20 votes

Lightest, cheapest laptop out there with best battery life

My laptop is showing sings of death, and I know I will need a new one soon. Also, I am planning to get a tablet and ditch my smartphone, and to stop using the laptop for browsing content: I'll do most of that to the phone/tablet, and use the laptop as an authoring tool: writing and coding.

So I am looking for a laptop that is cheap, light, and can keep running for at least 3-5hrs under mild Debian+Emacs load. Ideally around 11"-13".

24 comments

  1. [9]
    Wulfsta
    Link
    What I did when I was in a similar situation was buy one of ASUS's Chromebooks with a marketed battery life of 11 hours, removed the hardware write switch, reflashed the bios to a coreboot...

    What I did when I was in a similar situation was buy one of ASUS's Chromebooks with a marketed battery life of 11 hours, removed the hardware write switch, reflashed the bios to a coreboot replacement from MrChromebox, and installed Arch Linux. Optimizing the power use on the machine upped the battery life to around 13 hours.

    Edit: I took a look and the model is a C301SA.

    17 votes
    1. [5]
      hungariantoast
      Link Parent
      This is what I did four years ago with my $216, refurbished, Dell Chromebook 13 and, aside from not having the F11 and F12 keys available, I don't have very many complaints. Four gigabytes of RAM...

      This is what I did four years ago with my $216, refurbished, Dell Chromebook 13 and, aside from not having the F11 and F12 keys available, I don't have very many complaints. Four gigabytes of RAM is pretty limiting these days and a new Intel vulnerability seems to slash the CPU's performance in half every year or so, but it's still good enough that I'm not interested in buying something new just yet.

      Battery life is also excellent. I have Arch installed and if I use a window manager (i3, in my case) instead of a desktop environment, twelve hours of light use is possible. With power management that number just keeps going higher and higher.

      7 votes
      1. [4]
        unknown user
        Link Parent
        If I'm only using stuff from Debian repos, am I likely to be affected by all these speculation vulnerabilities? I.e., if I did enable the speculation, would I be practically in significant danger...

        If I'm only using stuff from Debian repos, am I likely to be affected by all these speculation vulnerabilities? I.e., if I did enable the speculation, would I be practically in significant danger if I'm only running trusted software? One thing that comes to mind is random JS on the internet that you sometimes have to allow to be executed.

        2 votes
        1. [3]
          smiba
          Link Parent
          Technically even webpages can execute code on your machine nowadays so yeah, you can be affected by it. Its mostly migrated in new kernels though. (But you will have some performance loss)

          Technically even webpages can execute code on your machine nowadays so yeah, you can be affected by it. Its mostly migrated in new kernels though. (But you will have some performance loss)

          1 vote
          1. [2]
            unknown user
            Link Parent
            Just for clarification (because I see that I failed communicating it when I reread the comment): what I meant was, what if I just went ahead and enabled it?

            Just for clarification (because I see that I failed communicating it when I reread the comment): what I meant was, what if I just went ahead and enabled it?

            1. Diff
              Link Parent
              Just keep installing your security patches and consider disabling hyperthreading if your CPU has it. Many, many of the vulnerabilities rely on data leaked specifically across threads sharing a...

              Just keep installing your security patches and consider disabling hyperthreading if your CPU has it. Many, many of the vulnerabilities rely on data leaked specifically across threads sharing a core, a lot of articles I've read recommend just disabling it altogether. OSes like OpenBSD shut it off out of the box I believe.

              1 vote
    2. Ephemere
      Link Parent
      I'm doing pretty much the same thing, but with an ARM chromebook and crouton (A means of running a linux chroot within chromeos). It has a whole mess of minor issues, but VNC works just fine, as...

      I'm doing pretty much the same thing, but with an ARM chromebook and crouton (A means of running a linux chroot within chromeos). It has a whole mess of minor issues, but VNC works just fine, as does your normal suite of linux userland tools. I don't know exactly how long the battery lasts, but I bought it used for $80 and it lasts at least five hours, several years after it was originally manufactured.

      I'd give it a medium recommend, the price is right, if you don't mind it not running x86 linux apps or windows apps.

      3 votes
    3. [2]
      unknown user
      Link Parent
      Chromebooks are an interesting option, I especially like the idea of 4:3 chromebooks (IDK which chromebook that was). Would you say it is too hard/mildly hard/rather easy for a user that's an...

      Chromebooks are an interesting option, I especially like the idea of 4:3 chromebooks (IDK which chromebook that was). Would you say it is too hard/mildly hard/rather easy for a user that's an experienced linux guy that does not know much about hardware?

      2 votes
      1. Wulfsta
        Link Parent
        As with every linux hardware purchase, check to make sure the hardware is supported. If you aren't familiar with the boot process be prepared to become very familiar with it. I would say that if...

        As with every linux hardware purchase, check to make sure the hardware is supported. If you aren't familiar with the boot process be prepared to become very familiar with it. I would say that if you aren't familiar with hardware keep in mind that similar models have similar hardware, so a guide for one model will be an incomplete guide for another. All in all, probably only medium difficulty on the scale.

  2. Octofox
    Link
    A dell XPS would be really nice for that but they are a bit expensive. Really any laptop will manage 3 hours in a text editor.

    A dell XPS would be really nice for that but they are a bit expensive. Really any laptop will manage 3 hours in a text editor.

    8 votes
  3. [5]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. [4]
      unknown user
      Link Parent
      That page is incredibly informative, thanks a lot!

      That page is incredibly informative, thanks a lot!

      1. [4]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. unknown user
          Link Parent
          Thanks a lot!

          Thanks a lot!

        2. [2]
          Jedi
          Link Parent
          Not a comparable price, but since you said "or Chromebook", I'd like to point out that you've clearly not tried the Pixelbook. It's keyboard is absolutely wonderful.

          Additionally, they're a pleasure to use and type on [...] No low-end laptop or Chromebook, which is all you could really get for what I paid, will ever compare.

          Not a comparable price, but since you said "or Chromebook", I'd like to point out that you've clearly not tried the Pixelbook. It's keyboard is absolutely wonderful.

          1. [2]
            Comment deleted by author
            Link Parent
            1. Jedi
              Link Parent
              It is actually! You can now install Linux software on it. I program applications with Flutter on VS Code. If you 3D model, you can install Blender. Need a game engine, download Unity3D. Anything...

              It is actually! You can now install Linux software on it. I program applications with Flutter on VS Code. If you 3D model, you can install Blender. Need a game engine, download Unity3D. Anything you can do on Linux, you can do on a modern Chromebook.

              I now only use my Windows desktop for Plex, and occasionally for games via Steam Link.

              As for the price, I got one for $750 (on sale), and a second one for $300; both new, directly from Google. Though that second one is very much an edge-case. It retails for $1,000, but after ~6 months it's easy to find cheaper.

  4. ThatFanficGuy
    Link
    I don't know what kind of load Debian and Emacs provide. However, I can vouch for my laptop model for writing and coding: Acer Aspire ES1-311-C2N7. It's light, at ~1.5kg, and it presents exemplary...

    I don't know what kind of load Debian and Emacs provide. However, I can vouch for my laptop model for writing and coding: Acer Aspire ES1-311-C2N7. It's light, at ~1.5kg, and it presents exemplary battery capacity of ~9 hours (EDIT: some websites say 7 hours) for ~$300.

    I'd used it extensively throughout the uni, and it regularly returned home with enough charge to let me unwind for a couple of hours without plugging it in. I'd also used it to watch films, where a 2-hour film (x264-encoded 1080p) only took about 20% of battery charge on Windows 10, with no other apps running.

    It runs lighter games – nothing that requires extensive 3D (although the Shadowrun games and Dota 2 run well on lower settings). Latest Adobe Photoshop's loading time was 10s+, and larger processing options were slow, but it ran well otherwise. Like I said, it runs films up to a certain difficulty of encoding just fine. VS Code runs okay – not great, not bad either – in general, stuttering over large files (in HTML, it's 50kB and up).

    This particular model turned out to require a bit of post-purchase modding. It has small RAM by default, so I bought a 4GB memory stick. It also has an HDD and Win8 by default, both of which affect performance negatively, so I bought an SSD and installed Win10. After that, its performance became very good for the price.

    After three years of extensive usage and a bit of reckless transportation, it's showing signs of decay in two aspects only: the battery can no longer handle heavy CPU loads (it shuts down when unplugged and experiencing high internal temperature), and the screen can sometime show "lining", where bright lines (of text, image, or otherwise) leave a faint "nimbus" to the rest of the width of the line. The latter is only noticable when viewing dark screens, like VS Code's dark theme.

    Not sure if you can find this particular model on the market now, and I can't vouch of newer models of the same brand, since I haven't used or reviewed them. You may, however, have good luck to search the brand ("Acer Aspire") closer.

    P. S. If you remember, that's the laptop that went twice in price after the US sanctions.

    4 votes
  5. [2]
    frostycakes
    Link
    I can recommend my laptop for this as well: it's an Acer Aspire 1 A114. I paid ~$150US for it new, and for something basic, it's great. 4GB RAM and a 1080p screen (the screen was the one feature I...

    I can recommend my laptop for this as well: it's an Acer Aspire 1 A114. I paid ~$150US for it new, and for something basic, it's great. 4GB RAM and a 1080p screen (the screen was the one feature I wanted, I was sick of sub-1080 laptop displays), I get about 9-10hrs of battery out of it on my Arch install with GNOME. Main downsides are limited storage (it's got a 32GB eMMC onboard, and aside from the USB ports and an SD slot, it's not expandable unfortunately) and limited performance (it's got a quad core Goldmont-based Celeron). For a basic coding machine, it's perfect though.

    Good news is, despite complaining about missing firmware using the standard Buster install, everything including the wifi (it's ath10k based) works OOTB on Debian with it--with the one exception of the touchpad in the installer only.

    2 votes
    1. unknown user
      Link Parent
      Sounds lovely, and interesting: I've never gotten the mouse to work in the graphical installer, and always install using the TUI installer.

      Good news is, despite complaining about missing firmware using the standard Buster install, everything including the wifi (it's ath10k based) works OOTB on Debian with it--with the one exception of the touchpad in the installer only.

      Sounds lovely, and interesting: I've never gotten the mouse to work in the graphical installer, and always install using the TUI installer.

  6. unknown user
    Link
    I'm also curious about what you guys think of Surface tablets. I think I can find Surface 2 tablets for $80-$150, which would be a good deal because I do want to purchase a tablet in a few months...

    I'm also curious about what you guys think of Surface tablets. I think I can find Surface 2 tablets for $80-$150, which would be a good deal because I do want to purchase a tablet in a few months too, and I have heard it plays well with Linux.

    2 votes
  7. [2]
    mftrhu
    Link
    If you are just going to use it for Emacs, why not take a look at the PineBook? It has an ARM, 2 GB of RAM, and only 16 GB of (upgradable) eMMC but, at $100, it probably fits your "cheapest"...

    If you are just going to use it for Emacs, why not take a look at the PineBook? It has an ARM, 2 GB of RAM, and only 16 GB of (upgradable) eMMC but, at $100, it probably fits your "cheapest" requirement.

    1 vote
    1. unknown user
      Link Parent
      I was really interested in the pinebook, but a few reviews that I looked into, they were telling that it was quite slower than expected. I don't need much performance, but it seems to me that it...

      I was really interested in the pinebook, but a few reviews that I looked into, they were telling that it was quite slower than expected. I don't need much performance, but it seems to me that it is a bit too slow as it is now.

      3 votes
  8. [4]
    Eric_the_Cerise
    Link
    It might be beyond your price range, but System76 has a new(-er) model, the Darter, that is expressed designed for long battery life, generally managing around 5-6 hrs on a charge. Base model is...

    It might be beyond your price range, but System76 has a new(-er) model, the Darter, that is expressed designed for long battery life, generally managing around 5-6 hrs on a charge. Base model is $1000.

    1. [3]
      Diff
      Link Parent
      I think that goes well past anyone's definition of "cheap" but System76 does make nice machines. 5-6 hours seems fairly average-to-meh though?

      I think that goes well past anyone's definition of "cheap" but System76 does make nice machines. 5-6 hours seems fairly average-to-meh though?

      1. Fdashstop
        Link Parent
        This review quotes a 6-10 hour battery life, which is better, but still seems on par with some other laptops in that price range.

        This review quotes a 6-10 hour battery life, which is better, but still seems on par with some other laptops in that price range.

        1 vote
      2. Eric_the_Cerise
        Link Parent
        Not for Linux. Battery power is one of the few areas where WinDoze is actually better, largely thanks to being able to force hardware manufacturers to design towards them. Nevertheless, I've never...

        Not for Linux. Battery power is one of the few areas where WinDoze is actually better, largely thanks to being able to force hardware manufacturers to design towards them.

        Nevertheless, I've never seen a laptop running a major Linux distro (meaning, not Puppy or other minimalist versions) that could run more than 4 hours under moderate-to-heavy usage.

        By Linux standards, 6 hr battery life is miraculous.