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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