In this article I will share some tips that can improve chances of getting a Linux compatible products. Before going ahead, read this disclaimer:
I cannot be held responsible for any issues arising from a hardware purchased by you after following this guide. This article is based on my personal opinions and observations as a long time Linux user. The stated tips are mere suggestions, you are advised to use your own discretion and take informed decisions.
So let’s start with these points.
Check for Official Compatibility Data Provided by the Vendor
This goes without saying but I am still mentioning here for the sake of completion. Search for the magical “Linux” word in the list of supported platforms of a hardware piece. You can look into official product pages, online store listings, product manuals, spec sheets, box packaging and outer packaging images on search engines, unboxing videos and so on.
Get Laptops and Desktop PCs from Vendors that Officially Support Linux
If you are not looking to dual boot Linux and Windows, you should consider getting a pre-built desktop computer or laptop from manufacturers like System76 and Dell, who sell some of their hardware pre-installed with Linux. They even allow you to customize the hardware by upgrading or downgrading some components. As long as they pass your quality, customer service, and value for money test, you should give them a chance.
Look for Hardware Certified by Linux Distributions
Linux distribution makers like Canonical and Red Hat maintain a list of Linux compatible hardware components. These products undergo rigorous testing jointly with OEMs and they are certified to work with Linux. Getting an item from these lists will almost guarantee you full Linux support. A list of Ubuntu certified hardware is available here while RedHat certified hardware is available here.
Use Google Search Engine Tricks to Check for Compatibility
When searching for Linux compatibility for a particular hardware piece, you can use the following search patterns to refine the results in the Google search:
- Use quotes to force search results to include the specified terms. Example: “Asus Zenbook” “Linux” or “Zenbook” “Ubuntu”.
- Use hyphen or minus to exclude search terms. Example: “Zenbook” “Linux” -“Windows”.
- Use “intext” option to force results to have Linux in their description or somewhere in the listed webpage. Example: “Zenbook” intext:“Linux”.
- Use “site” operator to narrow down results to a specific site. Example: “Asus Zenbook” site:ubuntuforums.org.
Search Official Vendor Forums
In case Google search doesn’t give you enough results, you can try searching official support pages or community forums on Vendor’s website to look for Linux compatibility comments made by other users.
Use the Search Function in the Reviews Section in Online Stores
Online stores like Amazon have reviews and dedicated question-answer sections where you can look into feedback left by end users regarding Linux compatibility. Amazon usually has a search bar on product listing pages that can be used to search both reviews and answers at the same time. Using “Linux” or “Ubuntu” as the search term has given me good results.
Stay Away from Hardware Requiring Windows / Mac Specific Software to Run and Manage Features
Try to avoid items that require use of a platform specific desktop software to achieve full functionality. Either the software should be cross platform or there should be hardware switches to control various functions. For instance, a gaming mouse that requires Windows specific software to control DPI and RGB lighting is a no go for Linux. This doesn’t mean that these items will not work on Linux. A lot of times there are third party scripts, drivers and apps that restore missing functionality on Linux. But out of the box experience is not as good as other platforms supported by the Vendor. You can take your own time to do research about the product and if you are comfortable using command line tools, third party apps, compiling source code, kernel modules etc., then go ahead and give the hardware a chance.
Check Availability of Open Source Drivers
You can check if open source drivers are available for a PC component or not. Even though hardware manufacturers know much more about their gear than the end user community or any other third party, driver updates and bug fixes from them are often slow to roll out. On the other hand, maintainers of open source drivers get regular feedback, bug reports and feature requests from community and they tend to respond much faster and fix issues. Even if a timely fix doesn’t arrive from an open source driver, you can manually patch the issue through your own code or a community provided fix as everything is freely and openly available.
Look for Chrome OS in Supported Platforms
Lately I have observed that some manufacturers are showing “Chrome OS” as a supported platform on their official product specifications pages and on the box packaging while refraining from mentioning Linux (some Logitech products for example). Since Chrome OS itself is based on Linux kernel, chances are that your desired item may work on Linux. Of Course, nothing is 100% guaranteed until an OEM officially mentions Linux support. However, if you are willing to take the risk, choosing a product with Chrome OS support may improve the chances of Linux compatibility.
Visit Linux Hardware Subreddit
Linux Hardware subreddit is an excellent place to search for hardware compatibility feedback from real end users. You can either ask a question about a hardware piece or use the search bar to look for any feedback left by users in the past.
Check Vendor Track Record
If there is no indication of Linux compatibility and you still want to take the risk and buy an item, you can check for Linux compatibility of other items made by the same vendor. If the vendor has a proven good record of Linux support, chances are that product may work.
These are a few things that you can consider to ensure Linux compatibility of a hardware. Until and unless OEMs come up with hardware that is officially compatible with Linux, we have no choice but to resort to third party feedback.