Review: Galago Pro is a Linux laptop for professionals

Galago Pro comes with OEM version Ubuntu 16.04 and offers a great ‘out-of-the-box’ experience.

Galago Pro Ubuntu
Swapnil Bhartiya

There used to be a time when buying a new laptop was a huge undertaking for a Linux user. It required a lot of pre-sales research to ensure that the system you were going to buy would work with Linux, ‘with’ a workaround or extra effort.

Linux has come a long way, thanks to the efforts of the kernel community, especially Greg Kroah-Hartman who works with hardware vendors to add support for Linux. Nowadays, in most case, everything just works.

This improved support for Linux has encouraged hardware vendors to offer systems with Linux pre-installed, creating a niche, yet growing market for some companies. Denver-based, System76 is one such company that has made its name by offering a wide range of Ubuntu powered systems. 

Last week I got my hands on the latest System76 laptop, Galago Pro, which offers a great mix of portability and raw power. 

[ Related: System 76 Oryx Pro review: A laptop for your desk ]

Galago Pro is a 13.3” machine that weighs 2.87 lbs (1.3 kg) and measures 32.96 × 22.50 × 1.42 cm. From a portability point of view, it’s a perfect device that matches my MacBook Pro.

The laptop is powered by 7th gen Intel i7-7500U CPU (3.1GHz) and comes with 8GB of DDR4 RAM. You can upgrade it to a faster 3.5 GHz processor and get up to 32 GB of RAM. The base unit came with 250GB of Samsung 960 EVO NVMe SSD, but you have the option to go all the way up to 2TB of SSD. Just bear in mind M.2 SSDs are expensive.

Galago Pro comes with one USB-C with Thunderbolt, Ethernet, HDMI, SD Card slot and DisplayPort. It also has a slot for a nano SIM card to get cellular connectivity while on the move.

A good looking laptop

System76 makes amazingly powerful machines, but until now they have left a lot to be desired in the look and feel department — particularly to a MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 13 user. Galago Pro is a clear leap towards a more refined and sleek design.

comparison Swapnil Bhartiya

Unlike other System76 laptops, Galago Pro has an all-metal body, though it doesn’t feel as sturdy as MacBook Pro or Dell XPS 13.

My review unit has base configurations and costs $1,328, which is in the same ballpark as the MacBook Pro.

I tried some resource-intensive applications on the Galago Pro, including Simplify3D, Slic3r, Meshmixer and Handbrake … and they all worked fine. The only bottleneck was the 8GB of RAM, as I run multiple Linux distributions for testing and reviewing and VirtualBox is not very RAM friendly. If I were to buy this laptop, I would certainly spend the extra $80 and get at least 16GB of RAM .

The biggest highlight of this machine is the 13.3″ 3200 × 1800 HiDPI display.

Galago Pro comes with OEM version Ubuntu 16.04 and offers a great ‘out-of-the-box’ experience. All you need to do is choose your language, keyboard layout, connect to networking, create your user account and you are all set. 

Galago Pro offers the stock Ubuntu Unity experience, and System76 has done extra work on drivers so that everything works out of the box, including Bluetooth, WiFi, Touchpad, etc. 

I have been using the system for the last few days and have tried openSUSE Tumbleweed/Leap, Fedora, KDE neon, Linux Mint and Arch Linux on it. 

Using the distribution of your choice doesn’t void the hardware warrantee. However, System76 won’t be able to offer any software support beyond Ubuntu Linux, so if you do come across any problems you can’t expect System76 to help you out.

Why choose Galago Pro?

There is a huge difference between hardware that works with Linux and hardware that optimizes the experience. “Here at System76 we work on making sure everything 'just works' out of the box with Linux, specifically Ubuntu. We take the guesswork out of whether or not wifi or some esoteric hardware feature will be broken in Linux,” says Ryan Sipes, community manager of System76.

Some of the System76 machines come with high-end GPUs, which often require additional work. “We work with Intel and NVIDIA on hardware support, and we obviously send any of our work that improves the experience in Ubuntu upstream. Canonical is a good partner and we let them know if there is something broken, but oftentimes through the natural process of open source these things get solved,” Sipes said.

System76 picks components that are well supported on the platform from vendors who work to keep those components working well.

In addition to out-of-the-box support, after-sales support is critical. You know there is a company that will support Ubuntu on their hardware; you won’t be on your own.

Official support for Ubuntu on the hardware is a very important factor when it comes to procuring new hardware. When a company buys hardware from System76, they don’t have to waste their own resources on installing, managing and maintaining Linux on these systems. System76 is the single point of contact, whether it’s hardware or repair replacement of software support. 

Who uses desktop Linux?

A general perception is that desktop Linux is used only by enthusiasts and kernel developers, but Linux has a very dedicated market that also includes web companies, IT professionals, privacy advocates, activists, journalists and makers. 

Sipes said that they are targeting developers, sysadmins and engineers, as well as Linux enthusiasts, with these laptops. It’s a niche, but a very strong and growing niche.

Conclusion

Galago Pro is a great option for a wide range of users, whether you are an individual looking for an affordable HiDPI system or you are an IT professional. It’s also a great choice for IT shops that offer Linux laptops to their developers beccause you'll have just one vendor to deal with repair, support and replacement. 

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