I ignored this option for a while, on the grounds that there were tolerable alternatives and also aesthetics. Now, though…. System76 laptops now look less ugly than last time I looked, when their aesthetic was “cereal boxes for cylons.” In fact, the latest laptops look downright nice, both aesthetically and technically.
Like the Razer gear, the fact that there is no company presence in Australia means that taking on such machines is a risk if they need warranty service or weird parts. On the other hand, their intensely personal remote customer service is a rare experience. Owning one of these devices places you in some kind of semipro hobbyist community. Also, the technical support available from competing manufacturers in Australia is not great anyway. Last time I gave my Razer blade to the service agent, they formatted the hard drive (while fixing the power supply) just to teach me a lesson I guess.
An extremely civilised experience and shows how a small company can produce an excellent and modern Linux laptop experience, pretty much like a version of windows where you do not need to pay them a hundred bucks to turn off the advertising. Not to diminish their achievement, it is not actually rocket science. Who knew?
Mini review: System76 Lemur
I now own a System76 Lemur and the experience is overall extremely good compared to a typical linux laptop configuration —
- there are no speculative config hacks to deal with unknown hardware quirks,
- I did not spend 6 hours wrestling with a windows partition
- firmware updates are not a cross-OS nightmare where you need to boot into windows just to do that
- resume and suspend usually work fine without exotic
Price was modest; Including import duties to Australia it was only slightly more than an equivalent Dell. Subtracting time lost to configuring a Dell, I am way ahead. I hope it does not need a warranty service or I am screwed, but for now I love it. Or am I screwed? It comes with a comprehensive service manual, and TBH looks like a reasonably easy build to replace bits of.
- looks nice
- the keyboard has a pleasing action
- Online repair and parts guide
- assembled by some charming geeks who phone you up personally to check how you are feeling about the purchase, in a sensible moment in your local timezone
- comes in re-usable packing
- battery really does last a long time. I logged 4 hours yesterday before I hit the notional half-charge level.
- responsive and fast. How much of this is because of the the Pop!OS configuration defaulting to less bloat than Ubuntu default I wonder?
- nice wifi antenna which as I write is dropping this flakey wifi extender connection much less frequently than my macbook pro a metre away. (I am aware however that wifi signals are mysterious and inexplicable and this could change if a bird flies past or something.)
- It is too easy to hit
PgDnwhen using the tiny arrow pad on this keyboard. On the other hand I wrote to the tech support folks to ask about this and they gave me 1) and easy solution and 2) a programming guide to the keyboard firmware so that I can make arbitrary changes to what the keys do.
- The internal speakers are not great unless the laptop is on a hard surface. I mean, all internal speakers on every laptop everywhere are terrible, but these are bad even by that low standard. Sounds like a mouse in a sock under a brick. Since I would only use those speakers for watching movies in bed but in practice I use headphones for most things, this is tolerable. I suspect they are designed to sound OK if your laptop is on a flat reflective surface (i.e. not a lap per se, or a bed). update: Yes, is much more audible if the laptop is on a hard surface.
- no ambient light sensor so you need to adjust display brightness manually.
Overall, this is a ringing endorsement. I have not had this good an experience with a laptop in a looong time, and I recommend this laptop to you if you would like a fast cheap machine that is already configured to just go and is joyously easy to use. It does not hurt comes with well-written comprehensive documentation for geeks.
Miscellaneous hardware tips
Battery stinginess can be made stricter. There are power profiles:
apt install system76-power
See also generic power management
- Lots of hardware tweaks are available and well-documented in the System76 Open Source Embedded Controller, e.g. keyboard layout
- System76 has a lot of the hardware support design open and online
- Technical Documentation includes everything you need to know. No really, actually everything. It is really good documentation and puts many obscure 733+ details at the disposal of mere prosumers.