System76 are well known in the Open Source community for shipping Ubuntu on their machines, being active community members and for helping LoCo teams with machines too. I have never owned a System76 box so I thought this was a good opportunity to give it a ride and share some feedback.
So first, the specs:
- Display: 14.0″ HD WXGA Super Clear Ultra-Bright LED backlit (1366 x 768)
- Graphics: Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics
- Audio Output: Intel High Definition Audio
- Networking: Gigabit LAN (10/100/1000), WiFi
- Wireless: 802.11 agn
- Expansion: Express Card 34 slot
- Ports: HDMI, VGA, 3 x USB 2.0, Headphone Jack, Microphone Jack, SD Reader
- Camera: Built-In 1.3 MP Webcam
- Security: Kensington® Lock
- Power Management: Suspend & Hibernate
- Battery: Lemur UltraThin Li-Polymer Battery Pack
- AC Adapter: includes one AC adapter
- Dimensions: 13.38″ x 9.09″ x 0.90″ (WxDxH)
- Weight: 3.5 lbs
The machine I got has an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 1.3 GHz 800 MHz FSB 3 MB L2 (10 Watt), 4GB RAM (DDR3 1066 MHz 1 DIMM) and a 80 GB Intel X25-M Solid State Drive.
Now, in the interests of full disclosure: I don’t really do reviews, so this is going to be a quick run through the details, not a 150-picture unboxing and War And Peace epic of every minor detail of the machine. I just wanted to get my experience down as quickly as possible so I could share my feedback with others.
OK, let’s zip through the summary:
The machine is a really sleek looking bit of kit. The first thing that struck me is how well designed it feels: it doesn’t feel like a randomly thrown together collection of components. It is thin and incredibly light, and has a very Apple-ish feel to it. It passed what I am calling the Lost Test: that is, when laid in bed at night watching Lost on Hulu with said laptop rested on your chest (for that IMAX effect), how many episodes can you get though before you feel like your heart is about to overheat and stop working. It’s lightness and lack of heat helped it pass with flying colors.
The screen looks great, doesn’t seem to smudge easily and is nice and bright. I like the fact it is a widescreen, something I miss with my current Thinkpad.
The keyboard is pretty much ok: it ain’t no Thinkpad keyboard, but of all the laptops I have owned and that are buried in my laptop graveyard, the Lemur’s keyboard feels better than most. The keys are wide enough and I love the fact that there is no Windows key, but instead an Ubuntu key. I want to see more of that, yes I do.
The trackpad is long and feels pretty good, and the buttons don’t look like buttons but instead areas on the trackpad near the bottom where you can push down: this makes it look really sleek. Unfortunately at first the buttons are a little hard to press, but I have noticed that they are getting easier, so I think they just need breaking in a little.
With the current configuration of processor and RAM, this thing is shit off a shovel fast. It zips along like no-ones business, and Ubuntu is up and running in a matter of seconds. While I didn’t test any hardcore 3D games on there, it runs Compiz great with the extra effects switched on.
Sounds works great, the speakers sound surprisingly good and the built-in webcam works well too. Finally, the battery life seems fine in terms of life, but not outstanding. Then again, I am used to my extra-long-life Thinkpad batteries.
My only real gripe believe it or not is the packaging the machine comes in: it visually looks cheap with a large generic “notebook” logo and doesn’t reflect the swishness of the machine encased inside it. I spoke to Carl Richell, founder of System76 about this and he has acknowledged it is an issue and they are keen to fix it: he said they really want every essence of the System76 experience to feel sleek. Good man.
The Default Install: Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala
It is just incredible driving back from picking up a computer from the UPS warehouse and knowing that it already has Ubuntu pre-installed. I have never bought a pre-installed Ubuntu computer before, so I was curious to see how it looked. I got it home, switched it on and it threw up the installer’s configuration settings: I entered my details and the system was ready to roll. I was left with pretty much a default installation of Ubuntu: there is not the horrible bundled collection of software you don’t want and ugly vendor wallpaper that you find if you buy a typical Windows pre-loaded machine. Good work System76 on shipping what I consider a great representation of Ubuntu.
Other than that, nothing much to say: everything just works as you would expect.
Being part of the Ubuntu development team, I was keen to get Lucid on there. I used Update Manager to update to Lucid and installation was smooth. Once again everything works: any bugs that I have found have not been specific to this machine, but replicated on my other Lucid machine. What is really noticeable is boot speed on the SSD: it is bonkers fast.
In conclusion, I think the Lemur is a beautiful machine, and combined with what I consider a beautiful Operating System, particularly with the new fit and finish of Lucid. When running the Lemur it really feels like great design in hardware and software meeting well. I would happily recommend this machine to others.