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Can you do serious programming on a laptop?

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Hi, I have only ever used desktop pcs in my computing life but am seriously considering getting a laptop. I have absolutely no experience with laptops so this these questions may sound a bit stupid. Is it possible to install ides like vs 2005 and netbeans ect on a laptop and does compiling and debugging work the same way as on pcs. Do real world programmers use laptops or are they too slow? Also, i keep seeing notebooks being advertised and their specs seem to be good enough for software dev. Are notebooks just smaller sized laptops? Basicaly, i just need to know if there is anything that cant be done on a laptop that can be done on a pc. Also, do laptops require a different operating system or will it run xp straight from an install cd for pcs and is it possible to set up a dual boot of xp and linux? I know i should do more googling but it isn't clear what the downside to laptops are from a software developers point of view. If it is poosible to do all i have mentioned, anyone know what the best brands are in the laptop world, are there any to avoid? Thanks for any info :)

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I do all my private development work on my laptop, and I really like it as I can take it with me wherever I go. So yes, it's completely possible.

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Laptops can run the same software as a desktop computer, and you can set it up for dual booting if you wish. Just be sure to look at the performance specs to make sure it'll be up to the task of running a C++ compiler. ;-)

I don't think there is any distinction between a 'laptop' and 'notebook'. I've seen the words used interchangeably.

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the only disadvantage i see is the screen size (i like to see a lot of code when i'm working, to have a good overview over it). but if that it's ok, then, why not. another issue would be the video card(from a game developer's perspective), but there are quite good solutions out there, although quite expensive.

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As far as the end user is concerned (including most programmers), a lap top is the same as a PC. i.e. all the same software will run, it will feel the same to use. The only differences are in the under-lying hardware, which unless you are doing system level programming (device drivers and the like) will be irrelevent.
I have a laptop which I used to use for programming. The only reason I don't use it anymore is that it isn't powerful enough.
If you are developing graphic intensive games then I would suggest a desktop would be better, simply because the graphics cards available for laptops are fairly weak (they are the equivalent of an onboard graphics chip).
Also a seperate mouse and keyboard would probably be a good investment if you do get a laptop.

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I use both my desktop computer and my laptop, when I'm out, for programming. I see absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be able to use a laptop for programming. Most come with WinXP already installed and you can run the same software as on a desktop including the VS IDEs.

The only thing you should bear in mind when using your laptop for game programming is that they often don't come with a high-end gfx card. So when buying one, look for a good card such as an ATI X700 with 128 MB VRAM. Those machines are usually a bit more expensive and keep in mind that you can't simply change the card if you want to upgrade or try your software on another vendor's hardware.

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Quote:
Original post by meeshoo
the only disadvantage i see is the screen size (i like to see a lot of code when i'm working, to have a good overview over it). but if that it's ok, then, why not. another issue would be the video card(from a game developer's perspective), but there are quite good solutions out there, although quite expensive.


Right, screen size or resolution is another drawback. Mine has a 15" 1024x768 screen. You should better buy one with a 1400x1050 or 1680x1050 (widescreen) resolution.

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my notebook is in all components equal or better than my old pc was. even screenresolution, 1400x1050 against the 1280x1024 before. of course, the screen itself is smaller.

but the portability makes it much more productive (it's an nx6125..). i use it for coding (and replacing myself for coding helps much in getting work done faster..), for djing with finalscratch in clubs, well, for everything. much more than i used my old pc, as i have wlan access at all my main life-points, and thus use it as free-phone as well.

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oh.. and yes, i have a 100gb 7200rpm hd in it. 43MB/s max troughput. feels like a 'real' pc :D

getting a fast hd is worth the effort, really!

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I too replaced my desktop PC with a laptop, so, yeah, you can.

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To echo davepermen's last comment make certain you have a fast disk drive.

My experience with general purpose development on laptops is that the hard drive is often the limiting factor and is often overlooked when purchasing. I have found that visual studio tends to be very sluggish with 4200RPM drivers and projects of any reasonable size. 5400RPM is better but you probably really want a 7200RPM drive if you can afford it.

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Quote:
Original post by ZMaster
Quote:
Original post by meeshoo
the only disadvantage i see is the screen size (i like to see a lot of code when i'm working, to have a good overview over it). but if that it's ok, then, why not. another issue would be the video card(from a game developer's perspective), but there are quite good solutions out there, although quite expensive.


Right, screen size or resolution is another drawback. Mine has a 15" 1024x768 screen. You should better buy one with a 1400x1050 or 1680x1050 (widescreen) resolution.

I do all my development on a wide screen (1680x1050) Dell laptop.
In my case there are only two minor drawbacks:
- It came with a rather lousy graphics card (GF4 4200 Mobile), but I guess I have only myself to blame. ;)
- There's a difference in colors between a laptop screen and an old school monitor, but that is easily solved by attaching a secondary monitor (only an option when I'm not on the road of course).

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One thing to consider...

A laptop keyboard isn't really nice to do long sessions of programming on. They just can't be made ergonomic when size is such a great matter. Iv tried. After a few months i had developed a hurt in wrists and shoulders. I had to get a "real" usb keyboard. The problem then was that since i had to have it infront of the laptop, i had to have it so far away from me. And the screen was only 15" so it felt like i was staring at it from across the room. Having a extrnal keyboard infront of a laptop puts you way further away from it than it was designed for. It is not a viable option.

I ended up buying a stationary PC after a few months.


Don't take that too lightly. Working long hours with such a compact keyboard had issues, atleast it did for me.

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An older version of my MMORPG Fleurin would not run on laptop computers, the reason I found was that laptop computers cannot handle holding large bitmaps as GDI device contexts (My older version has used BitBlt).

Besides that, the only reason why I still use a desktop is for the split keyboard; if a laptop was ever released that had a split keyboard, I'd buy it.

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Laptops can do exactly the same things as desktops, except they usually have worse graphics cards and the hardware cannot be upgraded. Same way that the Mac Mini is a fully functional Mac. Most of the space in your PC case is empty, there's no magic involved in shrinking that into a laptop other than better cooling and power management. It's the exact same OS and software. You can run a web server or an IDE or anything, you can even install a different OS or dual boot. Linux driver support for some laptop hardware might be limited, especially for wifi cards, but I know people who run Linux on laptops. At IBM, all developers (I think all employees that need a computer) work on Thinkpads.

The main problem with programming on one might be getting used to the keyboard. Personally I rarely use the Numpad, so I don't miss that, but keys like Page Up, Home, Delete, Insert will be in different places than normal on a laptop keyboard. You'll get used to it though. A few keyboards do have stupid designs so make sure you look at the keyboard in advance and check that every key you want is accessible and doesn't require a function key or something.

If you're looking for something portable but you don't need to be able to take it out in the bus and immediately start typing away, there are now 17-inch widescreen laptops with a full keyboard. These are heavy and have low battery life, but they're good if what you want is just a computer you can carry from place to place.

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Of course you can do anything on a laptop. Remember is just a standar PC with specialized HW.

I own a HP/Compaq nx9600 (Intel PIV 3.2Ghz, 80GB HDD, 1GB RAM, ATI Radeon x600 128Mb, Widescreen 17' 1680x1050) and besides the fact that my game image is stretched to the widescreen format, this beauty can run anything I have sent to it. But in fact this is a large machine (9lbs) so it is not a portable laptop but more like a movable desktop.

Anyway it can run Softimage XSI 5.0 as a charm. Large areas for photoshop image editting, plenty of space for code in Visual Studio. In fact my old desktop is now my file, database and internet server.

As someone already pointed, just read the specs before buying one. Look for any component you would look in a standar desktop... and for game development, just discard any laptop that says 'Integrated Graphics'. Look at least for a Radeon 9600 / nVidia 5200 or greater.

Luck!
Guimo


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I bring my laptop home with me during university holiday time, and I find it's easy if not easier for me to do my programming on a laptop. I agree 100% both with dave's mention of the hard-drive speed, and peter's on the keyboard. You're best off scrutinizing the specification, and buying a USB keyboard when you buy your laptop.

My laptop has a WXGA display with a 1280x800 display, so I have an ample amount of room, also this means my laptop isn't as deep as the chassis doesn't have to accomodate a 1.35 ratio screen, which gets me a little closer to the screen(1.5feet); This might be something to bear in mind.

If you don't require the portability of a laptop then I'd suggest for your wallet's sake that you stick with a desktop machine. To match the spec of a desktop machine within the small size of a laptop it can be expensive.

When shopping around for my laptop my checklist was:

- 3.0Ghz processor(or AMD equivalence rating) with power saving
- at least 512MB DDR333 with space to upgrade
- 60GB HD at least 5400 RPM
- DX9 capable graphics card with 128MB of dedicated VRAM with power saving

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I've bought a 12" laptop, and I use it for most or all of my daily computer tasks. When I get home, I plug my external monitor, keyboard, and mouse in, so it feels like a normal desktop PC.

So the answer: yes, you can.

/edit:
Laptops are indeed just normal PC's in a smaller casing. They run Windows or whatever operating system you want to use (even in dual boot). That doesn't count for Apple laptops though, they run OS X or specialized Linux distributions.

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You could work with a laptop, but I'd advise against it unless you really, really need to take it with you (not because it might be useful). I've coded fulltime on laptops for the past two years and since I got my new desktop in september, I haven't touched it for serious development work anymore.

The general downsides of laptops have been highlighted already, small screens, unfriendly keyboards, little-to-no upgrading possible, no numeric pad and (possibly worst of all if you can't disable it) the touchpad. I cannot even begin to count the times my cursor jumped to another piece of code while I was typing because I accidentally touched it. Hardware introducing syntax errors is never a good idea :)

But there is another downside to laptops and that's that you can take them with you. It sounds great, but robust as they might be, after a good year of daily travel, any laptop will show some signs of use. The harddisk of my latest -way too expensive- Dell laptop is making the most exotic of noises, even though it hasn't received any rough treatment. If you have commercial value sources on a laptop, make sure you have a good source repository at the office and preferrably encryption on the laptop in case it gets stolen.

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I develop solely on my notebook now. It has perfectly modest power (which is fine for indie development). The major thing you will want is a widescreen display. I have a 1680x1050 so I have plenty of desktop real estate.

I love the fact that I can develop wherever I go (and do some moderate gaming). Praticality and productivity are far more important to me than having a powerhouse rig as a student and indie developer.

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i used a laptop once for some weeks, before i've bought a desktop pc; it was a painful experience, especially using the keyboard.

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I do all of my home computing on a laptop now, after my family complained that I was in my office too often.

I agree with previous posters that the keyboard becomes an issue in most models.
I have a 17" widescreen monitor on my laptop and it runs at some ludicrus resolution (1900x1600 or something). It is, by most accounts, faster than most PCs. The touchpad can always be disabled on a laptop, though some are easier than others, and some models do have numpads if you really need one (check out some of the HPs).

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I'm doing about half of the development for Lemmons Workbench on a laptop, because it's nice to be able to take my computer to Starbucks, a long bus ride, or even just the couch and still be able to work on the game. It sure beats sitting in a dark room for ten hours.



"But there is another downside to laptops and that's that you can take them with you. It sounds great, but robust as they might be, after a good year of daily travel, any laptop will show some signs of use."

True. After three years of riding the bus for three hours a day when going to school (what a nightmare), the joint holding my laptops screen up is worn out, and so the screen just flops around and has to be held up. Very uncomfortable, but that's the price you pay for convenience :)

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I use a laptop for all development and would never go back to a desktop. The mobility is just too nice. I agree with all the downsides posted here but you get used to most of them.

The other downside that I didn't see posted is dealing with a battery. It's not a problem if you're working somewhere with a plug but if you're running on battery alone most laptops now cut back the power of your CPU to keep battery life longer. This can be a problem if you're using a slow IDE like netbeans which is a total pig. It also slows down compiling for all compilers.

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Yes and no.

I've got a 1ghz HP Tablet PC. While I intended to use it for art, all I do is code on it. Portability is great and hobbyist projects seem easier to jump into. The trouble is that, while it will run VC# 2005, it is relatively slow. Don't even ask about SQL Server Express, I could repaint the Sistine Chapel in pointilism while waiting for that to load. It runs VC++ 6.0 just fine though.

So the moral of the story is: Run VC++ 6.0 era tools or get a current 2ghz range laptop.

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