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Have I Finally Found What I’m Looking For?

Back in January, I publicly lamented what I regarded as the sorry state of laptop computing. In a continuation of a running theme, I pondered the lack of true premium notebooks; hardware that commanded a premium price in return for premium features.

More specifically, I took aim at the gang over at Lenovo, saying:

What of Lenovo, you ask? As a long time Thinkpad customer, are they not in the mix? Well, unfortunately, my would-be first choice seems to be doing its best to lose that distinction. While enormously appreciative of the vendor’s candor and transparency, I find the explanation for the lack of higher quality displays unconvincing in light of their availability within competitive products (as do many of the commenters). Likewise for the reasoning behind not including an SSD option. Indeed, on the latter note, it was interesting to learn today that SSDs will, in fact, be an option on the forthcoming IdeaPad U110 machine.

In short, while it’s not fair to say that the Thinkpad engineers have been resting on their laurels, the fact is that the X series machines that fit my needs best are currently outclassed by competitive products such as the M1330. The Thinkpads are undoubtedly tougher and more durable, but the fact that the display has not improved significantly since (reportedly) 2000 is discouraging.

One imagines that everyone privy to this development process was hard pressed to bite their tongue and contradict my assertions. Because the X300, while flawed, is as Walt Mossberg put it, a notable engineering accomplishment.

As is the MacBook Air, I should hasten to note before the Apple people succumb to rageahol. But that machine makes a few too many compromises for me to seriously consider, in spite of the fact that it bests the X300 in processor benchmarks. Notably, the lack of on board WWAN access, the single USB port, and so on.

But how does the X300 fare? Have I finally found what I’m looking for? Let’s review the requests I made back in January to see. Today’s comments are in italics.

Battery Life

The importance of battery life is almost entirely dependent on the typical usage scenario. If your primary employment of the machine will be in an office context, or home usage with occasional visits to the coffee shop, it’s probably not much of an issue for you today. Unfortunately, that’s not me. I’m looking for a minimum of six hours in my next machine, and ideally > eight.

While the gang over at NotebookReview.com doesn’t have detailed battery life results available as yet, it’s probably safe to say that in standard configurations the X300 won’t meet this requirement. Even with the larger battery and a second added, it’s still projected to deliver five or six hours rather than the eight plus I was looking for. Still, 5+ is probably doable.

Compatibility

Apple users laugh at me when I consider this, but the fact is that Linux is the best choice for me as a desktop operating system at the current time for reasons personal (I can bend it to the way I want to work) and professional (the majority of applications I test and evaluate run on the platform), so this is a concern. Right now, Intel is running away with the title of most-Linux friendly hardware vendor, so that’s option A. Above all, no Atheros wireless chipsets; the flaky madwifi drivers are maddening.

Good news on this front: the internals are Intel. Both the Intel 4965AGN wifi module and the Intel X3100 graphics both look to be supported under Linux.

Connectivity

Wifi, obviously. Bluetooth is another must, given my current device portfolio. Ideally, on board Cingular WWAN as well, but I already have a card so that’s not a deal breaker for me.

And the good news keeps coming: the X300 will support pretty much every communications option known to mankind. Bluetooth, wifi, WWAN (HSDPA or EVDO), even WiMax. You really can’t ask for more.

GPS

Absolutely not a must have, but a machine that provided integrated GPS – such as the Asus U3 offers – would be interesting. Very interesting.

Perhaps more impressive than the array of communications options is the availability of GPS. While applications aren’t particularly adept yet at leveraging positioning data – this is a good future proofing option.

Graphics

Don’t need discrete, I’m not a gamer. The integrated graphics on my 3 year old X40 are good enough to run Compiz with all of the fixins, so something newer would be unlikely to negatively impact me.

Check.

Hard Drive

A Solid State Drive, 64 GB minimum. I’m living off of 40 now, and am always pressed for space. This component being easily upgradable – unlike the display – I can live without an SSD for now if need be, but I’d prefer not to. Lighter weight, lower power, faster read times, no moving parts, silent operation: it’s a killer proposition for any frequent traveler.

It’s like they read my blog when they designed it: the X300 ships standard with a 64GB SSD. I agree with the many commenters who believe that Lenovo would sell more of the machines had they included a non-SSD option, but it meets my requirements perfectly.

Memory

More memory, more better. The cardinal rule of desktop computing. 2 GB minimum, hopefully expandable to 4.

2 GB, 4 GB maximum. Didn’t I tell you they were reading this?

Mouse

Alex assures me that Apple touchpad users never complain about the technology, as do the majority of Windows users forced to endure them. Myself included; I never really recovered from the hypersensitive touchpads of the old Dell’s and Gateways I used to use – and cover up with a business card. I went Thinkpads about 7 years ago and haven’t looked back from the Trackpoint since. While it’s possible that I could adapt to a touchpad, I’d prefer not to have to.

It does include a touchpad, which is bad, but it includes the trackpoint, which is good.

Multimedia (Camera, Speakers, etc)

Don’t particularly care. The majority of listening I do is over quality headphones anyway, so the speakers are not terribly important, and the camera is a nice to have but not sufficiently critical to impact my decision.

The camera is an option, and the speakers are reported to be better than expected. Gravy.

Optical Drive

Not only do I not need one, as I have an external DVD driver/burner I can attach for the initial Ubuntu install, I don’t want one. With just about everything I need want available over a network or on flash media, the only thing I’d use it for would be watching DVDs, and we all know that there are alternatives to lugging the discs and the disc drives around. So why incorporate something used so infrequently? Exactly.

By default, the drive is included as nearly as I can determine. But it apparently is possible to configure one with a second battery instead of the DVD drive. Which I would do immediately.

Ports

I know there are many who scream for next generation output options like HDMI, and I suppose it would be interesting to hook my laptop up to my LCD TV, but I use them infrequently enough for this to be a non-issue for me.

Good thing I didn’t care about this, as the video out port looks to be VGA. It also includes 3 USB ports.

Processor

Given my preference for the ultralight form factor, I can’t expect the world in this department. Given that I’m often running VMWare, a browser with 30 tabs, Songbird, a text editor, and Apache/MySQL simultaneously, however, I need a few horses under the hood. Let’s say dual core, and north of 2Ghz. One of those new Penryn chips would do nicely, I think.

The main obstacle to a purchase. The X300 uses an Intel Ultra Low Voltage chip which runs at the same clock speed – 1.2Ghz – as my current two-generations-old X40, though it does feature a second core. While it’s true that chip speed is among the least of my concerns from a purchasing perspective, as I have a dual Opteron workstation to do the heavy lifting, I’m not positive that I want to rely long term on a machine – even a dual-core machine – that is limited to 1.2 Ghz.

Screen

LED backlighting is clearly the future for screen technologies. Brighter displays, lower power consumption, and thinner screens. What’s not to like? Minimum resolution would be 1280 x whatever. The 1024×768 I’ve had on three different successive X series models is no longer sufficient for my purposes.

This is the most astounding accomplishment, as far as I’m concerned. Not only does the X300 feature an 13.3″ LED backlist screen as requested, it actually bests the MacBook Air in that category (1440×900 vs 1280 x 800). When was the last time that a Thinkpad had a better screen than an Apple. I mean, has that happened before? Ever?

Size

Depending on the reviews, I might be persuaded to go smaller than my current 12.1″ configuration – perhaps to an 11″ model similar to the new Lenovo IdeaPad pictured – but it’s more likely that I go bigger. Specifically, to 13″. This is due in part to the viability of my iPhone as a computing platform, but also ongoing weight reductions mean that the 13″ models are comparable in heft to 12″ models such as my X40. Besides the screen size, like everyone else I want the smallest package practically achievable.

No need to compromise; 13.3 it is.

Weight

I’m less sensitive to this than are some that I’ve spoken with. Particularly when the extra weight results in a studier, more survivable machine as has been the case with Thinkpads historically. Or for larger, more capacious batteries. Let’s say a cap of four and a quarter pounds.

Even with the larger battery configurations I’d favor, it should make this weight fairly easily. Which is excellent.

So?

The X300 is the closest I’ve seen anyone come to my particular vision for a premium laptop. The main thing holding me back at this point is the ULV chip selected; I’d prefer it to be a 1.6 or 1.8 minimum as is available on the MacBook Air.

All that said, it remains true that chipspeed is ultimately not of great importance to me. If I can find a way to bridge myself until the machine is revved in August I may do that, but if I can’t it’s likely that I’ll acquire one in the interim. Even if I have to sell an organ or two to finance it.

Categories: Laptops.

Tags: , , , ,

  • Ross Burton

    “It does include a touchpad, which is bad, but it includes the trackpoint, which is good.”

    Also the trackpad doesn’t have a bevel, so as long as it can be disabled in the BIOS then you’ll never know it was there.

  • http://www.redmonk.com/jgovernor james governor

    can i play too?

  • http://www.thinkweird.info/228/why-sourceforgenet- thinkweird

    For me, HP Pavilion series is the best multimedia laptop, and I occasionally connects it to TV to watch movies.

    There is no such thing as a perfect laptop, and if you are so involved in the work you do, you soon forget the machine itself.