Lenovo ThinkPads: Second Thoughts

I grew up seeing my parents using ThinkPads for work. After seeing them among my friends, I began to revere their minimalistic classic look and yearned for one of my own. I eventually earned enough money to buy a W530 and later a T510, but I recently had my W530 repaired following a complete bricking.

They’re great tanks on the outside, but problems with the internals made me realize I may have drunk too much of the matte black Kool-Aid.

Think-Aid. Edited from GeekMecca.com.

Think-Aid. Edited from GeekMecca.com.

I really liked my W530. It was a great workstation to take to work and run 3D CAD and simulations, great to take into machine shops full of metal chips and dust, great to do school work at 1 AM with, and good enough to game a bit. Some of the features I bragged to my friends about were:

  • Magnesium roll cage. It’s a laptop with a skeletal structure.
  • Excellent heat management. Never felt my palms get hot under full load.
  • Matte display. Always clear, even outside (to an extent).
  • 2 USB 3.0 and 2 USB 2.0 ports. Dem peripherals.
  • Matte black and durable plastic housing. Scratch-proof (until I dropped something heavy and sharp on the Z key).
  • Ran Ubuntu and ROS quite well. Many hijinks involving bootloaders though.

About two months ago, the unit gave out. Pretty much dead, wouldn’t power on. Even before this, crashes without warning, failures to boot, and major power issues had been plaguing me for about a year and a half. However, I ignored them and convinced myself that My Little Laptop Can’t Be This Broken(TM). My pride as an engineering student prevented me from realizing that this $1500 workstation was failing whether I liked it or not.

“This? Break? Naw. Nawwwww.”

Some major issues were:

  • The recovery drives did not have the correct drive letters assigned, so I could not use the factory reset. Fixing the drive letters did not solve the problem.
  • The 9-cell battery fit very loosely in the slot, and the lock latch became undone easily.
  • Unplugging the unit while running under any load caused a freeze 20% of the time.
  • The unit failed to boot into factory reset from recovery disks created using Lenovo’s system utility.

The final nail in the coffin was probably me trying to plug it in on the plane to California in January 2014, because it seemed like a fuse in the plug would trip and not provide power to my computer. On the flight going out I decided to try without the battery. Bad move: the fuse in the socket tripped again after about a tenth of a second, and me being me I tried this 3 times. That probably fried some dying part of the motherboard for good. The unit died two days after I arrived back in Canada, giving me a great excuse to procrastinate on my work term report due in two weeks.

Maybe there’s more power in first class.

My warranty had expired so calling Lenovo resulted in getting referred to two nearby certified shops. One in Mississauga charged a hefty inspection rate, so I decided to put them on hold. The other company in Oakville would charge per quarter hour inspection; they offered however to cap the inspection fee at a flat amount if I decided to pay for the recommended repairs through them. So I spoke with one of their representatives (for privacy, let’s call him David), and dropped off the unit the next day.

Then I built the gaming computer I wrote about before for my brother. I totally stole time on it to enjoy World of Tanks at 70 fps.

I then sought out a replacement laptop for school, and for some reason I still really wanted another ThinkPad. I found a used T510 with:

  • a 110 GB SSD; made really loud noises on read+write
  • 4 GB of RAM; BSOD’d when I tried to increase to 8 GB
  • Windows 7; had a UEFI environment corruption once, but it got better
  • the old keyboard which I wanted on the W530; turns out I wasn’t really comfy with it

A week later, David tells me the news that the logic board was found to be the problem through some extensive testing. I was given a quote, later revised, but it was still below the cost of replacing it. So we agreed to go through with it, and a couple of weeks later he tells me the board they procured was labelled correctly, but did not actually fit. David immediately processed a refund on labour and parts which I confirmed on my credit card. He offered to keep looking for the right part and since I needed that W530 working I asked him to hang onto it for a little while longer.

Waterloo geese and their goslings, while really cute, did not help to solve the problem.

Two weeks ago, David called again saying they found what seems to be the right board, verified by pictures and documentation. We agreed again to go through with the replacement, and on June 27 he called again with good news: the computer was fixed and ready to be picked up. I was in Mississauga and immediately hauled myself to their office to pick it up. When I got home, I verified that it booted up and was in good shape.

The one on the right is sleeping. It's not dead, trust me.

The one on the right is sleeping. It’s not dead, trust me.

Seeing the two ThinkPads side by side made me think that I really bought into the business professional image that Lenovo has been trying to maintain, even though much of what I do is neither business nor professional. The only thing I really bought these laptops for was the physical durability and subdued appearance.

I even had a false sense of nostalgia thinking that the old “dragon scale” layout (for lack of a better term) was much better than the chiclet style they introduced in 2012-ish. It turned out that I typed a bit slower and much more inaccurately using the old keyboard than the chiclets. Typing became a chore because:

  • There was a smaller surface area to hit with my fingertips.
  • The switch action definitely required more force.
  • I did not like the layout of the outer keys that I hit the most (Delete, Pg Up/Down, Home/End).

The grass is always blacker on the other side.

I even get imagined nostalgia about IBM ThinkPads and how they must be better than any of the Lenovo-made ones. I would probably be really disappointed if I ever got one only to find it can’t run Crysis (my W530 can!!). But aside from the keyboard, I’m pretty disappointed in Lenovo’s ThinkPad brand today and can only hope my system lasts until I have kids of my own to show a 15 year-old laptop to. For $1500, I expected more reliability from critical components that the customer cannot easily service like the bloody motherboard.

I now backup my hard drive religiously, store extraneous data like music and videos on portable hard drives, and I still do a little Googling to figure out what exactly could have gone wrong. Many lessons about Windows, Linux, and computers in general were learned from this, so maybe the money was worth it.

I want to thank David (again, name, changed, privacy, etc.) and the repair team at IT Xchange in Mississauga who spent two months on one single computer of one single customer making sure it was done and done right. Their website can be found here: http://www.itxchange.com/ I will go through them to order any parts or adapters for my computer from now on because of their great service and care.

In the end, “Lenovo” doesn’t even have an I, B, or an M in it.

CNC Shield Chaika Engraving

In my CNC machining course, we had a project to cut a small shield out of aluminum and add an engraving of our choice in MasterCAM.

Now this assignment was pretty vaguely worded and had a lot of superfluous cutting, so I got fed up and made my engraving of the face of an anime girl. Here’s the result:

Yeah, I went there.

The assignment involved writing a report (ooh!) and photographs of the part. Dimensions from the assignment, shown below.

shield dimensions

This, easy part.

The instructions project instructions, very inefficient. Instead, from the project sheet, focus on important point:

 

“30% of the total mark will be awarded based on the engraving design and realization.”

 

Mwee?

 

“30% of the total mark will be awarded based on the engraving design and realization.”

 

MWEE?

 

“30% of the total mark will be awarded based on the engraving design and realization.”

 

Mwee?

Mwee!

Chaika’s face, in report. Serious business, make clear. TA, will appreciate cuteness.

chaika

Mwee!

Chaika. Mwee? Engrave. Art! Computer. Numerical control. Tolerance, precise. Toolpaths. Want to find. Give routing. Top marks, will get. Machining, The Cutter. Project, chosen. Grateful!