Linux works On any PC. I mean that literally. Remember the Intel Pentium 4 processor? It is still supported by Debian Linux. That said, Linux works better on some laptops than others. Very few big-name PC makers offer official support for Linux these days, which means you have somewhere to turn if things go wrong.
To help you figure out the best Linux laptop for your perfect rig, I’ve installed (or am trying to install) Linux on every laptop I’ve tested over the past three years. Almost all of them worked well, but some were easier to run than others. More than a few of my favorites come with Linux out of the box.
Check out our other buying guides, such as the best laptops, the best cheap laptops, the best MacBooks, and how to choose the right laptop.
details of the situation
- Best for small scale
- Best for the Maximalist
- Best maintenance
- Best for hackers
- Best for Sysadmins
- If your budget is tight
- What to look for in a Linux laptop
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The Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition was one of the first big-name laptops to ship with Linux, and remains the lightest and smallest laptop with Linux installed. This configuration sports a 12th-generation Intel i7-1250U processor, 32 GB of RAM (sold), and a 1-TB SSD. It ships with Ubuntu Linux 20.04, but in my testing, it will happily run any distro from Fedora to Arch (Dell’s support is limited to Ubuntu, though). When you’re on the product page, make sure you select Ubuntu Linux 20.04 LTS as your operating system (it’s associated with Windows).
For more details on the hardware, check out our review of the Windows version (6/10 WIRED Review). While performance isn’t great on Windows, I haven’t found that to be true using Ubuntu. The main drawback of this machine is the lack of ports. There are two USB-C ports, one of which is your charging port. There isn’t even a headphone jack.
If Dell’s lack of ports makes you want them, this is the laptop for you. System76’s Pangolin (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is a 15-inch, AMD-powered monster of a laptop with every port a sysadmin can expect. This configuration comes loaded with an AMD Ryzen 7 6800U, 32GB of RAM (sold), and a 250-GB SSD. You can configure Pangolin for up to 8 TB of storage.
Battery life is fairly good – it lasts all day under most usage conditions – but not as good as the Dell. The keyboard, on the other hand, is amazing and a real joy to type on. The downside is the number pad, which puts the trackpad off-center. The choice of port is where Pangolin really shines. There’s Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, a single USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port (with DisplayPort support, but not Thunderbolt), three USB-A ports, a 3.5-mm headphone/microphone combo jack, and a full-size SD card. Reader.
Highly repairable and future-proof
If you want a laptop you can upgrade to, Framework’s Laptop is the best Linux tool for you. A few flavors are available. I tested the second release of the 13-inch model (8/10, WIRED Recommends) and loved it. You can now pre-order an AMD Ryzen 7 7040 or Intel Core 13th-Gen series with 32GB of RAM, a 2-TB SSD, and any combination of ports to suit your needs for around $1,400. That ships with no operating system. When it arrives, you can manually install Linux (or choose to ship with Windows if you want to boot twice). The only catch is that the AMD model is in the third quarter of the year, although the Intel version will be shipped in June. If you’re fine with previous-gen chips, you can pick one up today.
I tested Ubuntu and Arch Linux, which supports the Framework, and both worked fine (although the Framework doesn’t officially support Arch). My only complaint about using the framework is one that I have about any Linux laptop: battery life could be better.
The System76 Oryx Pro comes in 15-inch or 17-inch models with 12th-gen Intel processors and Nvidia graphics (either a 3070 Ti or 3080 Ti GPU). There are options for a glossy, OLED 4K screen, up to 64GB of RAM and up to 8TB of SSD space. It’s not cheap, but the Oryx Pro is the most powerful laptop on this page. Just like the Pangolin above, Oryx ships with System76’s Pop_OS! Or Ubuntu Linux. Unlike the Pangolin, the Intel chip in the Oryx Pro means it ships with Coreboot and open source firmware.
Okay, okay, it’s corny, but there’s something about the Lenovo X1 Carbon Linux edition that makes me want to install Kali Linux and start probing the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi. Whatever the case, this is a slick laptop for those of us who think ThinkPads are, ahem, slick. But that intelligence comes at a heavy price. For almost double the price of our other picks, you get a 13th-Gen Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 256-GB SSD (most of which is customizable).
On the plus side, you get a nice 2K (2,880 X 1,800), OLED, anti-glare screen. I haven’t had a chance to test this latest model, but I really liked the previous release (8/10, WIRED recommends,) and the new version is essentially a special bump. It’s often on sale.
One of the beauties of Linux is that it requires fewer resources and maintains support for older hardware much longer than Windows or macOS. It means you don’t need to spend a fortune on a new laptop; You can breathe life into an old one or grab a used laptop from eBay. I’ve been doing this for years, on Lenovo X-series laptops (since X220, now X14 Gen 1), but older Dell and Asus laptops are also good for Linux. If you prefer to buy used, check out our guide to buying used on eBay to make sure you’re getting the best deal.