How does SFF community feel about laptops?

JosephEK

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Original poster
Mar 6, 2017
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This forum has given me a lot of inspiration for desktop building, but I was curious what people here think about Laptops which are essentially just proprietary SFF computers with built in peripherals and because they're produced in bulk by a company their proprietary form factors are really hard to beat.

So this made me wonder: If they're basically making laptops with full-power desktop GPUs in them, why not just use that as my SFF PC where I can take it with me or plug it into my desk monitor/peripherals whenever I want to use it as a desktop?

With this sort of system unless I need more than 4 cores why not just use a laptop for everything these days and forget about building my own SFF PC? Passion maybe?

Or are there perhaps modular laptop chassis that you can build inside? I kind of like that idea, but I've never heard of such a thing before. Does it exist?
 

alexep7

Cable-Tie Ninja
Jan 30, 2017
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I know I have a VERY uncommon view on this that absolutely no one agrees with, but I always thought laptops were a very ugly piece of machinery and not very practical (yes, not practical, you read that right). I hate the look and I hate having to have the keyboard attached to the screen all the time, not to mention I absolutely despise trackpads and all laptop keyboards I've tried because I always feel they're too cramped.

I have never had a laptop in my life, believe it or not, but I have dealt with many, from my parents' laptops through the years to my own 2 attempts at owning one (which I had to return within a day, both times, because I couldn't get used to it). The first one was a regular 15.6" laptop and I thought it was too big. The second one was an 10" (?) chromebook which I thought was perfect in screen size but having to type on a keyboard so close to the screen and without being able to move the keyboard was awful.

Tablets and wireless keyboards and mouses were lifesavers for me. I used this combination for some years until my tablet died, but it served me very well whenever I needed to take a computer with me to the library, for example.

I'm typing this from my desktop PC and I just noticed that my keyboard is always at an angle when I type. Maybe it's got to do with this habit, I don't know, but I just can't stand the cramped feel of a laptop in my hands.

So this made me wonder: If they're basically making laptops with full-power desktop GPUs in them, why not just use that as my SFF PC where I can take it with me or plug it into my desk monitor/peripherals whenever I want to use it as a desktop?
I would love for this to happen with smartphones. I'm pretty sure most people who take their laptop out of the house won't be using it for gaming or whatever (that's another thing that grinds my gears, the existence of "gaming laptops") and you can already use your smartphone for any basic computer need - I haven't replaced my tablet exactly because my 5.5" smartphone can be used for the same thing and now when I need to read electronic documents, internet access or even writing something on word or powerpoint I just use my smartphone, taking a bluetooth keyboard if needed.
 
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ignsvn

By Toutatis!
SFFn Staff
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Apr 4, 2016
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So this made me wonder: If they're basically making laptops with full-power desktop GPUs in them, why not just use that as my SFF PC where I can take it with me or plug it into my desk monitor/peripherals whenever I want to use it as a desktop?

With this sort of system unless I need more than 4 cores why not just use a laptop for everything these days and forget about building my own SFF PC? Passion maybe?

Well.. my 2c:

Some people prefer full power desktop GPU and desktop CPU. Add the ambient temperature in some countries and we have heat problem in sight. No laptop, as far as I know, can handle that.

Also, most bigger laptops come with 17"-something screen. Some people may need bigger screen. Yes you can buy another monitor, but it also means extra cost.

Lastly, upgrade possibility.

In short, I love to bring SFF desktop where I have a monitor/TV & extra power outlet in the destination place, but sometimes I also need my laptop when work in cafes or libraries. I'd say they complement each other, at least for now. Things may change with new computational technologies.

And yeah passion does count :)
 
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JosephEK

Cable-Tie Ninja
Original poster
Mar 6, 2017
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I know I have a VERY uncommon view on this that absolutely no one agrees with, but I always thought laptops were a very ugly piece of machinery and not very practical (yes, not practical, you read that right). I hate the look and I hate having to have the keyboard attached to the screen all the time, not to mention I absolutely despise trackpads and all laptop keyboards I've tried because I always feel they're too cramped.

I have never had a laptop in my life, believe it or not, but I have dealt with many, from my parents' laptops through the years to my own 2 attempts at owning one (which I had to return within a day, both times, because I couldn't get used to it). The first one was a regular 15.6" laptop and I thought it was too big. The second one was an 10" (?) chromebook which I thought was perfect in screen size but having to type on a keyboard so close to the screen and without being able to move the keyboard was awful.

Tablets and wireless keyboards and mouses were lifesavers for me. I used this combination for some years until my tablet died, but it served me very well whenever I needed to take a computer with me to the library, for example.

I'm typing this from my desktop PC and I just noticed that my keyboard is always at an angle when I type. Maybe it's got to do with this habit, I don't know, but I just can't stand the cramped feel of a laptop in my hands.

I would love for this to happen with smartphones. I'm pretty sure most people who take their laptop out of the house won't be using it for gaming or whatever (that's another thing that grinds my gears, the existence of "gaming laptops") and you can already use your smartphone for any basic computer need - I haven't replaced my tablet exactly because my 5.5" smartphone can be used for the same thing and now when I need to read electronic documents, internet access or even writing something on word or powerpoint I just use my smartphone, taking a bluetooth keyboard if needed.
I think I understand what you're saying with the ergonomics. A keyboard should not be that close to the screen because our arms should be resting at our sides bent at 90 degrees when using a keyboard, but with a laptop you either need to reach up to use the keyboard or bend your neck down to view the screen.

Edit: I also LOVE the idea for a wired smartphone dock Nintendo-Switch style.
 
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gffermari

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Jan 7, 2017
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91
Well, recently it was necessary to move from one place to another, so i had to pack my pc every time (Shuttle XPC case(14L) + Dell U2312HM/Logitech MX Master + Logitech K360).
And i finally concluded that
- a case may be as small and portable as a laptop with the bag but the monitor will always be the problem in the moving process.
- and portable monitors, equipped with only USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 inputs are completely useless,
- so as some asian portable monitors which has got HDMI input but are ridiculously expensive and below average in terms of quality.
- you cannot get rid of some cables since the pc and the monitor will always use at least 3 of them (2 for power, 1 HDMI/DP) assuming that the mouse and keyboard are wireless.
- it takes (a little) time and you need a suitable place to set it up.

Because of my nature of my job, i need to constantly move and really need my pc move with me. I have a laptop too but its ridiculously slow and cannot be upgraded. So i am looking for buying a new one and i'm willing to sacrifice my 4770K/R9 Nano pc in case the new laptop can replace it without any compromises.
And looking for laptop specs, i read:
6700HQ? 7700HQ? these processors are for scrap! All laptop hardware is at least funny considering their price.

So i ended up that laptops are the absolute form of SFF computer, because they include the monitor, the cables, whatever anyone needs. But their performance is funny and their upgradeability is pointless and expensive.

**Maybe a S4 Mini with screwed monitor is the perfect SFF combination.
 

GuilleAcoustic

Chief Procrastination Officer
SFFn Staff
LOSIAS
Jun 29, 2015
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Long story short: I hate laptops !

I find their keyboard being too flat and unpleasant, touchpad are horrible. They are not upgradable, all plasticky if you fun sell your kindney to get the higher end ones.

When you open the large screen one .... The chassis is full of .... Wasted space !
 
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JosephEK

Cable-Tie Ninja
Original poster
Mar 6, 2017
175
84
Well, recently it was necessary to move from one place to another, so i had to pack my pc every time (Shuttle XPC case(14L) + Dell U2312HM/Logitech MX Master + Logitech K360).
And i finally concluded that
- a case may be as small and portable as a laptop with the bag but the monitor will always be the problem in the moving process.
- and portable monitors, equipped with only USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 inputs are completely useless,
- so as some asian portable monitors which has got HDMI input but are ridiculously expensive and below average in terms of quality.
- you cannot get rid of some cables since the pc and the monitor will always use at least 3 of them (2 for power, 1 HDMI/DP) assuming that the mouse and keyboard are wireless.
- it takes (a little) time and you need a suitable place to set it up.

Because of my nature of my job, i need to constantly move and really need my pc move with me. I have a laptop too but its ridiculously slow and cannot be upgraded. So i am looking for buying a new one and i'm willing to sacrifice my 4770K/R9 Nano pc in case the new laptop can replace it without any compromises.
And looking for laptop specs, i read:
6700HQ? 7700HQ? these processors are for scrap! All laptop hardware is at least funny considering their price.

So i ended up that laptops are the absolute form of SFF computer, because they include the monitor, the cables, whatever anyone needs. But their performance is funny and their upgradeability is pointless and expensive.

**Maybe a S4 Mini with screwed monitor is the perfect SFF combination.
I think a DIY AIO pc mounted to a monitor is a good idea if you can get a monitor small enough.

Even though laptops aren't very ergonomic IMO the sheer portability will forever keep the need alive for them. The most important thing keeping them alive is the monitor because we just don't have decent portable yet durable monitors as far as I know of.

I imagine some sort of 18-20 inch display that could fit in a decent size backpack with some sort of features to keep it safe during travel like a solid cover to go over the screen and a laptop-bag solution on top of that.
IDK what kind of stand would be suitable for such a portable monitor, but it would have to be detachable or retractable.

Whether such a monitor would be better suited for a PC mounted to the back or not is probably debatable, but it would have to be quite small.
 

TheGooseIsHere

Average Stuffer
Dec 26, 2016
65
59
Laptops are getting way better for their size recently, especially in terms of processing power.

Only issues are:
1) Poor graphics power (unless you get a high end laptop),#
2) Noise (one of the biggest downsides for me)
3) Reliability (if one thing inside gets damaged, the whole laptop becomes useless, also dust buildup is harder to clean out). You have to rely on the manufacturer warranty and send back the whole thing to be repaired.

Also if you only ever use it on your desk, you will likely be using a separate keyboard/mouse and monitor anyway, rendering the laptop's inbuilt keyboard/mouse/screen an ineffective waste of space.

For travelling though, laptops all the way.
 

cadiguno

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Oct 18, 2016
128
116
My main gripe with laptops can be summed up in three words: "Price vs. Performance". I see laptops as the 'ultimate SFF', where you sacrifice everything for the sake of size and portability. Here are some of them:

Sheer computing performance (GPU & CPU)
Due to space, thermal, and power draw limitations, the laptop form factor has never been as powerful as desktop computers (and I doubt it will ever be).

Usage experience (monitor size & quality)
While high-end 'gaming' laptops nowadays boast pretty good colors, FreeSync / GSync, and perhaps even 144Hz refresh rate, there's basically no choice if you're looking for something with 24" or 27". Which is the perfect size for gaming usage in my opinion.

Freedom of choice (pairing components to fit your needs)
This is perhaps my biggest problem. Laptop manufacturers often cram components that don't make sense. AMD APUs with low-capacity single-slot RAM. Core i7s or AMD FXs with a discrete GPU that barely increases graphic performance to the onboard (GTX 940M anybody?). Extremely high-end CPUs and GPUs ... without an SSD. It's like you're getting served a beautiful fresh sushi, but already dipped in soy sauce on the RICE SIDE so that it's soggy and falls over everywhere. All the potential to be great is there, but somehow it turned into an infuriating experience.

Upgradability
Tied with the previous topic: when you feel like your laptop is underperforming to current year software's demands, more often than not you don't actually need a new laptop. Perhaps you need a better GPU. Or a better CPU. Or a better monitor.

Price
And all those problems with price of ~1.5 x- 2.0x of a desktop for the same performance.
 
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gffermari

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Jan 7, 2017
91
91
I think a DIY AIO pc mounted to a monitor is a good idea if you can get a monitor small enough.

Even though laptops aren't very ergonomic IMO the sheer portability will forever keep the need alive for them. The most important thing keeping them alive is the monitor because we just don't have decent portable yet durable monitors as far as I know of.

I imagine some sort of 18-20 inch display that could fit in a decent size backpack with some sort of features to keep it safe during travel like a solid cover to go over the screen and a laptop-bag solution on top of that.
IDK what kind of stand would be suitable for such a portable monitor, but it would have to be detachable or retractable.

Whether such a monitor would be better suited for a PC mounted to the back or not is probably debatable, but it would have to be quite small.

I agree but it's not only this.
Imagine a S4 mini (or similar) of which GPU is connected to an ASUS MB169C+ with a thunderbolt 3 cable only.
We have one power cable only for the pc, but too many spare parts. A case, a monitor, a mouse, a keyboard.
The laptop can operate being just one piece. Case/monitor/mouse/keyboard together and when someone needs to do some serious work on it, they just grab a mouse and that's it. There is no set up. It just works (awfully yes but it works).

I agree on the poor graphics, even poorer cpu performance and noise that cannot be faced. But there are some laptops, custom of course, that are equipped with 6700K/1080GTX etc like Clevo's, of which performance is outstanding as well as its price.
 
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JosephEK

Cable-Tie Ninja
Original poster
Mar 6, 2017
175
84
My main gripe with laptops can be summed up in three words: "Price vs. Performance". I see laptops as the 'ultimate SFF', where you sacrifice everything for the sake of size and portability. Here are some of them:

Sheer computing performance (GPU & CPU)
Due to space, thermal, and power draw limitations, the laptop form factor has never been as powerful as desktop computers (and I doubt it will ever be).

Usage experience (monitor size & quality)
While high-end 'gaming' laptops nowadays boast pretty good colors, FreeSync / GSync, and perhaps even 144Hz refresh rate, there's basically no choice if you're looking for something with 24" or 27". Which is the perfect size for gaming usage in my opinion.

Freedom of choice (pairing components to fit your needs)
This is perhaps my biggest problem. Laptop manufacturers often cram components that don't make sense. AMD APUs with low-capacity single-slot RAM. Core i7s or AMD FXs with a discrete GPU that barely increases graphic performance (GTX 950M anybody?). Extremely high-end CPUs and GPUs ... without an SSD. It's like you're getting served a beautiful fresh sushi, but already dipped in soy sauce on the RICE SIDE so that it's soggy and falls over everywhere. All the potential to be great is there, but somehow it turned into an infuriating experience.

Upgradability
Tied with the previous topic: when you feel like your laptop is underperforming to current year software's demands, more often than not you don't actually need a new laptop. Perhaps you need a better GPU. Or a better CPU. Or a better monitor.

Price
And all those problems with price of ~1.5 x- 2.0x of a desktop for the same performance.
Is that really true though about the price? I mean when you include the 100 dollar Windows tax and you need to include the cost of monitor which in a traditional desktop is easily atleast 100 dollars. Then you've got Keyboard, Mouse, Speakers, Microphone, card readers and anything else you can think of that you need to purchase as a separate module for a desktop.
 
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cadiguno

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Oct 18, 2016
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Is that really true though about the price? I mean when you include the 100 dollar Windows tax and you need to include the cost of monitor which in a traditional desktop is easily atleast 100 dollars. Then you've got Keyboard, Mouse, Speakers, Microphone, card readers and anything else you can think of that you need to purchase as a separate module for a desktop.

I often find that the 100 dollar Windows tax applies to laptops as well -- as in, you still have to pay more money for laptops with built-in Windows.

A good monitor easily costs more than 100 dollars, but you can get all the peripherals you need for as cheap as 50 (can even get you offensive-colored ones alike to the keyboards on 'gaming' laptops). But even with them on top, my desktop PC has set me back a mere $800. In comparison, a Sager laptop with comparable performance costs $1400. Asus ROG ones probably even more.
 

Phuncz

Lord of the Boards
SFFn Staff
May 9, 2015
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Spec-wise laptops can be pretty good, but the ergonomics and experience leaves much to be desired:
  • Keyboard, touchpad and screen are the main components we interact with, yet these are often an afterthought. Ergonomics are horrible, replacements are basically exactly what you got in the first place (if available) and they tend to wear out quicker than regular input hardware.
  • There are very few laptops that are really well engineered. Having easy to open yet stable screen hinges or a good charger and battery that doesn't quit after a few years, cooling that's sufficient and quiet, etc.
  • Most laptops come draped with gaudy stickers and even more crap installed with it. Something you pay for shouldn't be focused on being a product demo.
  • Upgrading is basically getting another one. Rarely can you do more than change the storage or RAM, which you rarely can upgrade to the new hardware you'd wish to have (NVMe two years ago). Changing out a CPU or GPU is either extremely costly or impossible.
Even though laptops are SFF devices in volume and space efficiency, I can say the same about a phone or tablet, or even a VCR or DVD player. We're talking about customizable desktop computers that can be used for heavy tasks and are optimally designed to do that task. I have yet to come across a laptop that can come close to a good specced PC in both performance, noise and price. Often it's one of those three, not all three.

I never needed a laptop but I've handled and used hundreds, I've learned to embrace a desktop PC and a tablet as the more ideal combo of the two.
 

ignsvn

By Toutatis!
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Apr 4, 2016
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...
- and portable monitors, equipped with only USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 inputs are completely useless,
...

I agree with your points, just curious about these USB-C portable monitors. At a glance they look OK. Can you explain why they are useless in your situation?
 
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gffermari

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Jan 7, 2017
91
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....of course i am exaggerating a little bit about that.
I mean they are useless for SFF community because of their connectivity while they are being advertised, and actually are, as portable but only for laptop users and only for those with thunderbolt 3 port.
It would be a great success if they would be powered through USB 3 and had a HDMI or DP input. It's slim, light and it fits in any laptop bag alongside with a SFF case in S4 mini layout.

On topic: Even if there was such a monitor (like Gechic but i find it ugly), the laptop still offers complete operation with one move and one click. An SFF pc, even as small as a laptop if we compare absolute volume numbers, demands time, space and tolerance :p.
I have always preferred SFF pc's because the moving process was one or two times per year and always had a car. Now it will be happening more often and i have to travel by plane. The portability and the convenience of use are that that make me sacrifice the magic of the SFF pc and move to a noisy and screwdriver-allergic laptop.
I always hated laptops because of their price-performance ratio but now i changed my mind because i need them.
 

Soul_Est

SFF Guru
SFFn Staff
Feb 12, 2016
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I started off on my road to SFF with a laptop in 2006 (a Late-2006 Apple MacBook). I currently own a ThinkPad X201 which I use for some gaming and for all of my work including designing my cases in FreeCAD. After using laptops for so long and seeing the positives and negatives of them, I agree with many of you. The one thing that I have enjoyed about my ThinkPads (which the EliteBooks and Latitudes have as well), are the docking stations. What I hate about them are their proprietary nature but that as all changed with Thunderbolt 2, USB 3.1, and USB Type-C on newer laptops and tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro.
 
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EdZ

Virtual Realist
May 11, 2015
1,578
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I use a laptop daily interchangeably with my (SFF) desktop. The laptop gets lugged with me to work, plugged into a dock, and used alongside the corporate desktop in a multi-monitor setup (to keep internal and external uses physically separate), then the laptop gets lugged back home again at the end of the day. If this was all I needed the laptop for then a NUC would be a viable replacement. However, there are enough times that I need to use the laptop on it;s own where having to drag all the peripherals needed for the NUC to do the same job (screen, keyboard battery, etc) make it a less portable option. Using the laptop as my sole PC also isn't an option: the desktop needs to handle VR, so I'd end up with a massive 'gaming' desktop-replacement device. The laptop also gets occasional outings as a tablet. Previously I had a Thinkpad Yoga which did this adequately, now have a Surface Book which has both a larger screen and is dramatically lighter (3 years of CPU progress in action there) while still being faster. The keyboard dock has a GPU, so it can actually do some passable gaming too which is a nice change.

tl;dr Sometimes a laptop is the right tool for several jobs, and is the smallest form-factor that can do all of them. The caveat is that a 'low end' laptop is basically a piece of garbage only good for levelling particularly wobbly tables.
 

T_Tank

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Mar 16, 2017
137
113
Laptops in my opinion are.. To big anymore I'm more of a umpc kind of guy.

I have my nice gaming ryzen setup now and then for my portable pc needs I got a gpd win. Now some might say I'm crazy with a 5.5 inch windows 10 computer but been enjoying the experience even if it's not super powerful.

Love having a pocket pc that has a keyboard and a way to do the mouse without need to touchscreen all the time.
 

jtd871

SFF Guru
Jun 22, 2015
1,166
851
As @Phuncz said, when something goes wrong, you probably need to replace the whole unit, which is why I built a (nicer than my previous laptops) desktop. For about the same price that I spent on each of the (1 Lenovo and 1 MSI-based) laptops I've purchased previously, I got a monitor, case, mobo, GPU, CPU, cooler, productivity software and OS. I have better performance and repairability/replaceability of components, and way quieter operation.
 

cadiguno

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Oct 18, 2016
128
116
Honestly though, seeing that laptops nowadays are starting to cramp full-blown desktop-grade GPUs and CPUs, I might have to retract my point about laptops not being able to perform on-par to desktop.

Perhaps the SFF utopian dream is indeed a laptop. A modular laptop where each of its components can be replaced or fixed without having to throw away the whole thing, paired with some kind of a foldable monitor (when used it turns into a 24" or 27" monitor instead of the usual 13"-17" screen laptops nowadays have). No idea when that will come into reality, but that kind of convergence is the endgame, I think.