Choosing A 2013 Laptop/Ultrabook For Linux
Yesterday I ended up buying a new Intel ultrabook for Linux testing at Phoronix. Here's the hardware that will soon be featured in some new Linux benchmarks, plus my reasoning for going with this ultrabook and other thoughts on some of the laptops/ultrabooks this holiday season.
Earlier this week I asked what laptop you would like to see tested on Linux. I've been shopping for some new laptops/hardware since I always enjoy testing and benchmarking new hardware under Linux at Phoronix plus as mentioned in that earlier article I'll be over in Russia for the next month focusing on Phoronix Test Suite 5.0 and other developments, so I need a couple more portable systems with new hardware for Phoronix benchmarking. There's also plenty of good shopping deals for the holiday season. After going through the 50+ comments, I ended up doing a Black Friday purchase of the ASUS Zenbook Prime.
As I'm very fond of the latest-generation Intel Haswell processors from the multiple systems I am currently running with them (great CPU performance, a very nice boost to the integrated graphics, and fantastic power efficiency), I figured I would end up purchasing a Haswell-based ultrabook, but that sadly didn't happen.
ASUS recently released the UX301 and UX302 Zenbooks with Haswell CPUs, but they are still tough to find via Internet retailers and their pricing isn't that good. The ASUS Zenbook UX301LA-DH51T at Amazon sells for $1799 USD and has an Intel Core i5 4200U "Haswell" processor and its other specs come down to having 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 256GB SSD, 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 display, and a reported eight hour battery life under Microsoft Windows 8.
The Zenbook I bought for Phoronix was the ASUS Zenbook Prime UX32VD-DS72. For just $949 USD on Friday I got this ultrabook, which has an Intel Core i7 3517U "Ivy Bridge" processor with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, dual 128GB SSDs, Intel HD Graphics 4000 + NVIDIA GeForce GT 620M 1GB Optimus, and 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 display. While I'm sad it's not Haswell-based, the i7-3517U should deliver comparable CPU performance to the i5-4200U. This three pound ultrabook should also have eight hour battery life (at least under Windows 8) and making up for the lack of Haswell graphics is a discrete GeForce GT 620M (plus the Intel HD Graphics make for some new Optimus Linux testing). This ASUS Zenbook appears to be a great ultrabook deal for under $1000 USD. Having dual 128GB solid-state drives that can be put in RAID 0 is also a win. Overall, I'm happy with the specs and having a Haswell CPU really wasn't worth an additional $800 USD for an otherwise similar ultrabook. (I also managed to snatch a 8GB DDR3 memory module for $50 to further enhance the UX32VD-DS72.) The ASUS Zenbook should also play well under Linux but stay tuned for my Linux review, hardware benchmarks, and various other Linux articles in the coming weeks (new IVB Mesa tests, Linux kernel benchmarks, GCC / LLVM compiler tuning articles, etc).
One of the other ultrabooks/laptops I had been evaluating were the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon and Lenovo IdeaPad Y410p / ThinkPad T440s / ThinkPad X240. I have owned many ThinkPads over the years and overall I have been (and remain) very happy with their higher-end models... Generally there's solid Linux reliability, great build quality, and nice specs. I didn't get another Lenovo system this time though since there was the issue with many of them being Ivy Bridge based, Lenovo's estimated shipping schedule didn't work out for my mid-December departure, and the aforementioned Zenbook ended up being a better bargain. Hopefully there will be a nice ThinkPad for Intel's Broadwell.
My main system right now -- and will continue to be -- the Ivy Bridge Retina MacBook Pro. When running OS X and then VMware virtualizing Ubuntu Linux, the system is fantastic with great performance, battery life, and the device is built very reliably. As one of my other portable systems I use for everyday use when out and about is the 2013 Haswell MacBook Air, which also works fine if virtualizing Linux. While there were some Black Friday deals on other Haswell-based MacBooks, I didn't go for them since Linux is still generally difficult running bare metal on the Apple hardware and was looking for something different.
Those were the main laptop/ultrabook candidates I was looking at on Friday. I didn't see many others that were particularly tempting. Many of ultrabooks appeared too "cheap" in build quality, were too touch/convertible focused, or had far less than ideal specs. There was also the System76 Galago UltraPro that I had reviewed last month, but I ended up not settling for buying one of my own due to its keyboard and the build quality likely not being superior to the Zenbook besides the higher System76 cost. I also ended up not buying any new AMD laptop since there weren't any really exciting devices I could find from the major Internet retailers.
If you have any other Linux hardware shopping questions this holiday season be sure to check out my 2013 Linux Holiday Shopping Guide and yesterday's Phoronix Holiday Reminders. Stay tuned for a number of ASUS Zenbook Linux benchmarks coming in December -- beyond the usual Linux hardware reviews, exciting performance comparisons, and other tests at Phoronix. Feedback is always welcome via the forums and @MichaelLarabel on Twitter.
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