How to choose an affordable Linux laptop for video conferencing

How to choose an affordable Linux laptop for video conferencing

As more and more activities move online during the global pandemic, an increasing number of folks are looking for affordable and stable solutions to connect to their doctor, therapist, bank, college, and more. Many of the folks I've been working with are on limited incomes, and they're eager for any technical help they can get.

As more and more activities move online during the global pandemic, an increasing number of folks are looking for affordable and stable solutions to connect to their doctor, therapist, bank, college, and more. Many of the folks I've been working with are on limited incomes, and they're eager for any technical help they can get.

Whether they're on a proprietary video conferencing solution or using an open source one like Jitsi Meet, everyone needs a platform that's robust enough to support their needs without breaking the budget. One of the leading cloud video conferencing providers recommends that platforms should have at least an i3 processor or equivalent with a minimum of 4GB RAM. My experience has taught me that an i5 or equivalent and at least 4-8GB RAM is even better.

I also recommend Linux for running meeting solutions. You could go out and purchase a new Linux computer. However, if you're on a limited income, then plunking down $1000 or more for a new system might not be what you had in mind.

A more budget-friendly solution I recently put together for a friend was a 2015 MacBook Air running Elementary OS. The computer had 4GB RAM, an i5 processor, and 240GB NVMe solid-state drive. Elementary OS was a great choice for this computer, as it came with a Broadcom 4360 wireless card, which didn't play nice with other Linux distributions but was detected by Elementary. The FaceTime camera didn't work with any Linux distribution I tried, Elementary included, and no one seems to have a good solution, so I purchased a USB camera and connected it to the laptop. This fellow needed to use Zoom to connect to his church, so I downloaded the Zoom client for Linux and installed it. The software download supports .rpm, .deb, and Flatpak.

In another case, I purchased a refurbished PC laptop from a prominent vendor. It came with 8GB RAM, i5, webcam, and 256 SSD drive. I'm going to install either Fedora or Pop!_OS on it along with the Zoom client and the usual complement of free software, including LibreOffice, Calibre, ClamAV, Gnu Chess, and other games for my friend to explore.

Used laptops for Linux

When looking for a used laptop, I usually consider the reputation of the brand. I check for the same or similar models and their compatibility with Linux. Both Fedora and Ubuntu maintain lists of acceptable hardware platforms. If possible, I try to get a list of the included hardware. For example, what is the CPU model and speed? Does the unit have Bluetooth built-in? How many USB ports does it have? Does it have audio ports? Does it support Thunderbolt? Does it have built-in WiFi, and what is the chipset of the WiFi adapter? I have had good luck with Intel, Broadcom, and Realtek, though the list varies depending on your particular needs.

There are many sources of good used laptops and desktops, but my favorites are eBay, Dell Refurbished, and PC Liquidations. I look for units that are three to five years old, that are in good condition, and that have at least an Intel i3 or AMD FX-6300, or better, processor. CPU speed and at least 4 GB RAM are important if you are going to be using your Linux laptop or desktop for video conferencing. Check to make sure the unit you purchase has a power supply. It's handy to have a webcam, but that's not a dealbreaker because you can use a USB camera. I have had good experiences with Logitech web cameras.

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