Confessions of a laptop window shopper

I must confess. Sometimes I go to great lengths to find the ultimate “something”, be it the ultimate keyboard or the ultimate laptop. I went on yet another unfruitful research spree today and decided I should try to textually reflect on this kerfuffle.

Now it’s 2019 and I still haven’t found a satisfactory laptop.

Well, kind of.

In 2015, after much googling and careful consideration I bought the Thinkpad x250. I was quite excited about that purchase, but when it arrived I was actually disappointed by the way they had handled the placement of the ‘æøå’ keys. The keyboard in general was great, but to add the extra Norwegian keys they had created some peculiar half-keys. And none of the photos online showed this Norwegian layout, only the international layout. This was a dealbreaker to me so I decided to get a refund (thanks to a consumer law in Norway we can return any online bought item within 14 days).

In 2016 I tried my luck again. After much googling I decided to buy the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. When I unboxed it and used it it felt like a true luxury item. It was a joy to type on but somehow I was getting a headache. And that’s when I learned about PWM (pulse width modulation), which is a trick to lower the screen brightness that can cause eye strain. In sum, I had paid a lot of money for a laptop I couldn’t really use. I ended up returning it and getting my money back. Years, later when writing this I see that Microsoft has started a PWM replacement program for all MS Surface Pro 4.

At the start of 2017 I was now happily employed at Netlife, where my company laptop was a 15 inch MacBook Pro. And though the laptop is owned by my job, it did largelly become my daily driver for the years to come. Years later I’m still impressed by its build quality. I even like the shallow butterfly keyboard. Regrettably, some of the keyboard keys have come loose but there’s free repair program for that.

Looking out from the walled garden

The story could have stopped there, with me forever the happy user of a MBP. But then I started to miss GNU/Linux. I started to miss the freedom of Open Source Software, bugs and all.

In early 2018 I deleted my Facebook account. And during that summer I found the IndieWeb community who are people actively working on a better internet. I also got inspired to contribute some software to that cause (Github: Cellar Door). Following that summer I gave a talk on the need for the IndieWeb movement. Over time I see I have a growing distaste for information silos and walled gardens provided by companies like Facebook and Apple. And maybe the MBP is a shining symbol of that, beautiful and convenient yet ultimately unfree.

But I digress.

Now in 2019, I tried buying a laptop again. It was a Acer Predator Helios 500, a certified beast. I wanted to run games on it and run Linux on it because I thought the AMD technology would be well supported. I wanted to try AMD over Intel, because of the pernicious Intel Management Engine.

I played some games on the laptop but never got into running GNU/Linux because I was dismayed by its size. I knew it would be heavy, but it was heavier and bulkier than expected and the power charger even more so. So, ridiculous as I am I returned it. And writing this makes me feel ridiculous at this point.

That put an end to my laptop searching for a while.

Months passed. And after a while I decided to try and breathe some new life into an old HP Pavilion G6-2131so laptop I bought in 2013. I did a bunch of “distro hopping”, trying out various GNU/Linux distributions and eventually landed on Ubuntu Mate. To top it off I added the i3 window manager, which is a certified cool thing.

That should be it right? Just use an old laptop. Nonetheless, today I started researching the potential purchase of a new laptop. Or should say I wasted a lot of time going in circles, weighing a mixture of faltering reasons:

  • I could use a lighter laptop, since the HP G6 weighs in at 2.48 kg.
  • A newer laptop could have USB-C Thunderbolt support. That would let me combine a lighter laptop with an external GPU in the future.
  • Buying a new laptop is a chance for me to buy a “light” gamer laptop.

Welp.

After much window shopping I ended up not buying a laptop today. Which was for the best I think. I wrote this instead which is probably better. If ever I feel like buying a new laptop I’ll try reading this text and see if that short-circuits that need.

Looking at the river in Berlin in the evening.

Maybe I should buy a boat?