Kali Linux has seen a huge jump in popularity in the last few years. While the Mr. Robot TV show had a role to play, Kali’s reputation as the best distro for ethical hacking has made it the choice of penetration testers everywhere. At this point, you can run it on almost any computer. Picking the right laptop can make finding security flaws a breeze.
What to Look for When Buying a Kali Linux Laptop
Performance: Linux is well-known for running well on older hardware. You’ll want something that offers plenty of power if you’re doing anything with virtualization, however. Penetrating testing can involve running virtual machines or performing complex calculations. Multiple core CPUs are almost a must.
Storage: Many hackers run Windows alongside an alternative operating system. If you plan on doing this, then you need a sizeable amount of onboard storage. Opt for something that comes with both a speedy SSD as well as a traditional HDD if at all possible. You could also go with a laptop that offers plenty of expansion ports to add your own hardware. These are also important for running Kali off of USB keys.
Pricing: Hacking doesn’t have to be expensive, but it can be if you’re not careful. Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule on what you should expect to spend. You may be able to get away with using a machine that costs less than $300. If you want to run parallel VirtualBox sessions, then you may have to spend a bit more. Don’t feel you need to buy more hardware than necessary, however.
Battery Life: Running a full security sweep can take a long time. The best hacker’s laptop can hold out at least for several hours. Penetrating a fairly secure system is difficult, so this kind of usage can drain a battery faster. Machines with a longer lifespan should hold up against this kind of abuse better.
Weight: This might not matter too much if you’re not going to be carrying the machine around with you. White hat hackers who work in corporate environments might need to tote their laptops around. Make sure that it’s light enough that you won’t mind carrying it between IT departments.
Compatibility: The latest and greatest commercial-grade hardware often doesn’t work with an alternative OS. Official kernel developers put out compatibility lists you can check to make sure your new gadget will work.
Dell Inspiron I7577-7272BLK-P
• Weighs less than six pounds
• Large 15.6″ display features an anti-reflective coating
• The massive 16GB memory module can be upgraded to a full 32GB
• GNU/Linux isn’t 100 percent compatible with all components
• Users may have to download proprietary driver code
Few hardware manufacturers provide information on their products to open-source developers, so it is nice to see that the Dell I7577 appeared on lists of the best laptops for Kali Linux within a year of its original release. While it costs a great deal more than most of its competitors, it comes with some very high hardware specs and a fast Intel i7 CPU that should help you find network security glitches with ease. The FPM DRAM chips are nice and speedy too.
A beefy NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card can be repurposed to provide a little extra processing power. This is particularly useful if you plan on doing anything with cryptographic ledgers. You can dual-boot the default install or wipe it out. The 256GB SSD and 1TB rotational hard disk both support MBR partitions.
This means you can use a traditional boot scheme if you trust yourself to create your own partition tables. Kali should boot the I7577 off of a live USB environment if you don’t. Unfortunately, all this power can sometimes drain the battery a bit quicker.
ASUS VivoBook F510UA
• Five-hour average battery life
• Comes with a number of different I/O ports
• Includes an ergonomic chiclet keyboard
• Default Windows 10 Home install may be reluctant to let you disable secure boot
• Fingerprint reader might not work in Kali
Since the F510UA came out in 2017, open-source developers have had time to write better drivers. This means that you should be able to use whichever version of Kali you want on it. If you wanted to use the MATE or KDE desktop environment, then it should still run fine. You probably won’t see screen tearing even if you prefer to use a transparent hacking window.
Serious network gurus will love all the ports installed on this i5 laptop. It includes all three USB revisions plus a special high-speed WiFi card. This 802.11AC networking adapter is quite resilient against congestion and interference, which is especially important for hacking in a corporate environment. These additional ports also make pentesting multiple distros easy. You can boot this laptop from multiple flash disks, which gives you the freedom to try out new environments without wiping the hard drive.
While the integrated graphics adapter won’t wow anyone, its fully compatible with the Intel open-source driver included with the Linux kernel. The apt-get package manager will even automatically update it for you. The price isn’t too bad either.
Acer Aspire E 15 Laptop
• Full HD display
• Includes 8th gen Intel Core i5
• Long 15-hour battery life
• Comes with very little onboard storage
With a beefy Intel Core i5-82500 CPU and 8G of DDR RAM, the Aspire E is a powerful laptop. It’s another machine that’s been out long enough for open-source developers to catch up with. However, the 256GB SSD doesn’t offer you much space to dual boot.
On the other hand, it weighs only 5.27 pounds. This makes it an ideal laptop for hacking on the go. Since it comes with a pair of USB 3.0 ports, it’s also ideal for pentesting. Some users have even booted a miniature distro off the SD card slot.
The GeForce MX150 graphics adapter comes with 2GB of dedicated GGDR5 VRAM. Users interested in running VMware images off an external HDD should find plenty of uses for this extra power. Those looking for extra storage should also like the M-DISC enabled optical drive. It can read double-layer DVDs at blazing 8X speeds.
Security-minded users may be concerned about the presence of an HD webcam in the bezel. It’s easy enough to add this to Kali’s hardware blacklist, however.
Lenovo Ideapad 330
• Quad-core CPU running at a total of 3.4GHz
• 1920×1080 HD display, which makes coding easy
• Short battery life doesn’t always reach five hours
Hackers looking for a more serious option that tends to be less expensive than the competition may want to go with the Ideapad 330. The powerful CPU and ample amounts of RAM should serve the needs of pentesters quite well. While the 256GB SSD is fast, you’ll need to hook up some external storage to do anything serious with it. An included Bluetooth adapter and USB Type-C port should make this easy. It even features an open-source compatible HDMI adapter, which could be a great way to show off your elite hacking skills to an adoring audience. Secure Boot can be disabled fairly easily, which makes this a good option for distro hoppers.
HP Intel 620 Business Laptop
• Fast 5400RPM SATA HDD
• BrightView WLED-backlit screen
• Default OS build isn’t optimized
• Secure Boot may lock you out at first
This HP Intel 620 business laptop is perfect if you plan to create multiple volumes on one machine. Even the most ethical hacker prefers the security Kali provides. However, you might have to use several different OS builds to get a job done. Since it offers a fast 1TB boot drive, you can install more than one OS easily.
HP’s newest offering is largely compatible with Ubuntu. If you use a variant like Xubuntu or Kubuntu, then you can install this alongside Kali on this machine. You should get around six hours of battery life no matter what distro you boot into.
At less than 5.3 lbs., this laptop is one of the lighter ones on this list. It also tends to be relatively affordable. In fact, its low price tag might be one of its biggest selling points.
Dell’s latest Inspiron I7577-series machine should more than suit the needs of an average ethical hacker. While it doesn’t boast official Kali support, it should run the OS without any major hiccups. Many laptops that can run a free OS tend to lack decent hardware specs. As a result, the 16GB of RAM and GTX 1060 graphics card blow the competition out of the water. Two onboard storage drives give you plenty of room to place around with.
It tends to demand a high price, however. Take a look at the ASUS VivoBook or the Acer E15 if you’re an ethical hacker with a tight budget. Either should hold up to the rigors of penetration testing. They also both have plenty of ports to let you try out different Kali spins before you pick a favorite.