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Hey all - I'm in the market for a new laptop and wanted to get some recommendations. I'm a Linux sysadmin and this laptop is primarily for work related use, working from home, after hours, occasional trips to the data center, etc. We all know the drill.

My typical setup includes various utilities and tools plus multiple partitions for booting different OS's including VMware. Need serial port of course, DVD-RW, and all the usual stuff we use in our daily routine.

I'm kinda thinking a Thinkpad T510 but open to other suggestions! Brief explanation of why you suggest some particular brand and configuration is appreciated.

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closed as not constructive by Chris S, Iain, EEAA, Oskar Duveborn, Sven Jan 1 '11 at 21:25

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Should probably be a community wiki post. – Wesley Jan 1 '11 at 19:37
@Wesley - only moderators can explicitly make questions CW now. – ChrisF Jan 1 '11 at 19:39
@ChrisF Dang, I've been gone longer than I realized. – Wesley Jan 1 '11 at 19:46

I'd second the MacBook Pro recommendations above. For me, having the access to MS Office applications, RDP, VMware and a real unix command line, the Apple has the best mix of resources needed by a consultant or systems engineer. For serial, I use a Keyspan USB adapter.

One additional item that I'm evaluating to add to the toolkit is the Startech KVM console. This turns the MacBook (or any laptop) into a KVM for your headless servers at the data center.

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We have used several of the StarTech KVMs like the SV1115IPEXT, and have been fairly happy with them. It's very nice that it uses VNC, but on the other hand it's pretty picky what VNC client it works with. However, StarTech just buys the devices from someone else, so they can't really support it. For example, we had a power brick for it die, and they couldn't sell us a replacement. – Sean Reifschneider Jan 1 '11 at 21:17
Oh, this Startech device is cell-phone sized. It turns your laptop into a console/crash cart, and it's USB bus-powered. So it's a handy addition to the toolbox. – ewwhite Jan 1 '11 at 21:23

I would recommend an Apple Macbook Pro, except that it's missing the serial port like so many laptops these days.

Apart from that the Macbook Pro is a sturdy built machine with excellent performance and battery life. It can triple-boot OS X, Windows and Linux, with the help of the rEFIt bootloader. Or you can run VM's with VMware or Parallels.

OS X is a great os for sysadmins. Its BSD basis means it comes with many Unix tools preinstalled and the rest is easily added via MacPorts and similar tools.

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USB-DB9 adapters are cheap and negate the serial port requirement (though can potentially be trickier to pass through to VM guests). That opens it up to pretty much anything with enough horsepower to comfortably run the VM Guests and still do what you need on the host OS. If you're looking to run GNU/Linux, driver support will be a consideration -- I've had very good luck with Dell and ThinkPad (though others lately apparently have not) notebooks running Linux. I know lots of folks swear by their MacBooks, too.

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You can stomp on Thinkpads, that's pretty much all I want ^^ ..and their trackpoints when not docked cannot be replaced even with a grand Macbook touchpad imo. Generally working on a laptop is such a pain and health risk that I'd go with something smaller like an X201 or a smaller Macbook just to ease carrying it around as they can still be fitted with enough horsepower to do some real work when docked - using their "pure" form only when absolutely needed.

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Here are a few things I think you should consider. Some of them are mutually exclusive, so you'll have to decide which is more important to you.

  • Get something with an "accidental damage" warranty. If you are toting it around with you to the data center and the office and home, it's likely to get more banged up. I literally carry my laptop everywhere with me when I'm on call, and usually have to take advantage of the repairs due to damage a couple of times over 3 years.
  • Consider an SSD for the same reason, they're just more reliable when banged around.
  • If this is largely for portability, consider getting something extremely portable like one of the <2 lbs. Sony Vaio P boxes. Though these will need an external DVD drive. We just keep a USB DVD writer at our data center, but almost never use it or the one in my laptop.
  • If you are going to be doing significant work on it, make sure you get a good box. I like my netbook because it's much more portable, but it would drive me crazy if I had to do more than just respond to an alert on it. For my day-to-day work I have a 15" 5 pound box. We use laptops as our primary machines.
  • Brand doesn't really matter that much, just line up the features you like and get it.
  • Unlike others, I decided against using a Mac laptop largely because I the systems I maintain are all Linux and I know Linux really well. Without putting significant time into learning OSX, I won't be nearly as comfortable there. It can be very nice to have a laptop that can replace a router or server at times, like the time at the conference where my netbook became the router until I could get the normal router repaired.
  • Cheaper may be better. As mentioned, my supplemental laptop is a netbook, which I got primarily for when I was on a long vacation. I consider it disposable, and at $300-ish it practically is. In comparison, my day-to-day laptop is over $2k and I would have been annoyed to have it stolen or lose it. At $300, maybe you can afford to get a few of them and keep one at the data center so you don't have to lug it around?
  • A serial port is going to be hard to get these days. I usually use a server at our facility to do serial port work, mostly configuring switches. If that doesn't work for you, you'll probably need a USB to serial dongle.

As far as brand and configuration recommendations? That really varies from person to person. I really like my ThinkPad T series, but others in our company have X series or Dells. I, personally, couldn't live without the track-point mouse, but others prefer the touchpad. One other "feature" of the ThinkPads is that they have a very nice keyboard, but you can also get the same keyboard in USB format. I have recently set up a "desktop" computer and really like the ability to have the same keyboard on both. Other brands may have that feature as well, do some research if that is important to you.

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I'm disappointed this thread was closed (and disagree with the decision), but at least it was open long enough to get some good suggestions. Thanks everyone. I will not be getting a Mac, simply because I'm not familiar with them and don't want to spend the time to learn. I'll be deciding between a cheap $300 netbook solution and a more robust solution. I also appreciate the suggestion to get "accidental damage" warranty - makes a lot of sense. – 80skeys Jan 3 '11 at 5:47

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