Written by Barry Warsaw in technology on Wed 02 December 2009.
I really need a new laptop. While I love my 3.5 year old Mac Book Pro, it's by now showing its age and the abuse I've given it. It runs Fusion to give me an Ubuntu desktop, but because the disk is almost full I have to run that from a USB drive, so it's slow. I know I can upgrade the disk, but the machine is a Core Duo only, so that probably wouldn't help much. I also have an old IBM Thinkpad X40 which has an excellent form factor, but a small screen, and the motherboard power jack has an annoying habit of screaming at a high pitch when plugged in, so it lives in its dock, making it heavier and much less portable. And this thing is really slow.
What to do? Well, I've been looking around and with Cyber Monday (do you hate that marketing term as much as I do?) I knew there'd be some great deals around. One of the best, which if you're reading this the same day I post it, is on Lenovo computers (formerly IBM), including steep 35% discounts on Thinkpads. I know, I should get one of those!
I looked at the x200s and the x301, the former being closest to the X40 form factor, but with a WXGA+ 1400x900 screen (yay!), no trackpad (boo), and no built-in webcam (boo). The latter has the same WXGA+ screen (yay), a trackpad (yay), a built-in webcam (yay) and default solid state drive (yay). It's still under 3lbs (yay) and only .5lbs heavier than the x200s in its stock configuration. But it's about $800 more before you start customizing it. Still the discounts really bring both computers into the realm of possibility, especially for a work computer that I'll be using constantly.
I came this close to pulling the trigger, but ultimately decided not to. Why? Because the Thinkpads just don't feel right under my hands. I use a Microsoft Natural Keyboard on my desktop because I can type for hours with no pain. It's about the only Microsoft product that I can highly recommend. I think it's literally saved my career. There's no straight keyboard in the world that I can use for more than 5 minutes without feeling pain... except the keyboard on my Mac Book Pro. For some reason, that keyboard is also very comfortable and pain free.
What's not comfortable and pain free is the keyboard on my X40. So before I pulled the trigger on the Lenovo, I sat down and used the X40 for my most common tasks: reading email and coding. Within about 5 minutes I remembered why I've given this machine to Max (my son, who is about as anti-Windows as I am, and loves his little Ubuntu machine). The thing just hurts to use. I'm certainly not going to spend over $1000 on a machine that hurts, even if the discounts are insanely good.
I've decided instead to save my pennies and get a new Mac Book Pro some time in the next 3 months or so. The design of the 15" MBP has changed pretty significantly since I bought mine in summer of 2006. They use an aluminum unibody now, a default glossy screen, and most importantly a completely different keyboard. I honestly don't know if it will have the same comfortable feel as my current MBP. (TBH, I don't know that the Thinkpad x200s will have the same painful feel as my x40, but I think it's a good bet. Their designs haven't changed that much since then.) The little I've played on a new MBP is encouraging though.
And one thing's for sure, the Mac hardware is just better. The aluminum bodies are solid and sturdy, and I think few laptops could have put up with the abuse I've given mine. I know my old little Dell (now donated as an Ubuntu machine to a friend) failed me after about a year. Yes, you pay for it upfront, but they are reliable workhorses, so IMO well worth the money. Coming up with the money is a different matter.
Of course, Apple won't actually build the machine I want: a Mac Book Air with a 1400x900 matte screen. But the MBP, even with it's heavier weight, will have to do.
In any case, I know that the Thinkpad isn't right for me, so for now, I will choose not to decide.