A new trend of OEMs offering PCs with some preinstalled Linux distro is gaining track. Are you planning on making your next computer a Linux powered one? Which one would be your best option?
Purchasing a new PC shouldn't be as easy as it is nowadays. There is a growing insane habit of forgetting that computers are tools, and tools are tailored to solve specific needs, not to show off in front of your friends a $1000+ piece of hardware that you will only use to surf the internet. For that, you might as well just buy a tablet.
When it comes to buying a PC with some Linux distro preinstalled, the options are only a small fraction of the available for Windows systems, and then you need to get your brain to do some exercising to pick the right one and save some money. Another good reason to use Linux!
This article doesn't intend to be an absolute guide to choosing your Linux PC, not even a buying guide at all, instead I want to compare three possible choices that are quite popular: a high profile PC maker, a long time Open Source OEM builder and a Do It Yourself approach.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The last months there has been an increasing trend of OEMs offering PCs running Linux instead of Windows. Many of us are very happy with this tendency, the same way I'm excited about new low cost machines such as the Raspberry Pi, Cotton Candy and MK802 that are making their way into the market.
It seems like Dell, at least, is finally decided to make a serious effort to bring to the table an option that goes beyond Microsoft, and that's good news, because Linux is free, and that way maybe we could save a couple of hundreds when purchasing a new computer, considering that no royalty has to be paid to Microsoft, right? Well, so far, the options offered by Dell are not precisely the cheapest computers around. The XPS 13 Ultrabook (also referred as "Project Sputnik") goes for around $1500, so the next option would be Alianware X51, which is sold for less than half of that price, but no mouse, keyboard or display is included.
System76 is a well known PC builder specialized in offering open source solutions since 2005, so it is a good comparison point to see how economical Dell/Alienware offer is. And of course, you can always choose to do your own build, but this requires time and a certain degree of knowledge; assuming you have both, then it is probably the most inexpensive way of getting a new PC.
Here is a compilation we have prepared, showing key specifications of Dell's Alienware X51, System76's Ratel and a custom build using Tiger Direct as source for the parts.
As you could expect, the X51 is thinked for gamers, and for that specific purpose, it incorporates a mid-high level dedicated video card. The case is a real visual delight (the most appealing reason to buy it, in my opinion) and it brings a wireless chip. On the flip side, this system doesn't offer too much room for future upgrades. It is currently being shipped out with Ubuntu 12.04, the latest LTS release by canonical.
System76's build is, in the other hand, more prone to upgrades than the X51. It comes with a faster i5 processor, SSD storage and plenty of I/O options. Overall, this PC should be more appealing to professional users, specially those who know that the company has an eight years history of supporting Open Source operating systems. But, why so expensive? The reasons can be many, but I dare to guess that probably relies on the factor that smaller companies find it more difficult to get great deals with parts manufacturers and somehow, the cost has to be transferred to the end user.
In our custom build we were able to match or surpass most of the specs of the X51 and the Ratel, and yet we were able to get the lowest price. But notice that I used the word price instead of cost, because in the overall cost of the build you must take into consideration the time you spend building it. The route of the custom build is for many the last resource and for others a "no-brainer", so make sure you will really enjoy the process if you decide to go this way.
But wait! There is more...
By no means Dell and System76 are the only OEMs offering PCs with Linux preinstalled. If you're serious about getting your next PC running something else than windows, then I advise you to take a look at this other websites:
Take your time choosing your system, make a table like the one we made and make sure you don't sell yourself to hype or advertisement., almost every single OEM offers the same hardware inside and you end up paying more for the brand than for the actual machine.
Article originally posted May 15, 2013