The festival season has begun, well at least for Amazon and Flipkart. So it is time to find some good deals on all those things that you wanted to buy. Err, I mean the things that you needed to buy. Strictly speaking for a minimalist it should not matter whether it is sale time or not. If you don’t need something, don’t buy it. But of course we are all human and we fall prey to some temptations. At least I do. I have been wanting to buy a laptop for sometime now. Astute readers of my blog might already know that I have a budget. And according to my annual budget, I am allowed to buy a new laptop every 5 years. Now, I know it is probably too frequent to be buying a laptop every 5 years. But since I spend a considerable amount of my time on a laptop, it would be nice to have a decent upgrade. You know where I am going with all this don’t you? As if the title didn’t already give you a clue.
My budget for the laptop was Rs. 1 lakh every 5 years. Again the amount might seem a bit too high, but the reason is because after purchasing the laptop, there will be inevitable upgrades that I will need to do throughout it’s lifetime. Take the case of the memory and battery upgrades that I had to do earlier. They all cost something.
Moreover, since there are at least 3 laptops in the house (mine, wife’s and parent’s), one or the other develops a problem or requires an upgrade. I recently upgraded my parent’s laptop with a new SDD because the old HDD died. So all those expenses add up over time. Here is the list of expenses in the last 5 years related to the category of “laptop and desktop” expenses.
|Dec 2016||8 GB laptop RAM||3600|
|May 2019||External keyboard||600|
|Jun 2019||SSD for laptop||1600|
|Jul 2019||Laptop charger||700|
|Dec 2019||16 GB laptop RAM||4700|
|Jan 2020||8 GB laptop RAM||-1200|
|May 2021||Laptop battery||5300|
There is a -ve number in that table above. That is when I sold my 8 GB RAM in Jan 2020 which I purchased earlier in Dec 2016. The reason is that I upgraded my RAM from 8 GB to 16 GB in Dec 2019. Anyway, with all these expenses my available budget is now around Rs. 85,000. Of course that does not mean I need to spend the whole budget.
I purchased my current laptop in November 2016. As it was approaching the 5 year mark, I thought about replacing it. But generally I buy my laptops in the US whenever I travel there. There are a couple of reasons for that. One they are much cheaper compared to the ones that are available in India. Moreover the quality of the product is better. I was actually planning a trip to the US in 2020 which is when I wanted to buy a laptop but that did not work out as you know. So I decided I will buy one in India.
During these 5 years, I have upgraded my laptop 3 times. The RAM was upgraded twice, first to 16 GB from 8 GB and then to 24 GB. As the development tools became more complex over the years they are consuming a lot more resources, and the first resource that needs upgrading is almost always the RAM. Then I had to replace my laptop battery because it was not holding charge at all and is causing random crashes.
Once I decided to buy a laptop, I started making a matrix in a spreadsheet like I always do, so it becomes easy to narrow down on the laptop. For the matrix I need to know what I was really looking for in a laptop.
Looking back at how I used my current laptop, my primary purpose was coding. Which means the laptop should have upgradable RAM. Many thin laptops these days are coming with soldered on-board RAM which will certainly not work. Not just that but many laptops (especially Lenovo) are coming with one soldered RAM and one DIMM slot. Then there are some laptops which come with both DIMM slots filled. For example an 8 GB laptop comes with 4 GB sticks in both slots. I hate that because then if I have to upgrade, I need to throw away one of the 4GB sticks. Finally some laptops come with motherboards that only support 16 GB RAM, and I have gone past that limit already. So what I was looking for is a laptop capable of supporting 32 GB RAM with 2 DIMM slots and only one of them filled.
Next, I need the battery to last a decent amount of time. A minimum of 5 hours under light load. After seeing how it was difficult and expensive to find a replacement battery for old laptops, I started to wonder if I need to look for a laptop which can charge via USB-C. Because then if the laptop battery dies, I can at least buy a USB-C power bank and charge the laptop that way. I can find replacements for those quite easily.
Next I wanted the laptop to be at least three times as many cores as my current one. My current laptop is an Intel 7th gen core i7 device with 2 cores and 2 hyperthreads. Also I was hell bent on buying a Ryzen laptop this time around. I want that 7nm CPU already and Intel is still stuck with 14nm and 10nm chips. Then I wanted the laptop to have a decent NVMe drive. My current laptop has a 256 NVMe drive which is plenty fast, but I wanted something faster and if possible a bigger drive. The reason is that I almost filled up the 256 gig drive to the brim. I was left with something like 7 GB free space now.
The final couple of criteria for me which were really just nice to haves were a good GPU and an SD card reader. I used to play quite a lot of games in my younger days (before having a kid). I used to buy gaming laptops those days. My first two laptops were budget gaming laptops and the third one was a mid range gaming laptop. I used to enjoy playing games like crazy. As I grew older, I have moved on to more casual gaming :). So my current laptop is not a gaming laptop at all. It only came with integrated graphics. While I could still play Age of Empires and Startcraft II in low settings, it was less than ideal, although I didn’t mind it all that much.
The SD card was really just something I threw into the list because I sometimes need to flash a new image on to my media center PC which takes a micro SD card. Also I need to flash new images for my Raspberry Pi boards which also need SD cards. So it would be nice to have a SD card reader, but I could always buy an external one or use my current laptop. Flashing SD cards is something I rarely do, so no reason to really have it.
There is an implicit requirement that the laptop should have 15” to 16” screen. Anything smaller than 15” is not enough real estate for coding and anything too big will mean a heavier laptop. All 3 laptops before my current one, were 17” ones. But now I prefer something easy to carry around the house as well as when I travel.
While we are on the topic of easy to carry around, I also wanted the laptop to be thin and light. It need not be super thin or super light, but a reasonable number would do. So I also used to check for laptop thickness. Another implicit requirement is that the laptop should look simple in design. Not all colorful and flashy like a gaming laptop.
With those requirements I started my search and was able to eliminate a ton of laptops just based on my requirements. The upper bound for a laptop is the cost of Rs. 85,000. I shortlisted the following laptops after much consideration.
You can guess what the color coding means to me from the picture. While gaming should not have been a determining criteria, I somehow started leaning more towards gaming laptops. There were two reasons for not preferring them. One, they chew through battery like there is no tomorrow. Two, they are generally thick and heavy to accommodate a good cooling system and larger battery to compensate for the power hungry components. After eliminating the US laptops, my preference should have been MSI modern 15. But somehow I was tempted towards the HP Victus 16 laptop. That was my first choice. My second choice was Acer Aspire 7. My third choice was ASUS TUF Gaming A15.
But that was before the festive season discounts were announced. After discounts, ASUS TUF Gaming A15 at Rs. 66K became number one choice and HP Victus at Rs. 66K took over the third place. Acer Aspire 7 continued to be at the second place at the price of Rs. 51K. If you are looking for a good budget gaming laptop, I would highly suggest the ASUS TUF Gaming A15. It is the best value for money. Some salient features include an 8 core, 16 thread processor, RTX 3050 graphics card, 90 WHr battery and an insane 144Hz display panel. And it is ASUS TUF laptop which are known for their good build quality and thermals. Seems like a gamers dream to me. Even for a programmer like me, the 8 core processor and 90 WHr battery was mouth watering.
However, I actually purchased my second choice, and this is where the minimalist in me comes out. I needed to draw the line between needs vs wants. I need a thin and light laptop, but I wanted a fast gaming laptop. In reality, looking back at the number of times I played games on my laptop, a gaming laptop would not be the right choice. I play may be 5% and work 95%. I would be dragging a thick, heavy and power hungry laptop most of the time. You have to remember that a 144 Hz display was not even on my list, because I was not shopping for a gaming laptop.
But all is not good with the minimalist image that I am trying to project here. To tell you the truth, an ideal minimalist would have gone for the MSI modern 15 at a price of Rs. 44K without a graphics card. I just got tempted with the GTX 1650 in Acer Aspire 7 which would let me play some not so demanding games :). Knowing the prices of GPUs these days (due to chip shortage), an extra Rs. 7K to pamper myself did not seem too bad. That is the story of my new laptop. More details and review of the laptop in another post.