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Ask HN: Developer laptop under $1500?
26 points by primalpop on July 23, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments
Hardware Requirements: Intel 4th Gen core i7, 128/256 SSD, at least 8 gb of ram with an option to upgrade to 16, Max Resolution 1920 x 1080, Screen size 13 - 14 inch, weight under 4 lbs, Touchscreen preferably no, OS Linux(Ubuntu).

The latest Ask HN post on developer laptops is dated now[0]. As of now the haswell processor coupled with Intel HD 5000+ looks like the way to go.

Options I have looked at(If you have information about pricing/release date on any of these, leave a comment)

1. Macbook air: Average display, no option to upgrade ram

2. Sony Viao Pro: Reviews say it compromises on performance to be the lightest.

3. System76 Galaga Ultra Pro: Any first hand reviews on this one?[1]

4. Lenovo T440s: Release date unknown, 6 hours of battery life only[2]?

5. Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus: Would be overpriced, QHD+ would be overkill for my needs!

6. Dell XPS 12: Not a fan of convertible tablet + laptop types.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4860540

[1] https://www.system76.com/laptops/model/galu1

[2] http://shop.lenovo.com/fi/en/laptops/thinkpad/t-series/t440s/

It seems you don't understand CPUs very much. You want an "i7", but you're looking at laptops with a wide range of CPU performance. There are two kinds of i7's: dual core and quad core. Or there are four kinds: low power and regular versions of dual core and quad core CPUs. Getting a low-power dual core i7 is about the same as getting a low-power dual core i5. Getting a regular dual core i7 is about the same as getting a regular dual core i5. (Regular dual core CPUs in Haswell aren't out yet.) You get a small MHz bump, and an increase in the amount of L3 cache. A quad core CPU will get you double the L3 cache of a dual core (generally).

It also matters how well the machine can cool the CPUs.

All the machines you posted, except for the Galaga Ultra Pro (which is actually a rebranded Clevo laptop -- don't buy it from System76 if you value money) will have low power i7's at most.

That might be fine. It depends on your performance needs. Anyway, saying "Intel 4th Gen core i7" as a requirement is basically nonsensical.

> Getting a low-power dual core i7 is about the same as getting a low-power dual core i5

So you're saying the difference in performance is negligible? Would you say this is also the case with the new MBAs i5/i7?

Edit: typo

Galago UltraPro:


- 14" screen 1920x1080

- Haswell i7 2.0Ghz 4 cores

- 8 gb RAM with option to upgrade to 16

- 256 GB SSD

- Weight: 3.8 lb

- Ubuntu

Price with these specs: $1253

I ordered one of these which came out to $1462.00 before tax.

- 16GB of ram

- 180GB Intel mstata SSD

- 1TB spinning disk

- Upgraded the wireless card

It's as portable of a machine as I can get that will still replace a desktop.

What's the battery life like for these?

They are estimating around 4 hours. I tend to move my laptop around a bunch, but it's just generally from room to room and table to table. So, for my use case, this machine is perfect. If you're a road warrior though... it's realllly hard to beat the 12 hours on the new MBAs.

Galaga ultrapro fits all of my needs but I am a little skeptical to jump into the bandwagon before seeing any reviews of the device.

I have a tricked out Gazelle (256gb ssd, 750hd instead of dvd, 8gb ram, quadcore etc etc) and it's been a delight. I love it

I hear the battery life is poor because of the high specs.

According to mythlogic, battery life is upto 5 hours. https://www.mythlogic.com/configure.php?id=146 That's poor compared to what other haswell laptops offer.

The MSI GE40 has up to 8 hours with a quad-core Haswell processor. It seems like a good balance of computing power and battery life.

How about Dell XPS 13 with Ubuntu. Priced at $1549 [1]

3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i7-3537U processor (4M Cache,

2.0 GHz CPU w/ Max Turbo of 3.1 Ghz)

UBUNTU Linux 12.04 LTS

13.3" FHD 1080p

8GB2 DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz

256GB Solid State Drive

Intel HD 4000

1 Year ProSupport Service with 1 Year NBD Onsite Service after Remote Diagnosis

2.99 lbs

[1] http://www.dell.com/us/business/p/xps-13-linux/pd

Why haven't they upgraded to Haswell? Ugh. I've been waiting for the upgrade for the battery life bump.

It's haswell or bust with the new laptop.

Great how Asus sells the i7 with a 5400rpm hard drive! That resolution unfortunately is also low.

Yeah, it's due to the graphics card. I didn't find that exact one with a higher resolution. Personally, however, for web dev, it's the perfect sign since it's right in the middle (closer to phone/tablets). I had a 1920x1200 before (Dell) but now I love this and not worrying too much about testing on devices.

Look at refurbished Macbook Airs at the Apple Web site. I'm not a developer, but I'm writing a long book using Emacs and LaTex, so the cycle of write text, compile the file(s), review for errors, and edit the file(s) is somewhat similar. I'd always been a Wintel user, but in January I bought a refurbished 11-inch Macbook Air with a 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM. I love it. I don't even use an external monitor, keyboard, or mouse anymore.

You're writing a book in LaTex?!

> You're writing a book in LaTex?!

Yep. It's a long contracts-related book with lots of internal cross-references. MS Word seemed to keep corrupting things, so I went back to my Emacs and Scribe roots. It's all much easier with LaTex and Emacs org-mode, plus the resulting PDF files are very nice.

(I wrote my first book in 1980-81 using Emacs and Scribe on a TOPS-20 system. It was a "for Dummies"-type user guide for my fellow law-review editors on, wait for it, how to use Emacs and Scribe on a TOPS-20 system to produce and edit law-review articles. My second book, on software law, was done in 1986-87 with The Final Word, which was a clone of Emacs and Scribe.)

How do you handle case citations in latex? I never found a easy way to do legal citations in latex that came anywhere close to bluebook format.

> How do you handle case citations in latex?

Brute force. I don't even try to use BibTex. I just find the opinion on-line somewhere (Google Scholar if possible, failing that Justia.com or one of the opinion publishers). I make the case name a hyperlink to the on-line opinion. Then in plain, non-linked text I include whatever Blue Book style I can, preferably to the West reporter series if available, failing which the slip-opinion cite. I also include a shortened URL, so that anyone reading a hard copy can type it in.

Why is that so hard to understand? If it is a math text it seems like a nobrainer. If I was going to write a book (by definition not a math text) I would write it in pandoc and then use pandoc to create the latex. Using the memoir style it would be easy to create a print ready book with all the bells and whistles and then send the pdf to a self publishing/printing outfit.

D.C. Toedt's book is probably not a math book, is why I asked.

You forgot the MBP Retina 13"?

128GB SSD, 8GB memory, 2560x1600 display. $1499. I don't think the i5 vs i7 makes a noticeable difference (see other comment re. processors).

Still awaiting the Haswell upgrade, which seems to be important for the OP.

Refurb MacBook Pro? Just wait for one to come up with the specs you want.


Does anyone have any experience with Lenovo's X1 Carbon [0]? I'm looking to get a new developer laptop in the fall with similar specs and operating system as OP, and that was one that caught my eye.

[0] http://shop.lenovo.com/us/en/laptops/thinkpad/x-series/x1-ca...

I'm surprised to see you have a max resolution, but I love my Chromebook Pixel. It's amazing how much clearer things look at retina-quality (and if you're a developer, you really should upgrade; there's a whole class of bugs you won't see if your hardware can't display graphics at the resolution many of your users will encounter).

Ive been really happy with my T430, works great with linux, every function button mapped to a command in Mint. My laptop has 3rd gen i7 and 4gb ram and a 256gb ssd(upgraded myself to save money) and runs everything I need as a developer. The only issue I have is its not 16x10

I love this laptop - I found a slightly used one on craiglist for around $350 (given - it has an i5). If I had a budget of $1500 I would still have purchased it and gotten a couple of nice external displays. Honestly I think it is plenty powerful for web development. I also have had a flawless experience with Linux on it.

Macbook Air 13" has basically everything you need. Upgrade to 256GB SSD and 8GB ram and just do without the possibility of upgrading to 16GB ram. The Haswell more than makes up for it. Been using one for a month and loving it.

I have the 2013 MBA and it's great. Surprisingly the 8GB of RAM hasn't bothered me. It may be the fast swap because of the incredibly fast SSD (800mb/s r/w) though. I have no problems running multiple Linux VMs with Xcode open.

follow on questions:

    Max Resolution

    are VMware/parallels, virtualBox images ok for requirements?
also would add requirement for digital monitor port, not VGA.

Like a lot of people, I prefer macbook Pros and Thinkpads, I've had decent experience with cheaper Dells and Toshibas purchased from Costco (90 day return policy) and I would avoid HP and Sony, too many hardware compatibility issues with linux, especially w.r.t. wireless

I'm personally looking at the following list:

Lenovo U330 or U430

MSI GE40 (gaming laptop with actually decent size and battery life)

Asus Zenbook Infinity or the Haswell Zenbook (probably too expensive)

Acer Aspire S3-392 or S7-392

I'd go with the Macbook Air, really a great machine to run Ubuntu.

I just bit the bullet on an MBA myself. I would have preferred to be able to wait until the Pros get Haswell, but I can't really wait any longer due to the decrepitude of my current laptop. If OP can wait, though, the Pro might satisfy him/her.

+1 for awesome use of "decrepitude"

How well do the macbooks run Ubuntu? Last time I looked into it, there were still some issues with the 2013 macbook air running the latest Ubuntu 13.10

Macbook Air. Macbook Pro if you can spend a little more.

Also take into consideration portability between these two. I use a MBP for my main machine - It's a beast, but if you're lugging it around it could get heavy (Although, I could find much heavier laptops). If you want something you will have zero issues with carrying around - The air would be a good choice.

MBP with retina display, you mean? Otherwise you're dropping in resolution.

"Developer Laptop" What are you developing?

Web, mobile dev and occasionally computation intensive stuff(read ML algorithms/large csv files/matrix computations)

My advice: don't run ML algorithms on a laptop. At least not one with a cheap processor (top of the line Core i7 is a different beast I imagine). From my experience, you're better off buying the cheapest laptop and running stuff on a server purchased/rented in part with what you saved. Or maybe renting an EC2 HC instance. Disclaimer: I work at a (ML/NLP/IR) lab so I didn't pay for the servers but it's often the difference between something taking 12h on my 11"2012 MBA, 6h on the slow servers or 6mins on the best one (which just has a better processor than the others).

> 6h on the slow servers or 6mins on the best one (which just has a better processor than the others).

60 times differences? What kind of CPUs do you have in slow and fast servers?

Presumably it's parallelizable. Double the clockspeed, 16x the cores... that'll get you 32x improvement right there, but you've also got way more L3 cache, which might help considerably.

plus much more ram, faster drives and the fact that newer cpus get more done even at comparable clockspeeds ... and there's your 60x

dell xps 13 with fhd is an awesome laptop. with even i5 or i7 it is simply very sleek and very good .

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