1. 8

I thought this would make for some good discussion :) Tell us what should your laptop should have. Go wild on the details! Screen size/resolution/cpu/updradability/ports/OS support/everything. If you have some not-so-obvious reasons for why a feature is important for you, do share!

Please share things that actually matter to you and are actually possible - like, we know it’d be cool to have 10 years of battery life, but a day or two suffices well enough, so it’d be better to say “I want a day of battery life” instead of “My laptop should charge in 2 seconds and live till the end of the universe”. Thanks!

  1.  

  2. 3

    Form and power: 13" size, carbon fiber or aluminum body. A 160 watt hour battery, not 100 watt-hour. Charges USB devices while powered off. Battery can be programmed to start charging at 40% and stop at 80% unless overridden (eg. in front of a trip). Rubber feet that don’t wear away in a year, and logos only on the bottom.

    Specs: Quad-core, 3+ Ghz processor with 16 GB RAM. No hardware rootkits. Nice to have a shmancy graphics card for games, but not vital. Nice to have an SSD large enough to spare 200G for dual-booting Windows.

    I/O: Low-gloss HiDPI screen (say, 2560x1440) that can get dim enough to be comfortable in a dark room. Probably also a multi-touch screen - using a smartphone has made me comfortable and the behavior of the kids in my life tells me it’s going to be ubiquitous soon. Trackpad quality on the level with Apple. Trackpoint. Webcam and mic with hardware use indicators and a cover.

    Fiddly bits: Mag-safe power cord with indicator light on plug or next to port. HDMI out. A couple USB C and at least one USB A port. An SD card reader. Multiband wifi and a cell modem. 3.5mm headphone jack on the left side. Keys have at least 10mm of travel without a painfully hard stop at the end. Keyboard includes Delete, PgUp, and PgDown. The lower left corner of the keyboard goes Fn, Ctrl, Alt, Super (though really only Fn is crucial as the others are easily and reliably remapped), ~ is left of 1, \ is right of ]. It’s looking like the new apple touchbar Doesn’t Totally Suck, so maybe one of those, especially if Fn always flips it to F1-F12.

    Runs Linux with open firmware: coreboot for bios, code available for wifi, graphics, etc. No binary blobs at all. Windows drivers do not include manufacturer crapware.

    Not manufactured by Lenovo, after my disastrous 9-week repair process with them earlier this year.

    1. 2

      User-replacible battery, at least 1600x900 resolution, SSD, backlit keyboard. It’s okay not to have a number pad but it needs to be mimicable with function keys. Must support linux well. Must have ethernet port.

      I like the thinkpad nub mouse but it’s not essential.

      1. 2

        My desktop. I don’t like using laptops as laptops, and just docking it for 90% of the time has me paying a lot in complexity, heat stress, &c. for features that go unused. Give me light weight, a good, high-resolution glossy screen, a good keyboard, and I’m happy for those times when I use it as a laptop. I have last year’s 15" rMBP now, and while I’d like a higher resolution screen, and wouldn’t be heartbroken if it lost some ports, it’s perfectly fine for what I need.

        1. 2

          I didn’t want to be the guy that posts desktop in a laptop thread but I do think it’s the right choice. Working on a laptop screen turns you into a hunchback and they have crap keyboards, and if you’re going to use an external keyboard/monitor you might as well just get a desktop.

          You can get much better specs too. My dekstop builds about 4x faster than my macbook air for the same price, and with 16GB RAM I can run firefox and a VM at the same time.

          For people who want to work in the office and at home, I wonder how well something like https://www.pugetsystems.com/nav/echo/I/customize.php would work. It’s thicker and heavier than any laptop but still perfectly baggable.

          1. 2

            I mean, my actual ideal is a little brick of storage where all my data lives, that connects via fast wireless to my desktop screen, CPU and input devices when I’m sitting down, and to mobile devices (phone, watch, glasses, &c.) when I’m not. Perhaps it could also serve as my phone, although I’d want a machine that exists well outside the phone CPU power envelope for most non-trivial tasks.

        2. 1

          4-16 core, CHERI processor for high-security converted to RISC-V ISA. I/O MMU. Small version of mainframe Channel I/O built-in to handle interrupts and offload I/O without saturating the CPU. Watchdog timer for apps that have lost it. Built-in security engine like VIA’s Padlock. Thermal monitoring to shutdown if heat could damage it. Done on SOI node for extra reliability. Pluggable.

          Achronix FPGA connected to memory bus that I can turn off if concerned about power. Mentor Precision, Xilinx Vivado, and Synflow C-flow for my attempts to use it.

          Plenty of ECC RAM

          Dual ROM’s for initial bootloader and dual flash for firmware so nearly unbrickable

          SSD hard drive with in-line media encryptor between it and PCI bus. Protects if stolen & lets me sell old HD’s without people reading residual data.

          15-17 in screen with graphics good enough for movies. Graphics card should also support something like CUDA in case I want extra muscle.

          Replaceable battery & power supply.

          Regular audio jack, camera, USB, trackpad, etc. The regular peripherals but with MCU version of CHERI so I/OMMU is for software not hardware attacks. All will have ability to be disabled by firmware profile. The wireless and camera can be disabled by physical, power switch. The machine also has a switch to cut off power to everything or just battery in event I want reboot without pulling out battery.

          Some programmable, function keys can be useful with them rarely taking up much extra space. One would be firmware-wired to open a trusted path to whatever is most-privileged part of the stack. This would happen even if an application was overloading my system. Should support killing such applications, inspecting things, logging in, etc.

          Drivers for Windows, Linux, the BSD’s, separation kernels, A2 Bluebottle, and GenodeOS. Drivers coded in correct-by-construction style then run through static checks like Astree Analyzer or Microsoft’s verification kit. Especially the storage, networking, and graphics drivers. :)

          Support of Clang/LLVM, musl C, CompCert, SPARK Ada, CakeML, Haskell, Racket, and Rust.

          I think I can handle things nicely from there after the above list is done. :)

          1. 1

            I come from cheap laptops (haven’t got the money to invest in the good ones), so my ideal laptop already exists, but I tend to rage that it has “too much” and ends up costing a ton because of the extra stuff that I don’t need.

            I’m a simple man, my needs are: SSD, Battery life, and a trackpoint. Preferably no discrete GPU since I don’t need it, it takes away precious battery life and it causes all sort of issues on Linux. Screen can be “good enough” at 1600x900, but I’d like to be able to upgrade the panel if I wanted.

            What I really would like my ideal laptop to do though, is ignore these:

            • Being “too” thin and sacrificing features because of that. I do care about weight, but a typical laptop is already thinner than a book, so what’s the point? Give me an ethernet port, additional battery or even just more empty slots (mPCIe / SATA / M.2) to put junk on if I ever wanted.
            • Having a number pad: Not only contains only redundant keys, they take up the space the navigation keys should be in, so for every laptop I put my hands on, I have to go hunt them before I can type. (on an unrelated topic: Lenovo is evil, the x135e/x140e I got don’t have INSERT!)
            • Having F1/F12 as “function keys”.. of the function keys, with no way to set them as default behavior (which is what happens on my current laptop).
            1. 1

              I want a modern-day equivalent of the Dell Inspiron 8600. That thing was awesome.

              • Screen: the 8600 has a 1920x1200 screen, which, for me, is my preferred ratio. Having screens that are (seemingly) designed for watching HD is unfortunate. Also, anti-glare/matte finish – that’s something I really, really dislike about modern screens: they’re too shiny and hurt my eyes in most lighting situations (except at home where I can turn off the background lights). So I’d like a 15" 3840x2400 where contrast and brightness matter. Color gamut, etc., isn’t important to me. And no touch screen. I just don’t want/need it and I don’t want to pay for it.

              • Decent GPU so that it can nicely handle the resolution, but I don’t use my laptop for games, so a solid integrated GPU is fine. I’d love a way to add on a separate GPU if for some reason I wanted to play a game on it at home, but I don’t want to give up battery life.

              • Keyboard: I can barely type well on my mid-2015 MacBook Pro, and the obsession with thinness in the 2016 version (and the MacBook) means I won’t buy them: I can’t type on those keyboards. Not asking for a mechanical keyboard, but laptop keyboards from 2005-2010 from Dell were great. Lenovo’s keys were fine, but that damned FN key in the wrong place (compared to everything else) was a killer.

                • Arrow, page, and special keys: must be separate, on their own. Here, again, some weird obsession with aesthetics on the MacBook Pro makes things worse for me: my current MBP I can feel the left/right arrow keys (and they’re in line with the down arrow). I can’t use the new layout where the left/right arrows are full-size. Here again, the 8600 had the best layout. FNs that are real FNs.
              • Trackpad: as long as it’s responsive and doesn’t interfere with my palm (hello MBP 2016), then I’m good. No trackpoint, they only get in my way.

              • Storage: 256GB SSD, whatever the current fastest for writes is (both internal to the SSD and its bus connection).

              • RAM: 16GB minimum. With a fast drive, and virtual memory, I don’t personally need more than that. If I do, I’d throw it somewhere in the cloud.

              • WiFi, and a hard Ethernet jack.

              • HDMI and USB 3.1 (at least 2, preferably 3 – one of them can be USB 2), headphone/mic, maybe SD (if not, then 3 USB ports for sure). And a solid VGA converter for the 90% of the world where the only cable to the projector is still VGA. (sigh)

              • Speakers: minimal. If I’m watching/listening to anything, it’s with headphones, so as long as the speakers can beep/boop when needed (and shut up when I say so), that’s good enough for me.

              • Webcam: at least 720p, with better-than-average low-light quality (most suck in this regard), with a built-in physical cover, and must be at the top of the screen’s bezel (seriously, the Dell XPS is soooo close to my ideal laptop, but its webcam placement is a deal killer for me – since I know the 16:9 screen ratio is never going away).

              • Detachable battery with support for a “bump” (secondary battery without needing to remove main one). Whatever the max here is for airline travel. (I always had two batteries for when I traveled with my 8600.) I want it to last for a long airplane ride (including waiting at the airport): 8 hours doing video and audio playback, while coding and compiling, and keeping my phone/tablet charged as well.

              • CPU: Quad-core 2.5-3 GHz, but I’m fine with lesser if I get significantly better battery life.

              • Weight: <5.5 lbs (including the charger, so that has to be reasonable, too)

              • Heat: it’s a laptop, darn it, make sure that it can actually sit on my lap without burning my legs, or making me sweat.

              • A docking station that just works. Apparently this is really hard?

              • Solid build that can survive the occasional drop from a table, and where the screen’s hinges are super stable.

              • OS: Linux that uses all of the above properly, especially wi-fi and battery management. Otherwise Windows 10 (with VMs running Linux) is fine.

              1. 1

                The best laptop I’ve ever used was my old mid-2011 i7 MacBook Air. Light, fast, good screen, (IMHO) decent keyboard. Of course, it’s rather dated now but my ideal laptop would be an improved version, in the same form factor - retina screen and more RAM really. But my requirements are fairly simple - I do run VMs and do fairly large compiles but any modern dual core CPU is fast enough for me.

                1. 1

                  Dream: mechanical keyboard with independent sides and Retina display. Now that I think about it, I basically need an iPad that runs MacOS, with a stand and connectors.

                  1. 1
                    • High resolution, sunlight readable screen. ePaper like, transflective, whatever. Preferably low power. 12" at the most.

                    • WiFi, obviously, but it’d be great if I had some kind of trouble-free cellular option that wasn’t hideously expensive. I’d consider paying for unlimited data but throttled to EDGE speeds.

                    • ULV CPU, preferably down to ~5W or less. (I can hear your cringing!) Stays cool and quiet. Don’t care much about ISA, but x86 preferred.

                    • Long battery life, and with a battery that won’t decay. I don’t want to have to hypermile batteries or have to manually set thresholds to keep the battery from killing itself.

                    • Good keyboard with a TrackPoint. I don’t care about function keys.

                    • I don’t care much about ports on the go, but I certainly care when at home. A good dock or port replicator covers most of what I need - a USB port and headphone jack will cover the rest.

                    • OS doesn’t matter much; I can basically adapt to any. (I could totally do ARM desktop Linux, provided you gave me an ARM version of Wine, for running the ARM win32 OneNote in.)

                    • Thin and light as reasonably possible.

                    I’m tired of the bullshit with my ThinkPad X201 with its awful screen and miserable battery. It stays on the dock because it’s a terrible laptop. If you’re terrible at portability, I might as well use a desktop instead. My main going-out computer is a Surface RT, FWIW.

                    The example laptop would probably look a lot like Apple’s 12" MacBook, but with a TrackPoint.

                    1. 1

                      Must-have:

                      • High-resolution matte-finish screen, 16:10 or squarer. 4:3 is ideal. Vertical resolution of less than 1k pixels is absolutely unacceptable.
                      • Non-chiclet keyboard. Thinkpads of the mid 2000s are ideal, but most laptops of that era had acceptable keyboards. The Thinkpad X220 had the ideal layout, but I’m fairly adaptable as long as there’s a full set of function keys, home, end, pageup and pagedown.
                      • Trackpoint. I have successfully trained myself out of being comfortable with a keyboard without it. The pointing sticks on HP and Dell business-class laptops unfortunately don’t cut it.
                      • Standard component form factors including RAM (SODIMM), wifi (mSATA) and storage device (ideally 2.5" SATA, but mSATA or M.2 are acceptable). IBM and Lenovo seriously handicapped a couple of otherwise great devices with non-standard 1.8" drives that cost an arm and a leg to repair or upgrade. And no fucking hardware whitelist! If I want to install a wifi module made by Sketchy Back-Alley Company, Inc., let me take my data into my own hands.
                      • Preferably 12" diagonal or smaller. 13" is okay. 14" is getting unwieldy. Ideally less than 4lbs with AC adapter, but I’m more flexible on this.
                      • Adequate performance. At least 2 cores (but preferably 4), single-thread performance at least that of a late Core 2, 4GB of RAM (but preferably up around 16GB), enough graphics horsepower to run Minecraft playably and drive at least one 4K external monitor. I don’t care about architecture, though; in fact, not-x86 is a slight bonus.
                      • At least three hours of battery life. A day (say eight hours) would be ideal, but I’m seldom away from outlets for that long; it’s just for convenience.
                      • At least ethernet, USB A, headphone and external video sufficient to drive a 4K monitor (full-size displayport is ideal, but cables are cheap) for connectors.
                      • Durable construction. Spill-proof keyboard (this is so cheap and easy and such a win, I have no idea why it’s not universal). Top-mount hinges are better than rear-mount, but as long as they’re sufficiently tight and hold up, I don’t care that much.
                      • Runs the OS of my choice, obviously. My choice is Debian, but I should be able to put any flavor of Linux or BSD on it, or possibly even Windows or OS X if builds exist for the processor architecture.

                      Nice-to-have but not necessary:

                      • Tool-free removable and replaceable battery
                      • A dock
                      • Free-software firmware, and fully free-software drivers available for all hardware. I’m slightly torn on this, because it’s something I really want and think is incredibly important, but I would probably buy a laptop without it if it hit the rest of my points.
                      • Headphone ports on the left side, goddammit! I have yet to see a single-wire pair of headphones where the wire doesn’t come out of the left cup, and almost all laptops make me cross it over to the right side of the laptop. My Thinkpad X301 got this right, but most do not.
                      • A keyboard frontlight. It’s slightly better than backlit keys. Should be red for minimum impact on night vision; I have no idea why IBM/Lenovo never did that.

                      Things I don’t care about:

                      • Power connector. Any standard connector is better than any proprietary connector, but I care so little it’s completely irrelevant.
                      • Connectors other than ethernet, USB A, headphone, and any external video sufficient to drive a 4K monitor. I don’t own any peripherals with other connections.
                      • Bluetooth. In principle useful, but I’ve never used it.
                      • Touchpad. I’m going to disable it in software, so the expense might as well be spared. Touch anything-other-than-a-touchpad is edging into dealbreaker territory; in particular, I don’t want the weight, thickness or power cost of a touchscreen I’ll explicitly disable and never use.
                      • Thinness/thickness. There is exactly zero benefit to it being less than an inch or so thick.

                      My personal laptop is a Thinkpad X201s, which hits most of those points (notably fails screen resolution and external graphics horsepower/connectors). More of an issue is that zero new laptops hit enough to cross the bar into acceptability; and while I suspect I can keep getting use out of increasingly vintage Thinkpads, eventually the march of web development “progress” will render them too slow for general use.