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Saturday 21 January 2006

Ultimate Working Laptop [Muz]

Greetings, gentle readers (and denizens of the Crosshatch). Since our esteemed Beej McTut has (repeatedly) rounded up the creme de la stuff of gaming laptops, I thought it might be interesting to turn the premise on its head and consider what's hot in the notebook world if one simply wants to Get Shit Done(TM).
Nor is this an entirely academic exercise (a good thing that, since after four years I'm thouroughly sick of academic exercises). As some of you may know, I have sold my soul to The Man, and part of the devil's due is a required trip across the pond for training. I'm not sure, but I believe taking an Antec tower and two 19in TFTs along with my luggage probably won't sit too well with commercial airlines. So, a laptop of some description will be required. As mentioned, El Beejster has covered the gaming options in detail, so without further ado let us look at the "work" options.
Currently my mobile needs are being met by the very swish Asus M5. It does the job and fairly well epitomises the qualities that I (and therefore you) should be looking for in a mobile computing solution. It's small size and 6-7 hour battery life make it ideal for use on the move without a) purchasing a man-portable generator and b) finding a flat surface 3 foot square on which to place the thing. It's solidly built, looks cool within its carbon fibre chassis and has all the interface options one would expect in a modern bit of kit apart from Bluetoooth and Gigabit Ethernet. Ho hum.
The only shortcomings that I feel need to be pointed out are the display and the battery. The display is very clear and bright, however, comma: I am used to having a 2560 x 1024 desktop (apologies for the cameraphone photo, I need a new camera too) - after that, 1024 x 768 might charitably be referred to as 'roughing it'. As a computer science geek who has to use IDEs on a regular basis, widescreen could come in handy.
The battery life of 6-7 hours I mentioned is only achievable with the 72Whr battery that must be purchased seperately from the main unit. Not only that, but as it is significantly larger than the standard battery, somewhat ruining the compact form factor. So, a second further requirement - an extended battery life without the requirement for extra purchase and/or extra battery cells trailing out of the chassis.
So, in summary, we are looking for an ultraportable laptop with stupid battery life, all the standard interfaces any self respecting geek today requires, and a nice high resolution/widescreen display. Off we go.
Bizarrely, there don't seem to be many that fit the bill. Asus appear to have one successor to the M5 that looks promising, the W5A, but Asus' UK site has no information on battery life nor on where to get hold of their wares. Disappointing, but somehow unsurprising (see my earlier linked blog for details). From other manufacturers, three machines in particular caught my eye as 'vaguely promising'. In no particular order...
The IBM (Lenovo) Thinkpad X32. While still limited by a 1024 x 768 display, it satisfies every other criterion quite nicely. In addition, its 5 hour battery life can be effectively doubled through the use of a second battery pack that docks onto the bottom of the chassis. Smart - doesn't increase footprint, but allows extra working time. It also enjoys the dubious honour of being part of IBM's only successful consumer product line. Which they proceeded to sell off. Errmm....
The other two possibles will come as no surprise to regular readers - the Sony TX and S5 series.
The TX needs little introduction, being the successor to the venerable TR1MP of yore, owned by a sizable (in every sense of the word) number of the champagne and nachos clan. 11.1in widescreen with a 1366 x 768 panel, onboard GigaBit Ethernet etc, looks like we could be on to a winner. Not sure how viable it would be to code on that small a screen for that long a period of time though, so for completeness I include the...
Sony S5. 13.3in screen this time, 1280x800, otherwise much the same as above, but... what's this? A mere 3 hours manufacturer's rated battery life? That's a big down check.
It would appear then that the spawn of the mighty TR1MP is victorious - but wait! There's a new player in the PC notebook market, some upstarts calling themselves 'Apple'. Apparently after 30 years of making elitist, semi-functional tat for the nu-meeja industry, this random company have finally moved to a proper architecture. This combined with an OS consisting of a userfriendly frontend sitting on a robust BSD backend makes me seriously consider getting a 'MacBook Pro'. The 12in model hasn't been announced yet, but one assumes it's only a matter of time. As a bonus, if they follow past form, the 12in model will have the same GPU in it that the recently announced 15in model does, namely an ATI Radeon X1600, and since World of Warcraft runs on OSX... I think for the first time Apple have a serious chance of getting some of my hard earned wonga.


  1. Don't worry, there's always a way out.

  2. Whilst it's not a gaming laptop, I use a Sony VAIO FS model, with a 1280x800 screen. It's a great screen, and I too use it for developing software, though at times I'm left feeling that it's too low a resolution, I need more screen real-estate.
    Something with a third or so more resolution would be tops, i.e. 1600x1024 or something.