My experience with System76

I recently bought a new computer from System76 with Ubuntu pre-installed, because I want to support companies who are supportive of Free and Open Source Software. This was my experience.

Before I ordered the machine, I spent some time reading several pages of questions and answers from their support forum, housed at the official Ubuntu Forums. A quick disclaimer: I am an administrator for the Ubuntu Forums.

Later, I emailed their support team with several questions. They responded quickly and answered every one to my satisfaction.

I also compared configurations and prices with several other Linux pre-installed retailers such as Dell, ZaReason, Los Alamos, and R Cubed, each of whom offer products I think look good. In the end, I liked the price and performance specs of System76’s Pangolin Performance best, and decided to order it.

Of course, I was not content with the default configuration, even though it looked quite nice, so I bumped up the specs a bit. Here are the details, including the price paid.

System76 Pangolin Performance (PAN-P4) = $1,049.00
Bluetooth
Display Resolution 15.4″ WSXGA+ Super Clear Glossy LCD (1680 x 1050)
Video Card nVidia GeForce 9300M GS 256MB DDR2
Hard Drive 320 GB 7200 RPM SATA II
Hardware Warranty 1 Yr. Ltd. Warranty and Technical Support
Memory 4 GB – DDR2 800 MHz – 2 DIMMs
Operating System Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) 64 Bit Linux
Optical Drive CD-RW / DVD-RW
Processor Core 2 Duo T5800 2.0 GHz 800 MHz FSB 2 MB L2 (35 Watt)
Gigabit LAN (10/100/1000)
Wireless Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100 – 802.11A/B/G/N Up to 300 Mbps
Built-In Webcam

The computer was delayed a little. I emailed to ask what was going on and was answered within the hour with details. After a few days, I was given an apology for further delay and a free shipping upgrade to the next quicker option. That was nice, and the communication was very well appreciated.

When the system arrived, it was well packaged and everything arrived in perfect condition. All the cables and such were there. In all, the shipment included the laptop itself, with battery, an AC adapter, a telephone/modem cord, a Windows-focused manual that came from the whitebox manufacturer (Clevo, I believe), two nicely produced documentation sheets from System76 for getting things up and running and learning how to use the laptop’s features within Ubuntu, and a nifty polishing cloth for cleaning the glossy screen and shell.

System76 Pangolin Performance

The colorful sheet to the right of the picture includes a simple three step process for getting started. First, you plug the system in and turn it on. Second, once the computer boots into an OEM install of Ubuntu, you create your main user account. Third, you enjoy your system. The back side of the sheet includes instructions for installing a special driver package that System76 provides to ensure that you get the full hardware capability of your laptop. The process was quick and painless.

Here we are, up and running. I like to put clear adhesive backed plastic (that’s shelf paper, for you Americans) on either side of the touchpad on my laptops, as I have been known to wear through the finish on them in the past. This also gives me a place to put my Ubuntu business card with my contact info.

Keyboard and screen view of System76 Pangolin Performance

I am pleased to report that following these instructions results in a computer that “just works.” The 3D graphics, including Ubuntu’s fun Compiz visual effects, the video camera, Bluetooth, wireless internet, suspend, hibernate… In fact, everything I have tested works with no configuration needed, other than to personalize the experience! Now, I haven’t used the fingerprint reader, and have no plan to do so, so I should caution readers that I don’t know whether it works or not.

*EDIT: I just discovered that the System76 driver bundle includes everything necessary for the fingerprint reader to work, tested it, and can confirm it works beautifully. Wow!

I was concerned at first since the computer came with the 64-bit version of Ubuntu, and I have only used the 32-bit version in the past after having trouble with the 64-bit version in a much earlier release a couple years ago. I have had no problems doing anything with it that I wanted to do.

In short, I have built my own computers in the past, bought Windows computers pre-built and installed Ubuntu over or alongside that OS, and bought an Ubuntu pre-installed computer from Dell for my wife. Each method has its benefits. However, I have to say that this was the easiest and most enjoyable experience I have had.

18 thoughts on “My experience with System76

  1. We have two Ubuntu Dells and one Dell running Ubuntu in our family, but the Dell running Ubuntu doesn’t have a webcam and isn’t technically ours, so my sister may get my Ubuntu Dell, and I may just have to go with a system76 machine, since Dell stopped selling both of the ones that my mom and I got, the 1525n and 1420n, respectively..

    Plus it comes with Ubuntu stickers and stuff. The Dell ones come with Windows booklets.. no Ubuntu stuff, except the restore CD.

    You say they actually give you support? Like, ACTUAL SUPPORT?
    I’ll be considering ’em if Dell doesn’t hurry up with their full Ubuntu option rollout.

  2. I bought a Gazelle v5 a year or so ago from system76 and have had absolutely no issues with it. Everything worked perfectly out of the box and still works perfectly to this day even after multiple upgrades. At the time I compared to what Dell was offering with Ubuntu preinstalled but I would have had to pay much more for the same specs due to the extreme discounts that were only offered on Windows versions. I knew I would wipe the Windows install anyway but I really wanted to support a company offering FOSS. I am very happy with choosing system76 and would definitely recommend to others!

  3. Their software support is amazing and makes owning a Linux laptop practical.

    I didn’t have a good experience with their hardware support though. I had to send mine back after nine months because the internal power connector came loose and needed to be re-soldered. They handled it fine, but the whole process took three weeks. The problem came back recently and I’ve just taken it to a local computer shop. They’re able to fix it within a few days, but for a couple hundred dollars.

  4. How nice to read this. System76 has been supporting Ubuntu for some time now, I just wish they would sell them in Australia. The Ubuntu keys and logo are a nice touch, they have done a very good job. Dell still hasn’t released their Ubuntu’s in Australia. If only System76 can. Maybe you can forward a word to them.

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience with system76. I have been contemplating getting a new desktop and system76 sounds like a really good choice.

  6. Hi Matthew,

    You mentioned that your laptop came with a telephone/modem cord, but you didn’t mention that it has a fax/modem built-in. I’m a little bit curious, the fax modem works out of the box too? If so, I’d like to buy laptop like this, ’cause for me this have been a real issue in every other laptop I checked before.

    Thanks!

    PS: I love your blog skin! It looks really nice!

  7. The laptop does have a built in modem, but I have not tested it. If I do, I’ll comment on it, but it isn’t something I generally use.

    PS: thank you!

  8. We have 2 of these, my wife and I. One each, of course…

    Mine is a bit more than a year old, and my wife’s was bought in February of this year.

    Very similar hardware, with the exception of RAM (2G) and video card (an Nvidia 8600M GT, but with 512M of dedicated memory) and no fingerprint reader…

    Happiness is the word that first comes to mind! It’s a total pleasure to use these laptops – they’re fast, stable and you get whatever you want to do done!!!

    Support is also excellent, T. Aaron, for example, is very reliable and helpful.

    All in all, a top level consumer experience, for sure!!!

  9. It seems they offer notebooks only in the USA and Canada… But I live in Poland.

    I really like their design and everything seems to be ok… What a pity! 🙁

  10. I am currently a mac user, but am considering switch to Kubuntu. I have an iMac for my desktop and a MacBook. More than half of the apps I use are open-source, why shouldn’t my OS be? The next Laptop I get will be from System76.

  11. Here’s a quick update: I have had this laptop for more than three months and have had no reason whatsoever to contact support. The laptop is working beautifully and I am extremely happy with the purchase.

  12. Would you mind commenting on the build quality of the laptop? Things like how much flex in the plastic panels? Does the keyboard flex at all when you push on it? Does the screen have and sway?

    I am looking for a laptop and would like to keep system76 in my consideration (though as I don’t use Ubuntu it’s not my first choice; I’m an openSUSE user), but I am not eager to buy a laptop I can’t see or touch. I plan to purchase my laptop online, but I like to at least be able to handle one before that.

  13. I would be happy to comment on the build quality. I would rate it as a strong mid-level contender in this. My Pangolin Performance is more rigid and sturdy than my old AOpen laptop, which used to flex terribly. This one doesn’t flex easily and feels solid. The keyboard is nice, with good key bounce. For the build quality, I would place it at about 95% of a current build MacBook, but with a better keyboard.

    The build quality and keyboard are not, however, in the same league as a ThinkPad, which is pretty much my ideal for portable durability and keyboard response, and it obviously isn’t at the level of specialized equipment like a Panasonic Toughbook or something like that.

  14. That sounds great. About what I would expect for it’s price range, and equivalent to most Dells I’ve handled. I’ll have to keep this on my radar. While pricing is very competitive with my other option, the Dell Studio 15, system76 can’t match the special deals Dell throws in from time to time, not to mention the Dell Outlet; I’ve gotten almost 50% savings that way. So it’s a tough call.

    Thanks for the review!

  15. My hard drive died last week. It happens, and I had a current backup. I emailed System76 and was sent a new drive with an RMA label to return the dead one. So, for those who were wondering, their warranty is real, and it was incredibly easy to get the problem taken care of.

    Hardware fails sometimes. It happens, and its not a big deal. Good customer service that is easy to deal with is rare. I am impressed.

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