November 12, 2015

Bought A New Computer, Had Nothing To Do With Fruit

I almost did it. I almost caved and bought a MacBook Pro. But before I make big purchases like that, I always do my research first. And what I discovered, the more I read, was that Windows 10 is fixing many of the features that made OS X unique, like copy and paste into terminal and spaces (virtual desktops). In fact, after using Windows 10 now for a little more than a month, it is not only way better than any previous Windows OS, it is better than Mac OS X. Just like Android is years ahead of iOS, there isn't anything Apple does to OS X, that Microsoft can't improve on, and Windows 10 proves that.

I read a lot of user comments on Quora and Reddit, and what I related to the most, is that nothing Apple makes, software-wise, really clicks with me. To some people, it just doesn't click; it doesn't feel right. Using Mac OS X feels like I am fighting against the grain. My familiarity with Windows, and all of the improvements in Windows 10, it just feels right to stay with it. I am not a .NET programmer, and really have little use for PowerShell. I stay away from IIS as much as I can. But for CFML with ColdFusion/Lucee, Javascript, NodeJS, and all of the front-end work I do, I can do it all in Windows.

Now there's no debating the quality design of just about everything Apple makes, hardware-wise. But the specs are always just a little behind the curve. The PC market seems to always be slightly ahead of the curve, and because of this, it really makes paying the premium price for Apple hardware seem silly to me. But I was ready to pay that price anyway.

I decided months ago, when the delay of the quad-core Broadwell chips for the MacBook Pro was announced, that I would hold out until the quad-core Skylake chips were released instead. Intel uses a "Tick-Tock" model for their microarchitectural process changes. A "tick" represents a shrinking of the process technology of the previous microarchitecture, and a "tock" typically designates a new microarchitecture. Every 12 to 18 months, there is expected to be one tick or tock. And typically a tock means a significant increase in speed. So Big things were expected for Skylake, because an increase in speed hasn't happened since Sandy Bridge. While Haswell was the last tock, it didn't increase speeds very significantly; it was mostly efficiency gains contributing to longer notebook battery life. Broadwell was the tick, after Haswell. So Skylake is the tock.

Apple had great difficulty getting the Intel Broadwell chips to work in the MacBook Pro. They released dual-core (not quad-core) Skylake chips for the 13 inch MacBook Pro, but kept the quad-core Haswell chips in the 15 inch MacBook Pro. Now that Skylake is released officially, it seems that if Apple were smart, they'd just leap-frog over Broadwell and Skylake, and wait for the quad-core Cannonlake, the CPU planned after Skylake. But Cannonlake has been delayed to mid 2017, so long that Intel had to fill the gap by sneaking in a CPU release prior to Cannonlake, called Kaby Lake. With all the uncertainty with Intel, I can't imagine the MacBook Pro 15 inch will be upgraded in CPU anytime soon. What's more, even if they decided to use Skylake anyway - it has been a huge disappointment. Intel chose not to deliver the Skylake CPU everybody expected, with the huge increase in speed and performance. Instead we got a far more efficient CPU and a modest 5 to 10% performance increase. This CPU will improve notebook battery life signficantly, in some cases doubling it, but we won't see a quad-core Skylake or Broadwell in an Apple MacBook Pro for many months; maybe in 2016?

So considering the signficant improvements of Windows 10 and the uncertainty of Intel and the MacBook Pro, I researched a new PC notebook. I've only ever had 17 inch notebooks, but this time I decided on a 15 incher. Something more portable, but large enough my big hands can still type on it. With a 4k screen, to compete with Retina, I should get tiny text like before the 1920x1080 HD days. I want pretty good battery life (I've never had more than 2 hours), killer graphics (better than MacBook Pro), 256GB PCI-Express 3.0 SSD, and under $2500 which is slightly less than what a MacBook Pro 15 inch would cost.

Being a Veteran of the U.S. Navy and the Gulf War, I qualified for a 15% discount from Dell. And Dell had several of the top rated PC's with Skylake CPUs. The XPS line didn't have capacity for extra storage. The Precision line (mobile workstations) didn't accept my Veterans discount. So I turned to Alienware, the gaming division of Dell, and the new Alienware 15 R2 with Skylake.  I configured a beast of a machine, but had trouble applying my Veterans discount. So I hit the chat button, and chatted. I am glad I did, because I saved over $500. The machine I ordered:

  • Intel Core i7 6700HQ Skylake (this is second to the top of the line)
  • 16 GB DDR4 RAM (max)
  • 256 PCI-Express 3.0 SSD
  • 1 GB 7200RPM SATA, second hard drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M 8GB DDR5 (fastest mobile graphics card they offer)
  • 15.6 inch UHD (3840x2160) IGZO IPS Anti-Glare 300-nits Display
I got a beast of a machine with specs far superior to the newest MacBook Pro 15 inch, for less than the cost of a comparable MacBook Pro. Because of the Skylake processor, I will get from 4 to 7 hours of battery life, which is better than I've ever had, despite not being on par with the MacBook Pro. I'll give up some battery life, for better CPU, Graphics, Storage, and a 4k screen.

So that's how I ended Veterans Day 2015. I bought an Alienware 15 R2 Skylake.

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