For the uninitiated, I’m still in High School. That being said, college is right around the corner, and thus started my search for a laptop to carry around campus and do actual college work. I currently do have an iPad, but some apps that I would like to use and need to use for college (especially since I will be going into an engineering major) are not available and thus make getting a laptop a necessary purchase.
Why not a MacBook?
A solid choice for college students is the all-fabled, legendary MacBook; and to be honest I am not in opposition to it. However, what concerns me is the fact that Apple typically tends to have a walled-garden aspect to their hardware and software that goes along with their hardware. This could be an issue, as with talking with other engineering students (especially ones that are going into my field) tend to use Windows-heavy hardware.
Even with the “Windows-Only” software that colleges make you use for engineering you can get around that with a MacBook. They can run VMs surprisingly well and even then if it doesn’t work it’s not the end of the world. (Computer labs exist 😉)
The Actual Setup
But let’s get onto the actual meat and potatoes of this article: What would my future workstation look like? First off, It would be all laptops. “Why would you want all laptops?” You may ask. And while that is a good question, especially considering the lack of performance most commonly found on laptops for the same price as a good tower computer. However, tower computers come with a drawback. While they pack in a lot of performance for the little price (well not so much anymore but you get my drift) you can’t easily take them on a plane much less USE them on a plane, or even in a car for that matter. How good it is to have a computer you don’t even use that much that you have to use on the plane or in the car. Portability is what I will strive for in my new workstation because I know just how much it sucks to only have your phone or iPad, which aren’t that usable, especially when it comes to programming and doing normal tasks with maximum productivity, tablets and phones just don’t cut it.
However, I would not only use these JUST because of the portability. While one part of the issue is graphics horsepower, which will be touched upon in a later paragraph. What will also be included on the shopping list will be two Thunderbolt docks, along with a new 1440p/4K monitor with a 165Hz refresh rate that will be an IPS or VA panel for maximum color accuracy. I already do have two monitors, which are measly 75Hz and TN panel, but they work as monitors, which would most likely go on the MacBooks for maximum productivity.
Wait, Who Could Need More Than One Laptop?
You may have noticed in the previous paragraph that I specified laptops. Yes, there would be two. Some can already guess why, but to those who haven’t: One will be a MacBook (probably Pro) and a Windows laptop that can dual-boot both Windows and Linux. In an ideal world, the setup would look like this, at the current time. Technology is always advancing, but if I had around $5,500 right now, this is what I would get in terms of the actual hardware I would get (or extrapolated from data I can predict):
Keep in mind that the setup I list here (except for probably the MacBooks) is all for the future, not in the present day.
- MacBook Pro 14" ($2400-$2800 USD)
- M2 Pro (10 core CPU, 14 Core GPU)
- 16-32GB RAM depending on the workload
- 1TB SSD
- Framework Laptop ($1762 USD)
- Intel Core i7-1260P
- 2TB NVMe SSD
- 32GB RAM
- 1×USB-A Expansion Slot
- 3×USB-C Expansion Slot
To add a linux drive to my Framework Laptop I will purchase:
- 1×2.5" SATA SSD Enclosure (~$25)
- 1×Crucial MX500 2TB (~$130)
Also related but not strictly a laptop/computer:
- Razer Core X ($325)
- AMD Radeon RX-7700XT ($TBD)
- OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock ($300)
- This would probably be shared between laptops
This will total out to about $5500-$6000 (Yay credit card debt!) but considering how long it would not only last me but also the productivity curated by this setup would pay this off over time. I will be using my old monitors from my current PC, but that will probably also be upgraded to IPS 144hz monitors down the line.
How Good Will Gaming Be?
I assume most of you noticed that I did not include a GPU (except an eGPU) in this mess; or even a laptop that comes with a built-in GPU. To be frank, laptops with GPUs are worse. They have worse thermals, cost an arm and a leg (and yet here I am talking about MacBooks), and look just.. BAD. This is why opting for an eGPU is just plain better. An enclosure costs around $300, and since the laptop hardware isn’t too powerful a mid-tier GPU such as the soon-to-be-released AMD Radeon RX-7700XT is. This would probably be the perfect card for my use case, as even though AMD support for enterprise and engineering applications is sub-par at best, It would be just fine to get me through. Considering this would be a personal setup, to begin with, the computer(s) I would get from work would be more than adequate for the stuff at work I need to do. I would like to keep my stuff as Linux-compatible as possible because I personally like Linux and don’t want a crappy driver experience.
That being said, I currently have not had any problems with NVIDIA’s drivers on Linux, even before they decided to open-source them. I always just installed them through DKMS, and they worked like a charm after I disabled Nouveau. I don’t know why Nouveau was enabled by default even after installing the proprietary drivers, but it’s whatever as it still worked; quite well actually. While I find it an inconvenience to install the proprietary drivers, I don’t exactly find it a huge nuisance. I wish NVIDIA did support GeForce Now or something along those lines on Linux, but it is what it is. NVIDIA support through eGPUs is iffy at best, especially since it uses Xorg which is iffy on eGPUs in general, but Xorg is fine because I use (or will use) DWM as my display manager (see my GitHub 😉). Wayland is another issue, as I really want to use it and since Linux doesn’t support a lot of what I do anyway, I might as well use it.
This makes me torn. Now, because it is my laptop and I will probably be provided a laptop for work, I can reasonably get whatever I want, especially considering that the MacBook Pro would have plenty of horsepower for any CAD or any computation work, especially with the new M2 chip and 32GB of RAM, but the RAM upgrade is expensive even if it pays itself off. There is a valid question: “Why the MacBooks Pro? The Air has the same or almost the same base specifications!” And you would be correct except for the stark lack of I/O on the Air. “BUT yOu CaN juST gEt A thUnDErBoLt DoCK!” And while that is correct, you cannot have 32GB of RAM on the Air and bandwidth is limited between those ports, not allowing the 2 Thunderbolt ports on the Air to have maximum speed rather than sharing bandwidth with a monitor, SD card, and you even get an extra Thunderbolt port! Not to mention the extra fan for added cooling. Even though it seems like a money sink, the upfront cost will eventually pay off, or at least I hope so.
I guess it will come down to personal preference and also how well I make it through college with a MacBook to start, as that is probably what I will start with. Whatever happens, I have enough wit and determination to make sure that I can get my work done in one way or another, even if it required getting a new computer, which wouldn’t be the end of the world as some things can be done on both without a hitch, and having two (or three!) different operating systems never hurt anyone.
This was edited on January 8th, 2023 to reflect price changes and updated hardware choices that have been made