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Thinking about what my Dream Computer would be

January 21, 2009

A discussion on Plurk about laptops got me to thinking about what my perfect next computer would be.

I’ve always struggled a bit with laptops vs. desktops – you get more and pay less if you can’t pick it up and move it around. Desktops are also much easier to upgrade ~ I do chip pulls on almost all my old desktop machines and frequently upgrade memory sticks and hard drives as they get bigger & cheaper. The expected life of a laptop is far less. Not only is the machine slightly behind the cutting edge in terms of speed & memory, and it is harder in most cases to self-upgrade beyond hard drives and RAM, and then you have to deal with the issues of theft and damage as well. Nothing is worse than that sinking feeling of losing EVERYTHING you’ve worked on when your laptop is stolen or breaks.

Needless to say, I have a fleet of desktop based machines. They work as media servers, guest workstations, and for hosting software that sometimes is somewhat mutually exclusive to other software.

But when you need a laptop, you NEED a laptop. Hauling desktops around for making presentations, or trying to get through airport security is a deal-killer.

Working on a strange machine, borrowing one when its needed, or dealing with changes in software and licensing between machines is usually not a whole lot of fun when you’re on the road.

It’s been almost 5 years since I bought my last real laptop. It was replaced once under warranty about 2 years ago.

I was hung up on the “bigger is better” thing, and got a machine with a 17″ widescreen and 12 cell battery! It was indeed a “desktop replacement” that did everything. These two laptops got hauled all over the place as big, bulky & heavy as they are through airport security lines and to & from many, many appointments. Once I weighed my bag in at around 15lbs.

I learned a bit by doing this. I want the POWER of a great machine – but I don’t want the bulk and weight. Giving up a big screen saves battery life. A smaller battery saves weight. Smaller keyboard, getting rid of optical drives – all things that make a great portable.

I’ve had a docking station for years. Not one of the USB port replicators, but a “real” docking station that allows me to leave my devices, power and Ethernet all connected. I kept typing away on my laptop keyboard and using my laptop screen while it was in my dock. It was “ok” I suppose.

Then I saw my brother’s workstation. A small but powerful laptop – two large monitors (22″ and 24″) connected – a wireless keyboard & mouse and many happy peripherals like a printer and scanner. WHY was I still trying to type on my laptop’s keyboard while at my desk?

It inspired me to pick up a nice 22″ widescreen LCD. I also set up a distribution amp so that my laptop in its dock could power my projector and SMART board on the other side of my room. I haven’t gotten the wireless keyboard yet, but it’s on my list. In the meanwhile, I’m still “wired.”

But I’m sitting upright once again!

My next move is to replace the computer and docking station with a lighter, more travel-friendly model. I know I no longer need to worry about having a giant screen or heavy battery. With a single push of the button, my comfortable desktop machine becomes a very portable laptop containing my files, settings and software.

We recently bought an Acer Aspire One for my son – a little 9in ultra-portable and the complete OPPOSITE of my very bloated but long loved Gateway M685. The Acer comes with solid state drives & long battery lives – but a real docking station is still missing from the lineup. (And my hands complain severely trying to type on it or to use the tiny track pad.)

The idea is somewhere in there, however…

  • I want an ultralight netbook – maybe an 11 or 12in model so my tired eyes can see while on the road.
  • A high end processor and plenty of memory, not the low end ATOM ones.
  • Add two solid state drives of at least 32G each so I can process video on the road, and at least two SDHC slots so I can quickly swap out my own media while editing. USB and Firewire ports on the laptop are a given as is a place to plug in a set of wired headphones while travelling.
  • Give me a real docking station I can easily drop in and out of easily. NOT a USB port replicator, but a drop in station that clicks in place providing power, monitors as well as connections.
  • I will equip it with an optical writable drive, a large capacity (1Tb) traditional disk drive that automatically backs up my documents from the netbook each time I “cradle” the device, a full sized LCD panel, and wireless keyboard and mouse. Of course I’ll keep my SMART board and the hardware necessary to make that work connected as well.
  • Bluetooth and cellular cards should be an optional add on ~ Wifi must be present.
  • Most of the netbooks also feature small cameras and microphones that make portable Skype on the road easy without needing to carry additional hardware. At my desk I will use my external camera.

Now, I just need to find the right components to build such a setup!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. kvanwyk permalink
    February 5, 2009 3:32 am

    And as time goes on, your needs and wants are going to change. But this posting gives a good idea of the thinking processes of a computer owner who moves forward while technology breaks occur in a never-ending upwards surge.

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