System 76 Starling Netbook Review

Jack Wallen
Oct 27, 2010
Updated • Jan 16, 2013

I've had the pleasure of trying out plenty of netbook hardware. Just about every form factor and operating system combination available. These netbooks range from the hardly usable, to the might-as-well-be-a-laptop, and everything in between. It's that "everything in between" space that appeals to the majority of users on the planet and that's exactly where the Starling lands - but it does so while leaving quite a solid impression on the user.

After plenty of use on this machine, I thought I should report back on the hardware and the OS so that anyone looking for a new netbook might be swayed to the System 76 side.


Although not a powerhouse, the Starling performs very well. The default machine specs look like:

  • Display: 10.1" HD WSVGA Super Clear Ultra-Bright LED backlit (1024 x 600)
  • Processor: Intel Atom 1.66 GHz with hyperthreading
  • Graphics: Intel GMA 3100 graphics
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Storage: 250 GB (upgradable with solid state options)
  • Audio Output: Intel High Definition Audio
  • Networking: LAN (10/100), WiFi
  • Wireless: 802.11 bgn
  • Ports: VGA, 3 x USB 2.0, Headphone Jack, Microphone Jack, SD Reader
  • Camera: Built-In 0.3 MP Webcam
  • Security: Kensington® Lock
  • Power Management: Suspend & Hibernate
  • Battery: includes one 3 Cell Lithium Ion
  • AC Adapter: includes one AC adapter
  • Dimensions: 10.47" x 7.28" x 0.72~1.0" (WxDxH)
  • Weight: 2.0 lbs.
  • Operating System: Ubuntu 10.04 Netbook edition

So even by today's standards, this netbook packs some power.


The user interface is the Ubuntu Unity interface (that which will grace all of Ubuntu Linux starting with 11.04). To be honest, Unity is one of the best netbook interfaces I have ever used. Not only does it make the small screen space incredibly efficient, it also operates with a small footprint, so the machine seems even faster than its specs would indicate.

And Unity has an incredibly low learning curve. Anyone could hop onto the Unity and very quickly be up to speed.

The apps

Ubuntu Unity ships with all of the apps you will need to have a fully-functioning, mobile office. And, since the Starling arrives with a built-in webcam, you will enjoy the Linux Cheese application. You will also find all of the standard applications associated with a Ubuntu installation. Of course, if you don't find what you need...there is always the Ubuntu Software Center.

Overall impression

The thing that surprised me most was the keyboard on the Starling. I have grown accustomed to the netbook keyboards feeling more like toys than real hardware. Not the case with the System 76 machine. This keyboard feels real, feels solid, and feel like you could type a novel on it without feeling that old familiar strain in the wrists and fingers.

The screen is another big plus on the Starling. Although the display isn't the largest I have seen on a netbook, it certainly was one of the sharpest I have seen in a long time.

But ultimately, at least for me, it was the combination of the snappy hardware and the Ubuntu Unity interface that really made this netbook stand out. If you are looking for a very portable machine, that will stand the rigors of mobility, and is as flexible as the average Linux operating system, the System 76 Starling is the right netbook for you.

Price of entry - $385.00.


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  1. mercurybreza said on January 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I purchased the starling netbook and the power button shroud fell off the first day and after a month the screen failed due to a bad hinge design. The screen itself is cheap and the whole unit is not rugged enough for a netbook. Their products are overpriced and prone to failure. If you want to be cheated out of $450 then go with a starling netbook. In my dealings with them it was very clear to me that they are not a reputable company and do not support their product.

  2. Octathlon said on October 30, 2010 at 3:45 am

    The 10.04 (and previous) Netbook Edition is what the article is referring to and it is great for small screens — I am using it on my Eee 701 and I love it.

    I have an open mind that Unity may turn out to be good when they get it done, but until then they should continue with the previous Netbook Edition as the default. I hate it when they release these half-baked things as the default when there was NOTHING wrong with the previous interface :(

  3. Scrubby Creek said on October 29, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Unity in 10.10 sucks. Unless they are going to introduce some configuration options it will fail in 11.4. I can’t see the average Ubuntu desktop user being told they can’t play with the panel (for examples); place and remove items etc. (which is the case with 10.10). If Unity remained as it is in 10.10 there would be a mass exodus to Mint or some such. One forum writer called 10.10 netbook the “Vista” of of Ubuntu.

    BTW, what makes people think that netbook users all want to use social network sites? give me a break!


  4. Elder-Geek said on October 28, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    What I want to know is how was the webcam performance in chat? I have always wondered how good of webcam support there is on these System 76 systems.

  5. FC said on October 28, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Dude, Ubuntu 10.04 does not ship with Unity, please check your facts. System76 chose not to implement Unity because it is “confusing”.

  6. Octathlon said on October 28, 2010 at 5:50 am

    10.04 Netbook Edition is not the new Unity interface.
    Unity was introduced with 10.10 and System76 chose not to use it because it’s not yet ready for prime time.

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