I’ve been installing and running Linux as an alternate to Windows for over 10 years now. In that time:
- I’ve installed Linux as a replacement for Windows systems that were obsolete or slow.
- I bought a couple of netbooks that came with Linux pre-installed.
- I had a desktop system built without Windows to run Linux only. It’s only run Linux in its useful life.
- I built my own desktop system to run Linux only. No Windows ever installed.
- I’ve installed many types of Linux in “Virtual Machines” to test and run inside Windows.
Since probably 95% of all computers ever made run some form of Windows, most of my experience is with case #1. And the key to a successful Linux replacement is how the original Windows-centered hardware responds to a Linux installation.
In my years of doing this I have encountered two really great platforms that are the essence of “Linux friendly” design:
- Dell Dimension desktop systems from the early 2000s.
- Lenovo Thinkpad laptops.
Both of these systems are based on Intel architecture – processors and motherboards. In addition the Thinkpads generally have Intel graphics and wireless adapters.
All hardware will work with Windows but Intel has done the best at being compatible with Linux over the years.
The early Dell desktops were solidly built machines that were almost exclusively Intel based. They did not have a lot of built in peripherals – you had to choose your ethernet card, graphics card – even a sound card. If you bought Dell all this stuff tended to be Linux friendly as well as Windows friendly.
I almost took it for granted that if a computer ran Windows it would run Linux. Sadly my experience with other motherboards, graphics solutions and especially wifi soon taught me otherwise. But an early Dell desktop? It never let me down.
As the desktop era wound down and Dell outsourced its production to Asia, things changed. New Dell laptops – especially their cheaper models – became notoriously unfriendly to Linux. The worst offenders were Dell’s wifi cards – they were made by Broadcom, and there was a time around 2009 when it was a crapshoot if you could get wifi to work in Linux at all with a Dell laptop.
This was a big problem because it’s a lot harder to upgrade and replace parts in a laptop – what you see is what you get.
Fortunately for Linux advocates the next great Linux platform was emerging and it was a laptop – the Lenovo Thinkpad.
Now you don’t just go out and buy a new Thinkpad unless you are a business like Unilever. They cost thousands. A lot of Thinkpads are leased and after a few years come back to a refurbisher. Then they are checked out, cleaned up and sold through companies like Canada Computers for a fraction of the original price.
So it was that I ended up with a beautifully preserved Thinkpad T430 (circa 2013.) it must have been an executive’s laptop. It looks brand new and has extra memory and a Samsung solid state drive. It’s all Intel – processor, graphics, ethernet, wifi.
I figure this machine likely ran Windows 7 but it was refurbished to run Windows 10. However I wanted it to run Linux so I wiped the SSD and installed Debian. I had to do a bit of geek work to get the wifi to go but everything else was fine.
Had I chosen a more mainstream version of Linux like Ubuntu everything would have worked right out of the box. I kept a Windows 10 image in case but I doubt I’ll ever install it – maybe as a Virtual Machine but I really don’t need it for anything.
This powerful laptop boots up to the desktop in 10 seconds and it flies on any task I want it to do. It is like 2005 all over again – and I have experienced the next great Linux platform.