Linux on a laptop, 2020 edition - choosing the right machine
3 min read

Linux on a laptop, 2020 edition - choosing the right machine

Linux on a laptop, 2020 edition - choosing the right machine

This is part one of my short story about going with Linux on a laptop in 2020.
In this part, I'm going to explain how did I choose the computer I'd be happy to work with, and that meets my expectations.
As mentioned in the previous post - it's not going to be Apple computer, that's for sure.

What I'm left with are few machines that have quite good opinions in the Linux community and have a proven record of working fine outside the box (mostly).
These few are:

  • Lenovo Thinkpad X1 (Carbon or Extreme)
  • Dell XPS 13 (Developer edition, which is not that easy to get outside of USA)
  • System76 Galago (more on that later)
  • System76 Lemur
  • Purism Libre 13
  • Multiple Asus and Acer laptops that seem to be working fine

What I see on different forums and subreddits is that most people go with a regular laptop built with Windows in mind and try to get everything working under Linux. There are mostly Thinkpads and XPS's in use, however; things like System76's laptops are getting more popular.
There are issues with most of the machines listed above and their specifications. XPS 13 Developer Edition? Max 16GB of RAM, Thinkpad X1? Max 16GB of RAM. Purism Libre is a bit better with 32 gigs available, but has an older CPU generation.
Another thing is - most of them have their components soldered in place, making them irreplaceable. On the other hand, they look good and are built by big companies (skip the Purism) with relatively good support.

So after ruling out the machines that cannot have the latest hardware, has a max memory limit of 16 or 32 gigs or has irreplaceable parts like disks we're left with System76 machines:

  • Lemur
    This one you can get with up to 40GB of RAM, 4TB of storage, 4-core 10th generation i7 CPU, in nice chassis, and a battery that can make it all run up to 14 (!!) hours. But we can get more.
  • Galago Pro
    10th generation 4-core i7, 64GB of RAM, up to 6TB of storage, sim card slot, and to quote System76:

Take advantage of multiple ports like USB-C with Thunderbolt, Ethernet, HDMI, and Mini DisplayPort… with an SD card slot for good measure. No dongles necessary!

Both of them are running coreboot and are built for Linux by a company based in Denver, Colorado. I really like their approach to create an open-source computer as possible with commercially available components.
One thing is - I live in Europe, and shipping costs + warranty would be an issue.

So I ended up with Galago Pro, but not quite... See, there's a company called Clevo, which is Taiwanese ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) that builds chassis with keyboards and let you fit inside some variety of hardware. Companies utilizing Clevo's base computers are, for example, DreamMachines, Tuxedo, Sager, Schenker, and... System76.
So what I got is Clevo N141CU - looks exactly like Galago Pro but without System76 logo.
The specs are quite impressive:

  • i7-10510U, with Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C charging
  • 64GB (2x32GB) DDR4 memory
  • Samsung 970 PRO 512 GB M.2 disk (for system and so on)
  • Samsung 860 PRO 2 TB (for bigger files)
  • Killer Wireless-AX 1650 Gaming WiFi module 802.11AX/WiFi6

Oh, and I can fit 4G modem in that as it has a built-in sim-card slot.
And one of the most important things - 3 years of warranty. All of that for just around €1750 ($1900, 1500 GBP). I'd say it's a fair deal. Fine, it's not as good looking as some laptops from HP (Spectre) or Dell (XPS with the thin bezel is a really nice thing), but for me, the hardware is worth it.
I can probably get it running with coreboot too, as I've mentioned it's basically Galago Pro.
I'm already running Arch on it, getting around 5-6 hours of battery life and fantastic performance. Everything, I mean everything, works out of the box - wifi, bluetooth, audio, camera, all ports - USB, thunderbolt, card reader, CPU throttling, etc. (which surprised me after these 8 years since I've been running Linux on a laptop last time).
And the nice thing is - even if I forget it's charger, I can still use someone else's USB-C charger (given it has the power of at least 40W) to charge it. Meaning I can also use this port for bot video output and charging, just like with MacBook.

So if you're looking for an alternative for MacBook and you don't rely on macOS specific apps (even if you do, I'll write about workaround in the next weeks), you may consider Linux laptop, it's pretty good experience these days.