We Need A Better PC

My challenge: I'm trying to get a computer that doesn't suck

Like lots of people I spend about half of my waking life on my laptop, so this really matters.

However, I don't want a Mac.

Apple has great design, but they sell things that are locked down, both physically and in software. You're not supposed to open them, you're not supposed to replace parts, and if they break you're supposed to take them to your nearest "Genius Bar". Not my style. Also, Apple makes beautiful hardware, but their software is getting worse.

Whatever your opinion about Apple, we can agree that there should be a least one good alternative.

No problem, I thought, I'll get a PC

So a year ago I bought a System76 Galago UltraPro, because it's fast and sleek and it comes with Ubuntu. It's also modular and hackable, easy to take apart and put back together.

Unfortunately, it turns out System76 doesn't actually make their own stuff. The Galago is just a rebranded Taiwanese Clevo W740SU. Here's my Clevo compared to one of iFixit's Macbooks:

Like most computers that don't have a glowing white apple on the back, the Galago has questionable build quality. It's made of plastic, the screen flexes a lot, and the battery lasts three hours on a good day.

No problem, I thought, I'll get a Thinkpad

Lenovo is pretty much the only PC manufacturer that has a reputation for good industrial design and quality hardware. So I went to their website to see what I could buy.

Wow, that is some bad web design. Tons of fonts and colors. Tons of tiny text. Popups. And that's just one of their many series. They display low ratings for their own products on their own website. What.

Among all of this information overload, simple information is missing.

For example: I did my own research. For what I need, their best computer by far is the 2016 X1 Carbon, which Lenovo introduced at CES recently. It is thin and beautiful, it's solidly built, it has ten hours of battery life and a screen sharp enough that Apple would call it a Retina display. When is it coming out?

Apparently it's already available--sweet!

Except that page is deceptive, because that's actually the old X1 Carbon, with a low res screen and without the new Skylake processor. The new X1 Carbon will ship later this month according to third party news sites, so buying the old one today would be a bad deal. Intentionally or not, Lenovo's own product page tries to trick you into doing just that.

Then there's the part where Lenovo, like most PC manufacturers, bundles crapware with every computer they sell. A few months ago, in a perfect storm of malice and incompetence working together in a big corporate environment, they went one step further and decided to factory-install straight up malware. They completely broke HTTPS and left their customers insecure--all to further "monetize" you by injecting extra ads into websites you visit.

The 2016 X1 Carbon still looks really good, but after all that I would rather not give Lenovo my business.

It's downhill from there.

Lenovo comes closest to Apple in building quality hardware. Other PC manufacturers, like Acer and HTC and HP, have the same problems Lenovo has, but with worse build quality and an unfortunate penchant for injection-molded plastic. Their designs look cheap. The Microsoft Surface is well built, but that's a tablet, not a laptop. The Chromebook Pixel is good, but that's not a full PC, it's a limited system designed to run Chrome and Chrome Apps.

Conclusion: everything sucks... so far

What I want is a computer with:

  • Decent build quality
  • Decent performance and battery life
  • A decent website. It doesn't have to be an icon of web design, like apple.com. It can be simple and utilitarian, like an Amazon page. It just has to be honest and up to date. It should contain pictures, text, and a Buy button.
  • A clean OS without crapware or malware factory installed

Is that too much to ask? Make one and you can have my money!

Read next: Panopticon

99 responses
Razer Blade Stealth?
Sorry, but you're getting a Mac. Wipe OS X off it if you must, but it's your only choice.
Yeah it's a sad state, a Pixel that dual boots Ubuntu is a possibility. Or ssh / remote desktop from Pixel to a workstation. I personally have a Pixel for work but mostly us my workstation and a Macbook Air running Ubuntu for my personal machine. Macbook Air Ubuntu is probably your best option at the moment.
Just buy a 15" MacBook Pro Retina and install Windows on it! There can be some sweet deals here to save some money but still have support: http://www.apple.com/shop/browse/home/specialde...
Yeah its so bad only my rapsberry pi2 seems to do me right but I can't use it to build for android. Got a nice cheap dell but ubuntu 15.10 is too unstable. Yeah macs work they have unix on them but they are expensive as hell. I'm hoping the new ubuntu devices coming out will help the situation, maybe, but being based on arm you also can't use those for native android development. I've taken to using a windows10 desktop for android and using the pi2 as my linux machine, but hopefully ubuntu 16.04 fixes a bunch of my issues in April and its not a cruel April Fools lol.
I do agree Lenovo is best design, but their hardware quality has taken a nose dive. Do NOT buy an X1 Carbon. I made that mistake 2 years ago. Basically the issue is that sometimes the machine won't turn on if you press the power button unless you have the power cable plugged in. Imagine how annoying that is when on the go. I have met other owners none who are happy with the machine
Dell XPS 13 had very nice reviews
I went through the same process, and also ended up on the dell precision 5510 with 4K display.
> Do NOT buy an X1 Carbon. I made that mistake 2 years ago. Basically the issue is that sometimes the machine won't turn on if you press the power button unless you have the power cable plugged in Damn son. I probably wasn't going to anyway after Superfish. > Razer Blade Stealth? > Dell XPS 13 had very nice reviews Those both look quite nice. Checking them out
Asus Zenbook??
If you're looking for a Linux machine, I think Librem meets your requirements: https://www.crowdsupply.com/purism/librem-13. I left a link to it in the HN discussion as well. They have 13" and 15" models. I've never used one, but I gave $10 to their Kickstarter.
https://puri.sm/ might be something you're interested in.
Surface Book is more laptop than tablet, but has it's own issues. The Dell XPS 13 is good too.
You want the Surface Book. It's more laptop than tablet. https://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-us/devices...
You should get dell inspiron 15r i have one since 2013 and it is still in use and working just fine i even play gta v on him... Thing is i dont know if is still 15r series being produced or being renamed check dell site. A would recomment to go with i7 processor
I agree the options suck. Don't buy a Dell XPS...I asked a Dell repair guy if some devices were worse thank others and he said the XPS is by far the worst. I ended up buying a Pixel and use Crouton but I don't trust the hardware (the fans start to make annoying noises). It is a nice laptop without bloatwear.
MacBook Pros are not as locked up as you might think. The first time I took one apart (I had never taken apart any laptop other replace hdd or ram) I was pretty scared, but it was a situation where my laptop was dead and it would either be more dead or it maybe, hopefully, might get fixed. That time I replaced the ac/dc converter board. There are some really small parts, but with organization, good lighting, and patience, my basketball palming sausage fingers were able to get it all done. Since then I've done 5 more "open-heart" MBP repairs, all without incidence. For hacking the OS, the first time I installed Ubuntu (as dual boot) took about a week of f&*king around to get Ubuntu to install, but that has a lot to do with the specific (old) version of MBP that I was working with as well as the odd state that the linux world was in at the time due to new secure boot crap. OSX, whatever, it's unix, but the hardware, ooooh, ugga ugga ugga, oh the beautiful hardware. The one I'm typing on right now is a late 2008 (w/ max ram upgrade 8gb) that has been used every day since it was purchased, has been dropped from 6+ feet several times, and won't quit getting the job done.
Me too love the Apple design and their battery life, but their key layouts. When everyone do Ctrl+C, they want to do Cmd+C. We want better PCs! We need freedom of choosing between Win/Lin.
I'm a pretty big fan of the XPS13 9350 with Linux. Battery life is phenomenal, and it pretty much does everything I need. That said I'm still waiting for video drivers to catch up. Hopefully in a month or two this machine will become a beast.
You pretty much nailed it. One thing I'd like to add is that I want a non glossy screen and I do not need touch on a laptop, thank you. Just get that darn keyboard and touchpad right. And please make the thick enough so that I do not need an adapter for a network cable.
Well you skipped right through the best thing out there right now. The Microsoft Surface Book. Yep it is a laptop. https://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-us/devices...
Was always a thinkpad T series advocate, but now I have Dell e7440 with 16gb of RAM, i7 and SSD and I love it.
I use an Dell xps 13 at work and am pretty satisfied, have never tried to open it though, so can't say anything about repairs.
The HP X360 Black & Copper edition is at least pretty as hell, without copying Apple. http://internetimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015... Its price and specs aren't too bad either, but I don't know about the quality yet. I'll write something about it later :)
HP ZBook. A bit expensive, but very nice and expandable. Running Ubuntu on it without a problem
I've been using the previous generation XPS 13 running Ubuntu for over a year. Works perfectly.
Some days ago tuxedo was upvoted at hn. It looks promising to me: http://www.tuxedocomputers.com/Linux-Hardware/L...
I have been saying & suffering this from last 3-4 years. The Computer business is dying and no company is focussing on it right now. The Laptops(other than Apple's) are of cheap quality with battery that sucks! Every company is focusing on Mobile these days. Looks like there is a big gap in personal computing which is yet to be catered!!
Lenovo seems a good pc brand. Only when I received my actual laptop I noticed that a lot of hardware design details were missing. I agree with you. The actual laptop scene is terrible. Apple seems the only solution remained :(
Look to Japan. Great battery life? Panasonic Let's Note!
Where have you been the last few years? HP have been taking names for a while now. For just under a grand I got an aluminium bodied 17" (I like big screens ok), i7 processor, 12 hour battery life (although I only ever get 8/9 with my usage) and its super easy to strip down. It's lightweight and the build quality is great - I mean its got a fricking B&O sound system for heaven sake! Its not just their laptops that are great now - check out their new hybrids and their new 5k all in ones.
Lenovo Thinkpad X260. I have a X230 since some time and it's the best laptop I ever had. It's not as thin as the Carbon, but it's still lightweight enough and would be roughly the same size. It also would have easier to replace parts, RAM and HDD have special access panels (well at least on the X230) and don't require opening up the whole thing. Even opening it up (to add an internal SSD) was easy enough.
ASUS ZENBOOK, man! http://www.asus.com/zenbook/
Dell XPS gets my vote. I have a 2014 model and its been great. You also have the option of buying a 6 hour battery.
How about one of the new Dell XPS 13 or 15 Developer Edition ?
Microsoft Surce Book is impressive and other companies has already started to take after it. Have a look here https://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-us/devices...
Also, what really grinds my gears is how anybody thinks "HD Ready" is an acceptable display resolution for a screen that is bigger than 3" in 2016.
try a XPS15, not the 13 version, ram, ssd and a lot of things are serviceable :D (also 32GB of RAM)
Lenovo complains are about the website and crapware. Both are not real problems.
I like the Lenovo U430, it is just the right size (14"), powerful (i7 + nvidia gfx), nice aluminium design, and with separate pgup/dn/home/end keys on the keyboard. Downsides: full HD display (TN), keyboard ergonomics isn't fantastic, display hinges are a weak point. Still my favourite though.
Try looking at Samsung's laptops. Metal casing, great build quality, good components, great design.
Take a look at the Dell Inspiron 7000 series. They come in 13, 15 and 17 inch. The latest model comes with 4k screen, i7 CPU, 8 or 16 GB of RAM, etc. A solid machine overall.
http://mysn.co.uk/ : go for either xmg (game station) or schenker. Very good build quality, easily customizable and you can run whatever you want as an Os on it. I ve been using xmg for 2 years and I haven't experienced any problems with it. It reminds me of my old Dell Studio 1555 (5 years and i havent seen bsod). I ve been cleaning it all by myself and after reassembling it was working like a charm :)
ASUS Zenbook. I have two and they're awesome.
I got a lenovo yoga 13 , 3 years ago , it's been a tough journey , Asus look really good these days :)
I feel your pain, I've been down the same path. Asus Zenbooks have the best PC build quality I've found. The latest UX305 is pretty nice all round if you don't mind the Core-M performance hit (but you gain ultra thin case, passive cooling and long battery life). Comes with Win10 but superbloated with Asus bundleware, but Debian/Ubuntu install is trivial, everything's supported.
I'm using a Dell latitude E7450 1080p i7, 256 ssd with debian 8, I'm very happy with it. The battery life is not as great as a macbook, but still much better than my 2007 laptop I upgraded from. The only issue out of the box is with the built in gsm modem, it's apparently fixed in the 4.x branch kernel but I don't need it currently so I haven't gotten round to fixing it
The german manufacturer Tuxedo announced a nice skylake laptop: http://www.tuxedocomputers.com/Linux-Hardware/L... They seem to be manufacturing in germany. Unfortunately, I don't see a way to switch to English in their shop ... but alas.
I would do a Chromebook Pixel or the Dell Chromebook. They are both great hardware with awesome software. And if you want to hack, put it in dev mode. This what I do. I use chrome OS 90% of the time and use crouton for my other activities. I mostly use crouton for command line things so it is just a terminal window. However, sometimes I'll boot up crouton as a window manager too to run some graphical apps in Linux. Crouton is really like running a virtual machine in your OS but since it is a chroot, it has full performance.
Dell ultra book. My company uses them. They are oriented to the businesses. Customizable. No bloat ware. I still haven't heard of any failures at work.
I love my Dell XPS 15 9530, there are some successors available with better specs. They stole the design roughly from macbook pros but who cares, still a beautiful device..
Went through nearly the same thing and in December 2015 settled on a new i7 surface book. Spent more than $3K, and then found it had some bugs that rendered it totally aggravating for a month, but a few updates later, all good now and I'm pretty happy with it.
Chromebooks are running a Linux Kernel, makes it super easy to run other Linux distributions. Try using a Chromebook with a Linux distro other than Chrome OS. You will have access to any software you can run on Linux rather than just the Chrome Apps. There are a couple scripts out there like Crouton that make it easy to setup.
Lenovo Yoga 900 or Dell XPS 13 are pretty decent.
only Lenovo? DELL Latitude series and HP EliteBooks & ProBooks are really good
MSI Titan - Upgradable, mechanical keyboard. Running linux may be questionable. https://us.msi.com/product/notebook/GT80-Titan-...
"They display low ratings for their own products on their own website. What." While I agree wholeheartedly about the web page bad design, I'd say this is a good thing, to the extent that it means they're willing to show people's honest opinions of their stuff. (OTOH, HN has had links to an n-part article by a guy who discovered that Lenovo is playing DRM games to keep you from using batteries other than theirs in their laptops--that's a deal breaker for me.)
@Nick http://www.sagernotebook.com/home.php FUNNY YOU SHOULD MENTION THEM :) The Sager NP2740 is *also* a rebranded Taiwanese Clevo W740SU and in fact the exact same hardware as the System76 Galago UltraPro I'm typing this on and which I describe in the post.
Dell XPS 13. Buy the developer edition if you want to run Linux.
Razer makes amazing PCs with true gaming capability and arguably superior build quality. The new Surface Books are up there as well.
My previous computer was a XPS 1640... She was a beast! Very robust and had survive many a fall. Those aluminum hinges were legit. I feel the XPS series has gone down in quality however. My new computer the 15' MBP came out on top when I needed a new laptop. Super fast, light weight and made out of metal. Runs Windows better than most Windows machine...
Forget Lenovo, the "industrial" branding is long gone with the nineties. Get an Asus ROG and trust me - you'll be happy.
If you don't like Lenovo laptops because of Superfish, then you should not buy Dell laptops either. Dell had a similar problem which has been called Superfish 2.0. If you look around, I am sure you will find all laptop brands have much such a folly or two. So if you rather not give your money to Lenovo, by the same principle, I recommend not giving your money to any laptop brands.
You forgot to mention how ungodly terrible the trackpad is on a Lenovo (at least on the Thinkpad). Apple's glass surface trackpad has spoiled me for anything else -- the Thinkpad's trackpad is all plastic, doesn't register every movement, supports multitouch but doesn't always register that either, is especially bad for scrolling. You have real buttons ABOVE the keyboard (where they're mostly a nuisance) or you can use multitouch gestures which, as mentioned, often don't work. It's clown shoes. Lenovo's keyboard has okay feel but wow are there a lot of keys and they feel dense. I'll frequently hit a 0 when hunting for the arrow keys, or clicking one of the upper mouse buttons when aiming for the space bar. What's really miserable is the screen. Amazing laptop with a 1080p TN display with a viewing angle so low you can't actually see the whole screen in a single level of contrast. They offered a decent IPS display but it was at such a high density that many desktop OS would be unusable. It's frankly shocking how bad PC laptops are. Apple's giving its competitors all this room to take over that market (cmon, we haven't had a processor update in the MBPR range for 2 years) but they'd rather fail at tablets I guess. Just imagine: an honest to goodness $3000 PC laptop. Light, sturdy, huge keyboard, simple effective trackpad, huge dense screen with 180 degree viewing angle, quad core i7, 32GB+, all SSD, 10 stessful hours of battery life. NO TOUCHSCREEN, because who needs fingerprints all over their work? (Nobody sane). The Tesla of laptops. All of Silicon Valley would want one.
yep, get a mac
I don't see anything wrong with displaying bad reviews along with good. What use is there in having reviews at all if you're just going to show only good reviews? You understand what reviews are for, yes? It sounds like what you want is to buy a lenovo laptop and then clean install windows over the crap it comes with. The license key is on a little genuine windows sticker on the bottom of the unit, and if it doesn't come with a windows cd (which it probably does) just download and burn an iso from microsoft's website. Or just buy/build a desktop with twice the specs for half the price and remote into it from any old laptop.
Receiving a device that you immediately need to hack for it to be useful is not quality. This includes having to reinstall the software. I'd actually prefer no OS than the shat upon OS that comes with most computers -- most non-Mac computers, that is. Although Macs do come with a few dozen gig of useless stuff (language packs for languages I can't read, Garage Band and iMovie which are useless for a work PC, etc) it generally doesn't cripple the usefulness of the machine the way ad-hijacking does.
Dell has a Xeon based laptop with Quadro
MSI g60 is superfine. Microsoft surface doesn't have Linux drivers.
You know, I'm exactly at the same place you are. I need a new laptop and the main thing is a good CPU and a great battery life. I want portability. That's either a Mac or a Dell. But I also want a decent graphics card to work on some stuff and the occasional game. What I found out is that, to my doom, I'll be stuck with Apple. I never used osX, nothing. It's somewhat of a shot in the dark for me but it will have to do. Waiting in the new 13" MacBook pro
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