System76 brings Ubuntu to $699 laptop with Kaby Lake chips

If Windows 10 isn't your cup of tea, System76 has a new Ubuntu laptop with Intel's Kaby Lake chip that won't burn your wallet.

The 14-inch Lemur laptop starts at $699, a more affordable price for cost-sensitive users than Dell's Ubuntu-based XPS 13 Developer Edition, which starts at $949.

"We don't have any Mac tax or Windows tax that goes into [Lemur]," said Ryan Sipes, community manager at System76.

Despite having a free OS, Dell's XPS 13 laptop has been criticized for being more expensive than the XPS 13 with Windows 10, which starts at $799.99. The Lemur is has many features in common with the XPS 13 DE, though it isn't as slick-looking.

Most users of prior versions of Lemur are enthusiasts, university students or casual PC users. Many Lemur users are seeking alternatives to Windows or Mac PCs, Sipes said.

Intel's Kaby Lake chips started reaching laptops in recent months. Most have Windows 10, and System76 had to tune Linux to work with Lemur. Likewise, Dell had to develop Linux drivers for Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C docks specifically for XPS 13 DE.

System76 has preloaded Ubuntu to provide a polished user experience out of the box, Sipes said. Users can install other distributions like Debian or Mint, and System76 provides the tools to reload the software repository. 

The 10-year-old boutique PC company has made a name building Linux laptops and desktops. It has survived the ups and downs of the PC market and increased the number of its laptop and desktop offerings over the last few years.

The entry-level $699 Lemur model has a Core i3-7100U CPU, 4GB of DDR4 RAM, 500GB hard drive, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Ubuntu 16.04 or 16.10.

A fully loaded $1,997 laptop comes with a Core i7-7500U CPU, 32GB of DDR4 DRAM and a 1TB NVMe-based solid state drive.

The top-line Lemur gives you two times more storage and memory than a fully-loaded $1,799 Dell XPS 13. The Dell XPS 13 has some advantages, though -- it is thinner, has a higher-resolution edge-to-edge screen, and is much lighter.

The Lemur laptop has a full HD screen and USB Type-C port. For a cost, a solid-state drive can be added in a second storage slot.

The Lemur packs many ports in its 1.6-kilogram frame. It has USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI and gigabit ethernet ports. It also has an SD card reader and 720p webcam.

One surprise is a VGA port, which is actually being excluded from most laptops now. VGA ports have carried over from previous models for those who want to connect monitors and projectors, Sipes said.

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