I have posted an early version of this question and vetted options elsewhere. I am seeking a laptop with requirements that are hard to fulfill are:
- Real touchpad, not clickpad with depressable corners
- Real touchpad buttons
- Synaptics Touchpad driver software
- No nub (pointer stick in middle of keyboard)
- 14" monitor at 1366x768 resolution so that things aren't too tiny
- Not Lenovo
- Have to physcially try in Ottawa/Toronto (Canada) before buying
The less difficult requirements are:
- Windows 10 64-bit(need home, will accept pro, but not needed)
- 256GB SSD or 512GB HDD (more OK, but won't be used)
- Fairly recent i5 processor
For the last point of the first list, physical trialling ensures that keyboard layout doesn't seem awkward, good registration and natural feel of key presses, good registration of contact with touchpad, natural feel of pointer tracking (not like you're controlling the pointer with wet noodle). Sometimes, key registration is so unpredicatble that I'm hammering away at them like a kung fu master just to get predictable behaviour, which is critical for extensive use of combinations of hotkeys (for example, in vim text editor). And sloppy pointer tracking just makes me end up clicking the wrong things, sometimes disastorously (Unless. I. Go. Very. Maddeningly. Slowly).
The need for buttons and Synaptics is to get middle-mouse click-and-drag, which is not possible with Windows 10's 3-finger tap. Synaptics lets me turn the left button into a middle button. Left button actions can be done using only the touchpad by enabling "Tap again and hold to drag" and "Locking Drags".
The following alternatives are not viable:
- A clickpad is a deal breaker because click-and-drag requires keeping a finger on the touchpad while moving another finger to the depressable corner, which causes the pointer to move (unwantedly)
- Dragging around a mouse is a deal breaker because I often don't have the surface space or I'm rushing off somewhere and don't have the luxury to look for and bring accessories
- I don't consider ordering and returning laptops as a practical way to try them out, even if such a policy is allowed as a matter of legal requirement.
In the short list that I link to above, I think I'm focusing on options #02 and #03. I'm really not sure what the difference is. From a few weekends of visiting brick-and-mortar stores, trying to find something that was selected from online research is impossible. Yet the selections on display do not fulfill the difficult requirements above.
UPDATE: To break my current impasse, I revisited some brick & mortar establishments. I believe that focusing only on the requirements of 14" display + touchpad buttons moves the otherwise impossible combination of requirements into the realm of the possible. I can then vet away by brand, and if it doesn't have Synaptics, I can look up the manufacturer site for Synaptics drivers. In my mind, there doesn't seem to be much point in contacting Synaptics, as each manufacturer needs to customize the drivers for their laptop models. I got this guidance from helpful staff at one of the stores, just as it was closing, so I will need to see how well it works next weekend.
UPDATE The above strategy of looking only for 14" display models with buttons brought me up against a wall quite quickly. It's a good thing that I stuck to the requirement of physically trialing the laptop before buying. The models I found were low end, with unacceptable touchpad response and/or general computer response. The pointer moves even as I try to lift my finger, and many seconds passed after typing before letters showed up, despite being lightly loaded. My experience thus far is that the higher end (over $500 Canadian) gives acceptable response, though there is still a lot of subjective variability.
Since I have to migrate away from Windows 7 soon, and away from semi-functional laptop on which it resides, I had to loosen the criteria and admit other options. Forgoing buttons+Synaptics and relying on a wireless mouse seemed too much, considering various scenario. Expanding the size criteria to include 13" to 15" admitted some good HP options, and maybe others (I only got a short ways in my search after giving up on the 14" criterion).
I had interesting discussion with the now-familiar staff:
Considerations in performance and future proofing
Don't future proof beyond 3-5 years, as quality of parts are poorer these days (my aim was 8 years)
The more compact design also means more heat, which doesn't help
Drives are not upgradable on some models, e.g, to move to SSD
Memory is not expandable on most models
Future proofing means checking for upgradability or immediately going for SSD and more than 8GB RAM if possible
The more advance heads up of HDD degredation is of limited use if one doesn't regularly perform SMART checks (though I still find it reassuring to have that diagnostic option for when I run into strange situations)
If I still hope the laptop will last 8 years, then at least go for i5 8th generation, if not 10th
Interestingly, the number of cores can vary even within the same generation (most 10th gen have 4 cores while most 8th gen have 6)
One of the low end 14" with buttons had a 4GB RAM and Win 10 running in "S" mode, reducing capabilty and processor demand and making it more on par with smartphones
The other low end 14" with poor performance had a Ryzen 3. At least for low integer values "n", Ryzen "n" equates extremely roughly in performance to Intel i"n"
Also interestingly, AMD is killing it in the desktop market, but is still struggling in the laptop market due to thermal throttling of it's clock