I recently found myself looking for a good developer laptop. Depending on the stack that is running on your development machine (Web server like Nginx, Apache or IIS, DBMS like PostgreSQL, MySQL, Oracle or MS SQL Server, an IDE or advanced text editor, etc.), but also other softwares like a Web browser with 12 active tabs, tools like Adobe Photoshop, a music player, several command line consoles with ssh sessions or Gulp running, a virtual machine, etc., etc., you might find today’s trendy ultrabooks not so powerful as they are usually limited to low-power CPUs with only two cores, and most often rely on integrated graphics. (sorry for this really long sentence)
This is the conclusion of my own little quest to find what I like to call a good developer laptop. There is nothing exhaustive here. I am simply talking about the models that I think are interesting right now, and why I think they are.
Going quad-core… and 15 inches
First thing you need to know is that sub-15-inch laptops equiped of a quad-core CPU are almost impossible to find. Intel’s CULV specification for ultrabooks limits power for CPUs to 17 watts. This isn’t enough at all for, let’s say, a Core i7 6700HQ which has a TDP (thermal design power) of 45 watts. You can make your own research here, but long story short, if like me, you decide to go quad-core, you’ll most likely have to accept to buy a laptop with a 15-inch screen, at least.
My three favorite options (right now)
First, I want to clearly state that some links in this article point to Amazon products. By following them, you may be helping me pay for groceries, diapers, cat food or coffee. So thanks!
Dell New XPS 15 Laptop
Dell has really hit something last year with the New XPS 13. It has a great screen with a very thin bezel called InfinityEdge (from a distance, it really looks like an 11-inch laptop), an acclaimed keyboard, very good performances for an ultrabook, good built quality, and a nice look. The camera’s position (below the screen) might be a problem for you though.
For 2016, Dell just arrived with the New XPS 15: something very similar to the XPS 13. As you have probably guessed already, this new model is built around a 15-inch screen, which means it’s got room for a quad-core CPU (yay!), and a discrete graphics adapter. Dell offers many configuration options: touch-screen or not (with PPI from 141 to 282), i7, i5 or i3 CPU, 500GB old-school HDD to 1TB SSD, integrated GPU or Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M, etc.
Working around several people owning the XPS 13, I must say that I am tempted by Dell’s very slim design (the thin bezel helps a lot). I love the keyboard, and the mousepad is kinda great too, but I would have preferred a numpad on the 15-inch version. For obvious reasons, my next laptop will be equiped of an SSD. The way Dell has done things though, that would force me to invest in a multi-touch 4K Ultra HD screen. I’m know that I don’t want to go there. But the more I read, the more it becomes a standard in high-end laptops. So in the end, I might actually “go there”.
Here’s a great article about the New XPS 15 made by the guys at Ars Technica.
Asus ZenBook Pro UX501
Let’s stay in high-end models a little more. Kind of new Asus ZenBook Pro UX501 offers something very similar in terms of performance. With this model, you have no configuration options, so you’ll have to pay for the multi-touch (10 points, really?!) 4K Ultra HD screen. You’ll get the same i7 6700HQ and Nvidia GeForce 960M the XPS 15 has. A not-so-small difference (for me at least) would be the numpad that is present on the Asus’ keyboard.
Living in Canada, it’s relatively hard for me to compare MSRPs, mostly because electronics are always more expensive in the Great North, but also because right now, 1 US Dollar equals 1.39 Canadian Dollar. But for what I see, for a comparable configuration the XPS 15 might cost about $350 US more than the ZenBook.
Acer Aspire V15 Nitro
As you might have noticed by now, what I really want is performance without paying for features mostly gamers will want. Also, I’m still not a huge fan of touch-screens on laptops. So my last option could be to go with something cheaper, but with very comparable “core performances”:
- Intel Core i7-6700HQ
- Nvidia GeForce 960M
- Only 8 GB of RAM
- An old-school 1TB HDD (that I would immediately replace with a 256 GB SSD)
I would lose the Thunderbolt port (which I really don’t mind right now), and save maybe $300 when compared to the Asus, and even more when compared to the Dell.
Anything to add?
I am still thinking about all this, and like I said, I’ll have to compare Canadian prices before making a final decision. If you would like to share your opinion on the subject, please do so! That might help me a lot. I usually keep my laptops for at least 5 years, so I want something that is going to last.
Thanks a lot for reading!