New Laptop: “Lenovo” THiNKPAD T61

Author: mirai  //  Category: All Posts, Life in general, Rants and Raves, Techie Stuff

It was only a little over a year ago when I purchased my IBM Thinkpad T30. And for the most part I’ve gotten really good use out of it, despite being heavier and a bit more bloated than the other T-series. But unfortunately a design flaw within the T30 series caused my Thinkpad to go belly up a bit prematurely. Apparently, the solder that holds the memory slots onto the motherboard tends to crack and give away to extensive vibration over time, despite having a little rubber boot on the bottom to prevent such things from happening.

About six months ago, I lost one of the memory slots due to this flaw, and had to settle on running on a single 1GB memory waifer. If the other slot was working properly, I could go as high as 2GB, but only settled for 1.25GB, as that was all I really needed. I even installed a 60GB 7200RPM HDD, an Atheros a/b/g wireless card that goes up to about 108 Mb/sec, and a Pentium 4M 2.0ghz processor, to increase the I/O and throughput a bit, so it became a quite a formidable little PC.

However, last month, the other memory slot decided to call it quits as well, which resulted in an unbootable bricked PC. In my haste, I decided to replace it with a brand new Thinkpad. I had been considering doing this for the last 6 months now, because some of the applications that I tend to use quite frequently like Adobe Photoshop CS2, Windows Movie Maker, and to a lesser degree Adobe Premiere, tend to use up a lot of resources. So it was a good excuse to get a new one.

The latest and greatest in the Thinkpad T-Series lineup (no longer IBM, but Lenovo) is the T61. It comes in two basic form factors: a 14.1 inch display, and a 15.4 inch widescreen display. At first, I wasn’t really considering the widescreen, because I really didn’t need one. As a matter of fact, I was even considering going compact, and getting the x61 instead. But after years of traveling with different sized laptops with different levels of ammenities on business trips, I found the smaller laptops to be more of an inconvenience in the long term. Although smaller , more lighter in weight, and excellent for hauling around, I found that I would have to carry around and external DVD/CD-ROM and external mouse with me. That coupled with the fact that everything (like the keyboard, display, and mouse are significantly smaller on the x-series, it becomes more of an inconvenience once I reach my destination. I prefer to have everything in one nice neat smart little package, hence my preference for the T-Series.

I ordered my T61directly from Lenovo, since they were having a 10% discount sale. Had I purchased the same model with the same configuration in Japan, it would have been about $400USD more. With the 10% discount, I got it for about $800 including shipping, so in a sense I was getting more than a 30% off discount, which is very significant.

While my new T-Series was in transit from the States, via my mom in Georgia (since Lenovo won’t ship to Japan -at least not with the discount price) I had the chance to do some investigation on the net to see what I can do with the bricked T30. Its a real nice laptop and so I didn’t just want to throw it out. Luckily, I found a Thinkpad dedicated user’s forum full of T30 users who experienced the same issue that I did. I went through threads upon threads to see if there was anything I could do to revive my dead T30. The general consensus was to either get IBM to fix it under warranty (which I couldn’t do because I bought my T30 used, and it had no warranty to begin with.) or to replace the motherboard. The motherboard idea didn’t seem too bad at first, but there was no guarantee that the problem won’t reoccur by replacing the motherboard, so I wasn’t too hot for that idea.

Digging more deeply into the forums, I found a small group of T30 users who opted to resolder the end points on the memory slots. Most reported a high degree of success, and the fix lasted a fairly long time if not permanantly. So, being somewhat over zelous in my approach, I popped open the hatch to the memory slots to see what kind of work it would take. Needless to say, its a lot more involved than I thought. Each connection was about a millimeter or less in size and there must have been about a hundred connections per slot. Basically, you would need the hands and patience of a nuerosurgeon, and eyes with microscopic superpowers to be able to solder without accidently soldering the individual points together. Although I hadn’t disposed of the idea completely, I tried to see if there was an easier solution.

Others with less surgical skills like me, opted for a less elegant solution. Although not the prettiest of all solutions, and far short of permanant, it seemed easy enough to do without the risk of further damaging the laptop. Basically what the fix entailed was, shoving thin pieces of cardboard into the memory bay, to press the memory waifers closer to the to the motherboard when closing the bay doors, thus closing the gaps in the connections. I did this with both memory slots in the hopes of that I can get both slots back, although I’d more than happy with just one.

After several adjustments here and there and fiddling around with the bay door a bit to get it press the cardboard so that it pressed against the memory waifers a bit more, the operation was a complete success! I got the full 1.25GB of RAM back and was able to use my T30 again. I didn’t expect this temporary fix to last too long, but I needed it to last until at least my T61 arrived.

2 weeks later, my T61 arrived in the mail. The first thing I noticed what the sheer size of the thing. Although it was considerably bigger than my T22 and my T30, it was lighter and thinner than both. I eventually opted to get the 15.4 inch display, because there wasn’t too much of a difference in price, but it did increase the size a lot. It looked to be more like a Z series laptop rather than a T series. So my hopes of getting a smart sized laptop was out the window at this point. The second thing that I noticed was that the all of the IBM badging has been replaced with very subtle Lenovo logos and a very noticeable THiNKPAD logo underneath. Although I was never particulary a fan of the IBM logo on the older Thinkpads, I disliked the Lenovo logo even more. I felt that it cheapened the Thinkpad a bit, and considered it a constant remider that IBM no longer makes them. In addtion to that, it constantly begged the question, is this Lenovo Thinkpad going to be as good as the IBM Thinkpads that I had grown to love over the years. Long time users of the IBM series tend to think they’re not as good, and that Lenovo did cheapen the quality a bit to keep up with relatively less expensive Dells. But at the same time I can also see these people being a bit biased, and nit picky about even the smallest differences.

After a week and a half of being a T61 owner here are my impressions

First of all let me post the specs of my new T61:

  • 15.4 widescreen display
  • T8300 Intel chipset
  • 2.4Ghz Core2 Duo Processor (Penryn)
  • 3GB RAM
  • 7200rpm 100GB HDD
  • Wireless 11a/b/g/n network card
  • bluetooth
  • Intel GMA x3100 GPU

My initial impression is that its quick! But I figured that this is me with a new toy rush, being biased. I gave it a bit more time and played around with a bit more, before making my final conclusion. Running Vista Utlimate, I found it to be as quick as my T30 running XP with SP3 (with both memory ports working), which is pretty quick. The boot time wasn’t significantly quicker, but the time to open certain applications was. I figured that if I ran XP on the T61, it would blow the doors off of the T30. So hardware performance-wise, I’m pretty satisfied.

Quality-wise, I don’t see too much degradation in quality from the IBM days. As a matter of fact, I think that there has been a quite a few quality enhancements. The T61 is lighter, and seems to be a lot more rigid. The display is a lot brighter and more vivid than my T30, and the keys on the keyboard seem to be a but more responsive to a lighter touch. The outer casing is no longer l prone to fingerprints like my T22 and T30. I also like the location of the built in speakers (on top near the keyboard, rather than under the palm rests like the older T Series, which makes more sense. It seems to have improved the volume a bit.

What I don’t like is the eject button positioning on the DVD-ROM door. It now sits flush with the casing so I tend to have to look for it now, rather than feel for it like the IBM T-series.

Also the wireless indicator light on the dashboard acts as a link light, causing it to blink when connected. Although very minor, it is quite annoying. I prefered the constant on like the one on the T30. Also, the overall size of the T61 is huge! Although lighter, the size makes it a bit difficult to throw into my laptop bag, so I probably won’t be doing much traveling with it.

And perhaps it was due to the wider 15.4 inch display, but it seems that the widened bezels on the side of the keyboard contributes to the Thinkpad’s ugliness (which was alway one of the known characteristics of this laptop brand).

Finally, the onscreen display for the speaker volume and brightness indicator, is really buggy. At first, it didn’t work at all no matter how many times I reinstalled the software. Eventually, I figured out that the executable that controls the onscreen wasn’t starting at startup, so I manually made an entry in the registry so that it did start up. I don’t recall if the onscreen display worked at the logon screen on the other models, but i sort of wish it did. Perhaps I can tweak it to make it run as a service rather than at the time of logon.

Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the overall performance and design. The name “Lenovo” will take me a while to get use to, but perhaps over time I will be able associate with the improved design of the Thinkpads.

Time to Consolidate

Author: mirai  //  Category: Life in general

Consolidation [Con*sol`i*da”tion, noun. ] the act of merging many things into one.

A big word, and in many cases a big task to accomplish. However, in an interest of staying green (financally and environmentally), and conserving space, it has become a necessity. So what am I talking about? Well, currently I am running about five different computers (two laptops, one general purpose web server that does several things, this blog server, and a home NAS -network attached storage device (basically a very big hard disk with a network card) to store all of the pictures and videos I take for this site in my house nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Might sound like a lot to some, but this is down from a hefty eight machines, which is the number I was running at one point. Of course, this was all for educational purposes.

In the past, running so many machines at once would have impressed any geek IT professional. But in a day and age when less means more, the nerdiest of all geeks savy IT professional would say haven’t you head of consolidation?? Haven’t you heard of virtualization?? I know I do.

So it’s time to practice what I preach, and that means to start getting rid of some of these energy thirsty machines, and consolidating everything into preferably just one or two machines (excluding the laptops.)

So in the next few weeks or so, I will be virtualizing this blog server, and moving it onto a more powerful yet less energy consuming machine where it will be sharing resources with other virtual machines. I’m not sure how things will turn out to be honesr, so if this site goes offline for a while, you’ll know why. Rest assured, I will probably be able to bring the site back up within a few hours, if not a few minutes if all goes horribly wrong with the virtual machines.