The top five Linux desktop vendors

The top five Linux desktop vendors

Summary: Sick of Windows, but don't feel comfortable installing Linux yourself? No problem. There are many vendors who will sell a Linux laptop or desktop that's ready to go.


It's really not that hard to give Linux a try on a desktop or notebook. But, I get it. Not everyone is comfortable with burning operating system ISOs to a CD and then booting a computer from it. If that's you, or a friend of yours, then consider just buying a PC or laptop that has Linux on it that's ready to go.

Unfortunately, you can't just go down to your local Best Buy or Sam's Club and get one. While Linux PCs show up from time to time in retail outlets, the odds are against you finding one. Instead, you're going to need to order one online. The good news is that there are numerous, well-regarded vendors that carry Linux systems.

Indeed, many big name computer manufacturers, such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo will sell you, or your business anyway, Linux PCs. I'm sorry to say though that even Dell, which at one time did a good job of supporting Ubuntu Linux, has made it very hard to pre-order Linux-powered PCs. It can still be done, but it's not easy, and the truth of the matter is none of these vendors currently make it easy for an individual to buy a Linux PC.

Instead, your best move is to buy a Linux desktop or notebook from one of the smaller vendors that specialize in Linux. You may not have heard of these companies but they've all been in business for a long time and delivery quality goods. You can buy from them with confidence.

Eight Virtues

This Georgia-based business builds its own AMD-powered desktops and Intel-powered notebooks. On these you can either pick their customized Ubuntu Linux; or a variety of others. Their list of ready-to-go Linux distributions includes: CentOS, a Red Hat variant; Debian; Fedora; Mandriva; openSUSE; PCLinuxOS; Sabayon Linux; or my favorite desktop Linux: Linux Mint.

Eight Virtues prices tend to be a bit lower than other Linux-specific desktop resellers. Many of the others aim for power-users looking for high-end hardware. At Eight Virtues, you can get a basic box and then decide if you want to move up.

Emperor Linux

Emperor has been in the Linux PC business since the 90s. These days they sell high-end Dell Latitude and Lenovo ThinkPad T and W laptops. On these, you get your choice of their own house-brand Emperor Linux, which is based on Fedora; Ubuntu; Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL); SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED); openSUSE; Fedora, Debian ; and SlackWare. They also offer not just the current versions, but older ones as well. At Emperor Linux, you really can have your Linux PC your way.

If you're new to Linux, I'd recommend you go with Ubuntu 11.04 or 10.10. Emperor offers both versions.

Los Alamos Computers

Los Alamos also specializes in high-end Linux-powered laptops and computers. They offer Lenovo ThinkCenter, ThinkStation, and ThinkPad T and X series laptops. On these, you can get a selection of Linux desktop distributions including Fedora 15; Ubuntu 11.04 and 10.10; and the nothing but free-software Tisquel Linux distro.

Another interesting plus for Los Alamos is they sometimes offer clearance units. Since, from where I sit, you can't go wrong with a ThinkPad for your laptop, I'd keep an eye on this area if I were you. You just might be able to get a steal of a deal.


It's a toss-up between system76 or ZaReason as to which is the better known of the Linux-specific desktop companies. Both are very good and they've earned their reputations as being outstanding computer vendors.

System76 builds their own laptops and desktops. They also offer servers. On all their platforms, they only offer Ubuntu 11.04. I've used system76 laptops myself. They tend to be very solid and well-made.


ZaReason also offers laptops, desktops, and servers that they've build themselves. Like system76 they offer a range of systems from the inexpensive to the Chimera. ZaReason calls this last one the most powerful Ubuntu laptop around. With its Intel i7 quad-core processor, USB 3.0 ports, and up to 12GBs of RAM, they're probably right.

On these machines, ZaReason offers Ubuntu and some of its variations such as Kubuntu, with its KDE desktop. In addition, the Calif.-based company offers Fedora and Mint on their hardware.

So which one should you shop at? I don't have a particular favorite. While I'm prejudiced towards ThinkPads--I love the TrackPoint--I've at least played with laptops from all these vendors and I've talked to their customers. Each of them has their fans. I recommend shopping around and finding what looks like the best deal for you.

I can also guarantee one thing: When you call any of these companies with a question, you'll get answers from people who know what they're talking about. That's more than I can say for any Windows PC vendor these days. Yes, I'm looking at you Dell!

Related Stories:

The Five Best Desktop Linux Distributions

Gallery: My top five Linux desktop distributions

The new Ubuntu Desktop: Unity

Fedora 15's five best features

Mint 11: The "Un-Unity" Ubuntu desktop Linux

Topics: Linux, Hardware, Laptops, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Economies of scale is the problem

    I took a look at the Eight Virtues site, the laptop closest in spec to the Dell Inspiron I got in Future Shop was almost twice as expensive, and obviously doesn't come with a Windows license.

    Makes you realise just how much the big vendors can drive down prices.
  • One vote for ZaReason

    Hey, Steven -- Good list, and like you I'm a ThinkPad guy to the core, and you're right that one should shop around. However, I've had an opportunity to use ZaReason's hardware and I find it to be top-notch. In addition, ZaReason CEO Cathy Malmrose not only talks the talk but walks the walk when it comes to FOSS by being active in groups like Partimus, a San Francisco Bay Area-based group providing computers and Free Software system administration support to several schools.

    I'd buy a ZaReason laptop in a heartbeat, assuming I had a few hundred extra bucks lying around.

    [Oh, and before the GNU-bies descend on you, it's Trisquel GNU/Linux. Better fix that :-) ]

    Larry Cafiero
  • RE: The top five Linux desktop vendors

    Kudo?s to all vendors named in article.

  • I do not believe that System76 manufacturers their own

    I am fairly certain that System76 uses another Asian OEM and brands them.
    Your Non Advocate
    • RE: The top five Linux desktop vendors

      Who does anymore

      So Asian OEM is bad or cost effective.
      • RE: The top five Linux desktop vendors

        @daikon Both?
        Tommy S.
      • RE: The top five Linux desktop vendors

        In answer to your question "who does anymore", Zareason does. They even list the crew on their site.
      • We do. Psychsoftpc

        We @ Psychsoftpc make all of our computers by hand right here in Massachusetts and we preinstall Linux as well. We were preinstalling Linux many years before Dell, yet still get lost in the shuffle. Oh, well.
        • Your website loses you a lot of potential business

          Your product looks interesting, but your website is two distinct levels below others.

          1) Some websites allow you to customize your computer. I understand that this requires both time and expertise, so I don't blame you for not coming up to this level.

          2) You don't even include specs for your computers! A person would have to talk to a salesman to find out basic information! Who wants to talk to a salesman for information that you should put on your website? Not me! This kind of information would be easy for you to include, if you were so inclined.
    • @facebook@... I guess you might not be aware....

      but most if not all components, are fabbed and even assembled in the Orient. Especially complete items such as notebooks/netbooks/tablets/phones, etc.

      In fact there are only like 5~10 ODMs for laptops. And all the OEMs, Apple, Dell, HP, Leveno, etc, use those ODM's, Asus, Clevo, Foxconn, MSI, etc, for their various models, ......

      Only to specific/different design specifications.....
      • Yes

        I am responding to a comment in the blog "System76 builds their own laptops and desktops." Yes, very few companies run their own manufacturing lines. And, thanks for the link. I believe MSI is the manufacturer for System76.
        Your Non Advocate
      • RE: The top five Linux desktop vendors

        @LazLong Actually I'm pretty sure Quanta is largest single ODM of all laptops of any brand and yes, only Asus and MSI are (semi) big names that make their own. AFAIR Foxconn holds similar major share in the big brand x86 server market with Quanta agressively biting into, not sure what's the case with desktops but they are somewhat of a dying species.

        All this creates interesting market dynamics and allows of emergence of new brand names. Remember how HTC rose from this position of monopolistic smartphones ODM making about 90% of all WnMobo smartphones into being one of top 5 smartphone brands.

        It took a little push by four factors: Apple iPhone causing apparent death of WinMobo, Google (and emergence of Android), being smart and building an IP war chest, and being pushed by HPs (their biggest customer) sudden escape from the whole market (tho this is related to whole WinMobo thing). They planned for worst-case and played it smart at point where they pretty much had little choice if they wanted to survive. And now they are a brand. A big one. And there is money in being a brand AND an ODM. Decent money. Just look at Asus.

        I beleive Lenovo used to be IBMs biggest ODM supplier, and I'm pretty sure Quanta is considering a market niche where it can keep that buck that brands retain just for being brands. It's already shipping custom servers to large cloud vendors (a practice that was started with Google and Gigabyte years ago), but servers are not a consumer market so I'm sure they have a laptop brand or something in mind when the time is right. Perhaps Desktop Linux will be their Android, if that train ever comes.

        One cannot avoid to come to a conclusion that it's just the IP war chests that keep US companies on top which is why US govt and DoJ protect the insane patenting and civil litigation system you have. It's become a strategic asset of the US as long as you're the biggest consumer market in the world, but common sense says you cannot remain the biggest consumer market in the world for long. Now I digressed way too far.
    • Yes, but That's Pretty Much True of Most Brands

      I think he just meant that System76 doesn't resell a name branded laptop like a Thinkpad or something like that, but produces their own brand of laptop. Like most laptops, they begin with a base model from a big ODM and customize it to their specifications.

      Of course, it's useful to know that most laptop brands are made this way. In the past, I've had reliability issues with Clevo based laptops, which tend to have impressive specs.
  • RE: The top five Linux desktop vendors

    Chances are people who would go online and search specifically for Linux computers most likely know how to burn it and install it from a CD/DVD.

    Plus last time I looked, Linux computers you can order online, say from System 76, are not that cheap considering Linux is free and there was no need to pay "extra" for Windows. So either way you are getting ripped off.

    If I really wanted a system with Linux installed, I would search for a computer without an OS and then install whatever I wish, be it Windows, Linux, or BSD. That is the best way to ensure I'm not being overcharged.
    • RE: The top five Linux desktop vendors

      Sure you could get a system with no OS on it. That is if you want to take the time to install an OS.

      When you purchase a system from say System 76 you get 1 year Tech support and 1 year warranty.

      Sure a system from say Best Buy or any other retail store may be cheaper. How much does Geek Squad charge to click though the setup of the OS, $100 last I checked. Who do you call for Tech support after you buy that system from Best Buy. For another $100 dollars Best Buy/Geek Squad will provide Tech Support.

      Right there is another $200, sure some may not do the setup or Tech support route. The last time I visited Best Buy customer after customer selected the 1 year Tech support and setup fee route. This my not happen everyday.
      • RE: The top five Linux desktop vendors

        @daikon How long does it take to install a Linux OS? 15-30 minutes? Plus anyone installing Linux could probably BE a tech support person. :-)
      • RE: The top five Linux desktop vendors

        The problem here is that once the machine has an OS other than Windows, Geek Squad is a no go.
        Weird that a group called Geek Squad has so few actual Geeks in it.

        You're right though, the Linux OEMs give 1 year full tech support and, at least in the case of Zareason, when you purchase the machine, you'd actually be talking to someone who has built that machine when calling tech support. I'd say at the very least, that's worth giving a call for.
      • RE: The top five Linux desktop vendors

        "The problem here is that once the machine has an OS other than Windows, Geek Squad is a no go." Well, add 5 minutes for dual boot setup.
  • RE: The top five Linux desktop vendors

    There is always this.

    Los Alamos: Lenovo ThinkPad T420i starts at $935.

    At Lenovo web site: Lenovo ThinkPad T420i with Windows 7 Home Premium 64 sale price $789.

    Are you sure you can't put your own Linux on it?
    • cost of service.

      These guys are doing work FOR you. THAT is why it costs more. They are taking the time and cost of receiving the device, doing the installation/configuration and spending to ship it out to you. Lenovo only pays to build and ship.

      You can put your own Linux on it, yes, but that's basically going against the point of the article. Not everyone is willing, or wants, to bother with the effort involved. Thus, they pay others to do it for them.