The Mistake of A New Laptop

Marc on 2021-05-10

Every year we spend hundreds, if not thousands, on new technology. Lured in by the promise of groundbreaking advancements that really only translate to fractional improvements. Tired of this system, I decided to look elsewhere - towards the tech of yesteryear - where I ultimately achieved computing bliss with the greatest laptop of all time.

The Mistake

In the middle of 2019 I bought a new laptop. Work demands were increasing and I felt that I would soon be in need of a machine that could keep up with my new requirements. A period of spec-sheet scouring later and I'd found the laptop I was after: A high-end CPU, plenty of RAM, high-capacity battery, everything I could possibly need. Sure I'd ended up spending quite a bit more than I wanted but I did need a cutting-edge machine right?

For the following six months or so this worked great, whenever I was out I could confidently rely on my new laptop to handle whatever the day needed. I'd made the right decision to spend that bit more.

Then of course the Pandemic set in and I moved to working from home, to working from my Desktop machine. This was where that extra spending came back to bite me. The laptop was too expensive to just leave lying in a drawer yet too artificial to use when I had my Desktop machine; with each passing day only bringing it closer to needing something repaired/replaced for a significant fee.

Finding a Solution

A solution was then presented when I came across Drew DeVault's aptly-title "******* Laptops" and Low-Tech Magazines "How and why I stopped buying new laptops". Both of the articles by-and-large cover the same issue: That modern laptops are/have effectively regressed; they're harder to repair, more fault-prone, and more restrictive in what they allow you to do. The solution that both authors then offer is that we instead look backward, finding a solution in old technology - in old laptops.

The idea struck a chord with me. Snapping out of my delusion, It dawned on me that I didn't really need such a cutting-edge laptop. Sure my computing needs were increasing but not so much so that I needed a machine that had, at the time I bought it, been released just mere months earlier with all the latest hardware. I especially didn't need a laptop that, unless I was using it for all my computing tasks, was essential just burning money.

I instead needed something that wasn't so expensive as to worry about not using it everyday, and also repairable enough that I could source parts easily whenever needed.

Another period of spec-sheet scouring later, I decided to sell my laptop and switch to something better (older) - a Thinkpad X230.

Computing Bliss

The X230 is a 12.5" laptop from Lenovo originally released in 2012. It is widely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest laptop of all time.

I'll be posting a full review of my experiences with the X230 shortly but so far I can completely attest to this being the case. So much so that I've already switched to using the X230 as my main machine because it is just that good.

What merits such a lofty claim however? It is astoundingly easy to upgrade and repair; almost any fix you could ever need is just one screw away and any part you need is always in abundant supply for a reasonable price. This flexibility and compatibility extends so far to the point that even the components between Thinkpads can be swapped in some case. Prefer the keyboard of an older model? Not an issue. Want a better quality screen? There you go.

In addition the X230, and many Thinkpads of that era, offer almost 100% out-of-the-box compatibility with most Unix-like systems - extending to even the more niche features like finger-print scanners and the like.

Although the laptop being a few years old may seem like a strong deterrent, given that most of these machines use fairly high-end Intel CPUs (i5 and up), there's a good chance that it will confidently handle whatever tasks you throw at it. Something I've certainly found to be the case with the i5 in my X230 sometimes even outperforming that of my Desktop machine.

What really sold me on switching to an older Thinkpads though? Laptops like this can be bought for under £200; £100 if you're particularly lucky.

Reassessing New Tech

It is extremely easy to get lured in with whatever the latest piece of tech to release is. I was reminded of this more than ever when the M1 Macbooks started releasing. Although the performance that can be gotten out of those laptops is incredible, does your daily workload really need that level of performance? Does checking up on email or scrolling through Twitter merit a £1000 price-tag? Even for more demanding tasks, there's a very solid chance that a CPU from nigh-on ten years ago will handle it just fine.

Moore's Law may be exponential but your Computing needs aren't.