The 330S is essentially a Linux-based version of the MacBook Pro. It’s got a 15.6” display, a decent suite of input ports, and it runs Mint Linux like a dream. This is the Linux laptop to get if you need one for any serious work.
The 1366 x 768 resolution screen can feel a little lo-fi when compared with modern laptop displays. The webcam doesn’t take great video, so others may have trouble seeing you on video calls.
Generous feature set, great I/O and port options and class-leading keyboard.
Heavy at 9.3 pounds.
Great starter laptop for Linux users. Offers SD card expansion. Attractive design.
Has limited onboard storage. Speaker quality is poor.
Fast Intel Core i5 processor. Clear 14-inch HD anti-glare LED display. Fast DDR3 RAM. Great feature set and will work great as a Linux PC.
Thick and chunky design.
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While most computer users are familiar with mainstream operating systems like Windows, MacOS, or Chrome OS, there’s another option: Linux. Linux is an open-source operating system, meaning it’s free, and anyone can modify it and create different versions. In fact, there are hundreds of different kinds of Linux, ranging from sparse developer-friendly versions to consumer-friendly versions that look and feel like other mainstream operating systems.
Because Linux isn’t owned by anyone, it’s up to hardware manufacturers to make it available on their computers or provide tools to help users do it themselves. Most major computer makers offer at least a few Linux-friendly laptops and, in some cases, users take it upon themselves to write drivers and software themselves. If you’re new to Linux, it’s best to find a laptop with it preinstalled, but if you’re a veteran user, you can look for a compatible laptop and install Linux on your own.
If you’re ready to join the thousands of users around the world enjoying the simplicity and stability of Linux, you’re in luck — there are plenty of great, affordable options that make Linux easy to learn and use. Here’s what you need to know to find the right Linux laptop for yourself.
When it comes to laptops, it’s easy to overspend. Keep costs down by considering these three questions before you shop:
Which version of Linux do you plan on using? This is the most important decision to make ahead of time so you know what you’re getting. For example, most first-timers opt for Mint Linux or Ubuntu Linux, because they’re so user friendly for Linux newbies. Once you know which version of Linux you’ll be using, you can then limit your search to only include models that support your version of choice.
Do you need a laptop with a touchscreen? More and more laptops are shipping with touchscreen displays, so you can use them both as a laptop and a tablet. These laptops, dubbed “2-in-1s,” are great if you need a machine that’s flexible enough to do both. But as you might expect, touchscreens drive up costs overall. The bottom line: if you’re looking for a laptop/tablet hybrid, pick up a 2-in-1 and get the best of both worlds.
The Linux laptop with everything
With the 330S, Lenovo has perfected the Linux laptop. The 330S has it all: slick looks, plenty of speed, and all the ports you could possibly need. It ships with Mint Linux, one of the most user-friendly versions available, an i5 processor, a 256GB solid-state drive and 8GB of RAM. If you’re a pro user or you just want the best Linux laptop you can buy, choose the 330S.
Here are the tech specs to compare as you’re looking at different Linux laptops:
Driver support. The single most important factor when it comes to Linux on laptops is driver support. Drivers are, essentially, the instructions that allow an operating system to interact with and control hardware components. Practically every aspect of a laptop’s hardware has drivers, from the display to the keyboard to the USB inputs. If you’re buying a laptop with Linux preinstalled, you can be certain the manufacturer has provided drivers. If you’re planning on installing Linux to a laptop that initially comes with a different operating system, research ahead of time to make sure the version of Linux you’re installing has all of the necessary drivers for the laptop hardware before you begin the process. (If you try and install Linux without full driver support, you won’t be able to use critical hardware features.)
CPU. A laptop’s central processing unit, better known as the CPU, is the heart of your computer. Everything flows through it — and faster CPUs can process more information, so your computer can run faster. Faster CPUs are more expensive, so keep in mind that less expensive Linux laptops run slower than more expensive ones.
RAM. Random access memory (RAM) is the memory computers use to handle multiple tasks at once. Not enough RAM can make any laptop slow, so it’s important to get a Linux laptop with 4GB of RAM at a bare minimum.
Do a quick assessment of how many ports you’ll need on your laptop before you buy. Things like external hard drives, thumb drives, or phone-charging cables can use all of your laptop’s ports before you know it.
Learn how to take screenshots in your Linux environment in case you need to ask others for help. When it comes to troubleshooting and tech support, a picture is worth a thousand words.
With computer gaming, your gaming experience depends on the graphics processing unit (GPU), better known as a video card, that your laptop has. If you’re going to do any serious gaming, get a Linux laptop that has a GPU onboard.
Inexpensive: In the $200 to $350 range, you’ll find plenty of Linux laptops geared toward casual users. Models in this price range are usually underwhelming hardware-wise; they typically rely on slower processors and include only the bare minimum of RAM. That said, Linux is built for running on minimal hardware, so entry-level users can have good experiences on laptops from this price range.
Mid-range: Between $500 and $700 is where it starts to get interesting. In this price range, you’ll find laptops that hit the sweet spot of power and affordability — so it’s not hard to find models with fast CPUs, plenty of RAM, and forward-looking tech like USB-C ports, Bluetooth, and 802.11ac WiFi.
Expensive: In the $800 to $1,200 price range, you’ll find the most powerful Linux laptops out there. Expect to pay this much if you’ve got high end or specific needs — for example, if you’re going to use a Linux laptop for your daily job or for gaming, you’ll need to spend this much to get one that’s got the appropriate hardware inside.
Our favorite Linux laptop for first-timers
The Lenovo IdeaPad ships with Windows 10, but it’s fully compatible with Mint Linux, making it one of the most affordable Linux laptops out there. The hardware is aimed at mid-range users — so it’s got a decent CPU, 4GB RAM, and a 1TB hard drive onboard. Power users might be a little underwhelmed, but it’s fast enough for the majority of casual users. It’s also got a DVD-RW drive, a relative rarity, so you can watch DVD movies or burn data to blank DVDs. If you’re on the market for a laptop for basic everyday use, and you’re ready to give Linux a shot, this is a solid value.
Only buy from manufacturers you know. There are a lot of no-name computers out there that run Linux, but we recommend avoiding them. Linux is community-supported, and that means that if you ever need help, you’ll need to reach out to others who own the same hardware as you — which can be really difficult if your laptop is made by a smaller, no-name manufacturer. Stick to brands like Lenovo, HP, Dell, ASUS, System76, Acer, Microsoft, Toshiba, Star Labs, or Samsung.
Make sure your accessories like your printer are all Linux-compatible. When it comes to getting all your hardware to work correctly with Linux, don’t forget about your peripherals. Consider all of the hardware that your computer connects to, from your printer to external hard drives, and triple-check to make sure all of them are Linux-friendly. If you have any accessories that aren’t compatible, consider getting a laptop with a different version of Linux or buying new accessories.
If you’re on the market for an ultra-portable 11-inch Linux laptop, check out the ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS02. By default, it’s a Chromebook, so you’ll need to install Linux here yourself. But once you do, you’ll have a fully functional, powerful laptop with a footprint that’s about the size of a piece of paper. It’s got a rugged military-grade design, so you’ll never have to worry about accidental damage, and it’s only 2.65 pounds. We recommend searching the web for tutorials that outline how to install Ubuntu Linux on Chromebooks to get started — and from there, the sky’s the limit.
If you prefer a laptop with Linux preinstalled, consider the Star LabTop 13.3-inch Ultrabook. It’s thin, lightning fast, and it supports multiple versions of Linux (including both Ubuntu and Mint, two of our favorites). On top of that, it’s got some perks that really make it a first-class device, like USB-C port and a 3,200MB/s solid-state drive. Think of this one as the Linux-friendly version of the MacBook Air.
Q. Can I install Linux on an Apple laptop?
A. You can, but we wouldn’t recommend it. While some users have had limited success getting Linux to run on Apple hardware, driver support and stability are anything but reliable. If you’ve got an Apple computer and you want to try out Linux, consider creating a virtual machine using software like VirtualBox and installing Linux there.
Q. How technical do I need to be to install Linux on a laptop?
A. Not very. Most consumer-friendly versions of Linux, such as Ubuntu Linux, are made to take the headache out of installation. If you buy a laptop and you need to install Linux on it yourself, read up on the installation process ahead of time so you know what to expect.
Q. Is Linux hard to learn as an operating system?
A. Linux is getting more user-friendly every day — and there are versions of Linux that are just as easy to use as Windows or MacOS. If you’re accustomed to mainstream operating systems, stick with mainstream versions of Linux (like Mint or Ubuntu) and the transition will be virtually seamless. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can learn more about advanced Linux usage through things like a command line interface, where you interact with a machine by using code instead of traditional software.
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