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Yes, that’s a new laptop. Yes, I know what year it is.

lenovo-thinkpad-x230-frontI know it’s 2013 and as far as “mobile com­put­ing” goes, I’m sup­posed to be pinch-zooming and app-buying and poorly-typing on a tablet like the cool kids. And I do — my  O.G. Nexus 7 (the 2012 model) some­times makes a nice com­pan­ion1 to my Galaxy Nexus Android phone, by being slightly faster and hav­ing a slightly bet­ter screen. How­ever, over the 15 months I’ve owned the Nexus 7, it never quite became the sec­ond mobile device that I wanted. Use­ful, yes… tran­scen­dent, no.

I knew some­thing was still miss­ing, so I recently went and bought a small lap­top com­puter, a Lenovo ThinkPad X230, to carry around. It runs Debian Linux. It does the things I want. It’s a won­der­ful thing to have.

I needed this because…

The lap­top that the ThinkPad replaced was from 2007, and while a decent com­puter from back then would likely still be good today, my old lap­top was not a decent com­puter, even when new. Back then, I didn’t know just how painfully slow an ultra-low-voltage, low clock-speed CPU could be… I guess I thought it being dual-core would some­how make up for it. Also, the cool­ing fan was a bit of a whiner, and would con­stantly and very vocally dis­agree with Linux’s style of power man­age­ment. The darned thing would con­stantly sound like a mini-jet-engine — too obnox­ious to use around peo­ple I actu­ally like.

Low on power, high on noise — not a good combo.

But these days…

In the last half-decade or so, main­stream humans seem to have accepted the smart­phone, and seem to be doing the same for the idiot cam­era (“tablets”). It’s the “Post-PC era,” or some­thing. Plenty of peo­ple seem to be doing okay with­out spend­ing much time on their general-purpose per­sonal com­put­ers, but over time I real­ized that as I tried to go along with this trend, I was miss­ing out. For me, a com­put­ing life cen­tered around mobile “smart” devices was one of unac­cept­able com­pro­mise. Com­pos­ing more than a cou­ple of sen­tences with­out a key­board makes me want to just not bother to write, devices with­out expand­able stor­age make one depen­dent on rent-seeking “cloud” ser­vices, and the mobile app ecosys­tem has hand­fuls of well-known prob­lems (pri­vacy, lock-in, and so on).

There’s a place for these devices, even in my life, but they just don’t replace a general-purpose com­puter. Ever.

So I did this…

I made sure not to make last time’s mis­takes when buy­ing this com­puter. The i5 CPU is more than ade­quate, and I have a ton of RAM. ThinkPads are known to play nicely with Linux, because they’re used by that awe­some kind of geek who fig­ures that shit out (and wouldn’t put up with a jet engine lap­top). It runs Debian Jessie (“test­ing”) with only minor annoy­ances — not per­fect, but noth­ing I can’t han­dle.2

Hard­ware build-quality and dura­bil­ity are major plusses for an every­day carry machine, and that’s what ThinkPads are known for. And of course, Track­Point is truly the best way to mouse. A lot has been said about the new ThinkPad key­boards, and while this one suf­fers from the bull­shit key lay­out (com­pare it to the awe­some, ugly 1337-geek clas­sic style), the key­board actu­ally feel pretty nice to type on, even if the bizarrely-placed PrintScreen key occa­sion­ally enrages me.

And finally…

In the spirit of bury­ing the lede, here are some things I intend to enjoy while tot­ing around this rock-solid, large-screen-and-real-keyboard device:

  • Full desk­top OS that does all the things
  • Bet­ter web brows­ing; approx­i­mately 1,000 open tabs
  • Actu­ally writ­ing things, blog­ging silly ideas and such
  • Tons of local stor­age (SSD + HDD = yay!)
  • Semi-modern PC games, includ­ing lots of Hum­ble Bun­dle goodness
  • Codecad­emy
  • Inter­ac­tive fic­tion, per­haps (now, where did I mis­place my patience?)
  1. My most com­mon tablet uses are as fol­lows: gam­ing, view­ing TV episodes and movies, and web brows­ing. I’m putting this in a foot­note so as not to side­track myself, but it’s an impor­tant point. One of the best things about hav­ing the tablet was that it gave me another 16 GB of stor­age, on top of the 16 GB avail­able on my phone. A lot of peo­ple seem to think that Google inten­tion­ally lim­its the stor­age avail­able in their flag­ship devices to push peo­ple into using their mon­e­ti­z­able “cloud” media offer­ings instead of local stor­age. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if this were true, but hon­estly, the #1 rea­son I’d like more local stor­age in my devices is not to carry around more media, but more and larger apps — some­thing you can’t put in the cloud.
  2. I imag­ine Debian Sta­ble or Ubuntu would be bet­ter.

Written by Everett Guerny

October 24th, 2013 at 8:39 pm

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4 comments to “Yes, that’s a new laptop. Yes, I know what year it is.”

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  1. Melissa Dominic

    24 Oct 13 at 11:07 pm

    I FEEL YOU.

    I do a major­ity of every­thing from my dinky lit­tle Metro PCS smart phone, which isn’t the best but isn’t the worst (a LG Motion, if you care to know) and the rest on a re-purposed Nook Tablet i installed android on, but, really, I find myself locked into lame crap like refresh­ing face­book or trolling twit­ter. I stopped read­ing as many blogs (even though I have blog read­ing capa­bil­i­ties) and stopped writ­ing blogs and just MEH.

    I need to sit at my com­puter and use it! For now, I have a Sam­sung N145 net­book, while not per­fect, does a heck of a lot of things. I can also write on it. Which is impor­tant. There is no writ­ing on a tablet or phone. Unless I am com­pos­ing a text.

    Go go laptop!

    • Everett Guerny

      25 Oct 13 at 2:26 am

      (At least a por­tion of) The uni­verse under­stands me — yeah!

      I also totally get where the mobile ten­dency you describe comes from. Just by virtue of hav­ing the device with you at all times, it becomes some­thing you can rely on and form habits around how you use it. It’s too bad that these devices are pri­mar­ily opti­mized (at least it seems) for con­sum­ing media rather than cre­at­ing it; when most of us have an idle moment, we tend to look to see what we can con­sume. The mobile tools exist for cre­at­ing stuff (text, music, video, etc.) on the go, but per­haps cre­ation isn’t some­thing to be done in the bite-size moments we have scat­tered through­out our days? Or that even if cre­at­ing is easy, con­sum­ing is even easier?

      A net­book is still a nice step up from smart­phones and tablets. I didn’t think of men­tion­ing it in this post, but I had one that was some­how faster and in some ways more pleas­ant to use than that last full-size lap­top! There’s just some tasks that are bet­ter done with a full OS and key­board, even if the device is lim­ited in other ways.

  2. machbio

    29 Oct 13 at 12:59 am

    I was think­ing on the same line, I owned a pow­er­ful MSI GX 740 — unfor­tu­nately the hinges broke and was unable to replace it… As a Stu­dent I am really low on bud­get and need to decide on to buy a lap­top that will give me good bat­tery.. I am going for X230 in 2013 Novem­ber, hope­fully I will have the same kind of expe­ri­ence with Ubuntu.. Cheers to peo­ple who see beyond the hype.. :)

    • Everett Guerny

      29 Oct 13 at 1:10 pm

      Thanks for the reply! The dura­bil­ity of ThinkPad hinges (check this out) was a huge sell­ing point for me. I don’t think I’ve ever owned a lap­top that didn’t have to be repaired at least once for hinge troubles.

      I can’t imag­ine you’d have trou­ble with Ubuntu on this model. The only thing that wasn’t straight­for­ward dur­ing setup was adding the non-free firmware to make WiFi work, but that’s just how Debian does things. I think Ubuntu may have the proper firmware included in the installer. (I bought my X230 with one of the Intel wire­less cards, which are sup­posed to be bet­ter than the default ThinkPad-branded card.)

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