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Where to Buy GNU/Linux-Powered Computers

One drawback to using macOS is that you only have a single source of hardware to use your operating system with, i.e., Apple. If you decide that you are no longer satisfied with the hardware quality, or you simply cannot afford a Mac, you are out of luck. You can try making a Hackintosh, but your experience will most likely be subpar and susceptible to frequent inconveniences.

A strength of GNU/Linux is the wide variety of PC-compatible systems it can run on. Using software like Etcher, you can create a live USB key and see how well your favorite distribution works with any computer you can get your hands on.

Often, modern GNU/Linux distributions will work with new models out-of-the-box. Usually, distributions work even better on computers that are a generation or two back, since developers have had more time to provide driver support and resolve any bugs with the systems' components.

Note: In general, choosing hardware that uses Intel-based wireless networking and internal graphics will likely give you the best default GNU/Linux experience (i.e., one that does not require any custom configurations). Going forward, this may change.

Overall, this leaves you with a wide breadth of computers to choose from. That being said, it is nice to purchase a system with GNU/Linux pre-installed. It is convenient, and you get the benefit of supporting manufacturers that promulgate GNU/Linux systems.

The Contenders

The market for GNU/Linux computers is not huge, but is better than it used to be and is continually improving. Here are a few distributors you might want to check out.

Note: These computers will vary in the GNU/Linux distribution they come with, but the odds are higher that you will have a great GNU/Linux experience, regardless of which distribution you decide to use, with these systems, versus those designed to run non-GNU/Linux operating systems.

System76

System76 has long specialized in supporting free and open source software-based systems. Initially, their hardware choices consisted of off-the-shelf systems, differentiated by customized firmware/software and support. Now, the company is beginning to design their own open hardware.

On the software side, their computers can be chosen with either Ubuntu Linux or System76's Ubuntu derivative, POP!_OS. For many, this makes System76 an innovative provider of GNU/Linux systems.

System76 systems come with a 1 year limited warranty and a 30 day limited money back guarantee. They ship to 60 countries.

System76 is located in Denver, Colorado.

Purism

Compared to System76, Purism is a newer entrant to the GNU/Linux computer market, but they are competitive in their focus on privacy and security. Their work has contributed towards the creation of more open hardware systems.

Specifically, they focus on offering computers with open source firmware, an attenuated Intel Management Engine, and hardware kill switches. Even if they do not succeed in creating a profitable business, their presence has sparked substantive changes in the industry that benefit us all (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Purism's computers come with PureOS, a Debian derivative that is one of the few operating systems to be endorsed as an entirely free operating system by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). They are also working on a GNU/Linux based smartphone, the Librem 5, which may have a shot at breaking the current smartphone duopoly.

Purism systems come with a 1 year limited warranty and a 30 day limited money back guarantee (there is a 10% restocking fee when returning a fully functional unit). They ship worldwide, but you will be responsible for customs clearing/duties, and local taxation.

Purism is based in San Francisco, California.

Star Labs

No, not that S.T.A.R. Labs.

Star Labs offer a range of laptops designed and built for GNU/Linux. Besides from offering attractive machines with modern specs, Star Labs computers receive automatic firmware updates via the Linux Vendor Firmware Service (LVFS). Like Purism's laptops, Star Lab's offerings are powered by coreboot.

The manufacturer states there is an option to disable the Intel Management Engine in the firmware, and the computers come preloaded with either Ubuntu Linux, Linux Mint, or Zorin OS. Star Labs is a recent entrant to the GNU/Linux systems market, and it's currently difficult to find reviews for their products. However, they may be one to watch.

Star Labs systems come with a 1 year limited warranty and a 14 day return window. They ship worldwide.

Star Labs is based in Surrey, England.

Dell

Dell has long been one of the few, established computer manufacturers that has offered computers with GNU/Linux pre-installed. Over the years, their XPS Developer Edition and Project Sputnik program have earned much respect. You can view Dell's Linux-powered workstations and laptops here.

Dell systems come with 1 year limited warranty and a 30 day return period (there may be a 15% restocking fee when returning a fully functional unit). Dell systems can be purchased worldwide.

Dell is based in Round Rock, Texas.

PINE64

Chromebooks are becoming popular for casual computing. They use the Linux kernel, but do not come with the freedom and flexibility that a genuine GNU/Linux system can offer. If you are looking for an ARM-based GNU/Linux alternative, PINE64's PINEBOOK and PINEBOOK Pro might be worth checking out.

PINEBOOK's are lightweight, affordable, and repairable. PINE64 has a wiki to help you become familiar with their devices and how to customize them, too.

PINEBOOKs come with a 30 day limited warranty and a 15 day return period. PINE64 ships worldwide, but shipping costs do not include import duty and tax.

PINE64 is based in Fremont, California.

Alternatives

Lenovo

Lenovo does not sell their ThinkPads with GNU/Linux preinstalled, but they do provide users with resources that let them know how well GNU/Linux will run on their prospective ThinkPad.

For example:

Also, they make available a large collection of video content describing how to service and repair their computers. Furthemore, there are fervent communities dedicated to ThinkPads, including /r/thinkpad and the maintainers of ThinkWiki, the Linux ThinkPad Wiki.

People love ThinkPads, and with good reason.

  • There are a variety of models and price points to choose from.
  • Installing GNU/Linux on your ThinkPad will not affect your system's warranty.
  • If taken care of, your system can last a long time, and most models are relatively easy to repair, when necessary. Also, there is a large market of new/used parts available to you.
  • Out-of-the-box GNU/Linux support is excellent, in part because so many of the people contributing to GNU/Linux use ThinkPads themselves.
  • New and refurbished computers can be purchased from the Lenovo Outlet for discounted prices.
  • ThinkPads have amazing keyboards.

Ideally, Lenovo would start selling ThinkPads with a GNU/Linux distribution option. Hopefully, this will be a reality soon.

ThinkPads come with a 1 year limited warranty and a 30 day return period (14 days for systems purchased from the Lenovo Outlet). There is a 15% restocking fee when returning a fully functional unit. Lenovo systems can be purchased worldwide and you can choose your country from Lenovo.com (if necessary).

Lenovo is based Malianwa Subdistrict [zh], Haidian District, Beijing.

Intel

It is nice to directly support GNU/Linux system manufacturers, but an alternative is purchasing a system that does not come with any operating system at all. Intel's NUCs (Next Unit of Computing) give you this option.

NUCs are small-form-factor computer kits designed by Intel. They are available in different sizes (slightly larger units can hold an additional drive), and with different CPUs and price points. You supply your own RAM, drive, and operating system.

NUCs make great devices for home servers. They are small, affordable, and relatively quiet. As previously mentioned, you have to purchase and install your own RAM and drive, but NUCs are easy to take apart and operate on. Since they are Intel-based, the out-of-box GNU/Linux support is great.

NUCs can be purchased from an Intel Authorized Distributor or popular online retailers, like Amazon.com or Walmart.com.

Intel is based in Santa Clara, California.

Further Resources

A comprehensive list of sellers that provide systems with GNU/Linux pre-installed can be found at Linux Preloaded. Also, the FSF makes available a helpful hardware database to identify devices that work with fully free operating systems, called h-node.

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