A Linux user review of the Darter Pro laptop from System76

A Linux user review of the Darter Pro laptop from System76

In spite of its light weight, the Darter Pro stacks up well against other powerful laptops.

Darter Pro laptop
Image credits : 

Don Watkins, CC0

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I've been looking for a Linux laptop that's as powerful as a MacBook Pro and as light as a Chromebook, so when System 76 offered me the opportunity to review its Darter Pro, I was excited to accept the opportunity. I'm glad I did—in addition to being feather light and powerful, it has lots of features that meet my needs.

Darter Pro's specs

I do a lot of training on coding and Raspberry Pi, which means I'm always on the go, so having a lightweight laptop with maximum battery life is essential. The Darter Pro weighs only 3.6 pounds, and according to System 76, its 54.5Wh battery is good for six to 10 hours. It also has a 15.6-inch 1920x1080p Matte IPS display plus ample interfaces to external LCDs and projection devices if I need to expand my screen real estate even further. Another key feature for me is its SD card slot, which is imperative for creating Raspberry Pi boot drives. I found its 101-key backlit chicklet keyboard responsive, and its touchpad lets me scroll through websites and blogs like using a MacBook Pro.

System 76 offers the Darter Pro in a variety of configurations, including the option to install Pop_OS or Ubuntu. Its base model has an 8th Generation Intel Core i5-8265U and 8GB of RAM. (You can check the rest of its specs on the Darter Pro website.) The model I tested had Pop_OS 18.10, an 8th Generation Intel Core i7-8565U, a 250GB M.2 SSD drive, and 16GB of RAM. Here are the specifications from the evaluation computer.

How does it stack up?

I was curious how Darter Pro stacks up against its peers, so I contacted Michael Larabel at open source benchmarking site Phoronix and asked for his advice. He recommended I test it against Dell's new XPS 13 9380 with Ubuntu 18.10, which he recently reviewed.

After installing the Phoronix Test Suite software on the Darter Pro, I entered the command

$ phoronix-test-suite benchmark 1902114-SP-BENCHMARK79

into an open terminal and waited a couple of hours for the benchmark testing to complete.

I am happy to report that the Darter Pro did extremely well and outperformed the XPS 13 and the other computers included in that benchmarking suite. You can see from the graphics below that the Darter Pro was more than equal to its peers.

In the timed Linux kernel compilation, it finished first.

It also did well on a test that measures the time required to encode a WAV file to MP3 format.

I used the unsharp mask operation in GIMP to test graphic and CPU performance; the Darter Pro outperformed the XPS13.

I shared the benchmarking results on Openbenchmarking.org; you can check them there.

If you are looking for a light laptop that's powerful enough to handle the challenges of your day-to-day operations, and you want it to come pre-installed with Linux, I recommend you consider the Darter Pro.

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About the author

Don Watkins - Educator, education technology specialist,  entrepreneur, open source advocate. M.A. in Educational Psychology, MSED in Educational Leadership, Linux system administrator, CCNA, virtualization using Virtual Box. Follow me at @Don_Watkins .