12/6/2012 - When choosing a laptop, one of the first questions buyers ask themselves is usually, “Mac or PC?” If we’re being honest, the question is better phrased as, “Windows or Mac OS?” But truth be told, there are other options out there besides the venerable duopoly.
Chromebooks: A while ago I wrote about how Chrome, the Web browser from Google, resembled a whole operating system in itself. Google certainly thinks so, and built the Chrome OS to run on lightweight laptops, designed to always be connected to the Internet.
Samsung has four Chromebooks on offer, ranging from $250 to $550 depending on configuration. The cheapest one comes with Samsung’s very own 1.7GHz Exynos 5 dual-core processor, 2GB of memory and 16GB of flash memory. It has an 11.6-inch screen and integrated Wi-Fi; spend $80 more and you get a 3G mobile broadband connection.
Samsung’s other pair of models has a slightly larger screen at 12.1 inches. Each one has a 1.3GHz Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of memory and the same 16GB of flash storage. You can check them all out at www.samsung.com/us/computer/chromebook.
The other main maker of Chromebooks is Acer. The C7 series starts at just $199 and sports an 11.6-inch screen. Inside, there’s a 1.1GHz Intel Celeron processor, 2GB of memory and a 320GB hard drive. Even though Chrome OS is made to be connected to the cloud, having lots of local storage is always a nice option. On the other hand, hard drives aren’t as fast or as shock-proof as the flash memory in Samsung Chromebooks.
Linux laptops: For a full-featured operating system that doesn’t rely on the cloud, geeks have always gravitated toward Linux, and in the last few years, toward the Ubuntu flavor. This open-source OS doesn’t cost anything itself, but has a reputation of being less user-friendly than Windows, so big companies have had a tough time selling it pre-installed on systems.
Dell is having another go at it, though, with the XPS 13 Developer Edition. This Ultrabook — a designation given to thin, light notebooks with certain Intel chipsets — has a 13.3-inch screen, a speedy Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of memory and a 256GB flash storage drive. It’s targeted toward programmers and comes with Ubuntu version 12.04 LTS, which stands for Long Term Support, meaning there will be patches and security updates made available for it longer than some other Ubuntu versions. As you might guess, this laptop is significantly more expensive than the basic Chromebooks: as of right now, it’s listed at $1,449.
Are there cheaper Linux options? You bet. There’s a whole cottage industry of smaller companies offering pre-built laptops with Ubuntu installed. One of the most respected is System76.com; its Lemur Ultra laptop has a 14.1-inch screen and can be configured with a variety of options. At the base price of $659, you get a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory, a 500GB hard drive, a rewriteable DVD drive, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. The same site has more expensive Linux laptops as well as desktops and servers.
If you don’t find anything you like there, you can check out TheLinuxLaptop.com for Pentium systems starting at $499; EmperorLinux.com for powerful notebooks between $1,280 and $6,400; and ZaReason.com for another shop assembling laptops under $1,000, desktops, and servers.