Tag: hardware

Lenovo ThinkPad X121e

I am writing this on my new laptop: a Lenovo ThinkPad X121e:

Although my employer is so generous to provide me with a laptop for work purposes, I also wanted a new laptop at home for personal use. My only personal machine right now is my aging (and quite slow) 17 inch Apple Powerbook G4. Since most Apple software currently requires Intel processors, I can’t really upgrade it either. I also wanted something a bit more portable (no heavy, bulky 15-incher) with better battery life, which would be great for travelling.

While my work laptop runs Windows 7, I really miss having a UNIX environment available at times. I worked almost exclusively on Linux since 2003, starting out with Mandrake, moving from that to Gentoo and then to Debian to eventually settle on Ubuntu. A few years ago, I decided to move back to Windows due to bad hardware support on Linux (especially for newer laptops) and annoying bugs in Ubuntu. Nevertheless, I still prefer a UNIX environment for programming, and I love the power of the shell and how you can quickly chain commands together to produce something useful.

At first, I was thinking of just getting a new Apple laptop. Indeed, OS X is also based on UNIX but does have great hardware support and a nice UI. Furthermore, Apple builds high-quality hardware (I loved my Powerbook), and they sell the ultimate ultraportable laptop: the Macbook Air.

Unfortunately, I quickly discarded that idea when I realized again how expensive Apple laptops are. I didn’t really feel like shelling out about 1200 EUR just to get a Macbook Air with a decent amount of RAM and an SSD bigger than 64 GB. So I started looking around for cheaper alternatives. Instead of complaining about Ubuntu not supporting certain hardware, I decided to look for hardware that would Just Work (TM) on Ubuntu. There are also some things I didn’t like that much on OS X, such as the lack of a well-integrated package manager. At FOSDEM, I remember seeing most developers work on either Apple machines or IBM (now Lenovo) ThinkPads. Some people even used to say that Apple and IBM ThinkPad laptops are the only laptops really worth considering. ThinkPads also come in an ultraportable X series, which I thought was worth looking into.

While the professional ThinkPad X series laptops are again quite expensive, Lenovo also has entry-level models, such as the X100e, X120e or the X121e. These models come with either an AMD Fusion or an Intel Core i3 processor. The nice thing about the Intel model of the X121e is the fact that it’s quite well supported in Linux, and has received nice reviews. So, I decided to buy myself one.

In summary, here’s what I like about this laptop, compared the Macbook Air:

  • Half the price. It costs around 630 EUR, and when purchasing a 53 EUR 2-year Next Business Day On Site Warranty, you get a 100 EUR cashback. That means you can get the laptop plus 2-year warranty for around 580 EUR, which is a great deal, in my opinion. The AMD version even starts from 400 EUR.
  • More ports (Ethernet, 3x USB, VGA, HDMI).
  • Better battery life (up to 9 hours according to Lenovo).
  • Customizability (it’s quite easy to replace the HDD, battery or add more RAM).
  • Built-in 3G (HSPA) WAN and GPS module (I really like this feature).
  • Comparable size and weight (11.6 inch and 1.3 kgs, about 250g heavier).
  • Comparable build quality (the laptop feels very sturdy).
  • Comparable keyboard quality (with TrackPoint).

Disadvantages are the slower processor (Core i3 versus the Macbook’s Core i5 or Core i7, but probably fine for my needs), the lower-quality display (same resolution but the Macbook Air’s is better, although I do prefer matte screens), slightly noisy fan at times, and the less sexy design (I myself actually quite like the look and feel of the device).

Oh, and it has a nice sleep animation (probably inspired by Apple’s own pulsing LED sleep animation):

Let’s see how installing Ubuntu goes on this one.

Making things talk

A few weeks ago I came across a blog post by Cati Vaucelle about Making Things Talk, the new book by Tom Igoe. The book deals with building smart, communicating things. It is built up out of specific projects and uses practical examples to explain different technologies. Tom works at NYU ITC (where Adam Greenfield also works).

Through a series of simple projects, this book teaches you how to get your creations to communicate with one another by forming networks of smart devices that carry on conversations with you and your environment. Whether you need to plug some sensors in your home to the Internet or create a device that can interact wirelessly with other creations, Making Things Talk explains exactly what you need.

The book seemed really useful to me to learn how to build smart things and prototype a ubicomp environment. Unfortunately I was never really exposed to electronics, so this might be a good way to catch up I pointed Kris at the book who ordered a copy afterwards. I had a quick look at it, and I must say it is well-written and fun to read. You need some hardware to really dive in though.

Making Things Talk

The author uses Processing and Arduino as the basic building blocks. I was pleasantly surprised that the programming environment works perfectly under Mac OS X and GNU/Linux (while it also supports Windows). I would also like to experiment with it at home, for instance to build a remote-controlled mood light Apparently a Wii Nunchuk is also pretty popular for connecting to Arduino as it sports a 3-axis accelerometer, joystick and two buttons for under 20$ and uses the I2C protocol.