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New Laptop Time

I’ve been using a 2011 Macbook Pro for approximately the last 5 years, and it’s been a great laptop. It’s had at least one new battery, but even with upgraded memory and an SSD, it just wasn’t cutting it in terms of performance and usability. Specifically, it only has a screen resolution of 1280x768, which isn’t brilliant by today’s standards.

The last time I looked for a laptop to buy was about about 10 years ago, which resulted in my buy a ridiculously small Asus EEE 901 (I still have it!). This time, I needed something a little more like the MBP, but just better.

I’ve never been a fan of spending a huge amount of money on computery bits, given the premium you end up spending on getting new things. There’s very little this year’s hardware can do that older hardware can’t do (that I care about, at least). And so, I set myself a budget of about £300 and set about finding out what that buys you on the second hand market.

I was pretty much instantly drawn to Thinkpads - my very first work laptop was a T42 and I loved it. By all accounts, Lenovo have done some questionable things when it comes to software, but I’m only really interested in the hardware. My plan was to wipe the thing and install Arch, and Thinkpads are typically pretty well supported in Linux.

So, after making a spreadsheet detailing the many confusing models and variations (Did you know that the T440 maxes out at 16GB of RAM, but only a 1600x900 screen, whereas the slimmer T440s comes with a limit of 12GB of RAM, but an optional 1920x1080 display?) I decided that the right price / feature combo was a T440s with the 1920x1080 screen.

After trundling around ebay, it became rather apparent that most Thinkpads are bought by business and pretty much no-one specified the higher res screen option. Also, a good number of the ebay ads for a “T440S” actually were selling a “T440p”, or a plain “T440” - apparently accurate ads for 2nd-hand laptops are rarer than you.

After a false start of ordering one that claimed to have a 1920x1080 display but ultimately discovering on arrival that it didn’t, I ended up finding and buying from a refurbisher on Amazon. I spent a bit more than my budget, but mostly that was because I was bored of having to sift through listings which mostly weren’t true.

In the end, I spent £389 for a T440s with an i5-4300M, 8GB RAM (I’ll upgrade this to 12), an Intel 180GB SSD and, oddly, the touchscreen display. I wasn’t after a touchscreen, but at least it was guaranteed to be the higher resolution.

Things I like:

  • I love the keyboard. I thought the MBP keyboard was good, although it started to fail near the end. This is much nicer. They key depth is a little deeper, giving a more confident feel, and the key material is strangely grippy.
  • 1920x1080 on a laptop was absolutely worth holding out for
  • It’s got two batteries - a removable one, and an internal one. Being a 2012 laptop, neither are in the best condition, but it runs down the removable one first. This means that in theory you can run down the removable, and then swap it out without having to power it off. I shall get a 6-cell removable battery at some point.
  • Intel wifi - so much better than awful Broadcom awfulness.
  • USB3 & displayport means that I have the option of getting a second portable monitor if need be.

Things I’m a little bit unsure about:

  • The trackpad is good, and the default sensitivity settings work fine, but the whole thing is a button. This is… weird?
  • The display is matt, and because it’s touch it’s pretty good at resisting fingerprints. I’m used to the glossyness of the MBP, but I’m not sure how this will do in all conditions.
  • The power brick is worse than the MBP. It’s bigger, which is annoying.
  • The battery life isn’t brilliant. I’ll probably get about 4 hours usable out of it (from both batteries). This is probably down to their age.
  • Home/End keys are in a useless place.
  • The case picks up fingerprint marks really easily.

So, all in all, I really like it. I’ll buy it some presents at some point (new SSD, more memory, batteries) but it’s a decent step up from the MBP.