The posts on this site are mostly written as notes to self for the future. There has been already more than one machine during this time and there probably will be many more. Also the main purpose of the machines has and will change so here is some context divided into time periods.
My machines usually have a Finnish keyboard layout and internet connectivity via Wifi using DHCP. I’m using Gnome as the desktop environment and bluetooth headphones for most of the audio. I’m intrigued to try KDE when it get’s usable on Wayland.
In the early summer of 2015 I decided I was going to run linux as my daily driver at work because Docker was only natively available for linux and the development of large Drupal sites was frustratingly slow in a vagrant box running on Virtualbox (and/or VMware Fusion) even with NFS for the file sharing. I was also coming from a MacBook Air which I had at work so I wanted to go all out with a quad-core linux machine. For this purpose I got the Lenovo Y50-70 15.6” laptop with a Full HD screen, quad-core Intel Core i7 (i7-4710HQ), 8GB of RAM which I upgrade to 16GB and a 1TB hybrid drive which I also upgrade to a 500GB Samsung 850 EVO 500GB SSD drive.
I did a lot of Drupal development around Docker during that summer, but when it was time to get back to work with all the communication with teams and clients, meetings, traveling etc. it quickly became clear that linux was not a good choice as an operating system because of all the tools we were using like Skype and HipChat. It also became clear that the machine had the worst battery life, trackpad and screen (because of viewing angles and DPI). It also looked like a gaming laptop (which it was) and was not fun to carry around because of it’s size. The discrete graphics card was a pain because a lot of it’s features had shortcomings when running under linux. Because of all this I gave up on the endeavor of using the machine as my daily driver at work.
From the end of 2015 to the beginning of 2017 my machine was an Acer V13 (V3-371-554H) laptop. My preferences for the machine after the Lenovo Y50-70 were something cheap that works well as a linux machine, but would still provide as good experience as possible for me to evaluate. Wanting a machine without a discrete graphics card meant stepping down from a quad-core CPU to a dual-core one. The machine had a 28W Intel Core i5 (i5-5257U) with only Intel integrated Iris 6100 graphics, 16GB of 1866MHz DDR3 memory and the Samsung 850 EVO drive used already in the Lenovo Y50-70. The drive has hardware encryption support which meant no speed loss even fulfilling the encryption requirement from work. The screen was 13” at 120DPI so that it would be perfect without scaling. As you may or may not know, at least most linux desktops only scale in integers so it would require around 2560x1600 resolution 13” screen for it to be good for 2x scaling.
During this time my machine was mostly used for some development of a stack of services running in Docker containers for running Drupal sites, keeping up with mainline kernel for (Arch)[https://www.archlinux.org] and the state of the linux desktop regarding my work environment. I was running the machine next to a Mid 2014 15” MacBook Pro where I was doing most of my work.
Dell Vostro 14
At the end of 2016 I was ready to go full on linux as my daily driver, but it had become quite clear the Acer just didn’t had it for a daily driver. The keyboard was a little bit smaller than a full size keyboard and it was not backlit. The trackpad isn’t the worst in the world, but feels quite sad after a MacBook Pro. The screen viewing angles of the Acer were just plain terrible and I knew that before hand, but I didn’t realize what it would be like to adjust the angle of the screen constantly for a good viewing experience. The battery life was mediocre at best, but what bothered me more was the standup time. If I put the machine to sleep, it might have died before the next morning. As a MacBook user I was too used to an amazing standup time. MacBooks have an automatic hibernation functionality, which might be the cause for some of the standup time and admittedly I could have looked into enabling hibernation on the Acer too, but didn’t. With these shortcomings and my addiction to all new tech I started looking for a new laptop to run as a daily driver.
I didn’t want to spend too much on the machine because one point of the machine is to prove that one can work with a lot cheaper machine than a MacBook Pro. Even with all the money in the world there is not a laptop available with a quad-core CPU without a discrete graphics card not even from Apple who got rid of their last 15” MacBook Pro model without one during their latest update of the MacBook Pro line so I’m forced to settle with a dual-core machine, which might not be a bad thing for battery life though. I didn’t want any discrete graphics card because I have no use for it and it uses a huge amount of power compared to the overall power consumption of a laptop. Even though it would probably be possible to disable the discrete card completely, it would be wasted money and space and just would not feel good. It quickly became obvious that there wasn’t a machine available without discrete graphics and a high DPI screen with enough resolution of 2x scaling for the money I was ready to spend. For some reason PC manufacturers like to put Full HD (1920x1080) screens into all size screens even with all the shortcomings of the Windows UI scaling. If you do the math the DPI of a Full HD screen varies from around 170 DPI to 147 DPI on screens from 13” to 15” which makes the desktop UI way too small for my eyes at least and if you would like to scale that to 120 DPI (the perfect DPI to my taste) it would require a float scaling factor like 1.2x. A 17” laptop would be close enough with a Full HD screen and it would be perfect if they would fill all that space with battery (or so I think before I actually have to carry around a 17” laptop at work), but those just don’t come without a discrete graphics card. So I was back to looking at smaller machines with a good DPI without scaling and without a discrete graphics card. Those are not easy to find either. Luckily Dell had just came out with a new iteration of the Vostro 14 line which is meant for small businesses, has the qualities I’m looking for and costs significantly less than any MacBook Pro.
The Dell Vostro 14 has a full size backlit keyboard and a 14” 1366x768 111 DPI screen which based on a quick test seems to have better viewing angles than the Acer screen. The fastest CPU on the lineup without a discrete graphics card is a 15W Intel Core i5 (i5-7200U). There is also an i7 available, but that always comes with a discrete graphics card. I was happy to find out the newer 15W i5-7200U benchmarks very close to the 28W i5-5257U which meant I was not giving up computing power even though the processor spent only half the power of my previous one. Very good sign for battery life, but yet to be proven. Having a 7th generation Intel processor would mean capability for more RAM and the M.2 slot on the machine would mean possibility to upgrade to a Samsung 960 EVO NVMe SSD drive with 6x the read speed and 4x the write speed of my previous SSD drive. The machine also has a regular SATA 2.5” drive slot so I could have used my existing drive for additional space if needed and the machine has all the ports I can imagine needing. I could be fooled into thinking I would need to have a USB-C port, but after giving it some thought, I don’t find any need for it, at least now. Last but not least, it doesn’t hurt that the machine doesn’t look terrible and the trackpad turned out to be fine. Not a MacBook Pro trackpad, but fine.
So that is what I ended up ordering, the Dell Vostro 14 (5468). It came with 8GB of RAM and a Sandisk 256GB SSD card on the M.2 slot with speeds around 500MB/s. I wanted to max out the memory to 32GB and get the faster Samsung M.2 SSD card with read speed of 3200MB/s and write speed of 1900MB/s. Insane, I know. I didn’t want to spend too much money on the upgrades so I thought I’d come by fine with 256GB of space so I ordered that with the 32GB of RAM only to find out soon that the delivery date of the Samsung 960 EVO was pushed back. I was set on the SSD speed upgrade and the drive didn’t have earlier delivery dates from any other retailers in Finland I could find so I waited. I waited a long time. The delivery date was pushed back multiple times. After almost 3 months of waiting in the beginning of February 2017 I started to feel like the Dell sitting on the shelf waiting for the upgrades was going to waste. After the long wait I was desperate. The retailer happened to have the same drive in 1TB in stock and after some negotiating I got a discount on it and ended up switching the 256GB drive to the 1TB drive. Not the smartest move price wise, but I had lost hope of the 256GB drive ever getting delivered. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. 32GB of RAM, 1TB of fast M.2 SSD and a 15W Intel Core i5 with integrated Intel HD 620 graphics. Not bad, except the Vostro doesn’t support NVMe SSD’s at all, so I had to return the machine.
In April 2017 I gave up and currently I’m using and iPad with a remote connection to a Raspberry Pi 2 at home and a company issued MacBook Pro 15” at work.