System76 Pangolin : First Impression

Among many Linux enthusiasts, System76 is an aspirational brand. I’ve known of them for several years. I have been a huge fan of the ThinkPad laptops currently made by Lenovo; my interest dates back to the mid 90’s when IBM created them earlier in the decade. I repaired them professionally from the mid 90’s until the early 2000’s, so I grew quite fond of their quality and later compatibility with Linux. Out of all the System76 reviews in print and video, one of the most common criticisms has been that the keyboards do not compare favorably to those of the ThinkPads. I will agree that the ThinkPad keyboard is one of the best compared to other brands. But I’ve been quite curious about the System76 laptops and how they compare to my ThinkPads.

There were only a few things holding me back. First, obviously, was the keyboard, and secondly was NVidia graphics. I knew System76’s Pop!_OS has some of the best NVIDIA support in Linux, however that would still cause issues when wanting to dual boot another distro without included drivers. I personally have not had good luck with NVidia under Linux. I have never been a fan of touchpads and also have a problem bumping them while I type. I usually disable them on my ThinkPads and use the TrackPoint. When System76 announced an all AMD laptop, I was very interested, and signed up for email notifications on it.

Like many others, I received an email in mid-March of this year, stating that the Pangolin was available for purchase. I immediately looked over the specs and pricing. After sleeping on the decision, I configured and ordered the laptop the next day.

My configuration

  • Base System Price $849.00
  • Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS (64-bit) with full disk-encryption
  • 4.0 GHz Ryzen 5 4500U (2.3 up to 4.0 GHz – 8MB Cache – 6 Cores – 6 Threads)
  • 16 GB Dual Channel DDR4 at 3200 MHz (2 x 8GB) $89.00
  • 240 GB Seq Read: 540 MB/s, Seq Write: 465 MB/s
  • 1 Year Limited Parts and Labor Warranty
  • United States QWERTY Keyboard
  • WiFi 6 + Bluetooth
  • 15.6″ Matte FHD FHD Wide View Angle Matte Display
  • Subtotal: $938.00

All features and options are listed below.

Operating SystemPop!_OS 20.10 (64-bit), Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS (64-bit), or Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (64-bit)
ProcessorAMD Ryzen™ 5 4500U: 2.3 up to 4.0 GHz – 6 Cores – 6 Threads AMD Ryzen™ 7 4700U: 2.0 up to 4.1 GHz – 8 Cores – 8 Threads
Display15.6″ 1920×1080 FHD, Matte Finish
GraphicsAMD Radeon™ Graphics
MemoryUp to 64 GB DDR4 @ 3200 MHz
Storage1 x M.2 SSD(SATA or PCIe NVMe). Up to 2TB total.
Expansion1× USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, 1 × USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C, 2× USB 2.0 Type-A, MicroSD Card Reader
InputMultitouch Clickpad, Multi-Color Backlit US QWERTY Keyboard
NetworkingGigabit Ethernet, Intel® Dual Band Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5
Video PortsHDMI(w/HDCP)
AudioStereo Speakers, 1× Headphone/Microphone Combo
Camera1.0M 720p HD Webcam
SecurityKensington® Lock
BatteryLi-Ion – 49 Wh
Charger65 W, AC-in 100–240 V, 50–60 Hz
Dimensions14.19″ × 9.42″ × 0.78″ (36.0 × 23.9 × 1.99 cm)
Weight3.64 lbs (1.65kg)

First Impression

Upon removing it from the box. My first thought was it looked far more expensive than the configured $938. The build quality was as good as my ThinkPad T460. They sell new for around the same price range of the Pangolin. When I pick up the laptop, holding it from the palm rest, it doesn’t flex and feels very rigid. The LCD hinges offer just enough tension to allow adjustment with one hand, although moving it back does require holding the base down with my other hand. It is no different on my T460; both have similar amounts of flex in the LCD. I will say that the T460’s LCD is slightly more rigid. Keep in mind that my T460 has a 14″ LCD and the Pangolin has a 15.4″.

The first couple days typing on the keyboard was quite an adjustment for me. The key caps are flat but have a good texture to them, whereas the T460 is smoother and the key caps have a slight bow to them. The key travel is slightly more than that of the T460 keyboard. So the first week was interesting when you add the flatness, smoothness and deeper key travel. Oddly enough after typing on the Pangolin’s keyboard for 2 weeks, I honestly can say I am kind of preferring it more. The bump I get using the T460’s keyboard is more pronounced than the Pangolin’s and I find myself typing as fast or slightly faster on the Pangolin. Go figure.

One thing I really like about the keyboard is the addition of the 10 keypad AKA the number pad. That is something I missed using my ThinkPads. It has resulted in me re-learning where some keys are on the keyboard.

The backlit keyboard on the Pangolin is much brighter than the T460, which only has two brightness levels. The Pangolin has the default lowest level plus 5 brighter levels. The backlight colors are Magenta, Green, Cyan, Yellow, White, Blue and Red. All are accessible via Fn + marked key caps.

The TrackPad for me has been a big surprise; I must be more self aware about not bumping while typing than I use to be. I still did a couple times but not often. It supports multi-touch gestures, including two finger scrolling and right mouse button usage. I am sure there are more yet to be discovered.

Here are some images of the sides of the laptop.

Right Side showing the USB 3.2 Type A and C ports, full size HDMI and barrel type power socket.
Left side showing Kensington Lock, RJ45 Ethernet, 2 USB 2.0, 2 card readers and the microphone/headset connector.

The battery life so far is decent. With the screen brightness at about 1/4 or so and the keyboard backlight at its lowest setting, I’ve used it for 2 hours and still had 80 to 85% battery. I used it throughout the past week without plugging it in, probably around 4 or 5 hours at about 50%. I will monitor it some more.

A brief mention on Pop!_OS. It has been a good experience. I am not much of a Gnome fan and I haven’t used Gnome 3 much since its release a decade ago. I can’t really give any comparisons to Pop!_OS at the moment. I will speak more on this on the next Distrohoppers Digest, Episode 022.

Final Thoughts

After two weeks of use, I can say that I am very pleased with the Pangolin. My apprehension over the keyboard and touchpad is pretty much gone. The fact that I am tending to prefer the keyboard on the Pangolin over my much-loved T-series ThinkPads really says something. I will write a follow-up article after I use the laptop for a few more weeks, probably around the time DHD Episode 022 is recorded.

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