TLDR; What are your requirements?
It has to be cheap: a used laptop.
The laptop must be durable: A robust laptop from the ThinkPad series or a Framework laptop for easy reparability.
Strong (including graphical) processing power: Laptops with dedicated, semi-young graphics card (no older than about 5 years).
It has to be Apple: MacBook Air with M1 or M2 processor. The devices last a long time, so they are also good second-hand.
General tips & requirements
Before you finally decide on a laptop, read reviews and look for common problems with your use cases (e.g. “Problems with virtualisation on M1 MacBook”, “Problems with Arch Linux on Thinkpad X13”, …).
We recommend used or refurbished laptops, as they are better for the environment, cheap and usually quite sufficient for studying.
The laptop should have at least 8GB of RAM. Better is 16GB, which is enough for most applications. Whether it’s an Intel or AMD CPU is relatively unimportant at the moment. The current AMD CPUs tend to have slightly longer battery life. Apple’s M-CPUs still have a few problems with virtualisation because of the new ARM architecture. This is something to be aware of before buying, and if you don’t know what virtualisation means yet, we advise against buying a MacBook with an M-CPU, as some practice tasks need virtualisation.
Otherwise, it depends on how you prioritise the following categories:
- Affordable price
- Linux compatibility
- Battery life
- Processing power
If you need a laptop now and don’t want to spend that much money (like many of your fellow students), we recommend a used laptop or a cheap Chromebook. You can outsource computationally intensive tasks to the institute’s CIP pools. Either by logging into the computer centre on site or by accessing it via SSH. You can find more information at https://gsg.informatik.uni-bonn.de/doku.php?id=de:pool Do keep in mind that Chromebooks can not do some tasks required in exercises, and you will therefore be forced to work with a pool computer.
Repairability & Durability
With an iFixit score of 10/10, the Framework Laptops 13 (and 16 when they become available) are a good recommendation. They have good longevity, making them environmentally friendly laptops. Other popular laptops often have the option of unscrewing the bottom cover. Then you can at least replace/upgrade the RAM or SSDs. Unfortunately, MacBooks from Apple are hardly repairable without specialist knowledge, as a lot of glue is used and components are soldered.
Some laptops support Linux by default. These are, for example, laptops from Framework, System76 and Tuxedo. Among the major manufacturers, there are individual models that have been developed for Linux compatibility. These are, for example, Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition and Lenovo X1 Carbon Linux.
For other manufacturers or laptop models, you should definitely inform yourself beforehand. Sensors and modules for WLAN or Bluetooth need drivers. Many manufacturers only provide drivers for Windows. This can mean, for example, that WLAN does not work under Linux.
Installing Linux on Chromebooks does not work at all, but they have a built-in Debian VM.
MacBooks with M1 or M2 processors currently have the best battery life. Other manufacturers have models that don’t last quite as long, but are perfectly adequate. In the Computer Science Institute, we have many power sockets where you can charge your laptop. Not in the lecture halls, however, if you want to use your laptop there to take notes.
For the longest possible battery life, it’s worth getting a new or used laptop where you can easily replace the battery. A laptop that can be charged via USB-C is also an advantage. If in doubt, you can extend the battery life there with a commercially available power bank. At the moment, AMD CPUs in laptops tend to be more efficient in everyday use than Intel CPUs. However, this can change again and battery life depends on many factors such as load and usage time.
High graphics requirements
If you edit videos or photos, like to game or carry out other graphic-intensive processes, we recommend a computer with a dedicated graphics card. The graphics card should not be too old; a maximum of about 5 years is a rough guide. The available range is very broad and you should inform yourself more precisely so that your requirements are well met. A dedicated graphics card gives you more performance. However, if you use this performance on battery power, be prepared for low battery life.
We recommend a laptop with a larger display (at least 14 inches, more likely 15 inches or larger) if it’s your only computer. Working continuously on a small screen can be exhausting. However, this is not absolutely necessary, as you can also connect your computer to one of the screens in our CIP pools. As a general rule, the larger your laptop, the heavier it is to transport.
Well-known manufacturers and model series we have heard good things about
Framework Laptop 13 & 16
Lenovo: Yoga, Ideapad, Legion, X, Thinkpad
Dell: Inspiron, XPS, Alienware, Latitude, Precision
HP: ENVY, Pavilion, Laptop (actually literally called that), Z, Elite, Pro, Essential
Acer: Duro, Swift, Spin, TravelMate, Enduro, Swift, Spin, Aspire
Many of us in the student council use ThinkPads and are satisfied. We also like Framework’s concept of being able to easily repair and upgrade a modular laptop. The low equipment (from about 1250€) is definitely enough. You are well served for the next 5 years. As soon as you reach a limit, there is the possibility to upgrade the respective component.
If you don’t want to spend that much, a used laptop or a Chromebook is a good solution. We have student representatives who have managed their entire studies with old, used laptops. Good choices here are the Lenovo E, X or T 390, 490 and 590 (e.g. X390, E490 or T590). Depending on the specifications, you might be able to find devices listed for 200€ and upwards.
Before you finally decide on a laptop, read reviews and look for common problems with your use cases (e.g. “Problems with virtualisation on M1 MacBook”, “Problems with Ubuntu on Thinkpad X13”, …).