The Perfect Developer Laptop

Posted by Filip Ekberg on September 25 2013 5 Comments

Intel HaswellI have been struggling with selecting the perfect developer laptop (in my eyes) for a couple of months now as I have been waiting for ultrabooks with the latest Haswell technology. Now I’d like to share what I ended up getting and what I ended up returning back to the store as it was just not good enough.

Requirements

When I initially started looking for a new laptop in the beginning/middle of the summer, I was looking for something that “had it all” these were my requirements at the time. Remember, as developers we are custom to requirements changing and this case was no different.

  1. Intel 4th Generation Haswell I wasn’t about to get an old processor that consumes more power
  2. At least 10 hours of battery as I was imagining myself taking 10 hour+ flights every month and also taking the laptop everywhere without a charger.
  3. Touch screen, we live in 2013 I can’t get something without touch, right?
  4. Kick-ass performance in my daily work which includes coding in Visual Studio, screencasting and rendering in Camtasia
  5. OK Gaming Performance as I want to enjoy myself playing some fun games now and then
  6. At least 512GB of space on my sys-drive
  7. 16GB RAM
  8. 13″ – I don’t want to carry a huge brick with me
  9. No more than 1.5KG!

That’s about it, in no particular order as I wanted it all – I was unwilling to change my mind. When it came to the end of the summer and my new gig at Readify was about to start I had to choose something. However by this time nothing that matched the above existed I could either get something that was really light-weight with long lasting battery or I could get a heavy beast with kick-ass performance.

MacBook Air – Huge mistake

After lots of discussions with friends, family and tweeps I decided to get a MacBook Air as it had most of the above except touch screen. At least this was my impression at the time. The new MacBook Air has one of the latest Intel i7 haswells which has the new Intel HD5000 graphics. This graphics card is supposed to be able to perform really well in games which was a huge bonus and also one of my requirements.

I was mistaken.

Getting the MacBook Air was awesome, I was treated like I was the only person in the Mac store and got tons of help with my decision. I ended up getting the new MacBook Air with a 512GB SSD and 8GB RAM. This setup didn’t have touch, didn’t have 16GB RAM and didn’t have a kick-ass performing CPU. At this time I had no idea that it is a rip-off getting an i7 in one of these as the i5 performs just as good.

So after 7 days of suffering as Windows performs really badly when using BootCamp, sure I could run parallels but hey – I don’t care about OSX at all so it is just in my way, I returned the MacBook. Don’t get me totally wrong though, I did love the feeling of a MacBook, it’s a super solid device with awesome battery life. For me though it didn’t work out as it took 15 minutes to render a 2 minute clip in Camtasia which normally takes much, much less than that.

Metabox – Hello baby!

I browsed around and asked around at my job to see what others had recently gotten and I came across some brand that I had never ever heard about before; Metabox. By this time I had searched around and looked at tons of different models the only one that came close was AlienWare, performance wise that is. The only problem with AlienWare is that it is bulky and heavy and I didn’t want a heavy laptop. That was one of the requirements that I didn’t want to let go of, going over ~2KGs wasn’t an option. Also I didn’t want to go larger than 13″. Basically I let go of the touch and 10 hour+ battery life requirement as the other parts of this laptop would compensate for that as you will see below.

More specifically I came across a laptop with the model number W230ST, this laptop is made by a company called Clevo. However, the special thing about Clevo is that their systems are entirely customizable which means that I can replace every piece in it (almost). It isn’t assembled by Clevo but by their resellers so in my case I bought my laptop from Metabox which is an Australian company in Perth.

What they do is that they brand the laptop box with their logo and assembles it for you and you get total customizability. If I want I can replace the CPU in my machine with some other laptop CPU (with the same socket of course); which is interesting.

The W230ST is a 13″ laptop that weights about 2KG or a bit less and it is extremely nice and feels very light. There are however a couple of things that I didn’t get from my requirements list, which in this case didn’t matter because everything else was so great.

When putting together this machine you get to choose the following:

  • What CPU do you want? i7-4700, i7-4702, i7-4800, i7-4900
  • What SSD do you want?
  • Do you want mSATA?
  • Do you want another mSATA?
  • Do you want to RAID any of the drives?
  • What network card do you want?
  • Do you want an OS pre-installed?
  • How much RAM do you want? 4GB, 8GB, 16GB

My Laptop

I went with the following specification:

  • i7-4900
  • nVIDIA GTX 765M
  • 16GB RAM
  • 512GB SSD
  • 240GB mSATA
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 (2×2 AC +BT HMC)

And I ordered the laptop through Affordable Laptops in Australia, I know there are a bunch of resellers in Europe so just google for them.

It has a very nice finish on the lid, feels rubberized however the rest of the casing feels a bit plastic. There’s a backlit keyboard that you can adjust the brightness of and I think it’s extremely nice to type on.

The device do get a bit hot when running stress tests such as Prime95, my CPU reached about 86 degrees and I have under-volted the CPU to be able to reach the turbo frequency faster and for longer periods of time as there is a hardware limit when it gets too hot. If you don’t do too heavy stuff I would recommend going with i7-4800 as it’s supposed to be a bit colder.

Custom built?

It will take a while to build when you order, I got mine within two weeks and the wait was horrible, I really hate waiting for hardware to arrive. I was a bit unlucky as I had 1 dead pixel on my screen, but I got it replace and from the time they picked it up I had it back on my desk within three days – kudos to Metabox!

Here’s some pictures borrowed from Affordable Laptops.

metabox-clevo-w230st

Conclusion

Pros

  • Kick-ass performance in both daily work and in gaming
  • 1080p screen
  • 13″ and ~2KG
  • Extremely configurable

Cons

  • No touch
  • Battery life is only rumoured to be 3.5 to 4 hours – haven’t tried it without charging it for that long
  • Normal work drained the battery to 10% in a little over 2 hours. This included having Visual Studio running, 10+ browser tabs, some chat Windows, PowerPoint, PowerShell, Steam downloading stuff, LINQPad

I recommend this to anyone working with development that doesn’t want to feel like their machine is slow. This is my primary device and it seems to be able to beat everything there is. I played Crysis 2 on Ultra settings and I didn’t feel the FPS drop at all. I might have forgotten to add something, just let me know if you have any questions.

I was obviously not going to go on so long trips that the battery would be that important, as long as it doesn’t die within 3 hours I am more than happy. It still would have been awesome if it lasted for 10+ hours, but I doubt I am going to need that so often. My requirements changed along the way as I let go of the touch and battery and focused on something powerful yet portable. The device is not as nice and slim as a MacBook but everything else with this device compensates for the lack of design, battery life and touch.

This is the perfect machine for me at the time being this doesn’t mean it is the perfect machine for you.

Additional Information & benchmkars

Here’s a screenshot of me installing two virtual machines at the same time and doing some other work in the background see the temperatures, CPU usage and other:

BeastOfALaptop

Here are some ATTO disk benchmarks, the first one is the OS drive which is a Samsung 840 PRO 512GB the second one is an Intel 525 240GB mSATA:

atto-1

atto-2

Here’s the complete specification spectrum for the device, as you can see it is also called SAGER:

Specs

Some images borrowed from the W230ST Owners Lounge.

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5 Responses to The Perfect Developer Laptop

  1. Osama Al ShammariNo Gravatar says:

    Hi,

    Congratulations!…. I suppose that it was for a huge price, wasn’t it?

  2. Sebastian LarssonNo Gravatar says:

    Reminds me a bit of Alienware but without the extra bling. They are too very configurable and look quite much alike. I’ve had a HP 2560p at work for a bit over 2 years – its a ultra portable 12.5″ weighing a bit less than 1.7kg, with i7 and 8GB ram. Great build quality. Only downside is 1366*768 pixels, only 2 USB and that is can get pretty loud at times.

    I think that getting the extra resolution is worth quite much.

  3. Filip EkbergNo Gravatar says:

    @Osama Al Shammari, Yes, but it wasn’t as expensive as for instance the rMBP.

    @Sebastian, Yeah I agree, resolution is important.

  4. Rafal BorowskiNo Gravatar says:

    “Touch screen, we live in 2013 I can’t get something without touch, right?” Eeeee… wrong! Touch HAS TO – there is just no other option (at least for now) because of the production process – have glossy screen. I can’t imagine to code on a glossy screen. Can you imagine the tragedy of coding in light/outdoor enviroment? Besides from the earliest age when I had a computer (I was about 10) I taught myself to NOT touch the screen. So why the hell I would want a TOUCH screen when for 17 years I was trying NOT TO TOUCH it? Cuz’ win8 metro? Wien8 is not a working OS. It’s a flashy, glitchy OS for kids who wants more “uuuu it moooved” shit. Want to work like a pro? Get a Win7 matte screen ultrabook with 4th gen CPU and 10 hours of battery life and you’re ready to go :)

  5. Osama Al ShammariNo Gravatar says:

    @Rafal Borowski, you seem, like most of jewish, impolite to respect others’ opinions…
    Also, you’re an ignorant to know that Windows 8 is much faster and has less glitches than Windows 7. Though it suffered of several bugs at shipping, they were all fixed later.

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