I Melt Laptops


I have a problem. I go through a lot of laptops.

Every 2-3 years, I need a new MacBook Pro. I’ve gone through 5 since 2006. They literally start to melt down on the inside.

Interspersed with this were several Windows PCs, some provided by employers/clients, others (such as my most recent Razer Blade 15) were purchased by me as a daily driver. I go through these every 18-24 months. Though some of you may recall that I actually went through three in three months before I settled on my first gaming laptop last time.

Well, my 18-month old Razer just overheated for the last time and failed to boot as of Wednesday. Today it is just as dead. I opened it up to find the battery was swollen (uh-oh!) and removed it, but the dang thing still wouldn’t go beyond the initial start screen when trying to start it on wall power alone.

I’ve seen this before. The thermal issues trigger a battery failure, then the battery swells and breaks the nearby stuff that’s already overheated at it bends it out of place. The cascade can go on from there until all the parts fuse into an irreparable state. I have another M.2 SSD on order to see it the machine can be reclaimed, and I’ve gone several rounds with the extended warranty protection service already. Experience has taught me that can take months to resolve even without a pandemic going on.

So I put it out to everyone I know on the socials, and called a few techy friends for their opinions. How can I get a dependable laptop for under $4000 USD that is rock solid dependable and can keep up with me without melting down for a few years?

Pretty much everything points to the same solution. Remember the old joke, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this” and the Doctor says “Then stop doing that”? Yeah. Turns out I just need a desktop.

I don’t know why I melt through laptops so much, but regardless of why that may be the consistency is uncanny. I’m a high-intensity user, and I don’t really want to change that, I just want a computer that does what I tell it to, when I tell it to, and doesn’t do anything else that I didn’t tell it to. This is increasingly hard to come by at any price. If I had an overbuilt cooling system on a desktop that I could build and adjust to my needs, running on my own network, I do believe I could finally achieve this.

This is an option I’ve not been able to seriously consider for 15 years. I was too mobile and my internet connection too unpredictable to even think about it.

But these days, no one is traveling much — for obvious reasons. Even after we have a vaccine or herd immunity, I don’t really need to go places as much. I’m no longer performing around the world anymore, couchsurfing or living on a boat, and I’m not speaking or teaching all around the country either. I really could build out a super home office machine, add it to my fairly robust home network, and securely remote into it for intensive tasks as needed.

I’d still have to remote in with something remote, but why not my iPad? Or even my partner’s old 2011 MacBook Pro that we never let go of?

I really like that Jobs Era of Macs, actually. I love the 10.6.8 Mac OS, the last best OS they offered. I love being able to plug in ethernet and even firewire directly, no dongles needed. I love having a machine I can still open up and improve. So that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s got a simple 240GB SSD that I picked up for $40 bucks, and I’ve got 16GB of memory on order that I’ll drop in for a mere $80 dollars. I might even pull that old data duplicator trick and remove the optical drive and replace it with another hard drive. For now, I like having the optical drive though. I’m not sure if I can (or should) revert it back to Snow Leopard from High Sierra, but I probably will try because I want to decouple it from Apple’s new ecosystem as much as possible.

Yes, my newly refreshed MacBook Pro will be decade-old technology. But it will do what I tell it to, when I tell it to, and it’s unlikely to do much else when I’m not looking. I’ll leave it on my network most of the time, and travel with it when I need to travel. It doesn’t need to be my daily driver, it needs to help me do internet-related tasks and presentations.

For the daily driver, I’m looking at a mere $600-800 to build a desktop from the ground up. Two 4K screens are no problem with the right graphics card. All my other peripherals (multiple webcams, external audio mixer, Streamdeck, etc.) that I use for livestreaming are no big deal to a motherboard that I’ve selected for its bus architecture. For operating system, I’ll probably be running some flavor of Linux. Not sure which yet, maybe just CentOS because it changes so little and runs Davinci Resolve so well.

If clients want to send me a laptop to access their network easily, then fine. I’ll have a Windows 10 machine too. Other than that, Windows is more headache than help for me. While I have used Microsoft Windows plenty and certainly know my way around, I’ve never really made friends with anything that came after Windows XP.

My Razer Blade 15 laptop will be repaired if at all possible. And I probably will use it in the short term if I can get it functional within the next few days. But after that, I think I’ll sell it. It’s a great laptop for the right person.

The right person isn’t me. I’ll just melt it again, because it seems that’s just what I do.

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