There was a time when Linux was seen as an outcast operating system, and indeed one that was labelled as a ‘cancer’ by Microsoft’s former CEO Steve Ballmer.
Times have now changed as the 27-year-old operating system has made some serious inroads in the server market, then in the cloud – not forgetting that it underpins the most popular ecosystem out there: Android.
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Because none of the main notebook vendors – bar Dell – offer Linux as an OS option, this leaves other smaller companies the ability to carve a niche for themselves.
Below are the five best Linux laptops of 2017 we’ve picked out using our expert eye – note that they have been fine-tuned to run a specific flavour of Linux (such as Ubuntu, for example).
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- Also check out our look at the best free Linux firewalls
Ideal for those looking for a sleek-and-chic portable
The XPS 13 retains its crown as the undisputed champion of the Ultrabook market, and one can only admire Dell for its unwavering Linux support on a flagship machine. The laptop is customisable so you can configure it to be suitable for everything from routine office tasks to gaming, depending on how much you’re willing to pay.
If you wish, you can plump for the most expensive XPS 13, which has a 4K (3,840 x 2,160) InfinityEdge touchscreen. The slightly more wallet-friendly configuration runs with a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) 13.3-inch InfinityEdge non-touch display. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the higher-res screen will tax the GPU and CPU more, and may affect battery life adversely.
As this is touted as a 'Developer' edition, it's surprising there aren't more customisation options. The basic model comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, and cannot be upgraded during checkout. The more expensive version allows you to choose between the default 512GB SSD or to pay extra for a 1TB solid-state drive.
Both models come preinstalled with Ubuntu 16.04 LTS.
A powerhouse of a laptop, but a hefty beast
System76's Serval WS is the ultimate powerhouse of laptops. Available with a 15-inch or 17-inch display, it incorporates an Intel Core i7 CPU which is usually found in desktop machines. The Serval WS is highly customisable incorporating up to 64GB of system RAM and up to 12TB of storage. Buyers are also offered a variety of Nvidia GeForce GTX 10-series GPUs, and gamers will further appreciate the choice of either a Full HD or 4K display.
It's clear that a lot of thought and care has gone into the design of the Serval WS, given that each key on the keyboard comes with its own multi-colour backlight. The laptop, like all System76 models, comes preinstalled either with the firm’s own custom POP!_OS or Ubuntu Linux.
This notebook also offers impressive connectivity chops with both USB 3.1 Type-C and Type-A ports (the exact number of ports varies by model). One thing to be aware of is that this laptop is a fairly hefty beast, with the basic 15-inch model weighing 3.4kg and the 17-inch version tipping the scales at 4.17kg.
This heftiness is matched only by the weighty price tag: the base 15-inch model is equipped with a relatively basic 8GB of RAM and a 250GB SSD for storage, but costs $1,899 (around £1,330, AU$2,445).
Great for privacy fanatics
Purism embarked upon a quest to build the most secure laptop ever and (obviously) chose Linux (PureOS) to power the device – it is the only notebook vendor on the market to offer physical kill switches as standard on its laptops.
Instead of going mainstream, the company tapped into the crowdfunding community to gain more than $430,000 (around £300,000, AU$550,000) worth of funding, allowing it to adopt a stricter ethos than most firms when it comes to privacy, rights to free software and security.
The Librem 13 might look and feel like a bog-standard laptop but there's far more to it than meets the eye (for example, the company designed its own motherboards).
In addition, Purism’s commitment to Linux (and security in general) certainly goes beyond most of the vendors on this list.
A highly configurable notebook with plenty of potential
The Oryx Pro was built for Linux and indeed currently offers a choice of either Ubuntu 16.04 or System76’s own Ubuntu-based Pop!_OS 17.10 on purchase.
The chassis is made from lightweight aluminium with a matte black finish and you even have a choice of display size (15.6 or 17.3-inch). Graphics are provided by GeForce GTX 10 series GPUs and the Oryx packs an Intel Core i7 quad-core processor (with Turbo to 3.8GHz) into its thin frame.
The online store encourages you to customise the Oryx to suit your needs. By default you get 8GB of RAM and a 250GB SSD, but you can pay extra to upgrade to 64GB of system memory with a 2TB SSD if you wish – although the top-end configurations get very expensive here.
You can also choose between Nvidia’s GTX 1060 and GTX 1070 when it comes to the GPU, and it’s possible to add extra drives, or purchase a laptop bag designed to carry and protect your machine. The warranty of the notebook can be extended to provide coverage for three years.
Looking for the ultimate Linux powerhouse?
On paper, the Galago Pro from System76 is an absolute beast of a machine, and yet it weighs less than most laptops which also have a 13-inch screen. This is a notebook that rivals the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition, featuring an aluminium chassis, and managing to make space for up to 32GB of RAM (yes, 32GB).
The Galago Pro has two hard drive bays. The 'OS Drive' in the first bay is a 120GB SSD by default but can be specified at up to 2TB when you order. You can also choose to install a second SSD in the other bay of up to 4TB capacity.
If that wasn’t enough, it has a 13.3-inch display with a resolution of 3,200 x 1,800, an Ethernet port, an SD card reader, two USB ports and a Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C/mini-DisplayPort connector. In a nutshell, you will be hard pressed to get anything in Windows-land that can deliver this sort of compute power and storage capacity.