When System76 learned that I happened to be an author/podcaster/video editor/cover designer, they asked if I’d be willing to kick the tires of one of their newer laptops, the Kudu Pro. “Sure,” I said, being someone who never turned down the chance to play with new toys.

I hadn’t bothered to look up the specs on the hardware, so when this massive box arrived on my doorstep, I was taken aback. Certainly this wasn’t a laptop. Maybe they’d mistakenly sent me their all-in-one Sable.

Wrong. Neatly packed inside the box was one of the largest laptops I’ve ever laid my hands on. Large, not just in size, but in presence. That might sound like an odd way to describe a laptop, but when you sit before the Kudu Pro, you quickly realize there’s a lot more to this machine than just size.

Let’s get the specs out of the way:

  • Operating system Ubuntu desktop 15.04 or 14.04.3 LTS
  • Processor 4th gen Intel® Core i5 or i7
  • Display 17.3″ 1920×1080 LED backlit, matte finish
  • Graphics Intel® HD 4600
  • Memory up to 16 GB dual channel DDR3 @ 1600 MHz
  • Storage 1× mSATA, 1× 2.5″ SATA III
  • Expansion 2× USB 3.0, 1× eSata/USB 3.0 combo, 1× USB 2.0, SD card reader, DVD-RW drive
  • Input multitouch clickpad, backlit keyboard, 10-key number pad
  • Networking Gigabit Ethernet, Intel® Wi-Fi up to wireless-AC
  • Video ports HDMI, VGA
  • Audio stereo speakers, mic, headphone jack, mic jack
  • Camera 1080p HD webcam
  • Security Kensington® Lock
  • Battery removable 6 cell smart Li-Ion – 62.16 Wh
  • AC adapter 90W, AC-in 100-240V, 50-60Hz
  • Dimensions 16.25″ × 10.50″ × 0.82-1.38″ (41.28 × 26.67 × 2.08-3.51 cm)
  • Weight 6.8 lbs. (3.08 kg.)

Now, let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

The great

Did I mention this thing is massive? The display, the keyboard, the trackpad… everything seems to be larger than life. Even though the 17.3″ display may not be the grandest laptop screen you’ll ever behold, when you add to it the clarity of the image presented, it just seems a tad larger. That’s right, this display is brilliant. For any graphic designer, this screen is spot on. The colors are glorious.

Although most artists aren’t going to be working with a trackpad, for those who do, the Kudu has what I would consider one of the best. It’s not Chromebook Pixel good (none are), but I would easily place it in the top five trackpads I’ve used.

The performance of the machine is impressive. The unit I was sent contained the Intel i7 with 8 GB of RAM and a 120 GB SSD drive. The price for that configuration is around $1,262.00 (USD), so it’s steep. But that level of performance would carry such a cost from any vendor.

The ratio of battery life to performance is equally impressive. I put this beast through the rigors of audio, graphics, and video rendering and still managed to squeeze out nearly six hours of usage.

The keyboard also happens to fall into what I’d consider my top five. Not only is the action of the keys quite nice, but you can easily (with the help of an Fn key) turn the back light on and off (even my Pixel doesn’t offer such simple control of the back light).

The not so great

No piece of technology is perfect. The Kudu comes pretty close, but it still has a couple of misses that I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out.

First and foremost, the speakers. Every artist (whether they are working in a business, in their home office, or studio) relies on music. To that end, the Kudu speakers are bad. I should say that I do consider myself an audiophile, but these tiny cans are more aptly called “tinny cans” and would put off even those who consider Apple iBuds to be high quality. They simply do not do the job… on any level. If you’re hoping to listen to music, you’ll need either external speakers or headphones. There’s absolutely no way around that.

Next comes the trackpad. Yes, I said it was on my top five, but that was only after I upgraded to the 4.x kernel (read how in my post “Upgrade Ubuntu to the 4.x kernel“). With the default kernel that ships with Ubuntu 15.04, the trackpad was not nearly as responsive as an art-centric laptop should be. However, once the kernel was updated, all was fine. It also helps to install gpointing devices (found in the Ubuntu Software Center). That piece of software will go a very long way to help you dial in your trackpad.

Finally, the keyboard. Yes, again, I’ve mentioned it to be one of my favorites, but that came with a bit of a learning curve. You see, due to the size of the laptop, the home row of the keyboard is off-center, so you always feel like your hands are too far to the left as you work. There’s nothing that can be done for that, you just have to get used to it.

The verdict

Anyone looking for a beast of a laptop, one that can power through just about anything you need, should give the Kudu Pro a good look. This laptop is ready for business, ready for work, ready for everything (except to rock).

System76 has created yet another outstanding entry in the Linux-powered hardware space that stands up to anything in its class.

Have you considered purchasing hardware pre-installed with Linux? If so, from where would you buy? Let us know in the discussion thread below.