The $300 ultraportable experiment

Unless you’ve locked yourself into the Apple ecosystem and thrown away the key, laptop shopping can be a daunting prospect. A dizzying array of options cater to almost every possible niche: ultrabooks, netbooks, thin-and-lights, desktop replacements, ultraportables, convertibles, lions, tigers, and bears—need I go on? Within each category, countless models from numerous brands are on the prowl, stalking your wallet with various feature and levels of quality.

I recently embarked on a mission to snare a 12" or smaller traveling companion. My freshly penguinized 15" HP laptop isn’t exactly tray table friendly, and the geeky voices inside my head were crying out for something with a little extra horsepower. Beyond this, my humble list of demands included a decent keyboard, 128GB (or so) of SSD goodness, matte body panels, and reasonable battery life. To make things interesting, I decided to see if those demands could be met with a budget of only $300.

After searching extensively, I found that brand-new machines in the $300 ballpark weren’t exactly bending over backwards to satisfy my needs. Nearly all of the contenders at this price point are outfitted with anemic Atom processors and enough glossy parts to make a Zamboni blush. SSD? Dream on. Decent keyboard? You might as well draw some letters and numbers on a soggy loaf of bread. What’s a discerning laptop shopper on a budget to do?

Disappointed, but hardly surprised, I ripped a page from the car buyer’s handbook and tried my luck at the used lots instead. Because good laptop keyboards are notoriously hard to come by, I started my search with the Lenovo X Series. First stop: the ThinkPad X200. Several units were available near the upper limits of my price range. However, there would be no room in the budget for upgrades, and I’d be saddled with a used battery and a mechanical hard drive. I kept looking.

Dropping back a generation to the X61 gave me cheaper options, but they were still too expensive to accommodate my planned SSD upgrade. I trudged on, dipping my sifting pan into the eBay river until I finally struck gold: $87 shipped for an X60 devoid of its hard drive, battery, and power adapter. I placed my bid and bit my nails as the auction clock ticked down. Three days later, a laptop-sized parcel was waiting on my doorstep. The foundation had been laid.

A ThinkPad X60 with a 12.1" 1024×768 display, 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo processor, and 1GB of DDR2-667 RAM is quite a bit of kit for 87% of a Benjamin. The CPU easily outpaces the similarly clocked Pentium M chip in my HP laptop, and it can obliterate any Atom-based pretender. The crowning jewel has to be the keyboard, though. Some would argue that Lenovo itself doesn’t make keyboards this good anymore. The shell I received obviously spent much of its life in a docking station, and as a result, its keyboard and chassis are nearly pristine.

As luck would have it, my parts closet already housed another 1GB stick of 667MHz DDR2, which slotted into the ThinkPad without fuss. The necessary 20V power adapter was also on hand, courtesy of my electronics hoarding tendencies. I would only have to hunt down a battery, an SSD, and an operating system.

Battery shopping presented me with a conundrum. Purchasing an official Lenovo battery would seriously eat into my remaining budget. Alternatively, I could gamble on a cheaper, aftermarket model. I’ve used one of those in my HP laptop without issue for over a year and a half, but I’ve also had an aftermarket battery die after only a week. Those are 50/50 odds. In the end, I put down $25 for an aftermarket X60 battery. After two weeks of use, the battery is holding up well and offers between three and five hours of run time depending on what I’m doing—usually long enough to hold me over between outlets.

At this point in the game, I had spent only $112 out of pocket. The extra RAM and power adapter would have added another $30 to the total, leaving $158 in the budget. Armed with this knowledge, I impatiently headed over to the local Micro Center to seek out an SSD. Reasonably priced options in the 64GB range were plentiful, but I came to go big or go home. After enlisting the aid of a friendly sales associate, I eventually I found my 120GB contenders: an OCZ Vertex Plus and a SanDisk Ultra SSD.

Neither offering was familiar to me. Because the X60 sports a first generation SATA link with only 150MB/s of bandwidth, either SSD would be fast enough to saturate the interface. In need of a higher power to guide my decision, I busted out my trusty Galaxy S and fired up its Newegg app. Customer reviews would determine which drive got to ride shotgun on the way home. The verdict was swift and decisive. The SandForce 1222-based SanDisk drive beat its Indilinx-powered competitor to a scrambled pulp, five eggs to three. With the SSD in hand, I grabbed my customary bottle of Bawls from the beverage cooler and handed over $162 to the girl behind the front counter.

My new mini-laptop was nearly ready to take on the world. All it needed was an operating system to make sense of things. Having exhausted my budget, my OS options were limited to Linux or an unused Windows XP license I had on hand. Despite the suggestive Windows XP sticker affixed to the bottom of the X60, I opted to roll with a fresh copy of Ubuntu 11.04. The decision to use Linux was mostly based on the lack of TRIM support in Windows XP. Most modern Linux distributions (running kernel 2.6.33 or greater) support TRIM in some fashion, with a simple modification to the fstab file.

To accommodate the handful of Windows applications I need to run, I dusted off my existing copy of Windows XP Pro and installed it on a virtual machine using VirtualBox. Although my ThinkPad now runs the software I need, even the cheapest new netbooks come with some version of Windows 7, which would have been my preferred OS if the budget allowed. I also would have preferred to avoid the pathetic Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics. While it’s enough to handle some basic Compiz interface effects, I’d be better off gaming on an Etch-a-Sketch. Fortunately, gaming is not what I bought this computer for.

Overall, I’ve been extremely happy with my ultraportable number cruncher. Despite its age, the X60’s Core 2 Duo will soundly thrash any modern netbook that gets in its way. As icing on the cake, the extra oomph provided by the SSD makes this system feel impossibly fast for something that cost only $300.

As I tickle the fantastic keys on my "new" machine, I’m convinced I’ve made the right choice. It may not be as sleek as an ultrabook or as small as a netbook, but this X60 has the size and performance to suit my needs. I set out to prove that $300 can buy a lot more portable computing than most people think, and I feel like I’ve succeeded. Taking the DIY mentality to notebooks probably isn’t for everyone, but there’s a lot of value to be found on the path less traveled.

Comments closed
    • tootercomputer
    • 8 years ago

    Great column. Two notable points: (a) Core2Duos continue to be amazing chips (I had always built AMD systems until the C2Ds came out, they were so very good) for day-to-day use, office use and such; a hard drive upgrade, especially now with the more affordable SSDs, can transform a system. I may have to update my C2D laptop with an SSD.

    • tanker27
    • 8 years ago

    You know…..I think I may have an x60 shoved away in my closet somewhere.

    Hmmmmmmmmmmm

      • yuriylsh
      • 8 years ago

      I can grab it from you for $87 🙂

      If somebody has x61, I am willing to take it from you for $100 🙂

    • tcunning1
    • 8 years ago

    Thanks for the great article–I’m inspired to embark on a similar project for myself.

    • vvas
    • 8 years ago

    Great article! Reminds me that I need to upgrade, as my X40 is starting to really feel outdated / give up the ghost. Oh well, I’ve had it for four years now (and I got it used at the time), so I can’t complain.

    I have a slightly bigger budget than David (and I wouldn’t buy another 1024×768 machine), so these days I’d either buy a used X200 or new X121e. But I’m not in any hurry, so I think I’ll wait for the Ivy Bridge models to come out. And then who knows, if they’re tempting enough I might even go for a new one.

    The good thing is that I don’t need to worry about the additional cost of an SSD, as I happen to have an X25-E 32GB (!) sitting on my shelf, which will go into whichever laptop I buy next. It’s blazing fast (since it’s SLC), and 32GB is more than enough for me for a laptop serving as a second computer.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 8 years ago

    I went the used laptop for this round to replace my EeePC 1000HA. I managed to find a year old perfect condition Thinkpad x220 with 8GB,Core i7 & 500GB HDD with a extra battery. The guy was ex-Apple who decided to go back to using a Macbook so the laptop was in perfect condition. The best part it was only $600. I just bought a x120e not too long ago and was perfectly happy with it. However that x220 at that price could not be passed up.

    Anyhow seems like you got a great deal. How is the performance of that Sandisk SSD?

      • David_Morgan
      • 8 years ago

      Performance seems good so far. It is definitely held back by the SATA-150 interface though. Using the built in benchmark in the Disk Utility app, I get an average read speed of 135MB/s which is about what you’d expect after accounting for interface overhead.

      Sandisk claims their drive is just as fast as most other Sandforce 12xx SSDs out there (280MB/s read & 270MB/s Write)

    • halbhh2
    • 8 years ago

    Your little article hit all my double and triple score markers. You’ve set a new high score for bang for the buck.

    • quincunx
    • 8 years ago

    I had a Lenovo x120e for a few months (until I had to sell it for moving costs), as far as keyboards go I thought it fantastic! It’s the now standard chicklet style and felt not only solid but easy for extended writing or chat sessions.

    It’s AMD Fusion dual core 1.6GHz processor and 4GB of memory matched with Windows 7 Pro 64bit and (unfortunately, though still better than most) a 500GB 7200RPM HDD, made for quite the snappy little companion. 11.6″ screen that handles 720, a battery worth about 5-6 hours of life, built in bluetooth and decent on-board graphics in that E-350 Fusion chip. All of that for about $460 shipped, now available for under $440:
    [url<]http://www.abesofmaine.com/item.do?item=LEN05962RU&id=LEN05962RU&&kbid=x120e[/url<] I think Lenovo has some neat, quality offerings and includes some bonuses that you couldn't think of getting in similarly priced netbooks. (Bluetooth, 64-bit OS, 7200RPM HDD, hell even 4GB of ram.)

      • Ethyriel
      • 8 years ago

      We have a few X120e at work, and while they’re not bad for what they are, what they are isn’t great. They’re probably the best netbooks out there, but they’re still netbooks at heart. I’m much happier with my X61s than I would be with them. I’d probably wait for Ivy Bridge and see if I could pick up a 1440×900 X200s for cheap. In fact, that’s probably what I’ll do, and pick up a T430s for work if I can get quad core.

    • yogibbear
    • 8 years ago

    My work lappy is a Thinkpad T400 and it is an awesome beast of a keyboard. I do wish my work gave me one of the X200 variants….. hopefully when we do our transition from Vista -> Windows 7 in Q1 2013 I will get an upgrade… but I can see that in a 20,000+ employee company replacing everyone’s laptop isn’t going to be high priority unless you’re a manager (which I’m not).

      • yogibbear
      • 8 years ago

      What was the negative 1 for? I’m on topic, not spouting nonsense…. this is MADNESS?!

    • colinstu
    • 8 years ago

    Love this article! Thinkpad x-series (and t series) of any generation are a pleasure to see, and with them off-lease from companies… makes these laptops very cheap on ebay.

    Throw in a new SSD and fresh battery… got a nice little laptop for not much, and you did exactly that (and will kick the trunks off of any cheap ultraportable of today)

    • Derfer
    • 8 years ago

    I’ve been pretty annoyed in my search for a small system. Upgrading is a must. I want to replace everything, but many netbook sized options have no access panel or one only for ram. Do they not realize this hurts sales?

    • My Johnson
    • 8 years ago

    That’s what I’ve been doing. I’m on my third laptop purchased for $100.00. Added a speedy HDD and RAM. For $100.00 you usually get Vista Home Premium 32bit and a battery included.

    • sschaem
    • 8 years ago

    My x60s has been on 24/7 since mid 2006 without problem.. until recently.
    The fan started to rattle and I can sense that 2012 might be the last year I will be able to use this laptop.
    I dread the time I have to upgrade. My only hope is that by the time haswell is out 4:3 makes a comeback…

    Having a x60s type laptop in half the weight and thickness (doesn’t need to slice melons) would be my definition of perfection.

      • ImSpartacus
      • 8 years ago

      Take a look at this once. If you already like the x60 design and have a charger and batteries, it might be a good idea to get two or three of these:

      [url<]http://www.ebay.com/itm/IBM-Thinkpad-X61-7762-54U-Intel-Core2-Duo-1-6GHZ-1GB-12-1-Tablet-NO-BATTERY-/230742370658?pt=Laptops_Nov05&hash=item35b9512962#ht_1695wt_1185[/url<] When one dies, you can just keep it for spare parts and move onto the next one.

      • crose
      • 8 years ago

      Just put in an SSD, upgrade RAM and clean your fan. Voila! It will last you until 2016.

    • ImSpartacus
    • 8 years ago

    I’ve been skimming ebay, and I found a $90 (+$15 shipped) X61 tablet in a similar state as the described x60 (no charger, battery, hdd, os). I’m always skittish to get anything used. This looks like a post-lease firesale. Is there anything that should make me leary about this offer?

    It just seems odd that Mr Morgan looked for a while and only found an x60. Yet I looked for two minutes and found an x61 tablet for almost the same price.

    [url<]http://www.ebay.com/itm/IBM-Thinkpad-X61-7762-54U-Intel-Core2-Duo-1-6GHZ-1GB-12-1-Tablet-NO-BATTERY-/230742370658?pt=Laptops_Nov05&hash=item35b9512962#ht_1695wt_1185[/url<]

      • David_Morgan
      • 8 years ago

      I think I actually looked at that very auction during my search. I didn’t end up buying that model because: price with shipping as-is was $105, I didn’t really want a tablet PC, the stylus is missing (not super cheap to replace), and the CPU is slower than that of the X60 I found.

    • ImSpartacus
    • 8 years ago

    Could we see some benchmarks? Specifically, I’d like to see stuff on the SSD and CPU.

    I’ve never seen any good look on how SSDs do when starved of bandwidth. I know sequentials would suffer, but would random read/writes be substantially neutered?

    And I’m not convinced that the CPU is better than, say, an E450. That 1.83GHz L7700 CPU might be a smidgen better on CPU heavy stuff, but there’s no way that GMA 950 can hold a candle to an E450’s HD6230.

    But if you’re satisfied, that’s all that matters. Good luck with your new laptop!

    • Dposcorp
    • 8 years ago

    Nice write up…..I have been preaching this to family and friends for years. Used quality laptops are better then new cheap ones, although I did buy me sister a new $200 Emachine laptop with 2 year warranty because at that price you cant go wrong, and she did need Windows 7.

    My bargain find a few months ago was a $300 Dell Latitude XT 12″ convertible tablet.
    Running it with windows 8, with touch and stylus working, and it is awesome for everything, except it needs a SSD.

    Hard to beat for $300, and that included the docking station.

    • willmore
    • 8 years ago

    My last laptop died unexpectedly–I was hoping it would make it to this coming May when IVB and Trinity come out so I could get decent gaming performance and lower power usage for a decent price. But, it just didn’t work out. I didn’t have much time to look around as I found that not having a laptop was too painful.

    What I eneded up with was a $300 craptop from Fry’s. It’s a Fujitsu LH531. The processor is a SB generation Pentium B940. That’s two 2.0GHz SB cores without HT. It came with 2GB (dumped and replaced with 8GB for $25 (AMIR)) and a 320GB HD. The built in ‘HD graphics’ aren’t as bad as I was expecting, but 1366×768 is pushing it at 14.1″. Other negatives are *OMG Glossy*. I’ve taken to leaving a microfiber cleaning cloth nearby so I can wipe it down from time to time. Why do they do this? Now that I’ve lived with it for a while, the last flaw has become very obvious–the sound is *terrible*. My little netbook has better audio than this. I don’t mean it sounds a little better, I mean you can barely hear it at max volume in a quiet room. You could crank it all the way up in the library and noone would complain. So, add on a $3 set of USB powered speakers and it’s tolerable, though a bit less lap friendly. 🙂

    • Compton
    • 8 years ago

    I tried this, or something very similar to it. I ended up buying a 14.1″ Dell D630 on the eBay for a pittance. It had the nVidia Quadro 135M not-GMA graphics, a 16:10 1440×900 display, 3 GB of DDR2. For $200, it was pretty much brand new. I already had the docking bay for it, but those are cheap as well. And I love the keyboard.

    When on those rare occasions I go down to the Best Buy, I get filled with horror at the laptop offerings these days. When someone builds a laptop for me, with the options I consider important, I’ll be happy to spend full kit on them again. Until then, I’m playing eBay roulette.

    I bought the 9 cell battery, threw in an SSD I had laying around (I have/had several of those just laying around, so it wasn’t an expense) and I was off to the races.

    It’s not that I’m against buying a new laptop… it’s just that I don’t like newer laptops as much. Screen quality is mostly abysmal, and if something breaks that I can’t fix on the D630 I can throw it in the gutter, then go buy another (on eBay).

    • Synchromesh
    • 8 years ago

    I used to fix Thinkpads and have been saying this for years: a used X-series machine is a way to go instead of some new underpowered netbook. Simply because the X-series were initially designed to a very different price point. These machines are reliable, sturdy, have a great set of features and are very portable to boot.

    I love the X60/61 series. The main reason to choose an X61 though is the idiotic 3GB of RAM limitation that the X60 has imposed by Intel and Lenovo. X61 can handle a full 4GB of RAM. On top of that Tablet versions can be picked up for fiddlesticks nowadays too, especially if they have minor issues.

    Imho, Thinkpads are the only way to go this side of Apple. Nothing else still compares even despite Lenovo’s attempts to cheapen everything up. My current machine is a T420s and it’s freakin’ awesome with very few minor gripes.

      • 5150
      • 8 years ago

      T420s = Incredibly terrible screen. I have one and it is trash. The rest of the laptop is nice, but it does overheat easily with the discrete GPU.

        • axeman
        • 8 years ago

        At least they don’t have glossy screens. Honestly, nice displays are hard to come by in laptops. If someone would only put a matte IPS display in a laptop….but then again, no one is probably making IPS panels that size anymore.

          • cegras
          • 8 years ago

          I believe my x220t is matte IPS.

            • Bauxite
            • 8 years ago

            I have one, it has a light bit of “gloss” reflectivity, but more of an anti fingerprint coating than anything…you won’t be shaving with it.

            The normal x220 IPS is dead on matte though.

            • cegras
            • 8 years ago

            I would definitely characterize my screen as matte. Diffuse, purpled coloured reflections are hallmarks of anti reflective coatings.

        • Synchromesh
        • 8 years ago

        My machine has an Intel card so I don’t have such issues but I do agree about the screen. It feels like engineering department designed the lower part while marketing designed the upper. Luckily I used it mostly on docking station as a server/htpc so again, screen isn’t that much of an issue.

      • ImSpartacus
      • 8 years ago

      Can you really blame them for trying to cheapen the brand? Apple catches hell from enthusiasts for its pricing.

      Since enthusiasts are the only breed that still respect the Thinkpad look, Lenovo has to beat Apple in pricing.

      If we were more accepting towards a nice $2000 machine, then I’m sure Lenovo would make one.

        • Synchromesh
        • 8 years ago

        Yes, you can blame them. Thinkpads aren’t that much cheaper than Apple. Mine was about $1200 which is 13″ MBP territory. If Apple wasn’t so stubborn and made the laptops with USB 3.0 it would’ve been a much closer race.

      • yuhong
      • 8 years ago

      To be more precise, the 3GB limit comes from the Intel 945 (and older) chipsets, which has only 32 address lines. This means this is only an advantage if you are planning on running a 64-bit OS, or an OS with proper PAE support.

    • axeman
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]Some would argue that Lenovo itself doesn't make keyboards this good anymore.[/quote<] More like everyone who actually uses them. Everything after the T61 era was downhill as far as build quality. I have a brand new T520 on my desk, and the keyboard flexes terribly. it's world's ahead of a Best Buy special, but it is not like the ThinkPads of yesteryear.

      • yuriylsh
      • 8 years ago

      Interesting, I’m using T420 and no keyboard flex at all.

      It is my first ThinkPad though, so I cannot compare it to previous models. But so far it is rock solid and sturdy.

        • OneArmedScissor
        • 8 years ago

        I have a T61 and a T500 right here, side by side. If you type hard, the T500 will flex noticeably, and if you type fast and watch it, it definitely wiggles a little. The T61 hardly budges if you type hard, and it doesn’t seem to move at all if you type fast.

        However, I don’t really notice a difference when I’m just typing and looking at the screen. The keys are equally as responsive and [i<]almost[/i<] the same feel. Part of that just seems to come down to what's inside the laptop, as the sound resonates completely differently on either model. I type just as fast and comfortably on either, so it's a moot point to me. I haven't tried a newer model, but if you have used other modern laptops, I'm sure something even a little worse off than the T500 would still be a god send. Just be happy they still even make them at all!

          • barich
          • 8 years ago

          I have a T61 and a W520, and the W520 is at least as well built as the T61. Actually, the palmrest on the T61 creaks, and the hinges are a little wobbly (both since I bought it new). The W520 has neither of those issues, and I can’t tell any difference in the keyboard. I can press down hard with a finger or two and there’s barely any flex on either of the laptops. If I can’t see a difference doing that, I can’t imagine how anybody would notice one while typing normally.

          • axeman
          • 8 years ago

          I agree, they are still quite good compared to other garbage out there, it’s just a little sad they haven’t held the line there.

        • axeman
        • 8 years ago

        That’s strange, the new 520s I’ve been using are pretty flexy. Perhaps the 14″ chassis is better.

      • LoneWolf15
      • 8 years ago

      I’ve so far used the following models.

      T60
      T61
      R500
      T400
      T420

      The T60’s keyboard was the best, and the T60 keyboard could fit on the T61 and the T400 (at one point, I moved a T60 keyboard to my T400). The T400 keyboard wasn’t great in its first iteration, but Lenovo improved it by introducing a Rev.2 with more reinforcements.

      The T420 is actually a decent keyboard. It’s not quite the T60, but it’s certainly better than any other Sandy Bridge laptop I’ve used, and I’ve used a number.

    • IronHalik
    • 8 years ago

    I can throw in my three cents. I bought a used Dell D430 (1.3ghz C2D ULV, 2 gig of ram, and the thing that won me over Thinkpads in the price range – 12.1, 1280×800 LCD screen.).
    Fitted it with new battery (3-4h on a charge), Intel’s wifi card (in place of the awful Broadcom one – Dell loves them for some odd reason), and a ghetto SSD drive – 32GB compact flash card via ZIF-CF adapter. The reason for this is that there’s only a 1.8 inch drive bay. It gives a solid 80 megs of read speed and 40 megs of writes which is somewhere around ten thousand times better then the stock 4200rpm drive.

    The overall cost was around $200 (I sold the stock drive for nearly as much as the CF card). It runs Arch Linux with Gnome 3. Won’t hold a lot of media, but with Linux, there’s enough space couple of seasons of your favorite series.

    Its a great solution for a backpack PC, especially with the built in GSM card. The only downside for me is the CPU could be a bit snappier (its still better then pretty much all Atoms) and the battery time would be great with another hour of two. There are some nice extended batteries (The laptop has its battery under the palm rest) but you loose the nice and slim form factor.

    Forgot to mention: Since I code quite a bit, I expect quite a lot from my keyboards – the Dell’s one is, IMHO, on par with Thinkpad ones, and miles ahead of any consumer-grade keyboards. (I tried some Ideapads and Asus ones enough to judge them).

      • axeman
      • 8 years ago

      I have a D420, awww yeah. Same thing, only with a Yonah dual core. I lucked out and it came with the Intel Wifi card. I’ve debated doing the same thing with a cheap SSD, nice to hear it is a good improvement as I expected. Those 1.8″ mechanical drives have abysmal performance. Too bad they have IDE interface drives as 1.8″ SSDs are not hard to come by. I run Xubuntu. I also did Lubuntu for a while as well – both are nicely light compared to Gnome, and are much less sluggish than Windows.

      The keyboard on these is quite good, but more recent Latitudes have gotten much worse than even the Lenovos. Battery life is bit disappointing with the 6cell, or the old 9cellI have (should have bought another 9 cell), but I would guess the C2D model squeezes a bit more out. I didn’t mind the bigger palm rest, it is quite handy, though it does make the unit more bulky.

      Overall, if it had a brighter screen, I’d be utterly in love with it.

        • IronHalik
        • 8 years ago

        True, the screen brightness is mediocre – I assumed it was my CCFLs being worn out but I guess its a more common thing.

          • axeman
          • 8 years ago

          Mine has probably an incredible amount of hours on it, so it is no doubt not affected by age. You can find a brand new screen on ebay for not too much, I was tempted to try it and see.

      • Kurotetsu
      • 8 years ago

      [quote=”IronHalik”<]The reason for this is that there's only a 1.8 inch drive bay.[/quote<] Theres quite a few 1.8-inch SSDs to choose from. A few them are actually affordable. [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&N=100008120+600038462&QksAutoSuggestion=&ShowDeactivatedMark=False&Configurator=&IsNodeId=1&Subcategory=636&description=&hisInDesc=&Ntk=&CFG=&SpeTabStoreType=&AdvancedSearch=1&srchInDesc=[/url<]

        • IronHalik
        • 8 years ago

        The D430 has ZIF connector (and IDE interface) instead of SATA. Its the same one as used in the first, full size iPod. There are some SSD drives with ZIF, but they’re charge premium for the older interface.

      • vvas
      • 8 years ago

      Haha, +1 for the “ghetto SSD drive”. I was in a similar situation with my ThinkPad X40: 1.8″ PATA, though different connector than your ZIF (IDE-style 40-pin, on the long side of the drive). I considered the DIY approach, but in the end a sum of money arrived out of the blue around that time and I decided to dump it to a 32GB RunCore Pro IV SSD (Indilinx-based):

      [url<]http://www.runcore.com/en/RC-SSDProductShow-65.html[/url<] It was double the cost/GB compared to 2.5" SATA SSDs at the time, but oh well. And yes, it's so much faster than the 4200rpm drive it replaced, good riddance.

      • irvinenomore
      • 8 years ago

      I sub in a 32GB SSD with Ubuntu 10.10 into my work D620 when I want to use it for my own coding projects etc. The only short-comings the thing has are battery life and screen brightness, other than that it’s perfect for day to day work.

    • Chrispy_
    • 8 years ago

    I have also just repurposed an ancient MSI megabook by re-using a 64GB SSD and buying a £30 third-party battery. This old single-core Turion64 is as snappy as any other machine I’m using. It only struggles when I’m multitasking, which (let’s face it) isn’t much when you’re limited to one 1280×800 display.

    I am convinced that mechanical disks are the bane of computing these days. They are no longer fit for Windows because Microsoft is incapable of writing an OS that isn’t heavy on unnecessary disk access.

    • faramir
    • 8 years ago

    Another plus side you forgot to mention: you got a proper 4 by 3 screen, not one of those crappy useless 16 : 9 screens they put in notebooks nowadays (where taskbar, menu bar, tabs bar and window title bar occupy better portion of the screen real estate).

      • nagashi
      • 8 years ago

      As much as I loath 16:9 (and I really do), he’s talking about an even lower resolution than your shittastic 1366×768 garbage. I can’t fathom going back to 1024×768 for any money, particularly from lenovo with their legendarily awful screens.

        • faramir
        • 8 years ago

        It’s a 12.1″ screen. Pixel density (PPI) is higher than that of 24″ 1920×1080 desktop monitor for example. Or alternatively, it is just a tad lower than that of Apple iPad’s “retina display” (which is 10″ at same resolution).

          • adisor19
          • 8 years ago

          That’s not a Retina Display on the current iPad. Please inform yourself before spreading false information around.

          The rumored LCD of the iPad 3 is supposed to have a Retina Display resolution.

          Adi

      • Meadows
      • 8 years ago

      You do realise you’re supposed to put the taskbar on the side with a widescreen, right?

        • malicious
        • 8 years ago

        Be that as it may, the proliferation of 16:9 screens is troubling, especially on business product lines. One of my current laptops has a 13.3″ screen at 1280×800 and it feels cramped enough even with an auto-hiding task bar and other tweaks to make the most of available vertical real estate. I’d need to think long and hard before buying a machine with one of those 1366×768 screens that seem darn-near ubiquitous these days. If I were in the market for a new laptop right now, Apple would be at the top of the list because they still offer 16:10 screens at least.

        It’s fine if people who use their computers primarily for games and movies want wide, wide, wide screens but now everyone else is also stuck with them even though they’re sub-optimal for just about every other purpose.

        (Going off topic. Sorry.)

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 8 years ago

          16:10 is better for gaming, imo

            • ImSpartacus
            • 8 years ago

            If you want a higher FoV in an FPS, then 16:9 will provide that.

            Of course that’s assuming that you don’t want to use an anamorphic windowed setup. And the FoV advantage is slight, it’s only a few degrees.

            Otherwise, I can’t think of any sizable differences between the two ratio with respect to gaming.

            • Arclight
            • 8 years ago

            I found that a 16:9 screen does allow me more “vision” at any point in time, problem is it screws up my accuracy since in gives me more distractions. I played shooters way to many years on 4:3 (was it?) screens and now i find myself being worse in shooters than i was before with my current widescreen. Saw a 1920×1200 monitor and it was much better for me. Hmm idk if it’s the field of vision or just proportions. How’s the golden ratio on a 1920×1080 screen compared to a 1920×1200. I bet it’s better on the latter (better as closer to..)

            • ImSpartacus
            • 8 years ago

            16:10 is closest to the golden ratio, so it is possible that you simply find 16:10 monitors more pleasurable.

            But I think it’s funny that a few degrees of FoV mess up your aim. You better never get an Eyefinity setup!

            I run a 2.4 aspect ratio in FPS games. I love the extra FoV.

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 8 years ago

            I don’t really care about competitive advantages in games.

    • drfish
    • 8 years ago

    Nice! The only thing I would have done different is getting a smaller SSD and using the extra cash to get Win7.

    I’m working on a similar issue at ~$400 except I want to add gaming to the mix… There was a Acer TimelineX on eBay that went for ~$420 – it was the 13″ 3830TG with at GT540m in it… Probably should have gone for it…

      • gamerguy76
      • 8 years ago

      Do not buy this laptop. I had one for about 3 months. Its absolutely crap. On paper it looks great, but when u actually use it sucks. The gpu gets too hot, I ended up using the onboard gpu. The keyboard is garbage, lots of flex, and not very responsive. U have to press firmly to get it to register. The body feels flimsy top portion was seperating from the bottom portion. Power adapter went bad, but Acer was quick about replacing it, sent me new one in a week. Ended up ebaying it and buying a macbook air, best laptop ever!

        • cygnus1
        • 8 years ago

        Can’t disagree with you more. I’ve also had a 3830TG for several months. The keyboard feels great to me, i definitely don’t feel like i have to jam on any keys and I’m very much not a hammer typer. also, the vents are on the bottom, so as long you keep it from being obstructed, heat is not an issue. i play skyrim, portal 2 and civ 5 all the time on mine. i also don’t have any of the flimsy separation you’re talking about. and no issue with the power supply. although i did order 2 so that i can keep it one at the job site and one at the tent.

        all of this, and it’s surviving fine in a desert war zone (i work in afghanistan). i suspect you either got a complete dud, or you abused it beyond all reason.

        i’ve also upgraded the ram to 8GB and put an ssd in it, this thing is probably the best laptop i’ve ever owned. the only improvement i would make is a backlit keyboard

        edit: it is missing a rubber foot off the corner, but that was my fault. fell asleep on it in the back of a truck

    • Alchemist07
    • 8 years ago

    I would have just gone for an HP dm1z (e-450 apu), its processor would give you more and you would have a brand new shell and parts – less chance of failure compared to such an old Thinkpad.

      • irvinenomore
      • 8 years ago

      Would have bust his $300 budget though as new those seem to come at $400 to $500 sans SSD.

        • Alchemist07
        • 8 years ago

        My bad, was thinking in £’s 🙁

      • mczak
      • 8 years ago

      The cpu part of the e450 is very noticably slower than a core 2 duo 1.83Ghz though (something like half as fast or so). Granted the gpu would be like 10 times faster…

      • irvinenomore
      • 8 years ago

      The dm1z doesn’t seem like it’s a bad part I am currently trying to decide between a new DM1 or Aspire 1830T (SU6500) or doing something like David has done. Notebook Dissonance! Very hard to come down either way, may have to seek Gerbil guidance on the forums!

    • odizzido
    • 8 years ago

    How much does the system weigh?

      • indeego
      • 8 years ago

      ~3.5lbs. Maybe a point less or so with a lower watt-houred battery.

      I’ve gone with an aftermarket battery and probably won’t ever again, they grew in size after a short period.

    • StashTheVampede
    • 8 years ago

    My T60 is maxed out with 2GB of ram and an SSD. It makes a wonderful system. Shame the LCD is going out. Next lappy will be some ThinkPad with the “nub” only.

      • Dashak
      • 8 years ago

      Do they still make nub-only Thinkpads?

        • Flatland_Spider
        • 8 years ago

        Not anymore. The 12″ X-series used to be that way, but it even has a touchpad now.

    • k00k
    • 8 years ago

    Congratulations on your “new” kit. I have an X61 myself, and three years on, it still rocks perfectly fine. The keyboard is swell on these things, and the magnesium inside the body certainly contributes to a solid feel mostly free of creaking. Although a lighter, HDMI-equipped Brazos sub-notebook around the same size increasingly looks more attractive by the day…

    The XGA resolution would probably be the biggest limiting thing on this generation of the X Series; i often found myself wanting more screen space, whether simply browsing or typing documents, although that’s a minor niggle. Also, the right palmrest can get quite warm on these when using the wifi extensively, since that’s where the WLAN card can be found. The soft-feel material on top of the lid of my machine has started to peel off around the edges, but not in an icky way like I’ve seen with Dells of the same vintage.

    I love how the extended 8 cell on these things can last for hours. Even with my X61’s original battery now pushing past three years, I still get close to five hours out of them on moderate usage, and that’s with a Scorpio Black. With any luck, you’ll likely end up getting more mileage out that thing, with the new battery and the SSD.

      • XSaaber
      • 8 years ago

      This is truly awesome and a nice addition to the TechReport.

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