Another month another laptop
I will soon be able to add “itinerant laptop computer reviewer” to my resume. I am writing this on a new Apple Macbook Air computer. Yes, my third new laptop in the past four months. It's only been 12 hours but I think this may be the one. Of course, I've said that before.
In 2012, I purchased a new Macbook Pro computer and used it as my primary machine until 2018 when I needed to upgrade. It was a great computer but only had an Intel i5 chip and 8GB of memory. I had begun using multiple virtual machines for security and forensic purposes and it just couldn't keep up, even after a RAM upgrade to 16GB. I wanted to stay in the Apple “ecosystem” but I was dismayed with some of the comments Tim Cook had made at that time. I feel strongly that a business should provide me with products and services and let me decide my politics. If you want to be a politician then fine get into politics, otherwise, just make a good computer and keep your mouth shut. I didn't feel I could reward a business that had a CEO that believed I was a horrible and detestable person because of my personal beliefs. And was outspoken about it!
Anyways, I left Apple and went with a maxed-out Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon. It was smoking hot with an i7 processor, 16GB of memory, and the best feeling keyboard I had ever typed on. It was fantastic. The only downside, and the one that ultimately set me on this journey, was it ran Windows. The physical machine is flawless. The operating system, not so much. And as regular readers know, earlier this year Microsoft made it a very expensive paperweight with a corrupted update.
That Thinkpad was so nice that I had purchased an older Thinkpad X1 off eBay to use as an experimental machine. I used it to run different Linux distributions in various flavors and configurations. At the time Microsoft murdered my main Thinkpad, I was playing with the Linux distribution Pop!_OS from System76. It is such a polished operating system that I suspected it could be my daily driver so I installed it on the newer Thinkpad. Regular use of Pop! lead me to purchase a System76 computer designed specifically to run the operating system.
On the face of it, the System76 Lemur Pro is a beautiful machine. I purchased a fully specked unit with the 11th generation i7 processor, 40GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. And it only weighed about two and a half pounds. The experience was downhill from the unboxing and love proved to be only lust. Pop! remained to work flawlessly on the machine but the trackpad sounded like a dog training clicker, the fan like a leaf blower, and the keyboard was disappointing. You would be satisfied with the keyboard if you had never used a Thinkpad. For those of us who have typed on a X1, it's hard to use anything but. So, I took advantage of the System76 “no questions asked” return policy and sent the machine back. To be fair, the computer was capable but needs some refinements. I believe this stems from System76 using a Clevo chassis and not bending their own aluminum. They are in the setup processes to build their own bodies at their Colorado factory so I expect things to improve. And I plan to purchase a domestically designed and manufactured Lemur Pro running Pop!_OS when they are released.
While only having a Linux computer is fine for my personal needs, it is inconvenient and inefficient for my professional computing needs. I adjunct at the local community college and instructed two courses during the Spring 2021 semester. Using the Linux operating system while the rest of the college, mainly the students, are using only Microsoft apps, proved to be exhausting. You can read more about that in my article It's not you, it's me...90 days with PopOS. I need to use a computer that will run Microsoft Office applications.
I had stringent requirements for the new machine; 11th generation Intel i7 processor, 32GB of memory, 1TB drive, and weigh less than 3 pounds. The choice came down to the 9th generation Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon and the new Dell XPS13. Ultimately, the decision was made over price as the XPS priced out at $500 less than the Lenovo. I wanted the X1 but 500 hundred bucks is 500 hundred bucks and the reviews of the Dell XPS13 were nothing less than stellar. So after a four-week wait, a beautiful Dell XPS13 9310 computer arrived at my house.
And the XPS13 is beautiful. Everything you read about the design of the machine is true. It looks good and feels good. Yes, it feels good in the hands. The screen was brilliant, the keyboard acceptable, and it was so fast that it almost made me forget that it was running Windows. I could have fallen in love with that computer. But it had a fatal flaw. Poisoned by Dell, those bastards. From the first boot, it would not stay connected to WiFi. The network card would die every time the machine came out of sleep or when switching from one WiFi access point to another. Every time the machine woke up, or if I moved from a WiFi spot to another at work, the machine would need to restart to revive the network card. My first call to Dell support was three days after receiving the machine. I knew from that initial conversation things were not going to end well.
Anyways, you can read all about the issue HERE. Yes, that is a 43-page thread thoroughly exploring the issue on the Dell customer support forum. There is a known and well-documented problem with the Intel Killer AX500-DBS wifi adapter. BUT Dell is still shipping machines with them installed. The updates Dell suggested did not fix the problem so the computer went back for a full refund. This was not a prebuilt machine that I purchased off the shelf at a retail store. I waiting a month for it to be built and shipped. Dell knows the AX500 cards have issued so why are they still installing them in $1800 computers? Negligence. Incompetence. Profit over service. And Dell has lost a customer.
During my wait for the XPS to be delivered, I was reading more and more about the success of the new Apple M1 chips. Blazing fast, power-efficient, and a new design structure that renders RAM irrelevant (kind of), there is a lot to like. There are also drawbacks including translation issues for apps not yet designed to be run on Apple silicon and well, Tim Cook is still the CEO. To his credit, he seems to have tempered his voice and focus on selling computers, not politics.
A visit to the local Apple store proved more than I could resist and I am the owner of a new MacBook Air (M1,2020) running the M1 chip, with 16GB of memory and 1TB of storage. Initial reaction, after 12 hours; It's fast...really fast. The screen is brilliantly crisp and the “magic” keyboard feels good. Not as nice as a Thinkpad keyboard but better than the XPS and definitely better than the Lemur Pro. And most important, Office for Mac is installed and works!
I'll write a more thorough review once I do some heavy computing and put the Apple silicon to the test.