Featured on “The Home Tech Podcast” Episode #115 "Laptops #2"

Posted by Paul Braren on May 4 2013 in
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  • Being a guest on a podcast that uses Google Hangouts On Air is a lot of fun. Interested in seeing everything from Windows Millennium Edition booting on a 1995 ThinkPad 701 "Butterfly" to a Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13? The crew discuss a lot of  laptop gear, come on over and check out the fun, and consider subscribing!

    Excerpt from the shownotes:

    Jim (@jcollison) is joined this week by Christian Johnson (@TheWizBM), John Stutsman (@JohnStutsman), Kevin Schoonover (@schoondoggy1979) and Paul Braren (@tinkererguy) for Show 115.  This show is part two of three where we look at the good, the bad and the ugly of those devices we call laptops.

    Replay and shownotes from the recent live broadcast (Google Hangout) found here:

    Laptops, Desktop Replacement, Lenovo Yoga, Windows Blue, UltraBook, Surface RT, Haswell, Docking Stations, Multimonitor Support, BIOS-Mods, Cali Lewis and Drobo – HT115, May 3, 2013

    Or just watch the episode right here:

    Here's my portion of the shownotes.

    Paul Braren, TinkerTry IT @ home.

    I started with a plea for anybody that lives anywhere near Connecticut or Boston to come see me talk about vZilla, with 2 presentations coming up soon!
    Connecticut VMUG User Conference in Hartford CT on May 14 2013
    BSidesBOS on May 18 2013 in Boston, MA on May 18 2013

    I began with showing the brick-sized power supply for my beefy, capable, Core i7 based Lenovo ThinkPad W520, with 3 drive bays (2 x 2.5”, 1 x mSATA under the keyboard). I also showed my wheeled carry case that’s traveled to dozens of customers across about 25 states, from 2006 to 2010.

    Having the ability to use a RAID0 for roughly 2x read and 2x write speeds was key, for my huge ThinkPad W700 that I used to fly around with. I didn’t have the pop-out secondary display, but I did enjoy the 1920x1200 17” screen, despite the ~9 lbs of heft, and the 1.5” of thickness.  Met my customer-site consulting and hands-on deployment tools need, with lots of memory for virtualization, and big screen to share with 2 others working nearby.  Also worked well for long evenings working (creating content, burning LightScribe DVDs, typing a lot of email) from my many hotel room evenings.

    Next, I showed the amazingly well-designed IBM ThinkPad 701 from 1995, better known as the “Butterfly” and demonstrated that despite a dead CMOS battery, Windows Millenium still boots up fine, on the original hard drive!  The point of the demo was also to show that it had the TrackPoint, a great productivity boost for touch typists like me.  Helpful for IBM employees to be able to count on this consistent experience, them always being there, given all ThinkPads had them for over 18 years now. The same cannot be said for the often-still-crummy TrackPads out there. I briefly mentioned my use of HP and Dell laptops and some even had TrackPoint clones as well, but those just never had quite the same feel.

    Mouse_pointing_stick
    A pointing stick from a Lenovo T400 Laptop keyboard.

    I mentioned that over a decade ago, I was working with software developers, and got spoiled by the amazing ThinkPad T30’s glorious 1400x1050 screen. That helps explain why I cannot ever tolerate today’s typical 1280x720 laptop.

    I also touched upon what it takes to be the repair guy, to keep about a dozen laptops running in the extended family, for about the last 15 years, especially once the warranty expires (I keep spares, to use for parts).  I do disaster recover for various failed hard drives roughly 5 times per year, and replacing Ghost with Home Server was a huge blessing for more reliable, storage de-duped bare-metal restores.

    We discussed docks and monitors, see also my new deep-dive Superguide here:
    TinkerTry.com/usb3docksuperguide

    that I created when I heard David McCabe and Darren Cohen recently talking about docking options for the Microsoft Surface Pro, over on SurfaceGeeks here. See also
    TinkerTry.com/mydesk

    I mentioned I 16GB on Vista 64 bit since the Vista betas in early 2006, leveraging the memory for my conference presentation Datacenter-in-a-box, also for testing and self-training on VMware for certification. Battery life was rarely a serious consideration, but hard drive speed and maximum memory capacity were, and still are.

    Christian and his amazing bios-mods.com site came up.  I mentioned that once a warranty is expired, buying original branded parts can be pricey, so finding a BIOS that’ll allow aftermarket WiFi card, for example, can save a lot of $. Jim reminded us that using a modded BIOS doesn’t mean you’ve lost your warranty coverage, I didn’t mean to imply that.

    Then there’s my current ThinkPad W520, a Core i7 with 16GB of RAM, and OCZ Vertex 4 256GB SSD C: drive and 1TB D: drive, and a 1920X1080 15.4” screen, of course.

    Finally, there’s the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13. It doesn’t have the TrackPoint (the Lenovo Twist and Carbon and Helix and ThinkPad lines still do).  But that didn’t matter last winter, since my son and my Dad’s T60 laptops were nearly 5 years old, these modern little beasts were sorely needed replacements.

    I touched upon the difficulties that the Yoga’s UEFI BIOS on a GPT-formatted SSD presented to me, as far as my ability to do DR (disaster recovery).  It really pushed me to Windows Server 2012 Essentials, since Windows Home Server 2011 wouldn’t do UEFI BIOS or GPT formatted drives.  I’m always inclined to do a test backup and full restore, before I hand over new gear to family members (using a spare hard drive). But the Lenovo is an SSD, and pretty much a sealed-design, and has the full damage protection warranty, so I really didn’t feel like opening it up.

    Instead, I got a Startech.com Gigabit to USB 3.0 adapter, seen also in this related article TinkerTry.com/wol-over-usb3, where I outline how I made my father’s Core i7 based Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 capable of Wake On LAN (using a second system left running with LogMeIn). I also used the StarTech.com 2 Port USB 3.0 hub to allow the single USB 3.0 port on the Yoga to handle both the Gigabit connection, and booting from the Mushkin Ventura Plus 16GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive that had the Windows Server 2012 Essentials cllient recovery image on there, pointing to the StarTech Gigabit adapters driver files when prompted. That allowed me to be confident that a restore would work.. I then restored the full backup to a virtual machine on my ESXi 5.1 system, using a VM configured similarly (UEFI BIOS/GPT hard drive type), and it worked fine. Now I was ready to deploy!  I’ll write up that whole package deal of parts and the exact steps to backup and recovery at some point, please consider following me at

    TinkerTry.com/contact
    Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 Summary:

    Strengths:

    • it works, and works well, with Office 2013 and SkyDrive doing their thing
    • 13” at 1600x900 is good, viewing angles are good, touch surface is good
    • Modern UI photo viewing is pretty good
    • IE 10 pinch-to-zoom browsing is quite nice (Chrome has yet to catch up)
    • fast, ready to use upon opening the lid quickly (if you tweak the WiFi driver)
    • tablet mode use reasonable, but rotate issues mean it’s been rarely used so far, and most drivers haven’t been updated since Oct 2012.
    • can run Hyper-V (SLAT support evidenced by “coreinfo -v”)
    • can do wake on LAN, see TinkerTry.com/wol-over-usb3
    • Lenovo Yoga has SLAT support for Hyper-V, and plays Starcraft pretty well

    Weaknesses (from my perspective, most of these issues don’t matter to the owners):

    • keyboard layout quite new, easy to accidentally turn off WiFi or Screen with single keystroke (UEFI BIOS setting to make Fn key use helped fix that)
    • no TrackPoint
    • battery life not as amazing as had hoped
    • quiet, but not that quiet (fan noise can be tweaked, but do I want to?)
    • challenges of sealed design, when the time comes for upgrades (so I splurged and went with biggger HDD and 8GB from factory)

    See also:
    TinkerTry.com/zilla An overview of the family’s various laptops**