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

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-built Linux laptops for developers and content creators. They also create mobile workstations for engineers, scientists, video editors, 3D modelers and animators, as well as mobile servers for enterprise applications. The key here is high performance. And before I get into my thoughts on the Aon S1, it’s worth noting that Malibal’s high performance hardware comes at 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 high-end CPU and GPU, where most of the performance comes from, for as low as $1,573.00 (if you scale down memory and storage).

Is it worth buying a laptop that costs almost twice what a 13-inch MacBook Pro? Let me share my opinion on this.

What is the Aon S1?

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

  • Processor: 12th Generation Intel Core i7-12700H with 14 cores and 20 threads.
  • RAM: 64 GB.
  • Display: Nvidia┬« GeForce┬« RTXTM 3050Ti 14-inch WQXGA (2880 x 1800) 16:10; sRGB 95%.
  • Storage: 1TB.
  • Ports: 1 x Thunderbolt, 1 x HDMI out, 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: Built-in six-cell 99WH polymer battery.
  • OS: Ubuntu Desktop Linux 22.04.

Obviously, this laptop was meant for heavy workloads and not just social media browsing. Not that you couldn’t perform typical daily tasks with the Aon S1, but it would be like driving a Ferrari to the grocery store. For 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 won me over with this laptop, nor the fact that it comes with Ubuntu Desktop Linux (which is always a plus).

Let me explain.

display

First, let me talk about the display. While it can’t stand up to Apple’s Retina display for color accuracy and sharpness, the Aon S1 is no slouch. But more than anything, the tiny bezel really sold me. Virtually every inch of the top chassis is dedicated to the display. The side bezel is about 1/8 inch and the top bezel is only 1/4 inch. Because of this, the 14-inch laptop looks more like a 13-inch, but with a bigger screen. In fact, since the arrival of the Aon S1, I much prefer using it to my 13-inch MacBook Pro.

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Although I much prefer Linux as an operating system, I was resigned to the idea that no manufacturer would be able to create a laptop with better hardware than Apple. And while the Aon S1 might not have the sleek chassis of the MacBook Pro, it’s all its rival elsewhere.

The Aon S1 side bezel.

The image doesn’t do justice to the Aon S1’s small bezel.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

The keyboard and touchpad

I write words for a living. Thanks to this, I can immediately judge a keyboard after a few quick clicks. And consistent with my MacBook Pro comparison, the Aon S1 keyboard blows Apple out of the water. Unlike Apple’s toy-like keys, the Aon S1 keyboard has a very solid feel that allows me to type quickly with precision. Every keypress is satisfying and reliable. It’s a keyboard that can handle a lot of typing and never miss a shot.

The Aon S1 keyboard.

It’s a keyboard that any professional writer will love.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

As for the touchpad, it’s pretty good. At about 5 1/8 inches X 3 5/16 inches, it’s more than enough and looks glassy and smooth. Even better, the response is fantastic. There is no lag and the cursor moves easily. Again, it’s hardware to rival the MacBook Pro, which is saying a lot.

Performance

I put the Aon S1 through 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 add a few container deployments to the mix. Considering the specs of this machine, I wasn’t at all surprised by its performance, even under quite a heavy load. The Aon S1 outperformed my beast of a desktop machine (System76 Thelio) without flinching. I haven’t come across a laptop that could pull off such a feat, but the Aon S1 certainly did.

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I installed Docker and MicroK8s, then deployed Portainer with Docker and Kubernetes environments. The laptop didn’t even blink on the charge. After this test, I was convinced that 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

Considering the number of inexpensive laptops available, dropping over two thousand dollars on a 14-inch laptop might seem like a bit of a stretch. However, if you’re tired of buying laptops that never fail to disappoint, it’s time to go the other way. Not everyone is willing to drop the extra coin on such hardware. But if you’re looking for something that will wow you with its look, feel, and performance, you’d be kicking yourself if you didn’t consider the Malibal Aon S1.

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

You can buy the Aon S1 in different configurations from the Malibal official website.

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