System 76 Lemur Review

This blog entry represents the views of me, myself and I, and does not represent the views of my employer (Canonical) or System 76. While I have decided to write a review of this specific machine, there are many vendors out there who ship Ubuntu on their machines and this review does not favor System76 over these other vendors. Heck, I am happy to review their machines too if they want. :-)

Recently I got one of these new System 76 ultra-thin laptops, the Lemur:

System76 are well known in the Open Source community for shipping Ubuntu on their machines, being active community members and for helping LoCo teams with machines too. I have never owned a System76 box so I thought this was a good opportunity to give it a ride and share some feedback.

So first, the specs:

  • Display: 14.0″ HD WXGA Super Clear Ultra-Bright LED backlit (1366 x 768)
  • Graphics: Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics
  • Audio Output: Intel High Definition Audio
  • Networking: Gigabit LAN (10/100/1000), WiFi
  • Wireless: 802.11 agn
  • Expansion: Express Card 34 slot
  • Ports: HDMI, VGA, 3 x USB 2.0, Headphone Jack, Microphone Jack, SD Reader
  • Camera: Built-In 1.3 MP Webcam
  • Security: Kensington® Lock
  • Power Management: Suspend & Hibernate
  • Battery: Lemur UltraThin Li-Polymer Battery Pack
  • AC Adapter: includes one AC adapter
  • Dimensions: 13.38″ x 9.09″ x 0.90″ (WxDxH)
  • Weight: 3.5 lbs

The machine I got has an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 1.3 GHz 800 MHz FSB 3 MB L2 (10 Watt), 4GB RAM (DDR3 1066 MHz 1 DIMM) and a 80 GB Intel X25-M Solid State Drive.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure: I don’t really do reviews, so this is going to be a quick run through the details, not a 150-picture unboxing and War And Peace epic of every minor detail of the machine. I just wanted to get my experience down as quickly as possible so I could share my feedback with others.

The Machine

OK, let’s zip through the summary:

The machine is a really sleek looking bit of kit. The first thing that struck me is how well designed it feels: it doesn’t feel like a randomly thrown together collection of components. It is thin and incredibly light, and has a very Apple-ish feel to it. It passed what I am calling the Lost Test: that is, when laid in bed at night watching Lost on Hulu with said laptop rested on your chest (for that IMAX effect), how many episodes can you get though before you feel like your heart is about to overheat and stop working. It’s lightness and lack of heat helped it pass with flying colors.

The screen looks great, doesn’t seem to smudge easily and is nice and bright. I like the fact it is a widescreen, something I miss with my current Thinkpad.

The keyboard is pretty much ok: it ain’t no Thinkpad keyboard, but of all the laptops I have owned and that are buried in my laptop graveyard, the Lemur’s keyboard feels better than most. The keys are wide enough and I love the fact that there is no Windows key, but instead an Ubuntu key. I want to see more of that, yes I do. :-)

The trackpad is long and feels pretty good, and the buttons don’t look like buttons but instead areas on the trackpad near the bottom where you can push down: this makes it look really sleek. Unfortunately at first the buttons are a little hard to press, but I have noticed that they are getting easier, so I think they just need breaking in a little.

With the current configuration of processor and RAM, this thing is shit off a shovel fast. It zips along like no-ones business, and Ubuntu is up and running in a matter of seconds. While I didn’t test any hardcore 3D games on there, it runs Compiz great with the extra effects switched on.

Sounds works great, the speakers sound surprisingly good and the built-in webcam works well too. Finally, the battery life seems fine in terms of life, but not outstanding. Then again, I am used to my extra-long-life Thinkpad batteries.

My only real gripe believe it or not is the packaging the machine comes in: it visually looks cheap with a large generic “notebook” logo and doesn’t reflect the swishness of the machine encased inside it. I spoke to Carl Richell, founder of System76 about this and he has acknowledged it is an issue and they are keen to fix it: he said they really want every essence of the System76 experience to feel sleek. Good man. :-)

The Default Install: Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala

It is just incredible driving back from picking up a computer from the UPS warehouse and knowing that it already has Ubuntu pre-installed. I have never bought a pre-installed Ubuntu computer before, so I was curious to see how it looked. I got it home, switched it on and it threw up the installer’s configuration settings: I entered my details and the system was ready to roll. I was left with pretty much a default installation of Ubuntu: there is not the horrible bundled collection of software you don’t want and ugly vendor wallpaper that you find if you buy a typical Windows pre-loaded machine. Good work System76 on shipping what I consider a great representation of Ubuntu.

Other than that, nothing much to say: everything just works as you would expect.

Running Lucid

Being part of the Ubuntu development team, I was keen to get Lucid on there. I used Update Manager to update to Lucid and installation was smooth. Once again everything works: any bugs that I have found have not been specific to this machine, but replicated on my other Lucid machine. What is really noticeable is boot speed on the SSD: it is bonkers fast.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I think the Lemur is a beautiful machine, and combined with what I consider a beautiful Operating System, particularly with the new fit and finish of Lucid. When running the Lemur it really feels like great design in hardware and software meeting well. I would happily recommend this machine to others. :-)

  • Derek Bender

    Out of curiosity, what is your main laptop?

  • http://www.interesting.co.nz Benjamin

    Good review Jono.

    My next laptop will be a System76. I love the idea of buying Ubuntu pre-installed, and I love the Ubuntu key instead of a Windows one.

    My current laptop, although two years old, is still a powerhouse.. Core 2 Duo 2.2Ghz, 3GB DDR2 RAM, 2x 160GB HDDs and a 512mb ATi HD2600 so I don’t see me needing to replace it any time soon, unfortunately it does weigh a tonne and gets very hot though.

    I would have liked to see more information on the screen, how bright it is in daylight, what that resolution looks like on a 14″ and also battery life. How long does it run on a full charge, under normal usage conditions? (WiFi, music, backlight 50%, surfing the net/emailing/IRC and chat?)

    Cheers champ :)

  • Ous

    Is the material they use mostly plastic (like for the screen backcover and the handrest)? Also how does the hinge feel?

  • http://www.nixternal.com nixternal

    Hey, did you like it better than that old Dell XPS you had? I have still wanted to pick up one of the XPS’s, but this is a pretty sweet setup.

  • http://twitter.com/weberdc Derek

    The white elephant is the cost, of course? How does it compare to other netbooks/ultralite laptops? And are you aware if they ship outside the US?

    Nice toy from the sounds though. :o)

  • Tom

    Does it have multitouch?

    I personally cannot live without double tap for opening links in tabs or two fingers for scrolling etc.

  • jono

    Thinkpad T400. :-)

  • jono

    Screen looks great, nice and bright, resolution looks fantastic – no idea of charge/uncharge times, I never recorded them.

  • jono

    Material is plastic – it doesn’t feel as sturdy as a Thinkpad, but feels fine. Hinge feels secure.

  • jono

    Check the website for the cost – it depends on what you put in it.

  • jono

    It does. :-)

  • Ous

    Thanks… been mulling getting one of these for my wife…

  • http://www.1916home.net 1916home

    I talked my sister into buying a Sys76 computer about a year ago. She went all out and bought the top of the top of the line laptop. Best vid card, max RAM, etc. All this so she could play WoW on it. Ha! But her system really does kick but and she knows I make a double take every time I see it.

    How do you think this would work on video editing, like OpenShot? Only 1.3 Ghz? Is it 64 bit? You arent worried about the 80GB hard drive and the need for more space? Music, photos, vids all add up!

    Im considering getting rid of my desktop system. It is an awesome powerhouse, but I can really save some energy but switching to a laptop I think.

    Great review… I’m heading back to their site to check this system out… and all of em.

  • jono

    I think it would hold up pretty well for video, I think. The disc is small, and too small for me with my music collection, but I wanted an SSD so I could test Ubuntu on there. :-)

  • emmanuel

    not for me. nvidia only (!!!) and intel only.

  • Zac

    Last year, I bought Dell’s only Ubuntu machine in Australia, a Dell Latitude 2100 netbook, which had 9.04 pre-installed. Everything worked out of the box, bluetooth, webcam, sd card reader, etc. Even with all the updates since, it is still perfect.

    Thanks for the review. Good choice.

  • http://geniuslife.wordpress.com/wp-admin/media-upload.php?post_id=1059&type=image&tab=type_url Júlio

    Would be good if e could buy it in brazil

  • http://www.gerv.net/ Gerv

    So, Jono, have you converted to the dark side of a US keyboard, then? :-)

    Gerv

  • BPD

    “when laid in bed at night”

    You think that’s good? Try replacing your laptop with a real live woman… you’ll be AMAZED!!!

  • http://www.dejavugalway.com Jarlath

    That sounds lovely – I would love an Ubuntu key. The only thing I’m dubious about is the battery. In my experience they loose their longevity in a matter of only months so if it’s only “fine” now… I guess it depends on how many cells you chose.

  • http://www.rethinki3.info Jin

    Do you think it’s worth the extra $300 for the solid state drive? or do you think it’s not necessary?

  • http://www.marcbelanger.org Marc Bélanger

    My wife and I have 3 System76 computers: 2 laptops (Pangolin) and a desktop (Sable Performance).

    It has been one of those “close to perfect” consumer experience in all cases. And the feeling of powering on for the first time a computer with Ubuntu pre-installed is awesome, as it puts the whole experience on par with acquiring a new computer from Apple or from a known PC manufacturer, like HP, Lenovo or Acer.

    You will now enjoy hours and days of computing bliss, as I have in the past 2 years!

    Lucky? No! You’ve made a good choice; that’s what it is! :-)

    Enjoy!

  • http://www.1916home.net 1916home

    Maaannnn…. That system IS tempting of every day general use. Would be interesting to know how many watts that system uses up. Cant be much.

    I was looking at System76 top of the line system they have out now (Bonobo Performance) and the only video card option is a 1GB ATI card. I was under the impression that Ubuntu wasnt really supporting ATI cards anymore? I had a heck of a time trying to get my ATI card working with 9.04 when 9.04 came out, that I ended up storing it and bought a nVidia card instead. What is the story on ATI vs. nVidia these days? Might make a good blog post.

  • http://yml-blog.blogspot.com/ yml

    I almost buy a laptop from system76 two times. In fact every time I am buying a new laptop I check their web site first. Unfortunately they don’t allow people to choose the keyboard, this is a no go for me. I want a French keyboard. I don’t mind having to wait more or even assemble it myself. Regards, -yml

  • Tod

    I was also looking at it, but found the cost was just too much. for 650$ CAD, I got an acer very similar, with 250GB HDD, 3GB 1066 RAM, a cheaper wireless card, and a cheaper processor, the SU4100. Works very nicely, and I feel I got a much better price.

  • http://blog.printf.net/ Chris

    Hi Jono (or any other Lemur owners reading this),

    Any chance of some real-life photos of the machine in action? So far I’ve only been able to find the marketing photos, which tend to be taken at angles that (for example) minimize the height of the base. Looks like there aren’t any photos on Flickr at all for “system76 lemur”.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.youshouldtalk.com/2010/03/knowledge-of-sleep-help/ You Should Talk » Knowledge Of Sleep Help

    [...] System 76 Lemur Review | jonobacon@home [...]

  • http://www.interesting.co.nz Benjamin

    Heh, so < 10 sec boot?

  • Joseph

    FYI, ZaReason (a similar, Ubuntu-only company) ships to .br!

  • Joseph

    Agreed. I only bought one (the previous iteration of the Meerkat nettop, which was refreshed just today with the latest Atom + up to 4GB RAM (!)). It was amazing, the contrast between Linux on my Dell laptop from several years ago (Designed for Windows XP; put Linux on and see what breaks) to a system with Linux pre-installed (Select timezone, username, and password and go). Definitely highly, highly recommend going with Linux pre-installed from System76! I’ve also heard good things about ZaReason, and they ship to a lot more countries; I’ve just not had a chance to buy from them.

  • http://gnuosphere.wordpress.com Peter

    Hi Jono,

    I’m thinking of buying this machine but I’d like to know one thing. Have you tried plugging a projector into the VGA output? Does that work without any worries? I have an Ubuntu laptop that I can’t seem to get to cooperate with my projector but I’ve also had others that just work.

  • nnonix

    I’m wondering if you find the 768 vertical resolution to be a problem. Do you think it will be a problem in the future once the honeymoon is over? That just seems incredibly small to me, I’d appreciate your input.

  • http://drgeorge.org ricegf

    Almost a full year after my wife gave me a System76 Starling netbook last Father’s Day, it’s still my favorite portable (and it does work well with a projector, Peter). Given that positive experience and your glowing review, I think the Lemur might be on this year’s list. :-)

    System76 appears to really have their act together.

    You can read my review of the Starling at http://tr.im/wYOg.

  • https://www.txttools.co.uk Kris Bloe

    Out of interest, how was the default install partitioned on the hard drive? Did they separate /home? If so, what ratio did they have it as? I can see a fair number of users being unhappy with the manufacturer’s choices in this department.

    That said, they can’t really help that… so it all sounds pretty good :)

  • Christoph

    Say what? This laptop is is only Intel… graphics included.

  • Pat Roth

    Did you try dual VGA? It’s the main reason so far for me being faithful to nvidia graphics card …

  • Rick

    What kind of battery life are you getting out of it? I’m getting to be more interested in my ability to be away from a plug than I am HDD size, RAM, and processor speed.

  • http://boycottnovell.com/2010/03/11/fedora-13-frenzy/ Links 11/3/2010: Fedora 13 Frenzy, Free Software in City of Athens | Boycott Novell

    [...] System 76 Lemur Review In conclusion, I think the Lemur is a beautiful machine, and combined with what I consider a beautiful Operating System, particularly with the new fit and finish of Lucid. When running the Lemur it really feels like great design in hardware and software meeting well. I would happily recommend this machine to others. [...]

  • Patrick D.

    I’m curious about one little thing. Is the modem all set up and working ? There is not a lot of internal modems that works right away in the linux world. So I wonder if System76 have taken care of that.

  • Bob Jones

    No chiclet keys, no sale for me I’m afraid.

  • http://bartpctech.com Bart

    I’ve had my eye on this machine and am wondering what kind of battery life it has. Looking for a new system76 machine that is thin and light and has a long battery life.

  • george

    You could rearrange the keys into AZERTY yourself, keys can usually be pried off and during setup, select french for the keyboard.

  • Paul Salmon

    This looks like a nice system. I like the fact that it’s priced about half as much as a Macbook Air. Unlike the Macbook Air, you can even order an extra battery with the Lemur.

    Yep, I agree that it looks generic. Whatever happened to the Ubuntu circle logo like the old 13 inch System 76 laptop? That was more cool. Too bad I didn’t order one before it was discontinued.

    I can’t tell what color the Lemur is from the picture. A choice of different colors would be nice. Maybe black, white or silver? I think it would be really cool in Camo with a flat black Ubuntu circle logo. Just an idea.

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    System76 computers are interesting and impressive. Assebmled by hand, instead of a machine that normal consumer computer makers do.

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    You can also order extra batteries at will.

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    System76 sends you a driver CD as well. The drivers are loaded by default, but if you need to reinstall the OS, then you have the drivers to get everything working.

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    Appears that the link is now broken. Do you have the actual url? I’m interested in reading it.

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    The majority of buyers want the US layout, and the fact that System76 is based in the US.

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    ATI was fine until AMD bought them. I can’t get my ATI card to work with Ubuntu 10.04, even though I have the drivers. It can’t detect my X system or something like that. I have the ATI Radon Xpress 200M in the Toshiba M55-S139.

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    I heard that SSDs have limited writes. Main reason why I stick with HDDs

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    64 Bit.

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    64 Bit.