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I'm helping my friend find a new laptop that is capable of handling his workload. He's at a remote office, and therefore runs Skype for business 24/7. Now Skype is a massive resource hog, especially when screen-sharing, which he does often. He often has several Excel sheets, a couple Chrome windows, and several large PDF documents (arhcitectural drawing sets, engineering and fabrication drawing, etc.). He also does a bit of rough 3D modelling using Trimble Sketchup.

He currently has a 2-3 year old Dell XPS 15, with a 4K screen and an i7 with 16GB of RAM. He has a 1TB SSD. What he finds is that if he's trying to zoom in and out in a drawing set or rotate a 3D model while screen-sharing to coworkers or customers, the computer slows down to a snail's pace. Now I know Skype is primarily to blame here, but as it's part of our Office 365 subscription, it's too easy to fall back on.

What is most important to prioritize in this use case described above? RAM? Processor? GPU? What machine would tick these boxes the best?

I've suggested the following machines to him already, but there are too many options and we're not sure where to go:

  • Latest Dell XPS 15 w/ Intel i9 and corresponding NVIDIA graphics
  • Razer Blade 15 Advanced or Studio Edition

Can someone guide me to what specs to prioritize, and if possible, what machine would provide the best longevity?

Thanks!

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The CPU should be the biggest priority for this kind of workload. They may also benefit from a dedicated GPU, depending on how Skype and Sketchup can utilize that GPU.

Having more CPU cores will definitely help with streaming while working on other intensive software. Be sure to check how many physical cores a CPU has. Intel Hyper-Threading can make a CPU with 2 physical cores appear as 4 cores in Task Manager, but that does not give you as much performance as a CPU with 4 physical cores.

He currently has a 2-3 year old Dell XPS 15, with a 4K screen and an i7 with 16GB of RAM.

That 2-3 year old i7 could be a model that has only 2 cores / 4 threads. If that is the case, there is a lot of performance to gain from going to a CPU with more cores!


He often has several Excel sheets, a couple Chrome windows, and several large PDF documents

16 GB of RAM should be enough for this workload.

Loading the PDF documents and Sketchup files from SSD storage may also improve performance. Many programs only load the visible part of a file, so scrolling or moving through large files can stall the program until more data is loaded from your storage device.


If Skype can utilize a dedicated graphics card for video encoding, then a GPU should be the second priority. (I'm hoping somebody else can confirm whether Skype uses hardware accelerated encoding! i.e. Quick Sync, NVENC)

Now Skype is a massive resource hog, especially when screen-sharing, which he does often.

When you share your screen in Skype, you are asking your CPU or GPU to convert every frame into a compressed video stream. That task is normally accomplished on the CPU, but some applications (maybe not Skype) can leverage GPUs with video encoding features to offload that work onto the GPU.

The Intel i7 has an integrated GPU that provides these video encoding features. However, this GPU is part of the CPU. Regardless of how that video encoding gets done, it will be done in the physical CPU and make it hotter. When the CPU gets hot enough, it will slow down to protect itself and this could be what is responsible for the slowdowns you have seen already.


In summary:

  • A CPU with at least 4 physical cores and high clock speed (3.0+ Ghz) should be enough for this workload.
  • Avoid lightweight, "ultrabooks", or thin laptops. These laptops will usually opt for lower speed CPUs to keep the heat down. In general, avoid the low power variants of Intel mobile CPUs. (Determined by specific letters in the CPU model)
  • 16 GB of RAM is plenty, maybe even 8GB could be fine. Only go for more if you know you need more.
  • A dedicated GPU is likely going to alleviate burden from the CPU while screen sharing. (See my comment below)
  • Look for an SSD if budget allows.
| improve this answer | |
  • By my own research, I suspect that Skype does use a dedicated GPU for video encoding. Skype is built using Electron, which is like a rebranded Google Chromium browser. Chromium uses a Windows API for hardware-accelerated video encoding, which should result in properly utilizing an Nvidia or AMD GPU. If this is all correct, avoid integrated GPUs to relieve the CPU's burden. – Romen Oct 21 '19 at 20:45
  • Thanks for the excellent run-down on what's needed. One clarification: my friend is using the Skype for Business app, which is a Win32 app unlike the Skype Consumer edition, which is Electron. Does this change things? – JoelW Oct 21 '19 at 22:16
  • @AaronM, Unfortunately I can't uncover much about the implementation of Skype for Business. My gut tells me that Microsoft would use their own Windows APIs (specifically WMF) to their full advantage since it's a first party application. – Romen Oct 22 '19 at 14:32

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