Ultraportable Laptop Recommendations

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fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
So I am thinking of replacing my Lenovo W530 that has served me well. It is 5 years old, and my recent trip to China has convinced me that a lighter more portable laptop would be nice. I need a laptop that has good performance, to run all the normal programs, plus also Photoshop, Audition, and Premiere Pro. It does not need to do gaming. My W530 has an i7-3720Q processor (Ivy Bridge) and NVIDIA Quadro K1000M along with an Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics. I have and would continue to use SSD drives. The Lenovo is built like a tank (which is good for durability) but it weighs a good deal (I think 6 something pounds) plus it has a HUGE power brick (that must weigh 3 lbs itself.

Typically my setup is to hook it into a docking station at work and home (i have identical ones) and hook it up to two large monitors. So I need the ability to connect to multiple monitors.

I have started looking at the Dell XPS 15 and 13-inch models. But I am sure there are other options. I would also like to hear from any Dell owners about XPS models.

Any recommendations? @Semper Fidelis ?
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Fred,

Having had a w520 before moving to my Lenovo Yoga 2 a few years ago I feel your pain. I took that beast to China on many trips, too. Sigh.

From what I read the Dell XPS models are very good, as long as you get the 4K resolution models. After using 4K the usual 1280 x 1024 HD resolution looks like print carved on stone.

I would encourage you to look at the newer Yoga models at Lenovo, too. My Yoga 2 has served me well, and I would never imagine having to go back to anything exceeding 3 lbs in weight.

These high rez models will not drive external monitors at the same resolution however. You will need to change the monitors to keep up or just live with "HD" when connected via docking stations.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I've had an old Studio XPS since I think 2009; still running 7, it is starting to blue screen me and do a memory dump every week at least once under certain scenarios (almost always the browser I think); and the sound card crashes or starts up crashed since after the first year or so. but it has lasted this long. Any way, I know I should be shopping as well for a replacement given the issues. I had a pad or something running Windows 10 and hated it. So not looking forward to this.
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
I have been running Windows 10 since its release and look forward to the Creators Update now being pushed out to machines. It is a very stable OS.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
Similar to what Ben said, I've been using a Surface Pro for work. Extremely portable, it's almost like you aren't carrying it, yet it has done everything I've asked of it so far (I do some fairly intensive simulations in MATLAB). Should run Photoshop too, I'm sure you can find videos of people demonstrating that. Add a keyboard cover and it's like a really thin laptop. And I really don't mind Windows 10.
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
I have an XPS 13 (Developer Edition, Kaby Lake) that runs Linux. I love that machine. Super small and light but is powerful enough for software development and running Windows in a VM. I almost never use my desktop now. It is the QHD touchscreen model with the 512GB SSD and 16GB of RAM.

I also have a Surface Book and a Surface Pro. Those are great machines as well. I am amazed with the new keyboard covers for the pro 4. One of the best things about the Surface designs (besides pen input) is that all the heat is on the display since the CPU is behind the display. Keeps your lap cool.

I also heard that Lenovo has a new Thinkpad Carbon X1 that has been racking up a bunch of awards. They tend to be more pricey. But their keyboards are brilliant and the Trackpoint is still something I miss from Thinkpads.
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
My issue with the Surface machines is the detachable keyboard and the back flip mount on the reverse of the screen. Having played around with them at the local Microsoft store I think the arrangment is flimsy, especially when sitting back on one's couch with a typical laptop (Lenovo Yoga 2/3, Dell XPS) in one's lap. Try grabbing a Surface by the laptop attachment and just picking the entire unit up. Not going to happen. The nice thing about laptops like the Yoga line is that they can be positioned and manhandled in many ways.
 

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fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Thanks, all. I ended up getting a Dell XPS 15 that Costco has a deal on with a 1TB SSD, 32GB RAM, 4K touch screen, and 1050 graphics card. I am excited about it.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks, all. I ended up getting a Dell XPS 15 that Costco has a deal on with a 1TB SSD, 32GB RAM, 4K touch screen, and 1050 graphics card. I am excited about it.
Great choice. Those are very nice machines and those specs will last you a long time.

I would want to use my Asus monitor. Not to co-opt Fred's thread.
One thing I'd warn is that Windows is a little finicky about switching around between monitors of different DPI settings. It's not really possible to have two different scaling settings on Windows 7, and it is on Windows 8 and 10, but you have to log out and back in every time you change a setting still.

In short, I'd recommend upgrading your monitor to also be 4K when you get a 4K laptop to save some headaches. High DPI is still handled best in Mac OS X (and acceptably depending on your configuration in Linux). However, for the kind of work I imagine you would do (a lot of reading on a screen), a 4K makes a huge difference for the better.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Junior
Do you know of any good deals on 4K monitors? I use now 24" and 25"
I haven't been following prices lately, but Dell makes some of the best monitors in my opinion, and their prices are generally reasonable.


Can someone explain monitors; difference between say my 2 yo Asus (27" WQHD 2560x144) and 4K.
Your current monitor uses a less more pixels in a square inch than a 4K (or usually 3840x2160 pixels) monitor would. The numbers don't help as much as seeing it in person and trying to use it. I recommend stopping by a Microsoft store or Apple store to take a look as they will have 4K and other ultra HD screens. It's much easier on the eyes: kind of like the difference in looking at a finely printed magazine and a cheap newspaper. The text is simply easier to read and eases the eyes over time.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Cost much over my two yo $350 Asus?
I haven't been following prices lately, but Dell makes some of the best monitors in my opinion, and their prices are generally reasonable.




Your current monitor uses a less more pixels in a square inch than a 4K (or usually 3840x2160 pixels) monitor would. The numbers don't help as much as seeing it in person and trying to use it. I recommend stopping by a Microsoft store or Apple store to take a look as they will have 4K and other ultra HD screens. It's much easier on the eyes: kind of like the difference in looking at a finely printed magazine and a cheap newspaper. The text is simply easier to read and eases the eyes over time.
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
I would want to use my Asus monitor. Not to co-opt Fred's thread.
If the monitor equals the 4k resolution of the laptop all will be well. When connecting to a non-4K montior there will be the need to adjust the system's magnification settings used on the 4K laptop (e.g., mine is set at 225%) as well as the laptop's resolution to adequately render on the standard HD external monitor. For your 2560 x 1440 Asus, just adjust the laptop resolution to the same. Get a utility that tracks desktop icon settings, too, so making adjustments will be just a few clicks: http://www.softwareok.com/?seite=Freeware/DesktopOK
 
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Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Thanks, all. I ended up getting a Dell XPS 15 that Costco has a deal on with a 1TB SSD, 32GB RAM, 4K touch screen, and 1050 graphics card. I am excited about it.
An excellent choice. The infinity like bezel-less screen will soon ruin you when using non-4K displays.

Be prepared for some frustration with many Windows apps that have yet to catch up with 4K. You will see very tiny menus and what not using them. When you encounter an app with tiny menu items, make the Windows built-in magnifier your friend: launch it by selecting the Windows key and the + key simultaneously, or running C:\Windows\System32\Magnify.exe. Increase magnification to see the tiny menu items in these errant apps and then restore things back to 100% when finished.

On all your non-Microsoft apps, like Adobe pdf readers, open their properties panel (right click the *.exe file) and in the Compatibility tab experiment with enabling or disabling the override high DPI option therein to determine the optimum settings. Adobe just has not fully caught up with 4K, so I use Foxit PhantomPDF Business. Their free reader is also a solid replacement for Adobe's reader: https://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf-editor/
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Can someone explain monitors; difference between say my 2 yo Asus (27" WQHD 2560x144) and 4K.
Multiply 2560 pixels x 1440 lines. Result: 3,686,400 pixels. A 4K monitor would exceed 4,000,000 pixels by the same sort of math. For example my old Yoga 2 would be 3200 x 1800 or 5,760,000 pixels, or 56% more resolution over the Asus monitor.

A 4K UHD would be a resolution of 3840 pixels × 2160 lines or 8,300,000 pixels.

My grief with all monitors are the letterbox 16:9 aspect ratios. This is the one nice thing about the Surface machines that I really like: a 3.2 aspect ratio for nice portrait view orientations.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
An excellent choice. The infinity like bezel-less screen will soon ruin you when using non-4K displays.

Be prepared for some frustration with many Windows apps that have yet to catch up with 4K. You will see very tiny menus and what not using them. When you encounter an app with tiny menu items, make the Windows built-in magnifier your friend: launch it by selecting the Windows key and the + key simultaneously, or running C:\Windows\System32\Magnify.exe. Increase magnification to see the tiny menu items in these errant apps and then restore things back to 100% when finished.

On all your non-Microsoft apps, like Adobe pdf readers, open their properties panel (right click the *.exe file) and in the Compatibility tab experiment with enabling or disabling the override high DPI option therein to determine the optimum settings. Adobe just has not fully caught up with 4K, so I use Foxit PhantomPDF Business. Their free reader is also a solid replacement for Adobe's reader: https://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf-editor/
Are you familiar with Display Fusion?
https://www.displayfusion.com

I think that it will automatically adjust resolutions when monitors are connected. Will there be more needed than that ordinarily? Right now my daily workflow is to use two HD monitors both at home and the office.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
An excellent choice. The infinity like bezel-less screen will soon ruin you when using non-4K displays.

Be prepared for some frustration with many Windows apps that have yet to catch up with 4K. You will see very tiny menus and what not using them. When you encounter an app with tiny menu items, make the Windows built-in magnifier your friend: launch it by selecting the Windows key and the + key simultaneously, or running C:\Windows\System32\Magnify.exe. Increase magnification to see the tiny menu items in these errant apps and then restore things back to 100% when finished.

On all your non-Microsoft apps, like Adobe pdf readers, open their properties panel (right click the *.exe file) and in the Compatibility tab experiment with enabling or disabling the override high DPI option therein to determine the optimum settings. Adobe just has not fully caught up with 4K, so I use Foxit PhantomPDF Business. Their free reader is also a solid replacement for Adobe's reader: https://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf-editor/
Further research seems to imply that Windows 10 can somehow set different DPI resolutions per monitor. Are you familiar with that? Know how to do it?
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
For work I was issued a Lenovo T460s Ultrabook with a docking station and two external monitors and continue to use the laptop screen for a display. Along with Business Skype and the MS Suite I'm always running two demanding stand alone billing systems and customer service management apps. On top of that I have four to eight web based applications going. In three months it's never froze nor had to restart though I do anyway every day or two to process any systems updates. It's very light and unless there is hardly anything else in my bag I can't tell if it is or not. It's the nicest machine I've ever used. For convenience I usually use an external mouse but it has the red point and the pad.
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Are you familiar with Display Fusion?
https://www.displayfusion.com

I think that it will automatically adjust resolutions when monitors are connected. Will there be more needed than that ordinarily? Right now my daily workflow is to use two HD monitors both at home and the office.
I am not familiar with this. It looks handy. Adjusting resolutions without adjusting system settings for text magnification scaling would be a problem. Perhaps this utility takes care of that as well.
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
So I am thinking of replacing my Lenovo W530 that has served me well. It is 5 years old, and my recent trip to China has convinced me that a lighter more portable laptop would be nice. I need a laptop that has good performance, to run all the normal programs, plus also Photoshop, Audition, and Premiere Pro. It does not need to do gaming. My W530 has an i7-3720Q processor (Ivy Bridge) and NVIDIA Quadro K1000M along with an Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics. I have and would continue to use SSD drives. The Lenovo is built like a tank (which is good for durability) but it weighs a good deal (I think 6 something pounds) plus it has a HUGE power brick (that must weigh 3 lbs itself.

Typically my setup is to hook it into a docking station at work and home (i have identical ones) and hook it up to two large monitors. So I need the ability to connect to multiple monitors.

I have started looking at the Dell XPS 15 and 13-inch models. But I am sure there are other options. I would also like to hear from any Dell owners about XPS models.

Any recommendations? @Semper Fidelis ?
My son bought a Microsoft Surface pro for use at work, and also heard the HP Spectre is a nice one!
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Fred,

Sorry as I've been offline for a few days. Extremely busy. I'll tell you that my favorite ultraportable is the Surface Pro that I use for a non-profit. It's been fantastic. I use it for large proposals at work and it's super convenient for GA and Presbytery. I've got an external charger that can charge it up fully but the battery life is really good. If you're thinking about dropping the money for one then I recommend the 256GB version with 8 GB RAM.

I also really like the Dell Latitude line. It's what I use at work with a great docking station. With an SSD, it's really fast and I've had mine for about 3 years now. I really like the 7000 series: http://dell.to/2ozoGmJ
 
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