Buying a New Laptop

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Update 2016-02-06: added Dell Chromebook 13

Update 2016-02-10: (German) comment by Richard Wagner; Tuxedo; Refurbished lenovos

Update 2016-02-22: lenovo ThinkPad X260; lenovo ThinkPad 13

Update 2016-03-07: Libreboot X200; Tuxedo; feature-summaries

It seems to be the case that I need a new laptop. I accidentally bricked my beloved 2008 model lenovo X200s but that's a different story.

I need a laptop mainly for events and trips. The corresponding tasks are running GNU/Emacs Org-mode (single core speed), presenting slides (video output), surfing the web, ssh to my hosts, watching a video and coding some low profile Python stuff.

The following sections describe notebooks I came across:

Lenovo X250/X260

I know lenovo ThinkPads and do like the design. They're good hardware and with the x250, lenovo gladly re-introduced their great trackpoint.

Unfortunately, lenovo has made very bad decisions in the recent months. However, I hope that those very disappointing stuff is only related to their Windows software team. As long as I am using GNU/Linux instead, I should be fine.

There is still some drawback: intel with its built-in spyware BIOS is a potential backdoor which is able to access all of my data and network traffic.

Approximately 1300€-1400€

Also very interesting: refurbished ThinkPads.

2016-02-22: a slighly updated version of the X250 is available: the X260 has the new Skylake architecture and no VGA. Prices start at 900€ without operating system.

Dell XPS 13

It is said to be better than lenovo and has good support for GNU/Linux: the developer editions comes with Ubuntu pre-installed. Unfortunately, those editions are out of stock for now and it's unclear if and when they're back for sale.

Approximately 1200€

Librem 13

The Librem 13 is the smaller brother of the Librem 15 which was funded by crowd sourcing. One big design requirement was its openess and its focus on privacy: real hardware switches to turn on/off video camera and microphone are very unusual - sadly. Its BIOS is still intel-based but they are working to fix this issue with future models - at least they say so.

It is shipped either with their own flavour of Ubuntu Linux or with Qubes OS.

Unfortunately, the price tag is a bit heavy: 2200€ for a decent hardware configuration is way to high for me.

Toshiba Chromebook 2 (free BIOS)

An interesting alternative to the full-blown notebooks above is the Toshiba Chromebook 2. Beside of being very cheap, it comes with less processing power (intel Celeron 3215U Core i3-5015U for the 2015 model, Celeron N2840 for the 2014 model), has a glossy display, no ethernet, and its keyboard lacks a few keys (page up/down, insert/delete, home, end, Windows-key).

On the plus side, it is very thin and light, has great battery time, its CPU is as fast as my old intel Core 2 Duo and I can switch its stripped-down Chrome OS to GNU/Linux. The transition is easy and hardware support for GNU/Linux is quite good.

Another great thing is that it can run coreboot (instead of intel UEFI-BIOS). Therefore, this piece of hardware can be run with one hundred percent free software.

The biggest drawback is the limitation of the CPU and RAM size. However, I do think that I can swallow this because I only need the notebook while being out of town or at an event. My old computer has a comparable CPU performance. The only application where I would wish for a fast CPU is my beloved GNU/Emacs which I use most of the time.

Storage space is limited to 16GB of SSD. I would put a big and fast SD card into the card reader slot to compensate this.

Approximately 300€-450€

Dell Chromebook 13

After doing more reseach, I found this comparison article about the Toshiba Chromebook 2 and a Dell Chromebook 13. People not only installed Linux on the Dell, its SSD can be swapped easily to a bigger model as well.

Dell is offering the Chromebook 13 in multiple variations. I would definitely go for a intel i5 CPU, glossy screen, and 8 Gigabytes of RAM. They charge 799US$ which translates to approximately 715€.

Looks like all of my must-have requirements and almost all of my nice-to-have requirements are fulfilled with this notebook. Seems like a perfect hit. Unfortunately, this nice piece of hardware is not available in Europe. Until I find it on eBay, I don't see an option to get it here in Austria.

Lenovo ThinkPad 13

The new ThinkPad 13 is an interesting option: Skylake Core i5 processor bundled with a large SSD, USB 3.0, and USB C. There is a version with Windows 10 and a version with ChromeOS.

However the two versions differs in price and hardware: the ChromeOS version doesn't have a trackpoint and a different keyboard.

So I'd have to buy the Windows-version and replace the OS.

All must-have requirements seems to be possible with the ThinkPad 13 for about $450. I don't have information on the openess of the BIOS but I'd guess there is a standard intel ME spyware include.

Libreboot X200 (free BIOS)

Ministry of Freedom sells pimped lenovo X200 laptops running libreboot and Trisquel 7 LTS GNU/Linux.

They charge reasonable prices but the hardware is fairly old (pre 2009). I guess this is because since 2009, almost every laptop got shipped with intel ME

Tuxedo InfinityBook 13,3"

Tuxedo Computers ship computers with pre-installed GNU/Linux of various kind (reddit-thread). The model which is very interesting to me is the Tuxedo InfinityBook 13,3". It is supposed to have a running battery time up to 15 hours, a beautiful alu unibody, a non-glare display, and a changeable battery. Unfortuntately, it's got no US international keyboard option.

It can be configured online to meet many requirements. My setup of choice (8GB RAM, 500GB SSD) costs 1080€.

A German heise c't article of a Tuxedu GNU/Linux system from previous year was not that positive as I would have expected.

A New Motherboard For My Lenovo x200s

An alternative would be buying a new motherboard for my old lenovo X200s (approximately 150€).


Well, what would you choose?

Do you have any recommendations?

Any other hardware suggestions?

Drop me a line in the comments below or write me an email!

2016-04-17: Meanwhile, I bought a new laptop. Read about it in this blog post.

Comment by Richard Wagner

Hallo Karl,
über meine Beschäftigung mit org-mode/emacs seit ca. 2 Jahren bin ich zuerst über deine Videos von den Grazer Linuxtagen und dann auch über deine HP gestolpert, wo ich in unregelmäßigen Abständen gerne mal vorbei schaue. Soviel nur kurz als Einleitung.
Ich bin vor kurzem über genau dasselbe Problem gestolpert. Ein ordentliches, state of the art, Linux Notebook zu finden. Mit nahezu ähnlich von dir aufgelisteten Anforderungen.
Prozess still ongoing - ist noch nicht so dringend ist wie bei dir. Derzeit setzte ich noch auf ein Lenovo Ideapad N856 (AMD A6 mit Radon Graphik), das mit SSD und RAM-Erweiterung ganz brav läuft (openSuse, vorher LinuxMint), aber doch ein paar Macken hat (Stichwort: suspend to RAM, hibernate, Grafikchip, Bluetooth).
Der Dell XPS 13 ist in meiner näheren Auswahl.
Die ChromeBooks sind zwar an sich interessant, ich glaube aber das man da auf lange Sicht doch mehr die Bastellösung hat. Was mir in deiner Übersicht abgeht sind Linuxgeräte von Tuxedo - hab selber aber mit null Erfahrung damit. Also bin gespannt was am Ende rauskommt

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