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Best laptop Linux experience - hardware + distro

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  • Best laptop Linux experience - hardware + distro

    So I've been trying to use Linux on my old Dell Precision M6600, and so far it's been a painful experience. I think this primarily due to the AMD FirePro M6100 it sports, and the notoriously buggy fglrx driver. I run across lockups (seemingly related to failed attempts to sleep and/or hibernate), game crashes and occasional graphical anomalies (might be related to "Tear Free" mode - necessary for Youtube and video playback.) Running VMs in VirtualBox, OTOH, seems pretty smooth unless one of those graphics glitches crops up. I'm running Debian 8.6 w/ Cinammon and the desktop works fairly well, except for really terrible Bluetooth and occasional WiFi issues.

    So what combination of hardware (ie, Laptop + GPU), distro and desktop environment offers the smoothest, least glitchy Linux experience? I can't afford any new hardware at the moment, but I'm taking notes for the future.

  • #2
    With Dell Precision, you'd probably want variant with a Nvidia's GPU and Nvidia's binary driver.
    If you like gaming and are not doing any CAD/CAM, then avoid "Precision", they are "workstation" laptops. Compared to "similar model" gaming GPU, workstation GPU's have different optimizations and perform worse on games. But much better on CAD.

    With laptops Wifi card model and GPU are primary concerns when you are looking for a new machine. I'd myself avoid machine with a Radeon GPU and any sort of Broadcom chipsets inside (all sorts of Broadcom add-on's on sysboard and Broadcom wifi both or either). They may make upgrading something like Wifi card impossible (Broadcom chip on sysboard locking new card out for example [issue with some Acer models]. As wifi cards, Broadcoms usually suck. Connection drop-outs even on windows, driver issues on open-source OS'es etc. Fu** it.
    "Good" wifi tends to be either Intel or some well-supported Atheros. Resume/sleep tends to work better with Samsung machines.

    Also I'd avoid machines that have no legacy boot option available in UEFI bios. "Automatic" sucks donkey balls. If the implementation is faulty, forget anything but running windows on it. Unless you want to install OS by removing HDD each fucking time because Linux boot media would recognize UEFI machine and try booting in UEFI mode each time and may crash doing it.

    I'd say, prepare bunch of live-CD's/USB sticks when you go to the store and ask if they allow you to "test the machine out" with live boot media on-site. And walk out, if they are not. Avoids painful experiences afterwards. It's too much of a lottery, and expensive if you are just walking in and guessing wrong.

    Dells, HP's, Lenovos may have rebranded "custom OEM" hardware in it. Getting the hardware work may be problematic (you'd maybe have to add hw-id's manually into driver source files and re-compile 'em). Go to store and test the machines catching your eye out. Best way.

    Lenovo Thinkpads often have very good open-source compatibility, including resume-sleep.
    Last edited by aht0; 03-21-2017, 02:28 PM.


    • #3
      I've actually found that older workstation models offer very good value for money, and are significantly cheaper than used gaming machines with similar specs. I guess enterprises find them to be useless after the lease runs out and dump them on the market. The Precision M6600 does offer the ability to swap out the GPU to a Quadro or Geforce (though you're limited to older Kepler hardware.) If you really want to, you can actually rip out the dedicated GPU altogether and run purely on the iGPU. But I hesitate to pop in a Geforce because of all the awful things I've heard about Optimus. Has that been straightened out yet, or is it still an issue with Linux?

      I've had Thinkpads in the past, and IIRC they did seem to have pretty good OSS compatibility. Or, at least before Lenovo bought the trademark from IBM. Yes, it's been that long since I used a Thinkpad. I'd probably have to stick with a used model, though.


      • #4
        Agree, I've been using old Dell Latitude business laptops much for the same reason, although I prefer ones with Intel iGPU, less heat (30-45C) and it in turn translates into better longevity, with all this lead-free solder shit being used in devices sold in the EU region these days. Never actually looked at Precision's with that eye. Good tip, thanks.

        About Optimus on Linux, no clue. It appeared to be working under FreeBSD as long as the associated Intel GPU is supported by FreeBSD. Some dude with more knowledge needed for commenting this.


        • #5
          OK, I may have found a solution. I picked up an HP Probook 6460b for chump change. This system was available with Linux pre-installed (Suse Enterprise 11 I think), so it should suit my purposes. Indeed, when I installed Debian everything worked out of the box, though I did use the non-free firmware installer for the Intel Wifi.

          Sadly, the Intel graphics are too weak to play just about anything under Linux, but can run some older games under Windows (DX10 only, natch.) I actually did manage to get XCom running under Linux, but only at 15 - 20 fps even after some aggressive .ini file tweaking. On the plus side, it's got a fast dual-core i7, so hopefully I can run a couple of VMs with it. At least one person has reported upgrading this model to a quad i7, but that's not officially supported by HP. It's also much lighter than my 17" Dell Precision, though still kind of chunky by modern standards.


          • #6
            (y) glad to hear it.