System 76 Gazelle Review

Some notes on a System 76 Gazelle 12 laptop.

System 76’s marketing to the Linux community is clearly good, because I have been wanting one of their laptops for a while. Maybe it’s just Bryan Lunduke’s fault. But as a committed lover of Linux, a fast, well made laptop with all the ports, ethernet, made to run Linux without trouble: that’s basically been my dream.

A Little History

I have been running Linux on Macbooks for six or so years now. And really, they do pretty well. Once in a great while I couldn’t get a distro to boot properly, but that was mostly about booting from the live USB, not about the install process itself. But I always had good success overall. I’ve successfully run Manjaro, Debian, OpenSuse, Fedora, and a plethora of Ubuntu based distros without any trouble. Ubuntu Mate being my daily driver for the bulk of the time. But Mac continues to make choices that I think are terrible, with the last straw being getting rid of all the ports. I mean that’s madness. Who would want such a thing? I suffered enough running Linux on a Macbook Air, with it’s meager 120 gb hard drive, and two measly usb ports, and no ethernet. I shrank the Mac partition as small as possible, and ran Linux on the rest of it. I have known that a new computer was on the horizon, but that Macbook Air was functional, so I wasn’t in a rush. I had a solid desktop machine running Linux Mint, and that did that job for video editing and heavier duty work.

Another reason to scrap Macs-running-Linux: the newer Mac OS makes dual booting harder. Some changes with Mac OS 10.13 make for trouble installing ReFind for its pretty little multi-boot menu. I love ReFind. Supposedly there are work-arounds, but I couldn’t get them going when dual-booting a Macbook Pro with Mac OS 10.13 and Ubuntu mate for my mom. You can still dual boot it, but have to hold down the Alt key to get the option to select the OS to boot, instead of the nice little ReFind menu popping up automatically.

So I decided a while ago I was on my last Mac.

I haven’t run a windows computer in 15 years, but these last few years I have heard about secure boot and various forms of locked down Bios on Windows machines so you can’t easily install the OS that you want. I think this is evil and bad. If we buy the hardware, we should be able to install what we want on it. I was afraid of spending substantial money on a computer to then find out that it won’t do what I want it to, or have stupid driver problems so it won’t do sound properly, or some such nonsense. I don’t want to have to fight with it. Hence the appeal of System 76.

This machine on Ebay

I have ogled the System 76 web site plenty of times, but never have cash to spare for that sort of venture. I ogled ebay too, but there are never very many System 76 machines. However. This machine did come from EBay. I gambled and won. I would not advocate this method to everyone, so use your judgment.

It was on ebay, on auction with a starting point of $395. The guy said he didn’t know much about Ubuntu but it was in good condition. The seller had good ratings, but no return policy. It basically looked like a pawn shop, selling the stuff he got in. Nothing terribly wrong with that, but not the ultimate perfect place to buy a computer. The guy was away until a few days after the auction finished. I bid on it early to $400, like a newb. I watched it for a week. On impulse I bid at the very end, winning out against one other person, and paying $410 for it. It made me a little nervous. I was afraid it was going to broken, non functional in some way. But I figured if it was terribly broken I would be covered by the Ebay policy, and I’d sort it out. I had to wait a few extra days for the seller to get back from vacation. I was freaking out from excitement and nervousness, but I made it. The machine smelled strongly of dude cologne, but booted right up.

Here’s a public service announcement though: When passing your computer on to another person, please delete all photos of your drivers license from the downloads folder. The previous owner of this machine neglected this step, and I am very concerned about his security practices. He’s young though. He has time to learn. Happily I am not an identity thief and all is well.

Therefor, a full disk wipe and reinstall of a fresh operating system was obviously the first order of business. It came with Ubuntu installed. I did a rapid succession of distros to see what I liked: Pop OS, Ubuntu Gnome, Manjaro XFCE and then back to Ubuntu Mate, because I wanted my cozy comfort zone. The other distros all installed easily and worked great. I want to love Gnome, but even on a fast computer it feel too hefty to me. Plus it doesn’t have an “open as adminstrator” option in the right-click menu for the file manager. I like a lightweight desktop environment that’s nice and snappy. So Mate is the friend that I keep coming back to.

Right. About the Gazelle

This computer is a System 76 Gazelle with an i7 processor and a 250gb SSD, and 16gb ram. Not the fastest machine in the history of time, but is very respectable and beats the pants off of any laptop I’ve had. It will edit photos and video, and also run Age of Wonders (my one favorite video game) very nicely. Plus, I just get grumpy when I have to wait for a computer. It is a Gazelle version 12, so one version previous to the current model. I don’t know what led the previous owner to give up this machine, but I hope he’s not sad. Because it’s a pretty good computer.

According to the internet, System 76 machines are related to Clevo machines, but to give credit to the work that System 76 do, here is a post from a System 76 developer that goes into the work they do. I appreciate this very much. For Linux to keep holding its own in the face of other machines locking their hardware down, we need companies doing work like this. I hope they make lots of money and are very successful. https://www.reddit.com/r/linux/comments/5umefi/system76_refreshes_ubuntu_linux_laptops_with/ddvcx45/?context=8&depth=9

This is a 15 inch laptop, with a good matte screen that looks gorgeous. It’s not huge or too heavy to carry around to the coffee shop. It has all the usual things. Decent speakers for a laptop, a camera which I dutifully covered with a bit of washi tape. The only weird snag I ran into was with the track pad. I couldn’t get two finger scroll working right. It would jump around and just not do the job. I changed it to edge scroll, and it’s fine. I almost forgot about it, because I’m used to it that way now. I have not had that issue with Linux on laptops before, so it’s odd.

The keyboard is a thing I’m finicky about, since I mainly just love mechanical keyboards. I think the best laptop keyboard is the Mac Powerbook G4, and they’ve all been downhill from there. I never liked the keyboard on my Macbook Air. This keyboard is still a chiclet, like every modern laptop in the world right now, but I think each key presses down a little further, making for more tactile feedback, and that is nice. The keys are a little smaller though, than the Macbook Air, because they are making room to squish in a number pad. I do love me a good number pad, so I’m not complaining. But I am a girl with medium-sized girl hands. If I were a dude with bigger hands, it might be trickier to manage.

I hope companies like System 76 continue to thrive, to give us Linux-ers good options in the world of computering.

To sum up, I am a happy little nerdface.