Juno Neptune 15 Linux Laptop Review: A Visual Gaming Feast

When you’re shopping around for a Linux laptop, what’s the first thing you look for? For me, it’s the display. A PC’s display is like the gatekeeper to your overall experience. If you’re going to be gazing at it nonstop, it needs to be one of the best components of your overall PC package. 

So the most disappointing thing about this review is the tragic fact that it’s literally impossible for me to show you how silky smooth, how sublime, how utterly joyous it is to watch the Juno Neptune 15’s 240hz display in motion. 

I’ve used 60Hz and 120Hz Linux laptops, but this thing is on another level. It reminds me of the first time I tried Nvidia’s GSync technology in 2013. Suddenly just watching your mouse cursor dance across the screen — a motion you’ve seen a million times — feels somehow revolutionary. 

That’s how this feels, whether you’re moving windows across the display, watching the hypnotically smooth system monitor draw out your CPU’s performance graphs, or playing a game like Doom Eternal or CSGO

Seriously though, I spent several minutes just moving my mouse cursor around, marveling at the precision and smoothness. 

Even though this particular model of the Juno Neptune 15 may get sold out or have its internals upgraded in the near future, let this serve as a hearty recommendation: put the Neptune 15 on your radar, because if you’ve never used a 240Hz display on a daily basis, you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised and there’s no going back. 

Fortunately, the 1080p 240Hz display is not where the highlights end. 

What’s In A Neptune?

Configuring the Neptune at the Juno Computer webshop.
Configuring the Neptune Linux laptop at the Juno Computer webshop

Juno Computers has physical locations in both the US and UK, so the company ships its systems to the US, Canada, UK and Europe. 

The baseline Neptune 15 V2 starts at $1755 or 1600 Euros, and comes with a single CPU option: a 10th generation, 8 core Intel i7-10870H (though I hear the system will be updated to 11th gen Intel soon). You also get 16GB of RAM (up to 64GB) and a 256GB NVMe SSD, configurable up to 4TB of total storage. 

Dedicated graphics are handled by an Nvidia RTX 3060, 3070 or 3080. 

The Neptune 15 v2 has a healthy amount of connectivity.

For connectivity, you’ll get a micro-SD slot, a USB 3.2 Gen 1, dedicated headphone and microphone jacks on the left side. An Ethernet port and two more USB 3.2 Gen 1 slots adorn the right side. There are thoughtfully placed ports on the back: HDMI out, Mini-DP out, and a single USB-C Gen 2 slot which supports Thunderbolt 3. it’s also where you can plug in the 180W charger. 

Rounding out the specs on this Linux laptop is a 720p webcam which is underwhelming in 2021, but the privacy slider Juno adds is a welcome touch. There’s also a pair of downward-firing SoundBlaster speakers which get the job done. They lack the bass and clarity of, say, a MacBook speaker setup, but the peak volume on the Neptune is more than enough for an indoor Netflix or gaming session. (And nope, the CPU fan won’t drown it out, although the GPU fan might under very intense gaming loads). 

The privacy slider over the 720p webcam is a nice touch.
The Neptune 15 v2 has a great RGB keyboard, a rarity on Linux laptops!

The RGB keyboard and glass trackpad are both highlights for me. I’m still a sucker for dedicated right and left buttons on my trackpads. This particular one is very comfortable, and very precise out of the box. 

The keyboard is also something I don’t mind typing on all day. The deck doesn’t have much flex to it, the keys have a nice amount of travel. It’s comparable to the newest System76 Oryx Pro. In fact, it uses a nearly-identical chassis.

Seriously though, it’s a joy to look at those white accented keys, and changing colors and brightness is a snap thanks to the Gnome applet. 

Kudos to Juno for the fact you can have your keyboard configured for UK English, US English, Belgian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. 

On the OS side, however, Juno only ships this system with Ubuntu 20.04, but this isn’t remotely a vanilla install.

All the extra packages added to vanilla Ubuntu 20.04

Juno adds a bunch of extensions and extra packages into the mix.  Some are obvious, like the fan control, lock key indicators, RGB keyboard and Nvidia Prime Select applets up in the panel. 

Some aren’t so obvious, like Flatpak support, a ton of printer drivers, and alternative Windows fonts. Basically, a host of quality-of-life improvements and extensions you’ll probably appreciate. 

Gaming Performance

In addition to Intel’s Comet Lake CPU, my review system shipped with an Nvidia RTX 3060 and 32GB of RAM. 

Obviously, I was eager to see how far this laptop could push 1080p gaming, especially with its insanely high-refresh rate 240Hz display. 

Here are a handful of the 1080p gaming results: 

  • Wolfenstein Youngblood (Uber Quality, RTX off): 150 FPS
  • Wolfenstein Youngblood (Uber Quality, RTX on): 90 FPS
  • Borderlands 3 (Badass Quality): 54 FPS
  • F1 2020 (High Quality): 138 FPS
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III (Maximum Quality): 75 FPS
Playing games like DOOM Eternal or CSGO on this laptop feels incredible, visceral, and smooth

Those are all just canned benchmarks, so let’s talk actual, real-world gameplay. Let’s talk about DOOM Eternal. Cranking the graphics quality up to Ultra and playing the first area of Ancient Gods, I got an average of 112 FPS. And let me stress that those sessions of DOOM Eternal were the most enjoyable I’ve ever had playing an FPS. 

This review process made me realize that, at least when it comes to shooters, I value framerate more than resolution. I’ve played DOOM Eternal on a 4K/60 monitor and I marveled at how gorgeous it looked. But playing it on this 1080p/240 laptop? I marveled at how invigorating and how exciting it FELT to play it. 

The game was just buttery smooth and super responsive. Because of the high refresh rate display, I didn’t notice any stuttering. No input latency. No screen tearing. 

Intel 10th-Gen CPU Performance

  • OS Bench on the Juno Neptune 15 v2
  • H.264 Video Encoding benchmark with the Juno Neptune 15 v2

Intel has made admirable strides in power efficiency and per-clock performance with its newer 11th-gen chips. However, this particular system has a 10th-gen i7-10870H Comet Lake processor. So I used the Phoronix Test Suite to compare it against two other 8-core laptops I’ve evaluated in the last several months: the System76 Oryx Pro (Intel i7-10875H) and the TUXEDO Pulse 15 (Ryzen 7 4800H). 

These tests evaluate things like the time it takes to complete common Git commands or to encode video, the speed of your browser on each system, and how quickly threads get created. 

These are only a few outcomes from the entire suite, but the results are about what you’d expect to see. The Neptune wins some and loses some, but never by a large margin. Unless we’re stacking it against that Ryzen chip.

While it’s not a truly fair comparison since the TUXEDO Pulse 15 is more of an ultrabook and the Neptune is a larger, high-performance gaming laptop, the Performance-per-core metric for most benchmarks is eye-opening, especially considering the much slower clockspeeds in effect on the Ryzen 4800H. 

Battery Life Testing

Juno says they’ve tuned the Neptune to favor performance instead of battery life, so I was a little apprehensive when I started testing battery life. That apprehension was unfounded. 

This machine is what some of you might refer to as an Optimus laptop. It uses hybrid graphics, meaning the option is there for both Intel’s iGPU and the dedicated Nvidia RTX 3060. Historically this may have been a nightmare on Linux, but the last two years has seen notable leaps forward in usability. This is thanks to both the Nvidia driver itself, and the tighter integration for Prime graphics switching in GNOME. 

At any rate, it’s easy to switch back and forth between Intel and Nvidia graphics, provided you’re not using an external display. (That’s because all external output is controlled by Nvidia.) So when you want to be away from the wall, browsing or coding or streaming video, switching off Nvidia graphic yields a serious boost in battery life. 

To test the Neptune’s battery, I used the included Prime Select applet to switch graphics to Intel, rebooted, and double-checked via the Nvidia X Server Settings utility that Intel was indeed selected. Then I lowered the screen brightness to 30% (which I find comfortable for an indoor environment), switched the refresh rate to 60Hz, disabled the keyboard backlight, and left WiFi and Bluetooth on. 

For the actual test, I launched Firefox 92 and streamed video via YouTube at 1080p until the system ran out of juice and put itself into hibernation. 

The laptop stayed cool and quiet. It finally ran out of juice after 5 hours and 25 minutes, which is a satisfying result given this laptop’s footprint and specs. 

(No, I’m not naive enough to expect any kind of acceptable battery life while gaming on a high-powered Nvidia GPU, so I didn’t test that.)

Do I Have ANY Criticisms?

If I had to pinpoint something to criticize, it’s not something related to the actual hardware.

Offering Ubuntu 20.04 pre-installed is certainly a safe and sane choice, but other Linux PC companies like Star Labs, Slimbook and TUXEDO Computers offer a handful of distro options. 

In the future, it would be awesome to see Juno expand to at least other flavors of Ubuntu. But the fact remains that their take on Ubuntu 20.04 is a solid one, and most of you are savvy enough to install your own Distro anyway. 

Between the build quality, the battery life, gaming performance and that outstanding display, it’s easy to recommend the Neptune 15. 

Still, it might be wise to wait for Juno to refresh the Neptune with an 11th-gen Intel processor. That upgrade will only serve to improve performance and power efficiency. 

And my core praises for this system will remain intact.

Author’s Note: Juno Computers supplied me with loaner hardware for this review.

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