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Linux Laptop from System76

by on October 19, 2012

A few weeks ago Josh posted a review of his linux-born Ultra-book from ZaReason, so here is a complementary post that covers my System76 Gazelle laptop.

First, I should point out that I  am old and smell of camphor.  I have some slightly different needs than a young ruffian like Josh.  I’m not trying to seduce young women with my laptop’s sleek curves or wafer thin design.  I need a bigger screen for my failing eyes, and I need a laptop that will accept the same sort of abuse and hardship I’ve put my own body through over the years.   On the other hand, like Josh,  I wanted that hardware untainted, pure, and free;  like a young filly twirling through the tulips on a warm spring day.  There would be no windows logo taped to the bottom like some sort of stamp tax, and no memory or hard drive soldered to my mother board.   The hardware would be the best available and the most compatible.  And I’m now old enough to recognize that building such a machine for myself just edges me closer to both insanity and divorce.

Enter System 76 and their lovely line of machines.  Of which we now own three – two desktop machines, one a beast suitable for my System-Administrating wife, one timid little fellow for my mom, and this laptop,  which is … on my lap.

My Gazelle has a 15.6″ 1080p matte finished display.  An option you don’t see very often, and it ROCKS.  I can sit in the car, outside on my patio, or anywhere else that suits me and see my screen.  I don’t know why gloss screens are so hip right now, because they suck.  Matte is the way.  The display is powered by an Intel HD Graphics 4000, which is steady and capable – not that rendering my terminal windows and bash prompts are putting a lot of regular pressure on the card – but on those rare occasions where I do something “fun” like Minecraft I’m not at all disappointed.

I configured the Gazelle with 16gb of ram and an i7 processor.  I do a lot of web development, which often means that I have some memory sucking java api running, along with a few rails apps hammering on a defenseless database, and some hefty editor all running like mad through a bunch of automated tests.   I keep a system monitor up in my taskbar that shows cpu and memory status, and while the memory does at times get well used, the cpu graph rarely musters the energy to do much more than a flat-line.

I went with a 60gb SSD, and while I highly recommend an SSD – I would strongly suggest you go with something a little larger.  It’s just a pain to have to worry about storage space, and I’ve recently upgraded to  120gb ssd which is quite nice.    The machine does a fantastic job hibernating and is up and running the second I open my screen.  Boot time isn’t much slower, at roughly 15 seconds from dead cold to a gnome login prompt.

Functional, consistent two finger scrolling on Linux is so rare; so I was absolutely delighted to find that the touchpad on the System76 was superb.   Not only does the two finger scroll work and work well, but in applications that support it, such as InkScape, side to side motions are also handled correctly so I can quickly shift around a drawing without a thought.

Along with the standards, it has an HDMI out and an external SATA port.

Battery life is reasonable.  It’s  an i7 so I wasn’t expecting much.  I’m easily good for an hour to an hour and half.

I should just briefly list a few complaints …  The button under the trackpad is beginning to wear.  My nail is scraping off the paint so that is starting to look a little rough.  Meh.  Like I said, I’m old.  I smell like camphor.   Tech support was responsive and friendly, but they couldn’t help me when my machine was making a clicking noise and driving me nuts (turned out to be a bug in Google Chrome that made the speaker pop every second or so: http://code.google.com/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=110311 - so it’s not like it was a hardware problem anyway)   Regarding the two desktop machines, one came with the internal hard drive disconnected which made for a frustrating first 5 minutes, and the other was routinely reporting a problem with the ram – but reseating it solved the issue.   These machines take a beating however, and just keep chugging right along, so while there were a few disconnects,  the hardware is damn near flawless.

Overall I’m delighted with the laptop and with System76 in general.  It’s no clean-your-toe-nails ultrabook, but it is a damn attractive machine.  It doesn’t come with any form of bloatware, advertising  or unwanted stickers.  The hardware is easily accessible – no problem changing out the hard drive (eat it Apple) and the ram looks easily accessible though I doubt I’ll need to add more ram any time soon.

From → Hardware Reviews

4 Comments
  1. Dan permalink

    Just a random question- ARe you running Ubuntu on this? If not, I was curious as to how the hardware responds to other distros. Crunchbang? Fedora? Does everything work ok?

    • I am presently running Ubuntu 12.04 without issue. Everything works well – it suspends, built in camera works, it was all tight out of the box, and continues to be tight through updates etc… I have the best of intentions to upgrade to 12.12 – but I haven’t had a chance yet. The hardware System76 uses is top of the line in it’s support for Linux drivers. I would feel exceedingly confident in placing another distro on it – but honestly I have no intention of stepping away from ubuntu anytime soon – it’s the best the distro I’ve ever encountered.

  2. Aditya Koparkar permalink

    Hello Dan,
    Can you please shed some light on the build qualitiy of the laptop.
    Also in general performance wise how powerful it is. Your configuration is super awesome, so is the performance at par with the mentioned configuration.
    Another thing about the in-build speakers. How good are they? Are they loud enough?

    Thank you.
    Aditya

    • The build quality if very good – the machine is holding up well to full time daily use for the last six months. There is a little bend to the display – but it still feels very solid. The case is plastic, but overall it stays cool and feels substantial, the chicklet keyboard is among the very best I’ve ever used.

      My configuration is super awesome, and I can’t complain a bit. From time to time I find myself taking on some ugly programming tasks that require me to spin up Goliath enterprise Java apps, index millions of documents in a full text search engine, and keep it all running at the same time I’m in my honking IDE, compiling code, all this while I google stack overflow for an answer and so on and so forth. I’m not a gamer, but that sort of thing is the best measure I have. And this beast just accepts it like it’s nothing. I have yet to think … “I need something faster, with more memory”, the problem just doesn’t come up. Boot up from cold is easily under 20 seconds, resume from a suspend occurs between the time I begin to open the lid on my laptop and moment I’ve finished opening said lid. Delightful.

      Speakers are very good for a laptop. Good sound for what I do – which is mainly google hangouts and movie previews. Plenty loud enough, and I understand everybody.

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