How to Buy a Linux-Powered Laptop

Buying Linux-powered laptops should be easy, especially on big-name manufacturers’ websites. But it isn’t. You must employ workarounds to succeed or spend caches of money!

That is why downloading free Linux distributions and installing the operating system onto existing computers is a typical avenue for adopting Linux. Some computer manufacturers sell Linux-only hardware. Only a few of the major computer makers cater to providing Linux Inside. The challenge is finding both those that do and being willing to pay a higher buy-in price.

I had a battle with an aging computer a few weeks ago. That is when I realized how spoiled I had become with installing a variety of Linux distributions on my collection of computers over the years to keep them in service. The reality of actually having to buy a shiny new laptop had long escaped me.

My collection of laptops goes back to the days of Windows ME and Windows XP. With out-of-date Windows versions, I would simply wipe the hard drive and install a Linux distribution in their place. I do that not because I am a cheapskate.Using a variety of computer configurations gives me an edge in software testing and writing my Linux Picks and Pans reviews for LinuxInsider. That is something I have maintained over the last few decades.

One of my newest old laptops started acting up recently. In its heyday, that aluminum-encased laptop swiftly ran Windows 10 and had an 18″ screen view. I put a variety of Linux distros as dual-boot residents on its hard drive.

In the process of testing other Linux inhabitants, my middle-aged speedster would lockup. I chalked up that bad behavior to the beta versions of software I was testing or an uncooperative driver.

Then I realized that Linux distros I ran in live session or from portable Linux USB drive installations ran just fine. No lockups ever happened. But when I installed them on the hard drive, things went wrong.

Bench tests I conducted verified that the memory modules were fine. But the hard drive was fading fast.

That laptop was a powerhouse performer. I hated to see it go. Running portable Linux OSes from the USB drive that loaded into RAM was a temporary solution to keep my favorite device from Bit Heaven. It was time to actually buy a replacement laptop.

The last new laptop I bought — other than several high-end Chromebooks — was eight years ago. I hopped on the Internet and started looking for my new digital work companion by searching for “Linux Computers.”

The Buying Process

A handful of the big computer makers — I’m talking about you, Dell, HP, and Lenovo — provide Linux installations on some of their models. But those products are mostly available as part of enterprise packages. Finding choices for typical Linux consumers is not so prevalent.

Several commercial companies specialize in Linux computers for consumers in the U.S. Others exist overseas. Two well-known examples of U.S. Linux computer makers are System76 and Purism. Both manufacturers have their own hardware line and Linux distros.

My original buying plan was to purchase a mid-to-high-end configuration with Windows 10 and dual boot with my favorite Linux distro, CinnaBuntu. This distro is based on Ubuntu 2010 and runs the popular Cinnamon desktop, which is not an official choice — yet — of Canonical‘s Ubuntu family of Linux desktop options.

My plan called for comparison shopping online since in-store selection during the pandemic left few options. I would select from among the best prices I could find for a customized configuration of memory and storage. Surely, I would have lots of options with Linux pre-installed.

I found a rude awakening, instead. Shopping for a Linux-powered computer — laptop or desktop — was more like a shell game.

Search online. Enter “Linux laptops” into the website’s search window. See a link to Linux and click. Then check out the hits.

No wonder why the Linux OS has an ongoing struggle with gaining consumer users. Actually, buying a Linux computer is mostly just buying a computer and putting Linux on it yourself.

It is much easier — and usually cheaper — to take an existing Windows computer and install a downloaded free copy of any Linux distro that catches your fancy.

Shopping online for a higher-end Linux-powered device is a battle of wits. Here is a brief wrap up of my experience.

Linux Lip Service

It did not seem to matter what vendor site I tried. Nor did it matter how I varied the search terms. It did not matter if I searched Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, or major hardware manufacturers.

All the search results got mostly the same results. I was inundated with a lot of hits for Windows 10 PCs. Including the word “Linux” in the search string meant nothing.

For instance, I entered “Linux laptops” in HP.com’s website. I got zero results. The same search process on Dell.com brought me to an actual laptop display page filled with — you guessed it — Windows 10 laptops.

I revisited the same missing product results on every computer maker’s website — Acer and Asus included. Obviously, Chromebooks are one of the most popular laptop buying options today. Chromebooks came up regularly in my searches for Linux computers. But not so with actual Linux hardware.

Another example is the Lenovo website. I did a search for Linux laptops and clicked the link to the Lenovo Linux product pages. I found several pages of blah blah blah about the Linux support. I even clicked on the products tab. I never saw any Linux laptops.

Of course, I always hear that major laptop makers support the Linux OS and sell laptops and desktops running Linux. The huge challenge is actually finding Linux products if you are not connected to a business account with an enterprise sponsor.

You are more likely to find pages listing Linux-certified hardware sold by various big-name computer makers. But still, you do not get actual products with Linux builds and prices.

You can, however, find trouble-free hardware options to buy and install your own Linux OS choice. For example, see this Ubuntu hardware certification website here.

Cinching a Deal

What I wanted was a powerful desktop replacement for my laptop purchase. Thinking ahead to when my main desktop workhorse bit the bytes, I wanted its replacement hardware ready to plug into my large monitor and oversized keyboard and all my accompanying accessories via a docking station.

I gave up the search for an actual laptop with Linux pre-installed. Instead, I found an HP laptop with Windows 10 and a design-it-yourself configuration page with a price point that was unbeatable elsewhere. I was looking for at least a 16GB memory package. I bought a 32GB RAM beast with a two-year repair/replace package and 1TB solid-state storage and a 15″ touch screen for a tad bit over $1,200, tax included.

The only technical problem I encountered with installing my prized Linux distro was a refusal for the hardware to write the installation to the solid-state drive. No matter how I fiddled with the Secure Boot and UEFI hardware settings, the drive security would not allow a repartitioning.

Rather than fight it. I removed it. I did a Linux installation that used the entire solid-state drive. Bye-bye Windows 10. I did not want you on there anyway!

By the Numbers Price Comparison

Still, I was considering a customized configuration from a Linux laptop vendor. Using my HP Pavilion laptop described above as a baseline, I sought to match or better my potential deal. The numbers just did not work.

Self-configuring computer options is a nice touch. The problem, however, is you start with an attractive base price for minimum configurations and work your way to an “up to” cost.

I considered a System76 15″ laptop with similar specs as the HP Pavilion. The System76 laptop’s starting cost with 8GB RAM was $999. The 32GB RAM configuration would cost $2,199 and no service plan.

I also worked up a potential purchase for Purism 15″ Linux laptop with 32 GB RAM that would cost $3,376.00. That same unit with a RAM configuration of 8GB was priced at $1,599.

Yes, the Intel Inside CPU’s and graphics modules were very closely tied in all three cases.

Bottom Line

I am a dedicated Linux user. I have kept Microsoft Windows on numerous laptops over the years. I even did the free upgrades to Windows 10.

Ultimately, though, I rarely used Windows and mostly just booted into it for the updates in case I had a business need to evaluate a Windows program or handle a file or program connected to a freelance project.

At some point, the Windows installations would get scrambled and not be worth the effort to fix. I would install Linux over them.

Thus, my new Windows laptop purchase, even though I ended up with Windows 10 pre-installed instead of having only Linux installed, ended up with the same fate: No more Microsoft Windows and Hello, Linux. That is too often the compromise in buying a new computer intended to run the Linux OS.

For typical Linux users who just want an out-of-the-box reliable Windows replacement OS, 8GB Ram is more than ideal to run Linux. Linux works better than Windows 10 on a lot less memory and hard drive storage.

Installing a free Linux distro, either over Windows 10 or next to it in a dual boot, is a reliable way to repurpose an existing computer. Buying a reasonably priced new device with adequate specs is a viable alternative. You still have the option to buy a Linux-powered laptop with the configuration and price point that fits your budget.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

1 Comment

  • I had always bought refurbished laptops and put Linux on them myself. Due to an unexpected windfall I bought a System 76 Darter pro. The biggest reason was coreboot, which solves the UEFI issues. Yes they are a bit more expensive, but I had to buy my wife a new Win10 computer and was shocked at those prices too. I spent about 2 weeks on Pop, which is well suited to the hardware, but I wiped it and eventually put Ubuntu Mate on my laptop, as Gnome 3 only frustrated me. I had great support from the System 76 team for any question I had on installing a different OS on their hardware, and AM very happy with their laptop.

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