Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Please Ignore Me While I Gush Over My New Laptop

We're a Dell shop and that's worked out well for us. I'm serious about hardware, but not pathologically so. I have a single laptop that I take very good care of and I try to time my upgrades strategically to get the most bang for my (company's) buck. Here's my recent history.

  • I had a trusty D505 for a couple years. It was OK, but not stellar
  • Then I upgrade to the dual-core awesomeness of the D520. I waited for the gen 2
  • Two years ago I got a shiny SSD (Intel X25M). I waited for the gen 2. 
  • And last month, my disk almost full, my screen getting flaky, and my VM usage increasing, I upgraded again. Now I have a Dell Latitude E6520 (with gen 2 i7qm).

Here's my brief review.

Things I love
The screen is great. We don't skimp on screens so this baby is full hd. It took me a few days to get used to the widescreen format, and the tiny text, but I like it now. It's bright and crisp with oodles of pixels.

The performance is incredible. Getting an SSD two years ago was insane--the best upgrade ever--but moving to a modern processor (with four hyper-threaded cores) is a close second. Of course I moved my SSD over to this new machine so I really have a killer workhorse of a machine now.

I was surprised to find lots of things that I assumed were network-bound are faster now. I guess my assumption was wrong. Subversion updates and checkins are noticeably faster. Chrome is much snappier. Even fast sites like Stackoverflow are noticeably faster. I keep finding myself clicking on things and then beginning to move my attention away, only to have whatever I clicked on be ready before I can. I have to train my expectations for the new, more responsive experience.

I love the back-lit keyboard. I work in the dark often (while the kiddos fall asleep, usually) and being able to actually see the keys is pretty helpful. It is attractive, not too bright, and has quickly become something I always want in a laptop.

I like that I finally have a built-in webcam. I rarely use it but when I need one, it's hard to beat the convenience of having it built-in, ready to go. The quality is much better than whatever Logitech cheap thing I used to use, too.

I like this E-media bay thing, also known as that spot where the disc drive falls out of. Right now I have a huge second harddrive in there instead of a disc drive (that's the part I like). It's very nice considering how small SSDs tend to be. Now I have tons of scratch space to complement my lightning fast, but scarce SSD. The first thing I'll use it for is to set up regular backups since SSDs aren't widely known for their longevity.

Things that could be better
The form factor is large. It's not awkward for day to day use, or lugging around the office, but using it on a plane would be difficult. It's probably too large for a non-automobile commute.

It's not too heavy, and it works for me, but I could see some improvement here. I do like the new finish and style of the machine, but as far as simple size and weight, it's your typical Windows Laptop.

Coming from an aging system with a weak, 1-hour battery, I am thrilled to get 3-4 hours out of this thing. On the other hand, other systems do much better. Battery life wasn't a huge priority for me, but if it is for you you might want to keep looking.

Regarding the keyboard, I'm sure few will share this complaint, but I miss my context menu key. My old lappy had one and I used it often. But now it's gone :(. I guess the full 10-key numpad makes up for it. Almost.

While I do like having proper page up/down buttons, the layout is weird. My intuition has me hitting the wrong one, thinking that they should be reversed. Or really, they should be somewhere else. I wish I could order this thing with a standard arrow/nav arrangement instead of the 10-key. That'd be awesome.

The track pad is fine, but the track pad scroll support leaves a little to be desired. I find it jumps around when I try to scroll. The experience is hard to describe, so you'll just have to take my word for it: it's a bit jarring. I assume it's a software issue so maybe it'll go away with a driver update or by tweaking a bunch of random settings.

I am overwhelmingly thrilled with this thing. It's fast and reliable. It seems to run much cooler than my D520, and am typing this in the dark, comfortably.

I don't know how meaningful these things are but I've become quite obsessed with my Windows Experience Index scores. Here's my old machine, just before I moved its hard drive over.:

And my new one:

That's a big leap, and I can feel it.