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Best Linux laptops of 2021: all the top open-source notebooks around

Included in this guide:

Purism Librem 13
(Image credit: Purism)

The best Linux laptops of 2021 have you covered if you’re searching for a Windows 10 or macOS alternative. You don’t have to buy a slow, low-powered machine or install Linux yourself these days to have a laptop with an open-source OS.

In fact, some of the best Linux laptops offer up the same durability and premium design as their Windows counterparts. They’ll also cost less since there’s no Windows 10 license included with the laptop. It also means that you’re not stuck with a proprietary operating system.

While Linux-based machines aren’t as widely offered as Windows and macOS ones, boutique laptop companies are getting in on the action and offering machines pre-installed with Linux. Even Dell, one of the biggest laptop makers out there, offers pre-installed Linux machines. 

But, why would you invest in one of the best Linux laptops instead of something else? If you’re not familiar with Linux, it’s an operating system that’s open-source, free, and allows you a large amount of freedom and privacy. In fact, they’re typically more secure than other operating systems. Windows 10, being so popular, is most often the target of viruses, for instance.

Though Linux has a bit of a reputation for being complicated and technical, there are a number of distros (Linux variants), that are ideal for beginners, such as Ubuntu and Mint. And, if you buy a laptop with Linux pre-installed, then getting started is even easier.

With this guide, we’re going to dive into the best laptops that are specifically built for the open-source operating system. There aren’t any mainstream notebook vendors, beyond Dell at least, that offer Linux as a base OS option on a new laptop. This leaves us with other smaller manufacturers, which can carve out a niche for themselves with the best Linux laptops.

Plus, you can still install Linux on pretty much any laptop, even though some manufacturers lock down their products, making installing Linux kind of a pain. There are lots of different Linux desktop environments to choose from, and a whole host of open-source Linux apps available.

We picked out five of the best Linux laptops on the market right now, all of which have been fine-tuned to run some of the best Linux distros (like Ubuntu, for instance). That means they’re guaranteed to run the open-source OS out of the box without any tinkering.

If you're not yet confident with using Linux, we've featured the best Linux training providers and online courses. In the meantime, these are the best Linux laptops available right now. 

We've also featured:

Best Linux laptops 2021

(Image credit: Dell)

Ideal for those looking for a sleek-and-chic portable

Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous design+Plenty of connectivity options
Reasons to avoid
-Limited customizations

The XPS 13 may no longer be the undisputed champion of the Ultrabook market, but it’s still one of the best Ultrabooks out there. And, one can only admire Dell for its unwavering Linux support on a flagship machine, making the Dell XPS 13 7390 one of the best Linux laptops on offer.

The laptop has a number of customizations you can opt for, but as with all Dell products these days the number of configurable options is quite limited. The basic model comes with 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM at 2133 MHz, though this can be upgraded to 16GB RAM for an extra $100.

There are also two main harddrive options, both solid state, offering a capacity of either 256GB or 512GB of storage. There are also two screen option: the more expensive is the 4K (3,840 x 2,160) InfinityEdge touchscreen. Though it’s worth bearing in mind that the higher-res screen will tax the GPU and CPU more, and may affect battery life adversely. The more wallet-friendly configuration runs with a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) 13.3-inch InfinityEdge non-touch display. 

Although the Dell website offers three different style options for the XPS 13 when it comes to Windows, for the Ubuntu edition there's only the single style option of the platinum silver with the black carbon fiber palmrest - which, to be fair, is probably the most stylish option.

System76 Serval WS

2. System76 Serval WS

A powerhouse of a laptop, but a hefty beast

Reasons to buy
+Desktop CPU+Up to 64GB system RAM
Reasons to avoid
-Hefty price

System76's Serval WS is the ultimate laptop powerhouse, not to mention one of the best Linux laptops on the market. Available with a 15-inch or 17-inch display, it offers a range of options from the 9th Gen Intel Core processors typically found in desktop machines.

The Serval WS is highly customizable, with up to 64GB of system RAM and up to 12TB of storage on hand. A variety of Nvidia GeForce RTX GPUs are also on hand, and gamers will further appreciate the choice of either a Full HD or 4K display.

It's obvious that a lot of thought and care has gone into the design of the Serval WS, considering that each key on the keyboard comes with its own multicolor backlight. The laptop, like all System76 models, comes preinstalled with either the firm’s own custom POP!_OS, which is based on Ubuntu, or Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (64-bit).

This notebook also has impressive connectivity in terms of ports, but be aware that this laptop is a fairly hefty beast, with the basic 15-inch model weighing 7.5 lbs (3.4 kg) and the 17-inch version tipping the scales at 8.6 lbs (3.9 kg).

This heftiness is matched only by the weighty price tag - pricing for the basic design model starts from $1,999.

Purism Librem 13

3. Purism Librem 13 laptop

Great for privacy fanatics

Reasons to buy
+Designed to be ultra-secure+Upgrade option to three-year warranty
Reasons to avoid
-Rather expensive

Purism embarked on a quest to build the most secure laptop ever, choosing (obviously) Linux distro PureOS to power the device. From that quest came Librem 13, one of the best Linux laptops on offer.

In terms of specifications, Purism comes with seventh generation Intel processors and graphics chips, as well as 8-32 GB of DDR4 RAM.

Purism is the only notebook vendor on the market to offer physical kill switches as standard on its laptops. Instead of going mainstream, the company tapped into the crowdfunding community to gain more than $430,000 (around £300,000, AU$550,000) worth of funding, allowing it to adopt a stricter ethos than most firms when it comes to privacy, rights to free software and security.

The Librem 13 might look and feel like a bog-standard laptop. However, there's far more to it than meets the eye (for example, the company designed its own motherboards).

In addition, Purism’s commitment to Linux (and security in general) certainly goes beyond most of the vendors on this list.

System76 Oryx Pro

4. System76 Oryx Pro laptop

A highly configurable notebook with plenty of potential

Reasons to buy
+Choice of 15.6 or 17.3-inch display+Nicely configurable
Reasons to avoid
-Can be very expensive

One of the best Linux laptops to date, the Oryx Pro is definitely built for the operating system. Indeed, it currently offers a choice of either Ubuntu 18.04 or System76’s own Ubuntu-based Pop!_OS on purchase.

The Oryx Pro is made from lightweight aluminium with a matte black finish and is available in two screen sizes, either 16.1 or 17.3 inch. Inside, it's powered by a 9th generation Intel Core i7-9750H, which offers 2.6 to 4.5 GHz as well as a 12 MB cache, and for RAM you can choose up to 64 GB dual-channel DDR4 at 2667MHz, or up to 32 GB dual-channel DDR4 at 3000MHz.

For storage there are two SATA harddrives offering 8TB altogether, and graphics options include the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060, 2070, or 2080.

The Oryx Pro is sleeker and lighter than the Serveal featured above, coming in at 4.6 lbs (2.09 kg) for the 16.1 inch screen version, and at 5.51 lbs (2.50 kg) with the 17.3 inch screen option.

Again, as like the Serval, though, this is an expensive machine, with the base price starting from $1,699.

System76 Galago Pro

5. System76 Galago Pro laptop

The cheapest Linux laptop on our list

Reasons to buy
+Extraordinary expansion capabilities+Matte Full HD display as default
Reasons to avoid
-A cheaper Full HD version should be offered

The Galago Pro from System76 is the cheapest Linux laptop on this list. Like the other machines from System76, it offers either Pop!_OS or Ubuntu to run on. However, even though it has some decent specifications, even the base model comes in at less than $950.

The standard processor is a 10th gen Intel Core, either the i5-10210U or the i7-10510U. 8 GB of dual-channel DDR4 RAM at 2667MHz is also available at start, though this can be expanded to up to 64 GB. Storage options begin with a 240GB SSD, though can be upgraded to a 6TB SATA harddrive.

It's also much sleeker and lighter than the previous System76 models featured here, weighing in at just 2.87 lbs (1.3 kg) for the base model, though any upgrades are likely to raise that.

Altogether, another solid Linux laptop, but at a more affordable price than the others featured on this list.

Desire Athow

Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Then followed a weekly tech column in a local business magazine in Mauritius, a late night tech radio programme called Clicplus and a freelancing gig at the now-defunct, Theinquirer, with the legendary Mike Magee as mentor. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global techfests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. He has an affinity for anything hardware and staunchly refuses to stop writing reviews of obscure products or cover niche B2B software-as-a-service providers.