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Andrew Baisden
Andrew Baisden

Posted on

What type of computer do Linux Developers use?

I always hear people talking about how great Linux is to use for development but I am curious what computers do you use? Is it a Mac or Windows machine with multiple boot options or do you buy something custom?

Top comments (63)

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dwd profile image
Dave Cridland

I've used Linux as my primary development desktop since THE LAST CENTURYβ„’, which makes me feel very old indeed. Back then, "IDE" was a hardware interface for hard disks, and so we only had "editors". Javascript hadn't been invented yet, and I was cutting-edge by programming in that fancy ANSI C. And I had, I kid you not, almost a whole Gigabyte of disk space, and 40 MEGABYTES of RAM - this was at a time most people had perhaps 4 - my parent's machine had a 40M disk...

Obviously I've upgraded a few times since, but always to a hand-crafted behemoth, hewn from stone, with chips I made myself from the finest potato, and microcode inserted using deft gestures whilst holding a hand-wound electromagnetic wand.

Well, that's half-true, anyway - my current Linux development desktop is actually a 6-core Haswell i7, with 64G of RAM and a sort of random collection of SSDs. I bought the machine about 6 or 7 years back, and I had a single 2.5K screen (bought at the same time) and a pair of 1600x1200 Dells in portrait on either side - all driven by a pair of 660Ti's which were linked in SLI mode for when the machine (called Jekyll) is dual-booted into Windows 10 to play games (whence it becomes Hyde).

It's got a water-cooler, because, you know, it's a frigging water cooler. How cool is that? Real reason: It's quieter, which is why it's built around a Fractal Design sound-proofed case, too.

Since then I've upgraded the monitors to three 2.5Ks (Two Dell U2715H's and the original Dell U2713HM, now in portrait), powered by a nVidia 2060 - one of the 660 Ti's lurks within the machine, perhaps used for PhysX, I don't know. Maybe it's the thing that randomly slows the games down?

For several years, I've used clamp-to-the-desk monitor stands rather than the stands the monitors came on, because it gives me a lot more desk space and put the screens at the right height.

I also have a work laptop for when I'm on the road (like, going into the actual office), but I use Windows 10 on there, with WSL2 for the Linuxy stuff, because the hardware was much better supported. Don't tell anyone.

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden Author

Thats an impressive setup by the sounds of it do you have a picture to share 😁

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dwd profile image
Dave Cridland

Well, obviously if they were 4K screens it'd be more impressive.

dwd Home Office

Visible on screen, LTR:

  • Android emulator (I'm not an Android dev, but I can manage a few bits)
  • Slack (work "corporate" IM)
  • Gajim for Open Standard IM
  • A terminal.

  • Cinnamon desktop panel, for new-style old-school Linux desktop.

  • Another terminal.

  • Datagrip, the JetBrains IDE for databases.

  • JetBrains Toolbox.

  • Chrome, showing gmail.

Physical, LTR:

  • "Comms" screen, with webcam on top, on a gas-lift arm so I can move it about.
  • Headset (Logitech gaming one, comfortable for long calls with good sound and microphone).
  • Roccat Isku keyboard. Slightly worn.
  • A Leap Motion controller, in case I want to feel like I'm in a late '80's cyberpunk thriller.
  • Logitech speakers.
  • A note in binary from my wife.
  • "Work" screens, one landscape one portrait, on a fixed dual-screen stand.
  • Wacom graphics tablet, great for scribbling stuff on calls with whiteboarding.
  • Roccat Tyon mouse. All the buttons.
  • The access card for the actual office, which shares a keyring on a retractable cable with a Yubikey, because hardware crypto and U2F FTW.
  • The blue light is a Bluetooth adapter. Mostly its there because people genuinely think it's a security alarm or something, because it blinks blue.

The portrait screen for web browsing is an acquired taste - once you try it you acquire it - but what you can't make out is that the IDE, like all my programming editors, runs with a proportional font because I don't hate my eyes.

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jpeltonstroud profile image
Joshua Pelton-Stroud

A note in binary from my wife.

This makes me happy inside.

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dwd profile image
Dave Cridland

Me too.

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

I use linux on a PC (my own build) and my VPS and one of my laptops.
None of the physical machines I've owned were bought with Linux on. I've installed various distros over the years and rarely had any problem with hardware.
On the laptop front I generally use Dells or Thinkpads which are known to be a bit more Linux-friendly than some makes/models, but I've run Debian and Arch on HPs and Sonys with very little trouble.
If you want to go fully free-software you'll almost certainly run up against issues with wifi chipsets. This is because the manufacturers don't want to let people use their hardware with free software, not because of any technical limitations. You can get by with a USB dongle in a pinch.
Most people who use Linux though don't really care too much about free software philosophy and will install a bunch of non-free stuff on it immediately. If you're in that camp, you'll probably have a straightforward installation experience and not too many hardware issues.
There are forums heaving with people who've had the same problems before and found solutions already, so that's probably not a blocker.

And you can always test an OS out against your hardware with a live bootable USB drive - this doesn't affect the existing OS unless you choose it to.

Or you can play around with the OS inside a VM like VirtualBox.

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden Author

Dells and Thinkpads seem to be quite popular with developers. If I was not a Mac user I would probably get one of those two makes.

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rpoirier profile image
Reese Poirier

I know several devs running linux on Macbook Pros.

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aslasn profile image
Ande

;-;

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden Author

Through bootcamp or virtualisation? Won't be able to use bootcamp on the new ARM macs when they come out. Not sure how well the performance will be using virtualisation.

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dar5hak profile image
Darshak Parikh

Even the recent Touchbar MacBooks are hard to get running with Linux. There are all sorts of driver problems.

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giovannicodes profile image
Giovanni CortΓ©s

I did a custom one.

  • Ryzen 5 3600
  • GTX 1660 Ti
  • 32 GB Ram 2666 Mhz
  • 500 SSD
  • MOBO B450 F Gaming

I am using PopOS! 20.04

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uvinduharshana profile image
Uvindu Harshana

Hey man, I'm using PopOS! 20.04 too. What about hardware compatibility with AMD drivers?

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giovannicodes profile image
Giovanni CortΓ©s

Not sure, but it seems that is as good as Nvidia, but I am not able to testing.

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mmaitoza profile image
Michael Maitoza

I just set up an 11 year old Dell Studio 1555 laptop to bring it some new life. Windows 10 was chugging along so slow with only a Core2Duo T6600, 4gb of RAM and a 500gb HDD. It's working so much better now. It's actually pleasant to work with now and gets tasks done easily. I'm just going to open it up and give it a 256gb SSD for a little more speed. I thought about opening it up for a RAM upgrade, but DDR2 RAM is so expensive for 8gb. As far as hardware problems I haven't found any so that's good news.

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dar5hak profile image
Darshak Parikh

Wow, I thought I was the only one to rock age-old hardware but good to not be alone.

(And yes, do get that SSD upgrade. You'll love it.)

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mmaitoza profile image
Michael Maitoza

Yes Darshak, not only do I rock this particular machine with Linux, I also have an 11 year old Lenovo Ideacentre A600 AIO with a T6600 Core2Duo and 4gb of RAM and a 500gb HDD. Now this one has an excellent screen with Full HD. I'd like to pop an SSD into that one too. You are not alone my friend. I find it a waste to recycle or throw away good computers when they still have life in the with Linux running them.

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alxtrnr profile image
Alex Turner

An old 32 bit Sumsung NC10 netbook with Lubuntu. I keep that in a locker for work to use on my breaks. Main laptop is an Entroware Proteus. That came preinstalled with Ubuntu. Phone is a Pine 64. The OS systems (13 at last count) for that are all under ongoing development. I love Linux!

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden Author

Wow you are all in with Linux.

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alxtrnr profile image
Alex Turner

I forgot to mention Raspberry Pi x2 :)

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rpoirier profile image
Reese Poirier

Nowadays you don't usually have to buy anything particularly special to run linux. When building a desktop for myself I stick to known brands for certain parts to make sure there will be drivers if I decide to run linux on it. For example I got the non-gamer version of my motherboard because I know there will be drivers for Intel network chipset, but the network chipset from xXxGamerBrandxXx that I've never heard of probably only has Windows drivers.

Unfortunately I'm stuck with Mac OS at work (which is just barely *nix enough for me to put up with it), but if they'd let me I'd be running linux on the company issued MBP instead.

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alexanderjanke profile image
Alex Janke

At work a generic notebook/laptop with an intel i7 on Windows - though I wish it was Linux.

At home a custom pc dual boot between windows (games) and ubuntu (productivity).
Specs are:
i7
some ram
rtx 2080ti
3x 27" monitors
mechnical keyboard (if you type a lot, please do yourself the favor and get one)

The monitor part is easily the most important when trying to be productive. At work I got 3x 24" screens, using 2 virtual desktops - making effective 6 screens - and I practically never see my wallpaper ;(

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden Author

Sounds like a cool setup which mechanical keyboard do you have? I think the Keychron K2 is quite popular.

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alexanderjanke profile image
Alex Janke

At home I use the Razer Huntsman with optical-mechanical (purple) switches. They're super light to press. Amazing keyboard really.
image

and at work a original Cherry MX Board 3 with blue switches. Don't use a keyboard like this in open-space-offices 'cause blue switches are stupid loud :D

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flexbed profile image
jay@γ€γγ‚‚γŒγΏ ~ $

I use Linux on my main development desktop PC (an old i3 with 12GB RAM + dual monitors), and my laptop (lenovo i7 + 8GB RAM), both works very well for my work (mainly web development in PHP, Python, React, Express, eventually some VMs in local).
Also have a Raspberry Pi 1 and a Raspberry Pi 3 on my LAN running some services.

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contradicthelaw profile image
Minh Nguyen (he/him)

My development laptop runs Linux, and I found the experience much better than my work laptop running Windows despite the dev machine having much less RAM and CPU power. The reason why it works for me is mainly because most of the tools I use are built around the Linux environmentβ€”Docker, MariaDB and NPM/Yarn are much quicker than in Windows.

I've also customised my workspace to strip out most of the unnecessary interactions that come with other desktop environments (I use i3 as my environment):

  • All my programs open maximised.
  • I can use keyboard shortcuts for almost everything, like manipulating and moving between program windows.
  • I can effectively use virtual workspaces to segment the things I'm working on. Firefox is on desktop 1, terminal is on desktop 2, and the code editor is on desktop 3.
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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden Author

Seems to me that a lot of developers enjoy working in Linux you all have such nice cool setups. And there are so many nice flavours of Linux to play around with. I have noticed that many have migrated away from Windows to Linux but what about from macOS?

Doing iOS development is best on a mac and Windows is probably the best for gaming. So what's a better combo. Linux + macOS or Linux + Windows?

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contradicthelaw profile image
Minh Nguyen (he/him)

I couldn't tell you about people moving from macOS to Linux, but your point is definitely valid that you do need macOS to develop apps for it and iOS.

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codebycorey profile image
Corey O'Donnell

I have an unRaid server where I host multiple Virtual Machines and docker images.

My main driver is a VM running Regolith (Ubuntu with i3vm) with GPU passthrough.
I use a Mechanical Keyboard with Cherry Brown switches
3 23'' monitors.

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erica (she/her)

My Linux machine is a Dell XPS 13 from 2016 - been running Windows on it from the factory until earlier this year. Wiped it completely and did a full Ubuntu install and it feels lighter and faster than when I first got it.

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Austin S. Hemmelgarn

I primarily use a second generation Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme, set up to dual boot Windows and Gentoo (Windows is there only because I’m a gamer and don’t have the patience to get everything I care to play working properly under Proton). Barring a rather strange issue with the multi-GPU setup (Linux only sees the display if I turn off the iGPU in firmware) and the usual USB-C limitations, it works largely flawlessly with Linux (and actually gets better battery life than it does running Windows, though not by much and a large part of that is due to me hyper-optimizing for power efficiency).

However, a lot of the heavy lifting is actually done by a number of other systems. Most are bog-standard VPS nodes running either Gentoo, Debian Sid, or Alpine. Three though are custom builds that I put together myself:

  • The first, used primarily as a virtualization host for running test environments, is a Ryzen 9 3950X on an ASUS PRIME X570-P with 64 GB of RAM, two 1TB NVMe 4.0 SSDs, two 525GB SATA SSDs, and a GeForce GT 1030, running Gentoo.
  • The second, used mainly for running BOINC work-units, and for testing CUDA code, is a Ryzen 7 1700 on an MSI X370 SLI Plus with 32 GB of RAM, two 525GB SSDs, and 3 GeForce GT 1030s, running Gentoo.
  • The third, used as a NAS system and Docker testbed, is a Ryzen 3 3200G on an ASUS PRIME B450-A with 16GB of RAM, two 1TB SSDs, and four 4TB HDDs, running Alpine.

I’ve also got a base-configuration late 2018 Mac Mini that I use on the rare occasions that I need to test on macOS.

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Artem

I used to be on Linux full time before switching to Mac provided by work. All the machines were formerly Windows. Now I use Vagrant whenever I need Linux access. IMHO it is the best way to get Linux vm if you don't care about UI.
For the native install, Linux works everywhere and there is no wrong machine for it.

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Simon Justesen • Edited on

I've been using mostly custom machines that I built myself. I also have a VPS @ DigitalOcean.
As hardware vendors often don't supply Linux drivers for their shiny new hardware, you have to find out which hardware what and what to stay away from. Therefore the best rate of success is to build something yourself or buy a new rig from a PC vendor that supports Linux.

My journey as a Linux user started a few years ago with a dualboot setup, Windows on one partition and Ubuntu on the other (in fact RedHat was the first, back in 1997, but I failed getting it to work).
As time went by, I found myself using Ubuntu more and more. Having used Windows for 25 years, moving away is a bit of a process. I think Windows 8 was the final nail in the coffin. Windows 10 is cool, but you spend waay too long time waiting for updates.

Nowadays Ubuntu is my primary system while Windows lives happily inside a Virtual Machine. That setup is rock solid. I do miss gaming from time to time. But it can't beat the freedom of having access to every bit of source code of your system (almost... NVidia only supplies their proprietary drivers in binary form)

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden Author

Microsoft really made a mess with previous versions of Windows that converted many people to other OS's. Agreed Windows 10 is much better but its hard to convert people back after such a long time. Memories last forever good or bad.

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Simon Justesen

Yes, they do :) They should have offered both UIs alongside each other. That would have cost them less headache and users would be happy. But, well ... it's fun to try something new. I didn't know the concept behind tiling window managers like i3 before I started using Linux. It's a godsend feature, which helps me focus.

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anibalardid profile image
Anibal

I have gamer laptop, not for games, only to have power. I have asus tuf fx laptop (32gb ram, ryzen 7 with 8 cores, 500gb ssd).
I use linux (ubuntu now, but I try differents distros).
And always I use external display (samsung 27"), and external wireless mouse and keyboard.

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden Author

I used to have one of those old 17” Dell XPS gaming laptops back in the day it was huge! I also used it more for power than gaming. One friend asked me why I needed such a big laptop πŸ˜… And at the company I was working with at the time they joked that I was getting a work out carrying that thing around.

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Anibal

hahaha :D I had macbook pro 13" before, and I don't miss that, I love my 17" screen

What image format should you use in your next project? πŸ€”