Programming Laptop

Hey folks. Starting to research a new laptop.. checked a few out in-person at a local best buy, and really liked the keyboard on the samsung and hp models.

I'l going to paste the FAQ with answers below, but in quick summary I'm looking for a high-end graphics capable laptop (Shader Model 4.0 or above), with a nice keyboard and a large-ish screen that will generally always be plugged in. Battery life doesn't matter, but the more portable the better.

Any suggestions you could provide would be greatly appreciated!

1. What is your budget?

~$2,000 but flexible

2. What is the size of the notebook that you are considering?

Screen size ~15.4". Not looking for a full-blown desktop replacement.

3. What screen resolution do you want?

WSXGA+ (1680x1050), but flexible.

4. Do you need a portable or desktop replacement laptop?

As can be inferred from the questions above, a tweener: something beefy but still smaller than a desktop replacement.

5. How much battery life do you need?

None, really. This is not a factor in my decision.

6. Do you want to play games with your laptop? If so then please list the games that you want to with the settings that you want for these games. (Low,Medium or High)?

Yes, but more specifically I'll be doing graphics programming. I'm leaning towards the GTX 580M because of its feature set, although if there is a slightly older model with similar specs and a larger price gap, I'd consider it.

7. What other tasks do you want to do with your laptop? (Photo/Video editing, Etc.)

Nothing in particular.

8. How much storage (Hard Drive capacity) do you need?

I'd like an SSD. Actually, that's a requirement. Probably could get away with ~150-200 GB of SSD storage, and depend upon external for the rest.

9. If you are considering specific sites to buy from, please post their links.

Not a clue, that's why I'm here!

10. How long do you want to keep your laptop?

As long as possible, likely 4 years

11. What kind of Optical drive do you need? DVD ROM/Writer,Bluray ROM/Writer,Etc ?

Nothing special, but I'd go for a DVD Writer if it only cost 30 bucks more. No need/desire for blueray.

12. Please tell us about the brands that you prefer to buy from them and the brands that you don't like and explain the reasons.

Again, not a clue, that's why I'm here!

13. What country do you live in?


14. Please tell us any additional information if needed.

As mentioned above, a larger and comfortable keyboard is important to me.

Thank you for your assistance! I look forward to reading (and investigating) any recommendations you may provide!
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  1. Best answer
    Hello and welcome to the forums
    AW M17x is a great choice and offers a fairly decent battery life for it's specs
  2. Maziar,

    Thanks for the recommendation. I've been researching the M17x all day and it certainly looks like a winner.

    For anyone curious, the following build is $2,378:

    Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64bit
    Intel® Core™ i7 2670QM 2.2GHz (3.1GHz w/Turbo Boost, 6MB Cache)
    4GB Dual Channel DDR3 at 1600MHz (2DIMMS)
    1.5GB GDDR5 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560M
    256GB Solid State Drive
    17.3-inch WideFHD 1920x1080 120Hz WLED w/ NVIDIA 3D Vision Bundle
    Killer™ Wireless-N 1103 a/g/n 3x3 MIMO for Gaming & Video
    1 Year Advanced Plan
    Slot-Loading Dual Layer Blu-ray Reader (BR-ROM, DVD+-RW, CD-RW)

    I'm still interested to hear if anyone has some alternate recommendations.

    Thank you!
  3. How do the top-end Asus laptops stack up to the M17 series? How about Schenker?
    Are there any viable competitors, or does AW have the market cornered at this price range?

    I can compare specs on my own, I'm more looking for personal experiences with the models: ergonomics, aesthetics, etc.. things that aren't so easily captured by spec sheets.
  4. For that same cost, you can get much better specs on another brand as Alienware are innately overpriced and have notoriously poor build quality for the cost. For instance, those same specs in a Sager 8170 cost $200 less, and if you're using this as a work laptop you may not want the lights and flashy appearance that the Alienware innately carries. (Sager also offers a 15" model, and a far wider variety of customization if you get it through xoticpc than Alienware has).

    However, I can't help you on the actual feel of either model: I'm still in the market for a laptop myself, but I've pretty much decided to wait for Ivy Bridge (and hope for the chassis refresh on the Clevo to include making keyboard on their 17" models not the same as the one on the 15" models).

    I can say from my current 4-year-old 17" computer, though, that if you're looking for any level of portability beyond maybe a few hundred feet every once in a while, a 17" may not be your best bet: they get REALLY heavy to carry around for extended periods of time (especially when I also had to carry textbooks and stuff, but that's another issue). And people look at you a bit strangely when you set up a 17" computer in a coffee shop or something: somehow that extra less-than-2" diagonal screen space makes them just monstrous. ^ ^
  5. bfishman said:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I've been researching the M17x all day and it certainly looks like a winner.

    For anyone curious, the following build is $2,378:

    Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64bit
    Intel® Core™ i7 2670QM 2.2GHz (3.1GHz w/Turbo Boost, 6MB Cache)
    4GB Dual Channel DDR3 at 1600MHz (2DIMMS)
    1.5GB GDDR5 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560M
    256GB Solid State Drive
    17.3-inch WideFHD 1920x1080 120Hz WLED w/ NVIDIA 3D Vision Bundle
    Killer™ Wireless-N 1103 a/g/n 3x3 MIMO for Gaming & Video
    1 Year Advanced Plan
    Slot-Loading Dual Layer Blu-ray Reader (BR-ROM, DVD+-RW, CD-RW)

    I'm still interested to hear if anyone has some alternate recommendations.

    Thank you!

    That's expensive IMO.
    Instead of 2670QM,get 2630QM and get an aftermarket SSD(and get either GTX 580M/6990M)
    As for ASUS laptops,well you can get ASUS G74SX which has 560M
  6. I hadn't considered going with an aftermarket HD. I've custom built PCs before but never laptops, always assumed they would be quite challenging to upgrade. I suppose if I were to go that route, however, I could save alot more cash by starting from a more bare-bonesy state, for example no OS installed, aftermarket ram upgrade, etc.

    I've come into a bit of a predicament, however. In examining the m17x r3, I discovered a feature that prior to that point I hadn't even imagined: HDMI input. This allows you to plug a gaming console or other media device into the laptop, and utilize the laptop's screen as your display. This works quite well for me: I am going to be on a ship for the next 6+ months, and would like to bring my xbox - but packing an external monitor/tv just for that purpose is not really feasible. The dual-nature of a Laptop with HDMI input has quickly become one of my "must have" features.

    The only other laptop I've found that has this feature is a Clevo 8100 (Saeger PN8120), but unfortunately that is quite a large laptop... 18.4" I believe.

    Aeir - thanks for your input on portability. I'm not particularly concerned about weight, as I do not intend to carry the laptop back-and-forth to class or work, for example. (And if the need arises, I have a very portable 4-year old 14" Dell Vostro which still works quite well for word processing and web surfing). I DO, however, intend to set this thing up at a local coffee shop or book store at least once or twice a week to do some coding outside the dimly-lit time vortex that is my home office. Is 17" really that unwieldy? I think I'll go to the local best-buy tonight just to get a physical appreciation of that size of laptop.

    Anyway, I suppose the ideal situation would be to find another 17" barebones laptop that had an HDMI input built-in, and then customize that accordingly. I've searched the internet far and wide for such a device - I guess it's a relatively new and extremely rare feature. If anyone knows of another model with this feature, please do share..

    Maziar - I agree about the video card. After some more research yesterday, I think the lowest I'm willing to settle for is a GTX 570m, followed next by a GTX 485m, and then ideally a GTX 580m. (if going SLI, I'd choose 2 GTX 560m's, but the increase in size and power consumption required to make the step from single- to dual-gpu is unacceptable. My tower at home doesnt even have SLI) I'm not interested in Radeon Cards, although I have to say that the 6990M's benchmarks are incredibly impressive for the price point. They could sell that thing for 150 bucks more if they wanted to.

    I hadn't considered the 2630QM, mostly because it was selling for only about 40 bucks cheaper than the 2670QM. I suppose the 200MHZ bump is rather insignificant... but it's 40 bucks... a relative drop in the bucket when looking to spend ~2k. Also, I'm concerned about purchasing the lowest-tier core in a chipset: I was/am under the assumption that members of the same chipset family are identical in design, and that after production each chip was tested to see what max clock it could handle. Those chips with more impurities introduced during construction would fail at lower voltages/temperatures, and thus were sold as lower-tier members of the family. If that is actually the case, them I'm wary about buying the members from the bottom tier.

    Again, please understand that these are my assumptions. The reason I decided to elaborate upon them is because they may very-well be wrong, in which case I am interested in hearing otherwise. If you could provide your justification for the 2630 over the 70, I'd like to hear it.

    Thank you both, gents, for your inputs. I'm hoping to come to a decision by the end of the weekend. Anyone else who may be reading this thread - please feel free to toss in your own two cents!

  7. wow,the price difference between 2630QM and 2670QM was like $200 the last time I checked.
    If it's $40 now,then definitely go with 2670QM.
    As for a aftermarket HD,well it's your call but it's easy to change it.
    The HDMI-input of M17x is indeed one of it's great features which as you said lets you take plug in a gaming console.

    So,are you going with the M17x ?
  8. Maziar said:
    So,are you going with the M17x?

    Yes! Yes I Am!

    First off, Maziar, thank you for the recommendation. After researching the M17x-R3, I found it quite hard to remain subjective when researching other models! Of course, the price difference was the only negative factor. But, the features this machine provided are undeniably cool: HDMI input, 3D-capable screen, a plethora of inputs, one of the best keyboards and trackpads out there, etc. AND... after a bit of haggling with Dell, I was able to reduce the price significantly.. But more on that later..

    Here's what I went with, and a few brief explanations of why when applicable:

    1. Alienware M17x-R3
    with HDMI input :)

    2. 17.3" 1920x1080 120Hz display w/ NVIDIA 3D Vision bundle

    This was more for the 120Hz display than the 3D vision, which is a nice bonus nonetheless. The 120Hz display is slightly brighter than the 60Hz. But most importantly.. what's the point of having a beefy video card that can produce in excess of 60FPS if your display can only refresh at 60Hz? There is one disadvantage of this screen, aside from the additional cost: it inherently disables the Optimus feature, which in real-world tests seems to reduce the web-surfing (non-gaming) battery life from 4.5 to 3.5 hours. For me, that's no big deal. And I get to play in 3D :)

    3. Intel Core i7 2760QM

    Was selected because it, by default, can support a 1600Mhz FSB. The 2670QM, which was the next-lowest option, can be modified through the bios to support 1600Mhz, but with a CAS Latency of 9 vice the 2760's latency of 7.

    4. 4GB Dual Channel DDR3 @ 1600Mhz

    This was the cheapest option, because I intend to purchase 8GB (2x 4GB DIMMs) Kingston HyperX, DDR3 1600Mhz... for $85 Bucks... and upgrade the machine myself. This ram is some of the best on the market. For the sake of comparison, Dell was asking for 196 dollars just to add FOUR additional gigs of RAM to the base 4... and I'm sure it wouldn't be as high-quality as Kingston.

    5. 2GB GDDR5 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M

    Because I was going with the 120Hz display, the Radeon HD 6990M was not an option. I'm not sure why exactly, but the configuration site stated that this GPU was incompatible with the high-refresh display. Not a problem, because I was going with NVIDIA anyway, for several reasons: NVIDIA's FERMI architecture is clearly the way of the future. We've moved beyond the fixed-function pipeline; Parallel processing on the GPU through CUDA is something I actually utilize; PhysX is more embraced by devs than AMD's solution; NVIDIA updates their drivers far more often; Vision 3D is more refined and mature than AMD's offering... I will stop.

    This card, however, costs $300 more than the 6990M offering, so if you don't care about the 3D Vision, 120Hz Display, or any of the Driver support and features mentioned above, then the Radeon card is almost as powerful as the GTX 580M, at a substantial discount. The next lower NVIDIA offering available, the 560M, cost 500 dollars less than the 580.. but has relatively weak performance... on average about 60% as powerful as the 580/6990. This was a tougher decision to make, but I think will go a long way towards future proofing my investment.

    6. 500 GB 7200 RPM SATA 3Gb/s

    This was the cheapest HD option available. After switching to SSDs a year ago, I simply can not go back. Therefore, I intend to purchase a Crucial M4 128 GB SSD for around 190 bucks and install this as the main OS drive myself. The 500 GB palette will serve as a data drive. For comparison, Dell wanted $490 to install a 256 GB SSD. First off, 256 GBs is uneccessary for my uses. Secondly, there's no garuntee as to the quality of the drive, whereas the Crucial M4 is one of the best out there. Finally, a 256 GB aftermarket Crucial M4 costs around $370, vice $490 for something inherently lower-quality.

    7. Killer Wireless-N 1103 a/g/n 3x3 MIMO for Gaming and Video

    8. Win7 Home Premium 64bit

    9. Slot-Loading Dual Layer Blu-Ray Reader (BR-ROM, DVD+-RW, CD-RW)

    I believe this came as a default option on account of the "3D-ready" variant of the M17x I chose (the highest tier model). It was included in the base price, and could not be downgraded. Watching 3D movies off BluRay should be interesting. But be wary! If you do not choose the highest-tier M17x model to customize from, you will not get this option! Instead the laptop will come packaged with a DVD burner. Read your build specs carefully..

    Here's the best part. The "Market Value" of this build is 2,829.00 according to the Dell website.

    The 'standard' Dell site will give you a 300 dollar discount, if you customized the laptop based off of the 3D-Ready (highest tier) m17x model available. You can toss a coupon code in there to save an additional 50 bucks:

    The EPP site (I'm in the Navy, which is apparently part of the Members Program) gives you a $350.58 discount (and I don't believe you can use the $50 dollar off coupon), so no real difference there.

    But, because of some advice I read while researching this build, I decided to call Dell and see if they could work with me on the price. I ended up calling twice. The first call got me a CSRep who wouldn't budge on the price one bit. She was sweet as a button, but beyond granting an additional $50 coupon, she said she couldn't help. I told her thank you, but no thanks. A bit disheartened, I called back 20 minutes later, got a different rep, and had a conversation that went something like this:

    Rep: "Hello!"[...standard formalities, etc etc]

    Me: Let's get down to it - I have a configuration already set up on the Dell Site, but it costs too much. I'm calling to see what
    you can do to help me lower the price.

    Rep: Let me pull up your account. I see the site is quoting you a subtotal of $2,478.42.. What kind of price were you looking for?

    Me: If you can make that subtotal read 2,100 dollars instead, then.. I'll do this right now.

    Rep: Alright, hold on a minute. Let me see what I can do. [... a minute or two on hold] Well sir, I couldn't get the exact discount you wanted, but we got something.

    Me: How close are we talking?

    Rep: The best I could do was $2,100.42. I know it's not what you were hoping for, but is that a deal breaker?

    Me: Are you always a wise-ass like this? :)

    [... a few details exchanged, and the following:]

    - I ask them to run a credit check and am told I'm elligible for the the Premier Member program - basically it signs you up for a credit card and generally saves you an extra 3% on the purchase.

    - I ask about service plans, whether the rep recommends the coverage, and how much a 2-year advanced plan would cost: $198 bucks (same as advertised on the site). But if I sign up for the Premier Member Program, it's only $150 bucks for the same plan.

    Me: I generally don't sign up for credit cards or service plans. But you've been of excellent service today. Is there any way you could sweeten this up a bit? As it stands right now, I don't see much of a reason to sign up for the card or purchase the protection plan.

    Rep: Hold on, let me run some numbers [1 minute later] Alright, if you sign up for the premier program, I'll give you the 2-year Advanced Protection plan (which covers accidental damage to the laptop, such as liquid spills etc) for 100 dollars flat. And, I'll throw in free Next Business Day shipping.

    Me: Excellent work, sir. I'm sold.

    So the end result, before some unavoidable taxes and environmental fees (Argh, CA!), is the above configuration, plus 2 year advanced protection plan for $2,200. To compare, had I not placed this relatively simple phone call (which, including the first rep and all of the standard billing/shipping stuff, took a total of less than 90 minutes), I would have spent $2,760 (pre-tax) through the Dell website. A total savings of $560 for 90 minutes worth of 'work'? I THINK SO..

    To finish off this summary, and provide some perspective, the closest matching competition (and my 2nd choice option) was the Sager NP8170 / Clevo P170HM from Configured identically (though missing that amazingly cool HDMI input), the total for this laptop would come to $2485 pre-tax if purchased online. So I got an Alienware laptop, with more features and some of the best service/protection (and yes, all that glitzy name-brand bullsh*t), for almost $300 LESS than a barebones reseller was offering.

    If you take nothing else from this post... Order by phone and ASK FOR A PRICE REDUCTION!

    Once again, gents, thank you for your inputs. You gave me a place to start my research, and a number of important factors to consider which definitely influenced my decisions throughout the process. Anyone reading this, feel free to PM me if you have any questions on the reasoning behind my configuration decisions, and/or how the whole haggling process went. Here is an excellent tutorial on the subject of haggling with Dell, where I got the idea in the first place:

  9. Best answer selected by bfishman.
  10. wow,it's an excellent rig! hope you enjoy it :)
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