System76 Gazelle Pro review

February 2, 2014

In November I purchased a Gazelle Professional laptop from System76.  I’ve waited a few months to review it because I wanted to live with it for a while.  Since I may gush a little bit, I’ll note that this review is unsolicited and completely uncompensated; I just like to point out when a company’s doing something right.  I decided to go with System76 for my new laptop because of their dedication to open-source software — they use Ubuntu and only Ubuntu on all of their systems.  I went with the Gazelle Pro, well, because it was the cheapest.  At $749 it’s significantly less than the average Mac, but significantly more than a lower-end Windows system.  Since I was already using Ubuntu exclusively on my desktop and old laptop, it was a no-brainer for me.  The only extra I sprang for was an extra battery, since I’ve had problems with past laptops, but there are a number of fantastic upgrades, including SSDs at decent prices for being part of a prebuilt system.

The system boots to the login screen in about 20 seconds, with another 5-6 to load my desktop, which means from a cold start I’m up and running in under 30 seconds.  Shutdown takes significantly less time, about 10-12 seconds from the time I click the  Shut Down button.  The system also supports suspend/resume, but not hibernate.  Battery life during heavy use is a full 3-4 hours, with up to 6 for less power-intensive programs (e.g., web browsing).  I leave it suspended overnight on a regular basis, with no significant decrease in battery charge the next day.

The chassis is an attractive brushed metal finish (though actually plastic), gray with a slight purple tinge in color.  I’d prefer a heavier duty chassis for $700+, but I haven’t had any wear issues yet (maybe I’ll report back in a couple years).  I will say that the fact that the screen is set back from the body (it folds back behind the keyboard, rather than sitting on top of the body) leads me to believe that the hinge will hold up better under strenuous use than the Dells I’ve worn out before.  The 1920×1080 display is really, really nice, and since everything comes preconfigured I didn’t have to do any messing around with display drivers.  The 2MP built-in webcam works great, though I’ve had similar problems with Skype on this computer that I’ve had with other computers running Skype on various versions of Ubuntu (dealing with either echo or no sound at all, intermittently).  The built-in speakers are a little quiet for me, but of course with laptop speakers you’re not going to get great sound quality anyway.  I haven’t used them yet, but I like that the system includes an eSATA port and two USB 3.0 ports (plus an extra 2.0 one).

As far as software goes, the system has worked great so far.  Everything’s nice and fast, the graphics card handles HD video just fine.  I have had a little bit of an issue with software updates: whenever I try to use the graphical interface, it tells me to check my internet connection.  I haven’t investigated the issue further since I usually just use the command line for this anyway.  I’ve had no problems with wifi connectivity, and an improvement over my previous laptop running Ubuntu is that the connection is already established as soon as I open the screen, rather than having to wait for it to reconnect.  While I haven’t used the Bluetooth connection yet, I love that this is available.

Probably the only aspect I was underwhelmed by is the keyboard and the touchpad.  The chiclet-style keyboard (plus 10-key!) is nice, but the keys themselves feel fairly light (I’m talking about the keys themselves, not the tension, which is fine).  I usually like a little more substance in my keys.  I’ve also found that some of the keys don’t register if I touch them too lightly, especially the bottom row (okay, obviously this is theoretically true for all keyboards, but this is the first one I’ve ever had this problem with).  The touchpad is nice and big, with left and right buttons below.  However, I have two issues with it, both of which are related to my personal preferences.  I like side scrolling rather than two-finger scrolling, and it’s hard to zero in on the scrolling part of the touchpad when this is in use (possibly because the laptop ships configured for two-finger scrolling).  I also prefer tap-to-click, rather than always using the left button.  With the sensitivity configured reasonably for pointer use, I’ve found that I often end up clicking on things I didn’t mean to click on (especially when trying to scroll), or, conversely, it takes a few taps to actually get it to register a click.

Overall I’ve been very happy with this laptop so far.  Despite a few things I consider imperfections, I absolutely plan on going back to System76 for any and all future prebuilt systems (and of course I’d love to at some point try out their higher-end models).  It helps that they’re a company dedicated to great customer service and social responsibility (they spend a lot of time and money rehabilitating old laptops for underprivileged students).  I think the Gazelle Pro is also a great introduction to Ubuntu for people who are interested in switching from Windows or Mac but don’t want to have to install and configure the system themselves.

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13 Responses to “System76 Gazelle Pro review”

  1. anthonyvenable110 Says:

    Glad to hear you have enjoyed your new laptop so much.

  2. anthonyvenable110 Says:

    Reblogged this on anthonyvenable110.

  3. kurt Says:

    Ryan, i was wondering if you had considered buying a good windows laptop, eg a dell latitude, and then installing ubuntu via dual boot. The sys76 prices seem similar to a good windows laptop’s. Do you think sys76 hardware is better than similarly priced win laptop hardware?

  4. Ryan Denzer-King Says:

    A great question, since I mentioned in the post that my primary reason for going with System76 was ethical — I want to support what they’re doing. I started composing a long response to your question (in a word, my answer is “yes”), and realized it would be a reasonable post all on its own. I’ll try to post a considered response next weekend.

  5. Kane Summers Says:

    Hi Ryan
    It’s been about 7 months since your nice and infomed post, has anything chnaged since, good or bad? I’m really considing the same laptop along with a few upgrades. I’m also on board with you as with giving my hard earned money to a company thats ethical.

    I did read one very negitive response that a customer had with his laptop, and the return process. I think it was posted on System 76 site under comments, also found the same person posted else where. He complained about quality issues, WiFi, screen just to name a few. Possibly just a one off, also he was from Canada (same as me) and had issues with shipping back. Anyways like to know how yours is doing.

    Cheers
    Kane

    • Ryan Denzer-King Says:

      Pretty much everything I posted about in the original review and the update from August is still true. The only new issue I’ve had recently is that the spring or plastic piece that keeps the left mouse button flush with the casing broke. To me that’s kind of disappointing as the system’s only about a year old, but honestly it’s not a functional issue at all, because the button only goes down about half a mm anyway. The button still works just fine and most of the time I forget that it broke. As I mentioned in the August update, someone tried to post a (very vitriolic) comment mentioning very similar issues — I deleted the comment (I felt it was blatantly insulting to the company rather than constructively critical) but included the issues he brought up in that update post, though he was talking specifically about the Galago Ultrapro, not the Gazelle Professional, which is what I have. If by “quality issues” you’re talking about construction, I will say that I feel like the case could be a bit better constructed. I even had to readjust the battery compartment panel when it arrived because it had been installed improperly (the panel wasn’t aligned properly when it was screwed in). However, IMO the screen quality is fantastic — best I’ve ever had, and I use it to watch Netflix all the time. The WiFi, likewise, has been easier than I’ve had on other Ubuntu systems. There are certainly times when I have to restart the network manager to get the WiFi to work, but that’s not often, and I’ve had that same problem (and worse) with other Ubuntu and Windows systems, so I wouldn’t hold that against System76 specifically.

  6. Julio Jimenez Says:

    Hi Ryan. I’m from Mexico and i’m seriously thinking about buying this laptop. I’m the kind of guy that buy a laptop to keep it for years (i’ve had 2 laptops, 6 years with each one), so i would like to be the perfect laptop for me. You made a fantastic review, i just want to know how you’re doing with cpu performance.
    I doesn’t play games. (just fifa), but i do use some heavy software that needs if not high end hardware, some pretty powerfull one. I would like to know what’s the most demanding task you’ve done to your laptop and how did it went.

    Thanks!

    • Ryan Denzer-King Says:

      What kind of software? I don’t demand a whole lot from my laptop (I have a desktop that I use for games and audio recording), but it’s always been able to handle anything I’ve thrown at it. I play HD video on it pretty regularly, and have never had a problem with that. Probably the most CPU-intensive task I do on a regular basis is run a virtual machine, and the Gazelle has been able to handle that with no problem. I often leave a virtual machine running in the background while I do other things on the system, and have never noticed a decrease in performance. I also sometimes use an IDE for C development, and my compilation times are quite fast on this system (and have been faster than other systems when I’ve had the opportunity to compare them).

  7. Nic Says:

    Hi Ryan, I’m strongly considering buying the Gazelle laptop (to do some pretty heavy-duty imaging analyses) but there is a good number of critical reviews out on the Gazelle and System76 more generally. Are you still using your machine, and if so, are you still happy with it? Did you have some major issues? I’d be happy and very grateful about any information 🙂 Thanks! Nic

    • Ryan Denzer-King Says:

      Hi Nic! I’ve never had any major issues going into the third year now. I still feel that the cases could be higher quality, but what’s inside has worked for me very well. I also haven’t noticed any decrease in performance over the years I’ve had it. I’ve read some critical review of the display, but as far as I’m concerned the Gazelle had one of the best on the market (at the very least in its price range if not overall).

      • Nic Says:

        Hi Ryan, thanks a lot for the quick reply! It seems that the Gazelle offers pretty much all I could want and for a price I can afford! Have you upgraded your RAM or hard drive(s) in the mean time? I’m wondering if I should go with cheaper options and upgrade later myself?! Thank you!

  8. Ryan Denzer-King Says:

    I haven’t upgraded any of the components, but the case isn’t as tightly packed as some other laptops I’ve had, so I don’t think upgrading yourself would be too painful.


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