Alternative, Linux-based operating systems like Ubuntu haven't historically carried much weight with PC gamers. Very few PC games have been made for Linux, over the years, ever since the company that was porting AAA gaming titles to Linux (Loki Games) went bankrupt in 2001. And while it's possible to use a "compatibility layer" such as Wine to run Windows PC games in Linux, the results are mixed at best and require a lot of technical tweaking, sometimes even in between updates.
Colorado-based indie PC hardware company System76, however, clearly expects that not only are there PC gamers on Linux out there, but that some of them are willing to pay $1,499 for a tricked-out gaming laptop -- the 17.3-inch Bonobo Extreme. Like all of System76's machines, it runs the Ubuntu flavor of Linux; and its actual price tag is $1,599, but it's gotten a $100 discount for the holidays.
Is it ahead of its time, like the Loki Games ports? Or has the time come for a new age of Linux gaming? For whatever reason, Valve -- the creators of the Steam social gaming service -- seems to think the latter.
The 17.3-inch screen is full 1080p, with a 1920x1080 resolution. Pretty much every spec starts out at "high end" and maxes out at "over the top"; it comes standard with an Intel Core i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 500 GB, 7200 RPM hard drive, with a second drive bay and the option to swap the DVD burner out for a third storage disk. All three have the option of going up to a 512 GB Crucial solid state disk, or a 480 GB Intel SSD.
Gaming graphics are powered by an nVidia GeForce GTX 670MX, with 3 GB of memory. An extra $340 will get you a GTX 680M with 4 GB of memory. All told, with every possible hardware upgrade the Bonobo Extreme maxes out at an "extreme" $4,333 ... and the Alienware-style, multicolored light-up keyboard is included for free.
But what about the games?
Valve's Linux Steam client is currently in beta, with another 5,000 testers added over the Thanksgiving holiday. About two dozen games are already available for purchase, including Valve's free-to-play multiplayer online shooter Team Fortress 2 and a selection of games from previous Humble Indie Bundles.
The HIB previously became famous not just for having nearly all of its games support Linux, but for posting public sales figures online, and showing that a good-sized chunk of each bundle's sales were for Linux gamers. Efforts such as this helped to convince Valve that supporting Linux would be worthwhile ... and also seem to have reached someone at System76.Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.