I wrote about how laptops aren’t desktops last month. I was upset that I use a laptop that’s not very portable but not as powerful as a desktop. It’s the worst of both worlds. I still feel that way, but I’m changing my stance on buying a desktop.

My next computing system won’t involve a desktop, per se. It’ll just be a laptop, and a rather portable one, at that. It’ll also probably be a Mac. Here’s why:

The MacBook Air 13 inch can be specified rather nicely to accomplish 80% of the things I want to do, for a reasonable price. The MacBook Pro with Retina display is a bit more money, can accomplish 85% of the things I want to do, but is still rather reasonably priced for the hardware. Either way, I’d get the 27 inch Thunderbolt display to use as a monitor when I’m in “the office.”

The only non-Apple laptop I’d consider buying, really, is a Lenovo Thinkpad T series 14 inch. And there, a well specified unit could probably accomplish 90% of what I want to do, but I’d run Linux on it and I’d be frustrated more often. The extra 5 to 10% improvement of doing the things I want to do may not be worth the frustrations.

But here’s my big change, I wouldn’t buy a desktop. Not today.

In order to get the type of desktop that I want, with the processing performance I want (because, let’s be honest, USB really is good enough for most peripheral things now and I don’t really really need a second Gigabit Ethernet interface, a slow second Ethernet interface would be good enough), I’d need to spend $4 to $5k. I’m not willing to do that. Not today.

I’d rather invest that $4 to $5k into learning about Amazon EC2 and paying for time on a Quadruple Extra Large High-I/O instance. It’s only $3.10 per hour for an 8 core (plus HT), 60 GB of RAM, two 1 TB solid state disks, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet machine. Damn!

I’m only going to need really high performance for a few tasks, maybe 2 hours per day, on average. That means my costs, per day, would only be something like $7. Even with 250 working days per year, my yearly cost would come out to under $2k. And, I bet, a decent amount of the things I’d want to do could run almost as fast on a slightly lower priced EC2 instance. And, Amazon probably will come out with new instance types that are either higher performance or lower priced that I could use, too.

It’s hard to connect peripherals to an EC2 instance, but that’d probably be OK. I usually don’t need both random peripherals and high compute power at the same time.

Nothing stops me from trying this idea out now. Even with a huge laptop, I could still leverage EC2 for some tasks and start my learning. I think that’s a good idea.


25 July 2012