You are here

Galago UltraPro Review

By  Nick Kasprak  on August 25, 2013 12:15 PM

Update 12/2/2013: System76 has acknowledged that the original keyboard was terrible and has sent every Galago owner a replacement keyboard for free (actually the second time they've done this - the original keyboard was apparently extremely flimsy, so they put a metal plate behind it - that was the revision that came with mine - and now they've redesigned the keyboard a third time.) This new keyboard is thousands of times better than the old one - I feel like a normal person and don't need to pound the keys to get all my keystrokes to register.

Furthermore, my comments below about the Killer wifi no longer apply - while my fix worked, it no longer appears to be necessary as of the Ubuntu 13.10 system upgrade.

The other outstanding issues are also all more or less fixed - the black screen on boot was fixed by a driver update, graphics performance is vastly improved as of 13.10 (and I've also realized that my previous test was on battery power and not plugged in) - and the battery life is a bit better as well (not dramatically so, but there's a noticeable increase.) So, I'm prepared to say all my gripes below are fixed. This is now a great laptop and I'm quite pleased with my purchase.

I do most of my work on desktop computers, and I haven't really had a decent laptop in a while. But I stumbled across an ad for System76's Galago UltraPro a little while ago and was intrigued - quad core Haswell processor, integrated graphics that are actually decent, lots of build-to-order configuration options, Ubuntu pre-installed, and a high resolution screen. I had tried using Ubuntu on my previous laptop (a truly awful HP machine purchased at a time when my only goal was to get a functional laptop for as cheap as possible) and it didn't play well with the hardware - the battery lasted about an hour at most and the thing got so hot it would nearly melt through my thighs whenever I used it, despite my many attempts to mess around with power-saving tweaks. So a custom-built Ubuntu laptop was appealing, because the OS and the hardware should work reasonably well together.

I added some custom options to the default configuration – an SSD for the system plus a 1TB storage drive – my music library is large – an extra 4GB of RAM, and a faster WiFi upgrade. (It seems to me that offering custom configurations is something that not that many vendors even offer any more, and I appreciate it as someone who likes to have significantly more storage space than would be typical relative to the other specs.) The machine arrived a week ago and I've been using it since then.

The Galago packs a full HD display with lots of desktop space and also apparently smells intriguing enough that my cat Boris feels the need to rub his face on it.

The Good

  • The Display: better than I could have imagined – bright, high-contrast, beautiful colors, and the machine packs a full 1920x1080 pixels into a 14” screen for an extremely high pixel density. It's wonderful to look at, though I'll note that it approaches the threshold where small text gets a bit hard to read. I love the screen and all the space, but it's possible that it might give farsighted people headaches.
  • Speed: I don't really do much that's super CPU-intensive, but that aside, the machine has felt quick and responsive for all the tasks I've given it. It boots up in about ten seconds (thanks to the SSD) and applications open immediately.

Needs Improvement

  • Graphics Performance: I wasn't expecting anything amazing here given the lack of a discrete card, but System76's marketing materials led me to believe that the integrated Iris Pro graphics are a reasonable substitute. Maybe my expectations were set a bit too high, but I'm just frankly not that impressed – I downloaded Steam for Linux and tested out Double Fine's The Cave – not exactly Crysis – and even with a reduced resolution and medium settings things were still a bit jumpy and erratic at times. That said, I haven't done much gaming testing beyond that, so maybe it's just an issue with this particular game.
  • Wifi: When I ordered the machine I opted for the upgraded Killer wifi. I got it working fine eventually, but it was misconfigured out of the box and it took a fair amount of frustration and googling to fix. (And I'm not the only one with this issue.) At first, it was highly unstable – the connection would drop every five minutes or so – and even when it was connected, the average speed was abysmal. If you're reading this and have the same problem, the solution is to create a file here:
    - with the text “options ath9k nohwcrypt=1 blink=1 btcoex_enable=1 enable_diversity=1”.
    (I don't actually know which of the above options is actually the one that makes it work, but it's definitely one of them.) This kind of thing isn't that big a deal, since it does work now, but part of the reason consumers go to a company like System76 is that the machine is supposed to just work – you're not supposed to need to screw around with this stuff. I'm sure they'll fix it for future machines, but it was a bit frustrating.
  • Battery: lasts about as long as advertised (3.5 to 4 hours.) For a Haswell processor, it really ought to be better, but at least System76 doesn't inflate their statistics like so many others do. They say 3.5 to 4 hours and that seems to be what you get. Still, this is much longer than I'm used to (having not yet been spoiled by a 12-hour netbook) so I can't complain that much.
  • Startup: while the thing does boot up very fast, it's a bit unreliable. Frequently (maybe 40-50% of the time) I don't actually get to the login screen and just see a black screen with a blinking cursor and a mouse pointer. I can ctrl-alt-f1 to a text terminal and try to manually start the display manager, but I just get error messages. So far, I haven't figured out a solution other than to just reboot until it works, and I don't know what's causing the problem. I'm sure it's just something misconfigured somewhere and that I'll find a fix eventually, but (again) it's the kind of thing that I shouldn't have to worry about in the first place.

The Bad

  • The Keyboard: Oh dear. Just typing out this blog post is torture – I would say roughly 5% of the keys I hit don't actually register (despite typing REALLY REALLY HARD!), and I'm constantly looking back and seeing misspelled words and missing letters. Absolutely unacceptable. Fortunately, it seems that plenty of other people have complained about the same issue, and System76 is sending out replacement keyboards to anyone who asks (I put in a support request on Friday and haven't heard back yet but the Ubuntu Forums and Twitter tell me I should be fine.) I'm glad they've acknowledged the problem, but I'm a bit surprised they didn't notice this issue with the first batch.

The Verdict

This is a really nice machine marred by a handful of frustrating problems. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have pre-ordered a machine with no reviews anywhere, and I suppose it's to be expected that a brand-new model might have some launch issues. The two most frustrating are the Wifi and the keyboard – and since I was able to fix the Wifi and have every reason to believe the replacement keyboard will be better, I'm still mostly satisfied with my purchase. However, for now I'd recommend that anyone eying this machine hold off for a couple of weeks until it's clear that the replacement keyboards are functional.