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System 76 Darter Pro Review

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Date: 02/23/2020

I recently picked up the System 76 Darter Pro; I wanted a dedicated, modern Linux laptop, rather than continually repurposing old laptops, because I wanted something fast with decent battery life for my work as a web developer. How does the Darter Pro (dart6) stack up? Read on to find out.

My Darter Pro configuration:

OS: Ubuntu 18.04 LTS
CPU: i5-10210U (1.6 up to 4.2 GHz – 6 MB Cache – 4 Cores – 8 Threads)
Memory: Dual Channel DDR4 at 2666 MHz (2x8GB)
Drive: 500gb NVMe

My credentials as a Linux user:

I started with Linux on Redhat 5.0 back in the 90s, thanks to a very helpful step brother who showed me how to install and use it. Ever since then, I’ve used QNX, FreeBSD, NetBSD, Slackware (Slackware was my dedicated OS for programming in college), Debian, and of course, Ubuntu. If I’m doing development work, it’s almost always in Linux, or a Linux-like environment.

Why System 76?

I got tired of fighting hardware issues and spending time troubleshooting them when installing Linux on a device. This is definitely an issue when buying a modern laptop; With each one coming with all sorts of niche features, its hard to find one that’ll work well out of the box. Dell has the XPS line, of course, but the most recent XPS for Linux is only 13″; I can’t use a screen that small anymore, thanks to failing eyesight. I wanted an ultrabook/slimbook style laptop with a 15″ screen that just plain worked with Linux. That basically left me with spending a lot of money and time, or buying the Darter Pro.

System 76 Darter Pro: How good is the hardware?

You’re not getting an over-engineered Macbook or a slim and stylish Dell here, but really, that’s a good thing.

The Darter Pro is light, sturdy, and doesn’t come with excessive frills. The keyboard has more resistance than most laptops. The screen isn’t bad at all, but isn’t going to win any awards for those who need extreme color accuracy. The touchpad is fine. It has plenty of USB slots, and an ethernet port (which makes me exceedingly happy). The Mini-DP port is great to have, too, and just plain works.

The keyboard backlighting is cool, but it doesn’t save your color settings after turning it on and off. Maybe they’ll patch this at some point, but its not a huge deal for me.

The touchpad can be a nuisance; it’s pretty wide, so I frequently found myself accidentally clicking when writing code, causing me to delete huge chunks randomly. Disable the double-tap to click ASAP.

If you want more details on the performance of the hardware, you’ll find it elsewhere, honestly; I just cared that it was fast, and it is. Boot time for me was less than 10 seconds, which is plenty fast.

The battery life is as-advertised; as long as you don’t have the brightness cranked and aren’t gaming/streaming constantly, you’ll get plenty of use out of it. Setting up my dev environments and installing software didn’t tax the battery at all, so that’s a win in my book.

System 76 Darter Pro: How does the software perform?

This is basically just Ubuntu 18.04 LTS with nothing extra aside from the appropriate drivers. If it works on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, it works here. There’s nothing special to note. External displays connect fine, networking works out of the box, and everything else you’d expect from a factory-installed Linux laptop. You don’t have to do anything special here that you wouldn’t have to do for a Windows or Mac machine.

System 76 Darter Pro: Overall Thoughts

I seriously love this laptop. It is a joy to use something that took so little effort to get running. I’ve had it for 5 days now, and have done everything from streaming content to doing web development. Hell, I’ve even installed Steam and loaded a few of my less resource-intensive games on it (this isn’t a gaming machine, FYI). It is fast, light, and meets every single one of my needs.

The only improvements I would like to see would be even longer battery life and better control software for the keyboard backlighting. Really, I’ve had more complaints on Windows machines than I have on this laptop. Then again, I’m basically using this for one purpose: Web development. In that, it works exceedingly well.