Monday, May 27, 2024

Tips for Buying a Linux Laptop: New or Used?

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There are few things in a Linux enthusiast’s life more fun than buying a new Linux laptop. One could even argue that the mere act of “spec’ing out” a new unit is more exciting than the actual use of the laptop itself.

In this article, I’m going to walk you through the decision making progress of buying a new Linux laptop vs. procuring a good second hand one instead. I’ll share the advantages and disadvantages to each option.

Buying a new Linux laptop

My last new Linux laptop purchase was made sometime in 2008/2009. Even though this is comparable to an eon in computer years, the laptop in question still works and currently serves as a Plex server for my video media.

The reason this was possible was that I purchased a high quality laptop that came from a Linux OEM vendor with a proven track record. It cost me more than buying some off the shelf unit from my local big box store, yet I was able to get real long term value with it since I knew it would last far longer than the usual 5 year life span of cheaper laptops.

When you’re in the market for a new Linux laptop, there are some important factors to consider. First, make sure the laptop in question comes from a vendor with a proven Linux support track record. There are two different types of Linux support to consider. The first is support as a proper Linux hardware OEM vendor. For example: System76, Zareason, ThinkPenguin just to name a few. You know that when you buy computer from one of these companies, it’s going to be Linux compatible now and ten years from now.

The second type of Linux support comes from hardware vendors that might not necessarily support Linux as an option, but the company has a history of selling laptops that work with near 100% compatibility. Dell and Lenovo are two good examples here.

Sure, you can find both brands with Linux pre-installed. But let’s not kid ourselves both companies sell primarily Windows branded laptops. With both Dell and Lenovo, regardless of which operating system comes pre-installed, both brands do well with Linux installation done by the end user.

So when buying a new laptop, which is the ultimate option? If you’re looking for maximum life out of a laptop, I challenge anyone to beat Lenovo. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic pre-installed Linux laptop vendors out there. But Lenovo is very hard to beat in the “just works” category. Another reason I like recommending Lenovo is that they have different laptop types depending on your needs.

Lenovo W series – These Lenovo laptops are the best option for those of you who are looking to replace their desktop PCs. We’re talking about big, bulky laptops best suited for stationary use.

Lenovo T series – This is my preferred Lenovo laptop build. Not too big, but not an ultra-thin laptop, either. Designed to last and get the job done without missing a beat. If you buy a laptop, I highly recommend getting a T series laptop computer for your next Linux installation.

Lenovo X series – If going with the T series is just not slim enough for you, then perhaps the X series has the dimensions you’re looking for. This Lenovo build type is slim, dependable and offers a good overall value.

So what about Linux pre-installed laptops? What are the best recommendations for new laptops?

System76 – Anything from these guys will work out of the box today and tomorrow. Remember my old Plex computer? It’s a System76 model and it’s has never skipped a beat.

Dell – Despite the fact that they’re still very much a Windows vendor, Dell does offer some great Linux laptops. One of their best overall has to be the XPS 13. For the price, you get a solid developer friendly laptop that has an attractive form factor to it. This is thin and light.

Buying a used Linux laptop

Now that I’ve shared some considerations on buying a new Linux laptop above, I’d like to discuss the thinking behind purchasing a used Linux laptop instead. Granted, there are some disadvantage such as a lack of warranty or the potential for breakage at any point. But under the right circumstances, purchasing a good used Linux laptop makes a lot of sense.

One thing I should make clear is that most used laptops are most likely going to come with an older version of Windows installed. This means that you’re the responsible party that needs to do their due diligence regarding Linux compatibility before making the purchase. No need to fear however, there are some things you can do that will prevent incompatibilities fairly easily.

– Buy your laptop based on known Linux compatibility. One of the more reliable hardware compatibility lists I’ve found for laptops comes from Ubuntu. Even though the certification is for Ubuntu specifically, I’ve found that generally speaking the compatibility translates well to other distros as well.

– Purchase certified Linux compatible Dell or Lenovo laptops only. This isn’t to say that a great deal on an Acer or HP laptop should be ignored. Rather that historically Dell and Lenovo has a far greater track record for Linux compatibility.

– Do your research before buying. It’s always temping to wander onto Ebay and purchase the first decent looking laptop that you find. But you must be sure the seller and the model of laptop are a good match for your needs. Dig deep into the item description, is it missing any parts? Does the seller mention the installation of a new hard drive? Are you buying a laptop that has serious dents or potential issues with the power connector? These are just a few of the things you need to watch out for.

– Does the battery hold a charge? If so, how long?

– Is there visible damage? If so, is the screen and the power connector intact and undamaged? How about the laptop frame itself, is this also intact and undamaged? Ideally, scratches on the surface of the laptop are fine. But the other stuff above needs to be intact before buying.

– Are you finding the best price possible? Shop around, make sure the asking price feels right for the used laptop. Also, if the price seems too good to be true – ask the seller about any damage to the laptop before buying.

– How accessible is the hard drive bay and RAM slots? You want to be able to access both of these easily, as you may be replacing parts in the near future.

Used or New Linux laptop – which is best for you

When it comes to actually selecting between new and used, my personal guidelines go something like this:

– Is this laptop for kids? Buy used – this is a no brainer. Instead of buying the kids a new laptop only to see the $600 investment become a brick after being dropped or lost, buy a used one. Unless the kids are paying for the laptop themselves or have a history of taking extraordinary care of their stuff, don’t make the mistake of buying new. Obvious exceptions to this rule are college students who may need greater computing power or other special needs requiring more robust hardware.

– Will this be a desktop replacement or used as a primary computing appliance? Then buying new can make sense in this instance. For adults or kids needing to run more robust tasks, new laptops make the most sense. Same can be said for primary computers that need to be absolutely failure resistant. Used laptops sometimes have downtime while waiting for replacement parts. If this is a primary computer, then avoiding downtime may be a consideration and a warranty supported new laptop might be the best option.

For myself, I prefer to use a desktop as my primary machine because I can replace problem components easily. Bundled with a used laptop as my secondary computer, I’ve found this makes the most sense for me personally.

What say you? Is a laptop your primary computer? If it is, do you feel buying new provides you with greater value vs buying used? If so, why? Hit the Comments, I’d love to hear your insights and experiences on new vs. used Linux laptops.

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