How to Buy a Laptop for Linux

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8 (14Lenovo

If you’re buying a new laptop for Linux, you don’t just have to buy the Windows laptop you love and hope for the best – you have to plan your purchase to make sure it will work well with Linux. Fortunately, Linux hardware compatibility is better than ever.

Most desktop Linux distributions are installed on PCs that were never built with Linux in mind. The hardware may not work perfectly with Linux – and if it doesn’t, the manufacturer won’t care. Some research now can save you a headache later.

Laptops supplied with Linux

Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition LaptopDell

It is actually possible to buy a laptop with Linux preinstalled. This is a good option if you are serious about Linux and just want your hardware to work. It’s not just that Linux is preinstalled – you can do it yourself in a matter of minutes – but that Linux will be properly supported. By installing Linux, the manufacturer claims to have done the job to ensure that the hardware is working properly and that it has Linux drivers. Their support staff will take you seriously if you have any problem running Linux. They won’t just ignore you and say they only support Windows.

Here are some Linux laptops you can buy right now:

Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook Developer Edition: This laptop is based on Dell’s XPS 13 ultrabook, which is one of the best Windows laptops you can buy today. Developer Edition ships with Ubuntu Linux instead of Windows. It is the product of Dell’s “Project Sputnik” designed to create a Linux laptop for developers. It’s a trustworthy brand and we’ve been happy with our XPS 13 laptops here at How-To Geek.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8 with Linux: Lenovo offers a version of its Thinkpad X1 Carbon laptop preinstalled with Ubuntu or Fedora Linux. The Windows version of this laptop has been well reviewed, with reviews complimenting its lightweight build, beautiful screen, and excellent keyboard. It’s a solid business laptop with plenty of customization options.
System76 Laptops: System76 specializes in laptop, desktop and server hardware with Ubuntu preinstalled. That’s all the company does: System76 laptops even have an Ubuntu logo on their “Super key” instead of the Windows logo you’ll find on most laptops. System76 sells a variety of laptops, from a 14 “” UltraThin “to 17” monster designed as the Linux equivalent of a powerful Windows gaming laptop.
Purism Librem Laptops: Purism sells laptops and other computers focused on free software and privacy. Purism says its laptops are “designed chip by chip, line by line, to respect your rights to privacy, security and liberty.” If you’re looking for a laptop maker that’s intensely dedicated to these values, you can check out Purism.

Note that we haven’t got our hands on most of these laptops ourselves – although we have gladly used the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabooks – so we can’t necessarily recommend any of them. You should consult the reviews of the most recent versions of these devices to make your own decision.

The Chromebook option

Linux installed on a ChromebookChris Hoffman

Chromebooks can also make inexpensive Linux laptops. Chrome OS is essentially a modified desktop Linux with a different interface, so the hardware on a Chromebook supports desktop Linux. You can install a traditional desktop Linux system side by side with Chrome OS and use the exact same hardware drivers that came with the Chromebook, so the hardware should work just fine.

Update: You don’t need to install a separate Linux environment on a Chromebook to run Linux apps. Under the hood, Chromebooks are already running a Linux kernel. From 2018, Modern Chromebooks now have built-in support for Linux apps for developers.

The downside to using a Chromebook as a Linux PC is that Chromebooks weren’t really designed for it. They have a small amount of storage and are designed to be lightweight systems for accessing the web. They are not ideal if you want to run multiple virtual machines while compiling code. However, they are significantly cheaper than dedicated Linux laptops. If you just want a small, inexpensive device to run Ubuntu on, a Chromebook might work for you.

We covered the things to think about when buying a Chromebook for Linux. Pay special attention the difference between ARM and Intel Chromebooks.

RELATED: How to set up and use Linux apps on Chromebooks

Laptops not included with Linux

You can also buy a laptop that does not come with Linux and install linux on it. It also allows you to keep Windows installed and dual-boot Linux on your laptop.

More hardware is more compatible with Linux than ever before, but you’ll still want to do a bit of research ahead of time to make sure you don’t run into any issues.

For example, Ubuntu has a “Ubuntu Certified” hardware database. The certification process allows hardware manufacturers to certify their laptops, desktops, and servers as compatible with Ubuntu. Buy a certified laptop and you should have smooth browsing while installing Ubuntu – and probably even other popular Linux distros.

If you have your eye on a laptop and it is not available with Linux or certified compatible, you can search Google for the name of the laptop and “Linux” or “Ubuntu”. See what other Linux users have to say about their experience with Linux on this hardware. Make sure you are looking at the correct version. Beware of information that applies to last year’s version of a laptop model, as details may be out of date and the latest laptop with modern hardware may not be as well supported by Linux.

Buying a laptop for Linux is easier than ever. You can buy newer laptops that come with Linux from manufacturers as big as Dell or buy lots of Windows laptops and it’ll work just fine. Chromebooks have also added a new option for low-cost, lightweight, fully Linux-compatible systems, but you’ll still want to do your research before choosing your new laptop.

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