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The company I work for is going to buy me a new laptop before the end of the year. Right now I use Ubuntu 11.04 on a ~3.5 year old Dell Vostro 1700. It's a dual boot install and it runs good enough, but it's not perfect. I attribute most problems I experience to the age/wear of the laptop, not Ubuntu.

I'm going to do a full install on whatever laptop I buy next, so no Windows or OS X at all, only Ubuntu.

I'm looking at a Dell Precision M6600 and also at a MacBook Pro 17-inch. Work is paying for the machine, so thankfully price is not a concern. I just want Ubuntu to run flawlessly. I use Ubuntu because it makes me so much more efficient at my job (web development, etc.). I don't customize the OS much and I'm not messing around too much behind the scenes. I just want Ubuntu to run as smoothly and reliably as possible.

Is one of these two machines - Dell M6600 or MacBook Pro 17" - better suited for Ubuntu than the other? If I'm not using Windows or OS X that comes w/ the machine am I losing a lot of the performance gains from the hardware, or can Ubuntu take full advantage of all the specs?

Note: I have only been using Linux regularly for under a year. My knowledge of video cards, chips and other hardware and specs (and how they relate to Ubuntu) is somewhat limited.

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What non-Dell machine/s would you recommend that have similar specs to the M6600 for running 11.10? – whelanska Nov 12 '11 at 6:22
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Both laptops ships with high end specs. The Dell M6600 is an Ubuntu certified laptop, So chances of glitches are very low while running Ubuntu.

Macbook Pro

  • Things like special function keys won't work out-of-the-box.
  • Battery life will be significantly lower [citation needed].
  • A generally less integrated experience (Thunderbolt and WLAN aren't working yet with Natty or later and the latest offering of MacBook Pros). Hibernate and suspend tend to be a bit iffy.
  • The clickpad is atrocious under ubuntu. It's completely impossible to do things like right-click-drag, and there's no middle click at all like there is with the dell.

Final Thoughts

Installing and working of ubuntu in Macbook will require little bit more effort than installing it in a Dell machine (Check this). The Dell runs ubuntu 11.10 very well.

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Thanks. On the M6600 certification page it lists the machine as being certified w/ Ubuntu 10.10... I started using Ubuntu at release 11.04 and would like to use 11.10 on any new machines. Are recent Ubuntu releases similar enough to each other that I don't need to worry about not seeing 11.10 on the certification page? – whelanska Nov 12 '11 at 6:19
It'll be more compatible than a macbook, one way or another. Technically, it's probably not optimized for gtk3/unity, but that shouldn't be too drastic a change for the graphics drivers to handle. – Daniel Nov 18 '11 at 4:20

I've run both the 17" 5,2 Macbook Pro and now the M4600 Dell. I also had the 1,2 17" MBP (read really early edition) and a couple of powerbooks before. Apple always has great screen resolutions but their hardware ALWAYS seems to have some horrible flaw. On the powerbooks there was a softpoint near the power coupling. The Macbook corrected this but the CD would eventually jam (because you can't help but putting weight on it since it is under the wrist). The later unibody fixed that by moving the CDRom to the side but there is a stupid softpoint where the battery indicator light is on the front-left side.

You'll be able to get a higher performance spec Dell that will run wonderfully with 11.10. The MBP will also work but you may have to wait a release or two for drivers (sound, etc). The performance of the M4600 is excellent. I don't really use Windows so I can't compare it. The one place Linux always suffers is power management. If you have the new ones with a built in Intel video that supplements say the NVidia or AMD, you will not be able to switch dynamically and will need to disable the onboard video. There is some attempt by a project to support it, but it isn't stable yet.

Everything else will work great. I got 16gb, a solid state mini and additional 7200 drive.

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  1. If you want any of the fancy weird features that come with the Dell like the touch screen or number pad... You're not going to get those on a Macbook. Plus, the fancy weird features of the macbook don't work under ubuntu anyway.
  2. The non-OSX drivers for Macbooks are underwhelming, from what I've heard -- edited by someone who's tried running ubuntu on a Macbook.. it's a painful experience. Many 'need to have' features simply don't work - with no viable workarounds.
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Interesting question - I just had the same conundrum myself and was originally looking at 15 inch laptops.. but then I found out about the m6600 and found a great deal on one on ebay. You dell haters obviously haven't tried this machine yourselves.. it's amazing. Warning though - it's huge. Quite a bit bigger than the macbook pro 17 inch.. in all three dimensions. HOWEVER.. it has an amazing cooling system and a great keyboard. See here for a great explanation of how awesome this machine is:

I'm running ubuntu 11.10 on it at the moment and it's working great so far. I'm just trying to figure out whether I want the AMD drivers for the firepro graphics card.. so far the open source ones are working fine with both unity and gnome shell though, so this isn't really a problem as much as it's a choice. I'd totally recommend the m6600 if 'extreme portability' isn't one of your main concerns.

Monster edit:

Let me qualify this post a bit - Starting in 2006 I used a 15" HP nc8430 with ubuntu/windows dual boot, for 4 years solid with a few niggling complaints here and there (mostly software related). Overall it was a fantastic machine. I even recently upgraded to ubuntu 11.10 on it, in fact and it's still working great. At work, I used ubuntu, but while on the go and while at home I used windows, mainly for the better battery life and ability to play some games.

Then I switched jobs in mid 2010 and had the choice of a thinkpad or a macbook pro 15". I tried the thinkpad at first, but it had a horrible screen (way too dim) and terrible battery life (It might've been a dud). I decided to try the macbook since I knew it was more expensive than I'd ever purchase on my own, but regardless of everything I tried, I couldn't stand OSX. In the end, I decided that my beef with it was the lack of customization abilities.. if you don't want to work on things 'the apple way', you're totally out of luck. So, I tried putting ubuntu 11.04 on it. Wow.. what a mistake. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to run ubuntu on a macbook. No right-click-drag at all, and right click on its own is difficult. No middle click. Spotty wireless. Horrendous battery life (would get 8 hours in OSX, barely over 1 hour in ubuntu). After a few days of looking for solutions and finding nothing but other complaints online, I installed windows 7 on it. Turns out the macbook pros are some of the best windows laptops you can buy. Battery life was excellent (on par with OSX), the clickpad is great, (except you still can't really right-click-drag easily), and all hardware works fine given the bootcamp driver package. Overall, this was a great solution for me as it allowed me to game some while on the train and get work done in an office environment that used outlook and MS Office heavily.

After a little more than a year with the macbook pro, I'm at yet another job now.. and there were no 'company laptops' I had to choose from this time, so I was able to pick anything I wanted. I shopped around for a VERY long time, and had a budget of around $1,500. My main shopping points were power, great screen with as high of a resolution as possible, good ubuntu compatibility and decent battery life. Naturally portability was a deciding factor, but I was willing to give it up for the right combinations of features and price. I chose the Dell M6600 (very surprised to choose a dell, as I had the previous negative perceptions of them that many people do), mainly because of the convincing personal reviews of the machine and the fact that the specific deal I found on one offered far more computing power and expandability options than anything else in its price range.

I put two SSDs in it, one mSATA 128gb and one 2.5" 40GB, and it holds both of these along with the original 750GB 7,200 drive and the slot-loading dvd burner. Ubuntu is on the 40gb SSD, windows 7 is on the mSATA SSD, and the 750gb drive holds my media. Ubuntu is faster than a bat out of hell (boots in about 10 seconds, applications load instantaneously) and the open source drivers work great with the firepro m8900. Battery life could be better under ubuntu, (I can get about 1:20) but I'm confident this will be improve over time. In windows battery life is a bit better, offering up to 3 hours with light usage or a little over 1 hour while gaming.

The main things I'm really liking about this laptop after a few weeks of heavy use are:

  1. The screen - matte finish, 17" of 1080p goodness, led-backlit, very bright if you want it to be, excellent colors
  2. Keyboard - great feel and action.. good layout, dedicated pgup,pgdn keys next to arrows.
  3. Cooling system - even while gaming the fans do a good job of keeping the system cool.. without getting noisy. In fact, the macbook pro 15" got louder and hotter under the heavy load of gaming.
  4. Build quality and looks - total 'sleeper' machine. It couldn't look more utilitarian, but everything is clean, polished, and put together very well. Working inside the machine is a joy, and if you like the 'form follows function' look of thinkpads but can't stand the 80's color scheme, this might be the line of laptops for you.
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Thanks for posting this. I've decided to go w/ the Dell Precision M6600 after this post and a few others. So far I've heard nothing but amazing things from people who have actually purchased this machine. – whelanska Nov 21 '11 at 20:30

I know that I will most definitely be slammed for this, but truthfully, for web development go with the MacBook Pro and run OS X. It's based on FreeBSD, has a wonderful UI, has some great package managers, wonderful text editors, and all kinds of other great stuff. Another thing is the stability of it, for me, my OS X machines has made me much more productive so far because of the fact I don't constantly need to be tweaking everything and fixing things. (I also use Ubuntu and Windows on a daily I'm impartial.)

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True. Ubuntu requires a lot more time in configuring / tweaking / fixing than getting things done.. Upvote to you @Jay. – Hrishikesh Choudhari Jan 15 '12 at 12:04
This is advocacy, not a factual answer that addresses the question. – Chan-Ho Suh Apr 30 '12 at 12:15

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