I promised to go into more detail about this yesterday and I meant it. I called my good friend Kris earlier today and filled him on my plans. Hardware purchasing plans, that is, assuming I go back to school. Kris and I are in agreement that purchasing and/or assembling new hardware is one of the most exciting and fun things in the world. It's good old technolust at work. Part of why it's exciting for me is that I only make computer purchases every 4 or 5 years and for the most part I manage to not care about hardware outside that time period.
Now, I have gotten a $300 laptop off eBay and an LCD in the past two years but that's not what I'm talking about. My personal computer (the desktop) which I hand-built back in the summer before my Freshman year of college is what I'm talking about. Any self-respecting nerd has a primary computer which stands above the rest. That's what I'm talking about. Anytime you think of replacing that you have the freedom to dream. My needs and desires have changed a lot between now and then though.
Then I wanted a powerful computer that could play games and do anything else I wanted. As much as was possible with the $1,500 or so dollars I had available anyway. That largely meant a desktop. These days I want something lightweight with excellent battery life. Something portable. Something which is great for running Linux and playing with code but future proof as well that could replace my aging desktop at home. Now, as I've mentioned before the desktop appears to be in great shape and is plenty powerful enough but it certainly isn't mobile and you never know when hardware might start failing. The laptop I have now is alright but...well, the wireless only works on unsecured networks in Linux and the battery life tops out at around 45 minutes. Some of that could be worked around but it's less than ideal for the commuting programmer student I'll hopefully be come January.
I've been aware of this desire for about a year now. The desire to rid myself of the desktop (or at least relegate it to server duties) and get some better mobile hardware. So I've been keeping my eyes on the laptop market. In that time only 8 machines have caught my eye and only 1 is really a reasonable option. The 8 machines I considered were the System76 Darter Ultra, the ZaReason UltraLap SR, the Dell XPS M1330, the Lenovo X200, the Lenovo X300, the Lenovo X301, the Dell Latitude E4200 and the Dell Latitude E4300. What I needed was a laptop which had A) weight under 4 lbs and battery life in excess of 5 hours, B) an Solid State Drive option, C) LED Backlighting (again at least optionally), C) good Linux support (in-kernel graphics, sound and wireless drivers, preferably working suspend/resume), D) a docking option and E) preferably some sort of next-gen AV out option whether HDMI or DisplayPort.
At first, I forgot I'd need a dock. The Darter, the UltraLap and the XPS M1330 were quick considerations because they have Ubuntu pre-installed and the hardware works brilliantly. They're also quite affordable. The Darter lacks an SSD option but the warrantied isn't voided by buying an aftermarket SSD and installing it and it's otherwise excellent and very cheap. The UltraLap is a bit heavy and short on the battery life but otherwise good. None of them have a docking option though and none of them have HDMI or DisplayPort out.
Of the remainder, only the Latitudes and the X200 have docking stations. The X300 and X301 have many positive qualities, meet every other requirement (except maybe the HDMI/DisplayPort) and at least the X300 is reasonably affordable compared to the Latitudes. The closer I got to really needing to make a decision though the more I realized the docking station was a real deal breaker. If this thing is going to replace my desktop at home I want to be able to walk in the door, drop it on the dock and get to work with the keyboard, mouse, LCD setup at my desk, no questions asked.
The Latitudes, for their part, just came out and (consequently) are just too damn expensive. They also don't have any kind of option to ship without an optical drive which (let's be honest) I (and probably you) would only use to install the Operating System (if you do that) and load a few applications. There's a USB CD-ROM in the Oglethorpe computer lab I can use for that. The X200 does have such an option though and it is the X200 I will happily get assuming I'm accepted to SPSU and get some student loans taken out. Besides this tiny little 12 incher weighs 3.5 lbs with the largest battery you can get for it and people have used it unplugged in excess of 8 hours! It's not quite as thing as the Macbook Air but it's close and almost as lightweight (with the extended battery).
The last issue to work out was whether or not to get a SSD included or upgrade it later. There are 2 reasons for that. One being that the SSD option bumps the price up by $830 on the X200. Pretty drastic, right? Additionally, all the kinks aren't quite worked out of SSD drives yet. There are several people I'm aware of that have been very happy with SSD-based laptops for 6-months to a year now (Jeff Atwood and Stephen O'Grady, I'm looking at ya'll) but a Linux filesystems expert whose opinion I trust, Val Henson, has made some stern comments on the matter. Even Linus Torvalds is happy with his but at the X200's $800+ dollar price point I can wait and upgrade later when the hardware is better and the prices are cheaper. For now, I've at least found out the X200 uses a Samsung drive which OCZ sells rebranded on pricegrabber.com.
That's it for tonight. Hardware is always exciting and I hope I get to start hacking on an X200 before New Year's. That said, I've got to get some sleep tonight so that I can get back to hacking tomorrow. I made a list of code projects today among other things and there's plenty to do come morning.