6 Best Laptops For Tails in 2021 [Checked For Compatibility]

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You don’t need an expensive laptop to be able to run Tails operating system. Besides, you’ll be running it using a USB stick or a DVD drive, being a Linux-based operating system, any Linux-compatible laptop can run the OS without any errors. But, the difficult question is, which one should you purchase for the best experience?

While, the Tails OS can protect your privacy and leave no trace of your online activity, you’ll have to use other operating systems for your work or other activities. You can either get a separate laptop for Tails OS or pick a machine that can handle other tasks without any lags.

Since you’re already here, you surely know the power of the privacy-focused Tails OS and have decided that you need a laptop that can run Tails without any issues (jump to the list.) But, if you’re still confused — if you should be using Tails for your privacy needs, then the below information shall help.

Why Tails OS?

Ensuring privacy is a lot harder than it might seem. You need a platform that’s been designed to be private from the ground up, a platform that is regularly updated and maintained, one that connects you securely to the web, but isn’t too slow like the TOR browser and can be wiped easily, leaving no trace. That’s where the Linux-based Tails OS comes into picture.

Taking a page from Snowden’s playbook, and the playbooks of several other privacy-focused firms and individuals, we’re going to help you pick a privacy-first computing platform to get you through your day, starting with Tails as the OS of choice.

Also, you’re not paranoid just because you care about “your privacy.” You don’t have to be a whistleblower on the run, or an activist, cyber security professional or a journalist, to be concerned. Maybe you’re just an individual who is sick and tired of being tracked and manipulated by targeted advertising and just want some peace of mind. Whatever is the case, privacy matters.

Now, if you still think privacy is important and Tails OS somehow helps you achieve it, then you continue reading below to find the right laptop that’s compatible with the linux-based privacy-focused operating system.

Tails is designed to be a portable, private OS. Its only purpose is to keep your data and your activities private. As such, it’s recommended that you run Tails off a USB drive, and preferably without persistent storage. Since it’s a lightweight, Linux-based platform, any PC built in the last decade, as long as it’s Linux-compatible, is sufficient.

 Minimum System RequirementsRecommended System Requirements
Processor8th Gen Intel Core i39th Gen Intel Core i5
RAM4GB8GB
Storage128GB SSD256GB SSD
Display13.3-inch HD (1280 x 720)15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
GraphicsIntegrated Intel UHD 550Integrated Intel UHD G1
Battery LifeUp to 4 hoursUp to 8 hours

6 Best Laptops for Tails in 2021

Tails maintains privacy by obfuscating data traffic and deliberately forgetting user data, it’s not meant for a device for office work or college assignments. With that in mind, we’ve shortlisted laptops that are cheap, and borderline disposable.

  • CPU: 1GHz Intel Core i5-1035G1
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Display: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • GPU: Integrated Intel UHD G1
  • Battery: Up to 8 hours

With the Acer Aspire 5, you’re getting a cheap, functional laptop for under $600 that you can use as a Windows-powered daily driver or as a Tails laptop. Plus, it comes with a fingerprint reader for added security. What else do you want from a sub-$600 machine?

CPU and GPU

The Intel Core i5-1035G1 variant is a good choice for a laptop you’ll use for Tails. It’s a low-power CPU that can clock as low as 1GHz, and it’s paired with Intel UHD Graphics, which are fully Linux compatible. Together, they promise a device with great battery life.

RAM, Storage and OS

Acer ships the Aspire 5 with Windows 10 Home, a great choice for a work/study machine. Included is 8GB RAM and 256GB of storage, both of which are great for a daily driver. Since you’ll be booting Tails from a USB drive, the amount of storage isn’t a concern. However, most of the tasks will be handled on your primary storage i.e. the RAM, so make sure that 8GB RAM is enough for your needs.

Display

The 15.6-inch FHD display is an IPS panel with decent color accuracy and good viewing angles. The color gamut could have been better, but it’s not such a big deal since you won’t exactly be storing and editing photos on this machine. However, watching movies, YouTube (not YouTube editing), and live streaming, it gets the job done.

Based on our web browsing experience, this display didn’t strain our eyes after continuously surfing internet and watching movies for more than 8 hrs.

Keyboard and Touchpad

You get a backlit keyboard which is quite important for people who spend a lot of time writing from their laptops in the dark, and that touchpad is responsive and accurate enough for daily work. There’s a full-size Numpad which can make calculation easy, but more importantly, there’s a fingerprint reader for added security.

Given the ephemeral nature of Tails, biometrics aren’t necessary, but it’s generally a nice feature to have for use with other, less secure operating systems.

Design and Ports

This is a budget laptop so don’t expect fancy materials or a designer aesthetic. Still, this is mostly a plastic machine — with an aluminum top cover — is sturdy and looks quite good in black. Port selection is varied and includes 1x USB-C 3.1 Gen 1, 2x USB-A 3.1 Gen 1, 1x USB-A 2.0 port, an HDMI port, an Ethernet jack, and a 3.5mm combo jack.

Battery

The modern, low-power components ensure a battery life of up to 8 hours when running Windows 10. The lighter Tails OS should allow you to extract a longer runtime from the machine. Overall, the Acer Aspire is a great all-rounder of a laptop at a reasonable price.

Pros
  • Good value
  • Low-power CPU and GPU
  • Large screen
  • Great battery life
  • USB-C port
Cons
  • No USB 3.2 Gen 2 speeds
  • Could do with a better display
  • CPU: 1.2GHz Intel Core i3-1005G1
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Display: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • GPU: Integrated Intel UHD G1
  • Battery: Up to 8 hours

If you need a quiet, unassuming workhorse of a laptop for everyday work and for running Tails, the Lenovo Ideapad 3 is a great candidate. It’s fast enough for Windows and Tails, easy to use, and comes with a great keyboard.

CPU and GPU

The 1.2GHz 10th Gen Intel i3 CPU and UHD graphics are modern, power-efficient chips that are great for Windows, Chrome, and productivity apps like MS Word, Excel, and other apps from the Microsoft Office suite.

Needless to say that it’s more than capable of handling Tails. The 15W CPU is also a low-power platform, so you can expect great battery life. Although, the UHD graphics isn’t as powerful as the dedicated graphics from NVIDIA or AMD, it still gets the job done (as you don’t need graphics power for running Tails)

RAM, Storage and OS

With 8GB of RAM coming as standard, you can rest assured that Tails will run smoothly and without a hitch on this laptop. The SSD storage is irrelevant for Tails (unless you’re going to install it on the storage and not use it from the USB stick), but 256GB can feel quite low for storing the included Windows 10 Home OS and essential apps. You’re going to need an external drive or cloud backup solution for your personal files.

Display

The 15.6-inch FHD display comes with 250 nits of brightness and 45% NTSC for the color gamut. It isn’t as color accurate as the ones found in laptops suited for graphic designing. Also, it also isn’t as fast as the 144Hz laptops, but it has a decent contrast ratio. Since you’re not going to play games or edit photos/videos, you don’t have to worry about those factors. Besides, it’s quite a capable display for reading, typing, web browsing. Thereby making it suitable for Tails and other activities you’ll be performing on Tails.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Lenovo’s signature island-style keys make an appearance here. They’re very comfortable to use and there’s even enough space to accommodate a dedicated numeric keypad. Sadly, the keys aren’t backlit. You might miss the backlit functionality and if you type a lot in the dark, then you should consider checking out other laptop options that come with a backlit lightning keyboard.

Design and Ports

Lenovo’s gone for a simple, value-for-money aesthetic here. You get a clean grey finish and a 180° hinge for comfort. Ports include 2x USB-A 3.0 ports, 1x USB-A 2.0 port, a 3.5mm combo jack, and, interestingly, an SD card reader. The machine merely weighs 3.74 lbs that makes it highly suitable for traveling.

Battery

Running Tails, you can expect 8-10 hours of battery life from this machine. On Windows, you can expect around 8 hours at most. The battery is more than enough, because based on our research, 73% people don’t spend more than 6 hrs/day working on their machines.

The Ideapad 3 is a bit of a barebones machine, and it lacks essential ports like USB-C and essential features like a keyboard backlight. That being said, it’s a cheap machine that can run Tails and offers great battery life. The webcam comes with a privacy shutter that covers it when you’re not taking any Zoom or Skype calls. Overall, it’s a good buy as a budget, privacy-focused laptop.

Pros
  • Good value
  • 10th Gen Intel CPU
  • Great battery life
  • 180° hinge
  • Privacy shutter on webcam
Cons
  • No USB-C ports
  • No keyboard backlight

Although, you can get the 16-inch MacBook Pro or the newly launched MacBook M1, you don’t really need that much power for running Tails. That’s why based on our experience, the Apple’s MacBook Air with Intel i3 + 8GB RAM + 256GB SSD is more than enough.

  • CPU: 1.1GHz Intel Core i3-1000NG4
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Display: 13.3-inch Retina (2560 x 1600)
  • GPU: Integrated Intel Iris Plus
  • Battery: Up to 12 hours

For someone who’s concerned about privacy, Apple’s macOS is a great, consumer-friendly starting point, and the MacBook Air a great laptop. Getting any kind of USB-based Linux OS to run on MacBook is a little complex, but if you care about privacy, it could be worth it.

CPU and GPU

The Air is powered by a custom-built Intel i3, the 1000NG4. It’s a 1.1GHz dual-core chip with powerful Iris Plus graphics and you will not find it on any Windows laptop. Together with the T2 co-processor, you’re looking at a fairly powerful machine for its form factor.

RAM, Storage and OS

The 8GB RAM and 256GB of SSD storage are just barely enough for macOS Big Sur and a handful of apps, but good enough for Tails. Getting Tails to boot on Apple MacBooks require jumping through a few hoops, however, which can be intimidating to the average user. You’ll find detailed instructions on the Tails website, though.

Display

Apple’s stellar Retina displays need no introduction. They’re among the brightest, most color-accurate displays you can get on a laptop, so, if you’re also into graphic designing, photo editing, video editing, the 13.3-inch display with Retina technology can come in handy. The gamut (100% sRGB) and brightness (400 nits) fall a bit short of the Pro’s 150% sRGB and 500 nits, but these are still great specs for any display.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Now that Apple’s reverted back to the Magic keyboard, we can safely say that the MacBook Air has one of the best laptop keyboards around. We can also safely say that the Magic Trackpad is the best trackpad you can get. When it comes to input mechanisms, Apple is still king.

Design and Ports

The iconic clamshell design in its gorgeous unibody aluminum finish looks expensive, is very classy, weighs a mere 3.97lb, and has withstood the test of time. The same can’t be said of the ports, which are limited to 2 USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports. If you intend to use a USB-A drive to boot into Tails, you will need a dongle.

Battery

Battery life is claimed to be a whopping 12 hours in macOS, and you can expect about the same in Tails. The dual-core CPU and large battery have a lot to do with this.

Using the inherently secure macOS platform for your personal data, and Tails as a secondary, super-secure OS for critical communications is smart thinking. You’re paying a premium for the privilege of owning a Mac, but given what you’re getting, we feel that the premium price tag is justified.

Pros
  • macOS is inherently secure
  • Gorgeous design
  • Superb battery life
  • Class-leading display
  • The best touchpad in the business
Cons
  • Limited ports
  • Expensive
  • CPU: 1.2GHz Intel Core i3-1005G1
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • Display: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • GPU: Integrated Intel UHD G1
  • Battery: Up to 8 hours

A more understated Ultrabook-type device for styles can be had in the form of the ASUS VivoBook 15. Sure, internal storage options aren’t great and the specs are pretty tame, but if you’re primarily looking to run Tails, this won’t be a problem.

CPU and GPU

The dual-core i3-1005G1 and its UHD graphics aren’t very fast, but since you’ll only be running a lightweight Linus distro, you’ll be fine. The device can run Windows and 10 and Chrome as well, just don’t expect great performance when doing so.

RAM, Storage and OS

Perhaps acknowledging the low-power nature of the device, and the limited, 128GB of SSD storage, ASUS has bundled this model of the VivoBook 15 with the more limited Windows 10 S. Thankfully, you can unlock full functionality in a few clicks. When running Tails, that 128GB SSD won’t be touched, and the included 8GB of RAM is sufficient.

Display

As with most $500 laptops, the VivoBook 15’s 15.6-inch FHD display isn’t very color accurate or bright. It’s good enough for Tails and Windows 10, however, and one can’t expect a display with better screen resolution, color accuracy, contrast ratio, and refresh rates in this budget range.

Keyboard and Touchpad

You get a nice, full-size keyboard with backlighting and a large touchpad with an integrated fingerprint reader that’s compatible with Windows Hello. It’s nice to have the added security benefit of the latter. Do note that the keyboard backlight isn’t as uniform as you’d expect from a more premium device, but at least you have a backlight.

Design and Ports

The laptop is slim, and at 3.75lb, quite light. It’s designed well and there are thin bezels around the display. Port selection includes 1x USB-C 3.1 Gen 1, 1x USB-A 3.1 Gen 1, 2x USB-A 2.0, an HDMI port, a 3.5mm combo jack, and a microSD card slot. The latter is good if you need a bit of compact, removable storage from time to time.

Battery

The Lithium polymer battery in the VivoBook should keep the laptop running for a good 6-8 hours when browsing the web. It also fast charges to 60% in just 49 minutes.

As a fast, value-for-money machine with modern hardware, the sub-$500 laptop is a great option, especially if you intend to run Tails on it. On the other hand, as a Windows device, it does fall just a little bit short of being very practical.

Pros
  • Relatively cheap
  • Modern, 10th Gen Intel CPU
  • Slim and sleek
  • Good battery life
  • Backlit keyboard
Cons
  • 128GB storage is too low for Windows
  • Limited high-speed ports
  • CPU: 1.8GHz Intel Celeron 4205U
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Display: 15.6-inch HD (1366 x 768)
  • GPU: Integrated Intel UHD 620
  • Battery: Up to 4 hours

Just to be clear, the Dell Inspiron 3000 would a terrible Windows machine. An ancient dual-core CPU with a mere 4GB of RAM is simply not enough for a modern OS. However, for Tails, it’s a surprisingly decent config, and perfect if you’re looking for privacy on a budget.

CPU and GPU

The dual-core Celeron N4000 in here has a base clock of 1.8GHz, which is actually quite high for a low-end chip. It’s also a dual-thread chip, which makes it about 40-60% slower than an equivalent i3 chip. The 8th Gen UHD graphics are also quite ancient. Still, given how low Tails’ requirements are, this config will do. 

RAM, Storage and OS

We’d normally shudder at the idea of attempting to run Windows, and especially Chrome on anything less than 8GB RAM. Given that we’ll be running Tails, the 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD storage are adequate. We’d still recommend upgrading to 8GB though, since Tails stores everything in RAM. It’s running Windows 10 S by default.

Display

An HD resolution on a 15.6-inch panel is too low for an enjoyable, immersive movie-watching experience. For browsing the web and sending secure emails and messages though, which is what you’ll be doing with Tails, it’s enough.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Thankfully, the keyboard is backlit and the device is large enough to accommodate a Numpad. The trackpad is a bit on the smaller side but is enough for Tails and Windows 10 users.

Design and Ports

One would expect a budget laptop with ancient hardware to look like a bulky, kludge of a machine. If that’s the case, the Dell Inspiron 3000 will surprise you. Sure, it’s not the best-looking device around, and it is a bit bulky, but it’s also sturdy and much slimmer than you’d think.

Ports are limited and you get 1x USB-A 2.0 port, 2x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, an HDMI 1.4b port, an RJ45 Ethernet jack, and a 3.5mm combo jack. The device is heavy and weighs 5.99lb, so, you can consider it as a great desktop replacement.

Battery

With its 8th Gen CPU, limited RAM, and a small battery, it’ll be hard to expect more than 4-5 hours of use from this machine. For a budget machine, though, that’s not bad.

The Inspiron 3000 has only been chosen because it’s a cheap, Tails-ready option for someone looking to have a budget, privacy-focused machine handy. Don’t expect more from this machine and you’ll be fine.

Pros
  • Dirt cheap
  • A 128GB SSD at this price isn’t bad
  • Sturdily built for its price
  • Large display
  • Full-size Ethernet port
Cons
  • Only 4GB RAM
  • Ancient CPU
  • CPU: 1.1GHz Intel Celeron N4000
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB eMMC
  • Display: 14-inch HD (1366 x 768)
  • GPU: Integrated Intel UHD 600
  • Battery: Up to 14.2 hours

While it’s marketed as a Windows 10S machine, you can rest assured that the HP Stream 14 is much better suited to a low-power OS like Tails than Windows. It’s also thin and light, making it great as a budget, portable option for privacy-focused individuals.

CPU and GPU

The Intel Celeron N4000 was first released in 2017. It’s an ageing, nearly obsolete 6W CPU with 2 cores, 2 threads, a 1.1GHz base clock, and UHD 600 graphics. Given that Tails can run on 10-year old hardware, the N4000 is a good, entry-level option.

RAM, Storage and OS

4GB RAM and 64GB of super slow eMMC storage would normally be laughably bad for storing or working with large datasets, study, or even entertainment. Such limited storage wouldn’t even allow for Windows 10 updates without having to wipe the disk every time. That being said, Tails cares not for internal storage, and only needs 4GB RAM to run. Thus, this config works for Tails. HP sells the device with Windows 10 home in S mode.

Display

A 14-inch display with an HD resolution is not bad, actually. HD is enough resolution for that screen size, and the lower resolution will translate to battery savings. Of course, one can’t expect color accuracy in a low-budget device.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard and touchpad can best be described as functional. They’re there to do a job, and they do it. There are no bells and whistles here. No backlight, and not even a numpad. Again, this is a budget machine, it’s best to keep expectations in check.

Design and Ports

For the design, HP has gone with a slim, plastic wedge, and the 14-inch form factor keeps weight down to 3.1lb. Ports are limited, but sufficient. These include 2x USB-A 3.1 Gen 1, 1x USB-A 2.0, 1x HDMI 1.4, an SD card reader, and a 3.5mm combo audio jack.

Battery

With its ultra-low power CPU, relatively small display, and low-power storage, battery life is expectedly brilliant. HP promises  a whopping 14 hours and 15 minutes of use from this machine, and if you’re using the USB-only Tails OS, you can at expect at least as much, if not more battery life.

As a portable, Tails-only laptop, the HP 14 is the budget laptop to beat. Few other devices can offer this combination of price, form factor, and battery life.

Pros
  • Among the cheapest laptops available
  • Incredible battery life
  • Weighs nothing
  • SD card reader
  • 14-inch screen
Cons
  • Limited storage and RAM
  • No upgradeability

How to Choose a Laptop for Tails?

As the Tails OS website states, Tails will basically run on any PC built in the last decade, just as long as it has at least 2GB of RAM and a Linux-compatible GPU. The OS is basically a secure browser and some secure apps, it’s not heavy, and it’s not meant as a Windows 10 or macOS replacement. It’s also a USB-based OS, so the focus should be on pen drive rather than the actual PC hardware.

USB Drives

Tails recommends an 8GB drive as a minimum for the OS. This is without any persistent storage, so your files will never be saved on the drive or anywhere else. If you need to install some additional apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, and/or want to store files locally, you’ll need to allocate space for an encrypted data partition. If you’re doing this, get a fast USB 3.0 drive with at least 16GB capacity. Something like the 300Mbps Sandisk Extreme drives will be perfect.

CPU

This choice doesn’t matter. Any CPU ever made for a PC in the last decade will run Tails just fine. A quad-core CPU would be nice, but it’s certainly not essential. If you have a choice, we’d recommend opting for Intel’s 10th Gen CPUs or later, or anything from AMD’s Ryzen line. These are newer CPUs with some integrated security features and mitigations for vulnerabilities that could, in extreme circumstances, compromise device security.

RAM

Tails recommends at least 2GB, and runs fine on 4GB, but we’d recommend sticking with 8GB or higher. The entire OS loads into RAM if it can, and when you’re using heavier browsers with a tonne of tabs, more RAM helps.

SSD

Don’t bother with internal storage. It’s best, for security reasons, that Tails runs off a USB drive. Data on internal drives, unless properly encrypted, is always vulnerable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it OK to run Tails alongside macOS or Windows 10?

Yes, but only as long as you ensure that the two systems are not sharing data. You can do this by sticking to Tails’ recommended approach of running the OS only from a USB drive and never mounting the internal storage.

Do I need a new laptop to run Tails?

New laptops with newer CPUs tend to be more secure than older models. That being said, Tails features amnesic memory, a design that essentially purges all user data on a reboot. The security benefits of newer platforms are not relevant here unless your machine is left on and unattended for long sessions.

How important is USB speed for using Tails?

When you boot Tails from a USB or DVD drive — and yes, that is an option — the OS is copied to RAM. It’s this copying process that takes time, and is dependent on the speed of the drive and/or the port it’s connected to. Once the data is transferred, Tails will run at full speed and will be unaffected by your drive’s speed.

Can I use a gaming laptop with Tails?

Tails is based on Linux, which can have compatibility issues with certain graphics chips, especially those from Nvidia. While you should be able to use Tails regardless, by booting via internal graphics, you might need to tweak your BIOS every time for this to happen.

Verdict

Clearly, keeping your data safe and your habits private is a lot easier, and cheaper, than one would realise. With a privacy-focused operating system like Tails, and a range of awesome hardware to choose from, you’re not going to be left wanting.

  • Get the HP Stream 14 if you need a Tails-ready device on you wherever you go. It’s thin and light and promises great battery life, and it’s just powerful enough to run Windows in a pinch.
  • If you can’t spare the cash for a dedicated Tails machine and need something that can handle regular work as well as a bit of private browsing, we’d recommend either the Acer Aspire 5 or Apple MacBook Air, depending on the OS you prefer.
  • Lastly, if you need an Ultrabook, you just can’t beat the ASUS VivoBook 15.

Haven’t found the right device? Use our Laptop Finder to get suggestions based on your specs requirements.

Written By
Ray Kinton

A veteran techie from the days of the ZX Spectrum 48K. Ray enjoys technology, entrepreneurship, travel, writing and photography, and always looking for ways to improve his skills. He has built many computers and enjoys tinkering with technology. Follow Ray on Twitter

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