Picking an Ultrabook For Linux

My current computer is an HP netbook. Its a piece of crap. I've had it over four years, it has been buggy and mildly frustrating the entire time. The hardware doesn't support linux at all. Its time for an upgrade. I'm getting an ultrabook, because I love tiny computers, and apparently love jumping on trends that end in "book".

I'm an engineer, and the tools of my trade are Octave and Cadence. Both of which are native to linux. This is a great thing because I really don't like where microsoft is going with windows 8. Its likely that if my new computer ships with windows, I'll be jumping through hoops to get a refund on the licence. I don't just want to not use it, I want them to lose a sale. I thought long and hard about chromeOS, but the hardware sucks (I've soured towards samsung of late), chromium's hardware support is diminishing and the webapp experience isn't there yet, especially since aviary shut down.

I've narrowed my search down to just three laptops: The macbook air, Dell xps 13 and zenbook prime. I'm kinda stuck, so here's my rundown of the three.


All three of these laptops are lookers, though i think the dell is a little more distinctive than the other two.


Eagle-eye'd readers have already noticed that I linked the 11" version of the air and zenbook. I don't like gigantic laptops, I like to keep my tech smaller.

On quality and density, the zenbook wins hands down. That display is boss. The air comes in a distant second, while the Dell with its dull and low-res display languishes in third.

On bezels, the dell wins handily. Its only on this list because the ridiculously tiny bezel makes the machine a more reasonable size. The air is again second and the zenbook, with its comically oversized bezel is in third.

Eventually, I want to include a 27" 2560x1440 display on my desk (I'll pick it based on what'll work, brand/model isn't important right now, and yes, I've considered the super cheap Korean import models), for more productive things (coding, writing, music and photo/video editing), and for watching TV. The Dell wins here for its displayPort and because its pixel density is very close to the larger display. The Air struggles here because thunderbolt isn't supported by linux yet, though thats on the way. The zenbook only has HDMI, which requires some software tweaks and an expensive adapter to work with the higher resolution, though the high-res panel obviates some of the need for an external.

None of them have a touchscreen and I like it that way.


The two windows books crib the air's keyboard, so they're all rather similar. I'll have to peel the stickers off, but thats not a big deal.


This is where I'll need some help. I know that on windows, the asus trackpad is pretty terrible and the Dell's is somewhat less terrible, while the air outclasses both. Is the situation the same on linux?


The zenbook and the air both have ivy bridge, while the dell has sandy bridge. Speed isn't much of an issue, especially with linux. I'm not that into gaming, Bastion and Psychonauts are probably about as hard as I'll be pushing this machine and they both run fine on my mother's sandy bridge Air. All three have 128GB SSD's and they're all plenty fast, though the Dell is fastest. I'm not especially concerned with that area of performance because they are all fast enough, especially compared to the assy spinning platter in my netbook.


All three of them have 2 usb ports, a headphone jack and a display-out of some kind. The Dell has only one usb3, the air's thunderbolt doesn't work yet and the asus's HDMI isn't as capable. Its a wash. I'm a big fan of the potential of thunderbolt, though I'm sure its going to take some time before accessories work with linux as well as they do on mac/windows.

Battery Life

This is a wildcard, i'll need help from people with experience. On windows, the zenbook gets 4.5h, the Dell gets 5h and the air gets about 5.5h. Do these go up or down when switching to linux? Does the order change much? These are all pretty acceptable numbers, so it doesn't make a difference to me, so long as none of them are catastrophically worse.


Looking through the Ubuntu site, both the air and the zenbook show full compatibilty (minus thunderbolt of course), and while the Dell isn't listed, Dell has plans to sell the xps 13 with linux preloaded. I'm sure they'll get it right.


Price isn't a big deal, they're all expensive. If my favorite costs more, Its better for me to just save up until I can buy what i want.

The Dell is $900 in stores.
The Air is $1100 (with an upgrade to 128gb)
The asus is $1000, but its really hard to find.

If Haswell is as incredible as I've been hearing, I might be selling this machine in a year to buy a haswell powered one, starting this whole process over again. Resale value is a consideration.

Keeping Score

The Air wins on keyboard, resale value and not having to call up Steve Ballmer. Tentatively, it also wins on battery life, and trackpad.

The Dell wins on design, price, display-out, SSD speed and compatibility with linux.

The Asus wins really hard on display.

Has anyone used these machines, or their bigger brothers, with linux? How was your experience? What woud you recommend?