What to Look For in a Linux Laptop in 2021
You can buy nearly any laptop and install Linux on it. However, there’s no guarantee that the laptop’s hardware will work properly with Linux. If the right hardware drivers aren’t available for the Linux OS you pick, some of the laptop’s features won’t work, or the laptop may just get worse battery life due to poor optimization.
You don’t have to settle for this kind of experience. Some manufacturers release laptops that come with Linux pre-installed. These manufacturers officially support Linux on their hardware, so you know that everything will work properly and that the laptop will keep working with future software updates.
Sure, it’s now much easier to run Linux applications on Windows 10 and Windows 11 thanks to the Windows Subsystem for Linux—and that’s a great solution for many people—but it’s not the real thing.
Whether you’re a developer looking for a Linux laptop for programming, a big believer in open-source software and privacy, or just a Linux enthusiast who prefers the operating system to Windows and macOS, we’ve got some options for you. You can even get powerful gaming laptops that come with Linux now—after all, Linux is good enough for Valve’s Steam Deck.
Ready to step into the world of Linux? These are the laptops to do it with.
- ✓ Official support for Linux
- ✓ Solid build quality
- ✓ Long battery life
- ✓ Very customizable
- ✗ Premium price compared to the average Windows laptop
- ✗ Only available with Intel graphics, so it’s not ideal for gaming or heave GPU workloads
Dell’s XPS 13 is an incredibly popular laptop. The standard Dell XPS 13 is our favorite laptop for most people, combining great build quality, long battery life, and strong performance into a premium, lightweight laptop package.
The standard Dell XPS 13 above comes with Windows, but the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition comes with Linux—Ubuntu, to be precise. However, you can install another Linux distribution on it if you like. That’s the beauty of Linux, after all. Just know that Dell officially supports Linux on this hardware, so you know that everything will work without any driver issues.
Speaking of hardware, the XPS 13 is a 13-inch laptop that comes with a full-size keyboard. The InfinityEdge display with small bezels has a 16:10 aspect ratio instead of the more common 16:9 aspect ratio, which means you get more vertical space for working.
The XPS 13’s components are customizable on Dell’s website. Take the display, for example. Do you want a conventional 1900×1200 LCD display without a touch screen for longer battery life? Do you want a touch screen? Maybe a 3.5K OLED screen instead? Or do you want an LCD screen over 4K resolution? All of those are options on Dell’s website.
You can also customize the CPU with an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor, RAM up to 32GB, and storage up to 2TB. Let’s not forget about choosing your colorway either, with either a silver exterior with a black interior or a “frost” exterior with an “arctic white” interior.
Unfortunately, there’s one thing you can’t customize: The graphics card. Like many thin and light laptops, the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition comes with integrated Intel graphics. If you want a stronger discrete GPU for gaming or performing GPU-heavy tasks, this isn’t the laptop for you (but there’s still a laptop you can pick up).
- ✓ An inexpensive way to run Linux software
- ✓ Surprisingly powerful hardware for the price
- ✓ Runs Android apps, too
- ✗ Runs Chrome OS, not a traditional Linux distribution
- ✗ Hardware not guaranteed to work if you replace Chrome OS with a more standard Linux environment
Linux laptops are a niche product compared to standard PC laptops, so generally, you see them in a more premium price range. You won’t find Linux laptops in the $200 to $500 price range alongside inexpensive Windows laptops—or will you?
If you’re looking to save some cash while getting a Linux system, take a look at Chromebooks. Google’s Chrome OS operating system is based on Linux and uses a Linux kernel. All Chromebooks can run Linux distros.
You can get any modern Chromebook and run Linux apps on it in just a few clicks—everything from Linux terminal applications to graphical Linux desktop applications will work. You can run Android apps alongside your Linux programs, too.
But if you prefer having a full Linux environment, you can put your Chromebook into Developer Mode and install a complete Linux environment that replaces Chrome OS. For example, Canonical offers instructions for installing Ubuntu on a Chromebook. However, for maximum compatibility and simplicity, we recommend using the Linux app support built into Chrome OS. Hardware manufacturers don’t officially support a full Linux environment on a Chromebook like they do on the other laptops we recommend here.
As for the specific Chromebook to buy for running Linux, we’re recommending the Acer Chromebook Spin 713, our favorite Chromebook in general. Although it’s in the premium price range for a Chromebook, it’s definitely in the budget price range for a Linux laptop.
The Spin 713 is an excellent piece of hardware at half the price of the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition. You’ll have a great experience running Linux software alongside Chrome OS given the specs. The hardware is excellent, with modern 11th-generation Intel Core processors, a minimum of 256GB of internal storage, a 3:2 aspect ratio screen at 2256×1504 resolution for even more vertical space, and more.
Best Budget Linux Laptop
Acer Chromebook Spin 713
As it turns out, the Chrome OS is based on Linux, and that means the Chromebook Spin 713 will be able to run Linux software at a fraction of the cost of most of our picks.
- ✓ A premium laptop that comes with Linux
- ✓ More durable and lightweight than our top pick
- ✓ Classic ThinkPad Nub
- ✗ Expensive
- ✗ Only comes with Intel graphics
Dell isn’t the only company releasing Linux editions of its flagship laptops. Lenovo has its premium ThinkPad line, and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 is available to purchase with Linux pre-installed. You can get this ThinkPad model with either Ubuntu or Fedora out of the box, or install other Linux distributions if another OS is more to your speed.
This is also our favorite laptop for businesses, and for good reason. Thanks to the use of lightweight carbon fiber, it’s even lighter than the already lightweight Dell XPS 13 (2.49 pounds vs. 2.64 pounds) while having a more solid build quality. Lenovo proudly advertises that ThinkPads are tested against military-grade requirements so that they will run in extreme conditions and the manufacturer’s tests run the gamut from mechanical shock and humidity to sand, dust, and fungus.
Of course, you also get that classic red “TrackPoint” nub for controlling your cursor from the keyboard and the familiar ThinkPad aesthetic. If you’re a fan of the nub and the clean black look, this laptop is for you.
Like the XPS 13, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a customizable laptop on Lenovo’s site. You can choose whether you want a touchscreen or greater than 4K resolution and customize the CPU, RAM, and storage the system comes with.
But, also like the Dell XPS 13, this is a “thin and light” system that only comes with Intel integrated graphics. If you want a laptop with more powerful discrete graphics for gaming or GPU computing workloads, you can customize the ThinkPad to do so, but it’ll cost extra. Or, you can pick up a Linux laptop made for gaming instead.
- ✓ Open source BIOS
- ✓ Minimal closed-source firmware
- ✓ Hardware kill switches and other privacy features
- ✗ More expensive than the alternatives
- ✗ 10th gen Intel Core CPU instead of 11th gen
If you want a powerful computer where everything is open source and you have more control over your own hardware, try the Purism Librem 14. Purism says these systems are “designed chip-by-chip, line-by-line, to respect your rights to privacy, security, and freedom.”
These systems come with an open-source coreboot BIOS firmware and no Intel Management Engine (ME) code running at a low level. To be as open-source as possible, Purism avoids using “binary blob” closed-source firmware on its hardware whenever it can, although some binary blobs are still present. The Librem 14 comes with PureOS, a security-focused Debian-based Linux distribution developed by Purism.
Beyond open source, Purism is designed to put you in control as a user. The laptop includes physical kill switches that disconnect the included camera and mic or Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you flip them. Hackers gaining access to your webcam and mic is a real fear, and a physical kill switch helps to protect you against it.
The Librem 14 also has a BIOS write protection switch on its motherboard, preventing potential malicious software from installing updates without physically changing a switch’s position. Features like PureBoot and the Librem Key help you ensure only trusted software boots on your computer and protect your laptop’s encrypted files with a physical security key.
All this aside, you’re getting a solid 14-inch laptop with an Intel Core i7 CPU. However, note that this is a 10th generation Intel Core CPU for compatibility with the open-source BIOS instead of an 11th generation Intel Core CPU—not a big deal in terms of performance, but for the price, it does sting not getting the latest hardware. You can customize the memory, storage, and other features during the purchase process. Finally, Purism promises 9 hours and 48 minutes of battery life in light use.
But, be warned that the Librem 14 is a more expensive laptop than many of the others on this list. It’s a premium product, and Purism clearly had to do a lot of extra work to provide these incredible and rare features.
If you’re looking for more laptops with open-source firmware, System76’s line also has open firmware.
- ✓ Hybrid NVIDIA+Intel graphics
- ✓ 15-inch or 17-inch options
- ✓ Customizable hardware
- ✓ Open source BIOS
- ✗ Only 1080p screen resolution
- ✗ That GPU hardware makes this laptop expensive
For gamers or anyone else looking for powerful GPU hardware, you’ll want to look at the System76 Oryx Pro. This is a hybrid graphics laptop with switchable NVIDIA and Intel graphics, so your laptop can save battery life by automatically using Intel integrated graphics when you don’t need the GPU horsepower.
The Oryx Pro is available in 15-inch or 17-inch sizes, and you can choose between NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060, 3070, or 3080 graphics, up to 64 GB of RAM, and up to 4TB of storage. The screen has a 1080p resolution with a 144Hz refresh rate. There’s no option for a higher-resolution screen, although that is a nice speedy refresh rate befitting a gaming system.
System76 only makes Linux laptops, and all of System76’s laptops come with open-source firmware. The company offers a whole line of PCs, including prebuilt Linux desktops.
These laptops come with its own Ubuntu-based operating system, Pop! OS, but of course you can install other Linux distributions. Pop!_OS offers its own desktop environment with auto-tiling windows and keyboard navigation shortcuts, but it also integrates with the hardware.
You can also choose which GPU your laptop uses or configure the OS to automatically use a specific GPU when you launch a specific application in a few clicks. Pop!_OS is encrypted by default, too.
You can install Steam or any other Linux gaming software on Pop!_OS, and System76 even has a guide to gaming on Pop!_OS that will walk you through setting up Steam, configuring the open-source Lutris software to run emulators and Windows games, and using the GameHub software to combine your game libraries from multiple storefronts in one place.