Driver Station Laptop

What do you guys use for your driver station laptop?

We are thinking about getting a refurbished Thinkpad T430 with a i5-3230M, 8gb of ram, and a 180gb SSD for $270, but we were wondering what other teams are using.

We’re looking for a laptop below $500.

We use a Dell E6430 that we got refurbished on newegg. It works really well for the pricepoint.

We too are looking for a new laptop. This year we used the small Acer laptop that came in our rookie KOP. That being said, we weren’t too happy with it. The battery life leaves something to be desired, and it isn’t really powerful computing wise.

We’re looking in to getting a Thinkpad T440S, which our school has for our computer lab. My experience has been great with them. They’ve got a really long battery life, a fast CPU, and are all around a great laptop. It’s above your budget but I think it’s well worth the price.

+1 for Lenovo. I can’t remember the exact model, but I believe we bought a Yoga 700 a couple years ago and have been very pleased with it, and it works like brand new. I think those run about $700 when new, but a used version may be cheaper.

I will say, with the $500 budget you can certainly get a great laptop, but do consider how many years you want to use this for. If you can squeeze two extra years of life out of a new vs. a refurbished laptop, it might well be worth going a bit above your budget.

EDIT- We also use our laptop for programming, and it is the holy grail of version control. Since multiple people are supposed to be able to use it at any time, we keep a pretty tight control on our version control and naming and commenting when code is on our main laptop.

As a CSA. I have one recommendation. Put an SSD in it. You can then go buy the cheapest laptop best buy will sell you (4gb ram too, but thats easy). The SSD is what will make a huge difference on the field. If you have an SSD, I can ask you to reboot if you are not connecting, as even a slow laptop with an SSD will boot quick enough.

Note that this is just for exclusively a DS. If you want to do programming, or do Driver Station vision processing you will need more, but if you just want to drive the robot, my one rule is that it needs to have an SSD.

We actually bought the same Acer laptop that comes in the KoP now back in 2015. It was cheep enough that we don’t really have to care about it, has no moving parts, and still has an Ethernet port (rare these days on low end machines). If you go through and remove all the bloat that comes preinstalled with it, and disable all the unnecessary windows features, it runs great as a DS. Don’t count it out yet.

We just bought a new driver station laptop this season and decided on the Lenovo Thinkpad 11e. It’s cheap ($445.55), durable, and small (11.6" display). Also, its fairly fast for what it is (Intel Celeron + SSD). The great thing is that its one of the few laptops in that size range that has an Ethernet port. And the durable part is important as we have had our driver station fall off of our robot cart and (this year especially) the driver station shelf (we have since added Velcro).

I never see bad Ethernet ports at competitions on business-class laptops (e.g., Thinkpad).

I tried replacing our previous laptop since it was wearing out. Make sure you get a laptop with a conventional Ethernet jack. Do not get one with the fold down clip. The Lenovo we used this year had the fold down clip and we kept losing comms whenever it got jostled at the field.

My typical specs for the driver station are

  1. 15" display
  2. 1080P Screen (we do custom control panels and use the space)
  3. 8GB RAM
  4. i5 Processor (we sometimes do vision processing, considering lowering to i3)
  5. SSD is nice to have but not required since we try not to use this for programming during competitions.

Don’t ever judge a laptop by whether the stickers say i3 i5 or i7. The Intel I line has been around since roughly 2008 and has gone through 6 major generations since. A 1st generation i7 is a lot worse then a current generation i3. The big thing to look at although with the I mark is what generation it is. If they are from the same generation higher is better for the most part but again you have to be careful.

As for the ssd the ssd has nothing to do with coding. It’s the most important spec I look for in a driver’s station because I have been the person on the field who had to restart the laptop and spent 4 minutes doing so because we were using a hard drive. There was one time we actual got lent a laptop because ours was taking so long to boot. You can get a 60g ssd for next to nothing and it will work fine for a ds computer. So trust me and just buy it.

This year we used an Acer Aspire One netbook running Windows 10 on an Intel Atom and it did everything we asked of it. We did not do image processing on the driver station. As far as I know, nobody had to wait for our driver station to reboot. That netbook runs the driver station, smart dashboard, and nothing else.

A few recommendations for ALL Drive station laptops after spending a few seasons in High School behind the glass.

  1. SSD. Reasons stated above.

  2. Put Drivers Station and any dashboard you need in Startup. A reboot with an SSD and these files booting right away will allow connection and reconnection to a robot MUCH faster.

  3. Touchscreen. While this may be a stretch for some- it can be really simple for enabling and disabling for ANYONE (not everyone knows hotkeys) and also makes log viewing really quick and easy.

  4. NOTHING unnecessary on the laptop. There’s no reason to have browsers or anything if you never connect it to the internet. (Never connect a DS to the internet…)

  5. Webcam- while it’s likely to never come back… You don’t want to be the only one unable to do a ‘Cheesy Vision’-esque program for auton if it does and your USBs may be getting full.

  6. at least 3/4 USB ports. Allows up to 3 joysticks/controllers to be connected directly to the laptop while maintaining quick tethering via USB.

  7. Ethernet Port- obvious

  8. use it ONLY as a drivers station- kind of ties in with 4, but keeping the drivers station pristine will allow for peak performance.

9)Good Trackpad- a good trackpad will make quick troubleshooting easier and will make every FTA or CSA that has to help you much happier.

All of these are nice but the most neccessary ones to me are 1,2,4,6,7

At the end of the day, I don’t think RAM or Processing power is as important as some of these and these can all(besides maybe touchscreen) definitely be found in a low budget, refurbed laptop.

Also- don’t be afraid to buy a laptop for upgrade. I’m sure there’s a student on most teams who can upgrade RAM a bit or throw an SSD in a laptop.

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Browser is required to connect to roboRIO web interface. This should be kept.

As a note, reading you reminded me of something. When the laptop is no longer useful as a driver station (typically due to physical wear out) it may still be useful for programming.

I have to disagree. Our drive laptops (old ones fitted with SSDs) are also our primary programming laptops and have been used for other things in the past, including CAD. The point being, they’re overloaded with software but we experienced no issues due to startup time or slowness (the SSDs really help)
Anyway there’s no point having drive laptops separate from programming laptops - it’s easier to have the tools all in one place

Ya got me there.

Was more aiming at refraining from browsing the Web on a DS Laptop.

I said in the post that not all of the list is necessary.

Though, I have found that having clutter around a desktop or memory device can be disruptive. Write and read times also take longer as an SSD fills up. I’ll take every split second of boot time I can get on a Driver’s Station Laptop.

I have also found that programmers usually prefer programming on their personal laptops- its easier to work at home.

To each, their own.

I strongly disagree with this statement. It is definitely preferable to have the programming separate from the driverstation. The single most important reason is that I have seen many driverstations take a dive at competition (ie. get knocked off the field shelf or in pit onto the concrete floor). If that is also your programming laptop you are going to be very sad. A second very good reason is that it gives the programmers the opportunity to analyze code assessing issues that have been observed and possibly working to fix them while the drivers are in queue. Of course, we always want the whole team to be watching the matches, but sometimes having the option to be working on a fix or a needed feature is a very good option to have available.** And a third reason is that as you will likely have the driverstation software loaded on the programming laptop, in an emergency it could be used as a backup driverstation (so if my first reason bites you… you will have a backup).*

** [Before anyone suggests that the software work can be done on the driverstation in queue if they are loaded on the same computer, I would like to note that although I recognize that many teams do it, I definitely do not condone or encourage the idea of making coding changes in the queue line because you cannot test those changes before going onto the field. A big no-no for reliability.]*

Nothing some velcro can’t fix (That’s why there were matching velcro strips on the driver stations).

We just have 2 laptops, which are both for driving and programming.

Not always. One of our matches this year, our driver station was knocked off the shelf even with velcro. The hit was so bad that they apparently moved the alliance wall by like 3 inches. Luckily we caught it, but nothing is a substitute for having spares.

What sort of velcro were you using? The white industrial stuff is what we used and I could barely take the laptop off the velcro in the beginning. We took a good amount of nasty hits and never had the laptop even budge.

I also should mention a laptop like a ThinkPad with an ssd in it is fairly resistant to a drop from that height. The big failure mode of a laptop in schock scenarios is a failed hard drive since it’s a mechanical part. Because ssds are flash based they can take a hit and function fine.

Regardless a spare laptop for programming is nice but if your on a budget it’s not even close to necessary. I always have my laptop at competitions and it has a copy of everything we would ever need but we have never had to use it.

We also had very secure velcro on our driverstation and it never fell off on the field… but in the queuing area at Champs it was very crowded and our driverstation hit the concrete hard. It survived for those matches, but it does have residual damage and will be replaced. My point it simply that it can happen and you don’t want to be without a backup option.