I have been traveling the world and working from my laptop since 2010. In that time I have carried a 15.4" 5.5 lb machine, an 11.6" 3.5 lb featherweight, and everything in between. Recently, I was in the market for a new laptop and was surprised for find how difficult it was to filter through all the options. I found $1,500 computers that didn't have the processing power of $1,000 systems. Given the amount of time I spent comparing CPUs and systems to find the best option, I wanted to share some of that knowledge to make your buying decision easier.
First, let's take a look at my requirements in a laptop. I wanted something that was at least as powerful as the computer I bought five years ago. Ideally, I would like it to be a little faster, lighter, and smaller. The computer I would be replacing is a Toshiba Satellite L855 with the i7-3630QM quad-core processor, 8 GB of RAM, 100 GB SSD, and 500 GB HDD. I bought this computer as an open-box sale model at Staples five years ago for $500 and put another $100 into the SSD upgrade. I also moved the original HDD into the DVD bay using a mounting bracket I picked up on Amazon. At the time, this was a good deal. I'm surprised to find that five years later it's difficult to replace this laptop for the $600 I have in it. Here's what I'm looking for in the replacement computer:
I'll start with the conclusion if you want to just see what I bought. However, I considered several options and a couple different travel styles that may appeal to you if you don't like the laptop I chose.
This computer is thin and light with a 14" HD display, Intel Core i7-8550U Processor, 16 GB RAM, and 512 GB SSD. Over the past five years, I have moved from earning some of my income online to relying entirely on my laptop and internet connection to pay my bills. For this reason, spending a little extra to get a great computer was a good business decision.
I bought this laptop and the case above because it meets all the requirements I had for my new laptop. It is lightweight (2.75 lbs), has an 8th generation i7 CPU that is significantly faster than my current laptop, double the RAM from my current system, and a significantly larger solid state drive.
This computer has a 13.9" laptop (4K UHD touchscreen), 7th Gen i7-7500U, 16 GB RAM, and 512 GB SSD at 3.09 lbs.
Right upfront, you'll see that this does not meet most of the requirements I listed above. However, this computer has some unique benefits that make it a great option for digital nomads that don't require a lot of performance from their laptop (or short infrequent trips away from your primary computer).
ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA-D4-GR, 10.1” screen 2-in-1 Touchscreen Laptop, Intel Quad-Core Atom, 4GB RAM, 128 GB EMMC, with the pen and keyboard included. This is an interesting alternative to the laptops above since it can be charged from any USB just like a cellphone. For frequent travel, the small size, weight, and charging option makes this an option worth considering.
Unfortunately for me, I do use more processing power than this computer offers frequently enough that I cannot use this option. Also, I prefer slow travel and will be spending three months traveling around Europe with my laptop. The Transformer Mini would be good for me to use on weekend trips or two week getaways where I could plan to do less CPU intensive work during the trip. However, it will not meet my needs during extended travel.
Apple 15" MacBook Pro with Retina display, 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 Quad Core, 16GB RAM, and 256GB SSD at 6.4 lbs. While I didn't even consider buying an Apple computer for myself, this list would not be complete without mentioning this popular computer for digital nomads. Read any forum discussing favorite laptops for digital nomads and you will find a long list of people that are very happy with their MBP.
While the CPU in this laptop is significantly faster than the Yoga mentioned above, it is only slightly faster than the Zen computer I bought. Also, it is the heaviest of the four laptops mentioned here. Unless you are an Apple fan, one of the options listed above offers a better value for your money. On the positive side, the additional graphics memory and CPU speed would make this a better option if you work in graphics. Professional photographers, graphic editors, and video editors should consider this laptop to be their best choice. Since I don't do much more than work with Canva, the extra graphics memory would only give me an excuse to spend more time playing video games - and this is a work computer.