Is this the best laptop you’ve never heard of?

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The MALIBAL Aon S1 laptop.

The Aon S1 outperforms every other laptop I own.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

MALIBAL is a company you’ve probably never heard of and the Aon S1 is, most likely, a laptop that’s not on your radar.

It should be.

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MALIBAL produces high-performance, custom Linux laptops for developers and content creators. The company also creates mobile workstations for engineers, scientists, video editors, 3D modelers, and animators, as well as mobile servers for enterprise applications. T

he key here is high performance. And before I get into my thoughts on the Aon S1, it should be noted that MALIBAL’s high-performance hardware comes with a high-performance cost. The Aon S1 starts at a base price of $1,199.00 and the review unit I received sells for $2,083.00. You can get the same top-end CPU and GPU, which is where most of the performance comes from, for as little as $1,573.00 (if you lower the memory and storage space).

The Malibal Aon S1 laptop.

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Aon S1

The MALIBAL Aon S1 is a customizable Linux laptop (running Ubuntu Desktop Linux 22.04) that is powerful enough to handle nearly any workload you throw at it. 

Is it worth it to buy a laptop that costs nearly twice what a MacBook Pro 13-inch? Let me share my opinion on that matter.

What is the Aon S1?

The Aon S1 is a laptop that runs Linux (although, for an added cost you can purchase it with Windows) and runs it incredibly well. The specs of the model I was shipped look like this:

  • CPU: 12th Gen Intel Core i7-12700H with 14 cores and 20 threads.
  • RAM: 64 GB.
  • Display: Nvidia® GeForce® RTX™ 3050 Ti 14-inch WQXGA (2880 x 1800) 16:10; sRGB 95%.
  • Storage: 1 TB.
  • Ports: 1 x Thunderbolt, 1 x HDMI output, 2 x USB Type A Gen 1, 1 x USB 3.1 type-C Gen 2, 1 x Audio Combo, 1 x DC-in.
  • Networking: Intel Dual Band Wireless Wi-Fi 6E AX211.
  • Battery: Embedded six cells polymer battery pack 99WH.
  • OS: Ubuntu Desktop Linux 22.04.

Clearly, this laptop was meant for serious workloads and not just browsing social media. Not that you can’t do typical, everyday tasks with the Aon S1, but that would be like driving a Ferrari to the grocery store. To anyone who finds the typical laptop underpowered, the Aon S1 is powerful enough for just about anything you throw at it. 

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But it’s not the power that had me smitten with this laptop, nor was it the fact that it shipped with Ubuntu Desktop Linux (which is always a plus). 

Let me explain.

The display

First, let me talk about the display. Although it might not stand up to Apple’s Retina display for color accuracy and sharpness, the Aon S1 is no slouch. But more than anything, the minuscule bezel really sold me. Practically every inch of the upper chassis is dedicated to display. The side bezel is around 1/8-inch and the top bezel is only 1/4-inch. Because of that, the 14-inch laptop feels more like a 13-inch, only with a larger screen. In fact, since the Aon S1 arrived, I much prefer using it to my MacBook Pro 13-inch.  

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Although I much prefer Linux as an OS, I was resigned to the idea that no manufacturer would be capable of creating a laptop with hardware superior to Apple’s. And although the Aon S1 might not have the elegant chassis of the MacBook Pro, it’s every bit its rival elsewhere.

The Aon S1 side bezel.

The image doesn’t do the tiny bezel of the Aon S1 justice.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

The keyboard and touchpad

I write words for a living. Because of that, I can immediately judge a keyboard after a few quick clicks. And in keeping with my MacBook Pro comparison, the Aon S1 keyboard blows Apple’s out of the water. Unlike Apple’s keys, which feel like toys, the Aon S1 keyboard has a very solid feel that allows me to type at speed with accuracy. Each press of a key feels satisfying and reliable. This is a keyboard that can withstand a lot of typing and never miss a stroke.

The Aon S1 keyboard.

This is a keyboard any professional writer will love.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

As far as the touchpad goes, it’s quite good. At roughly 5 1/8-inch X 3 5/16-inch, it’s more than large enough and feels glassy and smooth. Even better, the response is fantastic. There’s zero lag and the cursor moves about with ease. Again, this is hardware to rival the MacBook Pro — which is saying quite a bit. 

Performance

I put the Aon S1 through some less-than-typical tasks to see how it would perform. 

Yes, I started with the usual tasks of installing software, running an office suite, using the web browser, etc. But then I decided to throw some container deployments into the mix. Given the specs of this machine, I was not in the least surprised at how well it performed, even under a fairly heavy load. The Aon S1 outperformed my beast of a desktop machine (System76 Thelio) without blinking. I’ve not experienced a laptop that could pull off such a feat, but the Aon S1 certainly made it happen.

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I installed Docker and MicroK8s and then deployed Portainer with both Docker and Kubernetes environments. The laptop didn’t so much as blink at the load. After that test, I felt confident the Aon S1 could handle anything the average user would throw at it (and then some).

The Aon S1 ran Ubuntu Desktop Linux 22.04 like a champ. 

The conclusion

Given how there are so many inexpensive laptops available, dropping over two grand on a 14-inch laptop might seem a bit excessive. However, if you’re tired of purchasing laptops that never fail to underwhelm, it’s time you go the opposite direction. Not everyone is willing to drop the extra coin on such a piece of hardware. But if you’re looking for something that will blow you away with how it looks, feels, and performs, you would be remiss if you didn’t consider the MALIBAL Aon S1.

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This is going to be one of the first review laptops I’ve ever received that I will seriously miss when it heads to the next reviewer.

You can purchase the Aon S1 in different configurations from the official MALIBAL site.



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