I’ve gone through a string of laptops in the past half decade. I quite like all of them so I think I might just give my thoughts on all the models I’ve tried.
When I first started at Armstrong in Fall of 2010 I briefly used a G3 Lombard (not a Pismo unfortunately). I used to play with this all day long at the time. I loved how utilitarian it was; it had two slots on each side which allowed you to hotswap batteries, disk drives, ZIP drives, etc. It was awesome back when ZIP disks were actually relevant. At the time I just filled both slots with batteries considering the collective battery life only lasted about 2 hours.
Unfortunately, this thing was massive (and thicker than all my later laptops). Besides that, due to the age of the batteries I not only got horrible life, but when I hit the 50% mark it was a coin flip if the laptop would shut down right then and there. More often than not I had to lug around the AC adapter and find a convenient spot in my classes to plug this guy in.
Besides the horrid battery life, it had a whopping 384MB of RAM, 8MB VRAM, a surprisingly large 20GB PATA drive, and a stunning 1024x768 display.
Around that time was when I first started to get into using Linux on a daily basis. The Lombard had Debian Squeeze (Lenny just before that) primarily because it was the only distribution at the time that worked just fine on PowerPC hardware. I was horrible with it and had a hard time figuring out what I was doing, but ultimately this just spurred me on. I enjoyed tinkering with it.
2011 15” Macbook Pro
(I don’t have a photo as I accidentally erased the SD card with all of it awhile back, woops)
After the first semester my parents gifted me as a late graduation present a 2011 15” Macbook Pro.
I can’t remember the specifications, but coming from the Lombard this was a massive upgrade. Things were much faster and hey, I had a GUI, and a laptop made this decade. For a time the MBP was my only machine, I used it as a desktop, played games on it, and so on.
Eventually when I got a part time job I put together my own desktop, so I only used the MBP for class related junk. Then the Lombard was relegated to a makeshift server at home. I hooked it up with an old external 250GB hard drive, opened up port 22 on my router, and would use it to download torrents on campus, backup my work after class, and in general play with. It was slow, too slow to do anything meaningful, but plenty good enough to perform simple tasks.
Around six months into the wonderful world of part-time pizza delivery I wanted a new laptop, something that could take a bit of abuse, wasn’t expensive to replace, and had the robust feel of the Lombard. I came around to the Thinkpad line of laptops, notably the T60.
I loved everything about it; it felt heavy, the lid was metal, it was slower than my MBP but was much nicer to type on, and although it took some time to come around to, I loved the trackpoint. I initially used my first T60 for about a month or so. ‘First’ is the keyword here.
T60 (pt. 2)
One day I was reinstalling some junk on the T60. It sat on a folding chair hooked up to the AC while I sat at my desktop. Moments into this my cat—Checkers—comes rushing in, her tail snags the cable and plunk. The T60 falls on its side maybe a foot from the ground. Instantly the display blanked out and that was it. The motherboard was fine, I could get display out from the VGA, but the onboard video for the display was simply gone. I couldn’t get anything from the display working.
So in a frenzy I went back to eBay and found a ‘for parts’ only T60, it was around $50. Everything was fine on it, it just didn’t have a hard drive or caddy. Fine, ordered.
When it arrived it was about five hours before I had to go into work, I hadn’t gotten much sleep and I was excited to replace the display.
After about an hour of struggling with the cable in the back of the panel I managed to secure it, I screwed back everything and hit the power button for the first time. Once past the BIOS, I noticed something peculiar—the screen was so much sharper, insanely sharp compared to before. Turns out I had bought a used T60 with a 1400x1050 display installed.
Up until a few months ago I used the T60 on a fairly regular basis. Usually in between other laptops. It’s a good backup. Good design, heavy but for good reason, and just wonderfully utilitarian. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Six months into regular use of the T60 I was having some issues. I wasn’t able to boot properly, and some other minor issues. Ultimately these were my own fault, but I didn’t know it at the time. So I looked for another laptop to replace it, I settled on a T410 with a broken trackpad ($50 off just for that!).
In the same fashion that the MBP was a massive upgrade from the Lombard, this had the same effect in relation to the T60. It was faster, fairly quick, and the SSD I plopped in there wasn’t bottled necked.
At this point I didn’t use the trackpad anyway so I disabled it in the BIOS and for the next 6-8 months I used the T410 on a regular basis for all my classes.
USPS “lost” my T410
Sometime before I got my X220 I sold my T410 with all the tidbits. I shipped it off to somewhere in Illinois, the guy never picked it up, I even warned him he needs to stop by the Post Office for 15 minutes to pick it up. He never did. I agreed to ship it back to him if he repaid the shipping, fine, whatever.
After a couple weeks I begin to wonder “Where in the world is my laptop?” Surely it can’t take four full weeks to return a single box. So I end up calling up USPS, ask around and make some progress. The Illinois PO should call me in a couple days about where it is.
This never happened.
After a week I called again, got a hold of someone who would submit a case to consumer affairs for me. I ask if I am eligible for the $50 insurance since it was a Priority Mail parcel. “Yes, if it can’t be located” they tell me, okay, cool, at least I’ll get some money back.
Consumer affairs finally calls and I am told that the post office “cannot locate my package”. How can you not find it? According to you it never left the post office in Illinois. So how in the world can it not be located? I then ask them if I can at least claim the insurance on it, since, you know, they lost it. I am then told “No, as we’ve exhausted all possible efforts so you’re not eligible to claim the insurance on the package.”
What the fuck.
At this point I just hang up and consider the package lost. I am able to keep my money but I can’t even get the insurance on a $110 package.
X200T (a brief fling)
Nearing Christmas of 2014 I purchased an X200T. I loved how compact it felt, the stylus was interesting and made for some fun on its own, and it was similar in performance with my T410.
After the puppy love wore off I began to hate on it. I didn’t like how the panel buttons for the display didn’t react to anything, only the power button seemed to work, so I couldn’t even script the buttons to rotate screen, lock, or anything. Around this time the knock off battery I purchased simply died. After a week or so the entire battery just stopped working altogether. So now I was stuck with the standard battery which only lasted a measly 1-2 hours. My T60 for reference could last about 2-3, not great, but still better.
Fortunately I was able to sell it, I have to admit I did not regret doing so, but I didn’t want to spend more money just to make it usable.
X60T (like a T60, but different)
Shortly after the falling out with the X200T I picked up a X60T. Strangely you can grab the tablet versions for $30 or so all over the place. Forget purchasing the non-tablet version, people want $90+ for them last I checked. Ridiculous.
There’s not much to say about the X60T. It was a nice laptop, I like how square-ish it was, felt nice and compact despite being thicker than the T60. It’s performance was on par for the most part with the T60 but it felt more solid. One of the better things I like about the X60T was the lack of a trackpad. I never saw the point of a trackpad on these laptops as the trackpoint is nicer to use anyway and you can save much more space if you simply forgo the trackpad altogether. Even later on my X220 there’s no need for a trackpad at all considering how small it is, at the very least they should have offered a version without it.
However, it wasn’t without its downsides. The hinge on it, for lack of a better word went flaccid. I remember typing some junk up before I went to pack up, I shut the lid and something just felt wrong. I opened it back up and pushed the panel back like normal and the panel just flopped over. Turns out the spring or whatever in the hinge just stopped being springy. So the only way you can use it anymore is to have it completely upright. You can’t even flip it into tablet mode (not that I ever did) because the locking mechanism no longer worked after that.
Lastly the other big killer for me was the rubber feet on the X60T. The laptop itself had rubber feet, but the battery had these oddly long rubber feet which protruded a good half inch or so from the battery. Naturally, these popped up within a single day of use because they’re not secured by anything more than some adhesive. I tried in vain to replace it, but nothing worked. Why they decided to put giant rubber feet on the battery rather than have a small rubber feet inline with the laptop’s feet confuses me. I understand they wanted the laptop to be angled, but these feet come off the moment you put the laptop away in a bag.
Lastly, a minor complaint, but just like the X200T the front panels button simply don’t work under Linux. I’ve tried everything to get some feedback out of them but nothing responds except the power button.
For my graduation my parents gifted me a small sum of money. Since my T410 was lost by USPS and I had no way of getting it back I decided I’d buy a more modern bit of hardware. To that end I found the X220. I bought a used model with the higher end i5, got it an 8GB kit, a new SSD, and a USB3 adapter for the expresscard slot.
In short it’s awesome. The screen can be replaced for about $50 to $80 so I’ll eventually get around to that someday. The performance is great; it feels speedy, the SSD makes everything incredibly responsive, the USB3 adapter works perfectly fine under Windows 10 or Linux. In general it’s just a great machine, even better it can be had now without a hard drive for only $100 off eBay. Even better the stock battery that came with mine lasts a full 6 hours for some light programming, occasional videos, and in general light tasks. Closer to 3 hours if you plan on doing anything heavy.
Battery life seems to be a bit better under Linux as it doesn’t spin up random processes like Windows 10. Occasionally under Windows it’ll spin up some junk to compress the memory, okay fine, but you do know that I only have a single tab in Firefox opened right? I am doing nothing else why do you need to consume over 70% of my processing power while killing my battery to do something I never asked for?!
Under Linux this is a non-issue except for the occasional time I pull up Keepass 2 and it freezes X (fucking mono).
Unfortunately the highest resolution the official screens come in is only 1336x768, which is horrible, but the best I can get. I’ve heard there are some sellers on eBay from China that make a display and adapter combo for a 1920x1080 IPS panel for it, but I’m not able to find any.
Looking back to when I bought the T410, I don’t know why I didn’t just spend the extra $50 and get this, it would have lasted me far longer than the T410 did.
All in all, I would wholly recommend anyone attending university/college to completely skip getting a modern $300+ laptop. I see no point when the extent of what you’ll do in class with it is taking text based notes, watch the occasional video, and pull up some office suite. These are all things a Thinkpad or pretty much any used laptop made in the last 8 years can do as shown by the T60.
Unless you plan on making that laptop your exclusive workstation for home AND on the go, don’t bother, and even then seriously consider the worst case scenarios. What if something happens to it? Stolen or broken? You’re out of the luck. With cheaper used laptops if either happens, hey, you can replace it or service it yourself on the cheap!