5 Fabulous Lightweight Linux LaptopsYou say you want a lightweight laptop with long battery life, a bright screen, and plenty of computing power? Good news: you can have it all. In this roundup we take a look at three high-end Linux laptops and two go-anywhere Chromebooks.
Linux laptops and Chromebooks are related, but different. Linux is a mature general-purpose operating system (OS) that supports a giant range of hardware—everything from factory automation, little netbooks, laptops and PCs to mainframes, supercomputers, and thousands of software applications.
Chromebooks run on Google's Chrome OS, which is based on Linux, but with different design goals. Instead of a full-grown operating system that does everything, it's slimmed-down for lower-powered portable devices. Chrome OS is optimized for Web applications, and it also supports offline apps, which you can download from the Chrome Web Store. Chrome OS can run some Android apps, though it's still experimental.
Your specific needs will determine which laptop makes sense for you. Chromebooks cost less and come in smaller sizes, but they don't have thousands of mature software applications like Linux does. Chromebooks offer long battery life, and they're optimized as Web thin clients, which makes it easy to use them as go-anywhere computers.
Linux laptops are more powerful and better for complex tasks. The best one for you is the one that does what you want: if you can find Chrome apps that meet your needs, then a Chromebook is perfect for you. If you need a full office suite, professional video, audio, graphics, or heavy-duty spreadsheet crunching, then you need a Linux computer.
Linux fans may wonder at ZaReason's absence in this roundup. The company's retooling its laptop line, so check its website in a few weeks to see what's new.
Dell XPS 13 Linux LaptopDell bills the XPS 13 as "the world's smallest 13-inch laptop." This is due to the very narrow bezel, which Dell calls its "borderless infinity display." Hyperbole aside, this is a tough, attractive little laptop that makes the most of its small size.
The XPS 13 pricing starts at slightly more than $1,000, which buys a lot of high-end features for the price: a high-resolution screen, machined aluminum case, Gorilla Glass, full-size backlit keyboard, and a carbon-fiber palm rest, all in a thin, 2.6-pound case. Expect around 6-7 hours of battery life. Additional options include touchscreen, more memory, and more storage.
System76 Lemur Linux LaptopThe System76 Lemur laptop is a beautiful little powerhouse. It comes with the latest-generation (6th) Intel processor, a brilliant 14.1-inch, 1,080p IPS screen, and a full complement of connectivity, including HDMI, wired and wireless networking, USB 3.0, and a built-in SD card reader. You can install up to 16GB of memory, and it supports both old-style spinning hard drives, and fast, quiet solid-state drives. It has 5.1 audio, mic, speakers, and a webcam, all packed into a 3.6-pound package.
The Lemur comes with the latest Ubuntu Linux 15.10 OS. As for battery, System76 claims that you can "fly across the country on a single charge." Figure roughly six hours. What does all this cost you? Pricing starts at $699 and optional customizations include more memory, more storage, and extended warranties.
Linux Certified Linux UltrabookLinux Certified sells training, certifications, and Linux laptops. The LC22UltraPlus Linux Ultrabook weighs in at 3.5 pounds; pricing starts at $1,199, which buys you an Intel Core i7 processor, 14.1-inch screen, 5-6 hour battery life, and the usual USB, HDMI, audio, webcam, and SD card reader.
Linux Certified also offers some services that other vendors don't, including support for multiple Linux distributions (Ubuntu, Fedora, Open SUSE, Red Hat, and Oracle), and dual-booting with Windows.
Chromebook PixelPricing on most Chromebooks falls into the $170—$350 range. However, Google's Chromebook Pixel ranks as the ultimate Chromebook, which it should be considering its $999 starting price. That buys you an elegantly-machined aluminum case, USB 3.1 (the latest USB standard), an Intel processor (instead of the usual lower-end processors on most Chromebooks), and a 12.5-inch 2,560 x 1,700 touchscreen. It weighs about 3.5 pounds and easily runs all day on a single battery charge.
The screen and computing power set the Pixel apart from other Chromebooks. The display is beautiful; rich and detailed with great color fidelity. The Pixel is screamingly fast, as you would expect from a powerful machine running an operating system and apps designed for lower-powered computers. If you want the most beautiful display and the smoothest video and audio playback, then this is the Chromebook for you.
Toshiba Chromebook 2If you love the Chromebook Pixel but can't deal with the price tag, then take a look at the Toshiba Chromebook 2. Toshiba's been making good, reliable computers for decades.
The Chromebook 2 CB35-C3300 lists at $329, and you get a lot of bang for your buck: a high-resolution 13.3-inch screen that's comfortable for both reading and working, Celeron processor, Intel graphics, backlit keyboard, and—a rarity on any laptop—good sound quality. It is very hard to get good sound from tiny speakers, but the Skullcandy speakers set the Toshiba apart from other laptops. Battery life falls in the 6-9 hour range, and the Chromebook weighs in at slightly less than three pounds.
Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook, and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She's the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.
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Looking for highly portable small business laptops? Whether you need high-powered computing or plain affordability, these Linux laptops and Chromebooks deliver the goods.