The State of the Market: a Laptop Buying Guide

A wide variety of vendors—now including Dell and Lenovo—sell preloaded Linux laptops. This buying guide should help you find the right laptop for your needs and budget.
Other Companies to Check Out

We are disappointed that some great companies decided not to send us evaluation machines and get some free publicity. Despite the snub (yes, you are forgiven because we know you're busy selling computers), we encourage you to consider these firms when making your next Linux laptop purchase.

  • CompAmerica: this is a very interesting company that, despite not marketing itself within the Linux community, is fully committed to Linux. CompAmerica's CEO, Jack Schulman, is a driven 30+ year industry veteran who has shared with us his passion for meeting the demanding needs of discriminating Linux users. Jack told us that CompAmerica offers Linux on every laptop it sells, including its economy, high-end and “super-exotic” series. One example from the latter is the 20" Tiger Shark 9500 with up to 4GB of RAM, dual NVIDIA Quadro FX Go 2500M GPUs, two hard drives and two optical drives. The option to choose Linux is not marketed heavily on the CompAmerica Web site, but at least the option exists.

  • Polywell Computers: Polywell offers a wide range of preloaded Linux laptops in nearly every category, such as the 12.1" 4.1-pound PolyNote M212SC ultraportable, the 13.3" 4.2-pound PolyTablet tablet notebook, and the many business and specialty laptops with displays from 14" all the way up to 20". In addition, the five different laptops in the V series all have interchangeable parts (for example, battery packs, optical drives and hard drives).

  • ThinkMate: ThinkMate features its a versatile Jetbook line of business-oriented 15.5" and 17" laptops. You can load up your laptop with Fedora 7 or SUSE 10.2 on the Linux side and Windows Vista or XP on the Redmond side—a nice touch. All laptops come with a three-year warranty.

  • Although Toronto's is shy of the press, it has long been a favorite destination for bargain-hunting hardware aficionados. This no-frills firm's laptop offering consists of two configurations of the same ultraportable model: a 3.1-pound device with a 12.1" TFT display running Linspire (its motto is “No Microsoft Mess”), and it maxes out at $1,200. The price is a little steep considering the lack of built-in optical drive and low-end processors (1GHz Via Centaur or Intel Pentium M Centrino 1.4GHz). A rugged notebook to compete with the Panasonic Toughbook also is in the works at the time of this writing.

Let the Good Times Roll

We hope that this information, although partial, will assist in planning your next purchase of a preloaded Linux laptop. You should now have a better idea of what companies sell preloaded Linux laptops, what key models they sell, and how features, functionality and prices vary among models. Although we Linux fanatics cannot get every specific laptop model we want, with some research, most of us can find a machine that gives us the functionality we demand.

You can find a machine you want due to the plethora of companies that now offer Linux laptops, and that number is sure to grow and provide more options from which to choose. Because of this variety, differences exist among vendors in the devices, features, dual-boot policies, prices, extra services, warranties and Linux-based functionality they offer. We cannot recommend strongly enough that you do your homework and keep an open mind. If you follow this advice, you should find yourself in front of a Linux laptop that will keep you productive and happy for years to come. Good luck!

James Gray is Linux Journal Products Editor and a graduate student in environmental science and management at Michigan State University. A Linux enthusiast since the mid-1990s, he currently resides in Lansing, Michigan, with his wife and cats.


James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.


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I really like the Lenovo

Anonymous's picture

I really like the Lenovo products but they are too expensive.
laptop toshiba

You can compare different

Anonymous's picture

You can compare different versions for any given brand over hear - laptop reviews archive and make your decision...this is much better way for a novice to laptop technologies..


Anonymous's picture

grrr i wont a laptop <3 i want oneeeeee,,,,
i just dont no were to get my dream on from :(:(:(:(

Thanks for the review

John Meyers's picture

I really enjoyed reading this review. I have been dodging reviews left and right but yours is great. I'm looking to buy a notebook, I'm not yet decided but now I have some options. I really like the Lenovo products but they are too expensive.