It have been almost 3 months since I received my new laptop from System76 and except for the keyboard and initial disappointment with the build quality, I have been very happy with my latest purchase.
I am using the Lemur are a personal and work laptop. Most evenings and weekends I am using it to browse the web and so some personal coding projects. During the working week the laptop accompanies me on the commute into London and when in the office I am doing a variety of things from development to email.
Carrying this laptop in a backpack for 1 hour, including several stops on the tube is fine. The Lemur is a very portable weight and carrying the laptop around the office is not a problem either.
I have not has any problems with connecting existing devices to the Lemur. Everything has just worked out of the box.
Three weeks into my experience I did get a kernel panic and I had to reinstall Ubuntu and the System76 drivers. This was not a difficult task and I want to point out that this is more than likely to be an Ubuntu issues rather than a problem with System76 setup or the hardware.
I think the panic was caused by performing an update via Ubuntu’s software update package and this hung to some reason and I restarted the laptop. When the laptop was running through the boot process it hung and when I tried to boot in recovery mode I was shown a nice kernel panic error message.
Following the re-install I have had not issues, but I am staying clear of using Software Updater and sticking to good old apt-get update and apt-get upgrade commands.
I may revisit this post and add anything that I think might be useful, but for now I will leave my review of the Lemur7 with this view:
“A good, portable Linux laptop that comes with a configuration that should see me through the next three years of work and play. I am sure I will be back on the System76 website when I consider my next upgrade!”
First things first, when I was considering purchasing a System76 laptop I searched all over for a recent review from someone based in the UK, but there was nothing! All I could find was two YouTube reviews that were more than 12months old and a fairly decent review on WIRED.com.
So, I am writing this in an attempt to fill that gap and help others that maybe considering purchasing a System76 machine who are based in the UK.
Let me fill you in on a little bit of background. I had been looking for a portable laptop for sometime, thanks in part to the age of my Windows XP Asus Eee-PC and the lack or portability offered by my Asus X58L running Ubuntu 16.4.1 (8 years old and still not giving me any problems).
I wanted to find a laptop that had 13 to 14 inch display, offered good performance and ideally had Linux pre-installed. I ordered my first Linux pre-installed laptop from linuxemporium UK, but it looks like they are no longer in business and so this led me to find System76.
The reasons why I wanted to buy from a company that pre-installed Linux on their machines, were as follow:
Make sure that all hardware works with Linux out of the box.
Support an organisation that offers devices with Linux as standard.
Avoid the “Windows tax” and the inevitable slow-down and re-install cycle!
Hopefully that provides some details to my mindset when I decided to purchase my laptop.
I have broken this initial review down into the following segments – order process, total cost, delivery, hardware and software. This way I think I cover all of points that will be most helpful to readers.
The System76 website gives you the option to customise your laptop order. I was able to choose processor, primary hard drive, secondary hard drive, RAM and additional extras such as a 2nd battery and laptop case.
Below are are the specs of the System76 Lemur laptop that I ordered (bold items are customisable):
Processor: 3.5 GHz i7-7500U (2.7 up to 3.5 – 4 MB Cache – 2 Cores – 4 Threads)
Display: 1× 14″ Matte 1080p IPS LED Backlit Display
Keyboard: United States Keyboard
Network: WiFi up to 433 Mbps + Bluetooth
OS: Ubuntu 16.4.1 LTS (64bit)
Cost of laptop (dollars) = $908.00
Cost of laptop (pounds (ex VAT) = £732.46
Cost of delivery (dollars) = $123.56
Cost of delivery (pounds) = £100.37
non-sterling transaction fee = £24.90
VAT upon delivery = £127.27
Total cost = £985.00
I ordered my laptop on the 17/02/2017 and it arrived on the 24/02/2017 via UPS, so not a bad turn around to say they System76 build and install each laptop before it is shipped.
The box arrived in good condition with no signs of any damage and upon opening the box I found everything to be packed securely with no signs of damage.
I missed the initial delivery attempt from UPS and when I arrived in the office the next morning I was handed a VAT invoice that UPS had left with reception.
This meant that I had to call UPS to pay the VAT bill over the phone. Once this once done they scheduled the delivery for the very next day and the laptop was delivered promptly.
If I had been available on the first delivery attempt, then the UPS delivery person would have requested either a cheque or the exact amount in cash!
if I was ordering this again I would first contact UPS when I knew the package had arrived in the UK, and then attempt to settle the outstanding VAT bill before the item reached my delivery address.
During the build process, the System76 website had a nice way to display the progress and for you to post any questions. I asked two questions that were answered very quickly (bearing in mind the UK/US time difference).
Laptop Initial Impressions
For the first few days I was only using the Lemur for basic web browsing and setting up some applications and settings that I used on my Asus X58L.
Out of the box, the Lemur had no issues with network connectivity over WiFi, recognizing my Western Digital external hard drive and playing YouTube videos.
Towards the end of the first week I had to spend a day working from home, which gave me the opportunity to really get to grips with the Lemur.
I started the working day by using the HDMI out port on the Lemur to connect to my monitor so that I can work using dual display. This worked without any issues or playing around with the configuration.
Next I decided that I needed some entertainment while I worked, so I installed Spotify and connected my Bluetooth headphones.
The only issue I had here was with the output to the Bluetooth headphones. I had to manually go into the audio settings to select the audio device that I wanted to set as the output device. For some reason even once my headphones were connected via Bluetooth I still had to manually specify that I wanted the audio to be outputted to them. This meant that I had a moment where I was wearing my headphone and the music was playing out from the laptop speakers!
I am hoping that I can find a solution to this, because having to connect and then select output device is a little annoying. I will keep playing with this to see if I can get Ubuntu to automatically select a connected Bluetooth as the audio destination.
Once my music and display was all sorted, I spent a whole day doing some word processing, a bit of C++ development and using my companies email and live chat tool via their web portal (so many Firefox tabs were open during the day).
Although I did not heavily use the Lemur during the first wee I feel that I did give it a good enough test run so that I could get a feel for it. The remainder of this review will go into some specific details.
For the money that I have spent on this machine, I would say that the overall quality of the material, keyboard and overall feel of the laptop it not what I would expect for a laptop in this price range.
To start, there is a fair amount of flex when you press the back the laptop when the lid is closed. You may think that this is a bit picky, but when I walk around carrying the laptop with your hands over the back section, I can feel the case flex a little and I can’t help but worry that I may be doing some damage.
This probably comes down to this laptop model being relatively cheap. I found the same laptop available at pcspecialist.co.uk for around £305.00. However, the options they offer for custamisation are lower spec than those offered by System76 e.g. there are no i7 processors available for this model.
I think the main area where you get real quality is in the software and the internal specifications you have paid for, but for this section I just wanted to focus on the aesthetic quality, which for me was not quite what I was expecting.
The keyboard looks great, and using it to write 4 or 5 blog posts I can say that I am very happy with it. However, I found that the space bar key has an issue where it will often not respond and this results in the sentences that I am typing end up missing spaces.
As a result of the space bar issue, I am now having to spend time checking every word to make sure the spaces are all present, which is starting to become very frustrating given how fast I can type.
It seems that pressing the space bar dead centre is fine, but move your finger over to the right, and you will hit the problem.
Anyway. I will be sending off the details of the defect to System76 and I will post back with their response. I will also upload a video to show the issue in action. At least it will give me a change to test out the support offered by System76.
Keyboard Update – 12/05/2017
After raising a support call for my dodgy space bar, I received a quick response from System76 who promised to ship a new keyboard to me straight away. However, upon receipt and installation of my new keyboard, I found the space bar only slightly better than the original.
The new space bar is more responsive than the previous one, but it feels spongy in comparison to the feedback from the other keys and there is still an issue of having the press the key multiple time before the keypress is recognised (although less than with the original keyboard).
Another minor point was the requests from System76 to return the old keyboard. They did provide a ship
This issue has really put me off purchasing another System76 laptop. Why would I spend close to £1000 on a laptop with the build quality of a £250 one! I think that until System76 start to put together their own hardware, I will think long are hard before purchasing another laptop from System79.
As I mentioned previously, I opted for Ubuntu 16.4.1 and out of the box everything worked perfectly.
Spotify, WiFi, Bluetooth, Libre office and YouTube all worked out of the box.
The only issue I had was upon connecting my Nikon D3300, but after installing gphotofs I was able to get to my pictures.
This was exactly what I was expecting from System76 and they did not disappoint. I expect that three months down the line I will still be hzappy with how the OS and hardware just work and allow me to focus on getting things done.
I have been using Ubuntu for almost 8 years and use Linux all of the time at work, so being able to have a portable and well spec’d out laptop with Ubuntu is great and the Lemur has not disappointed in this area.
I had ready that battery life for the Lemur was around 4 hours for “normal” use ( I am assuming this means web browsing, streaming video/music and a bit of word processing).
On first boot (after I had given the laptop a full charge) the indicator was showing 4hr 30 minutes and after a night of light web browsing and general playing around, it gave me around 4 hours of life.
After a week I would say that on average I am getting around 4 hours, which is a lot better than the 2 hours I used to get with my X58L and also not bad when compared to other laptops.
I may consider purchasing a second battery in the future, but I will wait to see how far this one gets me when I go out and about. I will add a post that will review the Lemur on the move.
One big reason why I always choose to have Linux installed on my personal computers, is the fact that Linux is free and you avoid the “Windows tax” and the inevitable slowdown of you new shiny computer after 6 months. Oh, and all the crap surrounding constant system updates and virus protection bloatware etc…
The reason why I wanted to buy from a company that pre-installs Linux on their machines was to simply support a company that provides Linux on their devices.
If you have a similar outlook on things, then this is another big plus for ordering any system from System76.
The final price tag was not helped by the additional cost of getting this shipped to the UK, so maybe I am being a little harsh by suggesting the Lemur should be delivering a level of quality that matches some off-the-shelf laptops of a similar total cost that are Windows based. So I have decided to let this point not cloud my initial judgment on the Lemur7.
The main problem I had was with the faulty space bar key. This really frustrated me and continues to do so. I would expect more from System76.
The Lemur is a very portable laptop and I am sure I will have many years of pleasure taking this laptop with me on my travels.
One of the big plus points is how the software just works. It really does feel that time and effort has been spend making sure that the installed OS works in combination with the hardware. I have a feeling that this is what most of my money went towards, which is not a bad thing.
It is probably very clever marketing, but you do get a sense that you are joining a community when you buy a System76 machine. I like this point and it is something you do not find from other retailers.
Finally, if you need and portable laptop, need Ubuntu to just work out of the box, and you like what System76 are doing, then I would really recommend taking the plunge and getting a Lemur7 or any other of the system sold by them. I am happy with my purchase and it is only the keyboard issue that sours the purchase a little.
I plan to do a comparison between the Lemur7 and my old Asus X58L. I never found that my old laptop struggled and I only got frustrated with its battery life and portability (the thing is like a lead weight!) I will do a post on this in the coming weeks.
I will also post another Lemur7 review once I have spent more time with it and I will also update this post once I get some answers to my keyboard issue.
Have you already purchased a System76 laptop? Are you considering buying one? Which ever category you fall into, I would be happy for you to post any comments/questions.