My ideal laptop

In which I want the moon on a stick, I do.

As I browse around fantasy-laptop-shopping, I see lots of laptops which have features that I really, really want, but I’ve never found one laptop that has everything. So I’m going to outline the spec I want, comprised entirely of things that are either available in current laptops or, at least, announced and imminent parts.

Currently I have a late-2009 15” MacBook Pro, which has a 2.53Ghz Core 2 Duo CPU, and has been upgraded with 8GB of RAM and a 512GB Crucial m4 SSD. I also have access to a 17” HP Envy, on loan from my last employer while I am doing some freelance work for them.

I do most of my own development, including open source stuff and some speculative projects, on the MacBook, using Parallels 7 to virtualise Windows 7, because when I had it running under Snow Leopard’s Boot Camp it kept blue-screening at inopportune moments. Like five minutes from the end of my presentation at DDD SouthWest 2011.

The MacBook also gets used for most of my speaking engagements, although I have been known to use the Envy when I’m talking about Azure because I’m not sure about running the Azure Emulator inside an emulator.

The Spec

Form factor

I’m happy with the size and weight of the MacBook Pro, although obviously thinner and lighter is always welcome. Remains to be seen whether those Air-style MacBook Pro rumours are true or not. The other good thing about Macs is their small, light power supplies. The brick that comes with the Envy seems to weigh almost as much as the laptop itself, and it insists on you dragging the three-pronged not-quite-a-kettle lead around too. It all adds to the mass and bulk, especially on long trips to overseas conferences. Just make it as thin and light as you can; whatever it adds to the cost I’ll easily make up in savings on chiropractic bills.

CPU

I’m running Visual Studio 2010 and 2011, plus SQL Server 2008 R2 and 2012 and IIS 7.5 or IIS 8 running as services, and emulators for Azure and Windows Phone and VMs for Linux and suchlike, and a whole bunch of other cool beta stuff because I’m an incurable neophile, so I want a beefy CPU. I’m thinking Intel Core i7-3820QM, which is supposed to be available next month and is based on the new 22nm Ivy Bridge architecture. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem to get that.

Hard disk

Needs to be solid-state, obviously. In pure fantasy-land, I’d have a pair of 512GB SSDs set up in RAID/0, but I’d settle for one 512GB SSD (which I already own) and a 750GB Seagate Momentus XT secondary drive. So two drive bays, obviously.

Before we move on, let me just suggest one extra thing: can I get an easily-accessible HDD/SDD caddy system for the primary drive (maybe a bit like a PCMCIA), so I can switch between operating systems by swapping drives? That would be awesome.

Memory

The Lenovo ThinkPad W520 is the existing example here: you can spec that up with 32GB of RAM. That should do it. But can I please have that in a laptop that weighs less than my head? And a tip: if adding 24GB of RAM to your default 8GB spec in your “Configure your laptop” page costs more than buying 32GB of compatible RAM from Crucial, guess which I’m going to do? Yeah.

GPU

I don’t play games on PC, because I have an Xbox 360 and a PS3 and a Wii and a DS and a PS Vita so I’m really OK for that stuff. But there are other uses for GPUs these days: I want to play with C++ AMP, and make backups of my Blu-ray and DVD discs, which takes much less time when you’ve got a few CUDA cores kicking around. So I’d like an nVidia GPU, preferably one of the 500M series, although I’d accept an NVS 4200M (which appears to be the new Quadro). Obviously the GPU should be switchable, so it can fall back to the integrated graphics in the CPU when running unplugged.

Update: Peter Bright has pointed out that Quick Sync is better than GPU for video encoding/transcoding, which is true. I still want a GPU for playing with C++ AMP, though.

Screen

One of these, please. 15”, and 16:10 (or 8:5) format. 16:9 is all very well for watching movies, but when you’re working on text, that extra height is really nice to have. Oh, and make it multi-touch with Gorilla Glass 2 while you’re at it. Ta.

Keyboard

A nice, backlit, chiclet keyboard, obviously. With a physical Insert key, because I use ReSharper and there’s a ton of neat things hiding under the Alt-Ins keyboard shortcut. Oh, and if you’re Apple, put bloody # on a key already. Seriously.

If you want to do the Razer thing and bung some programmable OLED keys on there, that would be awesome, but stick them on the top row, not to one side where I’ll keep hitting them instead of Esc or Ctrl or Backspace.

Track-pad

A decent track-pad, which goes *click* when you click it, is essential, and it should support gestures like two-finger scrolling and… actually, just two-finger scrolling would be fine. Yes, I know the screen is touch, but it’s all the way over there; I can’t be reaching for that all the time. Again, Apple is the exemplar here.

Connectivity

A built-in VGA output would be useful for attaching to all those 1024×768 projectors, but stick a Mini DisplayPort on there too, like HP have done on my Envy.

A decent set of USB 3.0 ports (at least two), maybe with a couple of 2.0 for keyboard and mouse.

Really good WiFi is more important than a physical Ethernet port, and frankly, I’m not that fussed about being able to fit a 3G SIM until I can find a carrier who will give me multiple SIMs for the same account/allowance. Until that frabjous day, I will make do with my MiFi thing. Bluetooth, though, I need Bluetooth for communicating with the Lego Mindstorms robots.

Personally, I don’t care whether it’s got an SD/XD/CF/BS slot or not, but people seem to like them, so I have no objection to there being one. Put one on, or don’t, it’s all good. Its presence, or lack thereof, is not going to stop me buying this thing, is what I’m saying.

Docking station

Now, what you could do here, Mr/Ms Laptop Manufacturer, is take a leaf out of Sony’s Vaio Z book and offer an optical-cable-connected docking station which has got a full desktop GPU in it and can drive 3 monitors. But for preference, make it an nVidia GPU. If you can do that, then the on-board graphics can be the NVS chip.

Optical drive

Yeah, no.

In summary, then:

I want the moon on a stick. But if you build the moon on a stick, I will buy it, and so will others like me. And there are enough like me to justify building this. So go on. What are you waiting for?

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