After waiting for almost a year for GPU prices to return to sanity, I gave up waiting for a discrete card I can install in my Luggable PC. I’ve been waiting to get started playing with CUDA-accelerated TensorFlow training and the best way to get an NVIDIA GPU at the moment is to get it inside a laptop. Since it’s not terribly practical (or price effective) for cryptocurrency miners to build huge racks of laptops for mining, the laptop variants of those chips are easier to come by, and at less crazy prices.
The laptop arrived and everything worked as advertised. But two items are worth calling out because they were details not found on a Dell specification sheet. I had my hopes but there’s no way to know until I open it up!
Happiness #1: Memory
Visible in the upper right corner of the picture are the two memory slots on this laptop chassis. Dell only advertised that the machine will come with 8GB of RAM, they did not specify the arrangement. I had expected them to fill up both slots each with an 4GB memory module because that’s usually cheaper for them. The downside of having two 4GB modules is when it comes to upgrade: with only two memory slots, any upgrade means removing an existing module and losing that capacity.
Fortunately, Dell shipped this computer with a single 8GB module, leaving the other slot open for future upgrade. I don’t have to remove any capacity when I upgrade – just plop a new module into that second slot and I’m good to go. This is great news.
Happiness #2: Hardware for 2.5″ Storage Drive
Visible in the lower left corner of the picture is the 2.5″ drive bay. Some configurations of this laptop are sold with a combination of a 2.5″ spinning disk hard drive augmenting the capacity of a small M.2 SSD. This particular model comes with a 256GB M.2 SSD and no hard drive. I had expected the 2.5″ bay to exist in my chassis, but empty. With not just the 2.5″ drive absent but also missing all the support hardware necessary to install one after purchase.
Fortunately, Dell shipped this computer with all the support hardware in place. This includes the metal bracket along with four screws to secure it to the chassis. It also includes the electronic ribbon cable necessary to connect the drive to the motherboard. Both of these items are specific to this laptop chassis and expensive to obtain if they weren’t already included. It’s good to see them present so I don’t have to hunt.
Extra nice touch from Dell: The M3 screws to fasten a 2.5″ drive to the metal bracket is a standard item and easily obtained elsewhere. Given the absence of a 2.5″ drive, I expected I’d have to find standard fasteners on my own. But I don’t need to! The chassis actually has a place to hold these four screws when not in use, and the computer came with these screws, too. This is a feature I’ve only seen before in a premium engineering laptop from their Precision workstation line, never on their consumer Inspiron line.
With these two thoughtful touches, Dell has made me a happy customer. In the near term I’ll install one of my old 2.5″ SSDs for extra storage capacity (and/or Linux dual-boot) and I’ll keep my eyes on DDR4 memory prices for a future memory upgrade.
Battery: Dell 33YDH
Not exactly a note of happiness, but just one bit of trivia I couldn’t find online: the battery module has a designation 33YDH, useful when shopping for a replacement. All batteries have a cycle life – how many times they can be charged and discharged. Some battery types like lithium-ion also have a calendar life. They will degrade over time no matter how much they are (or aren’t) used. So, in a few years, if I like this laptop enough to want to keep using it, I will need to shop for a replacement 33YDH battery.