Tech Upgrade?

My "daily driver" machine is up for a refresh, my XPS 13 is almost 3 years old. Since I got it the world has changed significantly. When I got it I was;

  1. Working in an office, taking regular holidays, so mobility was important
  2. Crippled, unable to do much more than lie down, so having a small machine I could chuck on my lap was key

The XPS ticked all the boxes. The eGPU was, in retrospect, not such a good idea. I now do 90% of my gaming on the Switch, and the laptop is used for productivity/video editing etc. The eGPU had a whiny fan, so I didn't really use it, and ultimately it's been "filed" away.

In a post-covid world the XPS now spends most of it's time plugged into my desk setup (which was bought as my back started to improve, and sitting in an office chair was the best thing I could do). This relies heavily on Thunderbolt 3...the laptop sits on a stand, and then a single cable provides power and links it into a CalDigit TB3 hub, which allows me to have a nice clean desk while also running multiple webcams, microphones, a 2Tb HDD and the display output to the 35" UltraWide monitor. It's a setup that really works for me...when I want to move the laptop it's a single cable to connect/unconnect.

With the new "mainly work from home" world upon us (well, for me at least), I now have a tech-upgrade quandry. I was looking at the new Intel gen11 laptops announced yesterday, and started working out a list of what I'd like/need.

1) Portability - this was number 1 3 years ago, however I think it's now less important. The XPS13 is still a very capable laptop, and I replaced the battery in February, so it's proabably good as a thin-n-light for the next 3 years at least for productivity work. The only time I test it is video rendering and big Excel work.

2) Thunderbolt connectivity - my desk ecosystem is very reliant on the single-cable ability of this...and very frustratingly AMD-based machines have not adpoted it (even though Intel have open-sourced the standard).

3) While I probably wouldn't use an RTX card for gaming too much, some of the features they support would be super-useful. I recently won a company-wide award for demonstrating how a remote presentation on Teams/Zoom (pick video-conferencing softare here) can be made more compelling and engaging by using some tech (long story short, I've recommended that we set up some green-screen studios in our offices...sales and training are super-keen after I did a presentation to the board called "How to be more like Carol Kirkwood"). Rendering out video using an NVENC hardware-encoder would also be super-useful for both streaming/presenting and video rendering.

4) Acoustics - this has gone way up in the requirements. If there is one thing I don't miss about offices, it's the constant air-con whine. The XPS is a very quiet machine, and I don't really want to introduce a noisy box into my pleasant, calm working environment.

In a normal world, the answer would be easy.

"Pete, buy an AMD desktop with an RTX 3060/3070 and a Thunderbolt add-in card, then slap some big slow fans in there, or get an AIO water cooler to keep it quiet"

Which would absolutely make sense. If I could buy at RRP then I could get a very powerful machine for significantly less than a thin-n-light laptop with a dGPU, and then use the XPS13 as a mobile machine. The crazy world that we currently have means that the desktop may be more expensive than a laptop...and this will probably continue into 2022.

My gut feel is to hold off and get a desktop when the prices return to somewhere near normal. I don't need bleeding-edge hardware, and the XPS is "good enough" for now.


You may have already thought about it, but you do have an option that could allow you to dodge the current GPU price craziness.

You still have a perfectly good gaming card hiding away in your eGPU enclosure, waiting to be set free!
See this Tom's Hardware article on harvesting enclosure cards
A GTX1080 is still a solid 1080p gaming card (I still run a GTX1070 for my gaming and VR).
The article does point out they have oversized coolers which you may want\need to replace, but that could be a good excuse for a quieter cooler project.

This gives you the option to upgrade everything else and then pick up a suitable GPU when prices stabilise.

However, if what you have now is working just fine, and the RTX features are the main thing you are after; waiting would be the sensible option.

Bigger Rob's picture

I had thought about die-casng it, but it doesn't have the Broadcast features. I could probably just re-plug it into the TB3 hub and try and hide it somewhere quiet (I have a 1m active TB3 cable). I was thinking about using the 1080 to replace the 760ti Rob donates that died, but I got a 1660 for a decent price instead which is probably acoustically quieter as well.

babychaos's picture