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How new my laptop really needs to be? A guide to modern computing

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mikemex
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How new my laptop really needs to be? A guide to modern computing

#1 Post by mikemex » Wed Jan 31, 2024 2:57 pm

Sometimes there are major technological improvements you don't want to miss. For example, when intel moved the memory controller from the chipset in the Core 2 Duo architecture to the processor core in Core i series, which is a change AMD had already done years back to win the performance crown of the PC ecosystem. That's why, despite being only one or two generations newer, a machine like X220 is much faster in practical use, than a X200 (also, Hyperthreading, which doubles the logical cores and its ability to install 16GB of RAM). A lot of people, including myself, consider Sandy Bridge the bare minimum you can realistically expect to be your main computer this days.

There was another major change when intel began shipping U processors with 15W TDPs, instead of previous chips, which were mostly 35W parts. It wasn't really just intel releasing a new and more efficient chip: it's when they began a program to scrutinize the rest of the components of the system, many of them being awful when it comes to power consumption (for example, old CCFL inverted-driven screens). That's when laptops began having a decent battery life for the first time. From maybe 2-3-4 hours before, to 6-8 hours, or more (I rarely used my old stuff on battery because of that). That happened around the 4/5th generation intel (Haswell/Broadwell).

But it was with Skylake (6th generation intel) that all machines became pretty much "modern". They all have UEFI (new BIOS architecture based exclusively on 64 bits), they all have TPM 2.0 (improved security), and so on. Windows 11 runs with all features enabled in such machines, despite Microsoft deciding not to support them (I know because I just installed Windows 11 on my 4th generation X1s). That's probably because the panic after the discovery of the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities (which have already been fixed to my knowledge).

Important, but not critical, is the introduction of the Thunderbolt ports with the 7th generation (Kaby Lake), which AMD machines didn't have for a long time. It's essentially a modern replacement for the old Express Card standard (PCI Express) via the regular USB-C port. With that you can transfer files from and to external memories much faster, and even install an external video card. However, USB 3.0 and above are already pretty fast, which is the main reason USB-C hasn't really become ubiquitous as they planned. People still buy USB-A flash drives in large quantities, and they expect machines to have the corresponding ports. USB-A will be with us for a long, long time.

From there, it doesn't really matter much which generation you have. There are differences in core count (intel increased it from 2c/4t to 4c/8t with Kabby Lake Refresh 8th generation and again to 10c/14t with Alder Lake 12th) and graphics performance, which is always nice to have, but really not strictly necessary unless you're doing truly intensive stuff on your machine (which is always a bad idea due to heat build-up; if you need sustained high power, a Desktop is your answer). The truth is: semiconductor photo-lithography has been really stagnant for the last decade or so; therefore, more performance usually comes at the expense of more power consumption. For example, intel has been steadily increasing the Turbo power limit over generations. Most people don't notice that because they are usually doing light tasks that doesn't stress the processor much.

As a practical example, when I sent my P14s (8 core 4750U and 32GB of RAM) to service (it had a loose USB port and they replaced the motherboard under warranty) I used my X1 Carbon Gen 5 (2 core 7600U and 16GB of RAM) as my main machine for a while and didn't really feel any difference doing normal stuff (browsing, editing documents, copying files, watching videos, listening to music, programming, etc.).

Conclusion: if you can afford a new and shiny machine, please go for it. But if you go for an older one, don't feel bad: rest assured that a machine several generations old will still serve you well. You probably aren't missing anything truly important. And the money savings and ecological benefits are huge.
Last edited by mikemex on Sun Feb 11, 2024 2:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
X301: SU9600 | 8GB | 1TB | WXGA+
X1C5: 7600U | 16GB | 1TB | FHD
X1C9: 1145G7 | 16GB | 1TB | WXGA | WWAN
X1Y8: 1365U | 32GB | 1TB | WXGA
P14s G1 AMD: 4750U | 32GB | 1TB | PG FHD Touch
T14 G2: 1145G7 | 32GB | 1TB | FHD

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Re: How new my laptop really needs to be? A guide to modern computing

#2 Post by dr_st » Thu Feb 01, 2024 10:10 am

That is a great essay. I appreciate it.

My Thinkpad 25 (7th gen, Kaby Lake, dual-core) is 6+ years old. It is still pretty snappy for day-to-day tasks that do not include heavy number crunching or too much multi-tasking. With a proper 6/8-core desktop, it can stay as my primary laptop for years to come.

Still, I feel, that simply an upgrade to 4 cores would make a big difference. If not now, then in a few years, when the architecture starts showing its age. Like the Core 2 Duo which is basically obsolete, while a Core 2 Quad is still able to pack a little bit of punch, even today when it's 15 years old.

Since I refuse to buy any laptop without a proper keyboard, a "T480 in TP25 shell" may be in my future. However, my dream 'frankenpad' would be take a TP25/T470 board, unsolder the CPU and solder a T480 CPU to it.
Thinkpad 25 (20K7), T490 (20N3), Yoga 14 (20FY), T430s (IPS FHD + Classic Keyboard), X220 4291-4BG
X61 7673-V2V, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G, X32 (IPS Screen), A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad

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Re: How new my laptop really needs to be? A guide to modern computing

#3 Post by ZaZ » Thu Feb 01, 2024 1:15 pm

Wouldn't the T490 be a better dream given that it gets you access to the six core i7 and very good low power screen? I presume there's some sort of technical hurdle complicating its birth.
ThinkPad L14 - 2.1GHz Ryzen 4650U | 16GB | 256GB | 14" FHD | Win11P
ProBook 470 G5 - 1.6GHz Core i5 | 16GB | 2.2TB | 17" FHD | Mint

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Re: How new my laptop really needs to be? A guide to modern computing

#4 Post by SAIYAN48 » Thu Feb 01, 2024 2:31 pm

A T480 with a 10710u and a classic keyboard would be a great machine. The CPUs use the same BGA size so a BIOS mod would be needed for the new chip to be recognized.
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Re: How new my laptop really needs to be? A guide to modern computing

#5 Post by dr_st » Thu Feb 01, 2024 2:53 pm

ZaZ wrote:
Thu Feb 01, 2024 1:15 pm
Wouldn't the T490 be a better dream given that it gets you access to the six core i7 and very good low power screen? I presume there's some sort of technical hurdle complicating its birth.
T480 and T470 CPUs are the same socket. T490 CPUs are different.
Thinkpad 25 (20K7), T490 (20N3), Yoga 14 (20FY), T430s (IPS FHD + Classic Keyboard), X220 4291-4BG
X61 7673-V2V, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G, X32 (IPS Screen), A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad

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Re: How new my laptop really needs to be? A guide to modern computing

#6 Post by mikemex » Sun Feb 04, 2024 2:10 am

dr_st wrote:
Thu Feb 01, 2024 10:10 am
Since I refuse to buy any laptop without a proper keyboard, a "T480 in TP25 shell" may be in my future. However, my dream 'frankenpad' would be take a TP25/T470 board, unsolder the CPU and solder a T480 CPU to it.
You're not adapting to the new times.

I'm sitting here, in front of my Yoga Gen 8 with my T420s on the side. And I'm thinking many, many things...

1.- I'm not a ludite. I like faster and overall better machines. If I hold on to my old stuff, it's because it does things I can't do with newer stuff. But I grit my teeth at the idea that I have to give up on things I like, just to get some other improvements.
2.- I dislike how old machines consumed power like crazy and had tiny batteries. My Yoga consumes less than half the power and has 30% higher battery capacity. Only recently I began to truly enjoy laptops: I take my X1 Carbon with me often and I don't worry about running out of battery or having to find a power outlet. And it's got WWAN (admitedly: Thinkpads have had WWAN options for a long time), so I can do basic things everywhere.
3.- I dislike [censored] screens. Lenovo surely picked up bottom of the barrel stuff back then.
4.- A plastic case with magnesium skeleton sure is the way to go if you want durability. Sure, a magnesium case is nicer, but it doesn't take accidental hits as good.
5.- Case chamfers on edges and clamshell lids were a masterpiece of design. They may not be as pleasing aesthetically speaking, but they surely made sturdy machines.
6.- Physical controls for things like volume are a blessing. I'd even add dedicated keys for lowering and raising brightness, and to turn the screen off. Why the hell did they put everything through functions? Back in the day all external keyboards had dedicated volume keys but now they are rare. WTF?
7.- LEDs! Older Thinkpads had much better user signaling than modern ones. They had a LED to indicate WIFI, Bluetooth. I think my old X301 even has one for WWAN.
8.- Nowadays that people have laptops as their main machines (instead of desktops) having enough ports in the laptop itself is super important, more important than having dedicated docking options, I think. For example, om my Yoga 8, I have my power adapter, USB-C wired network, external keyboard and mouse and I have no ports left to connect a simple flash drive. And since it has a mixture of USB-A and USB-C ports, even if I unplug the Ethernet dongle, the USB-C port can't be used with a regular Flash drive without plugging an extra adapter.

So I'm thinking: what if I bought a regular Thinkpad L14, took the motherboard off and design and build a new case for it? The inner part could mimic the inner of its original case, but I could then put a larger fan, a round cell battery, an internal USB hub to get more ports and the jewel of the crown: a decent keyboard / Trackpoint combo? It's not a Sunday project, of course, but I'm pretty sure that to design and build a case is far easier than to design and build a motherboard. Never understood why people around here thinks it's easier to build electronic parts than mechanical parts...
X301: SU9600 | 8GB | 1TB | WXGA+
X1C5: 7600U | 16GB | 1TB | FHD
X1C9: 1145G7 | 16GB | 1TB | WXGA | WWAN
X1Y8: 1365U | 32GB | 1TB | WXGA
P14s G1 AMD: 4750U | 32GB | 1TB | PG FHD Touch
T14 G2: 1145G7 | 32GB | 1TB | FHD

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Re: How new my laptop really needs to be? A guide to modern computing

#7 Post by RealBlackStuff » Sun Feb 04, 2024 5:27 am

Why do you think 51nb, Xytech, etc. made T700 (based on T60), X210/X2100 (based on X200)?
Not to mention the likes of Framework...

Another thing to consider: as you get older or retire, the use of a PC/laptop diminishes considerably.
In my working days I used proper keyboards like the Northgate Omnikey, probably the best ever!
After I retired (in 2001) I still used my desktop (nowadays with a tenkeyless keyboard) for a few years, but laptops have fully taken over.
Last time I used my desktop was probably in 2021, it is just sitting there gathering dust and wasting space (time to flog it...).
My laptops happen to be all Thinkpads, all with their touchpads disabled.
The trackpoint gets used only when I'm on a plane, the rest of the time I use a mouse.
They are all with the (newer) 6-row layout, but because of my minimal needs (dare I say it) I couldn't care less!
My daughter started with a 14" 4:3 T61 but after she got out of college, her first job came with a Mac and she has been on them ever since.
Wouldn't want a Thinkpad any longer, especially after being spoiled with the Mac's Retina screens.

Guess everybody's needs are different.
Lovely day for a Guinness! (The Real Black Stuff)
Lenovo: X240, X250, T440p, T480, M900 Tiny.

PS: the old Boardroom website is still available on the Wayback Machine
.

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Re: How new my laptop really needs to be? A guide to modern computing

#8 Post by dr_st » Sun Feb 04, 2024 6:50 am

It's true that the needs are different, and as you said - they also evolve over time. Retirement is one of the biggest changers, but it is not the only one.

I'd say that 80-90% of my laptop usage is in a desktop environment, with an external keyboard, mouse, screen.

So why do I care so much about proper keyboard, trackpoint, IPS screen on the laptop?
Don't know. Some combination of bragging rights and that 10-20% (while traveling, for example, or working in a conference room), where I don't want to feel crippled.
Thinkpad 25 (20K7), T490 (20N3), Yoga 14 (20FY), T430s (IPS FHD + Classic Keyboard), X220 4291-4BG
X61 7673-V2V, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G, X32 (IPS Screen), A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad

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Re: How new my laptop really needs to be? A guide to modern computing

#9 Post by TPFanatic » Sun Feb 04, 2024 10:02 am

I am a casual PC user, I grew up with PCs emphasis on Personal and I don’t use them for work. Until i added 3d rendering and 2010s-era gaming to my PC interests my needs were well-served by the sandy-ivy bridge thinkpads which appealed to me with the classic features from the thinkpads i grew up with, and i exploited all enthusiast mods to “modernize” the machines with IPS. Until intel 10th gen and Ryzen showed up these old quads remained competitive. The inability to utilize modern graphics is what got me into a P71, which is a great transitionary laptop as it has both legacy classic features and modern expansion. I childishly hated it at first but I’ve learned to love modern PC features through it. I’ll have no problem upgrading to a contemporary machine when the time comes.

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Re: How new my laptop really needs to be? A guide to modern computing

#10 Post by mikemex » Sun Feb 11, 2024 3:14 pm

It depends a lot of what you need to do with the laptop. None of the oldies handle heavy video editing well because... laptops (in general so no matter how new) aren't designed with such tasks in mind. Only heavy workstations have cooling systems effective enough to keep the laptop running at a decent level of performance during extended periods of time. The average laptop can only offer very short bursts of high processing power, so they are really not as powerful as people think. After all, notebook chips use the same technology as desktop chips, only tweaked. There is no magic to make mobile chips perform a lot of work without consuming a lot of power at the same time. Power and heat are the issue with computers in general. It always has been.

I wouldn't recommend people a T420 at this point. Not because it lacks processing power; I think it has more than enough power to do what most people would expect from it. The real problem is the lack of features. In fact, that's how planned obsolescence is done in practice: they release new technologies as specific hardware features rather than general purpose ones. That way, not only older devices are at a disadvantage trying to emulate the same tasks using the general purpose resources; they have to do so with older and slower technology.

This is the case of the video codecs used in most streaming services. Overnight they switch from a previously hardware-accelerated format (h264) to a new one that can only be implemented in software in previous generations (such as VP8/9, etc.). And overnight, all those devices, that previously offered decent performance, become sluggish. Of course, there are usually ways around that, but it requires a lot of technical knowledge that prospective new owners definitely lack. To them, old hardware just seems "slow", without ever knowing that this is a direct consequence of some political decision and not really a deficiency of the hardware itself.

That's why sites like this and people like us, are so important: because we can offer the intimate knowledge necessary to keep such items running well.

P. D. I just ran a test (Basemark Web 3.0) and a Skylake 6600U offers nearly identical practical peformance (285) compared to Snapdragon 695, a typical phone SoC (290). Given how many people do nearly everything on their phones, I'd say it's safe to declare such a laptop more than viable today.
X301: SU9600 | 8GB | 1TB | WXGA+
X1C5: 7600U | 16GB | 1TB | FHD
X1C9: 1145G7 | 16GB | 1TB | WXGA | WWAN
X1Y8: 1365U | 32GB | 1TB | WXGA
P14s G1 AMD: 4750U | 32GB | 1TB | PG FHD Touch
T14 G2: 1145G7 | 32GB | 1TB | FHD

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