I made the switch…to a Linux Laptop (System76 Lemur Initial Review)

I’ll admit it, I’ve been an Apple fanboy for quite some time. In fact, when I first started this podcast, I was frustrated with the tools on both Linux and Windows for audio and video production. In 2005, I made the switch, and was mostly happy for ten years with Apple products. The software, user experience and stability of OS X and most software and hardware was exceptional. I’ve edited countless audio podcasts and video segments on OS X, using everything from Apple’s own production software to open-source command line utilities. It’s been pretty awesome, until now. Not only have I switched from an iPhone to a Google Nexus 6P, but I’ve moved to a Linux laptop.

A quick recap of the current Apple issues before I get to the good stuff about using Linux:

  • The touchbar is pretty stupid, I need an escape key (vim anyone? WTF?) and I don’t want to awkwardly reach over my keyboard to do stuff, I mean, I use vim…
  • The cost is A LOT higher than before, and A LOT higher than suitable alternatives. And even better, the ACTUAL cost is even higher! (Thanks to Vinny Troia for his article titled The Actual Cost of a New 2016 MacBook Pro)
  • I am tired of carrying around, and even remembering to pack, the stupid dongles. Not to mention it’s one more thing that can break right before you step on stage in front of hundreds of people.
  • Nothing about the new MacBook Pros are serviceable or upgradable.
  • In the article mentioned above, Vinny also reports the trackpad is awkward.
  • Apple is still using 6th generation Intel processors, not 7th generation (See this article for the differences. Essentially, the 7th generation processor is faster and provides longer battery life).

After all of those things were identified, I decided to look elsewhere for a new laptop. Some options I threw out immediately:

1) Windows – I’ve been down that road, and no thank you. We have Windows machines here in the studio for podcast production, and for a lot of reasons, I just want to throw them off the roof after I set them on fire.

2) Apple iPad Pro – I need a real operating system with a command line and such, so this option is out. Besides, the Pwn Pad from Pwnie Express is my tablet of choice, and should be yours if you work in the security field (yes, that was a sponsor plug).

3) Chromebook – Not enough power, and I want to run VMware or other virtualization software.

I then began looking at Linux laptops. Everyone said the Dell XPS 13 Developer edition was the way to go. Dell does have an offering that includes Intel’s 7th generation processor, however right now its limited to the 13″ models and 16GB of RAM. I came to the conclusion that if I was going to make an investment in a new laptop, I wanted 32GB of RAM. Dell’s 15″ models do offer 32GB of RAM, but are not yet including a 7th generation Intel processor. Where to look now?

Enter the fine folks at System76. They make available a 14″ Lemur laptop, and it fit the specs I wanted. Here’s the machine I ended up purchasing:

  • Lemur 14″ Laptop (VGA, HDMI and Ethernet on-board)
  • Ubuntu 16.10 (64-bit)
  • 14″ Matte 1080p IPS LED Backlit Display
  • Intel® HD Graphics 620
  • 3.5 GHz i7-7500U (2.7 up to 3.5 – 4 MB Cache – 2 Cores – 4 Threads)
  • 32 GB Dual Channel DDR4L at 2400MHz (2× 16 GB) $269.00
  • 512 GB PCle M.2 SSD $375.00
  • 500 GB 2.5″ SSD $249.00
  • WiFi up to 867 Mbps + Bluetooth $20.00

Total Cost: $2,094.15

Overall, I am happy with the purchase (so far). A couple of hiccups in the process:

  • It did take about five days to build my laptop (which either I missed this fact when ordering or it was not clear enough on their web site)
  • It was initially shipped without a power brick, a mistake on System76’s part which they corrected, and refunded the entire shipping charge for my order without me even having to ask.

I am still getting used to the form factor, however one thing that concerned me was the weight. How much heavier would the Lemur 14″ be than my 3-year-old 13″ Macbook Air with the power supply and all dongles? Check this out:


The MacBook Air with all power supplies and various dongles (some may have been missing) came in at 4lbs 3.9oz. Now, the System76 Lemur comes with on-board Ethernet, VGA and HDMI. I then weighed just the Lemur with the power adapter:


How’s that for close? (4lbs 3.8oz) Essentially these are the same weight, taking into account the accuracy of the scale and some of the different dongles you may want or need to carry with you.

I do plan to write more about the experience, as I’ve not fully field tested the laptop. Here are a few things about the Linux experience:

  • I’ve completely migrated to Google Slides. I know, Powerpoint, Keynote, blah, blah. I’ve used them for years. I’ve found it much better to just settle on Google Slides as I always have a backup, I can use it on any Internet connection device, export in different formats, and easily share and allow others to edit my slides.
  • Google Chrome is awesome, I use a few extensions to replace some OS X software, for example: Google Hangouts, Twitter, Signal, Google Keep, and a few others I am forgetting.
  • For email I’ve switched back to Thunderbird, and admittedly, Postbox for OS X is a much better client.
  • I am still searching for a good RSS feed reader, though Inoreader looks promising.
  • Many of my other applications have been replaced with Cloud services (GoToMeeting, ticketing system, CRM, Calendar/Scheduler, Password Manager, etc…)

There are a couple of things that are troublesome, and represent some of the reasons why I’ve been holding back on a Linux laptop:

1) I had a wireless mouse, and it refused to work out-of-the-box. I need to research this more, but this is one thing that always “just worked” on OS X. I’d much rather spend my time on other things, like some of my coding projects.

2) I tried to setup the laptop to print at home, and failed. This again requires more research and is a bit annoying. Not that I print that often, but sometimes we go to an event that still requires a printed ticket. I’m certain I can get it to work, likely a late evening after the kids are asleep, however this is time I would rather spend building and configuring my MythTV box.

More to follow as I use the laptop more. I will say I am really excited to have an awesome Linux laptop. It provides me with ultimate control and flexibility, a great development platform, and all of the productivity tools I require for my current job as CEO of this crazy podcast company!

Paul Asadoorian

Paul Asadoorian is currently the Principal Security Evangelist for Eclypsium, focused on firmware and supply chain security awareness. Paul’s passion for firmware security extends back many years to the WRT54G hacking days and reverse engineering firmware on IoT devices for fun. Paul and his long-time podcast co-host Larry Pesce co-authored the book “WRTG54G Ultimate Hacking” in 2007, which fueled the firmware hacking fire even more. Paul has worked in technology and information security for over 20 years, holding various security and engineering roles in a lottery company, university, ISP, independent penetration tester, and security product companies such as Tenable. In 2005 Paul founded Security Weekly, a weekly podcast dedicated to hacking and information security. In 2020 Security Weekly was acquired by the Cyberrisk Alliance. Paul is still the host of one of the longest-running security podcasts, Paul’s Security Weekly, he enjoys coding in Python & telling everyone he uses Linux.

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