How I got myself a capable laptop

It all started with my old (and very hated) HP Pavilion notebook (i5, 12 GB RAM, 500 GB HDD) almost dying on me. I wanted to get a new laptop, the only reason I stuck with HP for so many years was that I got it as a gift and I wanted to squeeze every drop of use I could get from it.

Well, let's get a new one then, and I wrote down what I needed -

Must have

  1. Good, tactile, backlit keyboard
  2. HDMI, not micro HDMI
  3. Screen less than 13 inches
  4. Good battery life

 Should have

  1. i5-i7 would do, AMD Ryzen as well
  2. Should be portable
  3. Easy to open, repair and upgrade
  4. USB 3.0
  5. RAM 8 GB or more
  6. 256 GB SSD or more

 Nice to have

  1. Should support extra battery
  2. SIM card slot
  3. Swivel support
  4. Graphics card
  5. MIL-STD-810G
  6. Fingerprint sensor for easy login

My options were quite limited considering what I needed would be automatically expensive - I was looking at spending at least INR 75000-100000 (USD ~1000-1300) to get a new one. That too a base model. 

I didn't mind buying a used one, if it served my purpose and was in good condition. I reached out to my connects in hardware segment and asked for their advice. 

A used Ferrari is always a Ferrari, a new ALTO will never match it.

Point well noted.

They referred me to leased laptop distributors, which typically have inventories of laptops which are leased to corporate for 2-3 years and then brought back once the contract is over. Since they are used, people are less inclined to buy them, but their configurations are top notch as compared to their retail consumer segment counterparts and they are built to repair. These laptops are then dismantled and their parts flood the after sales market. The distributors are more than happy if their laptops are sold before they are dismantled.

After having friendly chitchat with a lot of distributors, I finally narrowed my options to Lenovo X250 and an HP EliteBook. The keyboards were nice and tactile and the form factor was small. At one of the distributors, from a heap of laptops, I picked 2 and I asked the person if I can open it. He said why not, and he opened it for me. Both were in good condition, sporting 256 GB SSDs, 8 GB RAM, i5 5th gen processors and were costing INR 14000 (~USD 190), a far cry from new ones, but workable configuration. I asked about warranty and after a bit of negotiation, he agreed for a 1-year repair warranty for INR 2500 (~USD 34). Windows 10 pro was provided for free.

I was about to settle it for X250 one (as it had more ports, was smaller and checked almost everything I needed), one of associates waltzed in and said, "we just got a shipment of some new stock". I asked if I could take a look and they pointed me to next door.

From a heap of X260s I picked 3 - one with no battery and i7 6gen, one with an extra 6 cell battery with i5 6gen and one had 1 TB HDD. I asked if I could swap parts, and they said we don’t care, it’s all the same for us.

I took the extra battery and plugged it into i7 one. CPUZ said it had Skylake i7 6600u and Samsung 8 GB built in. It had 256 GB SSD and a working WWAN module (SIM module) as well. Single memory slot (DDR4, 260 pin SODIMM) but was easy to open and clean. After playing it with for 1 hour, post testing all the ports, modules, running some stress tests, and haggling a bit, I went home with a deal at INR 17000 (~USD 230) with 1-year warranty from distributor, Windows 10 pro bundled.

Then I did some research and checked the maximum RAM it supported - 16GB, 2133MHz DDR4, non-parity. Probably, enough for what I do. 2133 MHz is a bit hard to get by, so a better option was to buy 2666 MHz one since it will run automatically at 2133 Mhz. I did some research (read: going through Reddit threads, Lenovo forums) and found that one user was able to successfully upgrade it with 32 GB of RAM (M471A4G43MB1, costs around INR 27000/ ~USD 370 even more expensive than the laptop). Post upgrading to latest BIOS, I decided to take the risk and got myself a cheaper one (ADATA AD4S2666732G19, 32 GB RAM, 2666 MHz, INR 9000/ ~USD 122) from one of the distributors.

Went back home, disabled internal battery from BIOS, unscrewed & pried back cover and disconnected battery cable. Swapped out 8GB one with 32 GB one. Connected battery cable, power cable and was met with POST screen. Assembled everything back again and ran memtest86 and windows memory diagnostics. Everything was squeaky clean :). Hardened everything, installed virtual box, migrated my VMs, installed emulators and voila, my new system is ready.

I have been using X260 since last 6 months as my primary laptop with the following configuration which runs multiple VMs simultaneously, is used for maintaining remote infrastructure, occasional retro gaming/ emulation and occasional writing :  

  1. Tactile backlit keyboard
  2. 6th Gen Intel Core i7-6600U Processor, Turbo Boost 2.0 (3.4GHz)
  3. 32 GB memory (ADATA AD4S2666732G19)
  4. 12.5" HD (1366 x 768) IPS
  5. 256 GB Samsung SSD
  6. 3 Cell internal + 6 cell external battery
  7. SIM card slot (WWAN)
  8. 3 USB 3.0 ports (Superspeed)
  9. 1 HDMI/ 1 Mini DisplayPort
  10. 4-in-1 Card Reader (MMC, SD, SDHC, SDXC)
  11. Intel I219 Gigabit LAN & Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260, with Bluetooth® 4.1
  12. MIL-STD-810G compliant
  13. Weighs around 1.5 KG
  14. Bundled Windows 10 Pro

Total Cost - INR 26000 / ~USD 352

Lessons learnt –

  1. Research, hunt and haggle
  2. Be very specific about your requirements
  3. Technology evolves every day, see what fits your needs on a long-term basis


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