Linux Laptops as we get into 2024: some reflections

My thoughts on the best Linux laptops for performance, durability, and user experience, including System 76, Lenovo ThinkPad, Star Labs, and Framework, as well as ARM vs x86_64, Nvidia compatibility, and the importance of serviceability for long-term use.
Sid Metcalfe

Cartesian Mathematics Foundation


November 2, 2023

Choosing the Best Linux Laptop for Different Use Cases

A split image showing a variety of laptops labeled for different use cases like work gaming and programming

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time pondering over the best laptop for Linux. After playing around with a bunch of different machines, I’ve realized that finding the “best” isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal—it really depends on what you’re looking for in a Linux laptop.

If you’re someone who values top-notch performance and is willing to pay top dollar, the System 76 machines like the Oryx Pro knock it out of the park. I’ve been floored by their raw power and the fact that they come with Linux pre-installed, which smooths out a lot of the hardware compatibility wrinkles. Plus, supporting a company that’s all about Linux feels like the right thing to do. Check out System 76’s Oryx Pro if you’re in the market for a beast that tames Linux without breaking a sweat.

On the other hand, for the pragmatic folks out there, the Lenovo’s ThinkPad T14, T480, and T490 are synonymous with reliability and serviceability. I mean, these tanks are built like the proverbial brick outhouse. Upgrading them is as easy as pie, which is a breath of fresh air in an era where everything seems soldered or glued down.

Recently, though, I stumbled upon the Star Labs Starfighter and boy, is it a sight for sore eyes! I was initially bummed out about the lack of a trackpoint (old habits die hard), but the specs sheet and commitment to an open-source ethos offer some serious solace. I’m definitely keeping an eye on this. Rumor has it, their StarBook is also a solid choice if you’re not in a rush and willing to wait a few weeks for delivery.

Although I’ve had my gripes with HP in the past, their Dev One seems like an interesting contender. A Linux laptop that’s fully supported and where every piece of the hardware is in harmony with the OS is a dream. It’s like getting the chocolate in your peanut butter—just the right mix.

Speaking of mixes, Dell’s Latitude line, especially the refurbished units like the Latitude 7390, is something I’ve had good luck with. They come with an almost surprising “everything just works” hallmark, and having a laptop that handles Linux without much fuss feels like being part of some exclusive club. It’s a solid pick if you’re looking for a daily driver that combines decent performance with robust build quality.

All things considered, what’s most appealing to me in a Linux laptop is the freedom to upgrade and ease of repair. That’s where brands like Framework deserve a shoutout—their laptops are a tinkerer’s paradise. With fair pricing and ethical supply chains, they’re doing more than just selling hardware; they’re making a statement.

After all’s said and done, you’ve really got to match your Linux laptop to your lifestyle. Are you a digital nomad, a power user, or maybe someone who just enjoys freedom and control over their hardware? The choices are out there, and they’re more diverse than ever. Happy Linux-ing, folks!

The Linux Experience on Modern ARM vs Traditional x86_64 Laptops

A visual comparison of an arm-based laptop and an x86_64 laptop with linux logos and performance graphs in the backdrop

Diving into the realm of Linux on laptops is a journey I’ve been thoroughly enjoying, especially when it comes to the contrasting experiences between modern ARM machines and our good ol’ x86_64 buddies. I must say, as a tech enthusiast and a Linux aficionado, the ever-evolving landscape of Linux-compatible hardware gets my gears running.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably kept a curious eye on the progress of Linux on ARM, particularly with the introduction of Apple’s M1 chips. Although traditionally Linux has been well-oiled for x86_64 architecture, the potential of ARM in the world of Linux is kind of a big deal. I’ve been following the Asahi Linux project, which is actively working to bring full Linux support to Apple Silicon. Honestly, the thought of Linux harnessing the efficiency and power management of the M1 sends tingles down my spine. However, as of now, while we do have Linux running on these machines, the GPU support is still a work in progress. I can’t wait to see how the performance benchmarks evolve once hardware acceleration is a go.

On the x86_64 side, it’s familiar territory. I’ve had a slew of experiences with various laptops, from Thinkpads to Dells, running Linux like a dream. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that when you boot up a distro on an Intel or AMD based system, you’ve got a wealth of community knowledge and support to back you up. Whether I’m on Ubuntu, Fedora, or NixOS, there’s rarely a hurdle I can’t jump with a quick search and some terminal wizardry. The performance is dependable, and there are no significant surprises with driver support or hardware compatibility.

One thing that I absolutely adore about x86_64 laptops is the serviceability. It’s, hands down, essential for someone who likes tinkering. Being able to upgrade my RAM or swap out an SSD without feeling like I’m conducting open-heart surgery is a gift that keeps on giving. ARM laptops, with their sleek designs and integrated components, often sacrifice this modularity, but I do acknowledge the appeal of their lightweight and extended battery life for those who prioritize portability.

Look, I won’t lie, the lure of ARM-based laptops with their all-day battery life and mobile-derived efficiency has made me question my loyalty to traditional laptops more than once. But I have to say, there’s something to be said about the robustness and no-nonsense approach that x86_64 machines bring to the table. They’re like that reliable friend that, no matter how attractive newer pals may appear, you know will always have your back.

I guess what I’m getting at is that both ARM and x86_64 have their own flavor to offer in the Linux ecosystem. It’s not just about raw performance or compatibility; it’s about what fits best into your workflow, whether you’re an on-the-go programmer, a digital content creator, or a sysadmin. One thing’s for sure, the Linux landscape on laptops is more diverse and exciting than ever, and I’m all in for this ride. ARM is definitely shaking things up, and I’m keen on keeping tabs on it. Yet, for now, x86_64 remains my steady, reliable companion in the Linux universe.

Dealing with Graphics Cards: Nvidia and Linux Compatibility Challenges

A frustrated user with error messages on screen trying to install graphics drivers on a linux laptop

Graphics cards and Linux have a storied history of both collaboration and conflict, and I’ve had my fair share of bumpy rides along this rocky road. For any fellow Linux enthusiast diving into this world, Nvidia often pops up as a contentious topic. If you’re considering alternatives for a smoother Linux gaming experience, you might want to read about my encounter with the Tuxedo Sirius 16: new Linux Gaming Laptop (2023). If you’re in the loop, you might’ve heard that their proprietary drivers can sometimes turn a simple setup into a troubleshooting marathon.

Now, I’ve got to give credit where it’s due, Nvidia does provide Linux drivers, and many users have a smooth experience on the green team. I remember snagging an Nvidia-powered ThinkPad and feeling like I’d hit jackpot — until I stepped into the multi-monitor setup drama. See, with Wayland aiming to replace X11, dynamic GPU switching should be slick, but sometimes it feels like I’m trying to solve a Rubik’s cube blindfolded.

Before you think it’s all doom and gloom, let me shine some light here. There’s a dedicated community constantly pushing updates and solutions. For example, seeing improvements in tools like Nvidia-Xrun and Bumblebee was like a breath of fresh air. Plus, there’s a growing number of game developers optimizing for Linux, and having a beefy Nvidia card means I’m rarely left out of the latest game launch.

But what genuinely tipped the scales for me was discovering **Pop!_OS** by System76, which seems to be crafted by people who’ve felt the Nvidia struggle. Integrating Nvidia drivers out-of-the-box? Absolutely genius. Pair that with their System76 Power tool, and it’s like someone finally put the “manageable” in power management for hybrid graphics.

I can’t ignore the times I’ve had to blacklist Nouveau drivers or tinker with xorg.conf files either. It’s like a rite of passage for a Linux user. You haven’t really lived until you’ve had a screen tear lead you down a rabbit hole of forum threads and man pages. But then you emerge victorious, with a battle-tested rig and a story for the grandkids.

For those on the fence, Intel and AMD offer a more open-source friendly environment. AMD has been a delightful surprise, with their open-source support translating to much fewer headaches. Plus, I’ve found that on kernel updates, it’s often just smooth sailing. It’s like AMD knows what we want and keeps delivering it on a silver platter.

My journey hasn’t been all peaks, though. There’s that sinking feeling when suspend-and-resume acts up, causing me to cringe every time I close my lid. And let’s not forget how some setups turn your sleek laptop into a noisemaker, declaring to the world that yes, you indeed are running some heavy computations!

In the end, it’s all part of the Linux journey. Each workaround learned and each kernel panic faced is another notch on the belt of Linux users worldwide. The community is our backbone, and it’s amazing how we rally to help one another get things right. Just check out any forum or GitHub repo, the collaboration is awe-inspiring.

At the end of the day, Linux on Nvidia can be a mixed bag. But armed with patience, plenty of forum support, and a stubborn streak that refuses to let a machine win, it’s an enriching experience that teaches more than just computing. It’s an adventure, and with every iteration, we’re getting closer to a seamless, power-packed Linux experience, no matter the graphics card on board.

Durability and Serviceability: The Crux of Long-Term Linux Laptop Use

An open laptop with visible internal components indicating easy repairability and upgradability

I’ve been going down the rabbit hole of Linux laptops for a while, and one thing I’ve come to value above almost everything else is durability and serviceability. Over the years, I’ve jumped from brand to brand and model to model, putting each one through its paces. I’m not gentle with my gear—I need a laptop that can take a few knocks and live to compute another day.

The real heroes in my journey have consistently been the Lenovo ThinkPads, especially models like the T14, T480, and T490. Oh boy, the sheer joy of a machine where you pop open the back, swap out parts like it’s Lego, and you’re good to go! I’m that person who despises the notion that laptops need to be fashion statements—give me a rugged, no-nonsense look with the ruggedness to match any day. If you’re also into giving new life to older hardware, check out the thriving communities around these Lenovo lines on places like /r/thinkpad.

And let’s not forget the new kids on the block, brands like Framework and Star Labs. They seem to understand that a laptop isn’t just another disposable gadget. The Framework laptop, for instance, with its beautifully modular approach, respects the right to repair, a trend I’m really thrilled about. Granted, it might not have the same pedigree as some of the older models, but to see user-serviceability being baked in from the design stage is seriously promising. Framework’s GitHub ( is a goldmine for anyone looking to get the most out of their machine.

While I can’t not mention Apple’s M1 MacBook Pro for its raw power and performance, Linux compatibility is a backseat feature for now. The ThinkPad X1s and the 2019 MacBook Pros might turn heads with their sleek designs, but they lost my heart with their soldered components. I want a machine that lets me be at the helm, not just a passenger.

Then there’s System76. They’re seriously speaking my language with their System 76 Oryx Pro and open-source firmware. It feels like they’ve built a bridge between powerful specs and a dedication to user control, all while accommodating Linux beautifully.

Let me whisper a sweet nothing about a laptop that recently caught my eye: the Star Labs StarFighter. This thing looks like it came straight out of a cyberpunk novel. Slack jaw, drool, the whole nine yards—minus a trackpoint, admittedly, but we can’t have everything. If you’re curious, keep an eye on the production updates on their site; those 4-5-month shipping estimates are a test of patience for sure.

Let me level with you about the Dell Latitudes; while they’re not as flashy, they have some of the best Linux support around. I suggest checking out their developer editions with Ubuntu pre-installed; it’s a solid nod to us Linux folks craving that seamless out-of-the-box experience.

Yes, not every Linux laptop comes with a shiny cover or the thinnest profile, but the more I dive into this world, the more I realize that the units that outlive the others are the ones that can be torn apart and rebuilt. It’s the freedom to upgrade, repair, and maintain our systems that keeps them—and my Linux journey—thriving. So here’s to the rugged, the reliable, and the repairable—may they forever reign in the Linux laptop landscape.

Beyond the Specs: The Real-world Linux Laptop User Experience

A joyful user working seamlessly across multiple monitors connected to a linux laptop in an ergonomic workspace

To be completely real with you all, skating the surface of specs only gets you so far in the journey for the perfect Linux laptop. What I’ve found is that diving into the actual user experience can tell a whole different story—one that isn’t necessarily reflected on a spec sheet. My journey with Linux laptops has been like wandering through a labyrinth of choices, each promising the world but only a few truly delivering.

I’ve dabbled in a myriad of brands, from the sleek and alluring Dell XPS to the rugged survivalist that is the Lenovo ThinkPad. What stood out to me was not just how well Linux ran on the hardware (although, I’ll concede, that’s massively important), but how I felt using them on a daily basis.

For instance, the satisfaction of slotting in an SSD or adding extra RAM to my ThinkPad is tough to quantify, but it’s part of what makes a laptop genuinely mine. The T14 and T480 models have been my workhorses, their keyboards providing that chunky, tactile feedback that makes typing less of a chore and more of an interaction. It’s also a blessing to not worry about your battery dying mid-flight, thanks to their commendable power efficiency.

When I snagged my Framework laptop, which wears its modularity like a badge of honor, I was smitten with the ease of swapping out ports and components. It felt like I was in control, not some company deciding how I should use my device. And let’s be real, isn’t that what the Linux philosophy is all about?

Linux’s open-source nature means everything feels more intimate in a way. Like how I can tweak and twiddle with the System 76 Oryx Pro to eke out just a smidge more performance. And have you seen the Star Labs StarFighter? That beast is on my wish list, and even without a trackpoint (I do miss those), it stands out with its jaw-dropping design and tantalizing specs.

Coming across laptops like these feels like striking gold; the communities around them buzz with optimism and support, like finding fellow treasure hunters who speak your language. It’s like when I’m scrounging around GitHub and stumble upon a repository that fixes a minor but persistent issue I’ve been having (it’s happened)—it’s both humbling and exhilarating.

Perhaps the biggest take-home message from my Linux escapades has been that the true value of a laptop is more than the sum of its parts. The peace of mind from owning a machine that lets you dictate the upgrade cycle, that stands resilient in the face of obsolescence, is a dimension of value that I’ve come to cherish deeply.

At the end of the day, the best Linux laptop isn’t the one with the snazziest specs or the thinnest profile—it’s the one that aligns with your values, operational demands, and the sheer, unadulterated joy you feel when you boot up and see that familiar penguin (kudos, Tux). And for me, it’s the one that gets a nod of understanding when I slide it onto a coffee shop table, a silent salute among the open-source savvy. After all, beyond the binaries and the bash scripts, it’s the passion for freedom and customization that unites us Linux enthusiasts. And a laptop that fits that bill is always worth the search.