Dreaming of a Laptop: Am I too niche?

Updates:

I bought a ASUS Zenbook Flip since in Thailand the HP Spectre x360 was not sold configurable or with good specs. If you can only have one option due to lower demand, why wouldn’t your flagship have the best options on offer? Folks that wanted something cheaper would have gotten a mid-range that weren’t hit by the high tariffs. The Zenbook had an okay life to it, but 4K was more than necessary & the lack of a 3.5 mm headphone jack made me waste money trying Bluetooth audio which is just inferior in almost all aspects other than you can move a bit more freely not wearing pants/can finish that thing you were listening too while pop in the bathroom. I ended up upgrading after less than 2 years since 4 cores & 16 GB of RAM didn’t cut it once I needed to run a beefy VM. Since that time AMD released a new processor line that supported USB4, and I picked up a Lenovo Thinkpad Z13 at 2880×1800 99% DCI-P3, & with a good battery–where the biggest downside is that it is lacking in IO (2 USB4 + headphone jack still means no USB type A which is inconvenient as well as lacking SD slots meaning I have to carry a dongle on some trips).


Other updates old:

I think that it’s reasonable to go with Tiger Lake speficically right, right now. Current Xe graphics are significantly better than the one with a AMD iGPU (which were better than Iris). There would be access to Thunderbolt 4, which means I can buy things that are compatible with USB4-compatible & they will work well into the future. Intel® is better optimized for Linux for a couple of different reasons, & while this can change, right now it’s not. I’m definitely looking at the HP Spectre x360 14 because of the nice OLED panel & build quality. The things I don’t like about it are: there’s no ability to save money with no OS & 16 GB of soldered RAM isn’t ideal (32 GB of unsoldered RAM would be my preferred option). What I’m waiting on is Thailand to have the option to order this laptop & I have emailed sales about this (though the last gen wasn’t listed on their site for … who knows?).


Updates old:

What’s on my eye now is a version of the Mechrevo Code 01. There’s supposedly a 4K, 100% DCI-P3 OLED panel coming out for the TUXEDO Pulse & Schenker Via 15 Pro using the Samsung ATNA56WR06. When the basic model out of China comes with an ANSI layout, will I really be able to tolerate these EU options using ISO over ANSI layouts? I’m quite set in my ways when it comes to travel distances to my Shift & Enter boards & really don’t understand moving the | key.

What this checks off (with display upgrade)
  • Lightweight @ 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs)

  • AMD Ryzen™ 7 4800H (8x 2.9 - 4.2 GHz Octa-Core, 16 Threads, 8 MB L3-Cache, 45 W TDP)

  • Integrated graphics are reasonable (30 FPS on high for Battlefield 5)

  • 91.25 Wh battery

  • TUXEDO is Linux-supportive, & even with their FAQs state they want Coreboot support

  • Type A & Type C USB (with power delivery, but not with display port)

  • Wi-fi 6

  • Offers 32+ GB RAM (DDR4 3200MHz)

  • Can order without an M.2 drive in case I find something else on the cheap (???)

Where it lacks
  • No Thunderbolt (no surprise), & this could allow an eGPU option to make up for the lack of dedicated graphics when needed (never researched Linux support here)

  • Stock screen is decent, but not good enough (Innolux N156HCE-EN1)

  • Importing from Europe cost more in a lot of ways (and dislike key layouts)

  • Mixed reviews on build quality with keyboard flex

So what’s holding me up? Two things.

The first is that this better panel still isn’t out yet. I talked to the Mechrevo store on Thailand’s Lazada but they said they didn’t have this in stock. I could look around some more & probably order & assemble the panel myself, but it’s the ordering of this laptop that is tricky. I wouldn’t be surprised if supporting all these keyboard layouts is a part of the upcharges (and I still prefer ANSI using digraphs in Neovim for accented characters).

The second is the Tiger Lake announcement will be out in September. There seems you can trade off some battery efficiency & multi-core performance for better single-core performance & the Xe-powered iGPU. Additionally since a lot of the major OEMs partner with Intel® on design, we don’t see their flagships going AMD so most of the top-of-the-line laptops are (at least this year) all Intel® which a better Intel® chip really opens up the doors to more selection (and the Thunderbolt thing).


Currently I’m on a 2016 Razer™ Blade. My verdict about the machine comes down to it being a good-build-quality machine that has has done me pretty well in over 3.5 years. However it’s starting to age, & batteries, even bought new, don’t hold a good charge. The premium price has paid off mostly since there really hasn’t been as many big jumps in tech since the NVIDA 10xx series of GPUs; I like being on the edge of tech often & not much has really come to actually contend. But with the new AMD 7nm chips, this could be another change of the guard (while Intel® goes down to 10nm & is saying their next integrated GPU will have some power). Despite the quality holding up, Razer™’s hostility toward folks asking for basic Linux support is such a turn off that I would not recommend the brand & I don’t want to repeat the mistake.

Specific beef with laptop

There were BIOS upgrades to fix fans & security vulnerabilities with Intel®’s chips. Razer™ requires Windows 10 + a GUI just to upgrade BIOS. This is dumb. I miss the days where you but a .bin file on a USB & loaded it up from the BIOS screen. There’s no good reason not offer this as at least a fallback—the GUI should just exist for normies. Or even being able to upgrade via FreeDOS is infuriating, but workable. I tried using Windows PE to install & that didn’t work either since you need Micsoft Windows 10-Windows 10. I asked support & they don’t care about supporting LVFS or any other method to upgrade. I’ve replaced my battery twice already. They start swelling & it warps the machine. They’re like $50-80 a pop. I’ve had to replace the power supply due to shorts in cables twice. Not sure who to blame Razer™, Nvidia, Linux or myself, but I’ve never had luck with outputting video via the HDMI port. Super minorly, the move to SEA has caused the rubber grips on the bottom have fallen off—and while I quickly recieved some replacements from support, after I alcohol wiped clean the base & stuck the new guys on, they didn’t stay for more than a couple weeks. Humidity?

I’ve been keeping my finger on the pulse of laptops for over a year now, but it’s been disappointing.

So what am I looking for

Philosophy

  • Hopefully directly supports Linux or is at least accomodating-like LVFS (https://fwupd.org).

  • Supports tinkerers & upgrades. I hate the soldered-on part movements or treating laptops as magical black boxes. I’ve mostly ever upgraded RAM, but it’s the idea.

Hard-want specs

Display
  • 14" - the standard for 15.6" is larger than I care for & usually comes with machine that is geared towards gaming.

  • 1440p - 1080p you can see the pixels & 4K is known as overkill for normal viewing

  • Touch support - I don’t use it to often, but as convertable start to rise in popularity, having a stylus would be amazing. Maybe I could get back into art.

  • Wide color gamut - I do color photography so I want at least 95% coverage of either opRGB or DCI-P3 but a lot of manufactures stop at sRGB. It’s fairly standard to have DCI-P3 on good smart phones, so why would I expect less from my laptop? Especially with <15" screens, you rarely see the color support.

  • OLED - there are some color accuracy issues shifting brightness, but I can calibrate with my ColorMunki & always edit at a specific brightness (which is how I do it already). I think the deeper blacks could change my style even. But also, these panels consume less power when the screen is black.

Keyboard/Mouse
  • NO number pad - I do not use it & it causes the whole machine to sit off balance in a lap (laptops go in laps??). To get smaller-bezel machines, manufacturers have axed the speakers & throw them under the machine or under the keyboard when there’s plenty of stereo space for good speakers.

  • Trackpad doesn’t suck - People act like Apple™ has some monopoly on this market, & they are wrong; however, if the trackpad is too sensitive or not sensitive enough, flaky or too small, then it’s not really worth considering.

Speakers
  • Speakers don’t suck - They don’t have to be amazing, but often built-in speaker sound tinny with no bass (which is helped by proper placement due to lack of a number pad). I have nice IEMs, but I don’t always want to use them.

CPU
  • AMD Ryzen™ - I’d like to support Team Red, the price/preformance/battery hit all the right spots but only gaming laptops have shown a big interest in AMD. There seems to be less security issues too.

  • GREAT APU - Given my workload (code, photos, light gaming), I think in 2020, we can probably have a good enough integrated graphics to ditch the extra moving parts, heatsinks, & toll on the battery life.

  • 6+ cores - It’s 2020 & I have some workloads that could use it.

Ports
  • USB4 / Thunderbolt 4 - Intel®’s allows for Thundlebolt 3 to be licensed to others (like Apple™’s new ARM-based chips), but there are bascially no non-Intel® options out there. Sadly it looks like there won’t be any USB4 til 2022.

  • 1+ USB Type-A - Too many laptops are following Apple™’s poor lead, as dumb as phones are without 1/8" headphone jacks, not having at least 1 USB type A port is naïve & cumbersome. Dongles are fine, but demanding them is adsurd. I have a USB token key & to have to pull at the dongle for this is not desireable.

  • 1/8" headphone jack - see above, but the DAC should be servicable too

Battery
  • Lasts 8+ hours - under regular use that I have with coding.

Physical size
  • <4 lbs. - I carry this many places. My 4.1 lb. laptop is heavy enough as is, but it has a decidicated GPU.

Nice-to-have specs

Display
  • 75–120hz refresh rate - It definitely looks & feels smoother, but isn’t necessary at all. Is this something easy to tie into tlp & battery?

  • Better than 16:9 ratio - Extra space is nice.

RAM
  • >16GB DDR4 or greater - I have had 16 GB of RAM in this 3.5-year-old laptop already. Since I don’t run a Chromium-based browser, the only time I really run into this as a limit is when I’m editing photos, but that’s important to me.

Ports
  • SD card - This would help with photo stuff, but I can use USB anyhow (but will I need a dongle to get USB to my laptop because of dumb aesthetic choices (can’t think of a technical reason)).

  • Ethernet - I rarely use it, but it just seems every time I do need ethernet, it seems like it’s absolutely necessary.

Firmware
  • Coreboot - This is a lot to expect, but open source UEFI stuff for security & performance & ease of updates would be great

Put these specs in an online retailer & you get no results. :(

Let’s hope this changes.