New laptop ordered .. and something I didn’t realise about CPU performance

Well, I’ve finally taken the plunge and ordered myself a new laptop. SharePoint 2013 has finally gone RTM and the hardware requirements are eye watering to say the least.

My Current Laptop

Now .. I always thought that my existing laptop was no slouch. It was pretty high spec (as older laptops go) and even thought it was primarily a gaming machine it certainly tackled most development requirements with a pretty good rate of knots.

Intel i7-740QM
16GB DDR3-1333 RAM
512GB Crucial M4 SSD (SATA II)
1GB ATi Radeon HD 5850

 But with SharePoint 2013 there are quite a few things lacking. 16GB really isn’t enough to run a proper SharePoint 2013 environment and I also like to play around with features even in SharePoint 2010 that could do with more juice (I have given presentations on Performance Testing and Kerberos which really require 5-6 separate VMs with a fair amount of RAM each).

Wish list for a new laptop

For my new laptop I had 3 core requirements:

  1. Increased RAM (32GB at a minimum) to run multiple SharePoint VMs
  2. Native USB 3.0 and SATA III support for faster drive speeds (my current SSD drives support this, and I have a load of USB 3.0 devices, so this was a must)
  3. Improved Battery Life – my current machine only gets 2 hours tops and I ideally wanted an “all day” device for those coffee shop / conference moments

But before I dive into that I wanted to share a discussion I had on twitter and a small revelation I found from checking up the statistics and information about CPU performance, in particular the Intel i7 CPUs.

All of the laptops I looked at satisfied criteria 1 and 2 so it was initially only battery life that was going to swing anything .. or was it .. ?

Does CPU speed matter?

Well this was first brought to attention by @tristanwatkins through his blog article on i5 versus i7 performance speeds and this was also joined in discussion from @benjaminathawes.

Now .. this is something that I never really considered, especially when you look at the model numbers of CPUs these days:

  • First Generation : i7-740QM
  • Second Generation (Sandy Bridge) : i7-2720QM
  • Third Generation (Ivy Bridge): i7-3740QM

I always glanced and didn’t really notice much of a difference .. until you dig into the specifications:

  • i7-740QM – 1.7Ghz, Turbo Boost to 2.9Ghz
  • i7-2720QM – 2.2Ghz, Turbo Boost to 3.3 Ghz
  • i7-3740QM – 2.7Ghz, Turbo Boost to 3.7Ghz

This is quite a staggering ramp up in CPU speed (especially as each generation ALSO offers enhanced battery life).

At this point in time I was also working on a SharePoint 2010 project and logging into a friend’s development machine remotely. I couldn’t help noticing that with an identical VM clone of mine his was deploying and refreshing the pages vastly quicker than mine (so much faster I had to double check the Visual Studio settings to make sure it WAS actually deploying the files). IISRESET and Application Pool recycle were SO much faster I could barely believe it. To top this off, his VM copy was only running on 6GB RAM (and mine was running on 10GB)!

I checked his system settings and he was running a new 2nd generation i7 (actually a i7-3930) but was running a much higher clock speed than mine

So that was kind of conclusive, a new item on my wish list therefore became:

  • Faster CPU

To be honest this didn’t actually have much of an impact on the decision of which laptop to buy (because ALL of the 2nd Gen / 3rd Gen i7 CPUs are vastly quicker than the 1st Gen i7 CPUs). But it did have an impact on the “I need a new laptop” decision beyond just battery life and RAM.

All of the laptop models I was looking at came with exactly the same spread of Intel i7 and i5 chipsets so it didn’t really have any impact, but this analysis was very interesting nonetheless.

Battery Life and the final decision ..

The final stretch was looking for battery life and rounding it down to a few final models .. I did consider a number of different candidates, and in particular there were two models I was looking closely at:

  • Dell Precision M4700
  • Lenovo W530

The Dell Precision range came quite highly recommended and the Dell Precision M6700 looked like a beast of a machine but with a 17.3″ screen it wasn’t very “portable” and I do tend to carry mine around London quite a lot. The alternative model was the Dell Precision M4700 (15.6″) which also looked very nice (with very similar options to the Lenovo W530, also a 15.6″) and the build quality and spec of both machines was very similar (both of them with a large number of ports).

Both the Lenovo W-series and Dell Precision machines come highly recommended to me from friends on Twitter and everyone seems to be very happy with their machine (regardless of which one they have). They both have a pretty damned similar range of “internal” specs and the same kind of generic options:

  • Latest 3rd Generation Intel i7 chips
  • 15.6″ 1080p screens
  • Wide number of ports (USB 3.0 / HDMI / etc)
  • Ability to remove the optical drive for a second disk drive
  • Ability to clip on a “battery slice” to the docking port on the bottom of the laptop – which can extend (even double!) the battery life of the machine

At the end of the day the settling factor was the battery life, and this was the only real stand-out feature which made the Lenovo W530 jump out of the crowd.

The W530 comes with an additional Intel HD 4000 Integrated Graphics chip. This combined with their apparently excellent power management software, basically allows the laptop to switch over to a low-power graphics chip which makes an enormous difference to battery life!

The Dell Precision workstations both come with NVIDIA Quadro graphics chips, which although very good (especially for CAD / Photoshop) do chew through the battery on high-performance modes. The W530 also has the same graphics chipset, but at least it can turn it off when not needed.

The results of this are (from several internet sources, the blogs of which I seem to have misplaced):
Disclaimer – I can’t verify the accuracy of these numbers, but from various conversations and anecdotal evidence I believe them to be accurate

  • Dell Precision M4700 (with 9-cell battery)
    • Light Usage: ~6 hours
    • Heavy Usage: ~2 hours
  • Lenovo W530 (with 9-cell battery)
    • Light Usage: ~12 hours
    • Heavy Usage: ~6 hours

This was a staggering difference .. and when you add another 9-cell battery slice this takes the W530 up to over 16 hours for light usage (i.e. conferences / flights) and even on heavy usage can easily last “all day” on battery alone!

My new laptop – Lennovo W530

So my decision was finally made, and I ordered myself a Lenovo W530. I really can’t wait for this to arrive, and I’m definitely going to be doing some performance test comparisons to my current laptop (running identical VMs) just to see what the difference is!

I am also presenting at SharePoint Saturday UK in December on Performance Testing with Visual Studio 2012 so I hope to have the new laptop fully up and running by then!

Full Spec:
(well .. the important bits)

  • 3rd Gen i7-3840QM (2.7Ghz, Turbo Boost up to 3.7Ghz, 8MB Cache)
  • 32 GB DDR3 1600Mhz RAM
  • NVIDIA Quadro K2000M with 2GB DDR3 and Intel HD 4000 Integrated Graphics
  • 2x 512 GB Crucial M4 SSD (SATA III / 550MB/s)*

(* note – to get two hard drives in this I will remove the optical drive and use a drive bay adapter. I don’t really need / use optical drives these days anyway, and I install Windows off a memory stick)

Watch this space and once it arrives I’ll be giving a summary of any noticeable changes!

  • Tom

    Great article. I love the detail.
    We were having a similar discussion in the office about the Dell Precision m4x00 vs m6x00 vs Lenovo w5x0 but battery life didn't come up. In fact, I have all the power saving features disabled in the bios of my current m6600 because I found Hyper-V was often locked at the lower clock speeds. After reading your article and the articles by Tristan you linked to, I'm guessing VMware doesn't have the same issue and maybe I will be getting better battery life when I switch back to VMware.
    I left a note on Tristan's post, but maybe it would have been better here. Do you know much about comparable HP laptops? I'm looking for one. I've only found the 17in hp elitebook 8770w supports 32gb ram with two ssds. Maybe I could figure it out if I knew how to customize machines on as well as I do on

  • Martin Hatch


    Didn't see that as an option at the time. I did look at several reviews from Anandtech / Endgadget / etc and they were all suggesting a similar battery life.

    It also wasn't the ONLY deciding factor, as a number of colleagues and peers also went with the Lenovo model so their recommendations also held some weight (although admittedly I also know a few people who have a Precision M4xxx too).

  • Anonymous

    Martin, seems the Dell M4700 also supports Optimus. Do you have any information on whether this works or not? Since it was basically your deciding factor between the Lenovo and Dell, I assume you did some research into this

  • Paisley

    Checking to see how you like the new machine?

  • Martin Hatch

    I doubt the fully-spec'd "top of the line" machine is $1900 USD

    also .. don't buy the SSD or RAM through the website, its not as expensive as Apple but still far more than you can buy elsewhere on the internet!

  • Hugh Wood

    You know what is annoying, to buy this machine in the USA it's $1,900usd, I specced it up on the UK site and it's £2,800GBP.

    Someone is taking the pee..