Last fall, I did something I didn’t think I would do anytime soon…. I sold my main workstation computer. Specifically, my System76 Bonobo Extreme laptop. Several events over the last year have led me to the realization that my actual computing needs are drastically different than what they were when I purchased the Bonobo in early 2015. This post will highlight some of those realizations, and why I ultimately decided to sell my Bonobo laptop.
Why I got the Bonobo
I bought my Bonobo laptop from System76 during my first post-college year. I needed to replace my old workstation: an aging desktop that I built before my High School graduation. While its i7-930 CPU, 6GB of RAM, NVIDIA GTX 260, and hodgepodge of hard drives (SSD and HHD) serverd my needs throughout college, I was starting to feel restricted. After some research, I came to the conclusion that it would be better to get a new system, instead of trying to upgrade my old desktop. I wanted a new, powerful computer that could easily run multiple VMs, play some video games, and compile software/run models fast.
After a few months at my new job, I noticed I didn’t use a portable computer as much. I went to work, used my work computer, and then came home to my desktop. So portability wasn’t the biggest concern when searching. That being said, I still lived out of state from my family, and would leave for a week or more at a time during hollidays or vacation. I wanted to still be able to lug my computer with me during family vists. I also liked to game a little bit when visiting with my brothers, or after work, so I added a dedicated GPU to the search criteria.
All of this pointed me towards desktop-replacement laptops. I wanted to support a Linux-only vendoor, so I looked at System76. The Bonobo seemed comparable to other laptops on the market, but being a System76 device, I felt more confident all the hardware would play nicely with Linux. It was a big laptop, but my plan was to use it mostly as a desktop computer, with the option to still travel with it when I needed to go somewhere for more than just a day or two. Besides, I liked that the case was larger, as I hoped it would help increase airflow to help with heat management.
I purchased the Bonobo, and it worked out very well for several years. It was a very powerful computer (more than my old desktop), but still portable enough for when I wanted to take it somewhere.
The Modern Reality
As the years passed, my computing needs changed. On top of that, some of the initial assumptions about my computer use turned out to not be entirely true.
I’m Not a Big
For example, when my brothers and I would pull out our laptops to play games together, the games we played were never highly demanding. Our top played games were Minecraft, Serious Sam 3, Dungeon Defenders, and maybe CS GO. Needless to say, the Bonobo was a little overkill. Unfortunately, with my brothers and I all living in different states now, we really don’t see each other in person enough to play computer games in the same room anymore. These days, when we want to remotely play video games together… we play on the Xbox ONE (which I bought mostly to keep in touch with my friends and family. I didn’t own one when I purchased the Bonobo).
I have enjoyed owning a computer that can handle most of games I throw at it, but if I’m being honest… I don’t play games too often. Even on the Xbox, I go in bursts of playing once or twice a week, and then don’t touch a game for months. While I wouldn’t mind having the ability to play more demanding games on my computer, it isn’t a requirement for me… expecially on a laptop.
I Travel More. Sometimes On Airplanes.
One change compared to when I originally bought my bonobo is that I travel more. When I first moved to Massachusetts, I figured most of my traveling would be from here back to Pennsylvania, or to vacation once a year. However, my wife and I have managed to keep in touch with some of our old friends… who live all over the country. Plus, now that my brothers have moved out of the house, they have started to spread out too (as already mentioned in the section above). So, I travel more often. In particular, I fly more frequently.
To say it bluntly, the Bonobo sucks to travel with. It takes up the majority of my bag, and most bags don’t even fit it. Besides the laptop size, TSA is often freaked out by the MASSIVE power supply, and has had to re-scan my bag several times, thinking I had a “bluetooth speaker” or something else I neglected to tell them about (despite my polite warnings that “my laptop’s power charger is massive”). Beyond security, It isn’t a computer I can pull out of my bag and easily use in an airport terminal. In fact, the last time I flew with it, I tried to work on it at table, but couldn’ because the power outlet didn’t supply enough juice to charge the laptop. So, I was forced to switch to my phone for entertainment while waiting several hours for my flight, despite having a massive gaming laptop in my bag.
It turns out I’m noise picky.
When building or purchasing a computer, something to consider is noise. With my previous machines, I didn’t worry about it. I’d joke to myself, “Noise? Why should I be concerned about that? I’m not building a recording studio”! After several years of focusing on how I actually use my computing devices, I’ve noticed that I am very picky with noise, and on a related note, heat. Every time I hear the fans kick up, I start to worry that I am over-taxing the system and start to monitor the biggest culprits. When running taxing processes, I watch the cpu temps and hate seeing them high.
I hoped the extra thickness of the Bonobo would help with any heating issues. While it might have a little bit, when you shove a decent GPU into a laptop… it’s going to give off heat. Additionally, when using a powerful CPU to it’s full potential, it is very difficult for a laptop to compete with a desktop-level cooling system. The Bonobo is a very powerful laptop, but the loud fans prevented me from actually using it to its full potential, because I would immediately start shutting down processes when the noise kicked up. I know the fans spin up to help with thermals, the Bonobo was just a tad to hot and loud for my taste.
A Desktop Replacement?
My issues with the Bonobo boiled down to the fact that based on my current computing use-case, the Bonobo functioned less as a desktop-replacement-laptop, and more of just a shitty, somewhat portable, desktop. Most of the time, I am just browsing or writing code on the machine in front of me. If I need more power, I connect remotely to a bigger, better, computer. I also never game “on the go”, so if I want to have a computer for gaming, it makes much more sense to eventually have a half-decent desktop (or invest in an eGPU), which will fit my needs much better that even high-end gaming laptops.
The Bonobo is great if you sit it on a desk and use it as your full computer. I did not. I have a ton of periphery devices, and started to even use it in clam-shell mode, making the nice 17” screen a waste. Additionally, I hated having to unplug and re-plug all the devices when I wanted to move the computer. In theory, I could move the Bonobo from my desk into the other room and work with my wife at the kitchen table whenever we wanted, but I rarely did. Unplugging all my devices and fishing the massive power cable out from behind my desk (because the battery life is … yea, I don’t think I need to explain this), was usually enough to prompt me to treat the Bonobo as a desktop, rather than a laptop.
Recent Discoveries & My New Plan
A while back, I bought a used x230 Thinkpad. Last summer, I finally purchased a used docking station for it, so I could try out a docked setup. I loved it. It matched my needs exceptionally. I was able to have all of my periphery devices attached to the dock and thus, the x230, but with the push of a button I could detach the laptop be on my way. The setup worked so well in fact, that I started to use my x230 as my desk computer, and would remote to my Bonobo on the other side of the room when I needed it. At that point, I realized I might want to switch things up.
I want to conclude by again stating that my System76 Bonobo Extreme was not a bad machine. It is great when used as a standalone, semi-portable computer. I didn’t use it that way, and as a result, it just wasn’t for me anymore. I learned that a quite, cool, portable, but dockable, laptop is ideal for my main device right now, even if it isn’t as powerful. Unfortunately, System76 doesn’t offer such a machine at this time. So, my plan is to replace the Bonobo with newer thinkpad + dock combination. Hopefully that combination will give me a nice dock setup that I have grown to appreciate and love.
Living the Dock Life: My Thinkpad T470 New Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2