This is my favourite computer. Did I mention this before?
It’s a 2010 Lenovo ThinkPad X201. Somewhen back in late 2015, just before my last Christmas in the parish, I’d been playing with Linux on one of my laptops. Well, the only laptop that was running Linux at the time… Somehow or other I was surfing the Web looking for Linux laptops, and came across the website of Ministry of Freedom who sell GNU + Linux + Libreboot laptops. Libreboot , it turns out, represents the ultimate in freedom for those computer users who believe even FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) isn’t free enough. Most computers have non-free proprietary bootware, which can be exploited by developers to do all kinds of nasty things to your computer, which lovers of true freedom do not want. “By contrast, libreboot is fully free software, where anyone can contribute or inspect its code.” Ministry of Freedom sell refurbished ThinkPads which have this proprietary bootware replaced by Libreboot. Well and good – but the price of that replacement brings the price up beyond what I was willing to pay at the time. Instead, I started looking for non-Libreboot refurbished ThinkPads on eBay and elsewhere. There are lots of them, because many of them have been commercially owned office machines which get replaced every couple of years, flooding the market with old models. I found one being offered for around £100, which seemed about right for a machine I just wanted to play around with, trying out different varieties of Linux.
Lots of people love the older ThinkPad models. They’re robust, chunky, hard-wearing, able to take a lot of punishment. Best of all, for me, was the solid keyboard. I’ve had this machine for nearly three years now, and while I also love my Chromebook, and sometimes even use my flashy Windows 10 laptop, it’s the ThinkPad I love best.
I’ve tried various flavours of Linux on it: Mint, Ubuntu, Linux Lite, Manjaro (currently). Sometimes it feels a bit sluggish, as if I’m trying to overload the system, so in this December’s fit of computer folly I decided to venture a hardware upgrade. I’ve meddled with hardware some over the years: built a desktop computer once, upgraded the RAM on a Mac. That doesn’t stop me being nervous about it, but I thought I’d have a go. So I ordered the parts to upgrade the RAM from 4Gb to 8Gb, and a SSD (Solid State Drive) to replace the existing hard drive. These are supposed to be the two upgrades which will yield the greatest improvement to any older machine.
And here we are, ready to go.
I couldn’t believe how simple and straightforward the upgrade was. These old ThinkPads have a kind of modular construction where almost all the bits you might want to replace can be easily accessed by removing just one or two screws, and the panels they hold in place. The RAM chips went in as easy as pie. The old hard disk came out as easily, but there was a slight hitch with the replacement: first time around, the connection wasn’t spot on so that when I tried to reinstall the OS, it didn’t recognise the disk and claimed there wasn’t enough disk space. Shut down, remove battery, remove SSD – oh yes, I’d fitted the rubber spacers upside down. Once that was corrected, everything slotted correctly into place.
Does it run that much better, or faster, than before? Probably… I guess I’ll find out more as I try to do more with it. But feel the satisfaction! of having done something practical and electronic. It’s price is above rubies. But fortunately didn’t cost as much as a ruby.