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The Lemur Pro - Random Developer's Opinion

stevenpg profile image StevenPG ・6 min read

While searching for a new laptop for personal use, I came across a dozen reviews that each touched on a specific facet of System 76's new Lemur Pro ultra-book. I never found a single comprehensive review that touched on all of the questions I had and had seen on forums like /r/system76 on Reddit. So in keeping with the mantra "be the change you want to see in the world", here's a review of System 76's Lemur Pro where I attempt to touch on every question I've had and come across online!

The Machine Itself

Firstly, Shipping. I ordered the Lemur Pro off of System76's website on September 22nd. Assembly started the following day and it was shipped 5 days later on the 28th. I paid for 3-day priority shipping and received the machine (signature required) on the 30th, within the 3 days!

The configuration that I'll be testing with today was as follows:

Base Lemur Pro
i5 10210U (1.6 up to 4.2Ghz - 6MB Cache - 4c/8t)
8GB DDR4 @ 2666Mhz
250GB NVMe (Seq Read: 3,500 MB/s, Seq Write: 2,300 MB/s)

I purchased a separate Samsung 32GB DDR4 DIMM to save a few bucks that I'll be putting in soon.

First Impressions and Capabilities

Upon receiving it, I was surprised at how light it was. I mean this thing weighs nothing for a laptop. That alone is a huge plus as this is meant to be a grab-n-go laptop or a lap-laptop on the couch to work away on side projects.

When I booted it up for the first time, I loaded into the Pop! OS screen in about 4 seconds. Compared to the ~30 start-up time of my Windows laptop and ~25 second start-up time of my work-issued 16-inch Macbook Pro this is a dream.

Connecting peripherals using Bluetooth and the hardware ports was easy and I had no problems plugging things in or connecting.

Regarding USB-C docks, the Lemur Pro handles them without issue. I plugged the machine into my work-issued USB-C dock and was able to charge the Lemur (though firmware updates must use the included barrel power charger) through USB-C while displaying to a 1080p 144hz monitor without any issues.

Arrow Keys

One of the call-outs I've seen in a few places about the Lemur Pro is the size of the arrow keys and the proximity of the PgUp and PgDn keys. I don't have an issue with these keys, but I wanted to measure the keys compared to my 16-inch MBP to put the issue to bed.

The Lemur Pro's arrow keys are 1.4cm wide with a .4cm gap between the left-center-right keys. The 16-inch Macbook Pro's arrow keys are 1.6cm wide with a .2cm gap between left-center-right keys.

Therefore the truth of the matter is, the Macbook Pro's arrow keys are 13% larger than the Lemur Pros. To me they feel very similar but to others it seems the opposite.

Physical Build

Keyboard: The keyboard reminds a TON of the Macbook pro keyboard, I don't really notice any flex in the tray as I'm typing, even if it's on my lap.

Screen Twisting: With such a small screen, you CAN twist the screen a little bit on the Lemur which is a bit concerning. Whereas on the much larger Macbook, you basically can't twist the screen at all.

Touchpad: The touchpad is definitely better than most, almost as good as the Macbook but the material feels off. I actually prefer it but it's easy to see how it is inferior to the Macbook.

Keyboard: Keyboard is excellent, very short and easy to type quickly on.

Speaker Audio Quality

This is something that's called out and honestly... Every mention of the Lemur's speakers being bad are correct. The speakers are good to voice and pretty much nothing else. There's absolutely no bass, they sound like speakers from cell phones 5 years ago.

That said, I sorta expected this. An on-the-go ultra-book isn't where I'd look for high-quality speakers. Not like the $2400 Macbook Pro which is commonly used as a desktop replacement as well as a laptop.

Performance

Performance of laptops is sometimes vague and I rarely see a concrete example that isn't a synthetic benchmark. So I've chosen a relatively large open source project to compile. The build has some multi-core tendencies as I've seen on my desktop and should give us stable ground to compare the Lemur Pro to other systems.

Here are the machines that the Lemur will be up against (and itself for reference):

Lemur
    i5 10210U - 1.6/4.2ghz - 4c/8t w/ 8GB Mem
2012 Clevo Gaming Laptop - Running Ubuntu
    i7 3610QM - 2.3/3.3ghz - 4c/8t w/ 16GB Mem
2019 Macbook Pro
    i7 9750H - 2.6/4.5ghz 6c/12t w/ 16GB Mem
HP Envy x360
    Ryzen 7 2700U - 2.2/3.8ghz - 4c/8t w/ 8GB Mem
"Gaming" Desktop
    Ryzen 7 3700x - 8c/16t w/ 32GB Mem

All of these were builds were tested using OpenJDK11.0.5 and Maven 3.6.3 using jenkinsci/jenkins repo on Github, branch stable-2.249. All machines were plugged in to their power source rather than run on battery.

All tests exclude the dependency download, since that's subject to networking conditions at that moment. (I under-estimated how long this build took... Doing multiple tests burned an entire Saturday)

Machine Average Result Price Result Diff Price Diff to Lemur
Lemur 1h 32m $1049 (2020) 0 0
Clevo 1h 34m $1521 (2012) 2% 36%
Macbook 1h 38m $2399 (2020) 6% 78%
HP Envy 2h 10m $800 34% 26%
Desktop 1h 2m $1500 (2018) 38% 35%
Raspberry Pi 4 B+ Crashed ¯\(ツ) ;) 185%

The reference point for these is how long the official Jenkins build takes on ci.jenkins.io where the open source maintainers build and deploy the project. It looks like it takes roughly 2 hours for the project to be build and tested by the open source team.

I'm not 100% sure how the Lemur beat out the Macbook, maybe thermals. But the Boost clocks are similar and both were spinning the fans up and down like crazy.

Just like a synthetic benchmark, this really only proves out a large java compilation taking similar amounts of time.

Thermals

Another thing I see mentioned in a lot of these reviews is how hot the battery area gets during heavy usage. So I pulled out my trusty temperature gun and got to work running those Jenkins compiles and grabbing peak temps. Here are the peak temperatures on the bottom of the case of each laptop tested.

I put each laptop on a glass desk (because glass sucks at spreading heat apparently) and measured every few minutes to get the peak temperature. The Macbook's fans probably turned on the least of the machines listed and was certainly the quietest.

Machine Measured Peak Temp CPU Peak Temp as Reported
Macbook Pro 112F 82c
Lemur Pro 120F 97c
Clevo 94F x
Envy x360 92F x

Fun fact, the Clevo was blowing 140F air out the back. That was a surprise.

Brightness

This laptop is nearly as bright as the MBP outside. For most screens I've used outside, there's "it works in full sunlight" and "it doesn't". The Lemur Pro definitely has an "it works" rating, unlike the HP Envy x360.

Takeaways

The temperature numbers were surprising and support what others have said about the Lemur Pro becoming VERY hot on your lap. However for my personal use-case, I won't be doing multi-hour builds on a 14inch laptop on the couch so this isn't a concern for me. I didn't notice any high-heat when browsing or doing basic software development with an IDE and browser windows.

In my opinion, this laptop does best what it seems like it should be best at, being a long-lasting battery ultra-book. I've seen complaints about power-saver mode having speed issues and all I can say is this laptop isn't meant to be a compilation machine/desktop replacement.

Comparisons to the Macbook should be taken with a huge grain of salt, since it's over twice the cost. Even the Macbook Air is more expensive with worse specs and performance (though better build quality and probably speakers). As with most things, it's what it most important to you.

I wouldn't buy this for heavy multi-processing workloads, I'd buy a desktop replacement laptop. Gaming on this makes little sense as well, though I've seen others complain about the gaming performance.

In my opinion, this fits the same niche as the Macbook Air, except at a way better value and with a much better OS. I love it and happily use it when I'm away from my desktop. My itch for a Macbook of my own is gone and System76 has earned my trust.

Discussion

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artkay profile image
Art Kay

I wonder if the new 11th gen CPU would make any difference. After basically following your path of reading all the possible reviews I settled on Lemur Pro as a replacement for an aging MacBook Pro. Thanks for the review!