Unlike Windows and macOS users, most Linux users build their own computers and throw Linux on them. Despite its growing popularity, especially among system administrators and server buffs, Linux hasn’t entered mainstream computers. But you can buy computers with Linux pre-installed!
While pre-built Linux machines are a rarity, they’re not completely non-existent. While installing a Linux operating system is easy, buying a purpose-built Linux PC provides perks such as guaranteed support, reliability, and an excellent out-of-the-box experience. This article covers some of the best Linux PCs available — and why you need one.
Why Buy a Linux Desktop or Laptop?
If you’re familiar with Linux you might be wondering why anyone would buy a Linux PC. After all, building a PC and installing Linux is fairly easy. And you can always dual boot, although dual-booting isn’t problem-free.
The reason is pretty simple: Linux isn’t beginner friendly. Sure, there are several distributions perfect for anyone switching from Windows or macOS. However, using Linux on Apple hardware is a bit different than traditional PC hardware. And installs sometimes require a good deal of tweaks.
Buying a pre-built Linux PC comes with support. A pre-built machine isn’t just useful for individuals — it’s essential for an enterprise environment. On top of that, buying a Linux computer saves time. You forgo the installation process and get a machine that just works. If you’re wondering why to even use Linux, here are five great uses even if you’re a Windows user.
Reasons to buy a Linux PC:
- Support options
- Excellent out-of-the-box experience
- Good for beginners to Linux and PC hardware
- Malware immunity
Best Budget Linux Laptops
System76 Lemur ($699)
System76 is arguably the most well-known Linux PC manufacturer. Their hardware and software excel. Its entry-level Lemur might have a modest price point but it doesn’t skimp on features. The System76 Lemur boasts a 14.1-inch 1080p IPS display and a 7th generation Intel Kaby Lake processor; you can snag a Lemur with an i3 or i7. A thin and light laptop, the Lemur comes with either Ubuntu 16.04 LTS or Ubuntu 16.10.
It’s available with Intel HD 620 graphics, up to 32 GB of RAM, and as high at 5 TB of storage. Wired allows that while the Lemur comes preloaded with Ubuntu, the hardware is compatible with a bevy of Linux operating systems including Fedora, Mint, and Debian. Furthermore, Wired praises System76 support. Jack Wallen over at TechRepublic commented on the small size and solid keyboard, as well as superb out of the box experience. The Linux Gamer, helping to correct the false notion that Linux gaming is an oxymoron, adds that leaving the F-row as F keys is great particularly for working in terminal apps.
However, there’s no LED caps lock indicator. Moreover, the power adapter is a 90-degree angle. This tends to catch objects or occasionally obscure the HDMI port. Additionally, The Linux Gamer found that certain components like the trackpad have difficulty after putting the computer to sleep. But this is likely an Ubuntu issue, and not unique to the Lemur.
You may also consider the thin and light ZaReason UltraLap 5330. Similarly specced and priced, the UltraLap 5330 offers more operating system choices including OpenSUSE and Cinnamon. With its superb battery life, light weight, and slim form factor, budget price, and premium specs, the System76 Lemur delivers the best price-to-performance ratio among Linux laptops.
- 7th gen Intel i3-7100U or i7-7500U
- 14-inch 1080p IPS matte display
- Up to 32 GB RAM
- As high as 5 TB storage
- Excellent keyboard
- Great battery life
- Ubuntu 16.04 LTS or Ubuntu 16.10
- Runs other distros well
- Awkward charging cable
- No LED caps lock indicator
Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition ($949)
Dude, you’re getting a Dell Linux laptop. Yes, Dell, the mainstream PC manufacturer makes a Linux version of its XPS 13. We reviewed the XPS 13. Not surprisingly, the Developer Edition addendum to its name indicates the target audience. The XPS 13 sports Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and a 7th generation Intel processor.
Depending on the model, Dell’s XPS 13 comes outfitted with an i5-7200U or i7-7500U. It comes in a small form factor with up to a 13-inch 3200 x 1800 “borderless” InfinityEdge touch display. Onboard you’ll find either an 8 GB RAM and 128 GB SSD combo on the i5 or 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD with the i7.
Network World praised the i7 Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition. Notably, Network World found that while the XPS 13 ships with Ubuntu 16.04, most other distros run incredibly well. Reviewer Bryan Lunduke noted its ability to run openSUSE, Fedora, Elementary, and Debian. Stellar battery life, lots of ports, and an impressive screen resolution make the XPS 13 Developer Edition an excellent Linux laptop.
Lunduke’s only minor quibble: the XPS 13 Developer Edition only comes preloaded with Ubuntu. However as Linux laptops are a rarity, it’s to be expected that distro choices remain limited.
- Up to 3200 x 1800 resolution
- 13-inch screen
- Up to 16 GB RAM (i7)
- Up to 512 GB SSD (i7)
- Intel i5-7200U or i7-7500U
- Runs lots of Linux operating systems
- Ships only with Ubuntu
Best Mid-Range Linux Laptops
ZaReason Verix 6440 ($1,500)
ZaReason’s Verix 6440 strikes a solid balance of performance and price. An i7-6700HQ comes standard as does an Nvidia 1060. What sets ZaReason apart is the customization of distros. You can select from Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, Kubuntu 16.04 LTS, Mint, Fedora, Debian, and in some cases a custom Linux operating system. The Verix 6440 sports stellar specs positioning it as a desktop replacement laptop.
However, while Linux operating system options vary, hardware specs are limited. Storage and RAM may be upgraded though. Compare that to the similarly priced System76 Oryx Pro.
While the Oryx Pro is limited to Ubuntu only, you’ve got two CPU choices in the i7-7700HQ and 7820HK. Plus, it’s available with a 1060 or 1070 and starts slightly below the Verix 6440. Still, the ZaReason Verix 6440 is a great choice especially for those seeking more distro choices out-of-the-box.
- Lots of Linux operating system options
- NVIDIA 10-series 1060 GPU
- Intel i7-6700HQ
- Desktop replacement laptop
- Limited hardware options
Purism Librem 15 ($1,700)
As a Linux PC manufacturer, Purism is unique for that reason alone. But it’s the software that’s truly revolutionary, although controversial. The Purism Librem 15 is mid-sized and mid-range priced powerful laptop. Purism values security, freedom, and privacy. Hence the root word of “pure” in the company name. The Librem 15 arrives with a fifth gen Intel i7-5557U, up to 32 GB of DDR3 RAM, and Intel Iris graphics 6100.
Endgadget appreciated the open-source software and freedom. The operating system is a Trisquel variation. However, there’s definitely a premium. The base model includes a paltry 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive. Graphics are integrated, not discrete, and the i7 is a dual core processor. Moreover, Purism caused controversy with its laptops.
According to a PC World article, the Librem 15 contradicts its open-source promises with proprietary BIOS. Ultimately if your priorities are free and open software, Purism is your best bet. But for the price, you can snag the XPS 13, a Verix 6440, or System76 Serval WS. Check out Jacob Kauffmann’s, AKA Nerd on the Street, detailed Serval WS review. Each boasts drastically better performance than the Librem.
- Extremely free and open
- Intel Iris graphics
- Dual core i7
- High price for low specs
- Proprietary BIOS
- Poor price-to-performance ratio
Best High-End Linux Laptops
ZaReason Chimera 3 ($2,048)
ZaReason’s Chimera 3 is a good workstation-class laptop. It includes a quad-core i7-6820HK paired with a GTX 980M for powerful graphics and computing power. Standard, you’ll find a 500 GB 5400 RPM hard drive and 4 GB of DDR4 RAM.
Once again, the Chimera 3 dominates on distro choice. Out-of-the-box options include Ubuntu 16.04, Mint 18, and Kubuntu 16.04. It’s a well-specced laptop with options ranging up to 32 GB of RAM. On top of that, there’s a standard DVD drive — which is a nice touch considering the rarity of optical drives in laptops.
However, the base model comes with a mere 500 GB of storage and 4 GB of RAM. Considering the target audience (power users), the entry level price over $2,000 seems steep. The CPU and GPU, while undoubtedly powerful, are last generation Intel and Nvidia offerings. However, the Chimera 3 features a mini DisplayPort in addition to an HDMI out. If you need those ports, the Chimera 3 should meet your needs.
- Sixth generation Intel i7-6820HK quad-core processor
- GTX 980M GPU
- Lots of distribution options
- Standard optical drive
- HDMI and DisplayPort
- Small, slow hard drive as standard
- Paltry 4 GB RAM as standard
- Last generation CPU and GPU
System76 Bonobo WS ($2,799)
The System76 Bonobo WS earns its “workstation” classification. You can look at hardware specs all day, but real-world applications offer the best insight. Canonical’s Jorge Castro tested the Bonobo WS’s fortitude with a 32 node Kubernetes cluster. The Bonobo barely broke a sweat. While its 16 GB of RAM eventually acted as a bottleneck, the Bonobo comes with up to 64 GB of RAM.
On the hardware side, the Bonobo packs a 17.3-inch 1080p screen or 4K HiDPI matte display. Processing power comes via 7th gen Intel i7 desktop processors and up to two 10-series Nvidia GPUs. There’s an available 5 TB of storage. Premium features like a multi-color backlit keyboard further classify the Bonobo as a beastly laptop.
It’s tough to find many faults with the System76 Bonobo WS. The Bobobo WS is equally as heavy as it is powerful. It’s a desktop replacement down to its large footprint and impressive girth. Chances are if you’re in the market for a Bonobo WS, you won’t mind the extra pounds.
Additionally, it’s not cheap. Yet even the lowest configuration of a Bonobo WS trounces the Chimera 3. System76 also makes the Serval WS which retains 7th gen Intel CPUs and GTX 10-series graphics. Its starting point, however, is $1,899 making it a viable alternative that’s cheaper and more powerful than the Chimera 3. An i7-6700 and NVIDIA 1070 are standard. Plus, there’s one HDMI 2.0 and two mini DisplayPort 1.3 ports. The Bonobo WS might carry a hefty price tag, but it’s certainly worth the money.
- Up to 64 GB RAM
- NVIDIA 10-series GPUs (available with two)
- Desktop 7th gen Intel i7 CPUs
- One HDMI and two mini DisplayPort outputs
- True desktop replacement
- Not cheap, but great laptop for the price
Best Budget Linux Desktops
ZaReason Limbo 560 ($650)
The Limbo 560 is one of the most customizable Linux desktops available. As with other ZaReason PCs, there are several distro choices. But hardware is really where the Limbo shines. The base model comes with an i5-6400, and integrated graphics. Upgrades include as high as an i7-6700k and a Titan X Pascal GPU. For users who want a lot of options, the Limbo 560 delivers.
Unfortunately, the Limbo’s base model is pretty underpowered. The power supply is a mere 350 watts which should be sufficient for integrated graphics. If you tack on a dedicated GPU, especially the $1,500 alone Titan X, you’ll need to swap that for a better PSU. Additionally, there’s no optical drive standard and the entry-level model only has a mere 4 GB of RAM and 500 GB hard drive. ZaReason’s Mediabox 565 is a solid alternative.
- Highly customizable hardware
- Lots of distro choices
- Up to Titan X GPU
- As high as an i7
- Low entry system specs
System76 Meerkat ($499)
The System76 Meerkat is a pretty neat device. It’s an Intel NUC but includes Ubuntu standard. The Meerkat includes a 6th gen Intel i3 or i5 for the CPU, and up to 2.5 TB of storage space. This tiny PC is energy efficient and space-saving. A small footprint and low power consumption make the Meerkat an excellent choice for an HTPC, media server, or HTPC-media server combo. An avid Plex user, I ranked the Meerkat among the best Plex server devices available.
Yet the Meerkat isn’t as upgradeable as a traditional desktop. You’re stuck with integrated graphics and you can’t upgrade the CPU. RAM and harddrive upgrades are totally feasible, but that’s about it. Additionally, you’ll probably want to future proof and go with the i5. Nevertheless, the Meerkat is a great, affordable, energy efficient budget Linux PC.
- Small footprint
- Energy efficient
- Up to 2.5 TB hard drive space
- 6th gen Intel i3 or i5
- Can’t upgrade GPU or CPU
- Only available with integrated graphics
- i3 not as future proof as i5 version
Best Mid-Range Linux Desktops
LAC Portland Lenovo ThinkStation P310
LAC Portland Lenovo ThinkStation P310 is an excellent midrange desktop. Although the ThinkStation is technically a workstation or server, it’s a mid-tower desktop. The P310 boasts a beefy Xeon E3-1245 v5, 8 GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 1 TB 7200 rpm harddrive. There’s lots of room for expansion inside the case. Plus, for distro fiends, the P310 is available with a smattering of Linux operating systems. In addition to the newest Ubuntu releases, it’s available with Ubuntu 12.04 and 14.04, several flavors of Fedora, Debian, and OpenSUSE.
LAC Portland’s array of devices comes with a three-year on-site warranty at no charge. But that doesn’t quite help those who aren’t nearby. Additionally, the starting price only includes 8 GB of RAM and a 1 TB harddrive. The Xeon is a very capable CPU, but there aren’t upgrade options for the CPU or for a dedicated GPU. Still, these are user upgradeable. The entry price just below $1,000 is good, but not great. However excellent hardware that’s compatible with a range of distros and a CPU that offers maximum reliability makes the ThinkStation a solid mid-range Linux desktop.
- Xeon E3-1245 v5 CPU
- Up to 64 GB RAM
- Lots of distros including unstable and older releases
- Good onsite support
- User upgradeable
- Three-year warranty is onsite only
- No GPU or CPU upgrade options
Maingear Drift ($1,099)
Steam Machines were the brainchild of Valve. Unfortunately, these didn’t quite take off and have yet to replace console gaming. That’s largely because of strong, but not widespread, Linux gaming support. Steam Machines run a Debian-based custom distro, SteamOS. It’s not a perfect operating system, but if you’re into Linux and gaming, the Maingear Drift is one of the best mid-range PCs you can get.
While the Maingear Drift is well equipped on the hardware front, SteamOS is rather limited. There’s no file manager or image viewer. There’s some streaming support in the browser, and you can playback local music. But overall it’s a PC built for gamers.
If you’re a Linux gamer, the Maingear Drift is arguably the best Steam Machine available. The Alienware Alpha is a good alternative. However, the Alpha is limited in its upgradeability. Similarly, the Zotac Zbox Steam Machine features a GTX 960 and SteamOS but you can’t upgrade the GPU or CPU.
PC Mag awarded the Maingear Drift a 3.5 out of 5 in its review. In its review, PC Mag liked the RAID storage, small footprint, and 4K gaming capabilities. However, they also noted that it’s not the fastest running 1080p resolutions. Additionally, opting for the Titan X really drives up the price.
- Small form factor
- i7 CPU
- Up to 6 TB hard drive space
- As high as 16 GB DDR4 RAM
- Available with a Titan X
- 1080p gaming isn’t the fastest
- Titan X costs a major premium
Best High-End Linux Desktops
System76 Silverback WS ($2,199)
The Silverback WS is a workstation class desktop. With a just over $2,000 starting point, even the base model comes well-equipped. Inside you’ll find dual Xeon E5 v4 CPIs, up to 1 TB of ECC RAM, and as high as 64 TB of storage space. For GPUs, the Silverback offers NVIDIA 10-series GTX cards, Tesla, or Quadro configurations. Plus, there’s an option for an independent PCIe NVMe Ubuntu install.
I had the pleasure of viewing the internals of the Silverback WS and was truly impressed. The whopping nine hard drive bays sent me into a daydream about setting up an array of hard drives in RAID and how many concurrent transcodes the dual Xeons could handle. But the Silverback is suited to much more than just a media server. It’s beefy enough for tasks like machine learning. In short, if you want a top-tier desktop, look no further than the Silverback WS.
On that note, the Silverback WS is a bit overkill for the average user. Additionally, the ECC RAM sports better reliability than traditional RAM. It’s also more expensive. Therefore if you plan to upgrade later, you’ll pay extra for the ECC However if you’ve got the cash to shell out, it’s an amazing workstation. Chances are if you’re dropping over 2K on a machine, you actually need the horsepower. The P410 30B3 from LAC Portland clocks in at just over 1K and features a Xeon v4 CPU. Granted, it’s got less computing power and the sticker price reflects that.
- Dual Xeon E5 v4 CPUs
- Choies oc GTX 10-series, Quadro, and Tesla GPUs
- Up to 1 TB ECC RAM
- As high as 64 TB or storage space.
- Only Ubuntu available
- ECC RAM is pricey
- Expensive system albeit well equipped
Puget Obsidian ($1,959)
Puget Systems has a pleasant selection of Linux capable PCs. The Obsidian’s standard build uses an Intel E3 v5 Xeon processor, 16 GB of DDR4 ECC RAM, Intel P530 integrated graphics and your choice of Linux distro. You can snag an Obsidian with CentOS, Mint, or Ubuntu. The Obsidian is truly an excellent device and arrives pretty decked out even in its stock.
The only minor quibbles I can think of are that it’s pretty pricey at almost 2K. Again, it’s got ECC RAM which while more reliable is more expensive. Still, Puget’s Obsidian is a beast of a high-end desktop/server class Linux PC.
- Xeon E3 v5 CPU
- Up to 64 GB ECC RAM
- GTX, Titan, and Quadro GPUs available
- Several distros available
- ECC RAM is pricey
Final Thoughts and Alternatives
Although these are the best Linux laptops and desktops available across an array of budgets, there are plenty of other options. ZDNet features a stellar write up on five Linux desktop vendors.
Among these, Eight Virtues provides a hybrid pre-built and do-it-yourself option. Rather than pre-selected systems, you choose the parts and distro on your own. Choices though are admittedly limited. You’re relegated to a handful of AMD CPUs and NVIDIA GPUs. Price goes up a lot. An AMD FX-8350 powered PC with a GTX 750, 1 TB hard drive, and 16 GB of DDR3 retails for almost $900 as per adding items to my cart.
Emperor Linux sells a lineup of high-end PCs. Mostly you’ll find Dell and Lenovo machines. There are custom versions of Linux based on the likes of Ubuntu, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE, openSUSE, Fedora, Debian, and Slackware. Moreover, older iterations are available. Prices are a bit high for the hardware, but you’re getting a quality device with lots of operating system options.
ThinkPengiun provides Linux laptop and desktops. But while they offer some of the lowest prices, the hardware is a bit budget. For basic tasks like internet browsing and streaming, these are likely fine, however.
Do It Yourself Linux PC
For those who opt for a DIY route, there’s a great list of certified hardware. As Linux continues to gain popularity, more manufacturers are pushing out Linux computers. Check out these cheap Linux computers you can buy right now. Notably, there’s an Intel Compute stick with Ubuntu, you’re probably better off with a Raspberry Pi. Cybertron also makes Linux desktops, but they’re admittedly on the budget end like the Lynx.
What Linux PCs are you using? Comment below and let us know what and how you’re using your Linux computers!