Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Not the Macbook Air

Or, for that matter, an Asus EE PC. I'm talking IBM Thinkpad here, specifically the 240X.

We've been using a couple of 240X's at work for some years now, sadly one took a fall from the top of a step ladder and got badly damaged, the other suffered from a dead mainboard. A short time later, I had a fully working one assembled from the parts of the two.

For a long time I've been keeping my eye out for other 'broken' 240Xs on eBay and finally secured one for a whole £25. Of course it was sans harddrive and power adaptor, and had a worryingly cracked battery, but remember - I had a drawer full of parts back in the office from which to assemble this, a working sub-notebook on which I'm typing this blog entry.

A 240X yesterday

If you don't know the 240X, let me take you on a tour.

Firstly, it's small. With a profile smaller than a sheet of A4 paper, it fits neatly into the pocket of my backpack. It's just over an inch thick, but the added height of the 'fat' battery adds to that, but lifts the back of the laptop to offer a nice typing angle.

Ah, the keyboard. This is possibly the finest laptop keyboard ever made. I'm not kidding. Smaller than usual but feeling perfect under the fingers with no funnies like shrunken enter key or misplaced backspace. It's just right and a pleasure to use. There is no trackpad - instead there is IBM's Trackpoint, your love-it-or-loath-it nipple for controlling the pointer. I quite like the trackpoint nipple.

Under the bonnet is a Pentium III clocking in at 500MHz. Equipped with the maximum 192Mb of ram and the factory fitted 12Gb HD, this little laptop makes an acceptable travelling browser, if not a multimedia powerhouse. Especially when equipped with a wireless card in the PC Card slot. The 10.1" 800x600 TFT screen can feel cramped on some websites, but the display can be configured to act as a window on a 1024x768 desktop - a distracting but useful feature.

Comparisons with the Macbook Air are obvious. This laptop has only one USB port (albeit USB 1.1), and no optical drive. With the default Windows 2000, it happily accepts USB thumb drives and mice. At the back there is a VGA port, a parallel port and a serial port - the latter of which is impossible to find on modern sub-notebooks. There is a PS/2 mouse/keyboard port to one side, an IRDa and headphone, line in and out ports on the other. And a V90 modem, too. Ethernet has to be supplied via the cardslot. There is a proprietry connector for the external floppy drive - fairly essential for booting without a working HD.

Ok, it's not quite a Macbook Air, and the Win2k install took about 2 days to get up to date what with service patches, firewall, antivirus and antispyware installation before I could surf with gay abandon.

And here is where it gets interesting.

My iBook is a similar age. It too has a 500MHz processor, albeit a G3. It has 256Mb of ram and a bigger 1024x768 screen. But the iBook is slower, both in general response and when surfing the net. This 240X is snappier on the net - I can watch Youtube and streamed iPlayer perfectly where the iBook struggles.

But. Where the Thinkpad fails is simply this: recovery from sleep. It does not work. On the iBook, you can close the lid, go do something, return, open the lid and be where you left off in about 10 seconds. It's been like this, day in, day out, for years with total reliability. On the Thinkpad, with a fresh Win2k install from the IBM factory restore CD, recovery from sleep failed the first time. I might have well just ripped the battery out for all the difference it made. However, putting Win2k into standby manually works, so it's not a total disaster.

So, for a cheap answer to ultra-portable computing, the 240X is hard to beat. If you can get your hands on a working one.

Here is a link to the ThinkWiki page for the 240X.