An HP Pavilion barely made it two years, a Toshiba Satellite didn’t quite make three, and both were limping during their final months of service. This post is being written on a Lenovo T400 that’s still going strong after three and a half years as my do-everything and go-everywhere computer. My computers aren’t really treated harshly but they certainly aren’t pampered. That includes the Lenovo and I’m convinced that its relative longevity is due entirely to superior design and build quality. It seems to truly be an example of “getting what you pay for”.
The T400 was not my most expensive laptop but it did buck the prevailing downward trend and was fairly high in the price range at the time I bought it. It’s almost impossible to compare 2009 electronics with 2006 electronics but the T400 was not worlds above the Toshiba it replaced. Its processor was faster and its hard disk was bigger but those are improvements that often occur for free (or less) in the realm of electronics. At $1297, the T400 cost over $400 more than the Toshiba. That price includes aftermarket hard disk and RAM. I ordered the computer with the smallest hard disk available and immediately replaced it (with the much appreciated help of co-workers who really knew their stuff) with a 320 GB drive. I also installed 4 GB of RAM before putting the machine into service. The processor is a 2.4 GHz Intel Core Duo. The OS is Microsoft Windows Vista Basic.
Maybe some of the performance improvements were a little ahead of the cost reduction curve and account for some of the price difference but I doubt it’s more than half. I’m thinking that maybe $250 of the T400′s price went into things like the ThinkVantage Active Protection System and the ThinkPad Roll Cage. These things aren’t visible and don’t show up in performance tests. They are not as easy to justify as a faster processor or a bigger hard disk. I do think they are justified, however, by the lack of cracks in the case, which I’ve seen in every other laptop I’ve owned, and the fact that the machine is still functioning well in its fourth year of riding in trunks, backseats, and foot-wells. If the HP to Toshiba timeline is scooted to start with the Lenovo purchase, the HP would have expired long ago and the Toshiba’s life would already be about half over.
I’m sure others have had better and worse experiences with each of these brands and things have not been perfect with the Lenovo. I’ve had about a half dozen panic attacks when it failed to find any boot device. Cycling power a time or two has, so far, always resolved this. It has hung several times but I’ve attributed that to a particular application or, in one case, a faulty SD card. I’ve had to replace the battery though that could be considered a good thing; Most of my laptops haven’t lasted long enough to wear out a battery.
The only thing that even resembles an existing issue is disk capacity and that’s not Lenovo’s fault. Pictures just keep getting bigger and maybe I’m taking more of them. I keep as many pictures as possible on the disk and the time period that covers keeps getting less and less. I recall that when I first got this machine, it held every digital picture I had ever taken — roughly ten years worth. Now it barely holds one year and it requires frequent attention to do even that. That is still a lot of pictures and is definitely not a justification to retire this baby. So I expect this to be the last computer described in My Gear for quite some time. I’m hoping the next one is a few years down the road and there’s a good chance that it will be a new Lenovo of some sort.
My Gear – Chapter 13 — Nikon D40
My HP Pavilion was misbehaving by September of 2005 but I somehow put off buying a replacement until April of 2006. The problem was a motherboard crack that affected the power. I could minimize its surprise shut-downs by keeping it stationary so I nursed it through the winter by doing just that and using the aged but trusty Toshiba Portege from time to time. Because both the Portege and the Libretto had served me well, when I finally I went shopping it was specifically for a Toshiba. For $850 I got a Satellite A105 with an 80 GB hard drive and a 1.7 GHz Intel Celeron processor running Windows XP. I believe it might have come home with 512 MB RAM but I soon brought that up to the maximum 2 GB. This was a pretty nice machine.
I suspect this was about the time laptops were really hitting their stride in terms of popularity. In the world of consumer electronics, popularity often leads to economies of scale (once the leading edge gouging is over) and competition also drives prices down. Just two years before, I’d paid close to $1400 for a comparable laptop and that wasn’t particularly expensive. Nor was the $850 price of the Satellite particularly cheap. By 2006, laptops were well on their way to becoming a commodity just as desktop computers had before them.
I believe my faith in Toshiba was justified. Although the HP Pavilion was a little more than two years old when I replaced it, it was really limping for the final six months. The Satellite was still working when I retired it after nearly three years. It made me nervous though. It had taken to overheating unless given lots of open space. The teeth or bars had long since broken out of the cooling vent on the side and there were a couple of real cracks elsewhere in the plastic case. Wiggling the power cable could interrupt the flow of electricity and I feared this indicated a broken connection at the computer end. The Portege had once shown similar symptoms. That problem had clearly originated with cracks in the case and had required some bartered for expert repair.
I’m quite happy with the Satellite’s successor but I may have, in hindsight, retired the Satellite prematurely. I imagine the cooling issues could have been solved with a good cleaning and I’ve become convinced that the power problems came from a break in the cable and not a break inside the computer. The case continued to disintegrate making it likely that continued living on the road would have eventually broke something of importance but it still boots up and could possibly still perform in a pinch.
My Gear – Chapter 9 — Nikon Coolpix 3200
Despite this seeming to be the most expensive computer I’ve ever owned, I remember very little about it. Oh, I definitely remember owning it and its painful demise. I just don’t remember any technical details about it. I do remember that its purchase was triggered by the need to replace a desktop PC.
Prior to buying this for what is now an unbelievable $1369 dollars in February of 2004, I did all my heavy lifting on some sort of relatively bulky desktop unit. I recall a Compaq and an Acer and there were other forgotten workhorses on my desk over the years. (The first was a Radio Shack IBM XT clone but that’s a whole different story.) The small size and low power consumption required for portability come at a price and a big crude tower offered a lot more compute power than a laptop at a lot less cost. Though the old Portege remained adequate and would still see action after the HP arrived, it was straining. When the current desktop developed some major problems, I decided to invest in a machine capable of handling everything.
I know that model number in the title isn’t exactly right. ze4000 was the designation for a family of computers with many members. I think mine might have been a 41xx but I’m not even sure of that. I’m relatively certain that it had a Pentium 4-M running Windows XP but at what speed I don’t know and I have no idea on the hard disk or memory size, either. Whatever the numbers were, they were big enough to handle all of my needs. Since the purchase of the HP, no desktop computer has entered my home.
Saying that I did all of my heavy lifting at home isn’t entirely true. I did do some of my day job at home and used my own computer for some serious word processing and software development. I also did all of the route plotting and as much photo editing as possible at home. But, of course, the bulk of the photo editing had to take place in motels as I traveled. Resizing a photo is pretty processor intensive. So is rotating one. Compared to the Portege, which was OK at both jobs, the HP was lightening fast. Lugging around the relatively heavy HP seemed justified by the difference in time spent prepping pictures for upload.
But all that lugging took its toll on the HP. In the fall of 2005, it began shutting down at inopportune times. In what was a sort of last hurrah for the Portege and a definite testament to its portability, I took both computers along on a west coast fly-and-drive trip in case the HP became unusable. After determining that it was motion that killed the HP, it became a tabletop rather than laptop computer. The Portege did see some use on that trip but most of the photo work was handled by the HP on a hard surface using light keystrokes.
Back home, I babied the HP through a few more months but finally went for some professional help. Even the pros were initially stumped but a second visit turned up a crack in the motherboard. Curing it would require replacing the board at a price approaching that of a new machine. The HP ze something-or-other was done.
My Gear – Chapter 5 — Toshiba Portege 300CT
Having blown nearly 400 bucks on a camera, I returned to the used market for a laptop and picked up a Toshiba Portege 300CT for $251 in June of 2001. A 1.5 GB hard disk was standard for this model but this unit had been upgraded to 4.1 GB. It also contained the maximum 64 MB of memory. The processor was a 133 MHz Intel Pentium. It was running Linux when I got it but I installed Windows 98 almost immediately.
The 12 VDC power supply I had purchased for the Libretto worked just fine with the Portege. I had plotted my version of my great-grandparents’ trip using Microsoft Streets & Trips and planned to actually use the Portege in the car to follow the plotted route. In theory, the Garmin III Plus GPS I owned could be used to drive Streets & Trips (CORRECTION: My recollection was wrong. While Streets & Trips was used in some of the planning, it was almost certainly DeLorme’s Street Atlas that was used with the GPS in the car.) and I had the cables to make all the power and data connections but the result was a tangle of wire that was truly scary in the small cockpit of the Corvette. So, for $167, I bought a Hyperdata GPS unit specifically to connect to the computer. This was a brand new model that was powered through its USB connection thus simplifying cabling just a bit.
The 2001 Florida trip is the only one that really made use of this setup. My girl friend, Chris, navigated the entire trip with the Portege on her lap with a pillow for insulation from the heat of the computer. Chris never complained and even stayed with me for another four years before moving on so the trip didn’t really end our relationship. I’ve a strong suspicion, however, that stunts like that are part of the reason I no longer have a girl friend.
My Gear – Chapter 4 — Canon PowerShot A20
My first portable computer was a Toshiba Libretto 50CT. This was a truly small machine for its day with a weight of 1.87 pounds (with battery) and dimensions of 8.27″L x 4.53″W x 1.34”H. It had a 6.1″ screen, a 770 MB hard disk, 16 MB of RAM, and a 75 MHz Intel Pentium processor running Windows 95. Perhaps its most unusual feature was the built in pointing device. It’s a button to the right of the screen that you move with your thumb while your fingers fall on two buttons on the back of the screen for “clicking”. It may sound awkward but was very natural and I liked it. Toshiba called this AccuPoint and claimed it as a trade mark. A search for it today shows it as the registered name of brand of hunting scopes.
I was kind of shocked when I looked back and saw that I paid $535 for a used Libretto in June of 1999. I guess that price was at least partially justified by the inclusion of a CD drive that connected through and was actually powered by the Libretto’s PCMCIA slot. In July I shelled out another $85 for a 12 VDC cable.
I had visions of using the computer in the car but that didn’t happen much. I planned on having company for that first trip but circumstances had me driving alone much of the time. Then, when I did have a partner, there were other things to do plus I quickly learned that reading a computer screen in a sunlit convertible isn’t all that easy. The only time I recall actually producing anything while moving was when replacing a damaged tire had us on the road after dark cutting deep into editing time but making the screen usable.
Like the Agfa 780c camera, the Libretto did its job. I used it to retrieve photos from the camera, edit them, then upload them to the website along with text that was also produced on the Libretto. It also handled my email and web browsing. It did not, however, do all of those things at once. Some tasks filled that 16 MB of memory and others were just slow. Editing photos was both. As I switched between tasks, RAM became fragmented so that there might not be enough available to load some program. Somewhere I obtained a memory defragmenter program and I recall using it often to let me start the next task on the Libretto.
I used the Libretto for just a few trips then sold it, via eBay, for $317. By then I had acquired another PCMCIA CD but it required AC power. I offered the purchaser his choice and he went for the newer and faster AC unit. The CD would be very useful with my next computer and I still have it. I also have a Libretto 50CT. My friend John, who was the driver during that one mobile edit session, gave it to me when he bought several retiring units for about $25 each. It is running Windows 98 but is otherwise just like the one I had in 1999. I fired it up to check some things as I wrote this and the audible clicking of its hard disk as it booted sure brought back memories and my thumb felt right at home on the AccuPoint.
My Gear – Chapter 1 — Agfa ePhoto 780c