Thinking about a new laptop

It’s a new year and I’m looking for a few things to change.

One of the smallest of these things is to look into a new computer to bring around, to use at customers and while traveling. The first thing to ponder is on the form factor. Should it be something like a traditional laptop or maybe rather some tablet? What about something which is both?

This kind of confusion is pretty common in my work life. So many factors to consider, so many possible directions to go in. I usually try to go back to a few requirements I consider more important than others. Looking at these, I’m desiring things like

  • Being able to use with it while at a table, in a chair or even standing (in a plane or train or in an office)
  • Really light weight – including the power brick
  • Powerful and being able to use the power

I’m not at my dead line yet, that’s somewhere in the beginning of March, so I’m still thinking in terms of a tablet with attachable keyboard (yes, that could be something like a Microsoft Surface Pro 3) or a traditional laptop or maybe something which is both like a Lenovo Yoga laptop.

All of these count as Ultrabooks (a trade marked term by Intel) which brings to think about the sweet spots and the not so sweet spots. A powerful Ultrabook sounds like I would go for a high end processor like a Intel Core i7, wouldn’t it? Well, yes and no. Yes, if I can actually use all that power, at least while connected to the electrical grid. No, if the processor is being throttled so it runs slow after a few seconds.

All Ultrabooks are built with Intel CPU’s. Most are built with a CPU with a 15 Watt limit (TDP, thermal design power). Going for lightness and speed, there are a few (maybe three) Ultrabooks which are built with the Haswell (fourth generation) version with a 28 W limit. The higher limit translates into longer periods before throttling of speed hits the CPU and internal/external GPU.

In other words – I can actually use the powerful CPU.

With 28 W, it makes sense to go for an i7 instead of an i5. It makes sense to look at the GHz numbers for the CPU. For the 15 W models, not so much – the energy for computations drives heat and heat makes the 15 W model throttle – it’s a speed limit on computation. At full speed, you get a few seconds before throttling kicks in on the powerful CPU’s with a 15 W limit.

One of the few Ultrabooks with the 28 W CPU is the Asus Infinity, aka UX301. It uses the Intel Core i7-4558U CPU with internal HD 5100 graphics (”Iris”).

Possible down side: this is Haswell, i.e., fourth generation Intel Core CPU. At this point, Intel has started to deliver its the fifth generation, Broadwell. Broadwell goes mainly for smaller, not faster, but sure, ”faster” isn’t totally off the table. I don’t think any laptop with the new Broadwell Intel Core i7-5557U CPU is available just yet but please correct me if I’m wrong.

Asus UX301 (not 303): http://www.asus.com/us/Notebooks_Ultrabooks/ASUS_ZENBOOK_UX301LA/
Old Haswell 28 W: http://www.notebookcheck.net/Intel-Core-i7-4558U-Notebook-Processor.93588.0.html
New Broadwell 28 W: http://www.notebookcheck.net/Intel-Core-i7-5557U-Notebook-Processor.127675.0.html

Looking at the 15 Watt line again, I don’t see any reason to pay extra for the i7 processor. There just isn’t any bang for the buck.

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