Thanks to everyone who commented with their thoughts. In the end I decided to wait (even longer) before I buy a laptop.
Before we dive into the nuances of if I should buy a new laptop or when I should make that purchase, here are some links for those of you who were caught by the title:
Onto my spiel:
I have been talking about getting a new laptop on Tildes for literally two years. Now I am at the point when I think I have found the right device, but am still unsure if I should spend the money to get it.
Why do I want a new laptop?
The main reason that I want a new laptop is that next August (2021) I will be transferring to a university and living on campus for two years. My laptop is going to take up a much more important role in my day-to-day activities and replace my desktop as my workstation.
Why not just use my current laptop?
My current laptop is a Dell Chromebook 13 that I bought refurbished in early 2016 for $216. (Specifications can be found in the table below.) I've talked about it several times on Tildes before. The mileage I have gotten out of this device is insane. It has traveled thousands of miles with me across the United States, comes with me just about every time I leave the house, and is still in good condition in every measurable way. It is by far the best thing I have ever purchased in terms of a cost-to-value ratio.
However, it was already a low-end device when it released in late 2015 and now, in 2020, its age is becoming apparent. The two biggest issues I have with continuing to use this device are:
Performance. General tasks like web browsing are done with a noticeable sluggishness. Programming in languages like Java and using an editor like Visual Studio Code, with the relevant language extensions, is difficult and resource-expensive. The device's performance constraints are a big reason I started using Vim. The device's thermals are fine, even under full load when compiling software, but it's an old computer and there is a very real speed penalty associated with that. I don't know what kind of stuff I'll be doing in university (either as part of my education or just on the side), but I would prefer if performance constraints weren't this giant dark cloud hanging over my head.
Connectivity. This laptop only has two USB Type-A ports and a single HDMI port. Sure, that's more ports than some ultrabooks these days, but the advantages provided by USB Type-C mean that this laptop falls behind modern offerings when it comes to connectivity potential. At university, my laptop is going to replace my desktop as my main device, and that means it will have to be able to connect to a variety of peripherals, including dual ultrawide monitors, external drives, a drawing display, and more. My current laptop just does not have the connectivity to use all of these things at once.
Originally, before I put a lot of thought into transferring to another university and what that would entail, I had decided that I simply wanted a device that I could draw and take notes on. Despite dunking on it a bit, I liked the idea of getting a Surface Go because even as under powered as it was when it released, it was still faster than my laptop, much more portable, and I could draw and take notes on it. I decided I would wait "for the mythical Surface Go 2 to release" and probably buy that.
Well, by the time the Surface Go 2 did release, my requirements changed, and I realized that I wanted good performance and connectivity in addition to some sort of two-in-one, touchscreen capability. That, and it was disappointingly similar to its predecessor. The Surface Go 2 wasn't going to cut it.
Eventually I discovered the HP Spectre x360, which seemed to have just about everything I needed and wanted, but concerns over the lifespan of its 4K OLED display, and the generally poor performance of Intel Ice Lake chips compared to AMD's Renoir offerings, soured me a bit on the device. At the very least, I would wait until the Tiger Lake refresh of the device releases later this year before buying.
Then I looked at the HP ENVY x360, which has the latest Ryzen Renoir chips, but no Thunderbolt 3. Technically, the fifteen-inch Envy with its regular USB Type-C port and HDMI port (something missing on the thirteen-inch) would provide enough connectivity to meet all of my demands, but just barely. It also only comes with a 1080p display. No 4K option.
Finally, after spending a month or two bewildered at the current state of laptops, I stumbled upon the AMD version of the ThinkPad T14s. At first, it doesn't look like a very compelling option, with configurations starting at $1,529.
However, as is always the case with Lenovo, there's a coupon (
After customizing the laptop, adding a coupon, and getting a student discount, it looks like I can order the device, taxes and all, for under $1,300.
That price is for a configuration with the Ryzen 7 4750U, 32 GB of DDR4 3200MHz memory, the 400 nits low power display, and a 128 GB SSD. (Lenovo's storage upgrade prices are ridiculous. I'll spend $100 on a third party SSD and install it myself.)
To me, this seems like a great deal, considering that this laptop's hardware is as good or better than my desktop's hardware (except for the lack of dedicated graphics, of course). The processor is ridiculously fast, it has twice the RAM as my desktop, it has a slot for cellular connectivity or a second SSD, the battery is a decent size (57Wh), it has an HDMI port and two USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C ports, which is plenty of connectivity, despite lacking Thunderbolt 3.
As far as hardware goes, it's almost perfect.
However, it only comes with a 1080p screen. Some people think any resolution higher than 1080p is too much for a laptop display. I disagree. I'd really prefer a 1440p display, but that's only available on the Intel version of the laptop.
(If I may rant for a second, that's a really common "mistake" made by manufacturers this year. Almost universally, the AMD versions of laptops in 2020 have been given worse configurable options than their Intel counterparts, despite the fact that the AMD processors are absolutely dominating right now. It's very annoying and I don't understand how or why manufacturers allowed this.)
There is a possibility that a person could replace the 1080p display in the AMD version with the 1440p display from the Intel version, since both motherboard types use a 40-pin connector, but there are still some unknown details and the AMD laptop is so new, no one has done it yet (it also wouldn't be an easy procedure).
Aside from the display resolution, I also don't like how thick the bezels are. They're about as thick as the bezels on my current laptop and generally look kind of outdated.
Finally, the touchscreen option for the laptop's display is apparently not very good, so I'm not going to get that option. The laptop also has no convertible or two-in-one functionality. In other words, that means I can't use it for digital drawing or taking notes.
Overall, I'm actually not too worried about that. The harsh reality is that laptop displays kind of suck for digital drawing, and so I've always planned on getting a drawing display anyways. I can just get one of those and if I really want to, use it for notes as well.
So to summarize the pros:
- Fast processor
- Tons of RAM
- Optional WWAN slot
- Enough connectivity for all my peripherals (and then some)
- Great price compared to competition
- 1080p display
- 16:9 aspect ratio
- No Thunderbolt 3
- No touchscreen or two-in-one functionality
Honestly, my biggest hang up with the device is the display. Sure, I mentioned earlier that I might be able to take the laptop apart and replace it myself, but there is no way to know if that will ever actually be possible and goddamn, I don't want to have to do that in 2020.
If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. It might seem like I'm taking all of this a bit too seriously, but the reality is that this is a big, expensive purchase for me and I want my next laptop to last for several years. I feel like it's something worth stressing over and discussing if it means getting it right.
If I decided not to get the ThinkPad T14s, then my only other real option is to wait.
As for waiting, there are a few points I'd like to raise:
- I have just over a year before I will transfer to a university and need a new laptop, meaning the next generation of devices from Intel and AMD (Tiger Lake and Cezanne) will release before I transfer, so I could wait for those.
- The upcoming Tiger Lake chips won't be as fast in multi-core or graphics performance as some of AMD's current Renoir chips, but their single-core performance should be better.
- Thunderbolt 4 is coming this fall with Tiger Lake and would be even better for connectivity, but more expensive.
- AMD's next generation of processors, Cezanne, won't support USB4 (standardized Thunderbolt 3). That will only arrive in 2022 with Rembrandt.
- There's no telling if the situation with AMD hardware and poor laptop configurations will improve in 2021, and thus no telling if better display options will be made available.
- There's also apparently a global pandemic or something going on? So that might disrupt supply chains and affect prices in the long-term in ways I can't predict.
- I have doubts whether I'll be able to find the same or better hardware in a laptop for a similar price in the near future.
On one hand, I have a fear of missing out now because of what I perceive as a really good deal for a laptop that does everything I need it to do, but misses some of the things that I want.
On the other hand, I have a fear of missing out later because of what better, faster devices might release between a few months to a year from now.
I'd really appreciate some advice. This is (hopefully) a twice-a-decade kind of purchase for me, so it's something I tend to put a lot of thought in to.
Just for reference, below I have included a table of my current laptop, as well as the laptops I have seriously considered so far, including the specifications at which I would buy them.
||Dell Chromebook 13
||HP Spectre x360 13t
||HP Spectre x360 15t
||HP ENVY x360 13t
||HP ENVY x360 15t
||ThinkPad T14s AMD
EDIT: Also, just some details that I forgot:
- Whatever laptop I get, it's going to exclusively be running Linux.
- I'm not particularly interested in dedicated graphics, because I won't be playing games with the laptop. Maybe a dedicated card would come in handy for some programming situations, but I'm generally not concerned about what card a laptop does/does not have.
- Not only is the laptop going to be exclusively running Linux, but it's going to be running a minimized Linux configuration. So no desktop environment or fancy compositing. I'll also go out of my way to configure power management, just like I have with my current laptop. In other words, battery life isn't a huge concern. So long as it isn't something ridiculously low (like three hours) from the manufacturer, I'll be able to squeeze eight hours out of it.