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From a ThinkPad 570E to a X30

Those of you who read this article semi-regularly know that I have a lot of admiration and respect for IBM’s line of business ThinkPads, and especially my “companion” of over 2 years, the ThinkPad 570E. I’ve mentioned it several times in here, and even wrote a long rant on it once.

It was a good notebook computer. I’ve typed maybe 3,000,000 words (yes, million) on it – I was bored last week so I did the math up based on my typical content writing for a week – including usenet, email, articles online, word documents, office notes, etc, and I figure I’ve written on average about 25,000 words a week. Add that up and it’s over 3 million over 2.5 years. That’s a lot of writing, but the ThinkPad 5.7 came through as a champ. The only thing I’ve had to maintain on it was the trackpoint nib, which I’ve replaced five times (it wears out).

Well, I had the screen serviced too, and replaced the hard drive (with a 20 gig, started with a 6 gig), but the keys remained as crisp and tactile as a new ThinkPad, and the case, which has travelled maybe 25,000 miles with me in its lifetime, was still in amazing shape. All through all my upgrades, hard hammering on the keys, Operating System installs, etc, etc, the ThinkPad came through like a champ. That 570E made me a ThinkPad customer for life.

But, as is the nature of Moore’s Law, 2.5 years is an eternity in the high tech biz. It was a PIII, but a 450Mhz, and with 192mb of system battery, no firewire, no usb 2.0, and external WiFi, it was starting to choke a bit on two of my high-processor apps – Photoshop 7, and video editing via Adobe Premiere. I had to upgrade.

I researched the market for some time. I had some priorities:

  1. Only an ultralight (sub 4 lbs) would do
  2. Had to have FireWire
  3. Had to be over 1 Ghz of processor speed
  4. Had to have at least 3 hours of battery life with the installed battery
  5. Had to have a 13.3″ screen (what my 570E had)
  6. Had to have TrackPoint (I hate touch pads)
  7. Had to have an outstanding warranty (3 years, replacement or fix within a week)
  8. Had to have USB 2.0
  9. Had to have WiFi and BlueTooth built in
  10. Had to have a keyboard on par with the industry’s best – the ThinkPad keyboards.
  11. Had to be able to take up to a gig of memory
  12. Wanted a fast video processor.

I couldn’t find a notebook that met all these criteria. The hardest one was the 13.3 screen. One or two Japanese market ultralights had a screen that big, but I gave up too much else (warranty work, touchpad, not fast enough cpu, and other restrictions.

I seriously considered the Toshiba Portege 2000, with it’s 2.6lb weight, 12.1″ screen, but again, battery life, hard drive space, memory, and cpu were a drawback.

I basically wanted an IBM. So for about 5 months, I waited for IBM to bring out a successor to their X24 ultralight. I was hoping they’d get back to the 13.3 screen (the X series had a 12.1 screen). I also didn’t get Firewire or USB 2.0 on the X24, and the video processor was a shared resource, on-board chip, not anything exotic like a Mobility Radeon from ATI or similar.

In September, IBM announced the X24’s successor – the X30. I got some of the things I wanted: Firewire. 1.2 Ghz Pentium III. 3.6 lbs weight. Can take up to a gig of memory. 4 hours (claimed) battery life. But some things were missing: bare-bones video (though you can set the shared memory to 48mb, which leeches off the system memory); 12.1″ screen (still); no USB 2.0. 1 inch thick top to bottom, 11 inches wide, 9 inches deep, Titanium shell.

It took me a couple of months to decide, mainly because giving up my 570E was actually damned hard – that notebook and me have seen a lot together – I didn’t think I would get so attached to a computer, but I did. But in mid November, I made the call, made the decision, and ordered an X30. I also sold my 570 (Chuck at bought it – treat it well Chuck!) along with all its accessories. I thought I would get my ThinkPad within a few days, but nope – my “custom order” made it a 2 week process – it should arrive next Monday or Tuesday.

Here’s what I got:

  • X30 PIII 1.2ghz, 512mb ram (one slot, one’s free), WiFi, Bluetooth built in. Other features: compact flash reader built in (sweeeet!), Firewire, Thinklight, modem (who uses that anymore?), 2 USB 1.2 ports, Win XP Pro
  • X3 Ultrabay with a DVD rom / CDRW combo drive
  • Two batteries: an ultrabay battery, and a “slice” battery that fits to the bottom of 1 inch thick Thinkpad itself, adding 1.5 lbs to the weight but giving me 9 hours of battery life.
  • USB 2.0 PCMCIA card
  • Car charger

What I liked about the ordering process was this – if you call in the order, they treat you like a King on the phone, and you get unadvertised discounts on the price – the list on my ThinkPad (without extra memory or other purchases) was $4,099 Cdn dollars. I got it for $3,499 because of the other stuff I bought. I also got discounts on the X3 slice ($209 instead of $289), the CDR/DVD drive ($389 instead of $509), and on the batteries as well. Still, the final purchase price (bought, not leased) was $4900 including taxes. Yikes. I don’t think I’ve ever paid as much for a computer before. Thank the stars we have a healthy line of credit at the bank – I’ll be paying this off for a year or longer. But at least the interest rate is a reasonable 9.2% (not like the 24% leasing rates you typically get).

I guess I see why I was treated like a King 🙂 But you know what? You pay a premium for IBM ThinkPads, but you get premium service, before, during, and after the sale. IBM releases drivers constantly for their notebooks as new technology arrives – I know – the day XP came out, they had a bunch of driver updates online for my 570E to keep it smooth… all for a product they haven’t sold for over a year. Service? I’ve been through IBM service, and it is unsurpassed. And Global – take that Sony with their “uh, sir, what country did you buy this in? Get it serviced there”. I needed a trackpoint nib in Anaheim in May – I called IBM on a Friday, and Monday morning a courier had a package of 3 for me at the hotel lobby. No charge. I just called them to find a store I could go to in Anaheim to buy nibs!

Boy, Monday isn’t coming soon enough… (btw, I’ve typed all of this on an iBook – a cool looking computer, but not the workhorse a ThinkPad is).



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