Re-review: System76’s Lemur Pro, now with 11th Gen Intel processors and Xe graphics

In the middle of last year I reviewed System76’s Lemur Pro, a lightweight, battery-life focused Linux laptop. I concluded that the Lemur Pro did not have any big failings, and packed a few stand-out features such as the amazing battery life and open source firmware few – if any – other laptop makers can offer. Linux user or not, the Lemur Pro was a great all-rounder that could go toe-to-toe with competing Windows laptops any day of the week.

Since the publication of that review, System76 has released a new version of the Lemur Pro, focusing entirely on upgrading the internals of the machine. The casing, the keyboard, the trackpad, the display, and so on, remain unchanged, but this time around, it comes packing with Intel’s latest 11th Gen Core i5 or i7 processor – the 1135G7 or 1165G7 – and thus with Intel Iris Xe graphics, which should prove to be a massive boost over the previous generation’s UHD graphics.

This won’t be a full review – other than the spec bump, nothing has changed regarding the rest of the Lemur Pro. Aside from possible changes mentioned here, the review of last year’s model still applies. As such, I decided to use the term “re-review”, which I think better describes this article.

Full disclosure: Raptor Computing Systems sent us the workstation as a loan, and it will be returned to them. They did not read this review before publication, and placed zero restrictions on anything I could write about.

I opted for the Core i5 model this time around, since I feel the difference between it and the i7 are relatively small, especially considering the intended use case for a lightweight ultrabook such as this. This gave me some more financial room to max out the RAM at 40GB (DDR4 at 3200Mhz) and pick the 1TB SSD (M.2 PCIe gen4). The price of this specific configuration is $1613.00.

The remainder of the specifications are identical to last year’s machine. It has the same fairly standard 1920×1080 14.1″ 60Hz panel, which won’t win any awards, but isn’t bad in any way either. Much like last year, I do wish System76 offered higher resolution and especially higher refresh rates as options, since once you go high refresh rate, you just can’t go back. At the same time, however, I know a lot of people are still using 60Hz displays, and wouldn’t care one bit about sticking to it.

The ports situation remains the same as well, so you get one USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 2 port (these names…), two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, a MicroSD slot, an HDMI port, a barrel connector for the included charger, a combined headphone/microphone jack, and that Kensington lock thing for corporate or public environments. The Type-C port can be used a DisplayPort as well, and USB-C charging is supported as well.

The stand-out feature of last year’s model makes a return here, with the 73Wh battery once again delivering astonishing battery life. I can easily go over 10 hours of normal use – some browsing, some video, some basic document work – and for this model, they’ve fixed the issue I had last year where setting the laptop to battery-saving mode would cause signficiant slowdowns in playing video. I’m sure the brand new Iris Xe graphics play a big role here, and I just leave the battery-saving mode on at all times, since I didn’t notice any downsides.

Not noticing any downsides to the battery-saving mode is definitely one of the main advantages of the move to 11th Gen Intel processors and the Iris Xe GPU, but that’s not the only benefit – the laptop gets less hot too, which is great for those of us using laptops on our, you know, laps. Kicking in an open door, overall performance is improved too, with applications opening faster, complex web pages loading faster, and less fans spinning up, too.

This being a full Intel machine also means it’s already, well, ready for Wayland, without having to resort to workarounds or hacks. Sadly, if using System76’s own Pop!_OS, you need to manually enable Wayland by commenting out WaylandEnable=false in /etc/gdm3/custom.conf/. Once you’ve done this, Wayland is an option in GDM and you can login. I’m taking Wayland compatibility into account when it comes to my purchasing decisions, and I figured I’m probably not alone in this.

I hope System76 makes Wayland easier to enable – or even the default – on its fully Intel machines soon, because it definitely improves responsiveness and performance across the board. This is hard to quantify, and people will understandably ask for proof, but on all three machines I’m currently running in Wayland – my Dell XPS 13 9370, this Lemur Pro, and a Blackbird POWER9 machine – there’s less stutter, less tearing, better video playback performance, and lower heat output when using Wayland compared to X.org.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this new Lemur Pro is a spec bump, and as such, the trackpad and keyboard are still the same. While the keyboard was already a solid one, I was less happy with the trackpad, and that remains the same here. It’s still of the diving board type, and its surface doesn’t feel nearly as nice as that of my XPS 13 – which has an excellent trackpad – or other competitors, such as the best-in-class trackpads found on Apple’s laptops. It’s not a bad trackpad, but it’s not particularly good or great either – just average.

In conclusion, this new generation of the Lemur Pro is by all accounts an excellent upgrade, with better performance, less heat output and fewer fan spin-ups – all without sacrificing the excellent battery life of its predecessor. If you have one of the earlier generations Lemur Pros with the same design, there’s probably not enough here to warrant an upgrade, but if you were on the fence last year, the spec bump definitely warrants a new, fresh look.

System76 took their already excellent all-rounder, and made it even better, without rocking the boat, without large changes in pricing, and still with System76’s unique open source firmware and coreboot which you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

And that’s exactly what you want from a spec bump.

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