I've been trying to find a topic on notebooks and programmers, and I was wondering who here has been able to purchase the latest notebooks in the market and been able to say that as programmers, the notebook was a worthy purchase. I've been looking at Sager, IBM, Gateway, and etc but i haven't read a single thread about how it performed for programmers.
Of all the programmers I know, the IBM T40 is the machine of choice. My partner, who is in this forum, does all the programming for us, and also has and loves his T40. What are the other variables to consider (battery life, portability, etc.)?
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Oh, it's hands down the T40, slap 512MB of RAM - 1GB of RAM in one of these machines and you can get fantastic performance (get a 1.5GHz Pentium M or >) and have the most ergonomic programming experience possible...I *highly* recommend SXGA too as you'll be able to see more code on the screen, a large consideration when programming. It's all about having a nice keyboard and ease of navigation when it comes to programming and the T40 has that -- hey, this site is running on a Dell server but it's programmed and maintained using a T40 (but if stuff breaks it's my fault and not the computers!)
I am in the market for a new notebook too. My finalists include a T41 and a Toshiba M35-S359 (can someone give a review on this model please). I like the wide screen of the M35 and is a few hundred dollars less that a T41 with a comparable spec.
For me, I carry the nb between home and office. Occassionaly I take it to Borders for a cup of latte. So the extra weight is not really an issue for me.
Being a programmer myself, I like to have a wider screento fit more codes and apps on the screen.
Hi edmargayao, thanks for starting this topic. I'm also a software developer who owns and programs on a variety of different computers (Dell servers, Dell desktops, IBM Desktops, Compaq/Dell laptops).
People have given you good advice so far, but let me caution you about the advice themselves as well. Just because a laptop works great for one programmer, doesn't mean it will work well for you.
I don't have one laptop in mind to recommend until I know more about your needs. But for now, I can provide you, and readers of this topic with many important questions you should be asking before buying.
1st: Key layout.
I know the T40/41 is getting a lot of praise everywhere, but the last time I looked at one, the left Ctrl key is placed in a weird position (correct me if I'm wrong but the left control key, the one I use the most is not in the bottom-left corner, instead, that position which I'm used to on all other keyboards I work with throughout the day, is occupied by the Fn key). So for some IDEs that I program in, I use the control key A LOT, and everytime I would need to cramp my left pinky (and my left wrist) in an "unatural" (all laptop keyboards already force you to type unaturally) position to hit it. I don't know what your workload is like, but after 8 to 10 hours of programming everyday, by day 2, my pinky was strained so badly, I had to hook up an external keyboard to continue my work.
So if you use the left ctrl key a lot, then be very careful your fingers and wrists can adjust to this. Or you can hook up an external keyboard.
2. Screen size. Many (here and on other review sites) have stressed high resolution (they would mostly recommend SXGA on a 14" and bigger LCD). DON'T take their advice as the golden rule, try it out for youself first!
Depending on your IDE of choice, your font of choice, and to some extend your Windows/Development environment Locale which can dramatically change your font settings, SXGA resolution can render the text too small on a 14" LCD. This happened to many of my co-workers on their 14" Dell laptops with SXGA, especially when they're working with different Regional Locales.
This may or may not apply to you, but I would recommend buying your laptop from a reputable retailer where you can try out your laptop and return it for a full refund if you don't like it.
That's what I did. So on my own laptop right now, I deliberately chosen XGA only on a 14" screen, which works out well for me and for the combination of IDE, environment locale and font settings I use. If I need to see more code, I would just print it. I don't know what kind of programming you do, but where I work, there are millions of lines of code per project. So printing sections of them for easy review is an unavoidable reality. Choosing XGA was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I get best of both worlds, I get nice readable fonts from my XGA screen, and if I do need to see the code in pages, I would just print it. That way, I don't need to scroll and I don't get eye strained (well, relatively less).
3rd: viewing angle of your LCD.
Consider not just horrizontal but also vertical angles. It can be frustrating when buying a laptop with limited vertical viewing angle. You'll either having to lock your head in a certain position to see the code all the time, or to keep changing the angle of the LCD. So again, try it out before you buy!
4th: Security option. You may or may not find this important, depending on who you work for and what kind of project. Your code is your intellectual property. If I only had a dime for every time a programmer lose their laptops and risk their company's secrets/products being exposed, reverse engineered (especially your java code) I would be more rich than my boss who has stock options (ok, that's not fair, I'm also entitled to some).
My Compaq laptop has a 4-way scroll button (like a D pad) below the trackpad. I program it to scroll left, right, up, and down to see my code. And because its a D Pad, I can use ONE thumb to control both vertical and horrizontal scrolling. One word: SMART.
My Compaq heats up quite a bit and I can't hold it on my lap (my Sony is way cooler). But it works for me because I don't ever type on my lap. But I know people who do, so if you're going to be using your laptop on your lap, then make sure you can stand the heat of the one you buy.
7th: code portability:
My Toshiba has no internal floppy, no CD-burner, etc drives (but it's all metal casing is only about half an inch thick and everywhere I bring this sleek thing, people drool over it). There were so many times when I just need to hand a co-worker a piece of code and I COULDN'T! I had WIFI, bluetooth, GigaLAN, phone connections up to my ying-yang but I couldn't hand them 50 lines of code on a freakn' simple floppy.
So think about your work situation, if you can simply email code (we don't do that, it's unsafe), then you don't need to be concerned with this. My company has tight control over internal vs external network so I could not plug my laptop into the company's network to unload my work without strict authorisation and difficult procedures. So consider your transport needs (floppy, CDR, USB key, whatever).
8 Don't forget the total travel weight (if you'll be travelling a lot). You may have a small laptop like my Toshiba (2.x lbs), but the external optical drives, extra battery (small notebook usually means shorter batt. life), A/C adapter, it adds up to about the same weight as my Compaq that has all drives built in.
9 Consider alternatives.
Right now, I'm totally envious of my co-worker's Gateway tablet. I think currently the only tablet with 14" screen. Why? Because with the pen and the tablet OS, he can draw program/logic flows and external/internal design concepts!!! I have to use a freakn' flowchart program to do it with a stupid mouse! If you don't design much, then it won't be as much of an issue for you. But still, just thinking about the option to do that makes me jealous as a programmer/architect.
Last thing, after trying so many laptops, I realize there really is NO perfect one. Just make sure you try it out for a few weeks and you'll realize what you're willing/not willing to settle for.
neo is of course right in most all he says, but i have to disagree on the t40 problem with the Ctrl key, it's not hard for me to hit as it's twice the width of my pinky and although it is sharing space with the Fn key I never miss hitting it, but then again I've been using a ThinkPad for 2+ years so I might have become naturally accustomed to this key positioning -- I don't remember ever having a problem though.
In the end you're right that the ultimate thing to do is try out 2-3 notebooks and see how they work when you're cranking out code on them, but I know several programmers that swear up and down by IBM ThinkPad ease of use and good fit for programmer needs. A good friend of mine even uses the X30 as his main programming machine...it's too small for my likes, but he loves the portability but still highly usable keyboard.
Glad to see replies from fellow programmers... This topic isn't only for my benefit, but i just really noticed notebook reviews mostly for a general audience so I had to bring this up. I know that there's no notebook out there that can give the best of everything... Always comes with a compromise.
I used to use a T20-750 for 2 years. Then when I resigned from my previous company I had to return it then this new client of mine issued me a Dell C600 (IR doesn't work for some odd reason and I've been looking for fixes to no avail ) but still it's a 750mhz (512mb ram) machine and running java dev't tools on it still doesn't cut out for me. Both machines also have screen res of 1024x768. So yes, mostly what i'm looking for is SXGA (because I'm tired of having to deal with such a small screen), Battery life (since i travel often) and processing power (something hard to find for mobile laptops).
I've been contemplating on a PowerBook G4 or a T40/41. My reasons for the G4 is due to my Photography hobby. Programming won't be an issue because I can always run VMWare on the G4, and from a friend of mine who does that the speed isn't that bad. As for the T40/41, the choice is due to my experiences with the T20 and the robustness of the machine.
But I guess, as programmers, IMO, there are only two choices for choosing a laptop: 1. Raw Power or 2: Mobility.