Resources for Linux hardware compatibility

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Generally, most hardware works quite well with Linux these days, even if it shipped with another OS. (You can be guaranteed a good experience if you buy hardware with Linux pre-installed from Entroware, System76, Dell or Purism.) A lot of hardware has open source drivers available in the Linux kernel or as packages you can install. Some hardware needs proprietary drivers (drivers that are not open source). Most of the newbie-friendly Linux distributions like Ubuntu and derivatives (Mint, Ubuntu MATE, Lubunu, Xubuntu, Peppermint OS, elementary OS…), PCLinuxOS, Manjaro… figures out what hardware you use upon installation and installs the right drivers automatically. On other distros like Debian and Arch, you will have to install the right drivers yourself. Some distros like Fedora and Debian only ship with free and/or open source software by default which means that to use these distros with hardware that demands proprietary drivers, you have to add third-party software repositories or in the case of Debian, to enable the contrib and non-free repos that are not used by default. Some distros (Trisquel, Musix, Parabola…) are made specifically for only using free and open source software, and these generally have no way to install proprietary drivers. By the way, there is a difference between free software (free stands for freedom, not free of charge) and open source software, but for the sake of this paragraph, let’s not get into that distinction.

The additional drivers tab
The additional drivers tab in Ubuntu’s Software and Updates control panel

If you use hardware that do not need proprietary drivers, then every distro under the sun will “just work”. Intel and AMD are both good at supplying open source drivers for their CPUs and GPUs (both newer integrated and external GPUs in AMDs case). Unfortunately, Nvidia only supplies proprietary drivers for their cards, but there is a free software driver for Nvidia GPUs (noveau) made by the Linux community that is good enough in most cases. On newbie-friendly distros, both are often available, and you may choose which to use in a GUI. (For instance Ubuntu’s “Additional drivers” tab in the Software and Updates control panel.)

Wifi/Bluteooth cards usually need proprietary drivers, but both Broadcom and Intel supply these and most distros that are not free software only by default “just work” from the moment you start your computer, unless your Wifi/Bluetooth card is very obscure. Atheros wifi/bluetooth cards do not need proprietary drivers, as the drivers for these are free software and included in the Linux kernel. These wifi chipsets just work.

To further investigate particular hardware, I recommend looking at linlap (for laptops), Ubuntu certified hardware, ThinkWiki (for ThinkPads) and the Arch Linux Wiki. Many of these resources also cover Mac hardware, but there are also dedicated resources for that, such as Ubuntu’s Apple Hardware Users’ Forum, Ubuntu’s Mactel Community Documentation, and even a few blogs about Linux on PowerPC Macs.