Buying a laptop

I own several laptops. Definitely too many. These are my thoughts on ‘buying a laptop’ and what to look for.

Preamble: I’ve said this before

2 years ago I wrote this reddit comment:

And I still stand by it.

In response, some rando gaymer commented

Do your research, don’t let NVIDIA driver grifters keep you from at least trying to get a good graphics card, and certainly don’t let people tell you that the only laptop that supports Linux is the old ThinkPad.

So to any interlopers, watch out for the guy above - might even be paid off by Microsoft or something.

There was a longer comment, but it has (perhaps fortunately) been lost to time. The responder appeared to have been coping hard.

I’ll lay out my response and general points in a clearer order below:


The aim is to strike a balance between power and longevity - computers are only getting faster, but they’re also only getting flimsier. Just last week a brand new (well, 1ish year old) computer of mine just FORGOT HOW TO CHARGE. This is VERY SILLY AND DUMB. That’s what I get for not following my own advice…

64-bit is basically a must, so go no older than 2010. The list of distros supporting 32-bit was very long in 2020 but fits on a single hand nowadays - and besides, there’s just so many other downsides.

You want something that’s had a few years to get recalled and reviewed and documented, so I’d say buy something manufactured before 2020. This has the added benefit of being cheaper.

Style / type

As before: “There are only really 3 types of laptops: Gaming machines, MacBook clones, and good laptops." Let’s break them down.

  1. Gaming Laptops

    These are chonky, overpowered beasts. They may be overpriced, but not actually that much since there’s so much (at the time) cutting edge hardware in there. typically these require a hefty power supply, have dedicated graphics, and are adorned with “cool” looking curves and RGBware. On the downside, their batteries hardly ever make it past an hour - it’s more of a “portable Desktop” than an actual laptop.

    I respect what gaming laptops are trying to do, but the vast majority of linux enthusiasts don’t need that much power - least of all myself. If you aren’t planning to escape the Triple Aaa Gaming vortex, and are okay with lugging around a real monster of a computer, get a gaming laptop. Also if you do a ton of 3D rendering, or run a private neural network.

    Otherwise, don’t get caught up in this meme.

  2. MacBook clones

    I’m being somewhat dismissive here, and this is the largest category. A MacBook clone is any laptop that matches the following:

    • sleek aesthetic at the expense of I/O
    • marketed towards middle-class folks for leisure and maybe mild work utility
    • Lighted keyboard but no nipple mouse
    • [optional] charges with USB-C
    • [optional] has some “gimmick” like a pen, touchscreen, fabric exterior, proprietary port
    • white women in their 40s use them for everything and set the background to their kids

    These can run the gamut and are made by literally every single manufacturer. They pump these out. Everything from the crappy 13-inch HP to the godly Dell XPS-15, all your Microsoft Surfaces, and of course actual Apple offerings.

    As such lumping all these price points and form factors into a single group is rather odd - however, the point is that they all lack one thing: longevity​. That’s not to say any of these devices can’t last a long time - my mother bought a MacBook Air in 2011 and it served her for over a decade. What I mean is that Upgradability and repair are an afterthought, if not actively discouraged.

    A MacBook clone works for as long as its least reliable component. The cost of using one is that you may need to replace it at any time, which is the price of the first one plus inflation plus more features if you happen to want those.

  3. Good Laptops

    By which I mean Business Laptops. This of course includes the venerable ThinkPad, but also similar offerings from Dell, HP, etc. If you want a business laptop, get one from before 2018. Stay away from gimmick models that are branded like ThinkPads but actually just macbook clones with a trackpoint. That one I mentioned earlier that forgot how to charge? That was a “ThinkPad L13 Yoga Gen 2” that came out in 2021. It feels like any of the newer thinkpads, except a tiny bit flimsier, and it has a pen and touchscreen that folds all the way around and a fake card reader slot. It cost me $1000. Don’t be duped, stick to a model that’s already been proven reliable, preferably one that’s already been tried with Linux.


You may have noticed that I have as yet barely given any spec numbers, only qualitative recommendations. This is because, past the Threshold of Decency, the numbers don’t matter whatsoever (unless you’re running Gentoo).

This is the threshold of decency:

  • 2 core CPU
  • 4 GB ram, removable OR 8 soldered
  • 2 usb-A ports
  • 50 GB boot drive, removable OR 1 tb soldered
  • 1080p display

Notably, some MacBook clones hug this list rather tightly. Many business laptops shoot past all the specs apart from that 1080p display - it’s almost always possible to upgrade the display if you can figure out what you’re doing. is a great resource - the frontend design isn’t great (tho I’m one to talk) but they do have all the screens for all the laptops _ever_​.

I cannot overstate how much better a 1080p display makes the computing experience.

Other Qualia


If at all possible, briefly try out the keyboard before spending any money. This is where you’ll be touching the device most of the time, so it’s important for it to feel right. Everyone’s taste in keyboards is different so I shan’t bother with more specifics.


Standalone clicky buttons are very nice to have. A middle button is even nicer, but often-times just pressing both sides together can emulate a middle-click.

2 finger scroll is mandatory. Multi-touch (3+ fingers) is also nice but not required (unless you run GNOME) - only you can decide how much you care about it.


This is the little dot between the G, H, and B keys. Some swear by it, some are mildly annoyed by it. In my opinion, it’s nice to have occasionally, and you probably don’t want to buy a computer without one because of what it represents - the time before trackpads, when everybody just used the pointer for everything.

Body material

Metal is stronger, but plastic is safer.


You want a business laptop from 2018 or earlier, with a 1080p screen. If you can’t get one, a MacBook clone will suffice - just be aware of its fragility.