How to Choose a Laptop for Linux

While almost any laptop will run one Linux or another, there are laptop models that are better than the rest for a particular Linux distro or for Linux in general. If you are about to choose a laptop for Linux, here are some tips to consider.

1. Think About the Parameters You Need

Your quest for the best Linux laptop starts in a traditional way – with the same brainstorming you would do when purchasing any new laptop. Think about the hardware parameters you want your new laptop to have. These include CPU speed, amount of RAM, storage, on-board or stand-alone cards (graphic, network, etc.).

At this stage the process isn’t much different than choosing any other computer – browse what’s currently available and shortlist the models that meet your hardware requirements.

2. Consider Buying an Older/Less Powerful Computer

Linux uses computer resources in a more efficient way, and even with less powerful hardware, you can achieve a better performance than with a more powerful laptop running Windows. I am saying this from experience!

If you are just an ordinary user, with Linux you don’t necessarily have to go for the newest and most expensive hardware. Most new or used hardware/laptops that are one or two years old are fine for you. As an ordinary user, you hardly need the most expensive graphic cards, an ultra fast CPU, or TBs of disk storage capacity.

Linux gives a lot of choice – if one distro won’t run on your computer, simply try another. When I bought a new computer last year, it was too new for some of the Ubuntu distros I tried. Some of them wouldn’t install at all. Then I tried LXDE, a distro for old computers which is packed with all sorts of drivers, and it worked like a charm! On top of everything, since this was a distro for old computers, it ran at light speed.

LXDE was a solution for me because I didn’t need a particular distro. If I did, maybe I would have had to wait for a couple of months until the distro of my choice released a new version and hope that the drivers I needed are included.

3. Check Open Source Compatibility Databases

If you already have a few preferred laptop models, the next step is to check if these particular models are certified for Linux compatibility. There are quite a lot of places you can check. For instance, you can start with this database of hardware that works with free operating systems.

If you are going to install Linux Mint, then their hardware compatibility resources are a good starting point.

linux-laptop-01-mint-hardware-compatibility

For Ubuntu, you might want to check their vendor certification list. Choose the provider and then select if you want to see all their certified models or only laptops/desktops, respectively.

You see, the lists of Linux-certified laptops are pretty long, and it’s hard to say there is a single best laptop model or brand for Linux. Generally, from what I know, IBM Thinkpads do pretty well under Linux. Dells also have a large number of Linux-certified devices.

4. Browse Online to See What Other Users Are Saying

Even if the laptop brand and model you’ve picked are on the certified laptops list, it won’t hurt to do some more research. You can check support forums for possible issues owners of the model you’ve picked have had.

Ideally, you are looking for information about the distro you plan to use. For popular laptop models and Linux distros, chances are there will be info, but don’t take this for granted. For less popular laptop models and Linux distros, there might be no information at all, which unfortunately doesn’t mean there will be no issues.

5. Get a Laptop with Pre-Installed Linux

As a last resort, if you don’t trust your skills to choose a Linux-compatible laptop on your own, you might consider the option to buy a laptop with pre-installed Linux. Needless to say, this might limit your choices, but if you really need it, go for it. EmperorLinux and LinuxCertified are two places where you can get a laptop with pre-installed Linux, and the choice of distros there isn’t bad.

linux-laptop-02-emperor-linux

Choosing a Linux laptop isn’t that much different from choosing a laptop in general, but it’s good to know some specifics, such as where to find pre-installed Linux or where to check for compatibility. It’s true Linux will run on almost any laptop, but if you want to avoid unpleasant surprises, just check in advance if your particular model isn’t known for its problems with Linux.

16 comments

  1. I’m using a laptop with LXLE Eclectica right now. I agree with your tips. The one about buying a slightly older laptop is a very good tip. Since it takes time to make open source drivers, newer laptops takes longer to have seamless Linux compatibility. I say buy a laptop that’s at least six months old. Hopefully by then, there will be drivers for that laptop.

    I love using LXDE-based distros. They are snappier than XFCE, faster to boot, faster to launch apps, less lag. I used XFCE for one year, but after using LXDE, I don’t think I can go back to XFCE. I hope when LXDE moves to LXQt, that it would still keep most of the designs and looks of LXDE. I hope it won’t turn to KDE-lite, cause I hate KDE.

    1. Yeah, a six months old laptop is a safe bet.

  2. Be careful with Intel Bay Trail cpu’s, there is a bug that causes complete freezes. There are work arounds that might work.

    1. Thanks for the warning!

  3. I’ve had great success with Dell’s Lenovo’s and HP’s. I would avoid any of the overhyped stuff that is labeled as “for Gaming” they usually have the exotic and high-end video graphics cards that might not always place nice with Linux. I have Lenovo T410′ s/ T420’s / T430’s that come with standard Intel graphics and they all run various versions of Linux just fine, with enough speed that guarantees you’ll be able to get work done without running into lags or problems. I’ve also seen people spend a lot of money for more recent, high grade laptops with all manner of bells and whistles, but they almost always run into an issue with some component and their Linux OS. Better to get a “middle-of-the-road” machine with decent specs that can run a distro for years without falling prey to some hardware issue.
    A quick list of what machine manufacturers have been successful with Linux that I have seen:
    Dell
    HP
    Lenovo/IBM
    Sony
    Asus
    Acer
    …pretty much the big names in laptops will run a Linux distro well, as long as you don’t require something “different’ in regards to either sound or audio.

    1. I do agree with the fancy hardware tip – unless you really need it, don’t get it. Btw, from what I know, these exotic cards cause problems under Windows, too.

      1. Agreed, there are some NVidia / AMD / Radeon cards that just weren’t spec’d out properly and that will forever give uses headaches, regardless of whether or not they use Windows or Linux. I guess one day all the HW manufacturers will be on the same page?….(or NOT!…..LoL!)

    2. The one nagging piece of hardware that may cause problems in Linux is the wifi card, usually Broadcom. Major hassle since the usual way to fix it is to connect to the internet using an ethernet cable to the modem and downloading a proprietary driver.

      Especially if you don’t have regular access to the internet. I don’t think the local Starbucks would allow you to connect that way.

      1. Agreed here was well, I had one of the worst experiences when I first started using Linux, with DEBIAN Linux (of all the distros for this to happen to!) And it wasn’t until I got back to NY that I was able to do anything about it. Which would lead me to ask this question: For a distro that’s been around for quite some time, why is it that you CAN’T have a wif-fi driver installed and in place upon install? Ubuntu and Linux Mint (both “children” of Debian!) have these installed, why can’t you borrow from their design and have these in place right away?
        Another issue I had run across, so badly that I just had to stop using Debian altogether, was the GRUB installer. I don’t know whose idea it was to NOT have one present, or to have it either removed or placed in some restrictive folder….but it was an idiotic one. I have tried everything, from checking the settings in my BIOS to ensure that UEFI was configured properly, I have grabbed and tried to install the grub bootloader from a separate file / location I’ve even tried to install it from the DVD/Live CD, but to no avail. Needless to say there will always be some form of drudgery involved with the software/hardware when it comes to Linux…(and sometimes Windows and Apple as well!) I have since then long ago abandoned Debian for more left of center distros that have since…..not let me down.

        1. I think Debian isn’t that actively developed as Ubuntu and Mint and it’s not as targeted to end users as Ubuntu and Mint and probably this is part of the reasons why it lacks functionality you can find elsewhere.
          Your experience with the bootloader is really frustrating – I haven’t used Debian in almost a decade and wasn’t aware of all the ‘perks’ one gets with it.

      2. Yes, the proprietary driver thing can be *very* inconvenient – especially after a software update and when it may take another update to fix it. I am running Ubuntu 16.04 on an older Latitude e5430 and, when it works it’s good but can be very frustrating to reconnect (and incur failure after failure) until an update provides the magic fix.
        Useful article, thanks!

  4. Another aspect to consider is Windows version hard and soft environment requirements needed to run as a virtual OS say, in VM ware.
    This for cases where it is absolutely essential to use Windows OS for proprietary software not available otherwise.

  5. Prescient article as I’m just thinking along those lines. Thanks folks for all the useful comments too.

  6. Buying a laptop with Linux preinstalled should be your first resort, not your last.

    Otherwise, you’re funding companies that want to kill linux.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly, unfortunately? When I was in college? the prices of those kinds of machines were WAY beyond my reach! And even today? they STILL require all kinds of financial juggling in order to get one. I intend on getting a few machines that are designed by their manufacturers to run Linux, (been thinking about one from each vendor…System76 and ZaReason) but for now?…since I have auto insurance that’s ridiculously expensive, and a mortgage?plus…child support, and medical expenses?…..I’ll just have to continue to buy T-Series Thinkpads from off of Amazon and install Linux on them myself! And while I might not spend money for those Linux machine?…i DO make (small……VERY small….hmm….you might say “molecular” sized?) donations to the various distros that I use and believe in!

  7. I have the hp stream 13 ~200$ ultrabook , its pretty fast and even its loading time is something you need to see to believe.
    I wouldn’t exaggerate if i say that i could use it as my main computer using an external monitor , its that fast .
    Also its very cheap !
    The only negative is that bluetooth doesn’t work but you can plug a bluetooth dongle .
    I have seen many new laptops but its slow mechanical hard drives slow down the system this doesn’t happens on hpstream 13.

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