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Laptop for Programming?


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#1 The Teej

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Posted 02 October 2012 - 23:25

Hi all.

I'm looking to get a laptop which will very primarily be used for programming. It's something I've been thinking of doing for a while, and it definitely makes the most sense, as this way I can take the laptop to the library and do my programming there when I just need to get away and really concentrate without the usual household or other computer distractions (like Steam!!!).

Now, this isn't really a "what laptop should I buy thread" in the traditional sense (otherwise this would have gone in the HH ^^'), but more a couple of questions. I've usually gone with high-ish end PC hardware because I love my games, so naturally I've had nice compile times and never really been bogged down with Intellisense updates. However, seen as this laptop will primarily and nigh-on exclusively just for programming, I don't want to spend a lot of money if I don't have to (although not to say I won't if needs be).

So, what I'm asking really, is how much do lower-end processors like a second or third gen i3 processor effect compile times and intellisense updates compared to a second-gen i7 2600K? Is it quite dramatic, or is it within the realms of acceptability? I don't really want it to go dog-slow, but obviously I'm comfortable with it not being as fast as my home PC (for obvious reasons). Also, has VS 2012 implemented hardware acceleration or not? As obviously this would affect what graphics card would be best in this laptop.

Many thanks all.


#2 ~Johnny

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Posted 02 October 2012 - 23:33

My computer has a mobile i5 chip, and I can't say I've ever had a problem with intellisense update times (didn't even know this was an issue) or build times, though that's mostly with me playing with C# & F# projects, and nothing particularly massive. Unfortunately I have nothing more powerful to compare too.

VS 2012 has pretty much similar hardware acceleration to VS 2010 - given that both of their interfaces are built nearly completely with WPF which is naturally rendered by DirectX. So some form of decent graphics chip is probably in order, though the Intel HD 3000 / 4000 integrated GPU's shouldn't have any problems with it.

#3 +Karl L.

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Posted 02 October 2012 - 23:43

The thing that sped up compile times more than anything else was when I got a SSD. It makes an unbelievable difference.

I don't think that the processor makes that much of a difference with compile times. I used to do most of my development on a 2.4 GHz C2Q (Q6600) machine but have since switched to a 2.67 GHz i5 (M560) and I don't notice any difference in compile times. That's not to say that the M560 isn't faster than the Q6600, I just don't notice it while compiling any of my software projects.

Something that definitely helps, on both my old Q6600 and my newer M560 is compiling in parallel (using multiple cores). When I compile one of my larger projects with -j2 instead of -j5, it takes ~ 15 minutes to compile instead of ~ 5 minutes -- a noticable difference. Compiling on a SSD instead of a hard drive halves that compile time as well.

Note: The -j switch is used in GCC and Clang to specify how many threads the compiler can create, allowing it to compile in parallel. The general rule of thumb is that you should specify 1+(number of processor cores or threads). I assume that MSVC has something similar.

#4 Kami-

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Posted 02 October 2012 - 23:52

I just compiled identical projects on my i7-3930K desktop and a second gen i3 laptop that's been lying around (using VS2010 on both machines) - I wouldn't say the laptop was 'dog-slow' but there was a noticeable difference, however I'd expect there to be.

I'd still say for the purposes intended you could get a second/third gen i3 to do the job and be happy with it.

(That said; I'd probably opt for an SSD for the read/write speed to the disc)

#5 SuperKid

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Posted 02 October 2012 - 23:59

With really huge projects, a fast CPU would benefit of course, but also like xorangekiller said an SSD would also make a difference in compile time. I mean my computer is years old and it runs a q9550 processor and a standard samsung hard drive and compiles projects in a reasonable amount of time.

I think an i3 or i5 would be fine anyway.

#6 OP The Teej

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 00:07

So basically it's a case of i3 processors will do, but i5 processors are a much better choice, combined with an SSD for silly speeds. Seen as I only want this for programming, I'll probably be able to get away with a 128GB SSD.

You guys have been rather helpful, thanks :) If anyone else has something to share though, please, input!! I won't be buying this laptop straight away anyway!

#7 Andre S.

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 04:36

Most important IMO is to get a higher resolution than the usual 1366x768 you get on laptops. Higher resolution screens not only give you more screen estate but also tend to just look a lot brighter and more colorful, perhaps because they're simply of better quality. Given that the entire Windows UI scales, that web browsers scale and most text editors do as well, there's really no reason not to go for the highest possible resolution whatever your screen size is.

#8 +Karl L.

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 22:06

I definitely agree with Dr_Asik that a higher resolution screen is a huge advantage! While I still wouldn't rate it higher than a SSD for development purposes, high resolution is very high on my priority list. I personally wouldn't buy a laptop with a low resultion display, like many modern laptops that ship with a 15 inch screen with a max resultion of 1366x768.

#9 thatguyandrew1992

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 18:42

I always loved programming on my desktop with a 1920x1080 res vs my laptop's 1366x768. A higher res just makes coding so much better! you dont feel cluttered, and can get more code on the screen.

#10 PrincessLuna

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 14:06

I manage running Visual Studio 2010 and 2012 on an old 1.6 Ghz 2GB Ram netbook. So I think any modern computer will do.

On my system though, MS SQL server related stuff gets slow and so does debugging. The WinForms designer can lag but the WPF one is smooth enough.

Overall its usable but the only serious shortcoming is the small display. You have to set everything in the IDE to autohide.

#11 tiagosilva29

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 15:04

Depends on what are you trying to pull.

If you are programming with a modern IDE, you certainly need a large screen with a nice resolution.

If you are programming in old-school mode or following strict institutional coding standards you don't need a large screen.

As for the processor, you need to look at the provided instruction sets and pick your poison.

Note: The -j switch is used in GCC and Clang to specify how many threads the compiler can create, allowing it to compile in parallel.

That option is used by GNU make. Not GCC/Clang.

#12 +Karl L.

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 17:28

That option is used by GNU make. Not GCC/Clang.


I stand corrected. I use it with both GCC and Clang because nearly all of my projects use makefiles, but it is a feature of Make.

#13 PrincessLuna

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 17:39

I honestly don't think the hardware would make a big difference except for waiting time while a process like compiling is being done. Should be fast enough on most machines. The VS requirements match netbook hardware.