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Author: OrmontUS Big gold star, 5000 posts Feste Award Nominee! Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 190786  
Subject: Quest for the perfect laptop Date: 11/30/2012 7:31 PM
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Well, at least from my point of view (other's mileage may differ).

Before I begin, I might as well give my philosophical spin on why someone would want a laptop (I'm - at least for now - going to ignore tablets in this discussion). Only one reason - portability. Laptops, for a given level of performance and screen size are generally more expensive (sometimes, by far) than desktop computers. Their keyboards are not as convenient, their pointing devices not as easy to use as desktop ones and so on. You could buy a decent desktop and a functional laptop for about the same price (or less) than a high end laptop.

This is a subject I've been spinning over and over in my mind. My current laptop (purchased at a very high - special dealer price - of about $1,400 in 2007) is a Sony Vaio VGN-TZ170N (they used a carbon fiber case to keep the wieght down). I'll let the propeller heads look up the full specs, but simplistically it is a 2.6 pound 11.5" unit, now running Win 7, about .6" thick and has every imaginable port (of its time), wireless, bluetooth and incredibly a DVD burner. It actually adequately meets my needs (a unit used when traveling for email, web browsing, word processing, light spreadsheet work and storage of photos and stuff.

Before continuing on the laptop thing, just to show the contrast, my "desktop" (actually rack mounted) is a multiprocessor Cisco server augmented with a pair of decent graphics cards driving two 24" hi-res monitors and a 50" plasma, a backlit gaming keyboard (I don't play games, but like the extra function keys and tend to type in a dark room) and a wireless "gaming" mouse. IMHO, the user interface is the most important aspect of using a PC.

So (throwing budget out of the window) the Apple Macbook Air's are the units to beat vs. the assorted Windows Ultrabooks is a tradeup would be made.

The processor/memory bar is something I'm not setting very high. My currently adequate laptop runs on a dual core Intel U7500 at 1.06GHz and 2Gb of ram. Almost anything today will be an improvement (which I may - or may not - feel).

So, since this is a portable unit, I'm putting the maximum weight as the first filter. Few decent laptops (I'm excluding netbooks on screen and durability issues) are this light today, so I'm willing to go as heavy as 3.25 pounds. Anything heavier is arbitrarily thrown out regardless of other attributes.

The second filter is interface ports. There are a minimum suite that I think a current laptop should have: High resolution video output, SD memory slot, ethernet pot, USB 3 ports and wireless ethernet/bluetooth. (I've given up on an internal DVD burner in this class). Unbelievably, this minimal specification eliminates the smaller Macbook Air (no SD memory slot).

My current laptop runs at a resolution of 1366 x 768. Since it is already adequate and today most Windows laptops have standardized on this click, only a higher resolution gets extra points (and screens with poor angular views and/or low contrast immediately blackballs a unit).

Solid State Drives (SSD) have dropped in price substantially and offer faster booting/running, lower weight, better battery life and longer life expectancy (at the expense of having less capacity than rotating memory). This is, in my opinion, a very valuable attribute.

With today's laptops, the above specifications are actually apparently pretty hard to meet. There are surprisingly only a few that come pretty close. All are now about 13.5" which has the advantage of extra screen real estate and the disadvantage of the unit being physically bulkier than an 11.5".

The current short list includes a Sony, an Asus and as almost there a Macbook Air and a Toshiba Protege.

While I've decided that by properly choosing five years ago, my investment seems to be able to last another generation or two (say until next year's Cyber Monday :-), it makes sense to lay out the groundwork for the upcoming selection.

My biggest beef about Windows 8 is that Microsoft has taken away the "Start" button. I've downloaded a free utility to replace it (ViStart) and now it works fine.

Quick thoughts on tablets:
I was as frustrated with the iPad's lack of a file structure as I was with the missing "Start" button on Win 8. I took an iPad away with me on a trip, but it was as bulky as my laptop (admittedly a rather small one) and far less useful, so it was gifted to my wife (who is moderately technophobic, but likes its simplicity). I bought a Samsung Tab 2 7" tablet about a week ago and, after loading a couple of file utilities on the Android device find that it is close enough to adequate to take on my next trip for checking email at wi-fi hot spots (as it is lighter and smaller than even my laptop. The tablet was chosen as the least expensive unit with acceptable specifications with the understanding that all of the tablets being sold today are so rudimentary as to be barely usable. I fully expect to use the Samsung as a frisbee in a couple of years once this technology becomes more mature. Actually, I fully expect tablets to converge with laptops and form a single product class within a few years.

Jeff
(Also own and even older Sony Vaio UX which, if it wasn't for its horrible keyboard would still be close to my traveling laptop of choice. https://www.google.com/#hl=en&tbo=d&sclient=psy-ab&a...)
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Author: LonghornBoy Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 182734 of 190786
Subject: Re: Quest for the perfect laptop Date: 11/30/2012 8:38 PM
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Given the evolution of computing toward the cloud and wireless connectivity, wired ethernet ports and SD slots are becoming somewhat rare.

In particular, the ethernet port can add a lot of bulk to your typical 3lb ultrabook; and that may help to explain why you're having problems finding thin and light laptops that meet all of your requirements.

I've owned Sony in the past and have found them to be quite good. In addition, if you're willing to relax your port requirements a bit, I think you'll find the Dell XPS 13 to be a compelling option...

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Author: LonghornBoy Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 182735 of 190786
Subject: Re: Quest for the perfect laptop Date: 11/30/2012 8:42 PM
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By the way, the bottom half of the XPS 13 shell is built out of carbon fiber...just like your old Sony...

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Author: Donna405 Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 182736 of 190786
Subject: Re: Quest for the perfect laptop Date: 11/30/2012 9:00 PM
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Jeff, I purchased a Samsung Galaxy II a couple of months ago, but had a problem with the virtual keyboard. So, I found a Bluetooth keyboard for it. The keyboard comes with its own portfolio, which also holds the Tablet. Much, much better.

Donna (who has long fingernails...not good for virtual keyboard)

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Author: OrmontUS Big gold star, 5000 posts Feste Award Nominee! Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 182737 of 190786
Subject: Re: Quest for the perfect laptop Date: 11/30/2012 10:31 PM
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Actually, the Sony Z series comes very close to perfect (but is very expensive this week - though I think their new Duo convertible tablet is half the price and seems by spec sheet to be similar). I'm watching the Apple line for the Macbook Pro to lose a little weight or the Macbook Air to gain a couple of ports. Also looking towards a higher resolution Toshiba Portege. (I'm not a big Asus fan, but I'll keep my eye on what Dell is up to).

The reason for the SD slot being important is that it is an easy way to cross pollinate between the laptop and my camera and my tablet and my cell phone (both of the last two use micro SD, but I have adapters).

My current traveling suite of electronics:

Laptop - WiFi for email, web, data processing, etc. awkward mobile e-book reader, Skype phone

Tablet - Backup WiFi, web, mobile e-book reader for guidebooks, mediocre GPS backup if no SIM, poor data processing (but can be used in a pinch). Mediocre camera, Skype phone

Kindle Keyboard WiFi/3G - This is a decent e-book reader (Duh!), but also acts as an emergency (free) internet backup over the 3G when WWiFi is either unavailable or expensive.

Smart Phone - Good phone with local SIM chip, Poor WiFi ethernet backup (functional, but screen and keyboard too small), mediocre camera

TomTom GPS with a world of maps - good GPS (when I have a country's map

Pocket rugged waterproof (to 10m) camera - good camera, lousy GPS, but a decent compass

Wristwatch is a Casio Pathfinder with compass, altimeter and barometer

I also carry a TP-Link TL-WN822N higher gain, but small USB NIC. This lets me reach shore based WIFI from cruise ships in some cases (and helps in others). I carry a couple of power adapters and a selection of USB and other chargers - as well as a "tri-tap" (poor man's plug strip to save space/weight) and a bunch of cables, memory chips, extra batteries and so on. The whole mess fits in a leather golf shoe bag (I don't play much golf, so at least this gift goes to a good purpose:-) and weighs in at about 6-7 pounds. The redundancy is important as we tend to travel for months at a time and gizmo's can get broken or lost (my laptop was smashed on our last trip, for example), but this offers the opportunity for the show to go on.

I'm constantly looking for ways to reduce the weight of this pile. If the tablet proves out, the GPS could stay behind on the next trip for example. Memory card based camcorder is now left behind and so on.

Jeff

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Author: exeter17 Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 182740 of 190786
Subject: Re: Quest for the perfect laptop Date: 12/1/2012 8:21 AM
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Jeff if you can survive with an occasional SD card you can use a USB SD card reader and keep the Macbook.

May I ask which Cisco server you have. Typically Cisco doesn't make servers - they rebadge Dell and HP boxes.

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Author: OrmontUS Big gold star, 5000 posts Feste Award Nominee! Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 182741 of 190786
Subject: Re: Quest for the perfect laptop Date: 12/1/2012 9:09 AM
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This is the toy I use to heat my rack:

http://www.cisco.com/en/US/prod/collateral/ps10265/ps10493/s...

Frankly, it is probably going to be swapped out and used as a redundant backup for something like a Dell XPS 8500 and a Seagate Black Armor set up as an iSCSI device. The key part I'm mentally wrestling with is configuring something like VMware but trying to keep the high res graphics.

From an overall configuration point of view, my strategic goal is to "leave the grid" if I can. I'm now tending to be away six months out of the year with the power shut down completely.

The first time we left for a few months, despite my informing my cable company, cell phone company, land line company, etc. all screwed up and sent me invoices anyway and were about to "shut me down" by the time we returned.

After I straightened that mess out, I started to look for ways to address recurring invoices. I found a way to keep my existing landline number and port it to Google Voice (by using a cell phone as an intermediate step) and used an Obi110 to hook my existing POTS phones back in. The result was an investment of less than $100 for stuff and fees and I no longer get a phone bill, but my number is the same, I get email text transcriptions of Google's recorded voice mails, etc. Since we use unlocked GSM phones when we travel, it made sense to port our existing cell numbers to prepaid T-Mobile SIM's ($100 for 1100 minutes). We don't use the cell phones much anyway, so this turned out to be far less than we were previously paying as well as ditching the monthly bill.

The last monthly communications bill I have is my internet connection over the local cable TV franchise. This year I was able to bargain them down to $30 a month,but that expires in December (and we leave again for a few months on Jan 3). There is a public library with free WiFi a couple of hundred feet as the crow flies from our apartment. Unfortunately, the crow would have to fly through a number of brick walls along the way. After this week's posts here, I wonder if a Ubiquiti Nanostation2 NS2 would have enough horsepower to blast through the walls and remove one more unwanted bill. I rationalize this from an ethics standpoint that I'm not using someone else's line (there are a few open ones within range) where they are paying for access, but rather a line I support with my tax dollars which is available to me for free if I walk to the library with my laptop, but I just want to use it from the comfort of my home.

But as in all plans, it won't happen unless it happens :-)

Jeff

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Author: LonghornBoy Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 182747 of 190786
Subject: Re: Quest for the perfect laptop Date: 12/1/2012 8:13 PM
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Frankly, it is probably going to be swapped out and used as a redundant backup for something like a Dell XPS 8500 and a Seagate Black Armor set up as an iSCSI device. The key part I'm mentally wrestling with is configuring something like VMware but trying to keep the high res graphics.

I currently run a setup that's not too entirely different from your own: Dual 24" monitors driven by a core i7 desktop with 8GB of memory and a RAID 0 disk array for speed. I use VMware pretty extensively; and one thing that I'll note is that you can configure the VM to inherit the resolution of the host system.

I like this setup a lot, because I run my core applications inside of a VM; and when I need to go on the road, I can copy the VM directory over to my laptop and take everything (apps, files, settings, etc.) with me.

Like you, I'm considering an XPS 8500, but I'll probably skip the NAS device. I've got one now; and it's pretty slow when you compare it to a native drive or SSD. Instead, I'll probably install a large Samsung 840 SSD in the 8500 and use a USB 3 drive for backups.

I don't know if you plan to take your VMs on the road; but if you do, you'll want a beefy laptop to run them on...I would suggest a quad core i7 and 8gb of ram...actually, the Sony Z might be a nice setup for this, although it's really spendy...

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Author: OrmontUS Big gold star, 5000 posts Feste Award Nominee! Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 182750 of 190786
Subject: Re: Quest for the perfect laptop Date: 12/2/2012 12:04 AM
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The NAS is slow (especially if you are mirroring drives), but I've found iSCSI (especially with bonded dual gigabit ports) to be pretty fast. I just saw the Seagate Black Armor 4 drive (empty) unit for about $285 at TigerDirect which is a heck of a deal on this sort of array. While it won't compete with the speed of the array on the Cisco Unit, paying for the electric to run that beast is more than 1/2 my bill.

I'm a big believer in redundancy and fault tolerance, so equipment with dual power supplies, dual failover network ports, RAID arrays and so on are important to me. That said, the home setup doesn't have the same budget or space that I had in my business's data center.

It's just too bad that none of the new stuff I'm looking at is rack mounted. I have a "shorty" 48" rack with a UPS, my server and an audio amp and a drawer for "other stuff" Well the draw is now getting crowded with an assortment of small routers, cable modems disk drives, "toy" GB switches and other mismatched boxes each with their own cables and power supplies.

As my setup gets more powerful (or at least "right sized") it seems to be morphing from a neat workmanlike setup to what looks like the "before" photo from a before and after set. No amount of Velcro cable wrapping seems to cure the new mess (and only makes life miserable when changes are made). It seems that, except in commercial equipment there is no attempt to help the end user create a neat environment. Even the Dell XPS has angles and weirdly placed USB ports to prevent adapting to a rack. And then there's the Seagate shoebox...

While my desk always resembles a war zone with a chronological filing system (random pile of papers), I've always made sure my equipment, tools and anything I was building was keep neat - it just make life much easier. The current designs that manufacturers are providing make it almost impossible to keep from piling equipment or using something like bookshelves to spread the boxes out.

By the way, apropos of nothing, for those looking for desktop monitor mounts, take a look at Ergotron - they may cost slightly more, but they are very well designed and built.

While I play with VM at home, my traveling setup is rather simplistic to keep weight down. I used to VPN in to my data center when I went away, but nowadays I shut the circuit breakers at home and take a "stand alone". Because there is proprietary data on the hard disk (when I used to tie in remotely, my hard disk was pretty bare), the hard disk is encrypted.

Jeff

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Author: Philipo Big funky green star, 20000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 182759 of 190786
Subject: Re: Quest for the perfect laptop Date: 12/2/2012 5:38 PM
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Consider any laptop with dock options where you get the ports back but remain light & slim between docking.
B
(lugs around a heafty but port rich Dell Precision M6600 AND a dock for yet more I/O)

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