Hardware enabling the future of work
Hi there! I recently spent some time thinking about my hardware set-up for the next three years. As I decided for a rather unconventional set-up, I wanted to share my thought process with you. Perhaps this makes you rethink your own set-up or perhaps you'd like to challenge mine.
To understand why I opted for my set-up I think it is helpful to understand (a) what my job is and (b) what I was looking for in my tech as a consequence of my job.
What does a non-coder persona do at VIU?
Talk is cheap. Show me the code. Linus Torvalds
That's a fair question. Basically, most of my tasks revolve around communication & (document) collaboration. In my roles such as project manager, sales assistant, or business development my main tasks revolve around listening to clients, processing information and relaying it to other people. Hence, I actually spend a significant portion of my time in the Microsoft 365 environment. If I had to guess, the apps I use most are:
- Microsoft Teams
- To Do
- Office Suite (PPT, Word, Excel)
- Salesforce Salescloud
- SharePoint (Online)
- Confluence & Jira
- Other Microsoft 365 apps such as PowerBi / PowerAutomate for no-code / low-code; Lists; etc.
As you can see, all of these apps are offered in the cloud and use, with a few exceptions, little processing power.
Further, when working with clients, I spend a lot of my time in workshops (pre 03/2020) or video calls (post-04/2020). That is, I am 'co-creating' content with them or discussing next steps for our projects. For this, I need to be able to take notes quickly and if possible have access to digital whiteboards.
Next, being on the go most of the time I was looking for a device that would make it easy to stay connected, have sufficient battery life while still being lightweight.
Lastly, I still wanted to be able to do 'heavier' workloads in case it became necessary (manage a heavy excel file, work with PowerBI, etc.) and had a preference to stay within the Microsoft ecosystem.
As you can see, the list of things I wanted is markedly different from what (I would expect) programmers need. Therefore, please don't be surprised when my set-up seems akward at first.
You've baked a really lovely cake, but then you've used dog shit for frosting. Steve Jobs
While doing my research I realized that there was basically no device that ticked off all the boxes for me. Some where lightweight and perfect to use on the go (HP Dragonfly, Surface Pro X) but would probably let me down in terms of screen real estate or power for heavier workloads.
Others would bring the power (Surface Laptop, Surface Book) but would not be able to meet my expectations in terms of connectivity or weight. The obvious solution to this conundrum is a two device strategy. Yes, two devices.
Device 1 - Intel NUC
The base for my flexible set-up and my daily driver is a tiny Intel NUC. It's really small with a 12*12 cm case but manages to get me through any workload I'd need. To name some specs:
- 10th Gen i5 processor
- 32GB RAM
- PCIe 500GB Disk
In combination with my 4k screen, my Bluetooth headset, mouse, and keyboard and a good webcam there's really nothing I'm missing. Not taking the periphery into consideration, the device comes in at under CHF 1'000.- - there's no way you'd find a laptop with similar specs in that price range. Oh, and did I tell you about its power consumption? In idle mode it consumes +/- 6 watt and under load +/- 30 watt. Not too bad, right?
Device 2 - Surface ProX
My companion for when I'm on the go is a Surface ProX. It is based on an ARM processor and is really designed to be used as a digital notebook with office capabilities. It's really lightweight, you can stay connected with LTE and the pen input is amazing. I won't take you through all the tech specs but if you're interested, you'll find everything here. Unfortunately, the processor architecture can be limiting to most people and the device is heavily overpriced for what you actually get in return. For more information on the limitations, please refer to this Microsoft article or this Windows Central article.
So, now that we've cleared the basics, let's get into the nitty gritty details. In the end, the only thing that counts is whether this set-up helps me get my work done more efficiently.
The first month
Give a man a program, frustrate him for a day. Teach a man to program, frustrate him for a lifetime. Muhammad Waseem
After a bit more than a month with my two new companions I can draw a positive first conclusion. Let's take a look at my goals and how this set-up matches up to it:
As you can see, the set-up allows me to meet all goals. Further, thanks to the MS cloud all my activities as well as files are synced between devices. I can really seamlessly switch between the two devices. Note taking on the ProX is a charm and battery life is good (especially on LTE). While on the train from Bern to Zurich, I used a mere 10% of my battery on an hour long video call with two people.
Because of the Covid-Crisis I am currently working mostly from home. Hence, I can't really judge whether I would be happy with the ProX if I had to travel more and be productive on the client side. The ProX is definitely an experiment and it wouldn't work without the NUC to get me through all my heavier tasks. However, for my "on the go" work, I have not run into any application I could not use on the Pro X (but as I said, I am mostly using Microsofts own software, so I am surely not a benchmark here).
After six months
to be continued... I'd like to come back to this page to update it after having had some more experience with my set-up. Stay tuned and drop a comment below, if you'd like me to answer anything.