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My love affair with ThinkPads

I had never used a ThinkPad in my life till 2018. To be honest, I did not really see the benefit of using them anyway. Consumer series laptops (with plastic bodies) were the ones that I had always used before.

Then I was introduced to the rugged looks of the T60 and T61 original IBM ThinkPad designs that came out way back in 2004 or so. And I loved it.

Finding a ThinkPad that old did not appeal to me. I was impressed with the smaller compact X series laptops and decided to have either an X230 or an X220. Both of these are fairly similar and were launched about 8 years back. But they still sport good processors, plenty of memory upgradability, provision to add a maximum of three hard disks and a decent battery backup to boot.

My reasons to get this were simpler - 

  1. They are rugged, I like to use my laptops well

  2. Memory is not soldered. There are plenty of options to upgrade.

  3. The keyboards are probably the best in the world.

Why not get the latest ThinkPad?

Again, simple. 

They come with a price tag of above Rs. 1 lakh. Not worth that much in my opinion.

These used ThinkPads offer the sweet spot to me when it comes to performance per unit value.

So in the end of 2018, I narrowed my search down to the ThinkPad x230 on olx. There was this guy who brought a piece in decent condition to RCity Mall, Ghatkopar for me to check out. I went out with my gloves, USB drives with Ubuntu 16.04 LTS on it to check the peripherals, temperature, BIOS and so on. In the end I paid exactly 12900 for this piece (that I am writing on).

I brought it home, did a clean format of the Windows 7 it came with and installed Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. And never looked back. This has been my daily driver for almost the past two years and never have I had a chance to complain. The battery backup was slightly deficient but for a system this old, even a couple of hours of decent usage was okay.

Everything was good till just about a couple of weeks back. While using, the laptop suddenly shut down. I thought it was the thermals that failed. I allowed it to cool down a bit and tried to reboot. The lights came up, it appeared to have POSTed (but actually did not) and there was no display. Then I retried and it booted again and began to run as if everything was fine. After a while, I shut it down.

A few hours laters when I tried to reboot it, it refused to start up again. This time I had to try numerous times to get it to boot. It worked for sometime but then froze and seemingly died. I opened her up, swapped the SODIMMs, but could not even get a motherboard beep sound. This was serious. Display was certainly not the issue. It is not that it did not work all the time. For every 10 times I pressed the start button, there were 2 or 3 times that it would boot to the ThinkPad logo and things would be fine. Rest of the times, the fans spinned, the lights came up for the HDD and nothing happened beyond that.

I searched for more indications of what might have happened on the Internet. There were two options. One was a power supply issue. This was easy to diagnose. If the battery was malfunctioning, I could simply try to boot with the direct cable in and the battery out. This did not work. The other possibility was the dreaded GPU solder related issue. Older motherboards often would have their solder cracked and broken that connects it to the motherboard. The fix for this is complex and not very long lasting (as far as I have seen from tomshardware). So called up this guy I found on Google Maps with a good rating. He came, took my laptop and headed home.

About a week later he called up and stated that he had fixed my machine and he would expect to get about Rs. 3k for the repair job. I was okay. A day later he said that the fix was not permanent and he will not be able to do much more. Of course, he would not charge beyond the Rs. 350 diagnostics charge. So this guy was good, but the laptop was not saved. I got it back in a couple of days.

Then I opened her up. I found the older RAM stick gone and replaced with a newer one. The hard disc I had removed earlier only. I disassembled the entire system down to its barebones and gave it a thorough cleaning. Then I reassembled it along with the HDD and the extra 4 GB of DDR3 1600 MHz RAM stick that was laying around. Then I pressed the start button.

And she came back to life.

It still is not perfect. The system still does misbehave from time to time and I understand the underlying issue still remains (that of the Bridge having a loose connection). The inbuilt keyboard and trackpad module also ceases to function properly from time to time. Only reboot fixes it, or (like now) you got to add an external keyboard and mouse to continue working.

So here I am. Once again scouring the market to get good deals on this very laptop model. Nothing more advanced will do (because this is the last one that supports the PCI Expressway slot). The more modern ones with Thunderbolt have crappy modern chiclet keyboards. There are more options available in the other metro cities of India (Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore). For some reason, in Kolkata they are very hard to track. Let’s see how far this search goes.

Update: 05 September

I finally tracked down a reseller of Lenovo ThinkPads way out in Dum Dum. The place is named SibuOnline, managed by a Hare Krishna devotee - Sibsankar Dutta. I got the same ThinkPad x230 - in decent condition. Armed with an i5 3320m processor, 4 GB of DDR3 Memory clocked at 1333 MHz and a 320 GB hard drive, it was almost exactly a replica of the one I owned before. The keyboard on this however is not backlit, there is only the ThinkLight to illuminate the laptop in darkness. So probably I will replace the keyboard on this one with the other one. But otherwise, I have been using this for about a week now and dare I say, I don’t have any complaints. The battery is duplicate from what I could gather but that is okay since it holds a charge unlike the other one. I hope I will be able to use this for at least another three to four years.


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