Posted on: December 5, 2016 by Kautiontape
I have very similar use case for you, and am still in the search. Sub-2K for Linux with a balance between good battery life and 16 GB of RAM. Basically, something that balances the portability of a laptop with the power of a decent desktop. Note, my search is still in progress as I have not yet purchased a laptop, but I do have some advice on what I’ve found for different options.
System76 has several options to choose from. The nice part is that most of them can be customized pretty thoroughly, and aren’t too expensive for the specs. More importantly, they are designed to be run with Linux hardware, so there should be absolutely no question how well the laptops will work with common distros. Unfortunately, the different models do have a few problems with each one. The Oryx Pro has amazing specs that you’re looking for, but is *very* bulky and heavy (outside your size range) and has been described as a laptop for your desk. The Kudu has good specs, but the screen is too large. The Gazelle is solid specs but is over 5 pounds with a required CD Drive (which I never need). The Lemur may meet your needs with size and performance, but I find the single USB 3.0 and single USB 2.0 to be unacceptable, even given the small form factor. If you are okay with that, I think the rest of the specs will make it okay.
The ZaReason Verix 6440 is also Linux friendly and with good specs, until you get to the weight (5+ pounds) and battery life (a shocking 2.5 hours max).
The Dell XPS 15 and Dell XPS 13 are definitely solid choices on the surface with great specs and sizes. The InfinityEdge is fantastic, and they definitely feel sturdy from what I’ve seen in person. The biggest problem I’ve seen for the XPS 15 is that it’s not designed for Linux, and – at least for ArchLinux – there is a problem where you can’t hotplug headphones without breaking audio. Basically, if you boot your laptop without headphones in, you have to reboot it if you want to use them. I’ve seen others with Windows who have the same problem, and it can’t be solved without installing custom Dell software, which is obviously problematic on Linux, which makes this problem a major killer for using Linux primarily. The XPS 13 and especially the Developer Edition do not seem to have this problem, but neither comes with a 16 GB RAM option. I am unsure how easy they are to upgrade.
I have also considered the ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW, which has relatively favorable reviews working on Linux. But, like you, I couldn’t handle wasting money on a touchscreen, and that’s the only option.
Thus, I too have come to the Lenovo X1 Carbon. Despite some recent complaints about keyboard quality and spyware (former I would mitigate with a portable mechanical keyboard like the Pok3r and the latter I solve by formatting and using Linux), I still like the brand for their previous and current models. It meets all the specifications we both have regarding the balance between power usage and portability. Plus, the strong build quality but small frame is a big bonus. There are some quirks with Linux, but they all seem to be solved with an updated kernel and some boot commands.
So I personally would opt for X1 Carbon, but will watch this thread closely for anyone who feels otherwise. If you make a decision, let me know what you think. If I happen to get one sooner, I can update this with my direct thoughts. Good luck!