5 min read

another new laptop

I’d long been a MacBook Pro user. I went through like 6 or 8 of them. My favorites were the 17” ones. Heavy, but that big screen was great for data analysis, programming, and writing papers.

Mac OSX seemed designed just for me: unix minus the trouble, plus Word. But it seems like Apple is now designing with someone totally different in mind. I mean, my MacPro desktop is on its last legs but hell if I’m going to buy one of their new ones which are basically like a laptop that you sit on your desk. I want to be able to open the thing and slide hard drives and memory and graphics cards in and out. And these latest MacBook Pros: still limited to 16 GB RAM and smallish SSD drives, and no real escape key because of that damned touch bar. And only USB-C ports. The new MacBook Air at least has a proper escape key, but again just one kind of port.

Last year’s new laptop

So a year ago, needing a new laptop, I bought a linux laptop from System76. And in what turned out to be an over-reaction of anti-Mac fervor, I got their Oryx Pro monster, fully loaded with a 15” HiDPI screen with a NVIDIA GTX 1070 graphics card, 64 GB RAM, a 2 TB SSD and another 2 TB hard drive for backup and extra space. The thing weighs 6.5 lbs (2.9 kg), but really not that much heavier than my previous MacBook; just a bit thicker.

This thing has been a joy to work on. Beautiful screen, and all the RAM and nearly the power of my desktop. Oh and it has all of the ports. 3 USB-A, 2 USB-C, 2 mini display ports, hdmi, ethernet, SD card.

And linux has been a dream. Managing ubuntu is nothing like managing RedHat as I did back in 1999. Everything just works (except for the screen mirroring with this particular machine). The occasional installation woes are actually easier than on a Mac, I think because it’s all as intended rather being a homebrew great-but-kind-of-hacky-outside-the-OS deal.

But, two important downsides. First, the battery really sucks. The fan’s going essentially all the time while I’m working, and the battery lasts only an hour for me, if that. So you essentially need to have it plugged in all of the time. Which means you can’t even use it for the occasional meeting without lugging along the power adapter (which weights 1.7 lbs ie 750 g) and being near an outlet.

Second, the HiDPI screen is awesome, but I’ve still not figured out how to mirror the screen when giving a presentation. I can use it to show slides (provided I stay plugged in), but I can’t use it for teaching where I need to be able to demonstrate something in RStudio. So I’ve been teaching using a chromebook, and at times in the last year I’ve traveled with both my laptop and a chromebook.

So really, the Oryx Pro is an awesome machine and I love it but it just doesn’t fit my traveling/teaching needs.

So yet another new laptop

So I needed something new. I want power and RAM and ports, and I don’t care about weight, but I don’t want to be completely tied to a power outlet, and I want to be able to easily mirror to an LCD projector.

I looked at the Dell XPS 13 developer edition, but no more than 16 GB RAM and just USB-C ports. If I wanted to run linux on a Mac-like thing I would buy a Mac and run linux on it. And I don’t want to touch Lenovo.

So I decided to get another System76, the Galago Pro. I got the 14” 1920x1080 screen (avoid the HiDPI because of the screen mirroring issue and indeed this one works fine mirroring to an LCD projector). 32 GB RAM (I’ll miss the 64 GB but what can you do) and 2x 2 TB SSDs. And all the ports I want: 2 USB-A, USB-C, mini display, hdmi, SD card, ethernet.

(Note: System76 just released the Darter Pro which is similar but has a larger battery (55 Wh rather than 35 Wh), plus also a larger 15.6” screen and keyboard with number keypad. To make room for the larger battery, it takes just one SSD drive. Overall it’s probably an even better fit for me.)

Reviews tend to mention that the battery sucks, but they’re saying the battery sucks because it only lasts 3-4 hours rather than the battery sucks because it only lasts 30 minutes. Yeah 10 hour batteries are great but I’m okay with 3 hours if I can have proper ports. I just got it yesterday, but working with it today I can tell that the battery is sufficient for my needs.

The screen is a bit smaller than I want, and it’s not so sharp as my other, but I’m fine with the 1080p and I think it’s big and sharp enough to code and write on.

Oh, and this laptop weighs 3 lbs 6 oz (1.5 kg), and the power adapter is just 5 oz (150 g), so jointly like 3.6 lbs vs 8.1 lbs for the Oryx Pro and adapter. But who cares about weight, really? I’m all about RAM, ports, SSDs, moderate battery, and easy projecting.

Here’s a picture of my Galago Pro, sitting on top of my Oryx Pro.

system76
laptops

And here’s a picture of the two power adapters.

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adapters