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Buying a new laptop for the boat (part 1of2)…

The time has come to retire my Dell XPS M1530. Actually it retired itself when the screen faded and drifted away. Despite my attempts to install a news screen which was a surprisingly easy operation – it just would come back to life. Luckily I have a full back up – so other than saying good bye to what used to be Dell’s “Xtreme Gaming “ laptop there was no drama involved.

I bought this laptop in 2008 so 4 years use – and latterly on board the boat running Max Sea TZ software meant I had had my moneys worth.

But what next – what about a replacement. Although I have spent a lifetime in IT I try to ignore the spam emails from all the laptops sellers and particularly avoid all things to do with reviews or benchmarking or advertising of laptops – until that is I have – like now – to go and buy a replacement.

So how do you set about navigating through the mire of computer ads; half truths; obsolete technology dressed up as “specials” and so on?

Well you must have selection criteria or you will get hooked on some ad blurb and get lead astray – I guarantee it!

First, I thought I would pick on a typical piece of software that is guaranteed to get a sailor’s heart racing – Chartplotting software. Of the various types around of software package around the most taxing are those that do any sort of 3D manipulation in real time. So if you are using software that does not do this type of work then it is far easier to pick a laptop – any that can run Office 2010 will probably suit you just fine. In my case – since I am a geek about this sort of thing – I am using MaxSea TZ as my “typical application”.

In 2008 my Dell XPS came with the following spec:

  • Screen 15.4-inch
  • CPU – Intel Core 2 Duo T7800 (2.6 GHz)
  • 4 GB DDR2 SDRAM at 667 MHz
  • 160 GB 7200 rpm HDD

It ran MaxSea TZ “ok”, but it did falter at times and certainly the 160Gb HDD was nowhere near enough storage for the software, the charts and all the satellite images that come along with it – remember it was my personal laptop too, so it had all my documents and pictures on it as well! So this is the second criterion – I am assuming I will be using my chartplotter capable laptop as a personal laptop too – with all the Office 2010 software; photo editing software; video editing software and all my documents, photos and videos on it too. I would need more HDD storage than 160Gb.

Lastly, there is the issue of battery longevity and also power consumption. I want as long a battery life as possible (lets say 3hrs) and as low a power consumption as possible (lets say 35watts, or 2 amps per hour at 12v). I could explain this but it gets very technical and tedious – click here and here for two excellent sites that will lead you off on a dark and arcane road.

So in summary here are my selection criteria:

  • Benchmark software capability – MaxSea TZ (3D graphics)
  • Screen size – 15” (larger would mean more power consumption)
  • HDD – 320Gb (minimum)
  • RAM – 4Gb (minimum)
  • Battery Life 3 hrs (minimum)
  • TDP rating 45watts (or less)

That is when the fun started.

I realised there is a lot of hype about Intel i3, i5 and i7 CPU’s and that this seemed to be a direct determinant of laptop price. So I did a little digging and looked at the performance of these processors, their power consumption and yes – their price as CPU’s in the wholesale market.

In the table below ( all credit to data from www.notebookcheck.net) , I have listed below the processor model; the TDP power; and the 3D and Whetstone speed benchmark scores of various common processors in this Intel family. I list the Thermal Design Power (TDP) rating, which is the maximum amount of power the cooling system in a computer is required to dissipate. Its not the power of the CPU. A TDP consumption of less than 35 watts e.g. 17 watts indicates a very efficient low power CPU that would be found in ultra light notebooks, and won’t have the other sort of characteristics that I am looking for. So it turns out that 35 watts is the lowest TDP rating that I could hope for in a decent laptop.


Model                                      Series L2 Cache + L3 Cache TDP (Watt) MHz – Turbo Cores / Threads 3DMark06 CPU Whetstone
Intel Core i5 2540M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2600 ? 3300 2/4



Intel Core i5 2520M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2500 ? 3200 2/4



Intel Core i5 2430M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2400 ? 3000 2/4



Intel Core i5 2410M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2300 ? 2900 2/4



Intel Core i5 580M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2666 ? 3333 2/4



Intel Core i5 480M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2666 ? 2933 2/4



Intel Core i5 450M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2400 ? 2660 2/4



Intel Core i5 520M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2400 ? 2933 2/4



Intel Core i5-2557M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 17 1700 ? 2700 2/4



Intel Core i5 460M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2530 ? 2800 2/4



Intel Core i5 540M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2530 ? 3066 2/4



Intel Core i3 390M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2667 2/4



Intel Core i3 380M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2533 2/4



Intel Core i3 370M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2400 2/4



Intel Core i5 430M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2260 ? 2533 2/4



Intel Core i5 2537M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 17 1400 ? 2300 2/4



Intel Core i5-2467M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 17 1600 ? 2300 2/4



Intel Core i3 2330M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2200 2/4



Intel Core i3 350M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2260 2/4



Intel Core i3 330M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2130 2/4




To be continued….


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