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noob laptop & OS suggestions


oddsight
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So I'm a huge noob when it comes to most IT stuff and I need some help with starter laptop suggestions and OS'es to learn and use. I want to learn stuff but everyone ive asked is all over the board from an apple airbook to cheapy Acer or chrome book. I've got an older refurbished imac desktop but its not mobile (well it is, I just look like a douche carrying it to coffee shops or meetup groups). Honestly I don't know too many IT people IRL, I have an art/design background. I don't even really know what I want to learn. I just know that I want to learn. Please advise me on where to start with laptops and OS'es.

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You should start by seeing them as two very separate things - a new laptop and a new OS. One doesn't have to do anything with the other.

If you buy a mac, you'll want to learn either MacOS or Linux.

If you buy a normal laptop, you'll want to learn either Windows, (any one of the flavors of) Linux or (any one of the flavors of) BSD.

If you can't afford a normal laptop, get a Chromebook and install Linux in there via Crouton.

There are more OS choices, but we'd be veering *WAY* off into the experimental OS territory, and you probably prefer to just get things done.

Since the hardware limits your OS somewhat, the first question you should ask yourself is if you want to use a mac. The rumors are true: compared to regular laptops they're bloody expensive but you do get some nice hardware in return. If you've never used a mac before and you want to use MacOS the keyboard is going to trip you up initially as they have different special keys (google it) unique to a Mac. MacOS integrates this nicely, as does Linux but since Linux is mostly used in a PC-centric world you'll see the PC-terms of buttons. It'll map cleanly to the apple buttons but it's something to be aware of.

In terms of actual hardware, the mac is just that: a mac. There isn't a lot of variation which is both a win and a loss - more predictability, less choice. Contrast that against 'normal' laptops and you get a whole plethora of combinations of CPU and GPU where one is emphasized over the other or they chuck beefy versions of both in there, tie some massive heatsinks in them and you end up with a 5+ pound workhorse that can put your PC to shame.

So it's kinda hard to say what you should pick based on what you've told us thus far. For one you didn't mention your budget. I'm also a bit fan of Sean Kennedy's mantra: Function over form - what does it do and how well does it do it. Everything else is secondary. If you want to impress those haiku writing motherfuckers in a local coffee shop, get a shiny, thin one first and foremost. If you want to actually get shit *done* on there, worry about the hardware first, second and last.

And remember, you buy a laptop because of its portability. If that's not something that you require, DON'T get a laptop.

Pro tip: If the places you want to have your device to play with have good network connectivity, one option is to get a thin, shitty laptop/netbook/chromebook/tablet, then ssh/remote-desktop into your home PC from where ever you are and get shit done that way - you'll have the excellent portability and battery life of that flimsy device but the sheer raw power of your home machine at your disposal. I used my 32 euro piece of shit tablet like that a few times (if you go this route find a tablet with a higher screen res).

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As far as OS goes, I really want to learn linux. There are a ton of different versions though, I'm still trying to figure out what all the differences are between them. Linux.com has a bunch of information but It's not clear what would be the best for coding / fooling around with network stuff. I'm always grateful for suggestions.

This laptop would be purely for coding, hacking around, maybe doing stuff with arduino or a raspberry pi. I do want something portable so laptop is a definite yes. I'd like something that I can take to the park, library or a coding group meetup, etc.

I don't know anything about hardware, what are your thoughts on a refurbished 15 inch Dell Inspiron with 2GH i7 processor, 16gb ram and 1TB hard drive? I found one for just under $700 USD. It's actually a little more than I have saved up but I think I can make it work money wise.

Should I pass and continue to save? I still have my old apple desktop in the mean time...

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Hell, I have an ASUS X550 with an i3, and that works wonderfully with every *nix distro I've tried. I'm currently running Ubuntu, and after bootup, I'm using 450MB of RAM, 3% CPU, and it honestly does everything I need it to. It's not expensive, and it works very well for the cost. But that's just my two cents.

Edited by neoknight88
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For my mobile setup I have an Asus K53-BBR4 which I upgraded to 8gb of RAM I picked up in 2012 and never had any issues with it. Dual boot Windows 7 and Kali on it no problem.

I also have a Nexus 7 2013 model I run Kali Nethunter on.

As stated above you don't need anything overkill especially if your just learning, plus you can always ssh or use a vnc connection to your home desktop.

Edited by deadlyhabit
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That would work, but I would factor in an upgrade of the harddrive to an SSD. The one thing slowing you down on a laptop is storage so investments here will pay high dividends and the lighter weight and lower power consumption are nice bonusses aswell.

And if you understand you will replace the harddisk you can take that knowledge with you in your hunt for a laptop - harddisk size doesn't matter as it will get replaced unless it's an SSD already.

Alternatively it's also something you can do after having used it a while so you have a laptop to play with right now while you save up for an upgrade that will make its use that much more enjoyable.

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I'd say Arch. From what I gather their documentation is pretty decent. That is to say, when I look around on how to do stuff, their wiki often pops up and has relevant and useful information on it to boot.

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Can try Distrowatch to find more linux flavors to try, but depends on what you want to do. if you want to do web development, grab any flavor that has a LAMP stack, or learn how to install all of them(which is a PITA to secure and configure everything, but a good place to start). If you want to do scripting, any small form factor distro with python and ruby will do, although ruby tends to be a pita as well9at least for me) and I don't program in it, just use it to run stuff which always seems to give me versioing issues, trying to track down gems, etc. Python is nice because it's more or less agnostic other than specific OS hooks, kind of like PHP works on all OS's the same with one script other than specific OS calls. If you want to learn CMS's, then I'd say in your linux host ,install a vrtualization product, and download pre-installed CMS apps like wordpress, joomla, drupal, etc, only because they really much up a system, break easily, and are insecure but can be secured and learned within the VM much easier without breaking your host system. you can also manually install them in the VM, which is also nice since you don't mess up the host(same for LAMP setups). Arch is one of those distros that unless you're ready to compile everything from scratch and configure everything from the ground up, I'd start with something more like Debian or even uBuntu for apt-get install packagname type setups. Arch is great, but not something I'd want to start with. kali is kind of specialized in pen testing, but the latest 2.0 is more middle of the road with a lot of everyday driver usability and a lot of tool already installed to do what you want as a coding box, with python, ruby,php, apache, databases(postgres and mysql) pre installed.

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I'd say Arch. From what I gather their documentation is pretty decent. That is to say, when I look around on how to do stuff, their wiki often pops up and has relevant and useful information on it to boot.

Arch pros:

- stays close to the leading edge (already running Linux 4.1.5)

- can be very lean and fast (*love* the boot times)

- latest goodies are frequently in the default repos

Arch cons:

- systemd (ha, ok, its not such a bad thing, just the UI)

- have to reboot on most system updates (often new kernels, glibc, etc.)

- healthy/harsh (you decide) learning curve

If you don't mind digging for knowledge Arch is probably good - yes their wiki is well done and mostly uptodate. I use Arch ultimately love it but I spend way too much time figuring out how to do things. My default google search is "arch linux xxxx" and a wiki.archlinux.org page will usually pop up.

Commands to know:

- pacman (package manager)

- netctl (manage network connections)

- journalctl -f (tails the system log)

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