A learner laptop?


I have a Librem laptop as my main daily device. I’m still really green to Linux so I’m not too comfortable just “playing around” with it. I am thinking of getting a cheap hacker kind of laptop to learn on. I did some research and see that there are a lot of issues with open hardware and what will run Linux properly… Unfortunately I don’t have the skills to figure stuff out yet, I need something that will initially "just work”.

Ideally I would like something that can run PureOS, but I think that might be impossible, without buying another new Librem!

Are there any success stories of getting PureOS on a used cheap laptop and having it pretty much work with no weird extra effort?

Or would it be best just to get a Pinebook Pro and learn Linux basics, and maybe it could run PureOS as a bonus?

I have researched numerous avenues but I keep running into roadblocks. Sub $500 preferred, or is it just not going to happen?

Thanks for any learnings or thoughts!

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Thinkpads are famous for their out-of-the-box Linux support. Look for an old T- or P-series that fits your budget. They will require non-free firmware though (most Linux distributions provide non-free firmware and hence run out-of-the-box) but that is doable.

I would not recommend a Pinebook Pro if you consider yourself really green to Linux.

An option could be to install PureOS on an external usb-connected ssd, and use that to dual-boot your Librem and play around.


Cool, thanks for the tips. So a Thinkpad might be able to run PureOS? Or worst case I could just put a different distribution on it.

One option is to buy a ThinkPad with a preinstalled libre operating system from here: https://minifree.org/


The word “pro” is really an indicator is it not?

Not really from Pine64’s description. The Pinebook is for tinkering, and they explicitly warn you about not being intended as a daily driver. While the Pinebook Pro is described as being a possible Chromebook replacement, which to me implies a bit more usable and user friendly.

I would buy (and I have done this myself, still do) a portable SSD drive and install PureOS or whatever you want to that in a dual boot configuration. Then you don’t have 2 laptops to keep track of, and its a much cheaper option.

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What do you envision doing that would be so risky? As long as you set the backups app to make frequent snaps of your system, you can always just do a quick restore to a previous working state if your messing around creates an instability. (Or do a manual backup just before you try something major.)

Some ideas:

  • Get a second-hand Librem laptop as your crash-and-burn machine.
  • Using a live boot, visit your friends and rellies to test out various makes and models. (Obviously we are talking about Intel CPUs only, not, for example, ARM-based laptops.)
  • For crash-and-burn you don’t specifically need a laptop. A desktop or ultra-compact might suffice.

It would be unusual for a distro (or PureOS specifically) to fail to boot at all. The problem areas can be

  • dedicated nVidia or AMD graphics (avoid dedicated graphics)
  • the WiFi (so having built-in ethernet is convenient)
  • (maybe) fingerprint reader (laptop only)
  • (sometimes) trackpad (laptop only)
  • (maybe) built-in web cam (laptop only)

Oh and you’ll want something that is either BIOS-only (not UEFI) or is UEFI but allows you to enable legacy boot / BIOS compatibility mode (or similar).

Also http://linux-hardware.org/


The risky stuff? Pretty much everything… I’ve never even set up a dual boot before, or restored to a previous state. I have a second SSD in my Librem that I can’t even access, but that will be another topic.

  • I could shop for a used Librem.
  • My closely held allies are even freaked out by my de-googled phone… There is no way I’ll touch their systems!
  • I do need a laptop as my free time is when I’m away at work (for a few weeks at a time).
  • Problem areas- I need this sucker to generally work, specifically the WiFi as I don’t always have access to Ethernet.

Maybe I could get a Thinkpad for around $300-$400, then put Linux on myself. I would pick a model that companies are selling with it pre-installed, so I know it can be done. Would be good learning for me.

I’m just not sure about doing a dual boot set up, I have to look into that.

I think most Linux distributions handle the dual boot setup automatically for you with the click of an option during the install process, even resizing the partitions. It goes like this:

  • Download the OS image.
  • Write the image to a USB drive.
  • Restart the computer, booting into the USB drive instead of the installed OS. (May require entering the boot menu immediately after power-on, to give USB boot priority over installed OS.)
  • Follow the distribution’s install instructions as they appear on screen. (i.e. Select its recommended options and click Next.)
  • Once installed and set up, choose either of the two installed distributions (OSes - the original one, or the newly installed one) at boot.

Backup and restore works like this:

  • Open the backup app and enter your password.
  • Set a schedule from its settings menu: Hourly, Daily, Weekly, Monthly
  • Choose how many backups to keep, setting older ones to delete automatically as new ones are made. (These take up a lot of space.)
  • If something ever goes wrong with the system, open the backups app and choose Restore.
  • Select the most recent stored backup that you think is good.
  • Click to restore the system to that backup.

So, not too complicated, normally. If your system is using the Librem Key, there might be some additional considerations…I’m not sure.

Where are you located?

Here are cheap Linux laptops in Europe:

If you want something with Coreboot, here is an option from the UK:

If you are in the US, this place sells cheap used Linux laptops:

It isn’t that hard to install Linux on your own, but when learning how to do it, it is better to have a machine where you don’t have existing data to save, so you can erase all the existing partitions on the harddrive/SSD. Installing PureOS, however, is tricky because it doesn’t support UEFI and you have to manually install any proprietary bits (such as WiFi firmware).

Pinebook Pro is ARM based (like a Chromebook) which means that some software will not have an already compiled version for it. And this adds additional level of complexity. So this would definitely make the transition more difficult.

out of the box suggestion: a used Google Chromebook Pixel 2013


  • 3rd-gen Core i5 is still quite capable
  • runs open-source system and EC firmware
  • uses an Atheros WiFi module
  • everything works in PureOS other than headphone jack, keyboard function-key remapping
  • can be found for <$200 USD
  • more “open” than a same-era Thinkpad
  • gorgeous HiDPI 3:2 touchscreen
  • built like a tank


  • requires flashing custom firmware (fairly trivial)
  • it’s almost a decade old
  • battery life wasn’t stellar when new
  • RAM, SSD, WiFi all soldered to motherboard
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the overwhelming majority of Chromebooks are x86_64 based, not ARM.

Btw. If you don’t care about the ARM issue, why don’t you grab a Raspberry Pi 4.
It is cheap, it is made in the UK and not in China, it consumes less energy. And after you are done playing with it, you can use it as a router or server and thus it is not going to end up as electronic waste soon.
It is not a notebook, so you will need a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. But you will need them when you want to use Librem 5 as a conversion device one day.

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PureOS 10 supports UEFI

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It was just a play on words with the brand name. I really didn’t care what it did or the product description.