Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

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Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 6:27 am

I am a computer science student in the UK and I am looking at laptops for coding while at uni, the main criteria being weight and performance required.

Needs to be light.
Needs to be able to compile and run C and java code. And in later years languages such as haskell, C++ and possibly others.
I would also like to be able to run Xilinx ISE 14.2 or above but I cannot find any system requirements referring to the system running the software.

I had originally ignored netbooks because of their low performance and have instead been looking at ultrabooks based on their portability, performance and looks.
I have since realised that the price is too high for what I want the system for and that I don't need overwhelming performance simply to compile some code and browse the internet at uni.

A friend of mine has trouble using gcc under windows with his intel netbook which would annoy the hell out of me, making this not worthwhile unless I can get a higher performing atom processor
this leaves the AMD chips for the low end and the intel ones higher up the ladder in the ultrabooks.

I know that anything rated below an Intel Atom N550 will likely be annoying to me to the point of being useless as that is what my friend has, so something higher should work but I would like to be able to run Xilinx as I said which would require a faster processor again I think.

Any Suggestions?
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 7:09 am

Something with an AMD Fusion CPU would probably suit your needs. They're pretty full-featured for a budget CPU (e.g. hardware virtualization support, in case you want to run VMs).

The Xilinx software is probably going to be slow on anything but a fairly high-end laptop, but it should at least be usable on an AMD Fusion CPU. An Atom is likely to be a non-starter for FPGA work unless you don't mind waiting several hours for compiles.

Make sure you get at least 4 GB of RAM and a 64-bit OS...
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 7:48 am

I think it's a mistake to try to choose between two categories that don't fit your needs: netbooks and ultrabooks.
Netbooks are too slow and ultrabooks are too expensive.

You should look at notebooks/laptops.
This ThinkPad T420s is a good example of the right mix of performance, weight, battery life and price to serve your needs well.

I disagree with the APU recommendation as slightly better gaming performance doesn't seem to be a priority for your primary use case.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 8:46 am

14" Thinkpads are a good compromise between performance and portability. 15" Thinkpads skew more towards the performance end, but they do have higher resolutions screens. I wouldn't think twice about picking up a used Thinkpad then upgrading the parts in it.

If you want new. All of the new 6*30 series Dell Latitudes have the same hardware in them, so you can spec anything from the 12.5" to the 15.6" laptops with the same CPU, RAM, and storage. The Latitude 6430s is kind of thick, but it's smaller then a regular 6430.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 8:57 am

windwalker wrote:I disagree with the APU recommendation as slightly better gaming performance doesn't seem to be a priority for your primary use case.

My recommendation was based on his desire to have better-than-Atom performance on a budget, not on gaming performance.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 9:04 am

If you can tolerate 1366x768, the Thinkpad X131e is a fantastic machine - sturdy, great keyboard, small and powerful 11.6" screen.

You can find the lowest-spec i3 variants at around £400, I'd spend an extra £100 making it an 8GB machine with a low-idle-power 128GB SSD. Significantly less expensive than an ultrabook but also more robust, better to type on and arguably a better shape/size.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 9:18 am

So just to be clear, you need to compile on the laptop, right? I only ask because a netbook could work if you were letting a "real" machine do the heavy lifting.

Having faster hardware and more RAM is always better to keep those kinds of things quick and stable, but fitting all of that into a budget and size restriction can be difficult. Also, you should define "light" for your intents and purposes. Ultrabooks are super-light, but my school laptop (HP Compaq nw8440 or equivalent) was still pretty light by my standards, and I think similar size/power would run around $1,800 (USD).

You may be able to find something light enough for your comfort zone without dishing out the Ultrabook premium.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:05 am

I found when I went to college that I never used the laptop I bought. I had my desktop still, so I used that when I wasn't at school. I used computer labs at school when I was at school. The laptop only came out for LAN parties and powerpoint presentations. If you have a desktop, then just take it to college and don't bother with a laptop.

Also, a first year CS student won't really need to do anything processor intensive with his computer. The code you will compile will be very small and will probably run quickly.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:31 am

superjawes wrote:So just to be clear, you need to compile on the laptop, right? I only ask because a netbook could work if you were letting a "real" machine do the heavy lifting.

TurtlePerson2 wrote:Also, a first year CS student won't really need to do anything processor intensive with his computer. The code you will compile will be very small and will probably run quickly.

1. He didn't specify that he was a 1st year student.

2. The desire to run FPGA design tools means he does need a reasonably capable CPU; this has the potential to be fairly processor (and RAM) intensive.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:40 am

Biggest issue I see here is you are talking about coding and compiling then cutting your screen realestate down to incredibly tiny.

I personally am a programmer for a living and I cannot live with the aweful 768 line resolutions on most value laptops/ultrabooks.

I've been considering the 13.3 Macbook Pro retina as more screen space is your friend when developing.

if you are seriously considering a budget machine you may want to have a remote desktop set up to a beefier home machine to do the compiles as the netbook category is not a good choice for compilers.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:46 am

I second the recommendation of a Thinkpad. I'm a second-year university student in the U.S. and I love mine. If I went and picked out another laptop, I'd probably get another Thinkpad, but I'd probably opt for a smaller screen. The battery life is phenomenal, and the fact I can run my Linux VMs and have them faster than my native Windows install is great.

You probably want something with an Intel Core-i processor, as you will do things that are computationally intensive. Some assignments I did last year took less than a minute to compile, but because of the nature of the problem (travelling salesman, word search using a grid of 300x300 and a 26,000 word dictionary) took several minutes to run. That can make it really rough to troubleshoot assignments.

Also, many programs now expect you to have your own computer. My university has only 2 computer labs dedicated to computer science students, one which is only available to upper-class students. There are one or two small additional labs on grounds, but laptops are required for all students in the engineering school, and highly recommended for students in the college.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:55 am

I went to a private engineering school, and the laptop and software costs were just rolled into freshman tuition so everyone had a laptop and the necessary software. The few computer labs on campus would have machines loaded with specific software and tools for lab activities while all CS, math, and most of our other tools could be run by individual students.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Wed Nov 28, 2012 9:04 pm

I've never seen a CS computer lab in my quest for a bachelor's degree. :) I've always been expected to ssh into a Linux box in the school's datacenter to get my work done.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Thu Nov 29, 2012 11:57 am

I am a 2nd year student and the uni doesn't provide housing for students above first year, my parents live near the city so I live there.

I have a desktop to use at home and a rather large laptop which I got last year, when I was at a different uni and it didn't need to leave my room because the facilities were much better and more numerous.

The PC's take a large chunk of lab time to start and outside your assigned lab times there is not much chance of getting a one to use.

Xilinx runs fine on the machines in the only lab that has it installed, which are all running an intel C2D, with an unknown amount of ram.

My current laptop weighs in near to 4kg which i don't really want to lug around the campus from 9 till 5 nearly every day which is the reason I want a smaller machine. The desktop suits my needs at home for gaming so it doesn't need to have great graphics performance over CPU performance.

I think I can tolerate 1366x768 as the montiors in the uni are either that or 1280x1024 so it doesn't really matter what the resolution is.

The focus on Ultrabooks was brought on by their performance to weight ratio is high for CPU intensive work.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:43 pm

Heh, I got kicked off-campus for my 2nd year too. Stupid UK universities!

Anyway, I still think you'll be best served by the x131 with an i3 that I recommended - it has great battery life, build quality and it's compact.

However, I bought a Clevo from these guys because they will sell you a machine without an OS. You should be able to get a student copy of Windows dirt cheap with your NUS card.
I have the Inferno (a Clevo W110ER) which is a great little gaming powerhouse but it's a battery eater and includes a graphics chip that you won't need/use. Something like this can be configured with an i3, 8GB RAM and a 120GB SSD for about £400 which, frankly, are amazing levels of performance for a ridiculously low price. Clevo (the OEM for these things) are often reviewed under the guise of AVADirect, Sager, Eurocom - and they usually fare well so I don't have a problem recommending them. You'd be trading off some portability for a full-sized keyboard, since the 11.6" models are typically only 92% of a full-sized keyboard.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Thu Nov 29, 2012 3:08 pm

Chrispy_ wrote:If you can tolerate 1366x768, the Thinkpad X131e is a fantastic machine - sturdy, great keyboard, small and powerful 11.6" screen.

You can find the lowest-spec i3 variants at around £400, I'd spend an extra £100 making it an 8GB machine with a low-idle-power 128GB SSD. Significantly less expensive than an ultrabook but also more robust, better to type on and arguably a better shape/size.
I agree, but absolutely don't do the upgrade via Lenovo -- buy the extra RAM and SSD separately and do it yourself. It's easy to do (assuming the X131e hasn't departed significantly from the x120e) and much cheaper.
Arvald wrote:Biggest issue I see here is you are talking about coding and compiling then cutting your screen realestate down to incredibly tiny.

I personally am a programmer for a living and I cannot live with the aweful 768 line resolutions on most value laptops/ultrabooks.
While I tend to agree, screen resolution is one of the most expensive features to buy in a laptop -- and one of the rarest on offer. If you're going to prioritize that, you might as well get a "retina" Macbook and pick up the rest of its hardware for free. More to the point here, this is a third machine for a student who is looking for portability and thinks the lower resolution is tolerable, so it sounds foregoing the expense (and limiting choices) of a higher-res machine is a reasonable choice.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Fri Nov 30, 2012 12:15 pm

UberGerbil wrote:I agree, but absolutely don't do the upgrade via Lenovo -- buy the extra RAM and SSD separately and do it yourself.

He'd have to anyway. Lenovo UK don't offer SSD's in the X131 at all Getting the extra RAM from the SSD vendor is a no-brainer.
I have given up hope for the UK PC/Laptop market. We don't get the same options as you guys do in the states - Far less choice and often the really important things (to me) like dGPU and 1080p IPS screens aren't available at all.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Sat Dec 01, 2012 4:01 pm

Chrispy_ wrote:Heh, I got kicked off-campus for my 2nd year too. Stupid UK universities!

Anyway, I still think you'll be best served by the x131 with an i3 that I recommended - it has great battery life, build quality and it's compact.

However, I bought a Clevo from these guys because they will sell you a machine without an OS. You should be able to get a student copy of Windows dirt cheap with your NUS card.
I have the Inferno (a Clevo W110ER) which is a great little gaming powerhouse but it's a battery eater and includes a graphics chip that you won't need/use. Something like this can be configured with an i3, 8GB RAM and a 120GB SSD for about £400 which, frankly, are amazing levels of performance for a ridiculously low price. Clevo (the OEM for these things) are often reviewed under the guise of AVADirect, Sager, Eurocom - and they usually fare well so I don't have a problem recommending them. You'd be trading off some portability for a full-sized keyboard, since the 11.6" models are typically only 92% of a full-sized keyboard.


Just had a look at the Thinkpad x131 which is rather good, although for not much more I think I would rather go with one of the clevos, and as a friend has a similar one from PCSpecialist and recommends them that would be the likely option. I already have an SSD I could use but before I make a decision, how heavy is the lenovo?
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Sat Dec 01, 2012 4:32 pm

RobotHamster wrote:Just had a look at the Thinkpad x131 which is rather good, although for not much more I think I would rather go with one of the clevos, and as a friend has a similar one from PCSpecialist and recommends them that would be the likely option. I already have an SSD I could use but before I make a decision, how heavy is the lenovo?


X131e is 3.9 lbs. Would definitely recommend it over the clevo for the thinkpad keyboard alone. Definitely echo the recommendation to ugrade the RAM and SSD yourself - just installed a 128 mSATA SSD ($99) and an extra 8 gigs of RAM ($35) in the wife's X230T instead of paying lenovo $280 for a 128 GB SATA SSD and $130 for an 8 GB DIMM thru lenovo. FYI the X131/e will accetpt a mSATA SSD, so you can have a primary OS SSD and a secondary HDD for storage.

Installation instructions here: http://download.lenovo.com/ibmdl/pub/pc/pccbbs/mobiles_pdf/x131e_en_hmm_0b48698_01.pdf

EDIT: If you want to install a SATA SSD in the X131e, I am fairly (80%) certain that it will only accept 7mm thick drives (many 2.5" SSDs are 9.5mm thick, some are moddable to 7mm). Unfrotunately, I haven't been able to find out much information about the X13x series and hdd compatibility.
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Mon Dec 10, 2012 4:41 pm

I know it has been a while but what about this one
http://www.ebuyer.com/411101-asus-x401a ... 01a-wx350h
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Mon Dec 10, 2012 5:05 pm

I know its more money for a much slower machine but I'd consider one of these:
http://www.ebuyer.com/288700-lenovo-thinkpad-edge-e325-laptop-nwx2suk

They have a real quality feel and 6 odd hours of battery life is very nice.

Plus it has a 7200 rpm hard drive and a spare memory slot.

No windows 8 but that could be seen as a plus ;)
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Re: Small Portable Laptop for Student Coding

Postposted on Mon Dec 10, 2012 5:12 pm

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