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Looking for a good laptop for Ruby development

A few days ago I received a new laptop from work, it’s a nice IBM Thinkpad X60 tablet, an ultra-portable 12” that offers up an honest performance.

It is a fine machine, and when hooked up to a large widescreen monitor it can be used for development in most environments. If I’m on the go, speaking at conferences for example, its weight and size make it ideal for carrying around. I’ve already installed Ubuntu 7.04 in dual boot and pretty much everything ran fine from the get-go (the swivel monitor functions need to be manually configured though). In other words, I really like this new tablet PC, and am very happy with it.

The lack of a touchpad and the small screen render it unsuitable for extensive usage without the aid of an external monitor and mouse, but it’s an acceptable trade off for a travel oriented notebook that is not supposed to be a desktop replacement in the end.

With my main desktop out for repair however, I’m left with the small work laptop only (and my wife is left with nothing). I don’t know about you, but to me this is a serious shortage of machines for hacking and personal use.

In order to take care of this, I’ve been thinking about getting a Mac Book Pro (the cheapest one). For about $2200 I could get a powerful machine – hardware wise – with the new Santa Rosa CPU and a fantastic operating system which has the power of Linux with the “work out of the box” feeling of Windows. And I would run Ubuntu alongside Mac OS X through Bootcamp too. I’ve done my research, I evaluated the alternatives and I’ve been considering Mac for a while now.

Doing mostly hacking with open source tools, especially with Ruby and Ruby on Rails, a Mac seemed like a good choice. Good hardware, *nix based, largely adopted in the Ruby on Rails community and the possibility of using Textmate seemed justifiably appealing. Sure enough I decided to head to Best Buy and actually try one before purchasing it.

I was in for a big disappointment. The 15” Mac Book Pro has a rather short monitor (because of its aspect ratio) and didn’t feel very ergonomic. I really wanted to like it, but we simply didn’t click (pun intended). I’m familiar with the 17” version and I know it’s much better, but I can’t justify spending more than $3000 (Canadian) on a laptop.

In defense of Apple, while browsing around I was able to play with the 24” iMac and it left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. That is a computer worth buying in my opinion, the real estate screen is gorgeous and the price is reasonable. The offer may become especially interesting after the possible updates that will be announced at WWDC next week. Unfortunately though, I’m mostly looking for a laptop not for a desktop, so I have to skip this valuable option.

With the Mac ruled out, I started thinking about what I could get for the same price (about $2200) in the PC world. It turns out you can get a lot of decent hardware for the price of a single 15” Mac Book Pro.

I’m currently considering the following:

  • Acer Aspire 9300 with a 17” WXGA+ Widescreen LCD, AMD Turion 64 X2 1.60GHz processor, 2GB DDR2 RAM and 160GB disk (5400 rpm) and double layer DVD burner.
  • A large, bright Acer 22” external monitor.
  • A decent but fairly cheap laptop for my wife: Acer Aspire 5630, 15.4” LCD, Intel Core 2 Duo T5300 1.73GHz, 1024MB DDR2 RAM, 160GB (5400RPM) and double layer DVD burner.

Granted that the Mac Book Pro is faster machine than the Aspire 9300, but by spending less money, I can buy a laptop for my wife, a fairly powerful 17” laptop for myself (that will run Ubuntu as its main OS), and a very large external monitor that I can use in dual screen mode in conjunction with the 17” screen on the laptop. Not bad if you ask me.

My decision is not yet final but I plan to make a purchase in a couple of days, so I thought I would share this with you in order to hear your opinions and possible alternative laptop ideas.

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7 Responses to “Looking for a good laptop for Ruby development”

  1. Luca says:

    I wouldn’t buy an Acer.
    Why don’t you go for a Dell, a HP (business models) or a Lenovo (IBM) T-series?

  2. erics says:

    I also ran into this problem and just grabbed a macbook (13″), dual booting with Ubuntu (with upgrades from dapper -> edgy -> fiesty) and think it is very good value for the hardware you get.

    I personally, after supporing a university research department for over three years in laptop purchasing, would only consider the following hardward vendors in this order:

    1) IBM (if you have the $$$ to spend).

    2) Apple (same with IBM, $$$).

    3) Dell (the smaller X line mostly).

    Lets face it, you are buying laptops to be portable and they tend to have inferior hardware to make them smaller. The above three are the only vendors that consistently make it past the 3 year mark for me without breakage under my user base. They travel, they work on them in the office, and they are pretty much normal users (windows, Linux, or osX).

    Last but not least, always, and I mean ALWAYS get the extended warranty converage. A min of 3 years is a must, especially if you deviate from the above brands.

    If you end up with a Macbook in some form, I have tips and hints posted on diverse items with regards to getting your favorite Linux stuff running on my site (see Software category).

    Good luck with the decision. 😉

  3. Ah, you’ll be one of those people who doesn’t get on with nipple-nice then !

    Although I quite like nipple-type mice, I’ve found that a USB optical mouse will work on most surfaces & can therefore be used pretty much anywhere that a laptop can. You can get dinky ones if portability is a concern.

    cheers, Phil (loaths trackpads)

  4. Phil Armtrong says:

    Ah, I see. Hitting ‘submit’ doesn’t update the page. Bug?

  5. Tom says:

    How ’bout another Thinkpad… like the T61?

    In my experience, a 7200RPM hard drive is essential to ensure the machine feels fast. It’s got the Santa Rosa chipset as well.

  6. James Hubbard says:

    We’ve been using the Dell notebooks. The M65 is a nice machine. With the Docking station you can get Dual Monitor output. The winmodem doesn’t work in linux. The nvidia graphics card means that you can use 3d. I have concerns about any machine that has an ATI card. I too second the need for 7200 RPM drive.

  7. Adi says:

    I have HP laptop with docking station and big monitor. I have few concerns about this machine that I want to share with you:
    1) I feel that there is something wrong with Windows XP that comes with these machines. HP modifies add to add security center, and many more things. My machine hang everyday (gives me white monitor).

    2) this machine has 2Giga ram, however, it takes about 8-12 minutes to boot in the morning :(.

    Generally the hp is decent.. And the 15” Mac Book Pro is cool
    I wish that helps.

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