600x900.

I've had positive personal experiences and anecdotes from others about the Intel Core i7.

I haven't seen a laptop that's expandable to 16GB. But I also don't usually look higher than the middle of the market when I'm laptop shopping, so you may be able to find one if you're willing to pay a paying premium price for it.

Don't be afraid of a machine with a too-small hard drive or memory. Upgrades for both are cheap. CPU, GPU, and monitor, on the other hand, are usually difficult or impossible to upgrade in a laptop.

If you don't have a specific use for a graphics card, consider going with a machine which only has integrated graphics. It will save you a lot.

The HP Envy 17 is expandable to 16GB and the Lenovo T430S is as well. I know this ecause I use both of them.

The HP Envy is a beautiful machine, but it lacks the drivers for Linux. I am currently using Linux in VMWare because of the lack of drivers. Especially the Graphics Card Switching driver. That is the one I miss the most, because it makes my battery last for 5-6 hours.

Practically all normally-built laptops with 2 RAM slots are expandable to 16 GB.

> Practically all normally-built laptops with 2 RAM slots are expandable to 16 GB.

As of this writing (Dec. 2, 2012), there are five non-refurbished Core i7 laptops in the $500-$750 price range on Newegg:


Acer Aspire AS5750-9422

Acer Aspire V3-571-9890

Acer Aspire V5-171-9661

TOSHIBA Satellite S855-S5378

Only one (the Toshiba) is expandable to 16GB. You need to check all the specs, especially if you're bargain hunting.

I'm running a Lenovo L520, i7, 16GiB RAM, SSD and it flies along. Linux Mint (& Ubuntu) work out of the box, and it has a fantastic keyboard and matte screen.

My only gripe is that there's no USB 3.

I know this is a weird suggestion, but the best combo for me is a Macbook (air or pro) with Parallels running a Linux VM full screen.

Performance is shockingly good, you don't have to worry about drivers, and you still get access to a bunch of nice OSX things inside the VM (Retina res, keyboard shortcuts for volume, Mountain Lion's speech dictation, etc)

Plus, you get that sweet sweet Apple build quality.

You could get a 13 or 15" Macbook Pro (Not retina) and install Linux on it. (I use OSX with Macports which is fine for my needs but the fresh install of Linux is still an option). I really like the Apple Hardware although I am becoming gradually less enthusiastic about their attempts to make OSX more like iOS.

My travel kit already includes a Mac :) I've ran Linux on them in the past (not since 2008 though), and always felt that it wasn't the best match.

Why is that? I'm getting a new mbp 13" (non-retina) soon and I intend to put Arch Linux on it. Other than bootloader issues (and maybe wireless issues?) I don't think there'll be other issues with it.

I could never get the trackpad quite right, and the battery never lasted as long as it did with OS X. My travel kit is dual laptops. One Linux and one Mac. So far the T430s with 16gb RAM is looking very close to ideal.

the low resolution makes me sad for that price.

My thoughts as well.

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