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What has your experience been like? Have you had to excessive amounts of configuration? Is there anything special about your device that makes it really good for what you do?

Context: I’m running macOS Sierra 10.12 Beta on a Macbook Pro and I’m unsatisfied with its performance changes. I’m looking into getting a new laptop and am looking for suggestions on what I could potentially buy as my next laptop.

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    You win. This adequately trolls me enough to join lobste.rs

    My primary BSDs are FreeBSD-related and OpenBSD, resulting in a small arsenal of aging ThinkPads and as of this week, a ThinkCentre. Brain dump:

    Preferred architectures: Sandy Bridge “2’s” and Ivy Bridge “3’s”, i.e. T420 and x230. SB: Classic keyboard layout. I can operate them in the dark: console switching, scrolling, huge ESC for vi… IB: Fixed IOMMU for Xen and VT-d, fixed GPT support for FreeBSD (later fixed in FreeBSD and SOME derivatives) Lesson: Lenovo BIOS can be crap and I hope to try coreboot and friends, given that the x220, plus probably others are supported.

    The CPUs also have the “2” in the name, i.e. i5-2540M for a Sandy Bridge one. They share the same “barrel” power connector as quite a few models back and the “T” models have UltraBay drives, allowing for additional disks, albeit at 3Gbps and some weird boot delays. I have seen hacks to fit “SB” keyboards into “IB” models but some keys do not map correctly with the factory BIOS. No surprise given that the “IB” “chicklet” ones removed… 7 keys.

    I have been working with a certain hypervisor and the VT-x/EPT features in the “Core” processors is need. I have one first generation Core i7 (Rusty Bridge?) that I could not pass up. Note that the first generation do not have UEFI.

    Models: T’s and x’s all the way. The T’s have UltraBay bays and all have mSATA slots. Yes, you could run a 3-disk RaidZ array on one with the penalty of the slower UltraBay interface, for those running OpenZFS.

    Price: DAMN CHEAP. ThinkPads generally exist in two conditions: Trashed and mint. Most for sale on eBay are in fact close to new, being lease spares and perhaps former property of the CEO who always used a desktop. I have seen double digit HD hours on “used” models plus all the original stickers, zero space bar gloss etc. (!)

    Average price: $180 to $225 USD, $400 for fancy models like a quad-core 1920x1080 15"

    RAM: I use 16GB Corsair “Mac” RAM on all models or left over RAM from upgraded models. I still cannot tell if they will take 2X16GB modules but I have one unit I would like to truly max out.

    Models: x220i, x220, x230, T510, T420, T530 and T400, T61 just because and the majority around $200 in near-new condition.

    Note that the “T4” and “T5” indicate 14" and 15" screens. I guess “x2*” is 12"?

    The “i” models like the x220i are “Celeron” models but support VT-x/EPT (!). For some reason, I think Lenovo punishes Europeans with things like T530i’s with Celeron or i3 processors. Beefy machine, anemic processor. Kinda pointless on the used market given that you can have an i7 for a few <currency> more.

    Note that the x2n0’s and all IB’s appear to need low-profile HDs or SSDs. Generally not a problem with SSDs.

    I avoid the x*20T “Tablet” models and “s” models which are “slim” T series ones. I have heard of overheating issues with them and they would take a slimmer UltraBay caddy. They may have USB3 for those who must have it.

    UltraBay caddys: http://www.newmodeus.com/

    As for the ThinkCentre. It was $100 with no RAM or HD. It’s louder than I expected and the odd-ball power supply is quite big. It’s a quad-core i5 but will probably perform some network serving task. Maybe as a PXE server with a low-profile network card…

    I finally have dock (looks new, $10) and am mostly happy with the “travel” keyboard that has both the NavNub and a trackpad. These are reportedly fragile and for some reason have ESC above F1, rather than left of it. To its credit, it does not ghost-tap like crazy like the other models. (Sees if the trackpad can be disabled in BIOS…) It can! Not sure why I didn’t do that long ago. So. I love trackpads but have muscle memory for MacBook ones (and the command key for that matter). FreeBSD specifically enables trackpad touch/clicking by default and let’s just say the butterfly effect is in full effect. Everyone says to disable something in xorg.conf but recent FreeBSD tags seem to just work out of the box with an empty /etc/X11/ (Anyone know the fix? If I fixed it however, I would then want to know how to get two-finger scrolling working, which seems to work quite well in OpenBSD… out of the box.)

    Pros: Sturdy, interchangeable parts, three mouse buttons!, affordable. I thought I would add a used MacBook Air as I get off of Mac: $650 min? Cons: I want my function keys back, plus the classic layout. Sandy Bridge BIOS bugs. 3Gbps UltraBay bays. HEAVY by today’s standards, especially if you travel with a few of them.

    Either way, I have not used a desktop since about 2000. I want the computer to follow me, rather than me follow it. Nor can I stand the noise of most desktops. Nor can I give a presentation from a desktop. This does however make NAS software developers think I’m crazy given that most of my NAS use is on a ThinkPad for support, testing, documentation, training etc. Portable bare metal is really, really useful.

    What was the question?

    Update: Many T models include NVidia graphics. This was critical to use on FreeBSD but now might even be less-supported than the on-board Intel. You can choose in BIOS and with one I didn’t realize for some time that it also had NVidia. FreeBSD suspect and resume (formerly reboot) works quite well. I’m sure OpenBSD’s has worked a long time.

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      Lenovo BIOS can be crap and I hope to try coreboot and friends, given that the x220, plus probably others are supported.

      You should give Libreboot a shot on an x200! Unfortunately it doesn’t support models newer than that – Intel’s/Lenovo’s BIOS is locked down pretty hard.

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        Well, I am only interested in SB/IB so it may not be a problem! https://www.ericholzbach.net/blog/x230_coreboot/

        Until… http://blog.lenovo.com/tag/retro+thinkpad

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          Oh, I didn’t realize there was partial support! You still can’t extirpate the dreaded Management Engine, but it does look like SeaBIOS ought to work.

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        I like ThinkPad build quality and keyboards (I hear the new ones aren’t as bad as people let on) but the screens and batteries are terrible. The modern high-end IPS panels and the old FlexView panels were good, but anything other than those are dim, low res, and have poor viewing angles. The batteries might be OK when new, but they deteriorate rapidly and you’re often lucky to get an hour or two. If you have a secondary battery, it will suck the battery dry; a fast way to kill LiIon ones.

        My dream laptop would be some kind of MacBook in a ThinkPad chassis, as long as Apple provides the battery and screen. (I’d like the retina MacBook in a slightly slimmed X-series body. Jam it full of batteries, no fan, and all-day life. I’d carry that around.)

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          Good point about the IPS screens. They are tricky to find used and I have never bought one. The 1920X1080 is the best I’ve had while yes, the other screens are kinda crappy. The biggest shock was the T510 which is shockingly low res for its size. The VGA does however interface with about 90% of the projectors/displays I have used and a crazy 42" touchscreen I have looks great.

          The batteries have treated me well and I have made a point of having slim and extended ones. I don’t have the massive ones that work like a base or the UltraBay ones. What one SHOULD take a minute to note is the 70++ or whatever versioning numbers they use. They seem to be backwards-compatible but not forward-compabile. That is, a T420 battery will not work with a T430. But, the reverse should work.

          As for MacBook like. I am hearing good things about the X1 Carbons from the TrueOS folks. I confess I love UltraBay drives… pull out your data in seconds and run like hell…

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            No, the X1C is more like a ThinkPad in a MacBook chassis, which is basically the opposite. In addition, I’m over full performance in mobile, and would really enjoy something that doesn’t need a fan and gets good battery life..

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          Update 2: brycv and I reminded ourselves of the W530… the Workstation that will take 32GB RAM using four modules. They will cost more than a similar T530 but may even take multiple hard drives.

          Others made good points about the IPS screens. Do try to get one unless of course you work mostly from a docking station and only need the built-in display periodically.

          If anyone at Lenovo is listening… I think my dream ThinkPad is “X” sized with a decent display and FOUR easily-accessible mSATA devices for file systems work.

          Capital “X”! My bad.

          Update 3: The battery numbering: Within reach I see:

          T510: 55+ Low-profile battery - Doesn’t extend past back surface - Maybe from a Sandy Bridge model?

          T420: 55++ Extended battery - Extends on cell width (guessing that’s ++)

          X220: 29+ Low-profile battery

          X220: 29++ Extended battery

          X230: 44++ Extended battery

          Somewhere: 70+ (T series 1, 2 and 3)

          Somewhat helpful: https://support.lenovo.com/us/en/documents/pd012165

          N = 4 cell N+ = 6 cell N++ = 9 cell

          But, the chart does not have the 55++ in my hand which is seems is for T series 1 and 2.

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            RAM: I use 16GB Corsair “Mac” RAM on all models or left over RAM from upgraded models. I still cannot tell if they will take 2X16GB modules but I have one unit I would like to truly max out.

            Let me save you some time & money with the short answer: No, 2x16GB module will not work.

            Long answer: Intel Core series prior to Skylake only supports up to 4Gb DRAM packages (don’t confuse that with the actual SoDIMMcapacity). Take a look at this picture on this Newegg product:

            www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820148679

            That’s the SoDIMM for a single 8GB laptop RAM stick, front and back, there are a total of 16 DRAM packages, each one is 4Gb in size.

            For a single 16GB SoDIMM stick, there will still only be 16 packages, but each DRAM package must be 8Gb in size. However, as per the Intel spec sheet (page 19), the maximum supported DRAM package is 4Gb for Intel Core Generation 5 (Broadwell).

            It is only with Skylake that support for 8Gb DRAM packages were added Intel spec sheet (page 20-21).

            Apparently AMD CPUs don’t have this limitation and have been able to address 8Gb DRAM packages for quite a few generations now (I’ve seen this chalked up to as “bug” with the Core architecture that was resolved in Skylake, but I can no longer find the source where I originally read this).

            EDIT: Found the source for the claim that Intel CPU’s is “buggy” and AMD CPU’s support this fine:

            http://www.anandtech.com/show/7742/im-intelligent-memory-to-release-16gb-unregistered-ddr3-modules

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              I think some Broadwell chips (like with some NUC models) will support 2x16GB DDR3L modules but that’s mostly based on Amazon reviews and a Crucial 2x16GB DDR3L set of SODIMMs. I have been considering buying to test but it’s $330 or so for the memory. Not worth it when a 2x16GB DDR4 set of SODIMMs is $130.

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                Thank you! Every conversation I have read on the matter to date had came before the modules were available, making for pointless analysis.

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                I am not a performance fanboy, and in general OpenBSD is fast enough for my daily work. Doing some basic redis, postgresql and elixir/erlang compiling benchmark against OS X, Linux and OpenBSD, I only got between 15% and 20% less performance in OpenBSD. That is perfectly fine by me. However, browsing gets REALLY slow with big javascript webpages like amazon, google inbox, etc. In 5.9, browsing those pages was impossible. On current things where butter, but not that much. I think there was some issue with how the kernel did scheduling.

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                  I think there was some issue with how the kernel did scheduling.

                  tedu wrote a brief summary a few months ago

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                    I’m a performance fanboy because I already spend all of my performance slack using a slow language (erlang). It would be super nice if openbsd were ever nearly as fast as freebsd or linux or osx.

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                      whomever downvoted this as a troll: I’m serious! I’d love to be able to use openbsd, but I really do have performance constraints, I’m a game dev!

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                        Maybe game devs should use performance constrained systems to grow appreciative of the player base that wants to run your game on performance constrained systems ;-)

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                          Oh man do we ever. You should see The Great Pile of Terrible Off Brand Android Devices. Makes the pacific trash gyre look like a kiddie pool.

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                I’m running FreeBSD 12-CURRENT on a Thinkpad X220, and have FreeBSD 10.3 on my desktop machine. I’ve been using a FreeBSD laptop as my daily driver since sometime in the mid 2000s.

                I’ve been exceedingly happy with how FreeBSD works on the X220; it’s more than fast enough for most of what I want to do, and sound, wireless, suspend and resume, etc. “just works.” Admittedly the X220 is getting a little old now, and FreeBSD’s got a little ways to go with contemporary Intel graphics, but we’re close. Friends of mine are using the work-in-progress graphics stack update on recent Thinkpads like the T450 or X260.

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                  Do you have a way to disable the trackpad in software?

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                    I just turned it off in the BIOS, and haven’t looked for a way to do it in software.

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                  Lenovo X240 running OpenBSD snapshots! Everything JustWorks™

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                    I now use a Purism Librem 15 with HardenedBSD. I got it because I’ve put my old Lenovo Y50-70 through hell and back over the last two years. There’s more than one missing screw in the bottom plate. Purism accepts bitcoin and I had enough bitcoin to pay for it that way, which is the biggest reason my choosing the Librem 15 (that and 32GB RAM).

                    I’ve owned the Librem 15 for less than 72 hours, but I’ve loved every waking moment with it. There are only a couple issues: 1) no ethernet jack (so I have to use a USB ethernet dongle); 2) build quality isn’t the best. The build quality is what you’d expect from a brand spankin' new company. Nothing major, just minor alignment issues. If you go to EuroBSDcon, I can do a “show and tell”.

                    As far as running HardenedBSD is concerned, well, I’m kinda a fan of it. I prefer to eat my own dogfood and run it on as many devices as possible. I’m also helping test the work Matt Macy et al are doing in bringing FreeBSD’s graphics stack up-to-date with Linux 4.7/4.8 (the drm-next-4.7 and drm-next branches). I’ve already filed a few bug reports.

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                      A ThinkPad plus OpenBSD. It’s not Windows or OS X or, well, Ubuntu, and those using it expect that, but it’s good ol’ UNIX-like simplicity with excellent man pages and it goes to great lengths to stay secure. The default windowing environment will make most think the OS is from the dark ages, so expect some configuration work to tailor the environment to meet your needs—most of the desktop environments you might be familiar with will be readily available through easy-to-install packages along with the latest modern browsers and whatnot. As others have mentioned, OpenBSD might have reduced performance compared to other OSs that force security to take a back seat or have a large amount of developers or funding, but, these days, most recent hardware is overkill anyway so I rarely have issues here and I probably shouldn’t have bothered saying anything as this is really a non-issue.

                      The most “special” thing about the ThinkPad is it tends to also be what many OpenBSD developers use and, as a result, its hardware is likely to be better supported than other brands of notebooks.

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                        My main laptop is a Toshiba Portege R830-13C running OpenBSD -current.

                        But it all started with a Toshiba Libretto 70CT in June 2001 with OpenBSD 2.9 and since then OpenBSD has been my personal desktop OS - and it gets better with every release :~)

                        In terms of installation and upgrades it is the fastest OS I have ever used…

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                          I had a Toshiba Portege 3490ct, really miss it!

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                          I run FreeBSD on my desktop machine at home, and OpenBSD on my server. Currently, I’m running ArchLinux on my laptop (an Asus Zenbook - great piece of hardware, basically a ripoff Macbook Air for half the price and a better screen), but I plan to install OpenBSD on it soon.

                          I use FreeBSD with a graphical environment, and have had some issues with it. Namely, Chromium sometimes crashes (I think I’m missing something in a config somewhere, because other people report this working), I’ve had some issues with the wireless drivers, and there was a bug with some of my USB devices that I worked through by pulling in a newer version of the kernel.

                          I’m not sure I can fully recommend FreeBSD for desktop use, but maybe these are just noob issues that could easily be solved if I knew what I was doing. I must say that FreeBSD has some great features too, like an amazing sound configuration system (much much better than Linux + Alsa), a simple init system (I hate systemd), a sane package management system, and great docs.

                          I can safely say that running OpenBSD as a server and ssh-ing into it has been a superb experience. Everything just works, the configuration is minimal and easy to understand and the docs are freaking great. Like I mentioned before, I’m planning on installing OpenBSD on my laptop, mostly because my experience with it has been so good. I didn’t install it on my desktop because OpenBSD doesn’t support nvidia cards with proprietary drivers (and I have a GTX 960 in my desktop which would be a pity to waste), but the Zenbook has Intel HD graphics, so OpenBSD would probably work fine on there.


                          In short, I think you need to pick your BSD flavor, then pick your laptop around that (i.e. if you go with OpenBSD, don’t grab a laptop with nvidia graphics). While I’ve never used it personally, I’ve heard great things about PC-BSD, and since it’s forked from FreeBSD, it probably is mostly the same, but makes getting started with a desktop machine much easier. If you want the most hardware support, I’d say go with FreeBSD or a FreeBSD variant. If you want a well tuned, minimal, and secure system, I’d say go with OpenBSD and a laptop that’s known to run it well.

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                            I have many, many desktop and server machines that are running OpenBSD. On the laptop side of things, I used to run OpenBSD on the most recent and one before MacBook Air machines. That’s always a little bit of a mixed bag but now that (U)EFI support is in OpenBSD, things are much better. I have a lot of Apple hardware for other reasons and it was logical to test but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Apple hardware specifically for OpenBSD (wireless doesn’t work, etc.). I can also identify with the frustrations of OS X and now macOS. I have used OS X since it was released but this recent “Core Rot” problem is very frustrating. I have been particularly frustrated with memory leaks in Safari that only seem to show up on my late 2013 Mac Pro with 64GB of memory. It’s a sad problem when the most expensive Apple machine has problems that don’t manifest on cheaper machines. Running out of memory frequently in Safari is not acceptable on a $5000+ machine. I can’t get rid of macOS completely for various reasons but I do a large part of my work on OpenBSD systems these days. I would not shy away from trying an OpenBSD install on your MacBook Pro though. Even installing on a USB flash drive works fine (although suspend and resume will never work in that scenario) but having a system with only Intel graphics is better since NVIDIA isn’t supported by OpenBSD.

                            I have a ThinkPad X230, ThinkPad X1 Carbon (1st generation with Ivy Bridge), and ThinkPad X260. All are the fastest Core i7 CPU available at that time and the X230 and X260 have the IPS screens (huge advantage in my opinion). The X260 also has the 1920x1080 option which is fantastic. Unfortunately, there is no inteldrm(4) for the Skylake chips yet so Ivy Bridge, Haswell, or to some extent Broadwell are better choices right now. Hopefully we will see that support before too long. (As a side note, running a 4K display with OpenBSD works great with Haswell inteldrm(4). I’m using a Xeon E3 1275 v3 system to drive a Dell P4317Q 43-inch 4K display which works great. I haven’t tried Broadwell inteldrm(4) for a 4K display yet but have been looking around at the Core i5 5675C and Core i7 5775C for testing.)

                            The X230 is what Theo uses with OpenBSD and many other developers have similar machines. Everything works great including suspend and resume. On the X260, it is still too new for everything to work perfectly but, once inteldrm(4) support arrives, things should work as well as with the X230. As michaeldexter pointed out, the X230 and older machines use that common “barrel” connector which is very convenient. I’m not thrilled with the rectangular plug that the X1 Carbon and X260 use but it’s not that bad. Fortunately, the power supplies are quite inexpensive ($12-$18 on Amazon). In order to use Xorg on the X260, I use wsfb(4) which works well enough to get by just fine.

                            I am using the X260 along with a 12-inch Retina MacBook (can’t get away from macOS completely due to work) as my main portable machines these days. (I also do lots of work on my iPad Pro 9.7-inch with the Smart Keyboard which is mostly web stuff and logging into my FreeBSD storage boxes and OpenBSD boxes via ssh.) If I could, I would run OpenBSD on the Retina MacBook but it is pretty limited with only that single USB-C port and a non-standard flash storage interface. Not having any wireless without a very annoying dongle would not be great.

                            I don’t do that much custom configuration. I use cwm which is part of OpenBSD as my window manager. Firefox, Iridium, Chromium, mutt, msmtp, offlineimap, vim, Adobe Source Code Pro font, and a few other things round out most of my installs. I tend to prefer a minimalist environment but Gnome 3.x and XFCE4 work really well if you’re so inclined. I know KDE is around but I haven’t tried that recently.

                            Also, jcs has a lot of dotfiles available on GitHub which are helpful for some configuration stuff too. I have been meaning to put up some of my dotfiles as well but have not gotten around to it yet. Lots of other OpenBSD users have configuration details up as well.

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                              I’ve been running OpenBSD on my home servers since 4.7 to great success.

                              I tried it on my netbook recently, Acer AO722 w/ an AMD APU from 2011, and even though OpenBSD was the only BSD that supported the Wi-Fi module (7260) in a stable version, and worked really well with the rest of the hardware, the speed of the web browser was effectively the last nail for me. The netbook was slow enough as it was, and I realized it would be a really stupid idea to run it there.

                              I also tried it on a brand new 15" Acer with a Broadwell CPU and that was a spectacular failure. Display was always on, brightness couldn’t be changed either. The ath9k driver was also missing but that is a problem that can be solved.

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                                I have two Thinkpad x200s, one with the stock BIOS and one with Libreboot. I’ve been using a mixture of Trisquel Linux and OpenBSD.

                                My goal is to run OpenBSD on Libreboot firmware, but I’ve been getting some errors and haven’t had the gumption to solve it yet. UEFI support is still new, so I’m not surprised to encounter a corner case. OpenBSD runs fine on the stock BIOS of course.

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                                  Macbook air and OpenBSD 5.9. I am going to buy a Thinkpad X1 or Dell 13 xps to run OpenBSD. The macbook is way too slow for compiling a lot of code.

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                                    Thinkpad t430, OpenBSD on a tiny little msata SSD. It does what I need without much fuss.

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                                      MacBook Air boots OS X - trying to run other OS' has generally sucked in the past (USB 3) but haven’t tried in the last year
                                      IBM ThinkPad X60s multiboots NetBSD/9front/OpenBSD
                                      Lenovo ThinkPad X61s multiboots Windows 7/FreeBSD/OpenBSD

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                                        I’d be running OpenBSD on my T460s, but the graphics drivers aren’t there yet, unless a commit slipped by without me noticing.

                                        I do run it on two Shuttle fanless mini PCs (both used to work as my desktops but now one is my home server), DS437 and DS57U7; it runs great and dmesgs are available at nycbug.

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                                          I have a couple of used/refurbished Dell Latitude E series (the old ones, E6230, E6340). IvyBridge Core i5s. RAM maxed and disk swapped with not-so-bad SSDs. NetBSD-7 runs splendidly. The design is nothing fancy but they are solidly built, have decent keyboards with full size shift keys, with good tactile feedback on the key presses etc, devoid of atrocities like power button on the keyboard etc. Battery life is 3-4 hours depending on usage. These can be found on eBay for $250-300. Some even come with warranty at a slightly higher price. I’m also eyeing a thinkpad X230 with an i7 as one cannot hoard enough of these :)

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                                            So. If you can suppress any and all Apple/Mac bashing for just a minute and accept that many MacBook users are working hard to move to a more open platform…

                                            Has anyone worked out an authentic CTRL-ALT-Command swap/remap to give Mac-style Command-Z|X|C|V|Q|W… (where the ALT key is) and Command-tabbing? Also where the ALT key is.

                                            That. Would. Be. Great!

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                                              I’m using a Lenovo ThinkPad X201 running Arch Linux (yeah, sorry not BSD :( ) I do have a OpenBSD VM I fire up quite often and my servers are all OpenBSD. Usually I’ll SSH in and do work there.

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                                                OpenBSD on a Dell XPS 13. Nice and small/light with plenty of horsepower, and most of the hardware just works. Only thing that doesn’t currently work is the on board webcam but that’s not something I use anyway.

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                                                  FreeBSD 10.3 on HP Probook 6545b. Works for me. Cheap as hell ($100). Powerful enough for everything but gaming.

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                                                    How is the Wi-Fi? Suspend/resume?