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.

5 thoughts on “Yes, that’s a new laptop. Yes, I know what year it is.”

  1. 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!

    1. (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. 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.. :)

    1. 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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