With the rumors about the new Macbook Pro not exactly making me excited, I’m curious if anyone has any suggestions for developer laptops. In my experience Apple is basically unmatched in terms of build quality and durability. Does anyone else come close?
I highly recommend the Thinkpad T and X series laptops. My personal laptop is an old T400 and my work laptop is a T460p and both are excellent. They’re less expensive than the equivalent Apple laptop, but extremely good quality. I bought the T400 used and upgraded it with new parts. The T460p was new, but it was still cheaper to buy some of the parts separately and upgrade it myself.
I have a 2015 Thinkpad X1 Carbon, currently running Linux Mint 18. My second choice when buying it was the T450p.
The reason I settled on the X1 was basically it’s lighter and I decided I didn’t want/need dedicated graphics. I have a desktop that I still use often so the utility of the laptop for me was primarily mobility with “good enough” performance. If I didn’t have a desktop I would have gone for the T450p (which has been superseded by the T460p).
I have seen/used a few of the recent XPS 13s, and they also impressed me. So anyone turned off by Thinkpad prices can probably grab one of those instead.
I have the 2015 X1 Carbon as well, excellent build quality and extremely thin and lightweight.
It may not have dedicated graphics, but I’m able to run most pre-2010 games at highest graphics settings. Intel integrated graphics has gotten much better than it used to be.
I’m actually really interested in machines without dedicated graphics, because card switching has historically been fraught with problems for me. This is great!
I can also vouch for this. I’ve been using ThinkPads for a long time, and currently my developer laptop is an X220.
Four years old, but with 1TiB of SSD, 12GB of RAM (can handle up to 16) and a decent 35W i5, it is more than sufficient for anything I use it for.
I’ve also heard good things about the Dell XPS/Precision series from colleagues, though if you want to run Linux it is advisable to stay away from 4K displays for now because of tearing issues.
I’m debating the relative merits of the T460p, the X1 yoga and the X1 carbon myself. the higher performance of the T460p is tempting, but i don’t know if I’ll regret the added weight.
A few years ago I went from a 15" MacBook Pro to a 13" MacBook Air and never regretted it. Assuming an Ultrabook-like machine will have sufficient performance for you, you won’t regret it (I’m assuming an X1 Carbon will be “fast enough” for most people). After the stagnation of the Air I switched to a 13" Retina MacBook Pro and even after a year it still feels heavy even though it’s only a few hundred grams heavier than the Air.
With a fast SSD and enough RAM even a dual core low power CPU will handle several VMs and big compiles without problem (at least in my experience).
yeah, i’m using an x1 carbon 1st gen as my work laptop and really love it, but i don’t have to do anything heavy on it; all intensive work gets done on my desktop.
if i hadn’t seen just how nice a sub-3 lb ultrabook was, i’d probably have bought the T460p without thinking about it, but now i’m leaning towards just getting one of the X1 machines and perhaps taking a bit longer to do things like compile the kernel, but enjoy carrying it around and using it day-to-day.
I love the T series. I use a T450s since 18 months with Linux and it’s the best laptop I ever used. Light, fast, solid build, all the connectors you need, built-in LTE modem (awesome!), replaceable battery without powering off with the second build-on battery, etc.
T series without s is pretty.. brick - comparing to razer blade or mac book - T series looks like it was build 5 years ago.. T series with s is pretty slow … with its dual core- I have T460s and it’s cool for scripting, small medium size project but when you need to compile bigger project or edit video it’s useless
The Dell XPS13 laptops running linux are good - but I’d want an employer to pay for one :~)
This is how I feel about nearly any ultrabook-style laptop ? these things are so damn expensive
Don’t those also have a version with a matte finish screen? I’ve been wanting to replace my 15" 2009 mbp (had a matte screen), and have looked at these a bit.
The non-touch version comes with a matte screen, yep
I’m happy with my XPS13 (3rd rev Developer Edition), after upgrading from the first rMBP15 (never buy 1st gen Apple products). It’s not without it’s problems, especially when it comes to hiDPI support in the ecosystem. Always worried about upgrading or changing distros because who knows what might break. Will it stop hibernating?
Altogether I’m very content with finally making Linux my primary desktop OS, and hope the support, quality, and community will continue improving.
Check this out https://puri.sm
Interesting, what’s the story with PureOS? Anyone have experience running e.g. debian on this hardware?
I’ve always trusted my ASUS laptops and I’ve heard good things about their ZenBook. It’s aluminum, seems to have decent specs for development, and reportedly works fine booting Linux distros.
Can vouch for the ZenBook. Currently on the Asus ZenBook UX305. It’s a great laptop, and runs Linux perfectly (I’ve even run OpenBSD on it with very little trouble, apart from lacking trackpad support). Only issue with the hardware is the screen hinge is a little loose, so it flops around a bit (but I’m sure if I bothered to pop it open I could tighten the screw), but apart from that it’s great.
Thirding the UX305. I bought a Broadwell-based one earlier this year to play with OpenBSD based on a @tedu post. Outside of the trackpad, it’s been great for on-the-go and taking to meetups.
Forthing the UX305. Nice and light. SSD could be bigger and the aluminium scratches a bit easily but a nice performance/price point.
My friend has a UX305 with Broadwell running Ubuntu he uses and he seems to really like it. It looks pretty nice!
I have one for work and it’s pretty nice. The only caveat would be that if you live in Canada, avoid the one that has the French/English keyboard. It has a split the shift key on the left side and it is… not optimal.
If specs and bang4buck aren’t a problem, have you considered trying a Thinkpad?
I have had one for one year (a Thinkpad E540, before I knew the T and X-series were the good ones) and I’m considering getting a second one already! While the specs aren’t that good compared to say, an ASUS or an HP for the same price, my experience with it has been unmatched by any other laptop so far (trackpoint or not).
The T- and X- ones are incredibly expensive new (so that’s why the bang/buck is horrible, but coming from Apple I guess that won’t be much of a bother?) but the nice thing is that they actually go for quite low used, and since most of the users are geeks, those ones usually come with better LCDs or upgraded ram and/or disk upgraded from the previous owner!
I’m really happy with the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon. Got it refurb'ed off of Amazon for around $1k I think. Originally put OpenBSD on it, but the wifi performance wasn’t great so now I’ve got Debian. Works flawlessly, battery goes all day long, suspend works perfectly afaict.
I have to echo the Thinkpad recommendation as well, especially the T and X models. I have the T450s. It has a three-button trackpad (buttons between trackpad and keyboard), the loved or hated mouse pointer in the keyboard and works fantastically well with BSD and Linux.I run OpenBSD on it as my daily driver.
I have the Core i7 with 512 SSD. It’s as fast as I can reasonably need for almost all dev projects.
My only complaint is that while in theory there was a model with an Nvidia graphics card (for CUDA dev), they’re impossible to find.
The chief complaint I’ve heard from others is the maximum available internal screen screen resolution is 1920x1080. That’s fine for me. External monitors will go to 4k.
You might also note, leaked images (from Apple) show the Esc key being replaced with a Cancel button on the soft-key function bar above the top row. o.0
Which probably means Escape anyways. Not a big deal. Even then, you could rebind buttons on the system or application level.
The toolbar is interesting in its possibilities. You could fit context sensitive functions as well as all sorts of adjustment widgets. I presume it’d have good haptics.
Yeah. The Esc issue really is a bit of a storm in a teacup, IMHO. Those keen on continuing to use Apple laptops will just bind another key to Esc (as 10.12.1 now allows via System Preferences). Caps Lock is a prime candidate, but many already bind it to Ctrl. Of course, once Karabiner works with Sierra you will be able to bind Caps Lock to both (Ctrl when used as a modifier, Esc when not)…
It will likely be a bit of a problem for people wanting to run a different OS.
Well, no more than macOS really - every OS has the ability to rebind keys, albeit with varying levels of complexity. And if you want to run a different OS on a Mac you’ve already got a certain level of technical savvy…
In addition, I’m guessing that the touch bar thinggy will probably show a default set of keys, including Esc and F1-F12, when not in an application that has explicit support for it. This will cater for the case of installing a different OS/using it without changing bindings.
I presume Apple will provide some level of Boot Camp support for Windows, and someone will reverse engineer it on the free Unices. (For rebinding, Windows and X can do that too.)
How’s the battery life like? Could I get 6 hours of work done without having the charger with me?
Sorry for the delay in replying. Battery life on the T450s is pretty good. It probably depends a bit on the OS. Six hours is about the max you could expect but 4 - 5 would be more likely.
One thing to consider: the T450s has easily swappable batteries. Even better, if the internal battery still has juice, you can hot swap the external without shutting down.
My main laptop runs Windows, so I’m content with an older model laptop for running *nix: a Thinkpad X200. I actually have two, since they’re relatively cheap now. One has Libreboot firmware, and the other runs the original BIOS.
One cool aspect of these machines is that it’s really easy to exchange the hard drive. I actually removed the plastic cover over the slot, as the rubber slips hold the drive snugly enough. If you have 2+ drives, you can multi-boot without the hassle of setting up a bootloader, hah! Just swap out as needed.
The battery is also replaceable, which is a relatively unique feature these days. I have three batteries between the two X200s.
My Thinkpads came with TFT screens, but allegedly it’s easy to replace them with higher-quality IPS screens.
I’ve been running Debian on an x220 since 2012 - there’s a lot of interchangable parts easily found on ebay & the build quality is great. I have an SSD & a spare HD slot, 16Gb of Ram (over kill) & there’s insane battery life (although windows has better battery saving in default configuration). My only thought of upgrading was just to get a higher resolution external monitor.
2 previous laptops I had were ASUS and they had issues within a year & not so nearly well designed interchangable parts that I could easily replace.
I’m thinking of buying a second X220 (insanely cheap right now) to make into a Hackintosh.
I’m extremely happy with my Surface Book. The new model is supposedly going to be announced any day now.
I have an X1 Carbon for work and a Surface Book as my personal laptop. I would much rather be using a Surface Book for work, it’s so much nicer… better keyboard, trackpad, screen. For some reason the SSD on the Carbon has always felt slow as well.
(I also burned through three X1s (Gen 2) due to motherboard/RAM problems. I’m on a Gen 3 now which seems better - no silly touch function bar either.)
I’ve had a Lenovo y510p Ideapad for the last couple of years–good for gaming, good for development. Comfortable keyboard, matte screen, i7, switched over to SSD, Windows 7.
Any serious development work I do happens in a VM, which this thing merrily runs.
I don’t really understand why people ever fell for the Mac meme, but more power to them.
Speaking for myself, the combination of extremely high-quality hardware with good-to-excellent software. Apple, for a long time after the x86 switch, offered a better deal on PC hardware than any PC vendor, with the added bonus of excellent, tightly integrated software. The former is no longer the case, and the latter is starting to fall apart. Unsurprising, as I no longer work there, but disappointing, nonetheless.
On one machine I could have all of the normal unixey build tools - emacs, GCC, come to mind, and use applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, and the like.
It wasn’t a hard sell, and I don’t remember having to be tricked into it.
For me it was the battery life (10+ hours on a 2015 13" retina Mac Book Pro while working on lightweight Python code).
Working suspend/resume was the biggie for me. I used Linux on various HP and Compaq laptops from 2000-2007 and after the industry switch from APM to ACPI, suspend/resume support was touch and go. Since I’ve switched to a Mac, the number of times my laptop fails to resume in a year can probably be counted on one hand.
I believe the Linux and OpenBSD situation is a lot better now but AFAIK FreeBSD still doesn’t have decent suspend/resume support for newer laptops (post Haswell don’t work?). Admittedly the current-until-tomorrow 15" MacBook Pro is still Haswell, so maybe that’s not a problem :P
I have an Ideapad from 2012 or 2013 and the build quality on it is abysmal. It’s kind of put me off Lenovo products, to be perfectly honest. But all of the chatter in this thread about particular Thinkpads has me rethinking that. I need to replace that laptop and have been wondering what to get.
I’m not happy with the new Thinkpads (thinking specifically of the X1 Carbon), but they’re still better than the 2015 Macbook Pro and 2013 Asus ZenBook I’ve used. Aside from various Linux issues and the crappy keyboards, the latter two laptops also suffer from the inability to easily change batteries. The HP Elitebooks seem pretty good but I didn’t use one for long enough to really tell. Still waiting for someone to wake up and modernize the Thinkpad X31 for developers.
I have a work issued third generation Thinkpad X1 Carbon which is brilliant on every level save one. The screen is total crap.
Having said that, the screen is usable. I’m running Fedora (currently 24, but have been on this laptop since 22), and everything works great without any manual configuration / hack. WiFi, suspend, audio, video, keyboard backlight, even the fingerprint reader is perfect. I highly recommend this laptop.
Have you considered just snagging a current rMBP? I know it seems silly with new ones being announced tomorrow but if you don’t like the leaks so far, it may be a better machine for you. I’m still using a 2012 15" rMBP and it has absolutely no issues at all.
If you can stand the awful screens and batteries, a ThinkPad has good keyboards, build quality, and features. I’m not a fan of normal voltage CPUs however - the 12" retina MacBook is my platonic ideal of a laptop. (Just with a ThinkPad keyboard. And TrackPoint.)
Awful batteries? When I had my x220 out of the box - it has a 9 cell & an additional 6 cell - this thing can run for ages with the power-manager that’s default with Windows 7 - I recall 12-18 hours. These days it’s more like 5. On the other hand I bought an ASUS and from day one it was getting 3-4 hours max. That laptop lasted a year. And it failed in the middle of a push on an important project. :/ It was very hard to source the exact parts (the port to connect the power gave out & broke some of the case - and it began not being able to be charged. Admittedly it was from damage from dropping…
but the x220 has been dropped - it was even designed so that one of the corners would break (you’ll often find them second hand with a chipped corner) well looking at the case, it seems that this is deliberate - like a shock absorbtion on modern cards -vs- the rigid ones. It’s stuff like that I just have to appreciate - this thing is an engineers computer. :)
I can still buy those batteries & parts on ebay :) The screen was very clear for its time.
Were you running one of the W5xx series?
X201. ThinkPad power management, unless you micromanage via TLP/TVPM, will cause the battery to decay from its original capacity rapidly. This is even worse if you’re using one of the smaller batteries.
The screen on my X201 is unusable outdoors (even with max brightness) and barely usable indoors. Its dim with poor viewing angles and resolution.
My X201 just sits in the dock nowadays. When I need a laptop, I just use my jailbroken Surface RT - it actually gets good battery life despite its age, as well as a screen you can see outside. The subset of applications I’d use when out and about is small enough to fit in with the recompiled Win32 apps available.
Thinkpads, definitely. The nicer T series builds will get you a 3k screen, or 4k with the P series. Also they recently switched from plastic chassis back to metal, so they should be pretty durable. For what it’s worth my W520 has lasted four years and isn’t getting replaced any time soon.
Another advantage of Thinkpads is the availability of replacement parts. When I dropped my laptop from table-height and the lid corner chipped, putting on a new lid was pretty cheap and easy. My understanding is your only recourse with a Macbook in this case is a trip to the Apple store and several hundred in repairs.
Running a HP Spectre 13 here, into two external monitors. It’s currently running Github, a VM, several instances of Sublime Text and Chrome, Spotify, Nylas (email) and skype, with no appreciable issues. It’s also got the best laptop keyboard I’ve ever come across. Highly recommended.
In general http://www.notebookcheck.net/ is a great site for checking out laptops.
I can recommend the Dell XPS 15, I used it as my work laptop for the past 2 years with Linux Mint 17 and was very happy with it. I now purchased a Dell XPS 13 as my personal couch/travel laptop and am also somewhat happy with it. Build quality for both is superior though.
Minor down point is that the most powerful (especially more RAM) versions for the XPS 15 came with a glare 4k touch display that I have absolutely no use for. Similar for XPS 13. The XPS 13 sadly is the first Linux laptop I ever had trouble with which is weird as it is the only officially Linux supported I ever bought. Wifi only worked after package upgrades (good that I had an adapter for wired connection around), plus need to deactivate some stuff in BIOS. Plus the USB-C to VGA/HDMI adapter they sell does not work with Linux… the one I bought only works for HDMI. So, be aware.
As I just got back from researching laptops here are a few others:
Personally I prefer laptops without a dedicated graphics card, I have a desktop for that, it saves weight and the switching between internal and dedicated GPU is still sub par in Linux (in Linux Mint switching is built in but you have to log out/in)
Ditto. There’s also the issue of dedicated graphics often being a point of faiure (see, eg, the GeForce 8600M issues of a few years ago). Intel video support is also often less troublesome when using Linux/*BSD systems.
The last couple generations of Intel graphics are very impressive indeed. More than adequate for a development workstation (for example, they can push > 10 million pixels 3D-accelerated). And great battery life and pretty good Linux drivers.
I’ve been running a Dell XPS 15 9550 laptop with the 4K display option for about a year. Windows 10 works well for me (I’ve been using Windows since 2.1 so I may have Stockholm Syndrome).
I’ve had good results with the Dell XPS 13 and 15. I only have a few requirements: works with Linux (not so rare nowadays), has at least 1080p resolution (preferably higher), and decent construction.
I previously had a Mac but 4 months ago I switched to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. It’s light and the keyboard is better than a Mac’s IMO, but the screen could use more vertical space. There are definitely some hardware driver issues when running Linux which I wrote about in my installation guide: https://gist.github.com/jjmalina/5e13b2269ec97895ea5fda9df6d26751
I have a T460s and it seems like a solid machine overall. Granted, I’ve had it for .. uh, about half a year?
I wouldn’t vouch for the quality of its keyboard though. The scissor mechanism is really quite flimsy and cheap, and if you’re unlucky, you might find a “sticky” key. Oh, and the trackpad sucks for small motions. Like when you land the cursor right next to a tiny link you intend to click, moving your finger slowly results in no cursor movement at all until at some point when it suddenly jumps over the link. There’s probably a software workaround waiting to be undiscovered.
I would like it more if it had easily replaceable & extensible batteries. Yes, it has two batteries..
It’s hard to give a more informative comment since I’ve no idea what sort of things you expect from a developer laptop.
Its predecessor the T450s had such batteries, and it’s awesome. The T460s introduced the tapered, wedge-shaped lower body (like an X1 or MacBook Air); it’s thinner and lighter and overall an excellent machine, but unfortunately without the swap-able battery.
I have an HP EliteBook 8540w and it’s the best laptop I had. It’s durable, screen is large, keyboard is very comfortable, has numeric keyboard, changing it doesn’t require disassembling anything, it’s quiet, doesn’t get hot, and runs Linux without any problems (suspend/resume works without tweaking anything). I also have HP EliteBook 8760w and it’s a beast. It’s not very mobile though; it’s heavy, but the screen is awesome (unfortunately FullHD, so it’s not Retina) and it doesn’t use compromises in terms of construction :). I don’t know how newer EliteBooks are performing though.
oh man.. there’s no good dev notebook on the market from a long time, macbook no esc, razerblade has this huge bezel, thinkpad slow :/
The new razer blade is closest to become the best machine on the market - but they should fix this huge bezel and update processor with latest quad core kaby lake as soon as it will be available on the market. A lot of users complains also about trackpad.