There is an old saying that says you want to “Buy once, cry once.” And it means that you want to assure you get what you need and not go cheap because you may cry about the price, but you’ll cry more if you have to replace what you bought prematurely. It typically comes with advice not to buy cheap knockoffs–especially with your laptop–because you’ll end up paying more than you would if you’d just purchased the level of performance you needed.
That seems to be a subtle part of NVIDIA’s Work, Play, Create message, which more than suggests that laptop buyers need to think about all of the things they are going to need the laptop to do and not just buy the cheapest item for sale at Costco. What brought this up is that a lot of you are getting work-at-home stipends to help with mandatory remote work scenarios in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which can range from a one-time payment of a few hundred to a thousand dollars to a company like Jane Street Capital who is providing $1,000 a week. (And like you, I’m suddenly wondering if Jane Street Capital is hiring). It looks like most prudent companies, like Shopify, are setting the stipend to a one-time $1,000 payment.
Now a lot of people will be taking that stipend, buying the cheapest laptop they can find, and calling it a day. And most of those folks will regret this move and eventually have to buy something more powerful because they will find they will want that laptop for projects and games that require power.
Here are some of my thoughts
Do You Need A New Desk Or Chair?
The stipends are to equip your home office but, think about it; you are going to be stuck wherever that office is and, trust me (and I have a home office). After a few weeks, that room is going to feel more like a prison. To keep sane, you’ll want to work on your balcony or patio; if you have a pool as temperatures rise, you’ll likely want to work there as well (be careful video conferencing if you are in a bathing suit though as that clearly will send the wrong impression).
In my case, at least when the weather warms up, I like to sit down by the river behind my house to work. It is tranquil, I don’t feel locked up, and I’ve worked out a live and let live arraignment with the skunks and rock chucks (who are nothing like Alvin and the Chipmunks, so I’m thinking of a preemptive strike because they are eating my ornamental plants). So I’m suggesting less furniture and more laptop.
I take gaming breaks throughout the day, which my wife doesn’t appreciate given; when she checks on me, I’m often mid-game. Though, I’ve found that the big difference between my desktop system, which has a 49” Dell monitor and my laptop is that I can quickly close the laptop lid and pause the game something I can’t do with that huge monitor.
Now your work at home situation isn’t highly mobile, and you’ll generally be close to a plug so you can trade off size and weight for performance. With the latest AMD and Intel configurations with NVIDIA graphics, you don’t have to sacrifice much. You’ll still have a thin and light product in the four-pound range, with decent battery life if you need it and a performance level that should allow you to both do your creative projects and play games on top of keeping up with email and other work tasks.
In terms of configuration, I’d look for an i5 level of CPU performance or better, and an RTX NVIDIA graphics system. This last is because the future of graphics is ray tracing, and you’ll want to keep this laptop for a few years, and RTX should assure you don’t get premature obsolescence.
I’d suggest a display in the 15-inch class because you don’t need the portability of a 13-inch product and 17-inch is just too big to work easily off our lap and you want flexibility. I’d also set a 400 nit floor for the display so you can work outside (anything less will generally glare out unless you are in a lot of shade).
I was able to find two configurations I liked, and both are relatively affordable. The first is a Dell Alienware M15 R1 laptop configures with an Intel I7 processor, an NVIDIA RTX 2070 graphics system, 512 GB M.2 SSD (more than you likely need), a 400 nit 3840×2160 Eyesafe display (safer to use at night and outdoor level performance), a 90 WHr 6-Cell battery (this makes a massive difference in battery life over the base six-cell, and it is only a $50 option), and Windows 10 Pro (so you can use it at work) for $2,396.
The other notebook is the HP Omen X 2s, which sports two displays (handy for creative work and for those games that can use the second display. I’d configure it with the base I7 Intel processor; it comes with the NVIDIA RTX 2070 graphics system, I’d select the high performance 240 Hz IBM anti-glare WLED backlit display, the 256GB NVMe M.2 SSD (base), and Windows 10 Pro again so I could use it in the office. Price is a similar $2,419.99.
With both products, I’d consider the two-year accidental damage coverage because you are home with pets and kids, and things can get broken. Now these both have 9th generation Intel processors, and the 10th generation just came out, so expect price drops and new SKUs shortly. (The Dell configuration may not change much, but the HP is a very different product and likely more useful for general work than this earlier model, which is far more gaming-focused. So look for the newer HP in a few days and see if you agree, the price could be a little lower as well).
Now around $2,500 is not a cheap date but realize you’ll be living with this system not only for work but to kill time on your own time at home because you aren’t supposed to be going anywhere. So you’ll want the performance headroom for any work project you may get and any recreational activity you may wish to. I expect a ton more of us will be eSports experts when this COVID-19 event is over. Both products provide adequate performance for anything you might want to do, both should have decent battery life if you are away from a plug, and both should last at least three years, so you don’t have to buy another laptop during that time.
The HP will be better for first-person shooter games and for creative applications that will use that second display, while the Dell is arguably better outside and should be a stronger box for general work tasks. Pick your poison, and good luck! Oh, and stay safe out there!