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January 11, 2009

Filed under: tech»lenovo

Not So Turbo

My Thinkpad laptop has a component in it that's called Intel Turbo Memory. It's a chunk of non-volatile flash RAM that's supposed to act as a cache for the hard drive, speeding up access and lowering energy use. And it is the single biggest cause of instability on the entire machine.

When I first got the laptop, it had conflicts with the Thinkpad's active protection system, which parks the hard drive when it detects movement. So moving the T61--not something unheard of when using a mobile system--would make everything stall out as the hard drive simply refused to unprotect itself. After a few revisions, Intel and Lenovo said they had a better version. Now it didn't hang during movement--but it didn't always sleep properly, and for some reason it would wake up at 1am to reboot itself. I'm pretty sure that this was the Turbo Memory's fault, since everything ran fine after disabling it. I could be wrong, though.

Every couple of months, Intel would drop a new driver, and I'd install it to see if I could get the benefits they promised me. It's never worked. The most recent version behaves fine unless I plug the laptop back into the dock, at which point it bluescreens.

For most people, this would probably be acceptable, since most people probably don't buy docking stations for their personal laptops. But I got used to multiple screens at the Bank, and I love the dock. It's the best part of owning a business-class laptop--being able to just slot it in and instantly get multiple displays and all of my USB gear enabled, that's a real timesaver. So anything that even thinks about interfering with docking doesn't last long on my system. I didn't just uninstall the drivers this time, I also disabled the hardware in the Device Manager, and I've got no plans to re-enable it.

Now, I've got no solutions, and really no grand observations to make here, although Anandtech's findings of almost no battery life increase do make me feel both better and worse simultaneously (because I've clearly been ripped off, but at least I'm not missing out on anything). I am amazed that something so blatantly snake oil made its way into a very expensive, high-end laptop, but that's capitalism for you. It's not like I'm really that upset, though--the problem's been easy to solve, and while I'm technically out $50 for the RAM, that's pretty insignificant compared to the rest of the sticker price. I'm just griping.

But while I don't have a lot of daily readers here, I do get a fair amount of very targeted traffic on niche issues like this. So I just thought I'd put this out there, in case anyone else is looking for a Thinkpad and wondering if the outlay's worth it for the Turbo Memory: it's not. Unless you really like turning things off. In that case, knock yourself out.

February 25, 2008

Filed under: tech»lenovo

At Least You've Got The Option

When I ordered my Thinkpad, I sprung for the hybrid hard drive, because it's supposed to speed up boot time and sleep mode, and why not? But there was a bug in the driver that, combined with Lenovo's disk protection sensor, would lock up the computer if it was moved too much, so I had to disable the hybrid part.

Intel's new storage drivers fix the problem, apparently by disabling some of the power-saving modes that came with the OS. They also add this amusing option to the advanced power management window:

I can only imagine that they enabled its display solely for the purpose of that darkly cynical tooltip.

July 30, 2007

Filed under: tech»lenovo

Black Mesa

I've resisted getting a new computer for as long as possible. There are three machines in this apartment just for me, after all. But one of them is a laptop dating back to 1999--it's amazing that it still works. Another is Belle's old laptop, an Inspiron 1100 that works fine for plugged-in music production but isn't much of a portable. Then there's the tower, which I built myself from cheap components. It's a stable rig for e-mail and web browsing, but it's starting to show its age for anything else, and with all the low-end parts, upgrading would be a cascading pile of work and expense: fixing any given bottleneck would just reveal three or four more. It's not very energy-efficient, either, and it's got no direct Vista upgrade path.

Thanks to a windfall from the Bank's termination benefits, I've got some money to set aside, to use for my college loans, to put toward my taxes... and a bit left over for a computer upgrade, with the eventual goal of reducing my usage to two machines or less. If nothing else, it'll free up some space in the apartment.

I knew I wanted a reasonably-sized laptop, for writing on the go. I wanted a keyboard that would be comfortable and long-lived. I wanted the laptop as a whole to be business-class in terms of durability. I wanted full accident protection coverage. And finally, I wanted it to run Half-Life: Episode 2 better than the desktop I've got now (it's the only modern game I see myself running on a PC in the foreseeable future).

Although the Panasonic Toughbook was tempting just for the sheer, macho indestructibility of it, it's also blindingly expensive. The Dell D630 is supposed to also be a good machine with great battery life, but I worry about using a Dell for audio (they're not really known for grounding their power supplies) and I don't always like the way that they design the keyboard or the cooling system. Besides, I've had a yen for a Thinkpad for years. Hence:

Lenovo T61
14.1" screen (1440x900 resolution)
nVidia Quadro NVS140M graphics with 128MB VRAM
2.2GHz Core Duo (Santa Rosa)
160GB hard drive with 1GB Intel Turbo Memory
8x DVD burner (swappable with an mediabay battery)
7-cell battery
Built-in WiFi, Bluetooth, and camera

Not to mention what they say is the best laptop keyboard money can buy, a complete magnesium roll cage, spill-proof drainage system, and three years of coverage against practically anything that could happen to it. And I'm not going to lie, I thought this was really cool:

Just in case I get a motorcycle, it's good to know that I could park on top of my laptop in an emergency.

It's not a particularly stylish laptop, although I happen to like the basic black look. Getting a decent video card means it can't be super thin, and the battery life could be better. But it's a solid machine with a great pedigree and a reputation for bulletproof construction. It should last me a long time, and that's really what I value most.

Unfortunately, a lot of other people seem to be thinking the same thing right now, and it looks like it won't ship until mid-September. So if anyone's got any better suggestions, now's the time to speak up.

Future - Present - Past