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System76 Pangolin Performance Laptop Review

Update:This was originally posted on 04/01/2009 and unfortunately got lost when I moved to this site, Combibo. It has been almost a year now and my Pangolin Performance is Still holding up well, although the battery life leaves something to be designed. However, other than that, I have been very happy with the laptop. I have restored the post and comments as they were when this review was first posted.

pangolinopenI recently purchased a laptop from System76, which is a company that sells Linux laptops, desktops, and servers. After doing some research, System76's dedication to the Linux Community really stood out and was one reason that I chose to buy a System76 Laptop.

System76 ships their computers with Ubuntu, which I think is a great choice for laptops because of its hardware support and general stability.

Ordering:

The ordering and shopping experience was great and when a question arose, I was able to quickly and easily talk to someone who was very knowledgeable and friendly. This level of support from the System76 staff can also be seen on the Ubuntu Forums and is one of the things that really impressed me about this company.

Pricing:

I found that when you compared similar systems, System76's hardware prices were fair, if not a little lower than that of other manufacturers. Several of the features, like a larger hard drive, extra memory, and an upgraded led screen were included standard and would have been considered upgrades at other companies.

One of the other things that really stood out was the structure of System76's hardware upgrades. Most manufacturers are out to get as much money as possible for every upgrade.

Often hardware upgrades, as can be seen with memory upgrades, are structured and priced in a way that is deceptively misleading to an inexperienced computer user. This was not the case with System76, however, who seemed to price their hardware upgrades fairly at market value.

Pangolin Performance Specs:

After some looking around, I decided to go with the Pangolin Performance, which fit my needs and my budget.

The specs of the Pangolin Performance are listed below, with the upgrades in italics.

  • OS: Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) 64 Bit Linux
  • Screen: 15.4" WSXGA+ Super Clear Glossy LCD (1680 x 1050)
  • CPU: Processor Core 2 Duo P8600 2.40 GHz 1066 MHz FSB 3 MB L2
  • Memory: 3 GB - DDR2 800 MHz - 2 DIMMs
  • Hard Drive: 250 GB 5400 RPM SATA II
  • Optical Drive: CD-RW / DVD-RW
  • Wifi: Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100 - 802.11A/B/G/N Up to 300 Mbps and Bluetooth
  • Audio Output: Intel High Definition Audio
  • Networking: Gigabit LAN (10/100/1000), WiFi
  • Expansion: Express Card 34/54 slot
  • Ports: VGA, HDMI, 3 x USB 2.0, eSata Port, Headphone Jack, Microphone Jack, S/PDIF Output Jack, SD Reader
  • Camera: Built-In 2.0 MP Webcam
  • Security: Fingerprint Reader
  • Battery: includes one 6 Cell Lithium Ion
  • Dimensions: 14.13" x 10.55" x 1.46" (WxDxH)
  • Weight: 5.8 lbs.

Using the Pangolin Performance:

My Pangolin Performance laptop arrived within two weeks, as promised. I turned it on and was greeted by the System76 bios splash screen, answered a few questions, which dealt with my location and user name, and was up and running within only a few minutes.

I was able to connect to the unsecured wireless network across the street quickly and easily. Since then, I have had no problems connecting to both secured and unsecured wireless networks, including ones with WPA2 enabled. The Pangolin automatically connects to my hidden network at home, as well as successfully picking up a number of other networks in the neighborhood.

The suspend and hibernate work without problem, as do the webcam and fingerprint reader. Although, the fingerprint reader software is still in a beta, it successfully recognizes my fingers and provides a clear image as well.

I have also done a fair bit of updating, without anything breaking. This actually ties into one of the cool things about a System76 Laptop, which is that they provide a driver pack specifically for Ubuntu Linux. This means even if you decide to reinstall everything, you can download the System76 Driver pack and be good to go.

The laptop speakers sound fine, about like most other laptop speakers. I am not too much of an audiophile to begin with and I mostly use the laptop for work, so I find the speakers more than adequate.

Overall, the laptop case, which is plastic, feels sturdy. Although, as noted by others, it is prone to smudges. System76 does, however, include a special wiping rag(not sure what the technical name is) to address this issue.

The trackpad, which has a scroll bar and pressure sensor to detect clicks, is very responsive. The keyboard is nicely sized and has a number of alternate buttons you can use to control things like the screen brightness.

The Pangolin Performance has a VGA output, which isn't an issue for me, but is worth noting.

Battery life is good and with the 512 MB Nvidia Graphics, I am able to run Compiz at 1680 by 1050 and watch full screen HD movies. On an unrelated note, this made me want to upgrade my media center PC, which only has a 128mb Nvidia card and can't play most HD Movies.

Final Thoughts:

I have been very pleased with the quality of the Pangolin Performance and how well everything works. It is very snappy and having a completely working Linux Laptop out of the box is a great feeling. I also feel that it is better to support a company that has made a big effort to support the Linux Community.

If you have any questions or are an owner of a System76 Laptop, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.

Comments

Andrew said on 2010-01-01 11:29:39

hey. nice review! you mentioned the battery life but didn't mention how long it can run for. with compiz on, WiFi on and with the screen at full brightness, how long can the system be on for?

tiger said on 2010-01-01 11:51:05

Thanks for the interest Andrew. When using Wifi, with the Compiz effects set to “Extra,” and taking no measures to reduce power consumption, it has a battery life of around 1 Hour and 45 Minutes. However, I did keep the default setting that slightly dims the screen when running on battery.

I also set up a seperate profile with battery management in mind, but have not really done much playing with it. I will do some testing on it this week and report back on how a more conservative power management profile effects battery performance.

The battery hasn’t really been fully conditioned yet either, so this is another factor to be considered.

morty said on 2010-01-01 11:32:43

I read on the Ubuntu forums in the system 76 section that the battery life tops out at around 2 hours, i would be interested to know if this could be pushed any further also. I am thinking of getting the second battery if i decide on the pangolin, though im not sure about the practicality of a spare.

just two questions

can you actually use the fingerprint reader for logins or is it just a novelty take a picture of your finger type of thing?

does system 76 assimilate their driver updates into the Ubuntu update manager or is it manual type of thing?

thanks, great review

andrew said on 2010-01-01 11:33:53

if i were to get the pangolin, i’d like to use it in class – two hours seems a bit sketchy. but i think i may be able to manage. have u updated to 9.04 yet? if so, has the battery life gotten better?

how is the quality of the plastic on the machine? if you push on it, do the surrounding keys go down as well?

if i were to get a removable battery, is it very simple to remove the old one?

tiger said on 2010-01-01 11:51:05

Andrew,

The battery doesn’t require any tools to remove, so I don’t think you would have any problems.

As far as the case is concerned, it is very solid at all points around the keyboard and doesn’t have any give to it or the surrounding keys.

I haven’t upgraded to Jaunty yet, so don’t know about how that would effect battery life.

tiger said on 2010-01-01 11:51:05

Morty,

I also had considered doing the second battery, but like you wasn't sure about how practical that would be.

For me, it is just easier to be somewhere that has a place to plug in if I am going to be using the computer for an extended period of time.

To answer your questions:

  1. Using PAM fPrint it is possible to use the fingerprint reader for logins.

    Fprint is still a beta and looks like it looks like it currently causes some problems with gksu, however it can be used for login and sudo.

    System76 Guide: http://knowledge76.com/index.php/Fingerprint_Reader_Usage

    Ubuntu Forums Guide: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=760018

  2. System76 has their own repositories, which are already added, so it should be fairly fluid. However when doing a dist upgrade, such as to Jaunty, it is necessary to reinstall the drivers.
morty said on 2010-01-01 11:40:05

I just read about a application called CPUGearBox for cpu throttling but after a quick google search im not sure whether it exists or not. lol

Any how, if the 2.4, 25watt processor could be under clocked to something like 800mhz for light browser use on the go. That would probably get the battery life to a decent level

does system 76 provide any tools for this? i have yet to see any in depth power management features included in ubuntu

maddy said on 2010-01-01 11:41:26

Tiger, thanks for this review. I just ordered my own Pangolin yesterday, and I can't wait to try it out. It's the best deal I could find for such a computer, especially given the support it comes with, which is crucial for a Linux novice like me. Very excited.

tiger said on 2010-01-01 11:51:05

Maddy,

I hope you enjoy your new Laptop :)

tiger said on 2010-01-01 11:51:05

Morty,

In regards to CPUGearbox, it looks like Darren Yates, the creator, took the software down because it still needs more work.

I do not know of any tools that System76 provides that would be similar.

david said on 2010-01-01 11:44:19

I've been looking at getting a laptop and I need it to have Ubuntu, and I can't find any other companies that make good Linux laptops. System76 looks like the only company that makes anything good with Linux (excluding netbooks, which I don't want).

I noticed the Pangolin and the Darter, both of which look pretty good. However, I would need Bluetooth support built in. I found that, with Bluetooth, the Darter is $10 more than the Pangolin, and the Pangolin looks like an absolutely better computer, so I've pretty much settled on that.

I have a few questions.

1. Do you know how good the Bluetooth support is (if you've used it)?

2. Are the graphics good enough for Compiz? I'd really like to use the desktop cube feature on a laptop.

3. Is the WiFi good compared to the Wifi in most laptops? It doesn't have to be that good, but at least good enough for using in school (which has pretty good wifi coverage).

4. Does the fingerprint reader really work that well? Does it only take one swipe to work, or do you need to try it a few times before it works?

5. Lastly, I'm just absolutely sick of the crapware that Dell and the others have been putting on my computer when I get it. From what I've read, System76 installs Ubuntu with some extra drivers to make sure everything works perfectly and gives out CDs with the product and online. Just to make sure: does System76 do anything other than a few drivers and adding some of their own repos for automatic updates for the drivers?

I know you might not be able to answer all of these questions, but hopefully you can help me out with a few questions.

Thanks in advance!

David

tiger said on 2010-01-01 11:51:05

David,

I numbered your questions for easier reference.

1. I do not have any bluetooth devices, so unfortunately have not been able to test it yet.

2. I hadn't messed with it before, but I just installed the Compiz Settings Manager and was able to use the desktop cube feature. I also played with the water effect, which worked fine and I have always thought was cool looking, as well as a few other desktop effects.

3. I have been very impressed with the wireless and have not had any problems connecting to both private and public networks. I am fairly certain that the Pangolin Performance detects the same number of networks, if not more, than any other laptop I have had at my house.

4. I think the fingerprint reader works fine, although I have not implemented the Login/Sudo aspect of it(More information in comment #6.) As I have already mentioned, I think it is important to remember that this software is still in beta.

In so far as the actual scanning process goes, the fingerprint reader is fairly consistent, but you must scan it in more or less the same way each time. In other words, if you scanned your finger off center or diagonally, it might not have the same results as if you scanned it centered.

I have never used a fingerprint scanner on a laptop before, so don't really have a direct metric, but it both scans and recognizes my fingers without problem.

5. While they do install their drivers, I didn't notice any bloatware or anything unnecessary that I wouldn't have installed myself, and it seems they only add enough for everything to work out of the box.

Hope this helps.

david said on 2010-01-01 11:46:13

Most of the fingerprint scanners that I've used are like that, so that seems okay.

Thanks so much for the help, though. I think I'm getting this one, if any!

Thanks again!

andrew said on 2010-01-01 11:48:02

Hello again! Does the Pangolin come with media keys? I could not locate them on the picture on S76's site, though I could not identify the keys on the left of the laptop by the keyboard, so maybe those r them? I use my touch-sensitive media keys on my Dell Inspiron 1525 a lot!

1. This may be a stupid (very stupid) question, but I cannot locate the left and right mouse buttons on the trackpad! Could you please tell me where they are lol?

2. What is your opinion on the thickness of the computer?

3. Is there a WiFi switch?

4. Finally, is that a remote to the right of the USB slot on the left of the computer?

Sorry for all the questions! Thank you!

tiger said on 2010-01-01 11:51:05

Andrew,

1. The left and right mouse buttons are directly below the trackpad. They are separated by the fingerprint scanner.

2. It is no more than 1.5 inches thick, so I am pleased with its thickness.

4. Yes. The keyboard has a number of alternate keys that can be used to adjust the screens brightness, the volume, and toggle the wireless on and off. There is also a number pad, play/pause button, and several other buttons that can be accessed using the fn key.

4. No, that is the card reader.

FredW said on 2010-01-01 11:49:31

How about the web cam? How does it work with Skype? Or with MSN in Kopete? Or with Yahoo using Gyachi?

tiger said on 2010-01-01 11:51:05

FredW,

From a quality standpoint, I would say the web cam on the Pangolin Performance is comparable to most other laptop webcams.

I don't use Skype or any other video messenger service, so am not really able to comment on its performance in this regard. However, I would imagine Skype works as well on the Pangolin Performance as it does in any typical Linux Environment.

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