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    Default What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    I'm about to get my PhD, and as a graduation present my parents want to buy me a new laptop. The one I'm on right now is somewhat dated.

    My brother suggested a Dell Precision laptop, but man those things look expensive. And probably more powerful than I need. It'd be nice to play some older games, but I'm not really after a gaming machine. Really what I need is for it to be able to quickly compile code into math .pdf's via this program called TeXnic Center, which uses a programming language called LaTeX. Just to give you an idea, my current computer has 3 gigs of ram, is on Windows 7, and, to be honest, doesn't run as quickly as I'd like. I had it compile this .pdf with about 550 pages worth of slides, pretty decent quality with several pictures, and it'd take ~4 minutes to do so.

    I'm also hoping for something which won't crap out on me. I'm thinking I should go with a Mac instead of a PC, as I don't think I'll be doing much gaming, and TeXnic Center works just fine on Mac's.

    Thanks!
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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Lenovo make some nice solid stuff, especially the Thinkpads. Not quite as good as when IBM made them, but this one's taken six years of general abuse and being lugged about in a backpack all day, dropped occasionally and thrown off a bike. Net result: one dented corner that I straightened out with a pair of pliers.
    They're fairly expensive new, but slightly older ones are easy to pick up second-hand and perform well.
    Last edited by FLHerne; 2014-05-05 at 03:07 PM.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Really, I think what you're running into there is that LaTeX is the devil's own markup language, and that's a seriously big document. A faster computer might help, but if it was me, I'd rather put up with the occasional four minutes of downtime and ask for something that would really come in handy, like the cash.
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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Thanks for the suggestions!

    I should have mentioned we want a second laptop as a family.
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    Quote Originally Posted by KillianHawkeye View Post
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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    And additional note is that while you aren't looking for a gaming rig, at the same time dedicated GPUs are designed to handle highly-parallel operations more efficiently than standard CPUs.

    Whether your compiler is programmed to take advantage of such a difference (or the computer system itself is setup to do so) is another question entirely.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mando Knight View Post
    Whether your compiler is programmed to take advantage of such a difference (or the computer system itself is setup to do so) is another question entirely.
    The difference is program-specific. Some programs will be able to leverage the additional computing power, and others won't.

    To leverage the capabilities of GPUs, you need to use a library like OpenCL.
    Last edited by Grinner; 2014-05-05 at 07:55 PM.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Things to look for in a computer:

    The screen: you will spend most of your time with the machine looking at the screen. Probably the most important part (note you might just plug it into a monitor on a desk a lot of the time. Big monitors can be quite reasonable. Big laptops are hard to find and carry).
    The keyboard/mouse/pointing device: Typically the second most important part. Dealing with huge LaTeX files might make it more important than the screen (again, you can also plug full sized keyboards & mice for desktop duty on almost all laptops)
    CPU: Unlikely to be all that important. A lot depends on how multithreaded TeXnic center is.
    GPU: Even less likely to be important. Useful for games and DSP-type numeric work*. While you will probably want *something* of one, there will probably be a built-in GPU that will fit almost any non-gaming needs (Aero desktop and such).
    Diskdrive: Probably important. If you store a lot of stuff >200GB of data, you will want a standard (spinning hard drive), or will pay through the nose for a big SSD. My guess is that you don't have a SSD and that has a lot to do with your 4 minute jobs. I'd look for a computer with two drive bays or a hybrid drive (something like this: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16822178381) if you want lots of storage space. Generally, it is a bit harder to find laptops that take two drives and they only are available in the more expensive models (Dell precisions have two standard bays, and likely fit some smaller SSD-only bays as well, but other computers should have multiple bays on cheaper systems).
    - Note: 1T hybrid spinning hard drives run $100 in laptops (any more and you are likely stuck with external 3.5" jobs)
    SSDs are reasonable up to ~256GB (which should run less $0.50/G, until you hit the big .5T and 1T jobs). There is also this strange thing:
    http://www.microcenter.com/product/4...k_2_Dual_Drive
    which is like a hybrid with much more SSD space, and acts like two separate drives. If you need both drives and find a great laptop with only one bay, there you go.
    (If you haven't filled up a couple of Gigs of data this is easy. Just get one with a reasonably large SSD and forget about it).

    Really, you should be asking people more familiar with TeXnic center. How much memory does it need (run out and things get slow)? Does it write and read a lot (in a random fashion)? If so you definitely want an SSD (the hybrid drive only acts as 8G of cache, so could easily be overwhelmed by a big program). How multithreaded is it? If you have a bunch of cores on your CPU (or hyperthreading) will it be wasted?

    I'd also include the inevitable rant about the assumption that all computer must be laptops, but it doesn't look like you are want anything that laptops don't particularly do well (games, huge storage requirements, and heavy computation are all things that "belong" on the desktop). You might still look for a way to plug in a big monitor, keyboard and mouse. Docking stations give a good way to plug into all and once and grab the laptop and go.

    * GPUs tend to use single point floats (some work well with doubles. Almost all of these get too hot for laptops). Don't expect calculations that take longer than a fraction of a second to be accurate from a GPU without crashing to a halt by using doubles (but boy are they good for those 1/60 second calculations).

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    BlackDragon

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Telling us how much RAM your existing laptop has doesn't tell us much. While having more RAM will no doubt help a little when compiling a monster document, having a fast CPU will be at least as critical, and without knowing what you already have in that area it's hard to make a recommendation.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Thanks for all the responses. Especially wumpus. Though to be honest, I didn't understand much of it (I'm one of *those* people).

    I found this thread discussing what hardware to choose for TeXnic Center. Here's the relevant quote:
    In the end, it is only one thing that really makes a difference: Single-Threaded CPU power!
    Though I'm not sure what that is.

    I found some on Amazon which I think look good. A Lenovo, a Samsung, and uhh... while I perusing Chromebooks and Macbooks, found nothin'.
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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Quote Originally Posted by danzibr View Post
    I found this thread discussing what hardware to choose for TeXnic Center. Here's the relevant quote:

    Though I'm not sure what that is.
    Because microprocessor manufacturers are beholden to uphold Moore's law, they have to substantially improve the next generation of processors.

    In the days of yore, that consisted of increasing the clock speed and really clever design tricks. However, the heat generated the components eventuallyturned out to be too great, so they hit a bit of a brick wall.

    To sidestep that issue, they began gluing multiple processors together to split the load instead of making faster ones. To use this additional power, programs need to be designed to take advantage of it. I'm guessing that LaTeX isn't multithreaded, so it can't leverage the power of multiple cores. Instead, it can only run on a single core.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Quote Originally Posted by danzibr View Post
    In the end, it is only one thing that really makes a difference: Single-Threaded CPU power!
    Though I'm not sure what that is.
    One (more or less useful) metric for this is probably the clock rate of the CPU (so the GHz of a single core), though software benchmarks should be more useful.

    Today many computers use a multi-core architecture. They feature more than one processor to have potential more raw power than a single processor would have for a fraction of the price.

    The problem is that not all software can make use of that multi-core architecture. Basically if you run a program that can be executed in multiple threads perfectly, you could speed up your program by a factor equal to the number of cores.
    But some programs (or parts of programs, see Amdahl's law) can't be executed in parallel (or aren't written in a way to use multiple cores) so multiple cores don't really speed them up (unless you do several different tasks in parallel yourself, e.g. doing multiple different LaTeX runs in parallel).

    Your quote implies that the bottleneck for your application is the CPU and that it can't use multiple processors at once. From that information for example the Lenovo you posted should/could be better than the Samsung, because the Lenovo has one stronger Core, while the Samsung has 4 cores with a lower clock rate. [Though clock rate isn't the one and only metric to compare it. Software benchmarks should be more useful. And I have personally no clue which is better.]

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Since single-core performance is apparently the main requirement in your case, avoid anything with an AMD processor (like either of the ones above ) and find something with an Intel one (i3/5/7).

    Although AMD's ones generally have a higher listed clock speed, the performance per core is still worse - in the same price bracket, an i3-3220 is about 30% faster in single-threaded workloads than an FX-4300 despite the latter having a 500MHz-higher clock speed.
    They make up for that by having more cores at the same price (FX-4300s are quad-core, i3s dual), and better 3D graphics performance, but if you're not gaming or doing things that'll multithread well that isn't so useful.

    They also use dramatically more power than equivalently-performing Intel chips, which isn't ideal in a laptop.
    Last edited by FLHerne; 2014-05-06 at 09:04 AM.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    My workhorse laptop that I consistently use of LaTeX documents big and small is a little bit older version of this refurbished (don't be scared, it's fine) Asus:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16834231235

    I've been quite happy with it. It's also up to the task of grinding through some decently intensive simulations in Matlab.

    Also, I know you didn't ask, but after using TeXnic Center for years, I found Texmaker to be wayyyy better.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Quote Originally Posted by danzibr View Post
    Thanks for all the responses. Especially wumpus. Though to be honest, I didn't understand much of it (I'm one of *those* people).

    I found this thread discussing what hardware to choose for TeXnic Center. Here's the relevant quote:

    Though I'm not sure what that is.

    I found some on Amazon which I think look good. A Lenovo, a Samsung, and uhh... while I perusing Chromebooks and Macbooks, found nothin'.
    It means that it will work best on an i3 (the high clockspeed AMD on the Lenova will work mostly as well). Basically, TeX was written in the days of yore, completely debugged*, and nobody wants to touch it anymore. Presumably you could break any job between hard page/chapter breaks and then stitch the pdfs back up, but nobody seems to have done it yet.

    So to put it simply, the more GHz the machine has the faster it will run TeX (and it if it has two speeds listed, the higher one is the important one for TeX). Adding cores might help other things, but not TeX.

    Chromebooks are good for surfing the web, but TeXnic seems to be built for windows. I suspect that whatever you already have, it is more powerful than a Chromebook (but therefore heavier). Don't go for a chromebook unless you can both wipe it and install Linux on it (unless you *just* want to surf) and install TeXnic on Linux (it seems windows centric).

    *I'm pretty sure it is the only example of a non-trivial, heaviliy used program with no known bugs.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Quote Originally Posted by wumpus View Post
    So to put it simply, the more GHz the machine has the faster it will run TeX (and it if it has two speeds listed, the higher one is the important one for TeX). Adding cores might help other things, but not TeX.
    More cores might mean you can render more than one document at the same time using two or more instances of TeX, though...depends what sort of workload you have as to whether that would actually be useful or not; from the sounds of it the OP just renders a single monster document every now and again, so that capability wouldn't help him much.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    The VAIO brand is being sold off, but Sony has pledged that support will continue for the warranty periods. Right now, the Sony VAIO line has some of the best values in notebooks with 1920 x 1080 screens. The VAIO SVF14322CXB, for instance, has an excellent screen and respectable battery life.

    For me, a nice screen, good battery life and reasonable other specs are what I look for in mobile computing devices.

    You don't seem the Linux type, or else I'd recommend something from System 76. However, I'll leave this here for anyone reading this thread who isn't averse to using Linux as a primary OS, since System 76 has excellent prices on systems with very nice specs.
    Quote Originally Posted by Harnel View Post
    where is the atropal? and does it have a listed LA?

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Something with a fast CPU and a very large quantity of cheap RAM will be very helpful. The video card usually won't make any difference. The RAM might not be as critical as the CPU, but you don't even need to have fast expensive RAM. You just need plenty to hold all that you need. At the very least 8 GB, if not more. Since it can be cheap it doesn't hurt to get extra.

    Though you do have to consider how many minutes you're saving vs the cost and strike some sort of balance. Spending hundreds more to save only a few more minutes a week might not be worth it.

    A distant third for performance would be to consider a solid state flash drive (SSD). You would put all your common used and processor intensive stuff on it. Like Windows and Latex. And all your other stuff on a regular hard drive because SSDs tend to have low capacity. Like movies and music. And large games or other programs that take several GB that you don't use very often.

    The reason is behind the RAM and SSD is because reading and writing from a hard drive is super, super slow. Even slow RAM is an order of magnitude better. So your first option is to get a lot of RAM to prevent hard drive read/write as much as possible on large files. So that the only reading/writing is one time or a small number of times into RAM, and then all your data reshuffling as you create the PDF goes back and forth inside the RAM and not to and from the hard drive. Your second option is to get an ultra fast hard drive, an SSD. Ultra fast relative to other hard drives anyway, still slow compared to RAM. Even if the CPU is uber fast, you might have to wait for data to load. So you need to make sure neither processing nor data transfer is the bottleneck and get both.
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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Quote Originally Posted by ericgrau View Post
    A distant third for performance would be to consider a solid state flash drive (SSD). You would put all your common used and processor intensive stuff on it. Like Windows and Latex. And all your other stuff on a regular hard drive because SSDs tend to have low capacity. Like movies and music. And large games or other programs that take several GB that you don't use very often.
    He's talking about laptops here. Very few laptops have more than one hard drive, and the ones that do are usually extremely bulky and very expensive.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    You can buy an SSD after the fact, and I think they are small enough (physically) to go in a laptop or at least plug in to one. Or if you don't need much software the SSD can become your only drive. A friend had one on his laptop, though I'm not sure of the specifics or if it was the only drive.

    Anyhoo cost and the impracticality of a low capacity drive are what make it a distant and optional 3rd. Mostly you get CPU and RAM, using RAM for data speed rather than putting much hope into a "fast" hard drive. And it's more important that you have enough RAM before you get it fast, because even slow RAM is miles better than resorting to using the hard drive more than what's necessary.
    Last edited by ericgrau; 2014-05-11 at 01:40 AM.
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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Quote Originally Posted by ericgrau View Post
    You can buy an SSD after the fact, and I think they are small enough (physically) to go in a laptop or at least plug in to one.
    They're undoubtedly small enough to fit in one, but they would perforce replace the one already there, or else you'd need to use some sort of adapter to fit the drive into the optical bay (and thus do without a DVD drive). I've only ever come across one laptop that actually had slots for two hard drives as well as an optical drive, and it was a high-end Sony Vaio that cost a fortune and weighed half a ton.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    As someone who was until a couple years ago a heavily commuting graduate student, let me recommend the following:

    Get the highest clock rate processor you can find, get something with a decent GPU, get something with a huge screen, and get a gaming mouse with a detachable usb cord.

    This may be for family use, and you never know what's up in the future. Therefore, get the best hardware you can since laptops are nowhere near as upgradeable as desktops. Single core clock rate is still king since you don't know if the programs you use, or end up using, will make use of multiple cores. Basically, get a good i7.

    If you have to use it considerably while traveling, be nice on your eyes and get a huge screen. Laptops with big screens also tend to have more capable keyboards, which is nice. If you have to do a lot of spreadsheet-style work, having a keypad can be huge depending on your application.

    Get a good mouse. I went through several mice that all died due to the cord-mouse point eventually failing. You can either mess around with trying to solder the cord back once it fails, you can buy new mice, you can put up with the little touchpad on the laptop and hate life, or you can buy a mouse with a cord that completely detaches for travel. The mice that tend to have completely detachable cords are gaming mice, so you also get a bunch of extra buttons you can use if you want, plus something that's designed to be used for long hours and should be comfortable. Make sure it actually fits your hand, though. Hands can be fairly unique.

    Also, if you travel and have a family, or end up gaming, get a comfortable and durable headset and make sure there's a built in webcam that's good.

    Full disclosure: I game a lot, and the kind of travel I was doing was basically living in two different counties for part of the week. So I could afford to have a big, heavy laptop that moved once and sat somewhere for a few days, then moved again and sat for a few days. I also ran the sim software for my research project on it. If I had to take it everywhere, every day, I'd consider a much lighter alternative with a cable that I could plug into a convenient TV or monitor.

    Edit: Hardware matters. If you want your laptop to last for the longest possible time, you should also get the most recent hardware- not only to stay up to date, but also so that the manufacturers support your drivers for the longest possible period of time.
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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    I can definitely second the fact that Lenovo is a great brand. They've built a name out of reliability.
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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Quote Originally Posted by CarpeGuitarrem View Post
    I can definitely second the fact that Lenovo is a great brand. They've built a name out of reliability.
    This. My old work computer was a lenny, and it never had an issue. "Upgraded" to a Dell and it broke in a week.

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    Default Re: What laptop should a casual mathematician get?

    Quote Originally Posted by factotum View Post
    He's talking about laptops here. Very few laptops have more than one hard drive, and the ones that do are usually extremely bulky and very expensive.
    That would have been true a couple years ago, but many laptops now have a single MSATA or M.2 slot for a slim SSD card in addition to a single 2.5" bay.
    Quote Originally Posted by Harnel View Post
    where is the atropal? and does it have a listed LA?

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