The ports keep marching forward

I’m a strong believer that form = function. A well designed product just works better.

My T43 is a fairly well designed computer, minus it’s few shortcomings. Now take a look at the T60, which I just don’t understand. Why is the VGA port half way down the side of the laptop? Why is USB so far down the left side? Why is Ethernet there?

Perhaps they are operating under the idea that everyone uses their laptop on the go, and nobody uses it at a desk. But personally I find even the T43′s Ethernet (which is further to the back on the left side) a little annoying. I think the new positioning is just asking for it to get hit and broken.

Am I the only one who likes the cables in the back (out of the way)?

Hopefully they at least figured out that using an SATA drive would be a good idea. That way they get rid of those 2010 errors plaguing T43 owners.

I do however like that they kept the same simple design, rather than go with the glow-in-the-dark plastic with flashing lights design that many seem to like.

New Keyboard

I said the other day, I asked IBM support for a new keyboard because I felt the one that shipped was of lower quality (to which many Thinkpad users agree). Yesterday, a 14″ keyboard arrived. I called them, they acknowledged the error, and sent me a 15″ keyboard (my laptop has a 15″ display, so the frame of the computer is a bit different). Today it arrived.

The difference may be subtle to some, but it outright obvious to me. This keyboard feels “smoother” than the old one, just like others have said. The right side has absolutely no flex anymore, and the keys are very quiet. I could type on this, and someone just a few feet away would not know I’m typing. The squeak sometimes apparent in the trackpoint scroll button is not there (another annoyance).

This keyboard lives up to the IBM Thinkpad reputation. No question about it. This is like comparing a McDonald’s to a 5 Star restaurant. Sure McDonald’s isn’t so bad you can’t eat it, most enjoy it every so often. But when you want quality food, you don’t even think McDonald’s.

Perhaps in the future IBM/Lenovo will stop using these lower quality keyboards.

I’m one happy customer at this point. My laptop feels just like my old A31 did (the A31 is apparently one of the last actually manufactured by IBM), but with a little better performance, and a thinner profile.

Thanks to IBM for taking care of this problem. This keyboard is exactly how a laptop keyboard should feel. Quiet, no squeaks, no flex. Just solid typing. I can finally type full speed without tripping over keys that almost feel loose.

New Laptop Redux

I definitely like my new IBM Thinkpad (made by Lenovo). I did have a few complaints of things that weren’t quite ideal, so I though I’d do a quick little post on how they have been resolved (or if I adjusted to them):

  • PATA->SATA Bridge – This little chip was causing problems prohibiting you from using a third party hard drive in a T43 without an annoying error on boot. While still not officially supported, IBM did release a new BIOS to disable the error. This makes it easier to upgrade. So I consider this fixed. A major setback, as I really want a 100GB Hard Drive in this beast.
  • Fan Noise
  • Web Navigation Keys – I got used to not having these anymore. Still liked the feature though.
  • IBM Backup Software Stinks – This wasn’t a big deal, I got Acronis True Image, and I’m thrilled with it.
  • No 2nd hard drive – Now that I can get a 100GB Hard Drive, I could partition. Now I have a lighter computer, and the storage. Very cool

In addition to these mainly minor complains, the Keyboard is a little strange. Still better than many other brands, it doesn’t feel “right”. Especially compared to my old A31. The response isn’t always there, causing missed keys, and it occasionally squeaks (mainly the trackpoint scroll button). There’s slight flex on the right side. After a little research, I found out that some T43 keyboards are made in China (Alps brand), and others are made in Thailand (NMB). A simple call to IBM today and the support rep had no problem sending me a new keyboard. This type of stuff typically ships same day (and arrives the next). Now that’s service!

So yes, I’m very satisfied now. I was satisfied, now I feel very satisfied. The keyboard was the last thing that got on my nerves. Once you miss a few keys, and know your finger touched them, you get a little frustrated. At first I blamed it on myself, and that I just need to get used to the new laptop, but I’m convinced it’s the way the keyboard is. I hear the NMB are vastly preferred.

A few weeks ago, I decided to make backup CD’s for my Thinkpad (restores to factory defaults should the HD die or I replace the HD). I made them, but the last one failed. I tried again, and couldn’t do it (in retrospect, it appears that uninstalling the backup software may have broke a shortcut or two in the whole Access IBM deal. I found a few dead ones, fixed them, and everything was fine). Called IBM, and they sent me the CD’s ASAP. Hopefully no need for them, but it’s good to have in case there is a problem.

So IBM service just rocks. They make stuff like this so easy to resolve. When I asked the rep just said “sure, I can do that for you”, and got my information. My last real complaint on the replacement computer is resolved. I guess I’m once again a completely satisfied customer. They screwed up my A31′s repair pretty bad, and the replacement process was way to slow. But I feel that I’ve been taken care of very well again.

So for anyone out there that just doesn’t understand why their Thinkpad keyboard feels inferior compared to other Thinkpads they have used, check the part number and see what model it is. The NMB’s (made in Thailand) are considered to be the better made ones.

So yes, the Thinkpad T43 gets a 5/5. It’s a fantastic laptop.

New Laptop

I’ve now had about about 48hrs with the new laptop. Just a few thoughts (in no paticular order):

On the plus side

  • Well built as typical of IBM. Nothing if squeaky, flimsy. It feels very solid, despite being so thin.
  • The 9 Cell battery sticks out the back a little (about an inch). And provides longer battery life over standard 6 cell. No big deal and more battery life.
  • ATI Radeon X300 Graphics Chipset (64MB) is much better than the 3200 ATI Radeon 7500 I had.
  • DVD±RW hasn’t been tested yet. I should get some DVD media (anyone have brand preference?)
  • Fingerprint reader is so 007. Very cool way to log in. Now nobody sees you typing your password.
  • Intel 802.11a/b/g card works fine. Not sure why so many people swap them out for IBM cards. As I see it right now, it’s working perfectly.

On the questionable (not really much here)

  • Fan Noise – this is the biggest complaint I’ve heard about the T43. The fan does seem to be a little louder than it should, but I don’t think it’s a deal breaker. Mine will likely cool a bit when more RAM arrives and my paging file doesn’t cause my hard drive to spin for hours on end.
  • Rescue and Recovery for backup purposes (imaging) isn’t that good. It’s really slow, and doesn’t seem to like incrimental backups. I’m going to order Acronis True Image to do the job instead.
  • PATA->SATA bridge causes many normal ATA drives to produce errors with the IBM BIOS. Ideally IBM would have just used SATA already, or stuck with ATA, but this bridge means great drives like the 7k100 won’t work, at least not yet (fingers crossed they release new ones with upgraded firmware).
  • No 2nd bay for extra hard drive. I’ d have to swap between the DVD/CD drive and another drive
  • No web navigation keys. I got used to having them.

So there’s really not much to improve on. The biggest would be the fan noise, and getting backups to be quick and smooth. Both aren’t that big of a deal. Fan noise I can deal with (my old laptop I think was louder), and the backups will be done with other software.

I’ve also decided to abandon Sygate as my software firewall, and move to Kerio (which is going to be unsupported soon). I really run these only because it’s a laptop, and not always on my clean firewalled network. Anyone have a recommendation for a good (free) firewall on Windows that doesn’t suck (read: no zonealarm). How could it have gone this long without an open source contender? Kerio doesn’t seem to bad, but I don’t like that it’s approaching End of Life.

Oh yea, Opera fans [read: anyone who doesn't like IE, including Firefox fans] will be interested in this (if they haven’t found this yet). If you boot this system, and press Access IBM you go into an emergency partition on your hard drive (apparantly powered by a scaled down Windows NT or 2000 with a bunch of utilities. One option is to browse the web. On closer examination, they use Opera, not IE (info on the feature found here search for “Get help, by being connected”).

It’s alive

The laptop story is finally over.

Yesterday, a shiny new Thinkpad T43 arrived. I gave it a few hours yesterday and it performed well, no signs of any problems. I’ve got some extra RAM on order to help things out even further.

Executive Relations did come through, despite some supply issues limiting their abilities. They actually sent two (2) laptops in an attempt to get this resolved by today (Friday 10/21/05). One coming from Lenovo/IBM itself, one coming from a business parter. One arrived yesterday, and one arrived ahead of schedule (today) rather than next week sometime, and will now be mailed back.

Thanks to anyone over at Lenovo/IBM who slaved over my old A31 in attempts to resurrect it, or battled supply issues to get me a new T43 replacement.

And a reminder to everyone with a laptop: keep that warranty going for as long as you value your computer. It’s very good to have.

For anyone wondering, the fingerprint scanner, is somewhat of a toy (it’s not really any more secure than a good password, because it apparently on matches parts of your fingerprint, not the entire fingerprint, for speed purposes)… but makes logging in much less obtrusive. Kinda feels like 007.

And yes, I’ll be back working on the reporter tool a bit during the week now, not to mention mozPod, which I’ve neglected for months.

The Laptop Saga Continued

Zach was taken care of by Apple (I guess it’s now clear Apple wins for service as well as hardware design). I got a few days tacked onto my ordeal as my laptop is expected to ship out a few days later now. Unfortunately for me, there is no “store” to go to. My laptop still needs to be assembled, and from what I’m told there is a “parts constraint”. So if anyone out there is working for a company who owes Lenovo/IBM parts: get working!

Edit: Added link for those who didn’t see last weeks episode.

The laptop saga

Many have noticed I’ve been a bit slow in the past month, and that’s because of the ongoing laptop saga. Here’s the readers digest™ version:

My laptop had 2 problems. The primary (big) problem is that it was corrupting known good hard drives within hours. In addition to that (as if that wasn’t bad enough) the LCD having a grayish area in the lower left corner and several dead pixels scattered on the lower part of the display. A quick call to Lenovo (formerly IBM’s PC Division), and they sent a box and took my laptop for repairs. It came back unrepaired. The hard drive still corrupted quickly and bluescreened on first boot. The LCD was fixed, but now lighter on lower half than upper half making it awkward in DOS like environments, and impossible for any real graphic work). Obviously another computers faulty display thrown in my laptop.

I called within an hour of receiving the unit, and another box was sent out and it was taken back again (can I collect frequent flyer miles for my laptop?), and came a few days later still crashing, but this time, the LCD wasn’t working at all (nothing at all). The only way I found it crashing was by hooking up my external display to it. I called them back (again within minutes of opening the box) and they agreed to send another box out to me, and take the system for a third repair (in a little over a weeks time I should note). I’m assured this is an isolated incident and it will be resolved promptly. I then sent an email IBM’s CEO Sam Palmisano (yea I know he doesn’t really read them, but it made me feel better) explaining the situation:

I’m writing to express my extreme displeasure in your warranty repair service. I own a IBM Thinkpad A31 (2652m5u). It was sent in the first time (case xxxxxxx) because it was continuously corrupting multiple known good hard drives and the LCD had a faded grayish appearance in the lower left corner. Phone support was helpful and sent a box. A few days later it arrived. The hard drive problem persisted, and the LCD was replaced, but with an obvious refurbished unit likely returned for being faulty. The lower half of the display was lighter than the top half, making it unusable for any form of graphical work. I called the same day and told them that this was unacceptable. I was sent a new box which arrived the next day, and sent the system back for repairs (case xxxxxxx).

Today my computer came back yet again. The hard drive was replaced with something that sounds like it’s on it’s death bed. Rather than the slick IBM/Hitachi 7200RPM 60GB drive it’s likely some refurbished unit. In addition I now have no functioning LCD! It appears the solution to the distorted color is simply to disable the display.

I have been a big fan of IBM products, learning to use computers on my father’s IBM PC (I believe IBM 5150). Though my experience these past few weeks has significantly changed my confidence.

I was hoping only to go a day or two back at college with no working laptop, but now I have at least one more week as it goes in for more repairs, and hopefully a fix.

I really hope some reevaluates the warranty repair service as it’s Quality Assurance is clearly nonexistent. My laptop is now going in for the 3rd time for what should be routine repairs. It only took me a minute or two to find problems each time.

A rather unsatisfied customer,
Robert Accettura

This is the Friday of Labor Day weekend. I get a call a few hours later (about 4:30 PM EST on that Friday of a holiday weekend, Lenovo is also in EST) from someone at Executive Relations regarding my email (she quoted it and noted the sarcasm in their repair strategy, so I know she read it). She immediately emailed me new DHL labels to send it to her facility (not Lenovo’s contractor Solectron), but DHL was done with pickups for the weekend. So on Tuesday it went away yet again. DHL screws up shipping and instead of overnight they ground ship it instead, further wasting my time. A few days later I get a call with the diagnosis from the technician, the finding was it had some bad RAM, and the video inverter card needed to be replaced. They were also going to replace the system board which could be faulty (IDE controller most likely would be my guess). As soon as that’s fixed, it should be good to go! Well, they replaced those as soon as they got the parts (overnight), but the display still wasn’t working reliably. So a new LCD was needed. No dice on getting it shipped back to me that week. A day or so later, that was decided to be back-ordered for a while, indefinitely.

So I’ve been offered a brand new laptop under warranty (rather cool), but unfortunately it’s a little back-ordered. I was initially told about 10 days, but it’s now looking more like 20. So I’ve got a little more to go before expecting my new laptop to arrive.

Because I have no laptop, I’ve been only online at home, and computer labs, not at school. My laptop was also my primary development system. Keyboard time needs to be used a little more carefully than usual since it’s more limited. I’m hoping the estimated shipping time is overestimated and it ships out early, so I can get back to normal quickly.

Moral of the story is repair centers really do stink, but at least in this case Lenovo picked up the pieces and is trying to make things right (despite the never ending complications). I think this case has encountered all the bad luck it could (back-orders, shipping issues, holiday weekends delaying things, cell phone reception problems, you name it). So hopefully soon I’ll get my new system and things will go back to normal. I’ve got a feeling my case is rather unique because of these factors, and not likely representative of a typical experience (and no this isn’t some disclaimer, it’s an honest opinion).

Overall, I loved my old Thinkpad, almost like a Mac. It was very well built, a bit heavy, but the quality was excellent. From what I’ve read my new laptop continues that tradition, and will hopefully serve me well for years.

So yes, I still read email, keep an eye on things, read bugmail (well some of it). Just a bit slow right now. It’s been a pain, but at least Lenovo is taking care of it. I’ll be back and working 100% hopefully in the near future. Hopefully that (briefly) explains what’s been going on in recent weeks.

Update: Zach is having a strikingly similar problem with Apple. I guess laptops repair/replacement just doesn’t happen very promptly lately.

Update 2: Zach is resolved. As of yesterday, mine hasn’t even shipped. :-(

Update 3: resolved!

Update 6/12/2006: Added some clarification to a few things, as well as the note and some wording adjustments.

Should be the last few days offline

I’m expecting a fixed laptop this week, I think every possible delay has run it’s course, so I can’t imagine how anything else can delay it now. So once again, I’ll be somewhat offline and slow on pretty much everything. Next weekend a bit limited as I test the laptop out a bit, and hopefully I’ll be kicking some butt again next Monday. I’ll give a more detailed account of my experience when it’s all done, explaining the good and the bad (it’s a long story, trust me).

The weekly routine

As is now sadly routine, I’ll be a little slower in replies over the next couple of days, while waiting for my laptop to be repaired. I do expect it to be done this week as it’s in what should be competent hands (though Hurricane Ophelia is the latest thing threatening to delay it as it’s being repaired in North Carolina). My goal is to have a 100% working laptop on my desk at the latest by Friday morning. We’ll see how that goes. All I know is this is going on way to long.

Oh yea, DHL stinks. Instead of NEXTDAY service as the label suggests, they decided to ground ship it anyway (costing me an extra day). On the phone I was asked “Is there anything else I can do for you?” Yea… deliver my laptop! Between that and Labor Day on Monday, that basically wasted last week. This week a hurricane threatens it. Already had 2 failed attempts to repair it. Seems there’s a bipartisan conspiracy against me. I’ll detail this whole ordeal more when it’s done.

Tip: good customer support is worth it’s weight in gold. Having a good product, and poor support really lowers the value of the product. We’ll see how this ultimately pans out, but I’m starting to loose the little patience I have left.

Cross posting to Mozilla so this gives the heads up to those wondering why I’m not reading bugmail as often as I should.