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Ask HN: Laptop for FreeBSD?
75 points by NhanH on Feb 3, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments
I'm thinking of replacing my current XPS 13 running Debian with a FreeBSD laptop. I'm looking for something with a nice screen (preferably better than 1080), and reasonable spec (the usual i5, 8GB+ Ram & SSD etc.). Is anyone currently using a FreeBSD laptop, or recommending one?

I have been running FreeBSD on laptops since 2004. Right now the major problem you'll run into is that almost every system out there has Haswell video, and FreeBSD doesn't have a working driver for that yet.

That said, there have been a lot of commits recently preparing the tree for importing a version of the linux Haswell driver, so I'm optimistic that this will be fixed soon. In the mean time, unless your need for a new laptop is urgent, I'd suggest waiting.

>> "there have been a lot of commits recently preparing the tree for importing a version of the linux Haswell driver"

Not meaning to start a license flame war, but how does this work?

How does FreeBSD import something that's presumably GPL'ed?

The Intel graphics driver code in Linux uses a license which is BSD compatible.

Look at all the files here to see the license in the header:


By having the authors license the relevant bits under BSD as well.

Out of curiosity, which laptop are you using right now?

I'm on a Latitude E5420 right now, but I bought an E7440 last year which I've been using for testing and plan on switching over to as soon as Haswell support is available.

If this is as open as claimed, it should be easy to get FreeBSD running on it in short order:


Downvoters - care to explain? Open hardware means it will work for everyone, which is pretty cool in my book.

> Open hardware

Nope. Its i7 cpu is definitely not what I would consider open hardware. So then what's the point of this? If there's nothing 'libre' about most of the hardware inside then it's just a normal i7 laptop with Linux pre-installed. I don't see how this is any different than just buying a laptop and immediately replacing everything on it with OSS.

It's "open" in the sense of specs and lack of proprietary blobs, which is probably a good start at getting FreeBSD running there, which is what the question was all about, rather than having a purer-than-thou system.

Not a downvoter, but I read the link, including this claim: "4 Core (8 Threads) 3.4GHz Intel i7-4770HQ"

I thought that sounded fishy: http://ark.intel.com/products/83505/Intel-Core-i7-4770HQ-Pro...

It's a 3.4GHz chip if you tie three cores behind its back—otherwise it's 2.2GHz (either that, or they've worked some serious magic). That puts it roughly in MBP territory, only with lower resolution, less RAM, and slower storage. Making them more comparable brings the price up to $2559, with early bird pricing… and of course no guarantee FreeBSD can actually run on it, since it's designed around Linux.

Some people might find the higher price worthwhile for a setup that eliminates almost all closed-source code. If that's not something OP's after, that's one hell of a steep price tag.

Doesn't deserve a downvote, but it doesn't solve the "now" issue of the question.

Unless I'm missing something, the OP doesn't mention the word "now," and the sentence "I'm thinking of replacing my current XPS 13 running Debian with a FreeBSD laptop" implies that time is not necessarily of the essence. The Libre Laptop proposes an April 2015 ship date, which is about two months from now; as such, it seems like a useful piece of information, and I in fact came into this thread expressly to link to it.

I looked into the laptop just last week too! But open hardware just mean that we still need some FreeBSD developers to be using it and port the linux drivers (they only make sure that it would be working on stock with linux drivers). From the web page:

> Since we are using Trisquel GNU/Linux, which is the strictest of distributions and strips all binary blobs from the Linux kernel, you can easily install anything less strict, such as Debian and Ubuntu. We have not yet tried installing a non-GNU/Linux-based operating system.

Considering that there won't be a big group of developers using the Librem laptop to start with, I was afraid some of the driver might be missing.

These guys: https://system76.com/laptops have laptops that will run either FreeBSD or Linux. I run Ubuntu on a Thinkpad T430s but looking to upgrade it to a Thinkpad T450s but I want to check out the keyboard first.

They seem to have some pretty neg feedback:


I've been using an (ubuntu) system 76 laptop [1]for the last two years. Great machine, no issues.

[1] - https://system76.com/laptops/gazelle

Been super happy with my Galago UltraPro as well. Only reason I haven't tried FreeBSD on it yet is because of the Haswellian chipset within

Depends on how you intend to use it. In my scenario I initially planned to dual-boot FBSD/Windows 8.1 but found a different solution.

In January 2014 I acquired a MS Surface Pro 2. Display is 1920x1080, and it has 8G ram/245G SSD. A problem dual booting is FBSD didn't do Secure Boot, which meant a hassle switching back into Win8.1. SB would have to be disabled to install/run FBSD, and Win8.1 wants SB to be enabled.

However the SP2/Win8.1 came with client Hyper-V. Fortunately running FBSD in a HV VM was pretty easy to do. In fact FBSD is distributed as a VHD image making installation dead simple.

Running FBSD in a VM works well for my purposes, primarily developing web servers and server-side systems. It's quite useful to run the server in the VM and use a browser on the host OS to connect to it (e.g., for testing, etc.).

Surprisingly, an X server and GUI desktop running in the VM are reasonably responsive, and not a problem editing stuff with Emacs once fonts and the like are adjusted to taste.

Anyway we know mileage varies (a lot), but this kind of setup has its merits. In my case, with far fewer moving parts to juggle it's proven to be a useable alternative to dual booting.

Upon reading your post, it strikes me how archaic it seems to install any OS these days. It would be awesome if every OS was available as a base VM image that worked out of the box (networking, video, audio, etc.), ready to enhance and customize. I wouldn't even want a host OS beyond what is needed to manage the hypervisor.

Having been running FreeBSD on laptops since ~2004-2005, I've had the best luck out of Dell laptops. ThinkPads are a close second, but ACPI is wonky on mine, resulting in being able to sleep but not wake up. Fun times when I need to be mobile. :)

As with most things FreeBSD, you'll have better luck not running current generation of hardware, but the previous generation, as support for the newest hardware usually lags a bit.

I got a Thinkpad X230 for the exact same purpose. It doesn't have the nice screen but takes two SSDs and 16GB of RAM.

I installed FreeBSD on it last night and apparently everything was detected and seems to be working fine.

The FreeBSD wiki has a Laptops page: https://wiki.freebsd.org/Laptops

Sadly, the Thinkpad X230 seems to be replaced by the newer X240 now. Any idea if it's working just as well? I probably can still get a refurbished X230 somewhere, but the screen is a bit too bad :(.

X series laptops have historically had a lot of screen options to choose from if one wishes to upgrade. I have a X201s with an IPS from the tablet version I swapped in. 400+ nit outdoor panel, couldn't be happier with it.

Thanks for posting. I'm waiting for a x230t and was thinking about trying Centos 7 and FreeBSD too at some point.

I used to use FreeBSD 4.3 ⇒ 9.0 on desktops/laptops since 2002, and on 2012 I gave up and installed Arch Linux. Now I don't care much of broken ports or some inconsistencies in my local make.conf, "make buildworld" is a forgotten nightmare - if comparing with an update of linux kernel, which just works fine through pacman.

The most of pain I've got from USB support - literally I have been fighting with getting my built-in SD cardreader actually reading cards - not pretending to do so, for months. And nobody from USB-team even bothered to reply something other than "try to experiment with some quirks".

The final decision to move to Linux was lack of Java support - OpenJDK isn't that cool as Oracle's twin-mate.

Its not a hate-speeh or a flamewar ignition, it's just my IMHO - FreeBSD is not a comfortable to have it on a laptop, especially with some proprietary drivers involved.

I can't speak for FreeBSD, but for OpenBSD at least, I've had decent experiences with my Dell Latitude D830. Good hardware support, though networking and power management were a little iffy (the Intel wireless required a firmware download, and it was really touchy about hibernation, though that might have been a configuration issue on my part, seeing as this was the first of many OpenBSD installs I've done).

I've since been using it for other OS experiments (Haiku for awhile; now I'm venturing into MINIX), but it handled OpenBSD (and Slackware before it) rather nicely, and I don't imagine FreeBSD would be any worse.

Now, that's not modern at all, but I'm willing to bet that a more modern enterprise-like Dell would be similar in build but with newer components.

I'm not exactly on topic, but I hope you can forgive me touting my own project. I'm trying to raise money to fund the work necessary to get OpenBSD running on Apple hardware. One can buy an Apple laptop with cash in any mid-sized mall around the world. Add in what I think is the most privacy oriented operating system, and you have a great match. Apple only updates hardware a couple of times a year, and its pretty well built. https://www.reddit.com/r/LighthouseProjects/comments/2ukg1u/...

Yeah, FreeBSD always sucked for hardware. For a random option with bonus hardcore points, you could consider running the SeL4 microkernel, then both Linux and FreeBSD as paravirtualized guests, letting Linux do the video. See http://sel4.systems/ and http://www.nicta.com.au/pub?pslides=8203

Does FreeBSD play nice with resolutions higher than 1080? I mean, I know linux still has issues and I always thought *BSD a re bit behind when it comes to Desktop experience.

I think you should look for a good linux laptop 1st and check for FreeBSD compatibility.

I've been using FreeBSd since 4.x. I'm assuming your referring to video drivers and the xwindowing system which is non operating system specific. I should remind you that this is a subsystem (or extension) and should be viewed from the point of a view as power users (and engineers) already know where to find out about chipsets, their relabeling, and of course the ability to set up their configuration intelligently. More importantly a recommendation like this shouldn't be considered unless you've spent significant time building and customizing your OS and graphical layer.

I've been trying to talk myself out of using one of the BSD's as my day to day OS because I'm afraid all the productive hours in my life will turn into threads like this.

Mostly just commenting so I remember to check back on this tomorrow :-)

I use FreeBSD on a Thinkpad x201, I really love it.

Newer thinkpads will probably be a bit problematic, or so I've heard. Currently on a zenbook w/ Linux because of problems related to UEFI boot.

Same question, for OpenBSD?

Get a thinkpad with an NVIDIA card that their FreeBSD driver supports

Curious (new to *BSD), why FreeBSD and not PC-BSD for a laptop?

PC-BSD is built on top of FreeBSD, so there's likely not much difference between something can run one vs. the other, especially if you want to set up a desktop environment (basically what PC-BSD provides).

Have you considered the 2015 edition of xps 13?

How about Vagrant + FreeBSD in MacBook?

It could be a shock to you, but not everyone loves Mac OS X. There are (imagine that) other OSs that have terminals too.

Oh snap! I must've stroke a chord. What did I say? I mean, he asks how to grill a steak, but some suggest how to cook brats.

OSX is very good at not having hardware compatibility issues, and you don't need to interact with it very much to open VirtualBox. While this is not the most performant option (OSX idles with a good chunk of RAM), it is probably the easiest and most reliable path to not worrying about hardware compatibility, drivers, etc.

"OS X is very good at not having hardware compatibility issues" is a really, really old (and flawed) argument.

The thing that makes OS X so darn "stable" is that they write drivers for a very limited set of hardware - the reference implementation.

On the Linux reference implementation, everything works properly (See the ThinkPad T series).

On the Windows reference implementation, everything works properly (See the Surface).

Simply because something works when it's built for a piece of hardware (think embedded systems) doesn't mean that it will work when running on something that it wasn't designed for.

>Simply because something works when it's built for a piece of hardware (think embedded systems) doesn't mean that it will work when running on something that it wasn't designed for.

No one is advocating doing that. And no one gives a shit about how hard it was for the engineers.

You should buy a Macbook precisely because it is a reference implementation that works as a consumer product. Let OSX deal with laptop-y details like WiFi, screen brightness, battery/power management, suspend/resume, and device drivers. Let VirtualBox abstract away those details so FreeBSD behaves like it does on its reference implementation - server hardware.

I've been doing that with NetBSD and VMWare Fusion on my 2013 Macbook Air with 8GB RAM. It's nice but I do miss running NetBSD on bare hardware.

OS X does add a lot of overhead and I would love to run NetBSD on a dedicated hypervisor. In particular I want to try with the free Hyper-V Server because it has such great hardware/driver support but HVS doesn't support wireless networking.

Running a virtualized instance of BSD does not point toward or away from any particular host OS or piece of laptop hardware. Virtualization brings all brands and Operating Systems into the mix.

I personally hate it, but my wife loves it. We don't argue and I just don't use it.

That said, you just cannot compare an OS running natively (is that a word?) with a VM.

The typical phrase is "on bare metal".

While we're changing the subject, why not Windows and VirtualBox? By the time we've proposed OS X instead of *BSD, we've proposed everything.

how about MacBook + Linux + QEMU/Virtualbox?

which works great for me BTW

Virtualization = huge power consumption and low performance. Not good for laptops, although quite reasonable for desktops.

Can you elaborate please? Linux running inside a VM?

FreeBSD running in a VM on Linux on a Macbook.

I argued that you can install Linux on the MacBook, which gives you the advantage of good hardware support and a non-Apple and open-source OS, on which you can in turn run FreeBSD using a VM. And since MacBooks support Intel's VT-x which Linux KVM uses, virtualization actually works very well with this setup.

Obviously, when possible, buying a laptop with good FreeBSD driver support is the superior choice.

I have VirtualBox + FreeBSD stable/10 but things can get weird when disk load is high (IIRC some processes can get stuck in biowr).

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