Small laptop for system administrator
I am a system administrator and I need a small, lightweight laptop that will always be at hand. And during working hours, and when I rest over distant lands.
Unfortunately, my working Thinkpad x200 is too heavy and cumbersome to wear all the time, but nothing radically better was found. In general, small laptops have recently slipped into imitation of the MacBook Air - something thin, shiny, with a minimum of ports, with functionality sacrificed to the style. Such a laptop is only suitable for putting likes on Facebook, but not for work.
Having not found anything worthy, I thought about how the laptop would have turned out, if I had developed it, thinking not about marketing, but about the needs of real users. For example, system administrators. Thought has accumulated on the whole article.
Of course, your understanding of the admin laptop does not have to coincide with mine, but I hope you will find a couple of interesting thoughts here.
Just keep in mind that although I am an administrator by post, I actually have to work as a network engineer and an installer, and to carry out a significant part of other work related to hardware: we have a tiny company, we are located in the provinces, so that's it.
In order not to constantly specify “this laptop,” later in the article I will call it an admin book. So, let's get started ...
1. Dimensions and weight
Of course, I want less and easier, but the keyboard with the screen should not be too small, and the connectors also need to be placed somewhere. After all, one of the main features of the adminbook is the ability to connect to custom equipment.
Tentatively, I want a laptop half as small as x200, the dimensions of which coincide with an A4 sheet. And the side pockets of many bags and backpacks miraculously gravitate to a size slightly larger than the A5 format. So, the adminbook will be of this size: 210x148mm
Thickness - what happens. The model in this article has a thickness of 19-25mm (taking into account the legs), but 3cm will suit me. To "feel" the size, pick up a book of the most popular format 84x108 / 32. For 400 pages in a hard cover, its size is 205x135x25mm. The adminbook is almost the same, only half a centimeter higher and a centimeter wide.
The weight of the mentioned book is 0.4 kg. And the weight of the adminbook is 600-700 grams (half the weight of Thinkpad). Not so hard.
Of course, the admin body is made of aluminum
2. Keyboard and trackpoint
A well-designed keyboard is important for convenient work on a laptop. Of course, the best keyboard is the one you are used to. For me, these are Mitsumi Classic and its analogues, and on laptops - the keyboards of old Thinkpads. But neither one nor the other will simply fit into the adminbook because of the size (the main block of keys on Mitsumi is 285x95mm).
Compared to the classic keyboard, the adminbook does not have enough width, but there is not much space on top. So, some of the keys on the right side of the keyboard will have to be placed in the top row and arranged in some more or less meaningful order.
In order to better “feel” the keyboard, I made life-size mock-ups, moved the buttons here and there, put fingers differently for a set of typical hotkeys, and came to the version that you are observing here.
I will try to explain the course of my thoughts.
First, you had to set the size of the keys. On a regular keyboard, their pitch is 3/4 "(19mm), and the size of the pads for the fingers is from 12x12 to 16x16mm. Will it work out, can I use this size?
Let's calculate. The maximum number of keys that need to fit in one row is 12 (functional) It turns out that the pitch is 17.5mm (210/12), which is only one and a half millimeters smaller than the standard pitch.
But the keys from edge to edge are a bad idea. It’s better to leave a little space for the protective edge around the keyboard. Having reduced the pitch to 17mm, we get a suitable row length of 202mm .Taking 2mm as the distance between the keys, we get w Irina keys equal to 15mm.
We decided on the width, now let's calculate the height. In total there will be 6 rows of keys, plus below the space bar, the buttons of the trackpoint should fit. That is, 7 rows. 148/7 = 21 This is even more than the standard 19mm. So take 19mm. At this height, a sufficient 17mm remains for the sides of the keyboard and hinges of the display.
As a result, we get a keyboard with a key size of 15x17mm with 2mm intervals. That is, in height - like on a standard keyboard, and in width - only 2mm less!
Since this is a laptop for professionals, the convenience of using hotkeys is of great importance. And my personal bzik - so that combinations with modifier keys (Ctrl, Alt, Shift, Fn) can be easily pressed with one hand. As much as possible.
Therefore, I did not save space by throwing out the right modifier keys, as some manufacturers of compact laptops do. Moreover, I added another Shift to the very top row, so that it would be more convenient to use the upper case of the keys placed there.
For lovers of blind typing, on the necessary keys (F, J, 1,6, Up), tubercles are made for tactile orientation. Although I think that with this keyboard, the key way to work is to press the keys “foreseeably”. And here I have a complaint about the developers of modern laptops: on their keyboards the function keys are not divided into groups of four. Which is personally inconvenient for me.
In my version, groups of four begin with keys of a different color. This allows you to position your fingers on the right keys without focusing on what is written there - just focusing on color. Unfortunately, the function keys had to be combined with other keys, so they had to be pressed in combination with Fn.
In general, I use color bindings throughout the keyboard. The row with number keys is specially grayed out to visually separate the QWERTY row, and keys 1 and 6 are highlighted in black. At the same time on a noticeable black 6-ke is NumLock.
The keys on the right side of the keyboard are grayed out, which in NumLock mode work as a digital keyboard block. But only part 1 to 9 was highlighted - it turned out to be more convenient than selecting all the numbers and the keys of arithmetic operations located to their right. By the way, all this digital part works like a digital one not only in NumLock mode, but also when you press the Fn button. And Enter also fulfills how Enter the numeric keypad.
The Tab and the upper Shift are among the keys of the same size, so they are specially highlighted in blue. CapsLock has a built-in Caps mode indicator; Fn + AltGr emulate a context menu key.
The keys for quotation marks and tildes (E and E) are 10.5 mm wide. This is quite acceptable, because tilde is used relatively rarely. But the quotes in programming are used constantly, so they are duplicated in the top row right next to the Shift. By the way, I somehow got the HP ProBook 4510s, so it has a 10.5mm tilde key. And this is on a 15-inch laptop!
However, if desired, the tilde can also be duplicated on a full-size key (for example, by one). Do you see U1 written in blue? This means customizing the key: with Fn pressed, the key code registered for it in the BIOSe is processed. There are six such keys on the keyboard. They can be assigned as emulation of ordinary keys, and something non-standard. For example, the buttons on the extended keyboards for calling up a calculator, browser or email client.
Multimedia functions are moved left down so as not to reach far by pressing Stop or Mute.
Of course, the adminbook needs a keyboard backlight. It uses an analog of the Thinkpad's ThinkLight - an LED above the display that illuminates the keyboard from above. In this case, it is better than the backlighting of the keys below, because there are three symbols on the keys, and only English letters are usually made transparent for the lower backlight. The Fn + B key (below the trackpoint, you can feel it even in the dark) cyclically switches the keyboard backlight and webcam backlight.
To the left of the keys on the trackpad is empty space. This is done so that you can hold the adminbook in one hand - four fingers from below, under the bottom, and the thumb from above in this empty place. At the same time, note that there is a small cutout under the finger to make it easier to open the display. There is also a biometric identification sensor (see paragraph 16).
Since there is absolutely no place for the touchpad, a trackpoint is used as a positioning device. Do not be alarmed if you have not worked with him - in fact, a pretty convenient thing.
The three buttons under the space bar work the same as on the mouse. When the middle button is pressed, the movements of the trackpoint make scrolling up and down, left and right, and even simultaneously - diagonally.
3. Buttons on the back of the case
Since the keyboard takes up all the available space, the power button had to be moved to the back. I believe that this is better than taking the scarce place on the keyboard. Moreover, the power is turned on only once during a session and the location of the button on the back is not such a big inconvenience.
True, here there is a problem with spontaneous pressing of the back buttons when the adminbook is in the bag. And although they are slightly recessed into the housing relative to the back wall, you need a lock to press these buttons with the display closed.
In addition to the power button, there are two buttons on the back for switching the monitor and keyboard. This is done for the convenience of setting up "headless" servers. Usually they are configured remotely over the network, but anything happens. But you don’t feel like carrying a monitor and keyboard with you all the time.
And just imagine: you come to some distant site near the edge of civilization, connect the adminbook to the server via MicroUSB (or USB Type-C) and by pressing the back button “K” the keyboard with the trackpoint is “given” to the server as a USB keyboard and mouse.
Connect the server and the adminbook with a VGA cable, press the “M” button - and the admin's VGA connector starts working as an input, turning the beech screen into a small LCD monitor connected to the server.
At the same time, power is supplied via the USB cable from the server, recharging the adminbook.
And, “cherry on the cake” - through the same USB cable, the adminbook pretends to be an optical drive, similar to the notorious Zalman (emulating CDs from existing iso files). Plus it works as an external drive so that configuration files can be copied back and forth.
That is, by connecting the adminbook to the system unit via USB and VGA, we can use the beech as the keyboard, mouse, monitor, CD-drive and external drive of this system unit, installing the operating system there directly from the laptop. Or test if the system image will emulate a disk image with test utilities / antivirus.
In addition, with the same button, the keyboard and trackpoint can be switched not only to work as a USB keyboard / mouse, but also to work as a Bluetooth keyboard / mouse. Including in the off state of the adminbook (so as not to waste energy on the processor, if only the keyboard and trackpoint are used).
Of course, the monitor as a VGA screen can also work without turning on the rest of the laptop.
4. Power Supply
In order not to carry too much with you, I want the adminbook and the phone to be able to be powered by one charge. And there are three options:
- conventional charging 5V / 2A (power up to 10W)
- Quick Charge (up to 18W)
- USB PowerDelivery charging (up to 100W)
The first type of charging is the most common, the second is found on many modern smartphones, the third is still rare. Fortunately, there are chargers that support all three standards, but they do not come with phones. But complete with the adminbook, a universal power supply will come in handy. Even better, if there are two outputs - for beech and for telephone.
But if it suddenly happens that you find yourself without this power supply - it does not matter. Use any other charge that is nearby. You can charge the adminbook via MicroUSB or USB Type-C connectors. Several connectors are made both for ease of connection (left / right / rear), and for duplication in case one of the connectors breaks (which often happens with tablets).
Normal charging and QuickCharge are supported on all connectors, PowerDelivery only on Type-C.
I believe that the PowerBank’s capabilities will be useful to the adminbook - to charge a mobile phone with a beech battery, even if it is turned off. And in order to prevent a complete discharge of the battery, make a setting in BIOS to limit at which battery charge the power supply to the USB connectors should be cut off.
I remind you that PowerDelivery technology supports charging in both directions. That is, through the same connector, you can both charge the laptop and charge the phone from the laptop.
This is not a gaming laptop and not a workstation for complex calculations. I think the Kaby Lake-Y family of processors with a nominal TDP of 4.5W should be enough (judging by the characteristics, it can be configured from 3.5 to 7W).
Unfortunately, I did not see these processors alive, I only had the opportunity to try Kaby Lake-U in the form of i5-7200U. On my typical tasks no "brakes" were observed. I believe that with version Y there will be no problems. I don’t know what its real performance is, I think about 70-80 percent of the U series. Despite the fact that the power consumption is 3 times less (for the U series, TDP = 15W, it can be adjusted from 7 to 25).
And with less consumption, the battery life increases, the weight and size of the cooling system decrease (which, again, leaves more room for the battery).
Of course, I want to be able to change the processor’s power settings, choosing what is more important at the moment - performance or saving power.
Based on the size of the adminbook, the screen size will be 9-9.5 ". Resolution is 1920x1200 (16:10) or 1920x1080 (16: 9 FullHD). If someone thinks this is a lot, look at dozens of phone models with a resolution of 1440x2560. Anyway In this case, 1366x768 will definitely not be there - after FullHD it’s impossible to look at such a resolution without tears.
The display must have a bright backlight so that it can work during the day outdoors. It also has an anti-reflective (preferably matte) coating.
Perhaps a touch screen. Although personally I didn’t come across laptops with touch screens, I assume that foreign but easier and faster just to poke a finger.
The hinges are made so that the display tilts 180 °. On the Thinkpad my e-done so well, and it is sometimes necessary.
7. Network port
It is located on the side so that it is possible to visually observe the link lift and connection speed by indicators. Since the minimum thickness of the case is limited by the size of the connectors, the network port is located as close to the back wall, right next to the buttons.
The port, of course, is gigabit, with support for VLANs and Wake-on-LAN. It must be protected against burnout when Passive POE voltage is applied to the cable (used in Mikrotik and UBNT).
Moreover - the adminbook should be able to be powered by these 12-24V supplied to the network port. This will allow you to be powered both from routers / switches, and directly from car and UPS batteries without any power supplies. It is enough to have a Passive POE injector or, if Ethernet is not needed at the moment, squeeze a piece of twisted pair cable on one side, and on the other hand strip the wires and connect to the battery terminals.
I understand that for admins, accustomed to comfortable chairs and air-conditioned rooms, this way of power supply looks strange. But sometimes I have to work in such a wilderness where there is no cellular connection, and even UAZ get stuck on the "roads". Therefore, one must be prepared for everything.
8. Serial port
Yes, I know that there are USB-COM adapters. I myself have one. But the serial port is so often used to configure equipment that it should be in the default admin panel.
Initially, I thought to use instead of the DB-9 connector, a fashionable version on 8P8C (AKA RJ-45). But it turned out that all the cables I have with 8P8C from the "computer" side are still terminated by DB-9. So, we will use it.
Near the COM port, you see a slider switch. This is a level switch - RS-232 / + 3.3V / + 5V. The first option is the standard RS-232 with bipolar voltage levels. The remaining two are UART with voltages 3.3 / 5V for a logical unit and 0V for a logical zero.
As you may have guessed, this is necessary for connecting (including flashing) with all sorts of routers and controllers, of which there are now darkness. By the way, in such a noble deed it will be very appropriate if voltages of 5 and 3.3V are applied to the free pins of the connector so as not to search for a separate power source for the firmware.
9. The microcontroller
Below the slide switch are two USB Type-C connectors, marked in yellow. These are nothing but the outputs of the STM32 series microcontroller integrated in the adminbook.
The fact is that sometimes there is a need for I2C, 1-Wire, JTAG, ADC and even banal GPIO protocols, which are in the controllers, but are not in the "large" computers.
So I propose to solve this problem by installing a microcontroller. USB Type-C connectors are selected because of the standard computer connectors they have the most contacts - as many as 24 pieces. That is, a total of 48 outputs. Enough on both the data line and the power supply for the connected electronics.
At first I wanted to use something like an Arduino comb, but there was only enough space for 14 contacts and it was not as convenient to connect as a ready-made standard connector.
Some confusion is that the USB-C connectors have a symmetrical shape and there are two of them. But this is easily solved: it is enough to write L and R (left / right connectors) on the connected connectors and know that you need to stick them with the letter up.
The microcontroller can work both when the adminbook is on and off. In addition, he knows how to wake up a turned-off beech if any of the events needs the reaction of a "large" computer.
Of course, some development environment and ready-made libraries with examples for the most popular protocols implemented using the built-in microcontroller will look good together with the adminbook.
10. USB connectors
In total, there are three USB 3.0 Type A connectors, two USB 2.0 Type Micro-B and four USB 3.1 Type C on all sides of the adminbook. Although it’s unlikely that they can be used immediately. due to the size of the case, they are nearby.
Since USB Type-C supports alternate modes, it makes sense to take advantage of this. Alternative modes are when the connector works as HDMI or DisplayPort video outputs. Of course, to connect to a TV or monitor, you will need adapters or corresponding cables that have USB-C on one end and HDMI / DP on the other.
But in the case of a tiny adminbook, it is better to use adapters than occupy a scarce place with separate HDMI and DisplayPort connectors. In addition, adapters can be supplied complete with an admin book.
11. SATA connector
As long as there are “large” computers with SATA disks, there will be a need to connect to these disks for testing and copying information. And - directly, and not through USB adapters. Power for SATA drives can be taken from the power supply of a large computer. Or from the universal power supply of the adminbook via the USB to SATA Power converter.
12. Other connectors and features
On the right is a 3.5mm jack for a wired headset. On the left is an SD card reader and a SIM card holder. Left and right behind the bars near the front of the case are speakers.
Webcam ordinary, 2 megapixels. Next to the camera is an indication LED that lights up when the camera is turned on, as well as a backlight LED, so that you can communicate from dark rooms. During communication, the microphone and camera can be forcibly muted by key combinations with Fn. At the same time, the LED next to the camera goes out, and a red crossed-out microphone in the row of indicators under the display lights up.
13. Radio interfaces
WiFi - 2.4 and 5 GHz 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac standards with support for Wireless Direct, Intel WI-Di / Miracast, Wake On Wireless LAN. Of course, Miracast is not needed for administration, but it is already integrated into many chipsets, so why not use it.
Again, in hotels, televisions are hung on the wall, and if somewhere on a business trip you want to watch a movie from a laptop, it’s easier to plug the Mirakast dongle into the TV than to be smart with cables. And even directly, without a dongle, if the TV itself supports miracast. At home I sometimes use it.
There is nothing much to say about Bluetooth. Version 4.2. But it is worth mentioning that it can work without turning on the computer completely, as an element of a bluetooth keyboard (see point 3).
Built-in modem for mobile communications of 4G (LTE) / 3G / EDGE / GPRS standards
GPS / GLONASS / Galileo / Beidou receiver. Separately, it probably does not make sense. But in my current laptop, it is built into the 3G modem card. I think the same option is possible with the adminbook.
14. A number of indicators
It consists of the following icons: Microphone, NumLock, ScrollLock, access to the hard drive, battery charge, charging connection, sleep mode, mobile communications, WiFi, Bluetooth.
Three indicators are made visible on the back of the display lid so that they can be seen in the closed state: charging connection, battery charge, sleep mode.
Color coding indicators:
- Battery charge: more than 70% green, more than 30% yellow, less red, less than 10% blinking red.
- Charging connection: increased voltage charging (QuickCharge / PowerDelivery / Passive POE) is used - green, the usual type of charging with a voltage of 5V is orange, if charging does not pull and the battery loses charge - red.
- Mobile communications: 4G (LTE) - green, 3G - orange, EDGE / GPRS - red.
Near the indicators (both on the front and on the back of the display cover), infrared photos and LEDs are mounted to record and play back commands from IR remote controls. Included with the beech comes a program for emulating remote controls.
RAM - one SODIMM connector (8 GB included), SSD - 256 GB M.2 2242 format.
16. Biometric identification
An administrator’s laptop may contain sensitive information. Therefore, to enter the system, in addition to the password, you can use the fingerprint sensor. And even better - something more substantial. For example, take an example from Fujitsu laptops and install an identification sensor according to the pattern of the veins of the palm.
17. The underside of the adminbook
Did not expect that there will be something interesting? In vain ... It is here!
First, I’ll say a few words about the rubber legs. On my Thinkpad, they sometimes come off and get lost. I don’t know if this glue is bad, or the laptop in the backpack is uncomfortable, but they disappear.
Therefore, in the adminbook, the screws that secure the bottom cover are screwed directly through the legs. Now they won’t get lost! The shape of the legs is streamlined enough so that they cling less to other objects.
Now we look in the center of the lower part and we see a hole under the photographic tripod. Why is it here? And then, there are situations when you hang tens of meters above the ground, hold the mast with one hand, hold the laptop with your second hand, and type something on it with your third hand. Without being a many-armed Shiva, this is difficult to do.
But in nature, there are wonderful little photographic tripods in the form of clamps, with which you can easily attach an admin book to any protruding part of the metal structure.
No protruding parts? No problem. See there next one more hole in the center and holes in the loops? A plate with neodymium magnets is screwed there and the adminbook is magnetized to any steel surface. Even to the vertical. At the same time, opening the display to 180 ° is useful.
And if there is no metal? You can screw one or two screws into the wall and hang an admin book on them.
To do this, there is a special mount with slots for screws.
You say there is no surface suitable for fastening at all? Not a problem: fasteners on hand to help you. Or, in the end, come up with any mount you want, and set up an admin book on it. On these three holes, not a tripod thread, but the usual M5 - just so that you could use some kind of home-made mount and ordinary screws. If you want, fasten it to the handlebars of the bicycle; if you want, attach it to the car dashboard. Yes, even suction cups to any smooth surface!
18. Going down from heaven to earth
I strongly doubt that any of the manufacturers will be able to release the prodigy described above. Unless the admins themselves get together, they gather money on crowdfunding and order development / production in China. But it will be a very expensive laptop due to the small circulation and rich capabilities.
But if you throw out most of the “killer features” and make a simplified, “civilian” option - it will cost less and find much more buyers. After all, not only administrators need a small light laptop.
We throw out the following options:
- COM port
- integrated microcontroller
- VGA connector
- SATA connector
- the ability to switch the monitor and keyboard
- reassigning keys in BIOSe
- alternative USB Type-C modes
- microUSB connectors
- possibility of charging by POE
- QuickCharge charging capability
- biometric sensor
- screen sensor
- emulator of infrared remote controls
- global positioning receiver
Damn it! How many interesting things were here ... But now the laptop has free space that can be used to accommodate digital video outputs: full-size HDMI and Mini DisplayPort. DP in the Mini version because this format was used in MacBooks and there are a huge number of cables / adapters / adapters from MiniDP to VGA / DVI / HDMI / DP. It makes no sense to abandon such wealth.
And even after these simplifications, we got a tiny laptop with Ethernet, which you can always carry and use for administration (albeit in a somewhat truncated version).
19. General list of features
|Opportunities||Full version||Simplified version|
|Display||9-9.5 "(1920х1200 or 1920х1080) |
touch, matte finish
|9-9,5" (1920х1200 или 1920х1080)|
|Процессор||серии Kaby Lake-Y или|
|серии Kaby Lake-Y или|
|Видеовыходы||VGA, HDMI и DisplayPort (оба через переходник от USB Type-C)||HDMI, Mini DisplayPort|
|Видеовходы||VGA (дисплей ноутбука работает как монитор, подключенный к внешнему компьютеру)||—|
|Стандарты электропитания||телефонная зарядка 5В, зарядка типа QuickCharge, зарядка типа USB PowerDelivery, Passive POE (12-24V через порт Ethernet)||зарядка типа USB PowerDelivery|
|Проводной Ethernet||1 Гбит/с, поддержка VLAN, поддержка Wake-on-LAN||1 Гбит/с, поддержка VLAN|
|COM порт||разъём DB-9, протоколы RS-232 и UART (5 и 3,3В)||—|
|Разъём гарнитуры||4-х штырьковый 3,5мм||4-х штырьковый 3,5мм|
|Разъём SD карты||есть||есть|
|Разъём SIM карты||есть||есть|
|Подсветка клавиатуры||светодиод над дисплеем||светодиод над дисплеем|
|Перепрограммируемые клавиши||6 штук||—|
|Wi-Fi||2.4 / 5GHz a / b / g / n / ac, WiDi, Miracast, Wake On Wireless LAN||2.4 / 5GHz a / b / g / n / ac, WiDi, Miracast|
|Wan||4G (LTE) / 3G / EDGE / GPRS modem||4G (LTE) / 3G / EDGE / GPRS modem|
|GNSS receiver||built-in WAN modem or a separate chip||-|
|Connecting a keyboard and trackpoint as external keyboard and mouse||Yes||-|
|Using them as a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse||Yes||-|
|USB connectors||USB 3.0 Type A - 3pcs, USB 2.0 Type Micro-B - 2pcs, USB 3.1 Type C - 4pcs||USB 3.0 Type A - 3pcs, USB 3.1 Type C - 3pcs|
|SATA Connector||there is||-|
|Integrated microcontroller||STM32, 48 outputs are displayed on the back of the adminbook, can work when the computer is turned off||-|
|Remote control receiver and transmitter||there is||-|
|Biometric identification sensor||by vein pattern or fingerprint||-|
|Holes for fasteners||there is||there is|
|Work as a PowerBank||Yes||Yes|
|WEB camera||2MP with backlight, built-in microphone||2MP with backlight, built-in microphone|