System76 Galago Pro (14") Review

Josh Sherman
10 min read
Linux Arch Linux Debian / Ubuntu

Hate to start off this post somewhat negatively, but if you’re only here to leave a snarky comment about how I overpaid for a crappy Clevo machine, you can save yourself the time.

That said, System76 does in fact sell machines from OEM/ODM Clevo and brands and supports them. It’s not even a secret, right on the label on the underside there’s a Clevo CO Code along with the System76 info ;)

Now that the rant’s out of the way, let’s talk about why I chose the Galago Pro from System76. It’s probably worth mentioning that this machine is replacing an Apple MacBook Air 11” Mid-2012.

The machine was still kicking, ran Linux pretty damn well, but sadly, was starting to show it’s age. Performance just wasn’t quite there when running docker and the 11” screen was starting to feel a bit too cramped too me.

So I shopped around for a bit, mostly bugging my friends and doing my own independent research. I only really had a single “must have” which was being able to have 32GB of RAM in the machine.

It’s kind of funny, at least a few people have said that 32GB is either “too much” or asked me to justify why I thought I needed that much.

Thing is, I really don’t need that much, but having too much means that I will most likely never hit any upper limits at all.

As I type this on my 2011 iMac which also has 32GB of RAM I can happily report that I am not using all 32GB of RAM. I am using 21.5GB of RAM which is well over the 16GB upper limit of most of the machines that I had looked at.

Okay, so a butt load of RAM was my main hardware requirement, some of my “nice to haves” included the machine shipping with Linux (System76 Galago Pro, Dell XPS 13, Purism Librem 13), hardware kill switches on the camera (Purism), a nice keyboard (Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon) and nice trackpad (sadly, Apple still owns that).

I was considering trying to procure a pre-touchbar Apple MacBook Pro like I had when I was working at Sumo. It ran Linux pretty amazingly but at this point, the hardware would be 3 years old.

So of everything I’ve mentioned, the System76 Galago Pro checked off the most boxes on both my requirements and nice to haves.

The best part of bugging my friends was that from those conversations I came to realize how important it was to me to buy from a company that not only Linux forward, but Linux first with their machines.

Dell’s done a great job being Linux forward with the XPS 13 but they cloud things a bit by referring to the machine with Linux as the “Developer Edition”. If Linux stands a fighting chance on taking over on the desktop, we need to ditch the mentality that it’s only for developers.

Both System76 and Purism are Linux first with their product offerings and honestly, I probably would have went with Purism if the Librem 13 could be configured with 32GB of RAM.

Okay, so that was the thought process that went into this decision. I pulled the trigger on getting a new machine over Labor Day weekend to take advantage of some back to school special System76 was running (price discount and a free day planner that’s full of geeky holidays and events).

Incidentally, my bank flagged the transaction which gave me an early opportunity to interact with System76’s support team as I got things sorted on my end.

I’ve read mixed reviews of their support online but all of my interactions with them have been superb.

So bank issue is sorted, about a week or so later I’m in possession of a wonderfully simple white box that simply said “System76” on the outside.

Unboxing was quite the experience as the only new hardware I’ve gotten in recent years has either been Apple or Amazon-related. When opened, the simple white box revealed blue artwork reminiscent of their website.

The system was packed up in no tear / no cut packaging that made it very easy to get into and start enjoying.

Okay, so unboxing was great, first order of business was to mess around with Ubuntu and then swap out Ubuntu for Arch Linux and then get moved in.

Overall the machine feels pretty sturdy and there’s been a ton that I love about it. But, for the sake of ending on a high note, let’s talk about the things I don’t really love about it.

The first thing I noticed with the Galago Pro is that the USB slots seemed tight. The bottom of the machine has a bit of a lip that every so slightly overlaps with the bottom of the USB, HDMI and Thunderbolt ports as well as the SD slot.

The other thing that I don’t particularly like is that the system is mostly aluminum, but the backside of the screen across the top is plastic. It’s still fairly aesthetic, I’m just unsure why the system would have any plastic if it’s being touted as an aluminum body.

Both of the aforementioned things are fairly trivial issues especially considering the USB tightness seems to have gotten a bit better after a few times of using the ports.

What isn’t trivial is the trackpad on the Galago Pro. Simply put it’s absolute garbage in my opinion.

With that, take into consideration that I’ve been using Apple Magic Trackpads for quite a while. It’s something that Apple has really done right and I can’t imagine that I would be completely satisfied with any PC trackpads. Nothing I’ve tried has felt as good so there’s a high level of bias there.

Fortunately after a few nights of tweaking, I was able to get the trackpad feeling damn close to that of my MacBook Air. Expect a post on how I did it soon :)

One last gotcha for me was the power adapter.

It’s a fine 40W adapter but I felt it was a touch too short based on how our living room is setup and where I sit in relation to the outlet when I am in need of a charge.

This sparked my second interaction with System76 support as I reached out to find out if they happened to recommend any third party power adapters that had longer cords.

They got back with me pretty quickly and even though they had no recommendations, they did give me a head’s up about the size of the barrel I would need to look for (4 x 1.7mm which is referred to as M3 by some manufacturers).

With said information I was able to find a universal adapter on Amazon that was only $25.99 in comparison to the $60 System76 charges for additional power adapters.

The best part is, the new adapter was not only longer, it was 90W (for faster charging) AND is only 2 prong instead of 3 prong for plugging into the wall.

There are a few adapters on Amazon that would fit the bill but the one I went with is the ZOZO 90W AC Universal Laptop Charger because one of the reviews actually mentioned that the adapter worked great with their Galago Pro. Was worth a couple of extra bucks for the extra piece of mind.

So enough of the bad already, let’s talk about what’s good!

The system is lightweight and snappy, no complaints there. I opted for the 14” model because I’ve read that the HiDPI screens tend to be a power drain on laptops so I thought it would be better for me to just stick with the larger screen with the lower resolution.

The screen is gorgeous and even though I don’t work out in the sunlight too often, I still prefer the matte finish for my display.

I will admit, I do feel the resolution is a bit too small for me to be able to tile a terminal on the left and a web browser on the right the way I do on my iMac. Not a deal breaker, just worth noting as if you do like to tile windows you will run into a lot of sites adjusting to their mobile and tablet versions instead of the desktop version.

The other thing that really wowed me was the keyboard. I’m a fairly particular about my keyboards and the recent changes to the Apple keyboard (specifically the depth of key presses) was quite off putting (and part of the reason that I didn’t think I would be moving forward with Apple hardware).

The keyboard itself seemed a touch larger than my MacBook Air which took a day to get used to, as well as getting used to the Fn key being where it is instead of the far end.

The keys themselves feel a bit “squishier” than that of the older Apple systems and have a good amount of depth and good tactile feel to them.

The real dream and something I didn’t realize I was missing out on all these years is getting back to having full size arrow keys. I try not to use them when I’m getting my Vim on, but there are a lot of times that the arrow keys come in handy and they deserve to be the same size as the other keys.

I had mentioned earlier that I went with the non-HiDPI screen in an effort to improve battery life. I don’t have any actual metrics, but thus far it seems like I’m able to get 5 to 6 hours of battery life out of the machine.

I know there are systems out there that tout higher battery lives, but in my experience those advertised metrics very rarely seem to be what I end up getting in terms of battery life. Is that it is, but I’m satisfied with the battery life thus far with the Galago Pro.

Probably also worth noting, even though the machine did suspend quite well out of the box, the battery drained more than expected while suspending so I switched to a full hibernation when closing the lid. This isn’t a System76 problem as it’s something I’ve always experienced with Linux on a laptop.

So yeah, the System76 Galago Pro 14” model has been a great machine thus far. It looks sharp, runs quick and I can feel like I’ve done my part in helping to perpetuate Linux on the desktop by supporting a company that is putting Linux first.

One other thing worth mentioning, in addition to the beautiful packaging, the system ended up coming with a nice little thank you card with a bunch of stickers. Was a really nice touch and completely unexpected.

I’m one of these guys so there’s a small chance that I may remove the official System76 branding and just go with the sticker equivalent ;)

If you have any questions or anything about the Galago Pro, feel free to drop them in the comments below!

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About Josh

Husband. Father. Pug dad. Musician. Founder of Holiday API, Head of Engineering and Emoji Specialist at Mailshake, and author of the best damn Lorem Ipsum Library for PHP.

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