Living without a laptop

Due to my job change, I'm getting the "opportunity" to re-evaluate my computing needs at home. This is because I've had a company laptop since I first started consulting back in 2004.

Most recently, I had an awesome laptop from work (Cardinal Solutions). It was a Dell Precision M6400 (I think) with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, a separate video card, two SSDs for storage, and a 15in screen with a high resolution (I think it was 1080p or better). All of this power was needed when I was running SharePoint Virtual Machines (or Outlook – for those of you using Outlook, you know what I mean). Just an awesomely powerful computer.

It was my primary computer both at work and at home, since I'd use it for work/home email, web browsing, etc.

So, once I knew I'd be returning it, I started thinking about its replacement. I already had a desktop at my new job and I might request a laptop, but I knew I wasn't going to be using the work laptop as much as I had the other one.

First things first, I thought about what I already had at home. I have a Windows server (custom built using typical workstation hardware) that I use for general file storage, running Virtual Machines with Hyper-V, media server (for the Xbox's and TVs in the house), and some network services (DNS, DHCP). I built this box to have lots of storage with moderate CPU power. It has five hard drives in it, that total 7TB of storage (but with RAID mirroring, I think the available storage is 4 TB). It also has several strong, loud fans in it, but since this sits in a closet I don't have to hear it.

We also have a Mac Mini (early 2009) that is my wife's primary computer. It is in the kitchen at her desk and she uses it for email/web browsing, plus tracking our finances in Quicken. We also have over a decade's worth of photos and music on it (iPhoto and iTunes). We're often both using computers at the same time, so sharing a computer wouldn't work.

We have a Lenovo Ideapad (Pentium B940) that we bought two years ago. It was going to be my main computer at home, but the kids soon discovered how cool it was and I found the screen resolution small (720p) when compared to my work laptop. The kids use it a lot, so my daughter was especially fearful once I explained that I had to return my work laptop. Again, sharing it would not work well.

One other piece of hardware we have is a Microsoft Surface RT. It's mine, but I let the kids use it every now and then. I take it to work daily and use it in meetings, which it is great for. The small size, the touch screen, the type cover – great. I'm a heavy OneNote user, so I have it on the Surface as well as my work laptop and the notes sync between the two.

Since I have the Surface, I got to wondering if I really still needed a powerful mobile computer (laptop). As a consultant, I often needed to spin up demos on Virtual Machines, but I don't need to do that anymore. Nor do I need to have a good computer ready for when the client doesn't have a machine for me.

SO, after much thinking I decided to build a desktop computer for my own use. I built a machine that has much more power than if I had spent the same amount of money on a laptop. I also get the ability to upgrade any piece of it I need to over the next few years, pretty much the opposite of a laptop (I only ever upgraded RAM and hard drives in a laptop).

I did a bunch of research (Tom's Hardware guide) and bought the following:

  • AMD A8-5500 Trinity 3.2GHz Quad-Core APU (CPU + GPU)
  • ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6 motherboard
  • Corsair XMS3 8GB DDR3 1600 RAM
  • Samsung 840 Series 120GB SATA III SSD
  • Fractal Design Define R4 Mid Tower Case
  • Rosewill Fortress Series 550W power supply
  • ViewSonic 23" LED monitor
  • Logitech wireless keyboard
  • Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 4000

One of my design goals was to have a quiet computer, since it'll be sitting in my office and not in a closet. I also wanted a moderately powerful computer that I could upgrade, so I went middle of the road on CPU, but picked a newer design/socket so I can still get upgrades later.

The case and power supply were a little more than I would normally pay, but that was the trade off to get a quiet computer – the case has sound dampening styrofoam and the power supply is highly energy efficient (so I don't need loud fans running to cool it down).

When it came to the processor, I am probably just sentimental about AMD. I do think you get more power per dollar from them, on the low end. If my budget was larger, I would have gone with an Intel Core i7.

I made a huge trade off when it came to storage – only 120GB (our low end Lenovo laptop has 500GB), but I wanted the speed of a solid state drive (SSD). Not just any SSD, but these new Samsung 840 series drives, that have incredible IOP numbers. One of the first upgrades I'll do is probably add something like a 2 or 3TB standard hard drive, but for the OS, I wanted an SSD.

I ordered almost everything from Newegg and put it all together a couple of days ago. So far, I like it. I may miss having a laptop in the future, but for now I'm good.

Print | posted @ Sunday, April 21, 2013 4:12 PM