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Buyer's guide: How to choose a Linux laptop

Key features you need to consider

With the many choices and factors to consider, choosing a laptop of any kind can be a considerable challenge. Choosing one for use with Linux, however, brings its own special set of considerations, since it's not yet always a plug-and-play world for the open source operating system. Here are some guidelines for choosing the one that's right for you.

Most on-board sound cards should work just fine with Linux, enabling users to play MP3, WAV, and OGG files as well as ripping audio CDs and more. If you're eyeing something really high-end in this area, however, you should make sure all its features are supported.

Optical drive
Linux does support DVDs and other optical formats, but if you're hoping to play Blu-ray movies, you'll need to get a Blu-ray optical drive that can read and write DVDs. Because Blu-ray involves DRM, you'll need to have the latest versions of Mplayer and DumpHD to perform the necessary decryption in an open source environment.

Screen size, hard drive, battery and keyboards
Considerations on these should be much the same as for non-Linux laptops . Consider your needs and choose accordingly.

Linux laptop specs explained

Before you begin shopping for a Linux laptop, think carefully about how you plan to use it. This will guide not only your choice of a distro and whether you want to dual-boot, but also which features are most important to you. If there are any 'must-have' apps you rely on, double-check up front whether or not they support Linux, or if there are equivalent open source alternatives; if not, you'll be dual-booting for sure.

For users who plan to stick to Linux and non-graphically oriented applications, there's no real need for high-end processing power or graphics support. Those who plan to dual-boot, on the other hand, are going to want just as much power as a traditional Windows user would.

Here's a rough breakdown of some of the configuration options you'll need to consider.

Operating System
If you want to buy Linux pre-installed, you'll need to go to a vendor that offers such machines. If you want to dual-boot with Windows, you can either buy from a Linux laptop vendor and request that option, or you can buy a traditional Windows laptop and add the Linux distribution of your choice yourself. Either way, which operating system you plan to use will be a key driving factor in where you buy your laptop and what specs you choose.

Since this has long been an area of trouble for Linux users, it will be worth your while to make sure ahead of time that you get Linux-compatible wireless hardware. Until Broadcom's new brcm80211 driver is widely incorporated, this generally means making sure you have compatible wireless hardware from Intel or Atheros.

This is another area of potential trouble for Linux users, so you'll want to make sure your laptop's video card and 3D acceleration are fully compatible. This is one area where buying from a Linux-specific laptop vendor can make your life easier - they'll worry about this for you and make sure your graphics work.

As the brain of your laptop, the CPU will determine its responsiveness and performance in completing the tasks you give it. If you're planning to go Linux-only, this is a less critical consideration, but if you're aiming to dual-boot or use high-end applications, you'll want to get something more powerful.

NEXT PAGE: More Linux laptop specs explained

  1. Key features you need to consider
  2. Processors
  3. Sound and optical drives
  4. More Linux laptop specs explained
  5. Ideal specifications

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