ZaReason: a computer company with freedom built in

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67 Responses to “ZaReason: a computer company with freedom built in”

  1. Meteorswarm says:

    As much as I like zareason in principle, their much-vaunted service and build quality are pretty bad. I bought a Terra HD from them a year ago, and suspend and hibernate were broken. I tried to contact tech support, and after a brief exchange they went “buh, we don’t know” and stopped replying to email.

    It was only a few months ago that I discovered it would suspend only if the webcam was disabled. of course, now, only a year in, the case is physically falling apart.

    Their hardware is expensive, low quality, and, despite their claims, does not always work out of the box. I’m not buying from them again, so I’m hoping there’s another Linux vendor around.

    • aaronmhill says:

      I had a similar experience with LinuxCertified.  Have you checked out System76 yet? I have my eye on one of their new line; they’re pretty well-established, at least. Hardware looks good.

      • Meteorswarm says:

         I looked at them when I was considering buying this laptop, and I almost went with them, but I decided to go with Zareason because the screen was higher resolution (I do like the screen…).  I’m probably going to buy from them next time, and hope they don’t suck.

      • benenglish says:

        I have no interest in laptops, but I bought a System76 Wild Dog a while back.  With no frame of reference to consumer-grade products (I’ve spent the last 15+ years living in server rooms), it initially appeared to me to be flimsy.  Now that I’ve had it a while and had a chance to do some upgrades and a repair (following a lightning hit, not the fault of System 76), I find that while the case is light it’s sturdy enough for home use and the system was impeccably assembled.  If I ever need a laptop or when I decide to replace this desktop, I’ll buy from them again.

      • Alex Rudnick says:

        +1 for System76! (see my comment further down; I’ve had a 13″ laptop from them for some years now, and it’s nice)

    • Palomino says:

      I’ve owned three laptops;  two Toshiba Satellites and one  Acer. None of the threes screen saver or hibernate modes worked for very long. I’m tired of receiving errors when I don’t use a preloaded desktop image. 

      Based on my experience with my Toshibas, the power chord is a huge issue for me. I gave up on both, purchasing 8  chords total which could have bought me a new laptop. Both sit in storage now. 

    • In addition to ZaReason, the other Linux vendors I know of are System76, ThinkPenguin, Eight Virtues, and Ohava. Of course there are others if you’re looking at a desktop rather than a laptop, e.g. Puget Custom, eRacks etc. (though you could also just build your own pc).

    • digi_owl says:

      Was there not a kernel change around 3.x regarding suspend and USB devices? Seems they were a general pain in the behind because you could not trust them to accurately report suspend support.

      I think that left the devs with 3 options:

      1. stay with the status quo, not really acceptable.

      2. always power down everything and pray that it comes back up at all. not really acceptable either.

      3. leave them powered on even when otherwise suspended. The option gone for, and that later got reported as a battery draining bug.

    • zatech says:

      Would you mind sending us an email at support@zareason.com so we can look up what we did wrong when supporting you and what we can do to fix it? Thanks.

    • janusp says:

       This isn’t the fault of ZaReason. ZaReason is limited by what chipsets are available and particular combinations of chipsets. ThinkPenguin is actually working with chipset vendors, distributions, and others to fix these types of issues. But you aren’t going to get a fix from them or anybody else directly. What is going to fix this is buying from companies who are funding free software developers and working with chipset vendors in the background.

    • a h says:

       For what its worth, my Asus eee PC started falling apart within 6 months, but since I installed my own operating system I wasn’t about to even try get it fixed under warranty.

  2. VVelox says:

    Just looking at their servers. The two 1Us and two 3Us are rebranded Supermicro hardware.

  3. Guido says:

    What about System 76? Those machines look really good and at a good price.

    I am thinking to buy my next laptop from them. I am tired of playing games with the drivers to get my 3D desktop to work, hibernation/suspend problems. 

    • Alex Rudnick says:

      I’ve got a System76 laptop: a “Lemur Ultra” model that they don’t carry anymore. It’s held up quite well for about two years now! The keyboard is pretty nice, and it’s never had problems with suspend/resume. The wireless card has had some issues with some (not all) wireless networks, but surely that’s been sorted out in later models?

      I’d say I’m a happy System76 customer :)

    • janusp says:

       Actually the ZaReason machines and System76 machines are about the same from an appearance stand point. Both are pretty generic.

      ThinkPenguin is doing a little bit of design work on some aspects in order to improve support for free software although for the most part all these systems are similar/identical. Dell, HP, Apple, etc are all using very similar parts inside. You will find two similar models from two different manufacturers for instance using the same keyboards (Dell and say Acer). There are only a handful of actually manufacturers for laptops and none of them are names you would know.

  4. I have a zareason laptop i was impressed even came with a screwdriver so you could take it apart. still working well after the 2 or so years I have had it. 

  5. simonster says:

    Is the BIOS open source? If not, I’m sticking with my Lemote Yeeloong.

  6. Palomino says:

    In June 2011, BB had an excellent post about Solid State Drives. 
    http://boingboing.net/2011/06/17/why-ssds-are-worth-t.html

    My next laptop will have a Solid State Drive. That will be my first criteria. Next will be power chord reliability. Then customer service ratings.  Next will be screen resolution/quality. After that, keyboard usability. The rest is up to the salesman. 

    Write down your own list of needs and don’t let a sales person talk you out of them. Cory’s laptop services his needs and he’s a satisfied customer. 

  7. LS says:

    I have been eyeballing this other place https://www.thinkpenguin.com/
    though i need to research coreboot a bit more

  8. Chesterfield says:

    Cory, I’d love to hear more about Unity from you. I only ever read negative things while personally, I quite like it. My favourite tip – use the Windows key to start the applications ‘pinned’ in the task pane. Win-1 launches the top item, Win-2 launches the next one, etc…

    • KeithIrwin says:

       When Unity first was added to Ubuntu it clearly wasn’t ready for prime time.  It just wasn’t ready to be the default desktop of millions of users, so it got a lot of terrible feedback.  But it’s not full of terrible ideas, just had bad execution.  It’s been getting steadily better with each release.  If they’d improve the reliability of some of their components (some of them seem to have bugs which crop up only after they’ve been running for days), which they may have actually done in the last release (I’m still one behind), then I would probably recommend it over Gnome.  On the whole, the window-management parts are reasonable, and, as a Mac user, I prefer the paradigm of having the top menu bar be the menu of the active application.  The application launcher is a more modern style with the commonly used and currently active applications on a launch bar, which is pretty good.  And then search the other applications by name in order to launch them which works quite well, really.

      • penguinchris says:

        I now use a macbook pro primarily, but was using linux for years before that and still run it on a second laptop (Thinkpad) acting as a server. I had always used OpenSUSE but recently had major issues with it and decided to try Ubuntu, which is currently running on it (though not issue-free).

        As a Mac user I understand and appreciate the ideas behind Unity, but it doesn’t feel right in use and customization is limited. I don’t mind lack of customization if the default state is well thought out (e.g. OS X) but linux GUIs have never been well thought out and their great strength is that you can customize it exactly how you want – so the default state is essentially meaningless.

        Unity also feels clunky and fragile (like KDE 4) and for me it breaks down after being left running for a couple weeks, sometimes to the point of needing to reboot to fix it (which I’ve never had to do before with linux).

        • Chesterfield says:

          You leave the GUI running on a server machine? I’m guessing it isn’t heavily loaded.

          • penguinchris says:

            Yeah, it’s not really doing anything important, it serves video to a PS3 and downloads torrents. I can manage all that remotely via ssh but it’s easier to just walk over to it and use the GUI (or use VNC if I’m feeling particularly lazy). Especially since there isn’t an easy way to pass magnet torrent links to another system (at least there wasn’t at the time I set things up as magnet links were still pretty new).

  9. Frank Diekman says:

    I like the 70′s styling of their logo.

  10. digi_owl says:

    As usual when we discuss computer support, i find myself thinking that there is a delineation between consumer support and business support. With the notable exception of Apple, the Thinkpad style support is mainly aimed at business. I am quite sure that one can get the same level of warranty from Dell, HP, Acer or any other, if you buy one of their premium, professional grade computers. This in contrast to the consumer grade ranges they peddle via Wal-mart and equivalent around the globe, that are in essence designed to be disposable.

  11. UEFI (unified extensible firmware interface) isn’t a ‘security’ feature, it’s a replacement for the obsolescent BIOS utility. It was developed by Intel as a way to get around the 80s-era hardware restrictions built into the basic input output system (aka BIOS).  As was pointed out in comments when BoingBoing first mentioned this story, anybody who is willing/able to run Linux is probably capable enough to go into the UEFI and toggle the software setting that disables secure boot.

    • Tarliman says:

      We will not achieve good distribution of Linux on the desktop until we overcome both the image and the necessity of Linux users being highly technical. My youngest son runs Linux on his netbook, and very rarely has to bring it to me. That is to some extent dependent on the distro, mind you, but my point being that we need hardware that will run Linux without the user being able to modify the chipset, in order for the average computer user to even consider adopting Linux as their OS.

      • social_maladroit says:

        I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I don’t really care whether or not Linux is viewed as a “hobbyist’s OS” or whether this year is finally the “year of the Linux desktop.” The reality is that Linux can be installed and used by anyone who can read and follow directions. And look how far it’s come since Torvalds released the first Linux kernel back in ’91.

        On the other hand, the more Linux is adopted, the more problems like suspension and hibernation on laptops will be addressed by vendors, rather than being hit-and-miss affairs that depend on the laptop make and model and how much time and effort the end user is willing to spend futzing around with low-level drivers.  To use another example, I definitely appreciate how easy it is to install Ubuntu and its sister distros, and the fact that I no longer have to manually install my video driver every time there’s an updated kernel.

        • janusp says:

           That is why you should make an effort to buy freedom friendly hardware. If there isn’t enough demand there won’t be fixes to these types of issues.

        • digi_owl says:

          “The reality is that Linux can be installed and used by anyone who can read and follow directions.”

          Best i can tell, most never install a OS. Maybe they grab the geek kid of the neighborhood or some relative with similar attributes, but generally they go with whatever comes preinstalled until it breaks.

          The computer is treated as an appliance. A very flexible appliance, but still an appliance. It gets used as it shipped until it breaks, and then tossed out and a new one bought.

          Linux desktop computers needs to be in peoples faces, on stores shelves and tables , booted up so people can see the difference and play around. If not then people will think they are buying a Windows box and return it as broken within a week.

  12. zibuki says:

    ” Apple, of course, has its ubiquitous stores, where you can drop off machines for service.”

    Ah, but here’s the thing: As far as the US is concerned, you can drop off your unit at the store for service, but it won’t actually be serviced there. The units are shipped to a small handful (at one point I was told three, but that was around 2008) service repair facilities.

    • TheKaz1969 says:

      Ignore the man behind the curtain…

    • janusp says:

      I was informed it could and does frequently takes two weeks to get a repair done and your system back from Apple. I know Lenovo frequently gets system back within 3 days (using overnight shipping). Although I believe they advertise 3-5 or 3-7 to be safe.

      • penguinchris says:

        Lenovo had a box sent to me overnight, I put the Thinkpad in the box and it arrived at their facility the next day, and I had it back two days later. Pretty good.

        But, even that would be annoying for a problem that isn’t major (like a fried motherboard or something) – I recently had a minor problem with my long out of warranty macbook pro and was in and out of the apple store within half an hour with the macbook fixed free of charge (something I couldn’t have done myself).

        I have no doubt that if you have major issues with an Apple computer you’ll be waiting longer than with a Thinkpad, but not always – I’m sure they strive to do as many things in-store as they can. Of course, this relies on easy access to an Apple store :)

        • digi_owl says:

          And thanks to their push of Time Capsule and such, they can often just toss you a new one (or one that was turned in some time ago and refurbished, but never tell you as such as long as there is no way to tell from the outside) of the same product and tell you to restore from the latest backup.

    • zibuki says:

       Replying to my own comment to add this: I bought one of the first MacBook Pros  (I know, I know, but it was so shiny!). Within the first year I had to get it repaired several times (several of the early MBPs eventually had their motherboards replaced). Even though I lived in California, I noticed sometimes that Apple would send my unit to Texas for repairs, and every time it got sent to Texas the repair facility said my unit had water damage and I had to raise hell with Apple to get a second opinion, and every time they agreed that the unit wasn’t water damaged after all. I finally stopped taking it to the Apple store and took it to a local shop authorized by Apple for repairs. When the local shop mentioned that they wanted to send it to Texas I refused and insisted they do the repair in-house, even though it might be more expensive. I told them about Texas, and they didn’t seem at all surprised. They repaired it locally in two days and I didn’t have a problem with the unit again for years.

  13. I am waiting for my System76 Lemur laptop – it should be shipped today. The first one I received from them had suffered a cracked screen at the hands of UPS.
    I considered ZaReason as well. I’ll be doing a write-up of my experience – and an unboxing video!! thrilling stuff.

  14. Marios P. says:

    It is funny that in all those built it yourself websites, there are only + cost options to buy. Never, less memory or less disk storage or less wireless card which would reduce the over all cost, and would enable you to source for cheap second hand parts, or use ones gathering dust in your parts bin…

    • Syke Phank says:

      That’s another good point for ZaReason. They do offer options such as no hard drive or no ram which gives you a discount.

    • janusp says:

      This is because most of these companies aren’t really doing anything other than re-selling. They don’t have the choice in which wifi cards to use. ZaReason claims they build them so I don’t see why they can’t offer better support for free software at least. As far as shipping without a component ThinkPenguin does offer pretty barebone options (80GB drives, 1GB of ram, Single core Celerons etc) so there really wouldn’t be much of a difference price wise. I bet they would leave out options if you asked them (although the savings would be extremely minimal).

  15. janusp says:

    ZaReason has good intentions and use the “right words”. My gripe with ZaReason is they either don’t get or are being intentionally deceiving about there support for free software and GNU/Linux.

    1. No Microsoft Tax (We don’t want to support a company fighting freedom do we!)

    ZaReason isn’t paying this. I can confirm that much.

    2. No “Trusted Computing Technology”

    This is better known by free software users as “Treacherous computing”. It is incorporated into the CPUs being offered as options on ZaReason systems. Example of one CPU ZaReason ships with: i7-2860QM

    Read more about this issue at: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/can-you-trust.html

    3. No chipsets dependent on non-free software

    Intel Wireless N cards are NOT compatible with free software operating systems. The distributions which include support for these cards are not free. They are only based on mostly free software and include non-free drivers/firmware.

    4. Money is going back into improving support for free software (I don’t feel like being taken advantage of)

    I do feel better that I wouldn’t be supporting Microsoft by getting a ZaReason system although I feel that given the price of these systems ZaReason should be giving something back to the free software developers. It might be different if ZaReason was at least making a splash and shipping only hardware that wasn’t dependent on non-free software. However they aren’t.

    ThinkPenguin is the only one that I can even find that is really making a difference for GNU/Linux users. There is a lot of bad information out there right now on which companies are free software friendly and which aren’t. ZaReason is not. Nor are the ones that the free software foundation links to (with the exception of ThinkPenguin). The FSF should fix that.

    There is one other issue that can’t be solved and it will take a huge increase in the demand of free software friendly laptops to solve. A free BIOS. Nobody company currently selling “Linux Laptops” is going to be able to offer 100% freedom perfect system. The task of porting a free BIOS is signifcant. However there are the above issues which can be solved by ALL companies selling non-MS taxed laptops provided that these companies are actually doing the work. I know System76 isn’t even doing that (One reason I would NEVER buy from System76).

  16. Larye Parkins says:

    After 15 years of buying laptops and squeezing Windows aside, never to be seen again, fighting with wireless and other incompatibilities, and a disastrous adventure into building a “desktop in a bag” based on a mini-ITX board, it was a relief to order a Zareason laptop that not only ran Linux “out of the box,” with no glitches, but came customized to requirements for memory, GPU, CPU cores, etc., for bioinformatics development (GPUs and multi-core aren’t just for games, anymore).  The only thing I’ve done extra is dump the skinny Case Logic bag that barely had room for the beefy power adapter for a massive road warrior backpack that holds “everything,” including the spouse’s Netbook (converted to Linux, of course) and a change of clothes.  Speed costs–in the case of Zareason, the cost is weight.  The philosophical arguments aside, some of us absolutely need Linux, and can’t afford to take a chance that a high-end commodity (read “Windows”) laptop will run Linux without problems.  Open-source software is one issue, open source hardware is one that hasn’t been solved yet, because, until now, we’ve been buying and recycling hardware built for Windows. 

  17. Dan Griswold says:

    I bought an Alto 3880 a few months ago. I love it. However, I didn’t exactly love it at first. It failed a couple of hours after I got it and started it up. I had to send it back on my dime. (I live in NY.) But now that it’s come back to me, it works great. I understand that all companies have a (usually) small percentage of failures like this. I just wish it hadn’t happened to me, and I wish that it didn’t cost me (in terms of shipping) to get it fixed.

    Friendly people, good product. I can see myself buying from them again.

  18. Tom Chandler says:

    Sadly, none of the Linux vendors seems to offer a travel or “Ultrabook” equivalent laptop (really, I can live without the DVD). That’s a shame.

    As for Zareason, I ordered a Zareason desktop about 1.5 years ago, and while their support people were helpful and getting a machine already running Ubuntu was nice, mine has been a bit of pain. Had to send it back pretty quickly (and on my dime) for a motherboard replacement, and the wi-fi card I paid for stubbornly refused to connect to my network (I finally subbed in a USB wi-fi dongle).

    Two months past the one-year warranty the motherboard failed again, and while the manufacturer warranty was three years, Zareason’s was only one. Again, helpful, but they threw up their hands.

    Turns out they’d built my system with bargain-basement BioStar board; I replaced it with an Asus and the machine suddenly works much better. RMA’d the Biostar board to Biostar and got a new one back, which failed… immediately.

    They’re a good company with good support for Linux, but I probably won’t buy another desktop from them if they’re going to build the things with low-quality motherboards.

    I’m idly considering buying a new laptop for travel, yet nothing I’ve seen from a Linux vendor impresses me. Perhaps I’ll end up going the Thinkpad route.

      • Tom Chandler says:

         My wife’s Zenbook gets about 7 hours of battery life and weighs less than three pounds; the Penguin lists about three hours and weighs more than four.

        It’s not a bad choice, but similarly outfitted, there isn’t much of a price differential. It’s one area where the Linux companies are lagging a bit. I expect we’ll see some entries soon.

        • digi_owl says:

          Heh, checking the images it seems it has a removable battery. I think the ultrabooks get their battery life from packing the battery inside the case, allowing a tighter fit but no removal (unless you feel like taking the whole thing apart). I think this may be as close as they get, while still catering to the people that want to upgrade over time and generally tinker.

    • Jay Cassano says:

      Check out my comment below about the Strata Pro 13. If you’re interested you should email ZaReason and let them know you’d be interested in that model. At the very least it will help them register that there’s serious demand for the subnotebook form factor.

  19. pjcamp says:

    Unity bites ass.

    We’ve already got one goddamn Apple, why do we need another?

  20. forwardourmotto says:

    I’ve owned a ZaReason laptop for a few years and I’ve had no problems. I like Ubuntu actually although I’ve gone back to their old interface, I feel like it’s a little bit simpler and that the new interface is optimized for touch screens…

  21. Jay Cassano says:

    I own a Strata Pro 13 from ZaReason – a model they don’t offer anymore. It’s basically the professional-traveller model Cory would want from them. 13″ screen, no optical drive, very light – though not as lite as the “subnotebook” Thinkpad that Cory has (and that was my last Windows machine before I gave up on Windows in frustration). It’s a fantastic laptop that can rival Thinkpad’s in durability – or as I say – dropability; I’ve dropped this thing more times to care to admit and it keeps on chugging.

    The computers aren’t perfect and some things don’t “just work”. For instance, my webcam didn’t work when I first booted up and had to reinstall the system to get it work. That’s not quite the ideal of consumer-friendly Linux that I really want ZaReason to meet. On the other hand, I really pushed ZaReason to rush my order out the shop door because I needed it in a very narrow window of time. But the computers are good and do have “freedom built in” and I think it’s good for Linux users to support them or other Linux-friendly manufacturers. System76 looks very promising and I’m tempted to try them in the future, but for now I think I like ZaReason’s politics and attitude a little more (though I’m not really basing that on anything).

    I’ve emailed ZaReason about bringing back this model a number of times and htey say they plan to in the future but first they want to focus on a few target niche markets. That makes sense as a business strategy, but I do regret them not having this model anymore.

  22. Mike Lesser says:

    My excitement to support a smaller company was squashed by Zareasons incompetence and arrogance. After a month delay in shipping my machine and a month of back and forth about a non functioning wifi card Cathy Malmose the president did not respond to my email pointing out to her that they are required to deliver a working product or give me my money back. I resolved the matter with a charge back through my bank. The look & feel of the hardware was super.

    I picked up a Sys76 Lemure Ultra thin for about $700 last February. I live in NYC and if you want it you can have it for $100.

  23. Matt Bellis says:

    I bought a Limbo desktop last year from Zareason and was very impressed with the hardware and their in-house construction. But Linux (Debian) wasn’t installed properly and I had to do a full re-install myself. This was after a week of sub-par customer support. I bought the machine for work/research and had to go through some extra hoops within my university to purchase equipment from a non-standard vendor. I feel very strongly about open-source companies, and I honestly believe that Zareason does as well so I thought I’d be doing some good by supporting them….but their mantra is that they install Linux so you don’t have to, and my experience with them is that they couldn’t do that. Maybe I’m a lone data point and the majority of their customers receive computers that work. I’d like to believe that is true. I was so disappointed, I actually signed up for a Yelp account just to detail my experiences with them (they also messed up a live-boot USB stick order of mine).
    http://www.yelp.com/biz/zareason-berkeleyI'm moving to a new college and will have to order another desktop for my work and research, but I won’t be going through Zareason. I just felt so burned by them and the truth is, there’s other options out there. I had also been considering them for a new laptop last year, but after my experience with a desktop, I just went with a Lenovo X220 and did the install myself.I really hope they can get their act together, as they seem to really be sincere about supporting open-source. 

  24. anon anan says:

    I was kind of surprised to read about the bad experiences from ZaReason customers. I bought a TerraHD, their now discontinued netbook, in December 2010, and I’m very happy with it. I’m used to Win XP and Mac OS X, but I found Linux Mint 10 (installed by ZaReason) to be easy enough to use. Yes, it’s true that Hibernate doesn’t work right. My PageUp and PageDn don’t work either, but I thought it was a Mint issue, and anyway I use the spacebar and shift+spacebar to navigate. 

    My peripherals play well with the Terra. I have an old Epson scanner that doesn’t work with Linux Mint *period*, but everything else is perfect. 

    I honestly don’t know much about computer hardware either, but I do know that this machine still works after I accidentally sat on it, after my wife wrapped it in a warm comforter in her sleep. It has survived very hot and cold temperatures. It’s a great little machine. 

    By the way, it’s also my first machine with a SSD drive. Maybe that makes a difference.

  25. Rob Willis says:

    I bought a 64bit zareason about a year ago.
    The best thing I can say is that I hardly notice it. Everything works as it should.
    This is the machine I run everything for my small business on.
    My partner uses it to prepare lectures and ‘powerpoint’ presentations for the health industry.
    Friends and relatives who use this machine while visiting don’t even notice that it is linux.
    When this machine eventually needs replacing, I will contact zareason again for new one.
    Hopefully the postage to Australia will be cheaper this time.

  26. Eric Rucker says:

    One thing about many of the major laptop manufacturers (Apple being a huge exception) is that they offer next-day on-site service if you pay for it at the time of purchase, especially on business-grade machines.

    So, the support doesn’t have to be “ship it off and wait”.

    In any case, most of these “Linux-specific” laptop “makers” are buying ODM reference machines (Clevo, Quanta, Compal, companies like those that you’ve probably never heard of) that happen to have components that work well with Linux. They may well be installing the CPU, RAM, wireless card, HDD, et. al. themselves, but it’s not their design at all, and they get very little input into how it’s made. This is pretty much the case for any low-volume laptop brand, FWIW (the only exception I can think of in the past decade is Tadpole, who designed their own SPARC motherboards for a Compal reference chassis, and you REALLY paid for it).

  27.  Rob,

    This is great to hear. Note that zareason.co.nz is now servicing the Australasia region so shipping will definitely be easier and quicker. Thanks.

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