Share your ThinkPad Love! August 29, 2019 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Seeing this post today and weighing in with my usual recommendation that the OP purchase a refurbished ThinkPad (and seeing how many other MeFites did the same, as usual) made me stop and think about how often I see manifestations of ThinkPad love on The Green, so I thought it might be fun to share our ThinkPad love a little more freely and generally geek out over our fondness for these durable but aesthetically challenged miracle boxes!
posted by Chairboy to MetaFilter-Related at 10:35 AM (70 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

I have posted many a recommendation for refurb Thinkpads. I have 2 in service, and a 3rd because I thought 1 of them died. It apparently needs a day of rest from time to time, but I picked up a spare while it was playing dead. 1 upstairs for watching videos, 1 downstairs in daily use. I wish they looked even more utilitarian. Special thanks to all the companies that lease them and return them at the end of the lease. Just add RAM. T410, i5, 8G RAM. Even at its stately age, battery lasts close to 2 hours.

Oh no, as a geezer, I'ma have a bumper sticker that says I ♥ my Thinkpad .
posted by theora55 at 11:37 AM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I left IBM (and took a last ThinkPad purchased from the employee purchase plan on my way out the door) in early 2006, just after Lenovo bought the ThinkPad line and I have to admit, I am astonished they're still considered high quality work horses. We all predicted that quality would immediately nosedive and never recover.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:26 PM on August 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have a Thinkpad on my desk at work right now, and two more on my desk at home, and one that I set up for students to use in the lab. The lab Thinkpad, a few years ago, fell into a sink full of water. It's fine. I love these things.
posted by pemberkins at 12:32 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just bought one a few months ago because of the all the ThinkPad love on MeFi! Thank you for the recommendations!
posted by lazuli at 12:39 PM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have an antique ThinkPad which is so old it has stickers on it that I put on when I lived in Seattle which was last century. I love the damned thing, It dual boots into Win98 (maybe?) and whatever the last flavor of Ubuntu was I could get on it. It's great for troubleshooting really weird and old things. I used it last year when I unpacked a box with my ZIP drive and a bunch of disks on it and I could actually plug it in and open them up and save maybe 10MB of stuff from a long time ago :D
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 12:56 PM on August 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

My previous job issued my a used ThinkPad and on my way out I inquired about buying it from them. Turns out that it was due to be replaced anyway so the CFO just gave it to me, and now I have my dual Craigslist monitors hooked up to an eBay dock and I have the super portable workstation setup that I've always wanted for less than I've spent when previously trying to achieve this goal. I carry it around in my knock-off Herschel from Amazon that I had picked up for work... cheapskate frugal all around.

Uh, except for the time I bought an SSD for it and didn't realize my employer had already put one it. Oops.

I think the battery could use replacing. I have a t440p with the extra cells. Any pointers on finding a new battery?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 1:24 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Just had a quick look on eBay and found this 9 cell battery for a T440p - is that the one you're looking for?
posted by Chairboy at 1:48 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks for sharing the ThinkPad love everyone.

I'm on my fourth ThinkPad since 2005 - I bought my first (a brand new R50e running XP) when I started my PhD, largely because of the keyboard reviews, but was delighted to find that not only was it a joy to write on but it was as tough as old boots. I once accidentally poured an entire cup of coffee through the keyboard while it was on. It was absolutely fine when it dried out. That model also still had an IBM logo on it, which the geek in me really loved.

Next up was a reconditioned T60, also running XP, which was a beautiful machine, and lasted me until around 2013. Then came my first 'widescreen machine' - a T420 running Windows 7. All of the above still boot.

My current daily drive is an ex-lease refurbished T450 with a 1 TB hard drive and 16 GB of RAM running Windows 10 (which I've grown to love). With the new hard drive and RAM I think it cost me £300 all in. I figure that should keep me going for a while. I had to swap the keyboard out on that as it had shipped with a crappy overlay that started peeling immediately, but I really like the fact that I can do that kind of maintenance myself without any real dramas (I'm not particulary good with that kind of thing normally, but the way that they're built seems to lend itself to that kind of approach).

I really wouldn't have anything else - they go everywhere with me, to the office, on site and away for teaching trips. I really love walking into a classroom or workshop and being greeted with a sea of brushed aluminium and Apple logos, and then pulling a ThinkPad out of my rucksack...
posted by Chairboy at 2:10 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've got a W541 that's working pretty well. And an X60 that I haven't used in a while, but which is really great.

Anybody know if a Kensington lock will work on the W541? The manual just says it has a "security lock slot", which I see, and I think I used some kind of physical locking mechanism there previously -- but I'm trying to figure out whether the "Kensington" locking cables at Microcenter will work with it.
posted by amtho at 2:16 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I finally got rid of my old Thinkpad 600x's a little while ago - the two of them got me through grad school and I have a lot of fine memories, of them and the other thinkpads I used at work over the years (770! a really early one!). But at some point you gotta let those old Pentium laptops go.

But they lasted about 10x as long as the 2017 Macbook Pro I had at work recently. What a scandal.
posted by GuyZero at 2:22 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nice article on the history and design philosophy of the ThinkPad. I now really want a 25th Anniversary model....
posted by Chairboy at 2:47 PM on August 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I picked up a new L470 last year mainly because it was very cheap and came with 16gb of RAM. No regrets.
posted by um at 3:50 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a beefed-out ThinkPad W541 that I bought for work in 2015 and am planning on getting a second, newer one so that this TP can be dedicated to non-work projects and music stuff. It has everything I want - speed, memory, a removable battery, all teh ports. The only thing I don't love about it is the trackpad, which has the buttons at the top instead of the bottom. Other than that it is a dream machine which has given me no problems whatsoever and can handle whatever I throw at it.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:50 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fellow Thinkpadeers we need to discuss the awkward placement of the function key
posted by um at 3:54 PM on August 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

and can handle whatever I throw at it.

If I still had that Thinkpad 770 let me tell you, you Thinkpad could not handle having that Thinkpad thrown at it. The 770 was a tank.
posted by GuyZero at 4:01 PM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm writing this on an X201s, which I believe is, if not the last, one of the last, models to have the option of a Trackpoint alone as a pointing device, which I love. It's also one of the last to still have the seven-row keyboard layout and predates the chiclet-style keyboards. I'm going to run this computer into the ground.

Before all the details were released, I thought the 25th Anniversary model would be the first Thinkpad I ever bought new, but while the keyboard was a big draw, I was disappointed at it otherwise basically being a T470. Maybe sour grapes, but it sold out ludicrously fast here in Japan, anyway.
posted by Strutter Cane - United Planets Stilt Patrol at 4:17 PM on August 29, 2019

man, i used to have a thinkpad and i liked it a lot. then i got a macbook air in like 2013 and LOVED IT. i have to get a new laptop and i'm not stoked about getting another macbook right now because they kinda suck now, but i ordered one anyway. TODAY.

my regret begins to mount

i would kinda love to switch back to using a PC laptop but i feel like Apple has me by the you-know-what now and it would mess me up too much to switch (especially as an iphone user)

i sweardagod iMessage is the only thing keeping me with apple at this point
posted by capnsue at 4:18 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had wanted a Thinkpad for at least a decade before I got a X61s around 2007. It was my first brand new laptop that I bought with my own (albeit grant) money and loved it to pieces. At the time it was amazingly small and light, like unthinkably small and light.

It has a tiny keyboard but was perfectly usable - I ended up faster on that than on a full size.

Wrote my PhD thesis on a T410s (which I regrettably gave away). (MSc thesis on a beat up 2nd hand Dell C200)

Joined a startup in 2015 and relied on my X61s up until at least 2017.

After we secured some funding, work gave us Dell XPSs which were uniformly terrible and I managed to convince management to standardize on the X1s and got one on the last upgrade cycle. I'm really tempted to get my own loaded-up Carbon, but can't come up with a good excuse.

The old Thinkpads had the best keyboards, and even today the chicklet boards are still a cut above.

I'm really glad Lenovo decided to keep the red nub/ nipple.

grumpybear69 - the trackpad buttons are there for the nipple.

Embrace the nipple!

Love the nipple!

All hail the red nipple!

I still have that X61s and use it to play XCom (and to run an old copy of the European Pharmacopoeia).
posted by porpoise at 4:22 PM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm typing this from a refurb T420 after my previous laptop started giving up the ghost after a couple of years. I kind of intended to use it as a backup while I left the other laptop at the shop, but I eventualy just made it my primary device. I really love the travel on the keyboard; I never was a huge fan of chiclet keyboards.

I've been eyeing getting a lighter one (X-series, I guess?) that might make more sense for commuting or working in coffee shops.

The only other computer I'm considering is a Surface, but those cost a pretty penny more.

I also can't get used to the trackpoint, and I use the trackpad for everything. If y'all have suggestions on getting started with the trackpoint I'd be curious to hear them!
posted by invokeuse at 4:33 PM on August 29, 2019

I'm on a t450s right now!

Securing charitable donations for the arts from the tech companies that dominate the area's economy is a constant challenge, in the form of money at least, but OH BOY do they have an ongoing parade of used ThinkPads for us to re-image and put into service.

The staff blames the second-hand hardware for all of their problems, but as an IT guy, I'm not sure they're aware of what these clunky old computers are achieving. Some are in better shape than others, but all together they are the Nokia Brick of laptops. Unattractive perhaps, but they'll keep going strong for like a decade with basic maintenance, and can be wielded in hand-to-hand combat in an emergency.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 5:08 PM on August 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

A project I work with was donated an X60 a couple of years ago and I fixed it up as a communal machine for people to use, but for some reason no-one does. It is so cute and it just sits there, not being used. At all. I may have to, ahem, repurpose it at some point...
posted by Chairboy at 5:32 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

This comment from fritley led me to upgrade the display screen in my Thinkpad (a T510 I think? It's around here somewhere but I don't really use it any more). The new screen was only 1920×1080, not the amazing the 2048x1536 fritley used, but it was a nice upgrade anyway, and not too tricky to install. I went looking for my ebay receipt and the screen was $154 in 2013, probably about what the laptop is worth now.
posted by exogenous at 6:31 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wheee. I got my first Thinkpad in 2004, I think. I want to say it was a Tsomething. During grad school, I upgraded to (a refurbished) one with tablet mode, the glorious X61T, and never turned back. The X61T only got to live with me for three years, due to my apartment being broken into. By that time, the X201T was the new shiny and mine lasted a good six years (well, it still sits at home for boring stuff). My latest baby is an X1 Yoga, going on two years old.
posted by ktkt at 6:49 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

invokeuse - try turning the sensitivity up. You don't need to press on it hard; caress it and you can have fine control, mash on it and you get travel distance. I find it much more accurate than most trackpads.

One thing to keep in mind is that because it's in the middle of the keyboard, touch typists typically come at the nipple at an angle; you have to train muscle memory to account for the difference in angle between the keyboard/ laptop's axis and what your index finger usually thinks of as up/ down and left/ right. To to go up, instead of pushing your index finger forward, you almost have to go 30-40' towards the right.

I hate multi-selecting or dragging in general (drag'n'drop, dragging scrollbars) with the trackpad but it's effortless with the nipple. Depending on the humidity, I also end up accidentally double-clicking too frequently if I lift my hand off and try to resume using the trackpad again.

I have a Surface Pro as a track and trace workstation at work and the keyboard is beyond terrible. The power plug is interesting but nearly unusable if you have armour/ protector for the thing - and most makes the keyboard (essentially) non-detachable. I don't even have the RT (?) version (which only runs apps written specifically for it, not x32/ x64 programs) but it feels underpowered. Scaling is sometimes annoying too if you get a screen with too high of a resolution.

ktkt - oh boy I was so jealous of people who could afford the T sub-version (I settled for having S[lim]-version). However, in practice, the processors back then couldn't really keep up with stylus entry and the lag detracted from the experience (especially when trying to power a projector or external screen at a decent resolution - but wow was it impressive (back then) to use the T sub-versions and make powerpoint behave like old school overhead projectors where you can write/ draw all over a slide.


The one thing I don't like about Thinkpads today is the ThinkVantage bloatware bs. I used to disable it but it doesn't bug me enough to bother on my work X1.

Make that two, the auto firmware updates that don't warn you/ ask you are also the worst.

If anyone is thinking about getting a new Thinkpad, consider upgrading to the better (touch) screen. The T480 I have as another track and trace workstation with the touchscreen is a treat.
posted by porpoise at 7:11 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh! Fun thread! I'm on a little baby 11e (my first but not my only Thinkpad). I bought it because I wanted something tablet-sized, but was an actual computer (and chose a Thinkpad because Metafilter). I love this thing- it fits in my purse and runs all the MS office stuff I need it to. And it has a planet express sticker on it, which I think probably helps it go faster.
posted by dogmom at 7:23 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I got through college on a T60, but it didn't last a whole lot longer than that; it always had issues with the display, even after getting it replaced once in my senior year.

Now, though, I do much of my work (and some of my Metafiltration) on an X220 I got back in the beginning of 2012. Aside from some minor cosmetic damage -- a couple bits of plastic chipped off, some paint polished away from the corners -- it's just rolling on, seemingly forever. I'm not convinced a finer laptop has ever been made.

That said, I'm awfully tempted by the sale Lenovo is having right now, and I just might manage to talk myself into a shiny new X1 Yoga before the weekend's out. We'll see.
posted by egregious theorem at 9:46 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fellow Thinkpadeers we need to discuss the awkward placement of the function key

Oh, that extra key in the lower right corner you have to turn into a Ctrl key with the BIOS option?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:15 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I went Mac for 15 years and then was required to pick a Windows machine for school last year. I consulted with my most respected Windows Master who was using a Surface pro and went with the same, which I have to say I love. My Windows Master friend just replaced his Surface with a new Thinkpad and shrugged “My previous five computers were Thinkpads and they’re just easier.”
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:38 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Typing this on a ThinkPad T420 that I picked up off of craigslist, maxed out the RAM (16Gb), and swapped in a (then) large SSD. I've gotten years of work out of it.

Several years back I had a spectacular, could-have-been-worse bike crash when multiple spokes broke and jammed the rear wheel, sending me over the top of the bike and cracking my helmet. My work laptop went flying out of the back bag, and took several normal laptop-killing bounces. The support folks at work looked at it, snapped a few parts back together, and handed it back without a byte lost. It was a ThinkPad T420 with a solid-state drive. I bought this one after leaving that that job, and will be sad when it finally passes. It's a dependable tank.

Picking up a used ThinkPad, maxing out the memory and swapping in a solid-state drive is a great way to save a bunch of money. I love the T line; friends love the X line. Stay away from the consumer Lenovo line.
posted by dws at 10:56 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

So pleased to see this thread! I sometimes visit the thinkpad subreddit for the pictures, especially the old ThinkPads, and have often wished that there was a mefi equivalent, so thank you for posting this.

Three of the last four laptops I've used/use (work and personal) have all been refurb ThinkPads. High five to my fellow T420 folks! That was my first one, after reading about the virtues of ThinkPads on AskMe. It's been in use since around 2012 I think. I agree that the keyboard is much better on that than the newer keyboards.

I use a P51 for my dayjob, and my current personal daily driver is a P50. I love how they all have room for two (sometimes more) storage drives, and they were insanely below retail at the Lenovo outlet because they were a few years old and didn't have the latest processors. I thought about getting a newer T-series model, but they don't have drive activity LEDs anymore, which is a dealbreaker for me.

The TrackPoint took a while to get used to, but I use it a lot now, and I like not having to move my hands away from the home keys. I also prefer scrolling and navigating with dedicated PgUp and PgDn and Home and End buttons. I've also used a Dell Latitude for work and their version, the TrackStick, should be called the TrackSticky because it's not as easy to use.

Fellow Thinkpadeers we need to discuss the awkward placement of the function key

Aside from the BIOS option - if you use Windows 10 and have Lenovo Vantage software, the advanced settings have an option to swap the Fn and Ctrl keys (at least that's how I did it on the P51).
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 11:52 PM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

dogmom - you mentioning the 11e got me drooling - until I compared the sizes and specs;

The 11e (if it was still available with an i3 processor, I might still be intrigued but the highest spec is a N50000) has a 11.6" screen in a 11.81" x 8.27" x 0.88" chassis weighing in starting at 3.3lbs.

The X61s has a 12.1" screen in a 10.5" x 8.3" x 0.8-1.1" (0.8-1.1 represents tapering) chassis weghing in starting at 3.1bs with a 4 cell battery. Similar weight going up to a 6 cell battery but swapping the HHD with a SSD.

Very different performances, but I'm surprised that the X61s (released in 2006/7) is still smaller than the 11e. It did cost almost4x as much, before accounting for inflation or consumer computing deflation.

And the X61x can accommodate an integral optical drive (CDs! DVDs! I think there are blu-ray drives that are compatible as well, but who uses optical media anymore?).

I used/ carried the heck out of my X61s in my wrinkled black leather manbag and examining it now, there's a patina of wear on the outside but from a distance it still looks great; no bald spots (shiny patches on a matt finish) like some generations.

The markings on the keyboard are pristine. The entire inside-the-clamshell parts remain near mint. This is on a decade-old laptop that went through gradschool and the beginnings of a startup with. A Logitech diNovo Edge from around that era on my main PC - it's still running like gangbusters, but the lettering on the "gamer keys" are completely worn away.


I don't miss the weight of old laptops, but I miss the ability to unlatch and the lift lid/ screen one handed with the notebook sitting on a surface - and have the hinge last at least a decade (and I can't notice any difference in hinge performance between brand new and today; can't say anything near that for a number of [older] Asus and Acer and Dell laptops).


Geeze, you'all are making me want to bid against other mefites on ebay for vintage Thinkpads now...
posted by porpoise at 12:07 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Anyone know anything about the current state of the X62, a X61 knockoff tribute?
posted by porpoise at 12:12 AM on August 30, 2019

Between home and work I’ve gone through many ThinkPads over the years (X61s, X220, T430, X230, currently X1 Carbon 2nd gen), but now am thinking about replacing the X1 with a Dell XPS 13 or a System 76. Mostly because Lenovo is behind the curve on cheap hi-res screens, and as much as I hate my work MacBook Pro, it has a gorgeous screen. The new X1 carbon specced how I want it is like $2500, which is hard to justify. Maybe I’ll just buy a new battery for my old X220 and revel in its pre-chiclet keyboard instead.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:05 AM on August 30, 2019

All bought second-hand:
T23, triple-boot OS/2, WXP and SuSE Linux. Died after several years, didn't want to power on any more. Replaced with:
X22, same setup. Eventually died because the person I loaned it to had someone else clean it after it had been submerged in a puddle of Club Mate drink. This was not done correctly at all, witness a brownish sugary residue around and underneath several chips on the mainboard. I had already moved to a:
X31, SuSE Linux + WXP. Still in use occasionally; now with a fairly current (but still 32 bit) SuSE Linux only.
X61, SuSE Linux again. In use.
X201, same. Sidelined because
X201s (higher res screen and more grunty CPU), Debian.
X201s, spare. Installed with SuSE again. And another spare 201s.

Further ThinkPads around:
R50, T60, T61, X30, X60, X40t, X60t (two tablets), a TransNote, a few more X201's, 2x T400, a T430 and an X230 that needs its backlight fixed. And three TP701c Butterflies, one of which has a defective mainboard. That one's slated to become a ButterPi some day, after amassing sufficient Round Tuits. The other two just need new batteries.
posted by Stoneshop at 3:05 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Stoneshop: a few more X201's
... one of which is currently on my lap. It's got Mint 19.2 Cinnamon installed and it's my weapon of choice. I basically live in this thing. The Thinklight has died, unfortunately, but that's the only niggle.

I'm unsure of the complete history of my Thinkpad usage but it started with an A20M and it's fully Stoneshop's fault. And we weren't even together at the time.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:16 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

My work laptop is a T460. It is sturdy, reliable, and it works fast. It's everything I need it to be. I've only recently started to work from home, so the portable nature of this ThinkPad is finally starting to be used in the way it was meant.

That being said, the only real complaint I have is that the keyboard attracts dust like magnet. I have compressed air but it's still hard to clean. I don't use the ThinkPad's actual keyboard. I have a dock and my mechanical keyboard plugged in that way, but the dust still bugs me. Blurgh.
posted by Fizz at 4:26 AM on August 30, 2019

Fizz: the keyboard attracts dust like magnet.
Cat hair. All the cat hair. Enough to knit a spare cat every 6 months.

I use a compressor to clean it now and then, and you can see the clumps of cat hair moving below the key caps, crawling towards freedom. When all the dust and hairs are gone, I use a degreasing cleaner of some kind on a cotton bud to clean the top and sides of each key cap. It's very satisfying.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:31 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Where do y'all buy your refurbs from? I've always been hesitant to pick up a refurb from Amazon or some rando website.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:28 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

My roommate in college had a coop job with NCR and they loaned him a Thinkpad with one of those butterfly keyboards. We’d spend minutes just opening and closing the damn thing, it was so satisfying. We had a 410 but the screen cracked and the battery wore out. We still use it as our music server. My wife hates the replacement because they lost the physical buttons below the touchpad.

We use projectors a lot so I love the vga port. The new one could use one more usb, though (its a t450, I think).
posted by rikschell at 5:44 AM on August 30, 2019

Rock Steady: Where do y'all buy your refurbs from?

eBay, mainly. It's not too hard to find the sellers who deal with ex-lease corporate laptops; they tend to have multiple (up to dozens, occasionally) machines of the same type, which they tend to inspect, clean and often reinstall (or at the very least wipe). The listings usually mention the overall condition and particular damage. I also look at any negative feedback for the seller.

My other source is Marktplaats, the Dutch Craigslist. It doesn't have a feedback system, but you can lodge a complaint against a seller and they can get banned if there's too many complaints. You can see how long a member has been active, which offers some indication there. And quite a few computer webshops use it as their outlet for trade-ins or overstock, almost always indicated by a link to that webshop.

With all the ThinkPads I bought second-hand I had just one that turned out to be a bit flaky. Which only surfaced after the 3 month return window, so I can't really blame the seller for having missed it during inspection.
posted by Stoneshop at 6:23 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Outside of the red nub, my favourite button on my W540 is the calculator button just above the number pad. When I first got this laptop, I never really thought about that button, but somehow once I finally realized that it was there, it has become indispensable. Sadly, however, it looks like newer models don't offer that button. Lenovo, if you happen to read this, removing the calculator button is serious and terrible mistake, Lenovo that you need to rectify in future redesigns.

(The main reason I started purchasing ThinkPads was for the red keyboard-based pointer. I had similar functionality on my old, much beloved Toshibas, but when those were no longer available, I knew I couldn't move to a mouse or trackpad based option and that I needed to purchase a machine that gave me the option of not taking my fingers off the keyboard.)
posted by sardonyx at 8:26 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

sardonyx: I couldn't move to a mouse or trackpad based option

Once you're used to the trackpoint, everything else is <. In other words, [track]pointless.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:37 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Where do y'all buy your refurbs from?

I want to say I bought mine from Newegg, but the computer was advertised on eBay.
In Canada, I just learned about Bauer Systems, which has a bunch of refurbs available.
There are probably also local resellers where you are; you'll pay a small premium but yay for supporting local business?

Does anyone have any experience with the Helix?
posted by invokeuse at 8:46 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

A bit random, but if anyone feels that their life would be complete if only they had a really cool ThinkPad 25th Anniversary umbrella, there just happens to be one on eBay at the moment. Will someone here please buy it so that I don't have to?
posted by Chairboy at 10:15 AM on August 30, 2019

I got my ThinkPad refurb from the wonderful Portland non-profit Free Geek - they now have an online store to complement their retail location.

After toting around a Dell laptop I was sure I was going to crack the case on throughout grad school, it's so nice to have a tank with killer battery life. Thanks for recommending it, MeFi!
posted by momus_window at 10:20 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I buy from the Lenovo outlet. One time they cancelled an order due to not having enough stock, so I had to pick a different one, but otherwise, no problems. They come like new.
posted by ktkt at 10:47 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

> momus_window: I got my ThinkPad refurb from the wonderful Portland non-profit Free Geek - they now have an online store to complement their retail location.

Oh wow. That's where I am getting my next computer. Thank you!
posted by Rock Steady at 11:11 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really wish I hadn't looked at Free Geek now - that W550S is making eyes at me. There's a little voice in my head saying 'just think how great that would be for Photoshop'...
posted by Chairboy at 11:20 AM on August 30, 2019

Let's see...the first ThinkPad I had was second hand from a family member--and I'm not even sure where they got it from. It was a 365XD I believe, not unlike this one, except the keys had both English and Korean (I think) on them. Very nice keyboard, and I played hours of solitaire on it, in addition to doing school work. Pretty sure it still boots up to Windows 95, but I haven't tried for a few years.

Fast-forward years later, the next was a T60 I bought new for grad school and continued to use for years. I did have to swap out the mainboard because the ATI video crapped out, but it still runs Linux nicely, though it's mostly retired.

A few years ago I was able to get a non-working X230t from work that was slated to be discarded, and revived it. It also runs great, after I swapped in an SSD and added a little RAM. The tablet mode is a bit clunky and pointless at this point so I wish it were just a plain X230, though it's neat that the stylus fits inside.

For the last two years I've also had a work-issued X1 Carbon (5th gen) that is lovely (except for running Windows, but oh well). We're supposed to be going Mac-only in the future, so sometime in the next year I'll probably be switching over whether I like it or not, and at that point I'll probably buy the X1 from my job for personal use.

Last year I also treated myself to the ThinkPad 25 new from Lenovo when it was deeply discounted. The keyboard is fantastic, as is the trackpoint. If I'm being honest, the trackpad feels a little worse in use than the X1's, and I'm spoiled by the featherweight heft of the latter as well, but I do love it overall.
posted by Pryde at 12:12 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

jumping in with general Lenovo love! My IdeaPad U110 was the most beautiful and smallest laptop I ever owned. Dragged around the globe, abused by toddlers, worked like a champ for 8 years. Replaced it a few months ago with Yoga 730 as I finally acknowledged I need big tablet.
posted by lemon_icing at 12:52 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a thinkpad person, having led to the purchase of probably 10 or so (mostly used) in friends and family. Most of those were before the Lenovo transition where tone did indeed shift from the uber quality I previously noted though I still do recommend them as, often, they seem better and longer lived than much else out there (mac exempted but that's apples and oranges).

From various T series through school to present day when my home/sit in my lap in my chair machine is a massive, massive Ideapad Y900 that I got with a coupon that literally cut the price in half because, I'm guessing, folks didn't want a machine that big but, my god, for my weak eyes it is amazing. Plus it has a keyboard that I don't hate. My work issued laptop is a dell that I don't hate but don't love either. It does have a nub at least so *shrug*.

Nothing beats an oldschool thinkpad for durability and feel. The modern ones are less so but still decent at times.

Oh I did order some cheap Lenovo laptops (like sub 300 dollar models) that were complete garbage and struggle to even boot up from day one. I should have returned them but, well, long story. Complete and utter garbage in performance and feel, even after settings tweaking and removing crapware.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:08 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

RolandOfEld: Oh I did order some cheap Lenovo laptops (like sub 300 dollar models) that were complete garbage

My mother has a laptop like that... some kind of Ideapad (yes, I know, that doesn't narrow it down by much). Well, it runs pretty decently on Linux Mint, and my mom likes how lightweight it is, and it types so well (considering that it's replacing a tablet)... she's happy with it. Who am I to say that it's a flimsy, plastic piece of crap?
(But it is, and all of you here know it. Ssshh!)
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:29 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Does anyone have any experience with the Helix?

invokeuse, I have a Helix -- 2nd Gen, though. And not on Windows 10, but on the OS it came with (Windows 8). Is there anything in particular that you want to know about it?

I'd like to start using my X201 again, but I've been giving it a wide berth since I installed a torrented version of Windows on it. I messed up a reinstallation a while back and borked the recovery partition. Ran some form of Linux on it for a while, but... Ehhh, I couldn't really familiarise myself with it. The X201 also needed some maintenance and being somewhat of an amateur at that kind of thing, I hadn't really managed to find myself in the right mindset to clear out a space for the work involved; my desk isn't really set up for that sort of work right now.

Suddenly it occurs to me that I can't really open up the Helix to see what it looks like on the inside without having problems putting it back together.

It's been ages since I fussed around with hard disk partitions, including in VMs.
posted by redrawturtle at 5:26 AM on August 31, 2019

Oh! ThinkPads are such a legacy. So stiff it's funky.

Over the last decade they did lose a lot of character. I suppose the X220 was the last ThinkPad to really feel like a ThinkPad. That model still had a slight taper towards the front to guide your wrists, a feature you only really appreciate when you go back to one of the newer, straight-edged models. And the old ThinkPad keyboard, with it's bold blue Enter key, that's just a religious experience. (Heretics please line up in an orderly queue for burnination.)

The current ThinkPads remain very good laptops, but due to the convergence in laptop tech they're no longer in a class of their own. And standardization... The vandals even got removed the little reading light at the top of the screen! For shame.

Still I use them! Law of least surprise. Plus there's a ton of high quality refurbished machines out there for cheap. If you can get one that's still under warranty, go for it! Lenovo on-site service is still pretty good, as it damn well should. IBM for lyfe
posted by dmh at 6:17 AM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Reading the comments I was curious when they stopped making trackpoints, since my X220 doesn't have one. . . only to look down and discover that it does. I must have noticed it on the day I bought the thing around 2011, but haven't noticed it since or ever used it. I'm curious to give it a try. First attempts suggest some acceleration tweeking will be required.

My 220 may not count as old by thinkpad standards, but I'm impressed with how hearty it's been. There are a few chips in the casing, I've had to reconnect a flakey wifi connector a couple of times, and the battery clip is finally starting to fail. But, it's been my primary home and travel computer for years and suffered all sorts of abuse.

I'm more surprised that the even older x100 I picked up in an emergency is still ticking. It never looked robust to begin with and the model was rumored to hail the end of the thinkpad. But, it's spent significant time at an altitude of 5100m, served as an always-on display server in a poorly ventilated space, and been kicked around as a disposable laptop used for anything you wouldn't want to waste a good laptop on for a decade. It still works great. (At least running linux with a lightweight window manager. It was more or less unusable as a windows machine when it came out of the box.)
posted by eotvos at 7:04 AM on August 31, 2019

redrawturtle, thank you for offering to share! I do some teaching online and I wonder how suited it would be for that purpose. I need to be able to annotate slides with a stylus and (very occasionally) with a keyboard. A webcam would also be helpful. Otherwise it would be used for light web browsing or email; I have a workhorse T420 for my other work tasks. I know people have been using Surfaces for doing the same kind of thing, but they're more money than I want to throw at this.

I've been scoping out ebay for X230 tablets and (to a lesser extent) Yogas, too.
posted by invokeuse at 8:05 AM on August 31, 2019

I can't remember the model of the ThinkPad I had for a while way back when but remember liking it a good deal. Work had a "we buy thousands of machines" deal with Dell.

But obligatory story about IBM era machines... When I started work around 1999 there was this "evaluation but we're never going to ask for it back" IBM workstation in the corner that nobody wanted to use. It was a dual-processor machine and nobody wanted to run Windows NT to take advantage of those dual processors. Linux was still a bit verboten, if you need UNIX you get a Sun workstation that's managed by the systems people. They don't like the idea of random people having root on a desktop UNIX like that.

I totally broke the rules because I could/would and threw Linux on that thing that would use both processors. That machine screamed like a bat out of hell and lasted a long time until technology changed and faster (and more importantly maintenance contracts) came in to play.

I still sorta miss it and that random ThinkPad. At least back then the IBM things were workhorses. Dell is ok if you stick to the business/professional lines instead of the consumer line. Older tech and decently robust.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:33 AM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks for linking to that AskMe! I have a couple T42s that I periodically try to do something with, only to be stymied by my lack of 1337 skills.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:55 PM on August 31, 2019

I'm typing this on a T450S running Linux pretty much perfectly, but I might replace it with a Dell, since they make a 15" with a tenkeyless keyboard now.

I am astonished they're still considered high quality work horses. We all predicted that quality would immediately nosedive and never recover.

That has indeed happened with every other model family except the ThinkPads. I think the Carbon series is close to Thinkpads with some Apple "soldered everything" type limitations.
posted by rhizome at 5:37 PM on August 31, 2019

I have an old T56 upstairs. Painfully slow, and it lived on the woodshop side of a makerspace, so I had to empty out lots of wood dust. It's slower than a Raspberry Pi. I bought it, and its predecessor, from, now in Markham. They have lots of Thinkpads.

If you want a Thinkpad but can't afford one, the HP EliteBook Folio (I have the 9480m) range is a pretty close runner. Most importantly, it has a Trackpoint!

Also, I just got a Lenovo Trackpoint mouse! I had one of the old IBM ones from 2001, but its drivers no longer worked so I retired it years ago. I was in a surplus store and saw a Trackpoint mouse with Lenovo on it, so snapped it up. Works fine, X-Y prackpoint scrolling with no drivers.
posted by scruss at 6:37 PM on August 31, 2019

invokeuse, I think a ThinkPad Helix should be able to do what you have in mind. :) Mine comes with a webcam, and it's above the screen when oriented sideways for placement on the keyboard. It also has a second camera at the back, near the earphone jack. I personally don't use them, but they are there.

For use of the stylus, I have used the Helix for art. But out of the box, the Helix doesn't have pressure sensitivity -- unless Windows 10 changed this. I'm pretty sure the screen is multi-touch so in the event the stylus goes missing, there is that. (I disabled touchscreen functionality so I could use it the way I used the X201 I had, which was the tablet version.)

Speaking of styluses, I just found a forum post that mentioned that any Wacom 'Penabled' pen will work, and I can attest that my old ThinkPad digitizer pen can interact with the screen.

I've never had the attachable keyboard that can allow it to fold like a laptop -- but I do have the one that props it up at an angle. I have also used Bluetooth keyboards and USB keyboards with it. Though I'll note that it only has a single USB slot -- putting it on the keyboard would add a second slot.

I haven't mentioned anything about how well programs may run on it, etc, because I haven't personally seen a Helix with Windows 10. I want to say it should be able to handle something like (for example) PowerPoint. When the Helix originally came out, it was advertised as a machine that could easily transition between tablet and laptop, or be a mix of the two, if I'm not mis-remembering, and ... I guess it's more powerful than a tablet (which is harder and harder to say these days), but it does choke when asking it to do more calculation(?)-heavy stuff.

So I tend to run lighter programs for the most part, but it can run the heavier stuff when you need it to. It just won't run nearly as smoothly. (Like Paint versus something like Krita.) It can handle broadcasting what's on screen over the internet. But the OS and drivers can make a difference, so I'm unwilling to say for sure.

I hope you find something that suits your purposes. :)
posted by redrawturtle at 8:12 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Er, I forgot: the thing I most appreciate about it is the lack of a fan. Because of that, I may have a hard time going back to a laptop with one. In some respects, it's nice to have a computer that can do heavier stuff when I need it do without a fan starting up to cool it.

It's been ages since I fussed around with hard disk partitions, including in VMs.

Also, I wrote this above, and I'm starting to think it may have been a brain hiccough. There's no practical use for partitioning disks in a VM ... or ... is there?
posted by redrawturtle at 8:33 PM on August 31, 2019

There's no practical use for partitioning disks in a VM ... or ... is there?

Generally no, because the storage for the VM should be your regular, outside filesystem. You aren't going to have to worry about anything else unless you need to be able to fire up a specific VM you have used (with saved state), vs firing up a fresh one and simply having everything available in the right place already. Fire up, blow away, fire up, blow away. It'll take some time to tailor your VM, but once it's done you are golden.
posted by rhizome at 2:58 PM on September 1, 2019

I bought a refurbished T430 a year and a half ago. I haven't had the time or money to figure out what exactly's wrong with the hard drive (I think it's the SATA cable/connector or something with the motherboard because replacing the original HDD with a SSD didn't fix anything) so I've been using it as a Cloudready machine for the last couple of months.

It's my only personal machine because my old desktop is basically obsolete. I love it! The little nightlight is super handy and I like all the conveniences like it still having a CD/DVD drive, the little red mouse button in the middle, etc. I really like writing on this keyboard too.
posted by Freeze Peach at 9:25 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I broke the hinge on my X61t and bought a replacement, but having taken the time to replace it yet. Both the keyboard and digitizer on that model are incredible. It also has touch capability, which was damned novel at the time.

I had picked up an x230t but the digitizer is horrible, comparatively (the edges of the screen stop registering, unless you severely angle the stylus towards the center of the screen.)

The keyboard on the x230t isn't as fantastic as the x61t but it's not bad at all. The fans rev up quickly and loudly, and considering how hot it gets I probably should take it apart and reseat the CPU cooler.

I just picked up CaptureOne for photo tethering, and while the screen is small and battery at half capacity, I don't want to upgrade. (I didn't want to upgrade from the x61t either, but Civ4 was very chunky running on it.)
posted by Busithoth at 11:56 AM on September 3, 2019

I just picked up a refurb X230t from a local place and I can't wait to try it out! I like not having to worry about charging or changing batteries in the pen, and I love that the keyboard feels like a proper keyboard. I never did get used to chiclet style despite using one for two years.

Anyway, I can't wait to look super un-hip in the local coffee shop.

redrawturtle, thanks so much for your thoughts on the Helix - when I looked more closely at the refurb ones I saw online they didn't come with pens, and I didn't want to be fussed trying to figure out exactly which Wacom pen would be compatible. I'm still intrigued by the idea of a Lenovo tablet so maybe if the right one comes around...!
posted by invokeuse at 3:26 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

My partner tasked me with picking a laptop for her assistant. No pressure, guys, but I followed your advice and am about to take delivery of a T440 i7 256G SSD 12M RAM hot rod of a refurb.

So, thanks (or damn you) in advance.
posted by whuppy at 12:55 PM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's a bit older (but that just gives it more cred) but that's still a very nice machine if a little heavier.

Match that up with a really nice mouse (for example, the Logitech MX Master 3, coming out in a month or so - damn, I just bought a 2S less than a month ago to replace a decade+ old Logitech flagship mouse that finally failed*) and you've got yourself a workstation.

If you have an IT person/ dept., might be worthwhile getting any bloat (native to the install, potentially added after a refurb) off that thing. Think of it as a "tune-up" and a shakedown. If McAfee is on it, kill that with prejudice.

* anyone else love high-end/ flagship Logitech stuff?
posted by porpoise at 5:53 PM on September 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's a "thanks!"

I'll be (jealously) handing off a clean, shovelware-free and shit-hot Win 10 Pro install to the assistant, and then looking for a similar deal for my own self.
posted by whuppy at 10:56 AM on September 10, 2019

After fighting to get SparkyLinux installed on a T42* for what feels like forever I did some Linux/ThinkPad-specific googling and got an older version of Xubuntu humming along nicely on a T40, though it would obviously benefit from upgrading the RAM. Perhaps this is better suited for the Green, but anyone have recommendations for reputable Canadian, or dare I hope, Manitoban suppliers?

*The Xubuntu installer keeps crashing on the T42, probably due to a hard drive problem, which would explain why I kept hitting my head against the wall with the SparkyLinux.

(Now I just have to figure out why the Presario M2000 I installed antiX on and then promptly forgot the passwords for won't boot from disc first... or maybe I should just throw that in a ditch.)
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:16 AM on September 11, 2019

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