i7, GPU, numpad, 15", 1Tb SSD, 10h battery, <4lbs

Discussion in 'What Notebook Should I Buy?' started by hireegy, Nov 7, 2017.

  1. hireegy

    hireegy Notebook Enthusiast

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    Hi folks,
    I am looking for an engineering laptop (physics simulations) that wouldn't kill my back or need power all the time, and have a numpad. I can't find that anywhere.
    My requirements are:
    - i7 quad core processor. The lower the TDP, the better
    - discrete (nvidia/amd)GPU. Displaying millions of nodes can crash intel graphical units. Anything good will do.
    - 15" or smaller. 17" will be too heavy
    - I want a numpad!!!
    - 10 hours of battery life or more. If that's what's announced, then I can expect 6 hours, after 3 years use in real world.
    - 4 pounds or less, max 5 pounds with adapter (yes, adapters for those things are heavy!). This is the toughest requirement of all here.
    - 1 TB of SSD storage or more
    - Full linux compatibility, including sleep, hibernate, fingerprint reader etc. My current Yoga 910 is very bad on that.
    - 32 GB minimum RAM, 64 GB capability is better
    - (optional but cool) separate buttons below the touchpad. I'm sick of seeing my pointer jump everytime I try to click somewhere, and I can't use all the 3D moves on some engineering apps. Why do people so love buttonless touchpads?
    - 3 years warranty or more would be a bonus

    Basically the Dell Precision 7520 has all those, except it is heavy. The 5520 is almost 2 pounds lighter, but (a) lacks the numpad (why? You Dell engineers had so much space around the keyboard!), and (b) there are no buttons on the trackpad, on top of other minor defects like 32 GB only, and webcam at the bottom.

    Right now I have a yoga P910 which I had to buy in a hurry after my previous laptop was stolen. It's great, except it does not have a graphics card, tops at 16 GB RAM, and only has 2 cores. But it's super light, small, and lasts forever on battery.

    So, any ideas guys? Is it better to wait for next gen?
    Thanks!
     
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  2. Arrrrbol

    Arrrrbol Notebook Consultant

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    All i can think of is the Lenovo Thinkpad P51s or P51. The P51s meets most of your requirements but is less powerful.
     
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  3. laserbullet

    laserbullet Notebook Evangelist

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    There is no laptop that completely fits your criteria. Let us know which criteria mean the most and mean the least. Edit: in particular, the 5 pound max is a huge limitation. I think if you drop that one, the Dell XPS 15 would work for you (it's around 5.5 pounds with its power brick), though I don't know anything about its Linux support.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2017
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  4. Charles P. Jefferies

    Charles P. Jefferies TG Lead Moderator Super Moderator

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    Agreed with @laserbullet that your requirements are too rigid. Loosen up something.

    I'll put forth the budget alternative of the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 (7567), which meets your criteria minus the weight.

    Gigabyte Aero 15 is an option.

    Also can't speak for the Linux compatibility.

    Charles
     
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  5. Vasudev

    Vasudev Notebook Virtuoso

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    Physics simulation in CUDA or OpenCL?
    I can help up setup a fully compatible w/ Linux with great battery life due to newer linux kernel 4.13, nvidia long lived driver branch 384.90.
    You need 17" for that numpad keys. Get an external keyboard and mouse for more comfort while coding because your wrists hurt after long session on a laptop. Hibernation is a thing of the past when you have PCIe SSD that can boot up the laptop in 5 secs.
    For i7 the bigger the TDP the better since you want the CPU to be a bottleneck when processing millions of Grids(CUDA) or work-items(OpenCL) per second.
    Aero 15 or Lenovo p51 workstations are your best hope.
    If you want the GPU to work in headless mode for compute then you need workstation graphics and Optimus on consumer GPUs rarely work, I say this from experience.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2017
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  6. hireegy

    hireegy Notebook Enthusiast

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    After thinking about it, I realize what's important for me is:
    1) have a graphics card
    2) have the 3 buttons on the trackpad.
    3) low weight

    The reason is I want to prepare and visualize the results of simulations, even on the go in suburban trains, where it is not always easy to find a surface for an external mouse, and I could not find a way to make solidworks or other simulation software easily replace the middle and left click to rotate, translate, etc. Clicking with 2 or 3 fingers on my Yoga 910 trackpad does not work for that.

    I've actually made a table with the 6 laptops I could find that more or less met my criteria(P51s, P51, Aero 15X, Precision 5520, Precision 7520, Razr Blade). It turns out my best 2 choices are P51 and Aero 15x. One has all the power, but weighs 3.3 kg with power supply, whereas the Aero 15x is lighter (2.75 kg), has twice more graphics power (15k on 3DMark 11), but only 32 GB and mostly, no buttons.

    The all-powerful Precision 7520 is 3.8 kg, mostly because of a power supply that reaches 1 kg all on its own (damn, can't they make smaller bricks?).

    Nvidia MaxQ seems like an interesting standard going forward, to reduce the power eaten by the graphics card, the max power load, and hence, the weight of the power supply and cooling system.

    Either I wait 6-8 months to see more professional laptops with Max-Q, or I find some compromise from the existing ones, Aero 15X or P51.

    @Vasudev: I don't use CUDA yet, but I will; it's more that I've already seen my Yoga 910 throw me an "out of graphical memory" when displaying a 2D mesh with a great many nodes, on a 4K display. Also I know it might slow down and reduce details on visualizations of results, and this is a thing I want to avoid.
    The P51, Aero15x, and Precision 7520 all are 15.6" laptops with numpads, so that exists. And lower TDP can be compatible with high performance, that's the spirit of the Max-Q standard from Nvidia (i.e. the last 20% computational power comes at a cost of 50% increase in thermal load and electrical power drawn)
    What do you mean by headless graphics? Is it that lauching calculations on GPUs without having a graphical interface open won't force Optimus to turn on the GPU? With today's MaxQ, maybe that has changed.

    Thanks people! :)
     
  7. Charles P. Jefferies

    Charles P. Jefferies TG Lead Moderator Super Moderator

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    Be sure to take a look at our review of the ThinkPad P51S. If you're willing to carry that around, it's a great machine.

    HP ZBook Studio is another, along with the HP ZBook 15 and 15u.

    Charles
     
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  8. Vasudev

    Vasudev Notebook Virtuoso

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    Headless mode as the name suggests puts the gpu in compute only mode w/o any monitor attached to it. You can use another simple gpu to attach a monitor or an output device. Probably your college have them stacked in SLI mode in headless mode or in nvidia's terms Tesla Compute Cluster TTC in short.
    Forget Max Q based GPUs because standard GPUs perform better than Max Q. You can undervolt Pascal GPU on the fly on MSI afterburner to optimise it for steady clocks and performance.
     
  9. Lunatics

    Lunatics Notebook Evangelist

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    Have you thought about a T470? I believe there is a model of the 470 that you can get a 940MX gpu in. It's nothing super current or powerful but it will be quite a bit better than integrated intel graphics and may be good enough for what you need. Will be fairly light, good battery life, with an internal battery giving you the ability to swap batteries on the go if yours starts losing a charge. You also get (imo) one of the best touchpads on laptops and the trackpoint which would make working on a train or something a lot easier than using a standard touch pad or trying to use a mouse in that situation. I do not know the specifics of the t570 models, but you may be able to get a T570 in a 15" version with a num pad and potentially with a 940MX gpu as well.
     
  10. hireegy

    hireegy Notebook Enthusiast

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    Hey guys,
    After really spending a lot of time on it, here is my current take.

    TL;DR: my choice is eventually the Precision 5520 because of a research deal in France that lowers prices and gives solid warranty, when most other brands sell 30% more expensive in France than in the US. Aero 15/15X would have done if they could have the same professional warranty as Dell (even when bought abroad), where they basically are not allowed to screw up anymore.

    Now for the details. I actually made a spreadsheet where I compared 9 models:
    P51s, P51, Aero 15X, Aero 15, Precision 35, 55, and 7520, T470p, and my current Yoga 910.
    All of them with 1 Tb SSD, and all except my current machine (which has 16 GB), with 32 GB RAM.
    The screenshot (why can't we upload Excel or ODS? Beats me) is attached.

    From there I could see several things:
    1) First, my current Yoga 910 is pretty darn light. 1.6 kg with power supply. I can understand now why it's tough for me to go back to large workstation-sized monsters, like I had before (M4600). You don't realize the weight you carry, until it's gone.
    2) Same for battery life. My laptops used to die of power starvation after 4 hours in real life; to have something that you can actually forget to plug in on a full work streak of several hours is just bliss. You feel, "that's how things are supposed to be".
    3) There, one must keep in mind one fundamental limitation: on one side, Air traffic regulations prohibit single batteries that would be larger than 100 Wh. The dual battery from the Lenovo P51s kind of bypasses this limit, but that's all. On the other side, well, power hungry components are power hungry. Quad core, QHD displays, buggy SSD firmware, there goes your 100 Wh in a few hours. But graphic cards today do not entail that limit, because of Optimus.

    This leads to the following funny conclusion: the only limitation to the graphics card performance on an i7 quad core system is not battery, but (a) size and weight of cooling system, and (b) size of power supply, if "old style". That's it. And I'll come back to that conclusion at the end.

    Finally, my takeway:
    - Monsters like the 7520 and P51 are just too heavy. After thinking it through, I'm not going back to that. My vertebrae health is more important.
    - The P51s is great on battery life, has the right buttons and all, but is only dual core, and why can't we go beyond the M520? That's just a tad above integrated graphics.
    - same for the T470p: the 940MX is not that far above intel HD620, there is no numpad, only 72Wh battery, and standard (not thin bezel) 14" display feels kinda small. Nevertheless, it could have been a great choice.
    What decided me against was that I live in France, and purchasing from Lenovo France is a ripoff. Purchasing in the US yields good prices (1600 USD vs 2500 Eur for similar configs!), but only 1 year warranty which does not seem international.
    On the other hand, I still have access to a research deal from Dell in France, which gives very good price and professional 5 year warranty.
    So on the Dell side, that leaves:
    - The surprising entry level Precision 3520. It has my beloved buttons, as well as numpad (!), is 0.5 kg lighter than the 7520 monster, can have quad core, has a large battery and a little better GPU than the two lightweight thinkpads...but 0.8kg for the adapter!! Ugh...when both the Precision 5520 and Aero 15/15X adapters are around 400g for a similar wattage...why do they do that? It would have been perfect!
    - The Aero 15/15X. Here, really, I hesitated. They look great, overkill everything on the GPU side, have the right size of battery (>90 Wh), but again, buying them from France is a ripoff, US prices are more than 30% cheaper, and reports from their service quality in case of trouble unsettled me a bit (since I am in the US only a few days per year, and it's not clear whether I can make the warranty international when buying from Amazon), together with numerous reports of various bogus stuff. It seems like it's hit or miss, plus a not so perfect trackpad (I would call that a brute: a lot of horsepower, but you can't interact with it or control it right...), and, to crown that all, the necessity to change the SSD to 1 Tb myself, thereby voiding the warranty, when almost all other laptops in this table can have it from factory.

    I also saw the GS63VR/WS63 from MSI, but smaller than max battery (65 Wh instead of 90+) turned me away.

    Eventually, this only leaves the Dell 5520 in the current table. Good battery life, 5k on 3DMark 11, lightweight, including the 400 g power supply (that's what it's supposed to weight. Not the 800 g of the Precision 3520, which has similar wattage!). It turns out I can live with autohotkey for middle click, and the numbers on top.

    But it's sad to remark the following: the Aero15/15X managed to pack i7 quad core + high-level GPU + 90Wh battery with proper downclocking of the CPU on battery + 32 GB RAM capability + 1 Tb user-serviceable SSD in a 15" laptop weighing 2.6 kg including power supply.

    No f*****g other laptop manufacturer did.

    MSI could, but fell into the trap of not upgrading their "mobile-gamer-sized" small 65Wh battery to 90Wh+ when transforming the GS63VR into the WS63. All gaming laptops suppose you're never away from power for long, because you just can't run high level GPUs on battery, period. That's forgetting that when you turn that into a workstation, you browse a lot more on mobility, and that's where you're gonna need the battery, since, again, thanks to Optimus, even monster-sized GPUs don't impact on battery life. And yes, I regularly ride a train on a 5h30min trip, that has no power plugs in the train, so yes, 6 hours *does* differ from a 4h autonomy. And yes, I did try the backup battery route: if you leave it 100% charged, it will die after a year of storage, so you have to keep it at 70% (basic Li-ion chemistry), and managing the off/on/swapping/remembering, when you get home, is tedious, on top of the added weight.

    So on one side, you have the gaming laptops that never have a decent battery, and on the other side, you have workstations, that are unnecessarily heavy because someone said 10 years ago that they had to withstand "military specifications", and even with that, they can't reach the GPU specs of their gaming cousins.

    The Aero 15/15X bridged that, and WS63 almost did, but Gigabyte and MSI still need a little experience to reveal their potential and compete with Dell and Thinkpad.

    Just have:
    - a 90 Wh battery as default
    - flawless touchpad, or even better, buttons, and flawless keyboard, to increase the bps between man and machine
    - 2.5/2.8kg max including power supply, and generally a weight as low as possible
    - a gamer grade high-end consumer GPU
    - apart from that, an ordinary high-end machine: i7, solid and nice.

    That's it. You've won. My M4600 GPU driver bugged more than a consumer GTX driver anyway, even after 5 years of updates, so I never saw the point in Quadros.

    Just a last thought to close this monstrously long post: what if the future of docking, was not external GPUs, but external cooling and heatsink, and "stationary" power supply? One would then have a downclocked system, with sub-size cooling system and power supply on mobility, but when properly docked to the stationary fans+power supply, the clock would go back to max and the system would unleash its full power? Especially since the known law of square of frequency for problems (heat, power supply), and linear in frequency for good stuff (flops) would mean you would still get a pretty decent power out of your machine, while offloading what really causes the weight (power supply and cooling system, + sturdiness of a thick system to accomodate the fans) in a way that still gives you browsing capability wherever you are (since you still have something to recharge. When the only power supply option is a brick, you either die or bring the 2 pounds with you).

    I can imagine a removable plastic cover below the heatsink, that would allow docking on a "wind tunnel" type of very powerful and large fan. No noise, yet no transported weight, and powerful cooling.

    Just a thought :) and with that I go to sleep!
     

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