June 16, 2006
I was desperately trying to avoid the expense of buying a new laptop, but my work-provided Thinkpad T43 just isn't cutting it for me.
The problem with Thinkpads, even the very nice new T60 models, is deeper than the hardware and the classic black box design. Thinkpads are uninspiring. They're the gray flannel suit of the IT industry. Every other attendee at TechEd 2006 was sporting the same old boring corporate issue ThinkPad. Every time I pulled the T43 out of my bag, I felt like I was advertising the fact that I didn't give a damn.
I want something different. Something more interesting. Here's what I'm looking for:
- A Core Duo CPU. Easily the best CPU Intel has produced in years. The latest batch of Core Duo laptops, even the slowest and smallest ones, are plenty powerful enough for pretty much anything except high-end gaming or video editing. And Core Duo 2 is right around the corner, in the unlikely event that you happen to need even more CPU power.
- Near ultra-portable, to the tune of 5 pounds maximum, with a reasonably sized 13" or 14" screen. I figure the whole point of having a laptop is so that you can easily take it with you-- without it becoming absurdly, awkwardly small. I do want to stick with the standard, proven laptop form factor.
- Dedicated video hardware. I want Vista to run well with its hardware accelerated GUI. That means real third-party graphics hardware with dedicated graphics memory, not that Intel onboard integrated shared memory crap. This also means I could possibly play a game or two in a pinch, but that's not a priority. It's more like a fringe benefit of Vista compatibility.
- No optical drive. Or at least provide the option to remove the optical drive. Really, who uses optical drives any more? That's an extra half-pound I'd rather not carry around. I can drag an external USB slimline optical drive with me if I'm ever going to need it. Which is probably never.
After obsessively searching through all my options, here's what I arrived at:
- Lenovo Thinkpad X60
A non-starter for several reasons, the first of which is that it's a Thinkpad. It's also very spendy. And no touchpad? No purchase. The lack of an embedded optical drive is a big-- and rare-- plus, however.
- Samsung Q35
The Q35 is very tempting. But integrated video is a showstopper. If it had dedicated video, I think this would have been my final choice.
- MacBook Pro
Apple laptops are actually a good value for the money now that they've switched to Intel. I like the design and the hardware choices Apple made a lot, but I ultimately decided against it. I'd never use OSX. It seems a waste to boot this machine to Windows exclusively. Plus, the keyboard and trackpad are designed for the Mac world and require some annoying rejiggering for proper Windows support.
- Dell e1405
Yes, Dell laptops are a great value. My current laptop is a Dell. But they're too mainstream for my taste. We live in a world of platform choices; repeatedly choosing a Dell is a catastrophic failure of imagination. And there's that ubiquitous integrated graphics problem, anyway.
- Sony VAIO SZ
The integrated camera and biometric reader on the VAIO is a nice touch. But I don't trust Sony for drivers and support; their stuff is always pretty but vapid. The integrated nVidia 7400 video is solid, if about 20 percent slower than the X1600 on the MacBook Pro. And the lack of gigabit ethernet is just plain sloppy.
- Asus W3J
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.
Asus is the OEM who manufactures Apple's laptops, and it shows: the Asus W3J hits the sweet spot on all my criteria.
- 14" 1280x768 widescreen Core Duo
- 4.4 lbs without DVD-R
- Clean, slimline aluminum design
- Dedicated ATI x1600 graphics
- A nifty swappable bay which supports DVD-R (included), blank bay for lightest weight, an extra battery, or an extra hard drive.
The W3J owner's forum on notebook review is full of glowing praise and almost nothing in the way of complaints.
Another bit of good news is that Asus has silently upgraded the specs on the W3J. The vendor I purchased the computer from called me to verify my order, and while he was chatting with me he mentioned that any W3J that ships from the Asus factory in June will have the following spec improvements:
- a single 1 gigabyte DIMM instead of the two 512 megabyte DIMMs
- a 2.0 GHz Core Duo chip instead of the 1.83 GHz Core Duo
And they throw in a bluetooth mouse to boot. Of course, the first thing I'll be doing is peeling those ridiculous stickers off the machine.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Oh right, the Ferrari model:
Actually I think those Ferrari stickers are after market. All the other 8204's I've seen (incl mine) don't have them.
I found this excellent multi-laptop 3dMark05 score comparison
.. which shows representative 3dMark05 scores for "mobility" graphic chipsets across lots of laptops:
ATI x1400 ~2000
ATI x1600 ~4000
ATI x1800 ~6000
nVidia 7400 ~2000
nVidia 7800 ~5000
nVidia 7900 ~7000
It provides an idea of what current laptop video cards are capable of.
Beware, there is quite a bit of variance, so be sure to look at benchmarks for your particular model. For example, the x1600 in the Apple MacBook Pro only scores ~2700, because it's underclocked.
Any of these will be fine for Vista, and worlds ahead of integrated video. But if you're serious about playing modern games, watch out for anything with a score under ~3500, which is roughly the equivalent of the desktop GeForce 6600gt. I'd put the 6600gt in the middle of the current desktop video card market.
Why do you think that the Toshiba M5 coming with the nVidia Quadro is bizzarre? I'm wondering as I have setup a couple of M5s for a customer, and they are an excellent laptop (don't know about Vista support though).
I'd never use OSX. It
Also, if you need more reasons to hate Apple laptops...
whining a little ? :)
my dell inspiron monitor failed after a couple of months. my sony ps2's dvd drive failed after months. my nokia phone failed. my samsung monitor on/off switch failed, my friends xbox's power supply failed after 2 days, one of my asus motherboards are starting to reboot once every day or so .. I think I have tried so many hardware vendors for all types of gear and about the only peace of hardware that works without problem is my cheap little IPod shuffle. I can use it for cross country running, my dog almost ate it and it does what I need without problems..
No I am not an Apple fanboy, but it seems very un-pragmatic (or whatever it is called) to say that you will never use MacOS? Some companies even use alot of its functionalities, so why not try it so you will be prepared. ? :)
Alot of people are happy with their Apple Laptops and have not had a single problem with them. And those who have, are probably not that much more then other laptops.
And you forget one thing, the W3J is ugly as hell :)
Nice specs and good logic.
Last boxing day I found myself submitting to the consumer pressure and picked up a Compaq laptop. Needless to say, it was nothing but trouble.
It shouldn't have to be said, but I'll say it anyways: stay away from HP/Compaq laptops like they are the plague.
You've made your decision? Did you check out the Toshiba M5? I think it might meet all your requirements, plus you can pimp it out to 4GB of RAM instead of 2, which is great for development.
I picked up a Compaq about 4 months ago and I love it. Lots of USB ports and a really good keyboard. It was flaky for the first couple of days, but after I zapped the hard drive and put on a clean copy of XP I haven't had any problems. (Why the (bleep) do computer makers add all the (bleep) to their OS installs? Even on a decent machine they kill the performance.)
I hate my R51 Thinkpad because it doesn't have a Windows key or right-click key.
Plenty of people have lots of problems with Apple laptops, and Apple often refuse to admit problems. Their customer support anywhere else but the US is also quite poor. But that doesn't make them a necessarily bad choice. My friend loves his macbook, despite all the problems.
Don't discount the MacBook Pro though; yes, a lot of people have had issues (with the Pro, most of the issues seem to be limited to the first set of laptops shipped, although it is definitely looking like the Macbooks are experiencing the same growing pains), but the form factor, lightness and power simply rocks...
I'm *not* a Mac person (most of professional experience is ASP/.NET work, I develop on a WinXP box and a macbook pro), but the release of Parallels Desktop was the kicker for me. I run a Win2k3 Server VM for a lot of development purposes, and am now trying to hone my UNIX/Linux chops with both OS X and a Linux VM. There's something to be said for being able to run all three OSes on a single box...
I currently have an IBM A series (big), and love it. My next laptop which I have been eyeing is going to be an Alienware.
It's time for some flare!
Months ago I was very impressed with your vb.net error handler. Nice work.
You're looking for a thinkpad alternative. You may stray, but you'll be back...
Nothing is as reliable. Sure, I wish IBM/Lenovo had glossier screens.
I stayed away from laptops until 1999 when the T21 was an adequate development machine. It was the first laptop that let me setup Oracle plus front end tools. Other laptops at the time limited the memory to half of the T21 and their keyboards were like membranes compared to the thinkpads. The resolution was only 1024x768.
Upgraded to T23 in 2001 with 1400x1050 screen. When the HD failed, it was an intermittent failure allowing everything to be saved… support was stunning… received replacement HD from FedEx next day.
T23 was soaked in 2" of water for 30 minutes when runoff from an awning in nyc totally soaked me during a storm. It was like a wave hit me. My laptop bag was open. I poured water out of it… waited less than 2 hours… it started right up. The machine still works today… sometimes it takes a few attempts to boot, but no problems once it starts.
Upgraded to T42 in 2004. Very hard drop on driveway, cracked case, filled with epoxy, good as new. :)
When T42's USB chip burnt out, called IBM at 4+pm on friday, tech replaced entire system board first thing monday morning (under warranty) at my house. OUTSTANDING service.
IBM has always been a generation ahead from a performance and business needs perspective. They have never been the coolest gaming machine.
Get an IBM if you like lighter units, higher memory limits, faster network connection speeds, monitors that don’t flop during travel... and other features you hope not to need: encryption, shock mounted drives, auto-park drive software, etc.
These laptops were not company issued. I bought them for my work. At the time, I realized I could have spent 20 to 40% less, but realized the IBM value. Go on ebay and look for old laptops. The old thinkpads are still working. See how many old Dell, HP, Sony, Compaq, etc. machines are still working… They’re all sold for parts. The IBMs still live.
Have you seen the size of the AC adapters on some dell and hp units? They're larger than most bricks! and cost it too. I now have 4+ T series power supplies. you can even pick them up for $20 on ebay. Try getting a replacement part 2+ years later.
Uninspiring to me is when you lose your work. I dread having to configure my computers. It takes too long to get everything just right.
For the past 15 years I would piece together my own PCs with all the bells and whistles. After the IBM experiences, I bought an IntelliStation Z Pro.
A few months ago, my own flesh and blood brother bought a dell. If the monitor was not soo awesome, I would have disowned him. He wanted a game machine that could occasionally move around. The machine is fully loaded, but also weighs a ton.
Could your timing be any more perfect. I was just searching for a laptop last night and just wasn't sure what to get. I've never bought a laptop before but I've built my own computer plenty of times. This is great!
I an Ace 8204 as soon as they were available.It's a pretty trick laptop. 2ghz Core Duo, 2 gigs of ram DVD-R DL, 120 gig hd, X1600 video, comes with a DVI out, VGA out, card reader, camera, express card slot and all sorts of goodies. To top it off it looks cool with it's gunmetal body and carbon fibre lid.
Next time I'll probably just get another Dell. Why? When I had issues with my Dell. I sent it to repair and it was back in less than 48 hours, no muss, no fuss. I had an issue with the Acer and it was 7-10 days.
Another unexpected plus for Dells is the fact that they are so ubiquitous that you can find all the accesories and spare parts you want on eBay. Multibay battery for Dell 600M? $80-$90, for the Acer? $180. Docking station for Dell? about a hundered bucks including the monitor stand. For Acer? $260, no stand.
But in the meantime I've got a fast killer laptop that looks good even when surrounded by MacBooks.
Did you check out the Toshiba M5?
It looks like the only non integrated graphics option is the nVidia Quadro, which is bizarre.
plus you can pimp it out to 4GB of RAM instead of 2
That is nice. I think the upcoming Core Duo 2 machines will more commonly accept 4gb. I decided 2gb is OK for the next couple years, but it would be nice to have the option, for sure.
Excellent choice. I have an Asus V6V and I love it.
I will warn you of one thing: The keyboard layout is non-standard, and the "Fn" key may not be in the "proper" spot (it's not on the V6V). Usually the left control key is in the lower left hand spot, but in Asus laptops it's the "Fn" key instead. It may drive you crazy for a while.
Other than that, I love Asus laptops.
Jeroen, nice-- very similar specs-- but ~7 lbs is a bit heavy for my tastes. I suppose that's the tradeoff for a larger screen.
You'll have to let us know how it does for development tasks. I have a dual monitor setup: wide-screen 21" flat and a 4:3 19" flat that I do all my development work on and I've been resisting a laptop but there have been a few times though that I've realized I should probably get a laptop when going to a client's location or needing to drag it into a meeting.
I've been looking at 17" laptops and maybe 15" wide screens but anything smaller seems like a huge step-back in productivity. I'm curious how well the smaller size works.
One thing that bugs me to no end is when 17" laptops still have 15" keyboards. They have they room yet only like 1% actually uses it.
Luckily *snort*, the T43 has the same INANE keyboard layout, with a Fn key in the lower left.
LOL. You gotta hand it to these laptop manufacturers. They just have to change something just for the sake of change.
Screw the laptop, get yourself a Nintendo DS. Hack it, write some nice Homebrew apps. You can boot Linux on the damn thing and do remote desktop! It boots Metroid in about 5 seconds, and sleeps/wakes instantly when you shut the lid. When was the last time you saw a PC do that?
I agree wiht Shawn. 17" laptops with 15" keyboards is one of the reasons I haven't bought the current line of Dell 1705 laptops, and will never buy an Apple. Acer has a wide-keyboard model, as does HP. They are both a pleasure to type on.
And if you needed another reason to not buy a Dell, a href="http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=32550"there's this.../a
Wow, that pic showing all the stickers just makes me shudder. Let me guess - when you first start windows you'll have 18 icons in the taskbar and offers from AOL, Earthlink, and four other providers on the desktop.
I used to think of myself as a "pc person", but after having used a macbook pro the last couple months I don't think I'll ever go back...
jd, yep, the m1210 is new this week. It fits my criteria much better than the e1405. But as you point out, I'm not sure if the DVD drive is removable..
Have you received the laptop yet? What are your thoughts? Who did you end up ordering through?
Just got my new one. HP box with Dual Core (AMD Turion - can't stomach Intel, and loved my previous AMD laptop).
Problem is.. the change of keyboard layout. PgUp/Dn,Ins/Del,Home/End are all small keys in the top right above Backspace. That's a complete no-no for me when touch typing. Also.. that Ctrl key thing. I liked having it nearer the middle, and the unused Fn key being on the far left. Same thing with the left hand shift key - it was longer on my old one, which made \ a bit odd at first until I started typing it with my thumb.
I'd prefer my old Evo N1015 layout any day... I loved it for development.
how the heck can you possibly tolerate a touchpad? that is the worst pointing device EVER.
gimme a trackpoint or give me death.
"Usually the left control key is in the lower left hand spot, but in Asus laptops it's the "Fn" key instead. It may drive you crazy for a while."
Luckily *snort*, the T43 has the same INANE keyboard layout, with a Fn key in the lower left. So it shouldn't be an issue for him.
THAT is my deal breaker on laptops. I'm utterly incensed by the unmitigated ARROGANCE of companies that arbitrarily break the only UI standard that really matters.