Wednesday, September 4, 2013

System76 Lemur Ultra (lemu4) Review

System76 Lemur Ultra Overhead view
Edit Oct 2015: Due to the issue with OneDrive described on the site in another post, the review images here might not work properly. Click here to access the full image album associated with this review.

Over the past few weeks, I have been evaluating judging System76's lowest budget laptop, the Lemur Ultra. It is commonly described as a small package that still packs a lot of power for the money. After taking a look at this laptop I can surely say that I agree with this. However, I found the Lemur to not be an all-around perfect device, for reasons I will talk about later in this article. This article is also formatted like how I conducted my Gazelle Professional review, so this time around the article should look a bit more organized.

  • 14.1" HD LED Backlit Display (1366x768)
  • Intel HD Graphics 2500
  • 3rd Gen Intel CORE i5-2520 CPU @ 2.5 GHz
  • 8GB DDR3 SDRAM @ 1600 MHz - 2 x 4 GB
  • 128 GB Crucial M4 Series SSD
  • US keyboard layout
  • Intel Centrino 1030 -  802.11 b/g/n WLAN + Bluetooth Combo Module
I did a separate post on the unboxing of the Lemur Ultra. I've merged first impressions into this review, instead adding them to this article when need be. Some aspects of the Lemur are identical to the gazp7; For example, the designs are similar.

Laptop Design
The design of the Lemur Ultra is very identical to the old generation Gazelle Professional models. I liked the design very much, and continue to think that it looks unique. To this day, I still like it.

System76 Lemur Ultra Keyboard
The keyboard on the Lemur chick-let style, but the keys are spaced closer together compared to other traditional chick-let laptop keyboards. There's no integrated number pad on this laptop, though one can be accessed using the function keys. Personally, I find that plugging in an external might be more productive for longer computing sessions, such as when you're at your house.

Overall, I like the keyboard. There's not much room for improvement in that arena.

Touch pad
The touch pad on the Lemur Ultra is very usable. The only issue I had with the touch pad was more of a personal problem: my left palm would brush the very top left corner of the touch pad while typing, causing annoying side effects.

By default, the Lemur touch pad has 2-finger scrolling. Although I'm used to edge scrolling, due to the lack of physical boarders on the Lemur touch pad I just recommend sticking with the default. There is a small physical "line" above the touch pad to actually show its boundaries, though.

The Lemur Ultra rocks a 720p HD display. There are no other configuration options for the display. Despite this, videos still look fantastic on it and I rest assured that conventional users won't notice too much of a difference.

As with the Gazelle Professional, I am very satisfied with how this laptop deals with heat. When in casual and normal operation, this laptop is almost-always dead silent. It is very rare that the laptop fan ever kicks into a stage where you actually hear it, because it is so quiet.

Of course, I did push the laptop for what it's worth when I wasn't casually browsing, etc. I did run quite a few benchmarks on the Lemur and although it wasn't as fast as the Gazelle, I expected as such. I believe that the Lemur performed well for the hardware that it had.

When the laptop was put to work for an extended period of time, the laptop's left did become slightly warm. Nothing to make you uncomfortable, but it is noticeable. Personally, though, I found that as a plus. It's a pleasant kind of warm.

The area under the fan also does become a little warm, but like I said before it's nothing serious and quite frankly I expected it. I don't think this laptop has any serious heating problems at all. However, I wouldn't recommend covering the laptop's ventilation. That goes for any type of electronic component, though.

Webcam & Microphone
System76 Lemur Ultra Ubuntu Key Close up & Microphone
The webcam and mic are one of the only things that disappointed me. I think that the webcam could have been better, resolution-wise. Image quality can also get spotty while in low-light areas, so I recommend having optimal lighting when you conduct things such as video conferences.

Additionally, the microphone isn't located near the web cam. See that little dot to the top left of the touch pad photos? That little dot is where the microphone is. I don't think it's the best location because it seems rather easy to cover the mic with your palm while typing, causing yourself to sound muffled to the other party.

After rigorously testing the audio card in this PC, I deem it to be as good as the one in the Gazelle Professional. Both were Intel audio controllers, most likely integrated into the motherboard.

Of course if you want the best possible sound you'll want to plug in some of your higher quality audio equipment, like a USB DAC if you're into using high quality headphones.

One of the things that I think makes the Lemur Ultra unique is power. Although it has a CORE i5 CPU inside instead of something like an i7, the Lemur Ultra definitely carries surprising amounts of power despite being in a small and budget friendly package.

The Lemur Ultra can handle every day computing tasks with ease, hands down. It handles web browsing, flash video playback, document composition, etc. without even breaking a sweat.

Laptop does heat up a little when playing Flash video, though. You'll hear the fan actually spin up on occasion. That is, if you're actually paying attention.

Battery Life
After running a few battery life tests, I am on the fence for judging the battery life on the Lemur Ultra. When running a "general" test with the screen at ~50% brightness and casually browsing the internet, I got almost 3 hours. In fact, I was ten minutes away from that third hour before the computer shut off. If you lower you screen brightness, you can easily get an extra hour out of the battery.

External Displays
The Lemur Ultra comes with 2 options for external displays: HDMI and VGA. HDMI is more optimal to use, but it was nice to see legacy options still on board. Ubuntu's external display settings can be a bit wonky when it actually comes to getting the "full" screen to fit on the external screen like it should, but nevertheless it works. This might be more of an issue on my end, though.

Suspend & Resume, and Hibernate
By default, the System76 Lemur Ultra is able to be placed into suspend mode rather easily. You can simply close the screen to put the system in a low power state, while still conserving all of your open applications.

Despite hibernation being one of those things no longer tested by System76, I decided to test the hibernation feature in Ubuntu by enabling it via a configuration file change. Turns out, it runs quite well. Hibernation support has always been a rocky boat in Linux, but I'm glad to see that it worked on this machine. I believe that it will also work on other System76 machines as well

Overall, I think the System76 Lemur Ultra is a great laptop for the average consumer. While the Lemur Ultra is more expensive than competing Windows laptops in this range, even at base specs, I think it definitely competes with those laptops.

If you like running Ubuntu, and want the best integrated package at a modest price, the Lemur Ultra is for you.

You can review all images taken regarding the Lemur Ultra here.

Techman's World Rating: 4/5 stars