The premise must seem like a stupid statement. Of course laptops aren’t desktops, why would someone think otherwise?

There’s a whole industry out there making laptop computers, many of the companies making laptops also make desktops. And there’s a class of consumer who wants the power of a desktop but the portability of a laptop, and they’re apparently not willing to buy 2 computers.

The compromise that this consumer is asking for is being given to the market by the computer making companies, but it’s a horrible compromise, getting none of the good things from either class of computer.

Let’s use the HP Elitebook 8560w as an example. I happen to have one handy on my desk and have been using it as my only work computer since December 2011. I’ve written about it before. I run Debian on it, quite successfully.

My Elitebook has a dual core Intel Core-i7 (with HT, so 4 cores, sort of), 8GB of RAM, a solid state disk, NVIDIA graphics, and a 24” HP IPS monitor via DisplayPort. It’s a decent little machine and gets the job done quite well for me. But here’s the catch, for the same money, I could have gotten a desktop that would be even faster, have more of the ports I wanted (dual Ethernet, real serial port, and PCI-e expansion), and had less configuration issues (wifi not needed on a desktop, and the internal monitor is lower in res than my external but apparently X doesn’t understand that I’m not using the internal monitor so when I maximize things they don’t actually fill the external monitor). AND! It’s a 15 inch laptop that’s almost 1.5 inches thick and weighs in right around 7 pounds. To say the least, a MacBook Air is a dream in comparison (the 11 inch Air is about as thick as just the screen on the 8560w!).

To fix the lack of dual Ethernet, I have a Belkin ExpressCard Gigabit Ethernet card, but it’s a 34 mm ExpressCard and the 8560w has a 54 mm wide slot, and since there’s no support built into the 8560w for the skinnier cards, if I so much as move the 8560w slightly, the ExpressCard loses contact and I lose my second Ethernet port (which no longer causes Linux to lock up hard since I’ve enabled PCI hotplug, but is still annoying since the DHCP server goes down and if I have iptables routing going really pisses off the kernel).

So, I’ve got a laptop that’s not easily portable and a desktop that lacks some of the speed and ports that I really want. Never mind that ECC memory or more than 4 real cores wasn’t even an option on the 8560w (it is on many desktops I would consider buying).

I thought that I only needed one machine. I was wrong. The 8560w I got is not stellar at being either role that I want. The cost was lower than purchasing two different machines, but not by that much. And I may not have even needed a powerful laptop, something portable for $500 would cut the mustard, especially if I could SSH into my desktop to do “real work”.

After having used the 8560w for almost 8 months, I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t be buying a “desktop replacement” laptop ever again. They don’t replace a desktop, and they aren’t very portable laptops. Something like a MacBook Air and a decent mid-range workstation would make me much happier and probably more productive.

I will say, though, that since having a solid state disk, I’ll never go back to having spinning platters for any machine that real work gets done on. No. Way. Working with the Linux kernel git tree on spinning disks is a good way to practice patience. Working with the Linux kernel git tree on a solid state disk is at least bearable, and not that slow with a hot cache.


12 June 2012