1. jubbbird's Avatar
    I've more or less fallen for the Surface form factor. I can't really afford it, but as a 7-10 year investment I'd be willing to stretch to it to replace my current Acer 1810TZ I've had for about 8 years, propped up with an SSD.

    I get the impression that MS, while intentionally pricing themselves beyond the average punter, are also assuming that the people who will buy a Surface Pro only expect to use it for a year or two before replacing it with something equally expensive.

    But I can only afford to be in it for the long term. An investment in premium tech. For me, it's got to last the better part of a decade. But I'm spoiled for choice and have rather expensive taste, so I really hate the thought of settling for something I don't really want.

    I'm one of those people who can't really justify dropping £1,249 on something that doesn't have USB-C, and of course I'd prefer it to support all 4 PCI-E lanes of Thunderbolt. If the new Surface Pro had TB3 it could replace more than just my laptop. It could replace my desktop. It could become my single computing device. Plus my phone. I'd go out and get a dock for my aging-but-perfectly-adequate 670 GTX, and carry my whole rig to a LAN party in a "bag for life". Bliss.

    Alas, it does not, and so I find myself once again hunting for a Surface alternative. One that has a decent screen, i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD (preferably PCI-E), and an absolute minimum of 8 hours battery life. The Surface ticks all the boxes, which is great, but lacks the future-proofing of USB-C, let alone eGPUs.

    So what are my options?

    I'm looking at ultrabooks. 13.3" max, but 12.5" is my sweet spot, it seems. That's part of the appeal of the Surface. It's all I can stand after experiencing the original, spinny Dell XPS 12 . I really don't want to end up with anything that isn't convertible, and with a touchscreen. I'd settle for detachable, but quite like the idea of not actually leaving the keyboard behind. The Surface somehow renders this moot. If Dell would simply make a Kaby Lake XPS 12, just like the original but half the thickness and weight I'd have bought it already. Probably along with a spare.

    It seems the only Surface clone currently available that supports TB3 with all the lanes is the ASUS Transformer 3 Pro, but unfortunately it appears to have lots of CPU and GPU throttling issues, poor battery life and a price comparable to the Surface that makes me wonder if I actually still like it.

    So would I ditch the Surface form factor in favour of TB3; maybe grab an XPS 13 and a GPU dock? Maybe. I'm actually liking this idea the more I think about it. Though I like the idea of having a tablet that can do everything, honestly I'm going to use it as a laptop 95% of the time so maybe I shouldn't spend so much money on a "nice to have".

    I could save some money this time around while still sampling the Surface life with Acer's remarkable Switch Alpha 12. It's not as good as the Surface across the board, but it's pretty damn close and the price is extremely competitive. Perhaps that'll get me through the next couple of years until something better arrives.

    Speaking of which, I gather Intel are about to change the game with the release of a new generation of CPUs that includes Thunderbolt. Does this mean all laptops and tablets will have the capacity to leverage eGPUs? From next year!? Can I hang on one more year? Could be the year of the Surface Phone, too!

    Or do I buy something cheap and cheerful to get be by until something comes along and ticks all the boxes? Give up the Surface form factor and just get anything reasonable for now. What's the cheapest laptop that supports full TB3?

    My Dad has an Inspiron 5000 and it's actually pretty great. For £550 I could have an i7, 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM, backlit keyboard and invertible. It's just a little larger and heavier than I'd like. Compared to the HP Elite/Spectre equivalents it's actually not bad, and in fact when closed in tablet mode it's much neater. Even the lovely Spectre x360 leaves a rather ugly gap in tablet mode due to it's curvy bottom, making "tablet mode" a rather clunky after-thought.

    For neatness in tablet mode the best invertible seems to be Lenovo's Yoga line. It's thinner and lighter than the rest, and when inverted it's very flat indeed, with no unwanted gaps. The 900s is actually a fabulous item, being less than 13", by ideal size really, but unfortunately it doesn't appear to sport a proper CPU. Maybe next year it will! Maybe even TB3, too. But it's also back up to £1,000 and so brings me full-circle.

    So many choices, none of them ideal. I seem to be playing a perpetual waiting game. But with all the money in the world, I feel I'd still be disappointed at present.

    I might be concluding that the XPS 13 is the best choice, given that it ticks all the boxes except the convertible one. That's a bit of a painful loss, but a laptop is what I really need and I'm told it'll support an eGPU which means it'll go on for years. That might make it the better investment than the tide-me-over Inspiron 5000 that lacks both USB-C and TB3 in the current iteration, unless someone can suggest something better for £500.
    06-15-2017 11:36 AM
  2. xandros9's Avatar
    For a 7-10 year investment, I will not get a Surface.

    Well, I'm not the most knowledgeable about the fine points such as eGPU's (generally being either out of my budget for the whole setup or out of whatever computer I have's capabilities) but I'd like to turn your focus to business-grade computers. (If you've seen my post history, I swear by them.)

    The Surface is as bad as it gets as far as ease-of-repair is concerned, so if anything goes wrong over the years of ownership, you'd be boned. (Type Cover connector flexes too much and wears out over time? Another one! Display breaks? Another tablet! Battery wears out? Another tablet! Want to upgrade the SSD? You might be able to take a dremel to the back and cut a hole in the body for access. etc. You get my drift.

    As for eGPU leverage I think a lot of it was just having the right I/O on the computer since I remember talk in the past about using ExpressCard for it and now USB-C. But my knowledge is pretty surface-level as I never went too deep in my research since commandeering a desktop'll ultimately be more economical overall if I was being serious.

    Anyways, I would take a look at what's available in Lenovo's ThinkPad lineup or Dell's Latitude lineup.

    Repairability is better, they're usually more durable and they tend to last a long time. I don't know about their USB-C availability though.

    I've had a 2008 T400 around since 2012 (I'm probably the second or third owner) and it's been my daily until 2015, but pulling various background duties since. The plastic exterior has seen better days but the rollcage is fine and it can pull daily duties if I ever have to pull it from retirement. (except gaming but go figure)

    But I'd also be careful with convertibles as there's more to go wrong. I replaced my T400 in mid-2015 with an almost-new ThinkPad Yoga and I've just retired it a month ago because a hardware sensor or something is randomly disabling the keyboard and trackpad. But then again, it could just be bad luck as a friend of mine has an IdeaPad Yoga that's the same age and still kicking. But it's not a fluke as it's an issue that's appeared on the forums but of course, all devices tend towards different problems.

    Ultimately I fear you're stuck in the same situation I am with phones. Nothing exactly fits!
    06-15-2017 04:22 PM
  3. jubbbird's Avatar
    Thanks for the intelligent, considered response.

    Interestingly I just spoke to a friend who's ordered some new hardware through his work. He went for the new Lattitude 5285 because Dell assured him that he could open it up and change the disk, RAM and battery. Sounds like a solid idea. It's a shame the i5 isn't fanless, the battery isn't as good as the SP and it's actually even *more* expensive, though.

    But I take your point. If it weren't for the ability to install the SSD, my current laptop wouldn't have survived nearly this long. I've learned how to care for batteries (use it or lose it, charge as little as possible but to requirements) so I'm fairly confident I won't wear it down within five years, and I imagine 8GB RAM will be enough for the duration. But if something goes wrong out of warranty I'll want to know what the repair costs are likely to be.

    The detachable keyboard of the Surface is better than an invertible, I think, especially as you can replace it. But if the connector goes on the fritz I'm in trouble. Otherwise, I do wonder if the 360 degree hinges are actually less likely to break than traditional ones. The fact that it can't be forced beyond it's natural angle seems like protective flexibility, but then the need to use sensors to disable the keyboard and trackpad is an extra point of failure.

    I need to look into more 12.5-13" options, including the XPS 13, perhaps with less emphasis on the tablet aspect. I don't really want anything with less than 8 hours of battery, and so far the new SP is the only one that really has the longevity.

    I'm hopeful that ASUS, Lenovo and HP are about to announce refreshes. Then maybe we'll see some better battery life, and TB3 support.
    06-16-2017 06:42 AM
  4. onlysublime's Avatar
    Leo Laporte (and I would agree) says that 1 year = 15 computer years. So that 10 year old computer is a 150 year old computer. A 3 year old computer is considered middle aged... Sure some people are driving cars that have 200K miles on them. But most people dump their cars much sooner.

    I stopped doing laptop upgrades around the time I had a 17" HP laptop. It was a great laptop for the time. Even had a great number keypad and a great screen. Had room for 2 drives and additional memory. But by the time I got around to getting an SSD and additional memory, the onboard motherboard chipset couldn't really take advantage of the SSD. The RAM had already been obsoleted so I had to pay a premium for a paltry amount of RAM that was not common anymore. So I probably ended up spending $500 in parts to make an old laptop a little better. That's when I said no more. Buy what I can afford and ride it out as long as possible.
    06-17-2017 04:04 AM
  5. SlideWRX's Avatar
    A 7-10 year lifespan is pretty optimistic for any laptop, repairable or not. I've had my current one for 6 years and still going strong, so it is certainly possible, but then my wifes 3 year old laptop lost the power cord port, which would require re-soldering or replacing the motherboard, both of which was as expensive as getting a new similar laptop*. Of course, if you are doing it yourself the prices do drop considerably.

    *the shop we took it to was generally well regarded, but they were also looking for anyway to make/scam a few bucks from the customer. After explaining the problem, they said I could leave it with them (minus the HD, we were going to save that) and they could recycle it. I noticed they sold used ram so I said no thanks, I'll take it and see what I could do. Then I asked, 'how much would you take for the RAM?' $40 bucks for a part of the laptop they were just willing to 'recycle' for free... grrr...

    Anyway, while the surface line may be horrible to repair, there is the possibility it will last that long too. Our original iPad (refurbished, no less) is still going strong after 6 years. The processer/ram is horribly outclassed by the demands of modern web browsing, but it runs a lot of games for our toddler quite well.

    Good luck in your search!
    06-17-2017 09:24 AM
  6. jubbbird's Avatar
    Thanks, SlideWRX.

    I think I agree with you and Leo. 10 years would be a remarkable achievement for a laptop. I've managed about 8 with mine and it's actually still going. I recently discovered that part of the reason it seems slow of late is that "Offline Files" has been using a lot of CPU for no reason. I'll probably investigate that now, and give it a revival.

    In general, though, it seems to me that the last 7-8 years have been a little different to the past. Traditionally, when a new OS is released it is more sophisticated and secure, but inherently weightier than its predecessor. Windows 7 was the first OS that came in lighter and faster than what came before. 8 and 10 seems fairly similar, and I have fairly direct experience of this because my little Acer 1810TZ shipped with 7 and I've upgraded to both 8 and 10 over the years and they all perform about the same, or so it seems to me.

    I've experienced the same with gaming graphics. I used to replace my GPU every couple of years when I just couldn't get by anymore, but I've had a GTX 670 for about four years now, perhaps five. Granted, I'm not playing top-end games at the moment, and I'll accept the possibility it's just my changing perspective that has granted me blissful ignorance, but I get the impression that I can still play just about anything that's around without having to worry about how its performance compares to Crysis. I'm not going to be able to play at 4K, but that's a big step up that has only really happened relatively recently and obviously demands more power. I get the impression developers have finally realised they've got to make their games run on lower power hardware, else people simply won't buy them.

    My point is that while I agree than 7-8 years is good innings for a laptop, I'm starting to feel that modern hardware is stretching a little further. That the power of CPUs is either advancing slower than before, or more likely it's advancing so much faster than the software we're developing that we generally don't need to upgrade as often. So laptops are more likely to last longer.

    Add to this the fact that spindle HDDs have long been an obvious bottleneck, the arrival of SSDs is yet another reason a typical device can live longer. They're more robust, too, so people are less likely to replace a laptop because of a dead HDD, and less likely to be driven insane with slow performance as they would have before.

    Finally, we're starting to see more and more devices with sufficient grunt that can be operated without active cooling, eliminating yet another point of failure. Perhaps detachables, invertibles and convertibles create new potential mechanical problems, but I'm thinking a high-end, premium device like a Surface Pro with no moving parts what-so-ever, a touchscreen and a replaceable keyboard, ought to have the potential to last considerably longer than traditional devices, so long as you don't fall victim to out-of-warranty hardware failure. I'm also assuming that premium devices use higher quality components, and theorise that on average they ought to last longer than their low-budget counterparts.

    I suspect we're going to see more and more devices starting to live to the ripe old age of 150. But maybe I'm being too optimistic.
    xandros9 likes this.
    06-17-2017 12:08 PM
  7. kodos78's Avatar
    The Lenovo Yoga 720 is a 15" Convertible with a Quad Core Processor, and GTX 1050 with USB-C/Thunderbolt (not sure how many lanes).

    06-20-2017 07:19 AM
  8. jubbbird's Avatar
    Is there a 13" version of the 700 series? I looked at the 900 and it's rather nice, but the bezels are so large the laptop is bigger than I'd like. My sister bought the 900s and that's just fantastic, but unfortunately only uses the lower-power CPUs and doesn't have thunderbolt as far as I could tell. If someone releases something mid-range with TB3, no larger than 13.3", I'll be interested I think.
    06-21-2017 08:58 AM

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