Donors Choose for Team 842

We have 9 donors and we are close to halfway! Please help us reach our goal!

Why the brand new Surface and not an inexpensive laptop?

I can’t speak for other teams, but I generally push for my team to invest in new products for a number of reasons…

  • Often times, the newer (and more expensive product) will last much longer than we could with the cheaper one. Over the lifetime of the product it ends up costing less per year and per hour of use.
  • Often times, the newer (and more expensive product) can do more tasks than the cheaper one, making it a better value overall. In the case of computers, cheap ones could make good back up driver stations, or we could get them nice laptops than can run CAD, labview, and adobe products for website design without bogging down. Same thing with tablets in regards to potential applications scouting, etc.
  • In the case of electronics, battery life is super important for us. Buying new makes that a little less of a concern.
  • Used and less expensive equipment can be harder to find matching sets. When we buy new, I can buy multiple of the same item which is much easier to maintain and store, and when they do get old they can be spare parts for each other. Also, I can buy one now and reasonably expect to be able to buy an identical one in a year.
  • Our students are expected to take care of their belongings (and they generally do quite well), and in return we make sure they have access to quality resources. We don’t ascribe to the theory of “buy cheap things because the kids will just abuse them anyway.” We buy them nice things and then expect them to take good care of them.

There’s exceptions of course (we urgently need something and just have to buy whatever we can afford or get donated most quickly, it’s a low priority item in which none of the above matter, etc.) but most of the time we can take the time to get them the most valuable product rather than the least expensive one.

That’s a tougher pill to swallow in regards to laptops.

If I were a donor, knowing I could get 3 solid or 5 pretty decent laptops for the same price that would be a turnoff.

With Apple’s educational discount you could get 2 macbook air’s for the price of that surface pro…and if you went with the minimum viable laptop to be either a programming computer or a driver station you could easily get 3 laptops.

I agree. Most technology has a half life of 3 years. You could easily purchase a pair of solid Dell Inspirons for the price of one Surface Pro 3 and Touch Cover at full retail (I imagine there are educational discounts). That’s a little anecdotal since I bought a Surface Pro super marked down while 422 bought a $500 Inspiron that has the same guts in a heavier package.

Good luck with the effort though, I hope you guys get what you want. I love my Surface.

On further thought, isn’t a laptop with no keyboard or ethernet port an awful choice for programming and driver station use?

Agreed. The surface isn’t really an ideal choice for either a programming laptop or driver station. Plus, the specs listed are way overkill for any of the programming environments we use. We’ve gotten away with an i3 (and before, a core 2 duo) with both LabVIEW and Java, and we’ve run vision dashboards on the laptop too.

I’d also be scared of using a surface as an operator console, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Most importantly, it doesn’t have an ethernet port. If you come up with a solution to this, realize that FTA’s won’t be well equipped (and may be unwilling) to solve your problem. USB to ethernet adapters really don’t work well with the FMS (in fact, many do not work at all), and using a single USB port to power/connect to a keyboard, USB to ethernet adapter, mouse, and three joysticks may not work well. We’ve ran into USB current draw issues when using two xbox controllers and one joystick on the same port.

Personally, I’d recommend something like a lenovo thinkpad. They are really strong, which is a major plus for a robotics team. Also, if you get one with integrated graphics (they’re more expensive than they used to be a few years ago, but it’s still in your price range), you can get a pretty solid computer for SolidWorks.

Citation needed on the first part. 2220 used a USB to ethernet adapter for the 2014 season with no significant issues, but I haven’t heard of anyone else using one. I’ll definitely agree the the second part though-- putting all that through a single port is asking for problems. Some badly placed shavings or a couple years of abuse and the machine loses a ton of its utility.

Our classmate’s ethernet port died, and we tried three different usb-ethernet converters. One didn’t work at all, one had serious lag, and the other worked, but occasionally dropped out every minute or so. The FTA’s just told us to use a different laptop.

There may be certain sets of usb-ethernet adapters that work with the right drivers, but it’s not too easy to find.

For the price of that Surface Pro, you could easily buy at least four basic i3/A6/A8-powered Asus/Toshiba laptops. The Surface Pro really is not ideal for usage as a programming computer or drive station (neither are tablets in general.) It’s better to have a plethora of working computers to fall back on rather than a fragile tablet as your workhorse. Besides, the processing difference between a newer i3 and i7 are not really that large when used for FRC.

And on the topic of USB-to-Ethernet adapters, my team successfully used one in several of our events (until it went missing) even though we did indeed have a physical Ethernet port on our laptop. The purpose of the Ethernet adapter was to save our physical Ethernet port wear and tear and to provide a better hold. I’m not quite sure of the brand, but it was a lesser-known brand.

I agree that using getting a laptop with no keyboard is a bad idea especially considering the price. As for the lack of an Ethernet port, we have been using a USB network adapter the past two years. We experienced dropped packets and other network problems at the beginning of our 2013 competition season and we no longer trust integrated Ethernet ports for competition use.

We briefly considered getting a Surface Pro, but decided against it for the exact reasons already brought up. We got a cheap laptop as a driver station and a better one for CAD.

$70 for a mouse seems pretty steep.

I can see where you’re coming from then. We were using ours with a nearly brand new computer, which might be a part of it? What kind of laptop were you guys using?

We similarily burned out the Ethernet port on our latitude back in 2013…would never go back to depending on integrated ports.

I fail to see how on earth a USB ethernet adapter can be more reliable than an onboard port and chip on the motherboard. USB drivers can be super flaky at times, and I would hate for it to ever be the reason I lost a match.

I could see having one around to use as a backup, but I agree, unless there are known issues with a stock ethernet port I can’t think of a reason to avoid it.

As for buying a laptop/tablet without an ethernet port, having to buy an adapter is just yet more cost that could be avoided with multiple quality laptops instead of a state of the art ultrabook/tablet.