Open Source

System 76: Making pre-installed Linux hardware a reality

Jack Wallen has seen plenty of companies make promises of bringing solid hardware pre-installed with Linux. Most of those promises have fallen way short. But now a company has risen from the ashes of those failures and made good on the promises. Read about System 76 and you might be tempted to make a purchase.

Recently I came upon a company called System 76 promising to bring pre-installed Linux hardware to the masses. At first I was a bit skeptical as I've seen this promise time and time again. So I requested review hardware thinking it would be nothing more than vapor ware. Surprisingly, however, the hardware arrived. Even more surprising was that the hardware was really quite nice. In fact, the laptop they sent me, the Pangolin Performance, was one of the finest laptops I have used to date (a Product Spotlight article is forthcoming). And the desktop (the Meerkat NetTop) was smooth, quiet, and fast (again a Product Spotlight is forthcoming).

But why does a company (based in Denver, CO) decide to bring Linux hardware to life? System 76 was founded in November 2005 with the intent on bringing Linux-powered hardware to the public. Many companies have wanted to do this, some have even tried, many have failed. System 76 is a different animal all together. With the foundation System 76 has laid, and the hardware they are producing, they should handily succeed. Why? Simple: When a consumer purchases a piece of hardware, say a laptop, from System 76 what they get from them works...and works well. The laptops System 76 puts together are as smooth as any Apple laptop and as user-friendly as any Windows laptop. So finally a Linux-based hardware company is finally delivering what Windows-based hardware vendors have for years.

But to an old-hat Linux user a laptop shipping with a running copy of Linux is not the tell-tale sign that said company is going to be something special. I have written about other companies that I thought were doing something right. Take Zonbu for instance. I reviewed a laptop for Zonbu which at first glance was a nice piece of hardware. But when I found the special Zonbu-fied operating system too limiting, I decided to install a regular distribution. Much to my chagrin this became an exercise in near-futility as the Zonbu hardware simply wasn't made for Linux.

The System 76 hardware, however, is. Each of their laptops and desktops ship with what is mostly a standard, out of the box, Ubuntu configuration (9.04 as we speak). So you know the hardware is Linux friendly. You won't find yourself spending late nights trying to get video or wireless working...they just work. System 76 did their homework and found well-supported hardware instead of going for the cheapest piece of meat on the market. In the end, this means their hardware isn't going to be the least expensive money can buy, but it will be the most Linux-proven available. If you're wondering about price, the review laptop checked out at $914.00 (there were some upgrades to the default) but the performance certainly reflected the price. Here are the specs:

  • Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) 64 Bit Linux
  • 15.4" WXGA Super Clear Glossy LCD (1280 x 800)
  • 512 MB DDR2 nVidia GeForce G105M
  • Core 2 Duo P8600 2.40 GHz 1066 MHz FSB 3 MB L2 (25 Watt)
  • 2 GB - DDR2 800 MHZ x 1 DIMM
  • 250 GB 5400 RPM SATA II
  • CD-RW / DVD-RW
  • Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100 - 802.11A/B/G/N Up to 300 Mbps

As you can see, the hardware warrants the price. But above the specs, the fact that the user can open up a box, fire up their hardware, and fully enjoy their Linux-powered laptop with nary an issue makes System 76 a winner all around. This smooth out-of-the-box experience wasn't limited to the laptop either. Same thing with the Meerkat NetTop — everything comes out of the box working and working well (even Compiz!).

But System 76 isn't stopping with laptops and desktops. They offer some pretty beefy servers as well. And they have a knowledge base, forums, bug reports, e-mail support, the usual Ubuntu support (via a link to the Ubuntu forums), Linux badges, and free stickers too boot!

System 76 is a company you should take note of. If you are looking for solid hardware that runs Linux flawlessly, without having to research and piece a machine together, you will most likely find no better solution. My next laptop will come from System 76. They're a good company, strong supporters of Linux and open source, and they offer outstanding products.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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