What if you have to buy a laptop in 2020

by | Dec 24, 2019 | Review, What if:

Reading time: 6 minutes

Trying to connect a 5-year old MacBook to the home theatre seemed like an easy task. Especially once you navigate through the HDMI cable length issues of signal-to-noise ratio and data losses over mV at several meter distances.

However, what seemed like a piece of cake, a fun afternoon project and a clear advantage at the end of it, namely watch anything I want, from any source, and managed through my handy phone, went slightly awry. You know what they say: “want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans…”

All plugged in, the moment of truth: play something. Sound card literally exploded. Smoke and bang included. A little rasp, a baritone growl, electric humming… death. It was gone, just like that. It made me wonder whether this is the reason why Apple removed the headphone jacks in the first place.

No matter. Open it up, stare into it looking for the “I AM BROKEN RIGHT HERE!” sign but, after thorough examination, it just wasn’t there. And working with no audio is as annoying as working without a screen. Which, by the way, is how my former MacBook got its one-way ticket into storage back in Italy.

And here we are, finally re-evaluating our choices on the laptop marketplace. Pondering what is it that will allow us to get, not only the best machine, but also the most logical choice out of the electronic jungle we are forced to face today.

Immediately, the ever-going existential question: Apple or Windows. Well, at this point the answer can only lead to another question. Do you want to sacrifice user experience or durability? Yes, because as of today we are facing a dramatic situation: MacBooks are not reliable anymore. 10 years and more of design-focused development lead to a very nice looking and eternal device which is technically a disaster, from the layout of the motherboard mount to the keyboard buttons.

The forbidden fruit’s machines are not only technically bad, but they became mostly obsolete, mounting an i5 dual-core processor in the second half of 2019. Add a consumer support team that makes fraud and money-wasting their leitmotiv, you complete a horrific picture for the giant from Cupertino. It almost makes Facebook look good when comparing business models.

On the other side, there’s the megabyte eaters, the slowed-by-porn devices, the never-ending approval process monster with the four-colored flag symbol. Microsoft trundles into the consumer market as aggressive as ever, forcing vendors to pre-install any version of Windows 10, whether we like it or not. I find this already outrageous enough to even think about paying anything with their logo on it, but we must face facts: Dell and China got quite a bit of experience in filling up holes.

With the end of the decade and generation X approaching to be the most suitable target for mass production, we can’t keep the best out of the discussion anymore. Hopefully, this will be the year of nerd’s wet dreams, the return of Linux.

Well yes, because other than being fast, stable, customizable, open-source and light, it comes with a bunch of distributions that are covering any user need. Even gaming. You heard me.

Since 1991, it is without a doubt the go-to choice for network and server-side application or structure, do not mind the filo-Americans and south-east Asia. Linux is and will always be the best choice for your web server, your network deployment, and your IoT app. Windows has its own solution, which is arguably integrated into the software licensing system. Try to push for it they do, much like an oxen, but that’s exactly the problem: why would you pay for something that limits the use of whatever you are building?

The best about Linux is that it, potentially, runs on any machine you own. It allows us to skip the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. Set 42 as admin password and dive into the hardware logistics, knowing that if you want to overspend on your laptop because you are used to the interface or you want to blind yourself while looking at overly bugged operating system, you have a fail-safe button that can come to your help at any given moment.

After a quick look on the internet, I found out that i3 and i5 Intel (we are not looking at anything else, right?), and generally single or dual-core processors are still around. The producer didn’t milk enough out of them, so it seems a good idea to compete against 35 dollar’s single-board on an average price of 500USD. Meh!

So let me start here: if you are going to buy a laptop and use it as a laptop, do yourself a favor and get into the 1,000-2,000$ range. There’s always the cheapest option on the used market for the savvy pro-user, but we are talking about a purchase that you shouldn’t repeat in the next 4 or 5 (and hopefully more) years.

The modern era requires modern machines. Brands and tech corporations have already enough data to understand how electric contacts, chip, and processor work, so there’s no excuse for burned or short-circuited boards. We want something that works under any circumstance and if there a fail we want the piece to be covered by a fair warranty.

Exploiting the processor

I am not saying that an i5 is not enough to read an email or stream Youtube. But the price you are paying for anything more than a dual-core is basically useless for any daily drive.

The minimum spec we should not compromise on are these:

CPU: dual-core 1.80GHz, i3 or higher
SSD: 512GB (better if 1TB) SSD PCI Express
GPU: Intel® UHD Graphics 620 or equivalent (2GB dedicated memory)
Audio: whatever works to listen to a video and a telco
WiFi: IEEE 802.11b/n/ac, 2.4 and 5 GHz (both!)
Bluetooth: 5.0, even if 4.1 works in most cases (but come on!)
Camera: 720p (really, what do you need to do with that?)
Battery: at least 8 hours autonomy on web navigation
Ports: USB type C, type A 3.1 (if possible), 3.5-mm stereo headset, SD card reader and HDMI out optional (nice-to-have)
Display: 12.0″ FHD (1920 x 1080) 400 nits (OLED not preferred: we are watching some streaming video but it’s not the main device for a movie night)

All this upgradable, of course, and within the 2.5KG maximum weight: we are still talking of a portable computer.

And there it is: our preferred selection

If you want to also consider the design let’s include a couple of models in the same range of price but keep in mind that, since beauty is subjective we are keeping the functionalities and the durability as main features in this list.

China leads the way

My all-around favorites are the Lenovos. For a while actually. Solid, robust, and durable, they come with competitive prices for the hardware and switching over the dual OS, Linux + Windows is a no-brainer.

First choice for a daily driver is the ThinkPad Series, and I go for the Flaghship X1 Carbon. The older generations of the same model are much cheaper than the latest 7th edition, so dive into amazon and get the best match for your budget.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (G5)

A very good alternative will be the IdeaPad, and there’s a budget for all pockets there. Look into the D-series if you like the touch features or the 300 if you need a media center with faster internet speed. I don’t see much gain in the other series, as they all come with few perks per model, which to me are useless gimmicks or marketing blabber.

They go quite below the price of the ThinkPad, therefore they become a great choice for a first computer. Screens are neat, battery time is one of the best and the versatility of the screen angle is a great plus.

Both the ThinkPad and the IdeaPad are largely available in computer stores, online, and large supermarkets. Choose your poison from there.

Lenovo IdeaPad D-series (14′)

Should you look further?

What more can you ask for? There are tons of variations with pretty similar specs from different brands, but the performances and benefits you get from those are basically the same. I feel like having just a couple of honourable mentions.

Mac users will certainly love the new MacBook Air. The only MacBook under 1000$ it is also the most portable and with superb battery life. If you want to look into used devices, the MacBook Pro will certainly hit the market soon, but I don’t feel that the design is worth the extra price anymore. Other than being basically the same as 10 years ago, who really cares about how our computer looks anymore, with all the wearable and the glasses/gadget we have available?

MacBook Air 2018 gold

The ultimate alternative to the above is certainly the Dell XPS. Dell is known for server-level component and the prosumer version of those is a very good trade-off at a competitive price. The touchscreen also adds a nice-to-have feature that puts Dell high in our rankings, but checks the price: it easily reaches and surpasses the 2000$ range.

DELL XPS 7590 Touch

That’s all folks. Bottom line: forget the branding.

Technology came huge steps ahead to complement our daily life, so there’s no more best or better. There’s a wide selection of devices out there and if you feel closer to any of those and make you happy go ahead. Most of you, will not spend their money on a computer to generate more money. It’s a tool you use to read email and surf the internet. When your phone isn’t enough anymore, mind your choice.

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