I think I have a winner for the April 2016 MyFreakinName Programmer Laptop. I was looking for something that was relatively small -- the 14" class, so to speak -- and that had a reasonably powerful processor, as you may have guessed from my Programmer Laptop Shootout: Processors post.

Also keep in mind that I've never spent a "lot"^ on a laptop. My ThinkPad T430 was about $1000-$1100, and I purchased it because it was sooooo much less expensive than a MacBook with similar specs. For the last three years, that's been a great choice.

Which is just to set up the decision criteria...

  • Emphasis on maximizing a quad-core, fast processor.
  • Ability to upgrade to more than 8 gigs of RAM.
  • 1920x1080 or greater resolution
  • Reasonably inexpensive -- all equal, cheaper > featureful

I'm afraid my desktop's i7-4790K (11206/2529) has made me greedy. Wow, it's fast.

Top Candidates

Old laptop (T430) CpuBenchmark: 3998 multi, 1626 single

  1. Lenovo ThinkPad T460p: $1100 as spec'd (includes 3rd party RAM)
    • CpuBenchmark: 6443 multi, 1932* single
    • A 14" ThinkPad modified to hold a quad-core processor
  2. MacBook Pro 13" $1100
    • CpuBenchmark: 4375 multi, 1716 single
    • Either a current gen at $1100 refurb, or
    • ... wait for new one in a month or two
    • But $1100 is only 8 gigs RAM; $1269 (!!) for 16.
    • Dual core only.
  3. Alienware 15 R2 $1200
    • CpuBenchmark: 5734 multi, 1643 single
    • This category really means "any gaming laptop"
    • Eyed the Razer Stealth & Asus & MSI options

The ThinkPad was my first choice for a long time (see below for when that changed). The MacBook Pro was too expensive and didn't have two of my criteria -- more than 8 gigs of RAM & a quad-core processor. You could fix the first, but then you're at $1270+. The Alienware was simply too expensive. The Razer Stealth was affordable ($1k), but had the same issues as the MacBook Pro: anemic processor and soldered RAM. Other manufacturers generally had their most attractive hardware in a 15 or 17" case. 15" would be okay, but then you're paying at least $100 over the ThinkPad and losing the thumbprint sensor and TrackPoint. I'd rather save the money and keep the ThinkPad keyboard.

The Asus ROG GL552 (review here) is pretty tempting at about the same price. For $1000, it has USB-C, an i7 6700HQ, 16 gigs of RAM, GeForce GTX 960M, and even a num pad, maintenance hatch, & an optical drive. Reviews on Newegg aren't great, however. Doesn't seem to have the best build quality, but great specs for the price.

So I'm back to the ThinkPad. Yet the ThinkPad is hampered a little in that, first, the i7 model still isn't for sale in the US and threatens to be several hundred bucks more expensive if you convert the Australian version's processor markup to $US. Second, the T460p throttles its processor's power from 45W to 35W to, as far as most reviewers and forum posters can figure, help with cooling. NotebookCheck claims that doesn't affect performance, but I don't see how it couldn't at times. Otherwise, the processor would be 35W.

The bottom line is that the quad-core Skylake doesn't really like being pushed into a T460 chassis.

It's also disappointing overall how little single thread performance seems to have increased since 2013. These are less than 10% gains in the CPU benchmark I'm tracking. Can that be accurate? Seems insane. If I wasn't getting a better screen too, I'd consider not upgrading.

If money wasn't an object, I think a 15" MacBook Pro wins easily. Runs OS X and Windows, and has great processor options. The build quality is excellent, including the trackpad and keyboard, and I bet it gets a USB-C port in the next revision. I just can't justify $2000 on a laptop, I don't think. If it was going to last me six years, maybe, but that's a lot of coin. Still, I think it's the smart choice, even moreso after they're refreshed in a month or two, for, let's say, a company looking to treat their developers The Right Way.

Enter the Darkhorse: $700 IdeaPad Y700-14ISK

But then, clicking around the Lenovo site and NotebookCheck.net, I bumped into Lenovo's 14" "gaming" laptop, the IdeaPad Y700. Great processor, the same that's in the second tier, $1250 Alienware 15 R2, and it only runs $700.

I read through a few reviews of the Y700, but it was hard to find many for the 14" version. The most informative I could find was this one from laptopmag.com. There's also a pretty reasonable YouTube review here:

Best quote? "For fake carbon fiber, I think they did a good job."

There does appear to be a consensus on the laptop's cons.

  • The Radeon R9 M375 GPU is underpowered for contemporary games
  • The laptop is purposefully showy (fake vents, red accents, etc)
  • The keyboard is okay, but a little flimsy and not snappy
  • The trackpad stinks and it's difficult to make the hard clicks work
  • Only one video-out option, a single HDMI port
  • Smallish, unremovable battery, maybe 3 hours time.

Yet it has...

  • An i7-6700HQ
    • CpuBenchmark: 8030 multi, 1791 single
  • User upgradeable RAM and drives
    • Includes an m.2 slot for dual drives
    • +16 gigs from Crucial is $65
    • Max 32 gigs. Sorry, MacBook Pro.
  • A 1920x1080 screen
  • Even comes with eight gigs of RAM instead of the usual entry-level 4

Again, that processor is the same as the $1250 tier of the Alienware 15 R2!

Seems like a pretty good fit. I don't care about the graphics card; this is for work, and there even the M375 is much more than enough. Replace the hard drive and/or add an m.2 SSD, and you're off and running for around $800.

The low battery life worries me a little, I'm worried build quality will be significantly under the ThinkPad, I wish it had an option for a better screen (the ThinkPad I spec'd includes $70 to step up to 2560x1440 /swoon), I'm going to need to find my USB-to-HDMI adapter for another screen, and, even though I'm usually pretty comfortable with unconventional looks, I don't know that I'd bring it to an interview. Might keep the T430 around just for that... ;^)

Also wondering how bad the keyboard will be, as that's been one of the best parts of the ThinkPad. I actually got the ThinkPad USB keyboard in preparation for getting a MacBook so I could still have the TrackPoint handy, at least in the office. I wonder if the ThinkPad USB keyboard will fit over the Y700 keyboard with a right-angle micro type b cord, or if I'll end up trying the Bluetooth keyboard. This guy might be crazy, but I'm not convinced he's not crazy like a fox.

A final con: No Windows 10 Pro option. Right now, that'd run $140-$200 to "correct". Not cool. The only thing I really need pro for is Hyper-V, however, and I'm doing a lot less of that recently.

You know, I'm having my usual immediate buyer's remorse wondering if I shouldn't've shelled out another $200 for the USB-C on the Asus GL552, but I think I'm going to appreciate the Y700-14's portability. I mean, that's what you're really buying a laptop for anyhow, right?

Anyhow, that's too cheap to pass up. I'm biting. Far and away the cheapest phat Skylake quad-core I can find in a portable laptop. Man, I hope that keyboard doesn't bite me back.

^ A "lot" of money for a laptop is pretty subjective. I bagged a Lenovo IdeaPad Y100 (?) for $150 a few weeks back, and though it doesn't have enough hard drive space for Visual Studio and the Win10 SDK, it's plenty to do web programming or console/Powershell work. You could actually make a living with it, and I keep it in the car for "emergencies" when I'm caught laptopless. But $1200 seems to be my comfortable max for a "personal" business laptop.

* Again, as I said on my "Processor Shootout", that single-thread score for the i5-6440HQ doesn't jibe with expectations or its scores at Geekbench. I think it's wrong and/or not based on enough samples.

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