09.12.2012 04:58

GNU/Linux and ThinkPad T420

I got a new workstation last month, a 14" laptop from the ThinkPad T series. The complete guide for TuxMobil about installing Arch Linux on it is here.

It replaced a (thicker and heavier) 13" HP ProBook 4320s which I used a little over a year, before giving up on it. In some ways ProBook was excellent, certified for SUSE Linux it had complete Linux support down to the most insignificant hardware components. In other ways it was the worst laptop I ever used. That ProBook series has chiclet-style keyboards, and I had no idea just how horrible they can be. Completely flat keys, widely spread and with bad feedback caused me a lot of wrist pain. Even after a year I never got used to the keyboard, and I was making a lot of typos, on average I would miss-type even my login every second boot. At the most basic level my job can be described as a "typist" so all this is just plain unacceptable.

The touchpad however is worse than the keyboard. It's a "clickpad", with one big surface serving as both the touchpad area and the button area. To get it in a usable state a number of patches are needed, coupled with an extensive user-space configuration. But even after a year of tweaking it was never just right. The most basic of operations like selecting text, dragging windows or pressing the middle button is an exercise in patience. Sadly clickpads are present in a huge number of laptops today.

Compared to the excellent UltraNav device in the ThinkPad they are worlds apart. Same is true of the keyboard in T420, which is simply the best laptop keyboard I've ever used. I stand behind these words as I just ordered another T420, for personal use. One could say these laptops are in different categories, but that's not entirely true. I had to avoid the latest ThinkPad models because of the chiclet-style keyboards they now have. Lenovo is claiming that's "keyboard evolution", to me they just seem cheaper to produce, and this machine could be the last ThinkPad I'll ever own. If this trend continues I don't know where to turn next for decent professional grade hardware.

Written by anrxc | Permalink | Filed under main, desktop, work