The Best Linux Laptop (2018): A Buyer’s Guide with Picks from an RHCE

If you don’t posses the right knowledge & the experience, then finding the best Linux laptop can be a daunting task. And thus you can easily end-up with something that looks great, features great performance, but struggles to cope with ‘Linux’, shame! So, as a RedHat Certified Engineer, the author & the webmaster of this blog, and as a ‘Linux’ user with 14+ years of experience, I used all my knowledge to recommend to you a couple of laptops that I personally guarantee will let you run ‘Linux’ with ease. After 20+ hours of research (carefully looking through the hardware details & reading user feedback) I chose Dell XP S9360-3591-SLV, at the top of the line. If you want a laptop that’s equipped with modern features & excellent performance that ‘just works’ with Linux, then this is your best pick.

It’s well built (aluminium chassis), lightweight (2.7 lb), features powerful hardware, 6 hours+ battery life, includes an excellent 13.3 inch Gorilla Glass touchscreen with 3200×1800 QHD resolution which should give you excellently sharp images without making anything too small & difficult to read, a good & roomy track-pad (earlier versions had a few issues with it, but now they seem to be gone) with rubber-like palm rest area and a good keyboard (the key travel is not deep, but it’s a very think laptop so…) with Backlit, two USB 3.0 ports. Most importantly, two of the most common elements of a laptop that can give ‘Linux’ user a headache, the wireless adapter & the GPU (yes the Intel HD Graphics 620 can play 4K videos at 60fps), they are both super compatible with ‘Linux’ on this Dell.

One drawback is that it doesn’t have an HDMI port. In its place, Dell has added a Thunderbolt 3 port. So your only option is to use a Thunderbolt to HDMI converter (they’re pretty cheap). Secondly, you can’t upgrade the 8GB of RAM after purchasing (you can change the hardware configuration — CPU, RAM & SSD, before purchasing), but in my opinion, 8GB is more than enough to run any ‘Linux’ distribution for doing everyday tasks with ease. I for one have an Asus laptop (received it as a gift) with a 5th generation of Core i7, 4GB of RAM, I use it as my main computer. With Chrome having opened 15-20 tabs, VLC running in the background, file manager & a code editor opened, it handles it with ease. If I cut back some of the browser tabs (say reduce them to to 4-5), then with the rest of the apps opened, I can even work with a virtual machine on Virtualbox. That’s with having 4GB of RAM, so with 8GB of RAM and other more powerful hardware, you should be absolutely fine.

Note: I’ve chosen a solid set of hardware for you, but if you want, you can further customize it. However, don’t choose the ‘8GB RAM/128GB SSD’ option. Because that version gives you the 1920×1080 FHD screen, and that resolution on a 13.3″ screen can make things like menus to appear a bit smaller, slightly difficult to read.

Best Cheap Linux Laptop

If the Dell is a bit pricey and you want something that is affordable, but still gives you surprisingly similar performance & really good compatibility on ‘Linux, then your 2nd best option is to go for the Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G-57D4. Its 15.6″ display is certainly not as good as the one Dell gives you, but the 1920×1080 Full HD resolution should still fits nicely with the 15.6″ screen making things sharp & clear. The rest of the hardware is actually very similar to the ones the more pricier Dell gives you, but at 5.2 lb it’s a little heavy.

You can actually customize it a lot. The basic setup includes a 7th generation Core i5 CPU, 15.6 inch FullHD (1920 x 1080) screen, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, 256GB SSD drive, Intel HD Graphics 620 GPU and also a separate (discreet) Nvidia 940 MX GPU, for ports: HDMI 2 USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0 & 1 USB 3.1. For $549, it also includes a DVD burnerit’s a bargain.

As far as the ‘Linux’ compatibility goes, it’s really good. It may not be top notched as the Dell XPS, yet, as far as I can see, if there is one thing that can give you troubles it’s that Nvidia GPU. Except for one user, all the others who have given feedback on its ‘Linux’ compatibility say it runs very smoothly. Only one user has complained that he came up with a minor issue after installing the proprietary Nvidia driver in Linux Mint, but he says it’s certainly not a deal breaker. This feedback is also in accordance with my experience with a mobile Nvidia GPU as well.

For instance, nowadays I use an Asus laptop and apart from the integrated Intel GPU, it also comes with a discreet Nvidia 920M GPU. I’ve been using it for about an year and a half. I’ve run couple of ‘Linux’ distributions on it, and the only major issue I’ve had so far was that after installing the proprietary driver on Ubuntu 17.10 and activating Nvidia as the default GPU the auto-user-login function stopped working. And every time I had to enter my login details at the login screen for entering into the desktop. It’s nowhere near being a major issue, and I’m sure it could’ve been fixed by editing some configuration settings of the login-manager, but I didn’t even care because I rarely use the Nvidia GPU. Therefore, I simply changed the GPU back to Intel and all was back to normal. Also, a while ago I enabled ‘Motion Interpolation’ on the same Nvidia GPU on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and everything worked like a charm!

What I’m trying to say is that GPU drivers such as those from Nvidia & AMD/ATI used give users a real hard time in the past in ‘Linux’, but nowadays things have progressed a lot, or so it seems. Unless you have at your disposal a very recently released high-end GPU, chances are ‘Linux’ is going to work without lots of major issues.

Linux Gaming Laptop

Check price on Amazon

Most of the time, with gaming laptops, you’ll have to manually tweak things a bit. And those ‘things’ are mostly associated with the GPU. It can be as simple as installing the proprietary driver, to dealing with a system that refuses even to boot into the live CD/USB. But with enough patience, most of the time, they can be fixed. If your gaming laptop comes with a very recently released Nvidia/AMD GPU and if the issue is related to the driver, then fixing it simply means waiting for an updated driver. Sometimes that can take time. But if you buy a laptop with a GPU that’s released a couple of months ago, then that alone should increase your chances of fixing any existing issues to a great degree.

So with that in mind, I’ve chosen the Dell Inspiron i5577-7342BLK-PUS as the gaming laptop choice. It’s a powerful gaming laptop that has a power tag below 1000 bucks. The reason being is the 15.6″ FullHD (1920 x 1080) display mostly. Because when you look at the rest of the configuration (yes you can further customize it), it includes a 7th generation Core i7 CPU (quad-core), 16GB DDR4 RAM (up to 32GB), 512GB SSD drive and an Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU which has received lots of positive reviews. You won’t be able to play high-end games in QHD or 4K resolutions with it say on an external display, but it can handle lots of games in FullHD resolution on its 15.6″ display nonetheless.

And the other reason I’ve chosen a Dell over the other is, for some reason, most Dell laptops (or computers in general) are quite compatible with ‘Linux’. It’s pretty much the same with this one as well. I’ve manually checked the hardware details on Dell, while I cannot vouch for any issues you might come up with that Nvidia GPU, the rest of the hardware should work very well on major ‘Linux’ distributions (such as with Ubuntu for instance).

Is that it?

Actually yes, because I believe less is ‘more’.

Look, I could’ve added bunch of laptops here and thrust them at you by ‘recommending’ them. But I take very seriously what I do on this blog. So I can’t just ‘recommend’ 10-12 laptops unless I’m confident that they’re suited to run ‘Linux’ as smoothly as possible. While the list is at the moment, confined to 3 laptops, I’ve made sure that they will run ‘Linux’ comfortably (again, even with the gaming laptop, apart from the Nvidia GPU, the rest of the hardware SHOULD work), plus, the three models should cover requirements of a large audience in my opinion. That said, as time goes on, if I find laptops from other manufactures I can predict with confidence that will run ‘Linux’ quite well, then I’ll add them. But for now, these are my recommendations. However, if you’re not happy with these recommendations, then below are couple of simple things to look for. Once you get the basic idea, you can pretty easily predict with good accuracy whether a laptop is going to give you a difficult time running ‘Linux’ or not. I’ve already mentioned most of them above, but here they are anyway.

  • Find more information about the hardware:

When you come up with a laptop take a note of its model. Now, on most websites, details such as the manufacturer of the Wireless adapter or the audio chip etc aren’t given. But on most occasions such information can be easily extracted using a simple trick. And this is what I usually do.

If you know the model number and the manufacturer of the laptop, just search for its drivers in Google. Let’s take the Dell gaming laptop I just mentioned as an example. If you take its name and search for its drivers in Google (‘Dell Inspiron i5577-7342BLK-PUS drivers‘), Google doesn’t display an official Dell drivers page. This is not surprising because Dell (and other manufactures) sell laptops under the same generic model name with few (2 or three) hardware variations. So, to further narrow things down, starting from the left side, let’s use the first three fields of the name and search for its drivers in Google (‘Dell Inspiron i5577 drivers‘), then as shown below, Google lists us, among other websites, an official Dell’s drivers page for the Inspiron 5577 (without the ‘i’).

If you enter into this page and look around the various drivers & hardware listed there and compare them with the model we’re interested in, then you’ll see that the hardware listed in the ‘Dell Inspiron i5577-7342BLK-PUS‘ are also listed there. I’m usually more keen to look for what’s listed under ‘audio’ & ‘network’, because the exact model names of these chips are the most difficult to obtain from a buyer’s website and others such as the GPU, CPU etc are listed. So if you look what’s displayed under ‘network’ then you’ll see that Dell gives us couple of drivers. One is for Realtek Ethernet adapter (Ethernet adapter are usually well supported in ‘Linux’), Qualcomm QCA61x4A-QCA9377 Wireless adapter (if you further research the ‘QCA61x4A’ & ‘QCA9377’ separately, because they’re separated by ‘-‘, then you’ll find that these are actually two different yet very similar Wireless chips from Qualcomm. In other words, Dell has included two drivers in a single package), and couple of Intel wireless adapters (Intel hardware too is well supported in ‘Linux’).

But Qualcomm devices can sometimes give issues. I’ve come up with one or two, but none of it were ever major ones. That said, when in doubt, it’s always best to seek. So take that ‘Qualcomm QCA61x4A-QCA9377’ (it doesn’t really matter if you use one adapter or use the two names combined) and add to it a keyword like ‘linux’ or ‘ubuntu’ and Google it. If I search for something like ‘Qualcomm QCA61x4A-QCA9377 ubuntu’ then Google lists few results. The first one I get is from AskUbuntu (a community driven website dedicated to answer end-user’s Q & A, excellent resource for fixing issues related to Ubuntu).

If you go over to that page then you can see that the user complains that Qualcomm QCA9377 wireless adapter is giving him hard time on Ubuntu 15.10. Fortunately, that question has been answered. Plus, this seems to be an issue with Ubuntu 15.10 which was released back in October 2015, so this is two years ago. So there is a high probability that this particular issue is already fixed in the latter Ubuntu releases. Also remember that, this issue seem to related to the Qualcomm QCA9377 wireless chip not the QCA61x4A. So if our ‘Linux’ gaming Dell laptop has the latter chip, then most probably you wouldn’t come up with this at all.

I hope I didn’t over complicate things. I just wanted to give you a pointer on how to find subtle details about the hardware of the laptop that you’re hoping to run ‘Linux’, so that you can better evaluate the situation. Use this technique with some common sense, and with experience, you’ll become very efficient at it.

  • Don’t stop at the GPU & the Network Adapter:

While its true that the GPU and the Network adapter are among the two most common hardware devices that give you big issues in ‘Linux’ since you’re buying a laptop, it’s always good practice to research the compatibility of the audio, the touch-pad and the keyboard & its associated features (for instance, my old Dell’s Backlit keyboard had a minor issue under ‘Linux’. Backlit keyboards can give minor issues in ‘Linux’, again, it’s from experience) as well.

Search the ‘User Reviews’ (While you’re at it)

On websites such as Amazon.com, you can actually search for user feedback (‘reviews’) for certain keywords. This is extremely useful because you can easily search for a keyword or two in an entire section consisting hundreds or even thousands of user feed-back within a matter of seconds. I advice you to use keywords such as ‘linux’ or ‘ubuntu’ or ‘linux mint’ or any other ‘Linux’ distribution, as long as it is a popular one. If someone who has already purchased the laptop has attempted to run a ‘Linux’ distribution on it, using this method you can always find out what happened.

Searching for user feedback is easy on website such as Amazon. Once you’ve landed on the product page that you’re interested in, simply click on the ‘customer reviews’ link and scroll down till you see a search box, which is usually located around the bottom right corner.

  • If it’s too ‘hot’, wait 2-3 months:

As far as the computer end-users are concerned, the market share of ‘Linux’ is quite small. Therefore, hardware manufacturers don’t take ‘Linux’ seriously, yet. Thus, it take them a bit longer to fix any existing major issues with the drivers of their recently released hardware devices. This is even true to open-source drivers also, but they tend to come up with ‘fixes’ fast compared to proprietary ones in my experience. So, if you’re buying a laptop that features hardware devices (mainly CPU & the GPU) that have been very recently released, then it’s better to wait 2 or 3 months before buying the laptop to see if there are any major issues in ‘Linux’. And hopefully by that time, you’ll be able to find a fix or at least to predict when the fix is mostly likely to arrive.

  • What about the Screen & HiDPI support in ‘Linux’?

‘Pixel density’ or ‘High Pixel Density’ displays are quite popular terms these days. And most people assume that having lots of pixels means better quality. While that maybe true with the common intuition, technically speaking, it’s not accurate. This subject can be bit too complicated to understand, so I’ll just go ever the basics so that you’ll know enough to avoid unnecessary confusion.

Things that are displayed on your screen such as texts and icons are designed with certain fixed sizes. And these sizes are defined by what is called ‘Dots per inch’ or ‘DPI’ for short. This basically defines how many dots (pixels) there should be per inch for these items to appear correctly. And 72 dots per inch is the standard set by Apple and that’s what matters. I’m sure you’ve heard that Windows use a different standard, 96 dots per inch, but that is not entirely correct. I’m not going to go into the details, but if you want to know more, read Wikipedia. In any case, all that you want to know to make sure that the display screen of your ‘Linux’ laptop is going to look sharp and readable simultaneously, is to do the following. First take a note of its size (13.3″, 15.6″, 17″…) and the resolution. Then go to PXCALC.com website which gives you a nice dots per inch calculator. Then enter the values in the correct fields. Once done, take a note of the DPI value the calculator gives you (it’s on the top right corner, as shown below). Then take that value and simply divide it by 72, and here’s the crucial part.

If the answer you get resembles an integer increase such as 2, 3, 4 (+0.2 -- 0.2 variation is fine. The best ones may give you +0.1 -- 0.1 variation only. The finest will give you near 0.0 ones with a higher integer --3 & above, such as the iMac 27 5K) then you have nothing to worry about. The higher the integer increase is (provided that the variation stays within the margins), the more sharper the screen is going to be. To give you a better idea, let’s take an example.

Take the first laptop I gave you (Dell XPS 13.3″ with the QHD resolution) as an example. Once you’re done with the calculation it’ll give you answer ‘3.83’ which roughly equals to ‘3.8’ which is not an integer but as pointed out, it’s safely within the margin (-0.2 to be precise). If you do the same calculation with the Acer laptop I recommend to you as the best cheapest option, then it’ll give you a value of ‘1.95’ which is roughly ‘2.0’. So other features (brightness, viewing angle etc) aside, the display on Dell is almost twice as sharp compared to Acer (trust me, this display still looks great and sharp. It’ll look far better compared to a resolution of 1366 x 768 on either a 13.3″ or a 15.6″ screen).

  • RAM Size?

KDE and GNOME are the two most popular desktop environments in ‘Linux’. While there are many others, I advice you to stick with one of them. These days my preference lies with KDE. KDE plasma is actually more lightweight & efficient compared to GNOME, as far as I can tell. If you want some numbers, then in my Ubuntu 16.10 flavors review (which is about an year old now), KDE plasma consumed about 369 MiB while GNOME edition of Ubuntu consumed 781 MiB! That’s 112% increase!

These days I use Kubuntu 17.10, although I haven’t reviewed it, but I can tell that its memory consumption too is somewhere around 380-400 MiB. Coming back to the point, I would like to advice you not to go below 8GB when it comes to choosing RAM size for your ‘Linux’ laptop. That way, I can guarantee with great probability that you’ll be able to use it for at least 4 years into the future without having to worry about laptop becoming slow and not being able to cope with the requirements set by distribution vendors and by most end-users.

If you’re looking for a laptop for gaming in ‘Linux’, then of course you should go 12GB or more. Other than that, 8GB is more than enough for most end-user needs.

  • What about an SSD?

Despite what operating system you use, adding an SSD will improve the overall performance & responsiveness of your laptop immediately because they are much faster than the rotational disks, as simple as that. That being said, in my experience, even though efficient and lightweight, KDE distributions take more time to boot compared to GNOME counterparts. Some ‘Linux’ distributions such as Ubuntu and Kubuntu come with a especially designed utility called ‘ureadahead’ that improves boot-up times (sometimes by 30% or even more), unfortunately not all distributions come with such tools. And on such occasions, KDE can take 50 seconds+ to boot on a 5400 rpm SATA drive. Manjaro 17.0.2 KDE is one such example (shown in the graph above).

Thus, by simply making sure to buy a laptop that features an SSD can immensely help you out. My Kubuntu 17.10 is on a smaller SSD drive (20GB) and it boots within 13-15 seconds.

  • The GPU?

As mentioned many time, if possible, always go with an Intel GPU. Just like Dell who’s known to produce ‘Linux friendly’ hardware, Intel has also thoroughly invested in open-source projects, and some of its hardware too is such like. You won’t regret it.

  • What about automatic GPU switching (e.g: Nvidia Optimus), will it work?

If you’re bought a laptop with a discreet graphics card, then in Windows, Nvidia has a feature called ‘Optimus’ which automatically switch between the integrated (weak) GPU and the discreet (more capable) GPU. ATI also has this capability. There is no official support of such features in ‘Linux’, but there are experimental work such as the Bumblebee project. But it does not always work as expected. I simply prefer to have installed the proprietary GPU driver and switch between each whenever I want, manually. To their credit, Fedora team has also been working on a solution of their own, I don’t honestly know how far they’ve gone. Better ask Christian I guess.

  • Can ‘Linux’ give you good battery life?

Of course it can! Once your hardware devices are properly configured, I recommend that you install a power usage optimizer. There are a few applications, but I recommend ‘TLP‘. It’s easy to install, cuts down the power usage impressively in my experience, and usually it requires no manual tweaks to work.

Below are two screenshots from my latest Ubuntu 17.10 review. First screenshot shows the power usage before installing ‘tlp’ and the second one shows the readings after installing it (the pictures say it all):

‘tlp’ should be available in major ‘Linux’ distributions. On Ubuntu based ones, you should be able to install it by issuing the following commands:

sudo apt update

sudo apt install tlp

Now reboot the computer, and you’re done!

  • How did you measure the power usage in ‘Linux’?

Glad you asked! It’s called ‘powerstat‘. It’s this amazing little utility (designed by Colin King, an Ubuntu developer) that gathers useful data that’s related to power consumption (and debugging) and puts them all into a single screen. On Ubuntu based systems, enter the below commands to install it:

sudo apt update

sudo apt install powerstat

Most major ‘Linux’ distributions make it available through their software repositories these days.

  • Are there any ‘Linux’ operating systems you recommend?

Well, my main operating system these days is Kubuntu 17.10. Now I have not reviewed it, but to make a long story short, I love it! It’s very easy to install, beginner friendly, stable, beautiful, power efficient and easy to use. These days I literally laugh at GNOME! So if you’re new to ‘Linux’, then I advice you to try Kubuntu  or Linux Mint, first (‘Mint’ gives you couple of desktop choices. Go with either the KDE version or with ‘Cinnamon’).

Then once you get the hang of things, then you can move on to others, that’s the best approach for a beginner.

Final Words

Recall what I said at the beginning. If you’re looking for a laptop that runs ‘Linux’ almost effortlessly, then by all means go with the Dell XP S9360-3591-SLV. It’s a well build, powerful, very popular, ultra-portable laptop that not only can let you run ‘Linux’ easily, but also feature a great display screen that has been praised by many reviewers. If however, you want something cheap, then go with the Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G-57D4. As far as ‘Linux’ compatibility goes, it’s almost as good as the Dell, plus it’s a great value for the money.

Thirdly, if you’re looking for a laptop to do some gaming on ‘Linux’, then Dell Inspiron i5577-7342BLK-PUS looks pretty solid to me. Again, there are many other gaming laptops out there, true, but I specifically chose this one because, it features hardware that are already compatible with ‘Linux’, although I cannot vouch for the Nvidia GTX 1050 with the same confidence. That said, you shouldn’t buy a ‘Linux’ gaming laptop without wanting to get your hands dirty a bit. In that case, if you’re not happy with its hardware capabilities (it’s quite capable) and would like to do the research and choose a different one, then by all means do so.

I wish you good luck with your purchase and thank you for reading!

4 thoughts on “The Best Linux Laptop (2018): A Buyer’s Guide with Picks from an RHCE

    • Hi Tim,

      I have nothing against System76. They have some great laptops that are super compatible with ‘Linux’. They also make sure to include display screens with ‘proper’ pixel densities so that desktops such as GNOME & KDE will be able to properly scale apps & fonts etc, thus delivering a high quality display screen without breaking readability.

      That said, the previous version of Galago, one that features the Intel 7th generation didn’t scored that well in terms of battery life. However, now it seems they’ve updated the Galago with Intel 8th generation CPU… but its battery is still 35.3 Wh one. That said, since it’s non-touch, it should last around 4 hours I’d say (the Dell XPS QHD version includes one with 60 Wh, and that can deliver 6-7 hours of battery life which is not great… but that’s mostly because of the QHD screen and the touch, although you can run it up to 8-10 hours with low screen brightness settings).

      So I don’t know. But since it’s too new, there aren’t a lot of information to be found online, either. I also don’t know much about their product support either, that’s why I was hesitant of recommending their products. That said, your best option is to ask them about the battery life (be more specific. Mention the type of conditions you’ll be using it under, such as the screen brightness, the type of apps that you’ll be mostly using it on etc), and then make the choice. Hope this helps Tim. (I would like to test these laptops myself, but I don’t think they’d go through the trouble of send them to me to test because after all this is a small blog).

  1. Regarding your statement:
    ++++
    ‘Mint’ gives you couple of desktop choices. Go with either the KDE version or with ‘Cinnamon’
    ++++

    See Linx Mint Blog:
    ++++
    In continuation with what’s been done in the past, Linux Mint 18.3 will feature a KDE edition, but it will be the last release to do so.
    https://blog.linuxmint.com/?p=3418
    ++++

    • Hmm thank you Russell. It makes sense too, I mean what’s the point of wasting energy to maintain two very similar looking (functionality-wise also) desktops.

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