My case for a portable desktop

2012-03-20 01:05:45 GMT

About two and half years before I invested in a heavily capable laptop, an Acer Aspire 8935G.  After having spent all this time using my laptop I finally reached the conclusion that I'll avoid laptops like plague in the future.  I understand that it's quite a harsh stance, especially given a laptop of this caliber but there are too many reasons against them from my perspective.

My first reason of not buying a laptop ever again: Neither suspend nor hibernate works on Linux

Just tell me a more essential feature that you expect from your laptop.  When I go to sleep I wanna suspend my laptop to have a silent environment and to be able to continue my work from where I left off.  When I leave home for some hours I'd also like to suspend my laptop just to save some power.  Hibernate could also work (in a suboptimal fashion) in such situations except that it doesn't.  Upon resuming my laptop it freezes in no time. Let's also take into consideration that I use a really complex session with lots of applications spread across multiple workspaces and lots of passwords to type upon startup. This shit costs me about a boring quarter an hour every time I wake up.  It may not seem much but I despise this ritual and I cannot forgive for such an essential feature not working.

So far I've surely spent more than 100 hours trying to make resume work with no success.  I've tried a number of distributions, fiddled with various parameters of s2ram, tried to suspend from console, switched the graphics card and did pretty much everything under the Sun. According to my understand the major problem is that the iGPU gets resumed instead of the eGPU and the BIOS provides no options to disable the iGPU.  In general this BIOS is dumbed down crap, providing only a handful of options at most.  I'm not in the mood of elaborating in detail about this but it's been a sickening experience which I couldn't solve despite having a strong Linux background and spending a *lots* of time on this issue.

The major problem the way I see it is that most laptop manufacturers (Acer surely included) don't give a shit about Linux support.  I can't really blame them considing the 1% market share of Linux but it's sure as hell that I won't give them a fucking cent ever again for not being able to suspend such a crazy-expensive laptop.

My second reason of not buying a laptop ever again: I have to pay for the sub-optimal hardware and software configuration most of which I already have

Let's suppose that one already owns a laptop and is about to buy a new one.  Let's just go over of what hardware components could be used from the old laptop:

(I didn't list the motherboard, the CPU and the graphics card because Moore's law ruthlessly obsoletes these components.)

Some of these components (HDDs, SSDs, Wifi module, Bluetooth module) could be easily reused in a new laptop, but manufacturers provide no means to order a laptop without these components.  Other components (Screen, Keyboard, Case) could also be theoretically reused in a new laptop but manufacturers couldn't care less about designing according to the need of reusability. As a result customers have to pay for all components every time when buying a new laptop.  This is the opposite of the PC world.

And let's not even mention that nowadays almost every laptop come with glossy screens which I utterly hate because of their reflection, hence my journey of searching for a replacement matte screen begins, making me spend a hundred-something extra bucks but only if I get lucky enough to find a replacement matte screen.

On the software side of things given that I dislike Microsoft as much as I do and I don't even use Windows my first thing to do is to send back the laptop to Acer for them to remove Windows which takes about two weeks and I almost don't get any money back because I have to pay for my laptop to be shipped to the Acer service center. Fail!

The portable desktop

My approach involves using 1 main station and N dock stations, N being the number of places that I frequently spend time at doing heavy computing. If you're like most people then you only heavily use computers at home and at work.  That's two places.  I personally work from home but I have two locations between which I travel on a frequent basis and spend some time every time, leaving me with two places, too.

The main station is a Mini-ITX box composed of:

A dock station is composed of:

Price comparison

Let's pick a super-capable desktop-like laptop like the Acer Aspire 8950G which will set you back with about $1,600 and will be replaced in every few years. (So far I could only see laptops with 18.4" screens which I consider desktop-like from Acer.)

Versus...

The permament parts of the main station cost $216 and composed of:

The soon-to-be-obsoleted parts of the main station cost $474 and composed of:

A dock station costs $400 and composed of:

You surely won't get the parts for these exact prices but the numbers are in the ballpark. That's $1600 recurring cost vs. $1016 one-time cost + $474 recurring cost.

Conclusion

I personally never needed a laptop, I needed a portable desktop.  The pros of these solutions are fairly apparent but I list them for completeness' sake:

Laptop:

Portable desktop:

Right now I'm not sure when will I ditch my laptop. So far I'm satisfied with its performance but the time will come eventually, inevitably.

Given the lack of portability my approach is not for everyone but I think it's thought-provoking because many people don't even think about the possible advantages of such a configuration in this laptop-centric world.