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I'm a software developer that would primarily be running Windows 7 as the primary operating system. On a typical day, I might, at any given moment, be running Visual Studio, Expression Web, SQL Server developer (and Management Console), IIS, Photoshop, a dozen browser tabs in 2-3 different browsers, Skype video chat, streaming music, and a couple of VMs (WinXP and Ubuntu) for testing/experimentation.

Obviously, RAM is a concern, which is why I plan to use 8 GB so I can devote enough to the VMs to be usable. I'm also tempted to use an ExpressCard SSD for storing the VM disks to ease disk contention. And I know that that is asking a lot from a laptop, and I should just use a desktop, but I need to be able to take my work with me between several locations.

It seems that at a reasonable price point, it comes down to the i5 540M versus the i7 720QM. I'm leaning toward the i7 since it would allow me to dedicate a whole hyperthreaded core to each VM, and still have two cores left for the primary OS.

I've heard that the i5 has better battery life, but I'm curious for my scenario if there would be a meaningful difference. I don't usually work without a plug, but I do occasionally ride the train or fly and it would be nice to have at least 3 hours of juice for unusual circumstances.

And, finally, for this usage scenario, would a dedicated video option be preferred over the i5's integrated video? It sounds like Visual Studio 2010 (and Windows 7) can take advantage of the video card.

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Go i7, you can always buy extra batteries. ;-) –  Tom Wijsman Aug 22 '10 at 11:28
    
Which one did you choose? –  Nelson Reis Oct 21 '10 at 0:19

3 Answers 3

if you go for i7 you would have no option but to get dedicated video card as i7 doesn't seem to have intel graphics. i would anyway suggest you to get dedicated graphics as graphic card cannot be upgraded later(like ram or hard drive).

IMO get the i7 but be careful some laptops out there powered by i7 are facing heating issues. so be smart while selecting a model....

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whilst this is not really an answer.. i would like to point out that this statement is not 100% true:

happy2help said:

i would anyway suggest you to get dedicated graphics as graphic card cannot be upgraded later(like ram or hard drive).

laptop gfx cards are upgradeable, you just have to know what you are doing, so are cpu's..

but i do agree that a dedicated gfx solution is a good idea, however the i5 would probably be a good option as it has more than enough power to run what you are demanding of it. I game on an i5 540m with a decent 60-70 avg fps on current release games full specs (not crysis).

some laptops have the ability to switch between the dedicated gfx card and the intel integrated chip if you need to save power and dont need the gfx performance. this is a feature worth investigating.

an example is the Dell Studio 15 Details Here

the i7's have come along and the studio 15 does have i7 options, and heat wise i think they have worked alot of that out by now, but the i5 540M is a good starting point and its just a case of what you can afford above that really

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The other two people have said contracdicting information about upgrading graphics - it is possible to upgrade, but I cannot give a certain answer - it depends if the laptop supports MXM or a similar card - however, I cannot advise upgrading. Typically, if it is not available as an option when you first buy the laptop, I wouldn't upgrade as it can (not always) lead to problems such as heat.

As for power, the Core I5 540m uses 35W and the Core I7 720QM uses 45W, however these are the maximum values, when idle - Windows 7 (hopefully you will be using it!) will take advantage of certain advanced features such as core parking and they should use an almost identical amount of power, meaning that the core I7 will only need the additional power when you are doing complex / big tasks.

As for what to recommend, if they are similar prices and you are anything like me, I need a laptop for portability and to take to clients, but EVERYWHERE I go has a plug! Even most long distance trains have a plug, but even without it, with power saving modes and low back light, I can still get a good 2 hours. Based on this, I would go with the I7!

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I wish I had plugs on all long distance trains where I live. –  Gnoupi Aug 22 '10 at 11:12
    
@Gnoupi - not all the trains, just most of the long distance ones - typically, I would use it on battery on my first train to London, then use a plug on London to Birmingham or other places - it is usually just the long distance trains that have the plugs. –  William Hilsum Aug 22 '10 at 11:21
    
in France, only some first class TGV wagons have the plugs (and they are not constant, they cut like 2 minutes every 10 minutes - annoying if you have your laptop configured to cut its performances on battery). But for example, the night train won't have any, being lower class. Anyway, not the topic. –  Gnoupi Aug 22 '10 at 14:13
    
@Gnoupi Thanks! Interesting to know - Off topic, the only train I have been on in France is the Eurostar, wanted to go on a TGV - I always thought they were state of the art and would have them as standard. Oh well! –  William Hilsum Aug 22 '10 at 14:44

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