Light laptop with SSD + mSATA SSD + extra HDD instead of optical drive + eGPU (expresscard) : can it be done ?

Discussion in 'What Notebook Should I Buy?' started by Kaighal, Sep 17, 2011.

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  1. Kaighal

    Kaighal Notebook Enthusiast

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    Hello everyone :)

    I am looking for a very specific laptop configuration and hope that you will be able to help. Here is the form :

    ==========

    General Questions

    1) What is your budget?
    None, I'm ok to go high as I want this laptop to last.
    Still, the HDD is there to provide "cheap" storage as I think large SSDs are still too expensive for their size.

    2) What size notebook would you prefer?

    b. Ultraportable; 11" - 12” screen
    or
    c. Thin and Light; 13" - 14" screen

    3) Where will you buying this notebook? You can select the flag of your country as an indicator.

    France.
    I'll consider ordering abroad if warranty can operate in France and if I can get an AZERTY keyboard :)

    4) Are there any brands that you prefer or any you really don't like?

    I'm looking for a high quality product with easy-to-download drivers from the manufacturer's site, and no TOLUD issue like on Lenovo's X220 (see below).
    I don't care about the logo ;)

    5) Would you consider laptops that are refurbished/redistributed?

    If the laptop can no longer be bought *new* or if the discounted price is really interesting, yes.

    6) What are the primary tasks will you be performing with this notebook?

    Work away from the office and with clients (MS Office suite, mostly)
    Gaming at home (hence the eGPU)
    Web surfing etc

    7) Will you be taking the notebook with you to different places, leaving it on your desk or both?

    Both :)
    A docking station would be a plus, I'm using one as well as the eGPU now. It's optional though.

    8) Will you be playing games on your notebook? If so, please state which games or types of games?

    Yes, I will.
    "Sadly", I like most kind of games, from FPS'es to RTS'es and RPG's. Ie, demanding games in terms of hardware.
    Since I'll be playing through the eGPU though, all I need is HD3000 to enable Optimus compression, enough RAM to be comfortable, and a strong CPU (the best possible...)

    9) How many hours of battery life do you need?

    "As many as possible".
    Honestly, my actual laptop has a very low battery life now (less than 2 hours) so anything more will be an upgrade.
    Ideally, 4 hours would be fantastic but I don't *need* it, it's simply a plus.
    The option to have both a light battery and a heavy, durable one when the light one is not enough would rock.
    The possibility to replace the extra HDD by a second battery when needed would be ideal !

    10) Would you prefer to see the notebooks you're considering before purchasing it or buying a notebook on-line without seeing it is OK?

    Buying online is OK, I'd rather have opinions on the quality of the materials etc first though.

    11) What OS do you prefer? Windows (XP or Vista or Windows 7), Mac OS, Linux, etc.

    Win7.

    Screen Specifics

    12) From the choices below, what screen resolution(s) would you prefer?

    Highest possible.
    Right now I'm using 1680*1050 on a 15" display and I find it nice.
    Since I will play games through the eGPU and an external display, I don't need a low resolution to accomodate the low power of a laptop GPU ;)

    13) Do you want a Glossy/reflective screen or a Matte/non-glossy screen?

    I would really really really prefer matte, but since I'm asking for the moon about the rest, glossy won't stop me if the laptop has everything I want...

    Build Quality and Design

    14) Are the notebook's looks and stylishness important to you?

    Yes. Since it will be seen by my clients, I do *not* want a "gaming"-looking laptop with red plastic and yellow flame stickers on it ;)

    15) When are you buying this laptop?

    Now / soon (if new laptops are about to be released).
    I will consider waiting longer though, if there are solid reasons to do so (especially about the eGPU).

    16) How long do you want this laptop to last?

    "As long as possible". Mine was bought in 2007 and is still functional :D
    I'm not dreaming though, and realize than more than 2 years would be bonus time for it...

    Notebook Components

    17) How much hard drive space do you need; 80GB to 640GB? Do you want a SSD drive?

    "As much as possible" :D (hence the title and specific request)
    I am hoping to have the following, if it is possible :
    - a mSATA SSD to install the OS + permanent software (like the Office suite). I don't want to fight for space here so I guess I need at least 80GB.
    - a "regular" SSD (the one that will come with the laptop, I guess) to install games and whatever else is not meant to stay permanently installed. This is where price will be important, I'm looking for the best GB/€ ratio since that disk can be replaced if and when SSD prices drop in the future. I was thinking of 120/160 GB now but this can be discussed, obviously :)
    - a storage HDD (see below) with the largest possible size. RPM's wouldn't matter, the idea is to put videos, pictures and music on it. If there are weight issues, I would favor a light HDD with 320 GB over a heavier, 1 TB HDD, for instance. I don't know much about HDD weights :confused:
    (I realize that I can use a USB3 HDD if there is no possibility to add a storage HDD inside the laptop, but I would rather avoid the trouble of all the plugging and carrying that it involves...)

    18) Do you need an optical drive? If yes, a CDRW/DVD-ROM, DVD Burner or Blu-Ray drive?

    To be honest, no. I seldom use mine and it's a Blu-ray burner (such a waste :( ). I will buy a USB drive for the rare times when I need one.
    BUT, I want to install a storage HDD where the optical drive should be so there must be room for it :p
    In an ideal world, that room could also be used to add a second battery when storage isn't required but autonomy is...

    ==========

    I had first considered :

    Toshiba Portege R830 : optical drive can hardly be replaced, I have heard of heat problems, and I don't know about mSATA (the expresscard slot seems to take the WWAN spot).

    Sony VAIO Z : 1st gen Core i7 CPU only and no longer sold. Apart from that, it seemed nice...

    Lenovo X220 : I thought it was perfect. It was recommended to me by nando4 on the "second hdd instead of optical drive" topic. Then I discovered the TOLUD issues that prevent it from running the eGPU with more than 3GB of RAM. Plus, I found out that the DVD drive was in the docking station and not the laptop itself so the storage HDD idea can't be implemented...
    If I find nothing else, I will consider this one and reduce RAM to 3GB until a solution can be found. But I would rather avoid the trouble, if I can.

    Dell Latitude E6220 : seems perfect, it has an optional WWAN module so I'm assuming a mSATA SSD can be installed instead, a modular bay to add an extra HDD or a second battery, and an expresscard slot.
    However, this is only theory, as I have read nothing about it yet. I don't know about the real possibilities to add a mSATA SSD (it's not mentioned on nando4's thin and light laptop post), can't find info on what can be done with Dell's modular bay, and haven't found successful eGPU reports with it (I really want a "simple" solution as I have now, that doesn't involve Windows sleep/activate or Setup1.x, if possible).

    Dell Latitude E6320 : apparently it's the same as E6220 but with a larger screen, more weight and lower quality (?). It would also be fine if it can do everything I want.

    ==========

    Now, I am very open to any other laptop suggestion and/or comment about the aforementioned ones.

    I realize that I'm looking for something that might not exist (yet ?), but it appears possible, and eGPU has already proven to me than we were not as limited as what manufacturers want us to believe so... I'm open to every option, further DIY improvement that I don't know of, etc.

    ==========

    Thank you VERY MUCH in advance for any help you can provide !!


    Kaighal.
     
  2. Kaighal

    Kaighal Notebook Enthusiast

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    Addendum : apparently, the EliteBook 2560p by HP would theorically work, as it has :
    - a Core i7-2620 CPU,
    - a 128 GB SSD,
    - a DVD drive (can it be replaced by a HDD in a caddy ?),
    - a HSPA+ Mobile Broadband Module (can it be replaced by a mSATA SSD ?),
    - an Expresscard/34 slot (is the eGPU system compatible with the system and TOLUD setting in the BIOS ?)

    So it appears that, in theory, I have a choice between this one and the E6220 / E6320 by Dell.

    Can anyone comment on these laptops and their compatibility with what I intend to do, or suggest another computer ?
     
  3. flyingsilverfin

    flyingsilverfin Notebook Consultant

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    I'm wondering why you would ever need a graphics card with more than 3 gb of ram?
    that would negate the issue with the x220. With an internal cd drive get the t420/t420s (with higher res) but the screens are not nearly as high quality as the IPS on the x220
     
  4. Kaighal

    Kaighal Notebook Enthusiast

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    I'm not sure what you mean by this.

    If, on the one hand, you think that I'm looking for a graphics card with more than 3gb of VRAM, then no, that's not what I meant and I'm sorry if my post wasn't written properly (I'm not an English native speaker). I meant 3 GB of "system" RAM.

    If, on the other hand, you mean that more than 3 GB of "system" RAM would be unnecessary (because of the presence of a graphics card ?), then I agree that it's more of a comfort thing than a necessity. But since I tend to have many browser tabs + doc and xls files opened at the same time when working, I would truly prefer to have more than 3 GB and I don't see how the graphics card would help with that. Now, it is true that I could "make do" with a X220 and 3GB of ram + eGPU... I just hope that I can do better (and there is no optical drive on the X220 so it's impossible to add a storage HDD either).

    I did not know about the t420s, because it's a bit larger (14"), thank you ! It is still light and, indeed, has a dvd drive that might be replaceable by a HDD (if anyone knows about that... Please reply and share your experience :D ).

    But apparently, its BIOS has the same TOLUD issue as the X220, according to this topic on the Lenovo forum.

    Still, according to your reasoning (if I got it right), I could indeed "make do" with 3GB of RAM if I find no better solution.

    Thanks a lot for your input !
     
  5. flyingsilverfin

    flyingsilverfin Notebook Consultant

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    Ah, i mis-read you post the first time around. The first interpretation was correct ;)
     
  6. Kaighal

    Kaighal Notebook Enthusiast

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    Bump, the 3 candidates would be

    - Lenovo X220 (mSATA but no ODD to add a storage HDD instead, limited to 3GB of RAM with eGPU)
    - Dell Latitude E6320 (no mSATA, unknown eGPU "ease of use" [compaction required ? etc] )
    - HP EliteBook 2560p (unknown eGPU "ease of use", unknown mSATA possibility)

    The Dell Latitude E6220 has no ODD, this is why I am taking the E6320 into consideration instead.

    Please help with any info on either of these 3 laptops, or perhaps suggest a 4th ;)
     
  7. User Retired 2

    User Retired 2 Notebook Nobel Laureate NBR Reviewer

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    AFAIK, a Dell E6220/E6320 doesn't have a mSATA slot, neither does a 2560P. An optical bay caddy can host a 2.5" SSD and replace the optical drive in a E6320/2560P. See http://forum.notebookreview.com/har...rage-using-optical-bay-caddy.html#post4936086 for details on how to do that.

    I like the looks of a 2560P more but there has been complaints in the owner's thread of keyboard fatigue. Not sure if it was one bad keyboard or all 2560P units are affected. A big plus for the 2560P is the upgradable CPU - a i7-quad has been successfully installed here. I'm am contemplating a 2560P as a pci-e 2.0 DIY eGPU system.

    I've also given up waiting for Lenovo to give an official fix to the TOLUD issue in Re: Request to fix TOLUD in newer BIOS files - Page 5 - Lenovo Community. A real shame as a X220 would be close to perfect as an ultraportable with DIY eGPU capability via expresscard slot.
     
  8. zer0sum

    zer0sum Notebook Geek

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    I am basically searching for the same laptop as you but I also want 1440x900 or higher resolution which adds even more demands to the spec list.

    Optical drive looks easy enough to replace.
    http://forum.notebookreview.com/tos...ll-ssd-replace-odd-hdd-portege-r835-p56x.html

    Also, have you checked out the R840's which is the bigger brother?
    i5-2520M or i7-2640M processor
    Up to 8gb ram
    14" LED backlit 1600x900 screen
    Express card
    4.20lbs (1.91kgs). 1.00" thick.

    It is SATA-II capped but I dont think that really holds back the performance that much unless you are using the absolute fastest SSD.

    I don't see a really big advantage to also having an M-SATA SSD as you can do everything you want with an SSD+HDD combo. I have been running my 13" MBP's like this ever since SSD's came out and it is a perfect solution to anyone that needs speed and space.

    I would also seriously consider waiting until someone comes out with a Thunderbolt and/or lightpeak external GPU solution as that is when things will really get interesting :)
     
  9. User Retired 2

    User Retired 2 Notebook Nobel Laureate NBR Reviewer

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    TB enclosures are scheduled for release in November starting at US$400. Only Apple has TB ports. Asus and Acer will be releasing some TB notebooks in Q2 2012. If you can wait the 9-12 months to see PC notebook TB solutions then by all means do so as it is a higher bandwidth solution.

    A DIY eGPU is set to release a x1 2.0 kit this/next month. A PE4L costs US$71-delivered (+ add your PSU costs) and with NVidia Optimus pci-e compression will deliver approx half the bandwidth (x2 2.0). So the DIY eGPU via expresscard slot is a significantly cheaper solution, can be applied to systems with expresscard slots so are not restricted to current Apple solutions only, and will be available in x1 2.0 form before the first Thunderbolt enclosure is released. It's pretty much the best value eGPU solution for PC notebooks for now.
     
  10. Kaighal

    Kaighal Notebook Enthusiast

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    Thanks a lot for your feedback guys.

    @Zer0sum : My first goal is to reduce size and weight as much as possible, so I haven't considered any 14" laptop so far. But if the R840 is light then you are right and I should consider it. Do you have any eGPU experience with it ?

    @Nando4 : your posts have always been my primary source of info so many renewed thanks :) Actually it is a surprise to see you stopping to support the X220 after so many interventions to promote it.

    Its primary advantage over the competition seems to be its superior-quality screen but I haven't had the chance to check it out myself so it is still theory to me. Yet, as I said above, I *will* use eGPU on the new laptop so X220 => max 3 GB of RAM :/

    On the other hand, I haven't read about successful eGPU implementation on E6320 / 2560p so I don't know how easy it would be. I would really love to have a "simple" solution (as on my VX2S) where I don't need setup1.x. I just plug in the expresscard, turn the laptop on, and it works :D

    If you have any info about eGPU with either of these two, I would be very interested :)
     
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