Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lenovo U430 touch laptop

As a passionate Computer user I'm going to suggest why the Lenovo U430 makes an ideal laptop platform for the enthusiast on a budget.

I have owned a lot of laptops, however one difference from some of my business friends:

I buy laptops with my own money

So a good price point, meaning price performance & resale value is balanced against looking cool and having today's (but not tomorrows) must have feature

What were the previous comparisons?
Macbook Air 2012 edition
Samsung Chromebook

Both fantastic devices but the Chromebook proposition i.e. do everything on the web still leads to a lot of compromises and /forcing/ the solution.

Having a laptop is simply easier

Why is the Lenovo U430 touch so great?

  • 1Gb Ethernet Port
A most important feature.  I need to be able to connect to Switches, Firewalls or other gadgets with a portable wired Ethernet.  I don't want to have to go via a USB dongle. [Often this is in a sort of home crisis situation and a dongle is just one more thing to go wrong, and out of the house I might not even be carrying it]
  • Upgradable memory
Yes, almost the last laptop in the world to have a 240pin DIMM slot ready to take your upgrade.

  • 2.5 SSD disk bay
Yes you can replace the hard disk!
  • NGFF M.2 disk bay
Yes a nice new empty M.2 NGFF (new generation form factor) disk bay just waiting to house a 42mm long card.
  • Not bad looking
Almost as svelte as my old Macbook Air and a lot more solid!

  • Bonkers battery life
It's over 7 hours.  That is more than I need.
  • USB3 and charge port
So when the laptop is off I can charge something from one port.  And when it is on 

I can get this speed from the USB3 port.  Although for bulk transfers at home I use the 1Gb/sec Ethernet.  Old skool again.

  • Small Power adapter

  • Fair Performance

PS C:\Users\marcus> Get-WmiObject -Class Win32_WinSAT

__GENUS               : 2
__CLASS               : Win32_WinSAT
__SUPERCLASS          : 
__DYNASTY             : Win32_WinSAT
__RELPATH             : Win32_WinSAT.TimeTaken="MostRecentAssessment"
__DERIVATION          : {}
__SERVER              : LENNY
__NAMESPACE           : root\cimv2
__PATH                : \\LENNY\root\cimv2:Win32_WinSAT.TimeTaken="MostRecentAssessment"
CPUScore              : 7.2
D3DScore              : 5.1
DiskScore             : 8.05
GraphicsScore         : 4.9
MemoryScore           : 7.2
TimeTaken             : MostRecentAssessment
WinSATAssessmentState : 1
WinSPRLevel           : 4.9
PSComputerName        : LENNY

  • Touch Screen
Oh, I must emphasise there is the U430 and the U430 Touch, you need touch: I don't use it enough; but Windows 8.1 really make much more sense with the new UI and touch.  So I can experiment to my hearts content on this platform.

  • Not Apple
I am proud to sit in an Airport lounge or in a business meeting and not have an Apple computer.   I don't go glassy eyed and oooh and ahh as though a friends Apple computer was a new born baby. Two words to Apple: Touch Screen.

  • BIOS shots

(click on photos to enlarge)

Any Limitations
  • Wireless is truly awful
I can't get 5Ghz networking to work at all which is almost a deal breaker!   Also you cannot insert an upgraded Wireless mini pcie card into the socket and have it work.  Why? Because the BIOS has a whitelist and will only talk to one of it's known list of cards.  Hmm.

The fix is apparently to try and reprogram the BIOS!  Since this could very easily kill your laptop dead I have put up with the very annoying 2.4Ghz only networking.

You can see the 2.4Ghz speed that I can get is passable, just that I deserve faster! Luckily for backups I can used the wired Ethernet.

Not a problem
  • Swiss keyboard!
Actually I have a US keyboard.  But this meant buying the laptop in the USA. Annoying

  • Mediocre Screen Resolution
My screen resolution is 1600x 900.  Lenovo theoretically produce a higher resolution product, however I could not find it on their own (US) website nor at any retailer.  So I settled for the above.   Actually I don't really see the difference even when watching movies.   Unlike the Chromebook watching a movie can be done without video skip, so let's say Chromebook ownership reset my expectations so low, that the step backup to a mere 1600x900 is sufficient.

What did I change so far

The 500GB Hybrid spinning disk from the laptop replaced with an ancient and fairly slow SSD  (see below waiting for M2).  It transpires the original disk was so thin the replacement SSD would not fit inside the caddy (by depth).  Duct tape to the rescue.  Disk is now stuck to motherboard. (However unlike most other manufactuers laptops, that is the only thing that is stuck and I can replace it with new duct tape anytime) 

  • Disk Speed: I placed an ancient 256GB SSD waiting for the M2.SSD to be available.   Sustained disk speed of over 200MB/sec and decent IO numbers.  When M2 ships I hope to see better

    Actually 6 months later M2 supply has not materialised.  When it does I need to remember that I need a 42mm M2 disk.
  • Windows 8.1 reinstall
  • VMware 10 installed and thus anything incl OS/2, hackintosh,  Cromemco-Z80 emulator  all works just great.

Why was mine so cheap?

I wanted a US or UK keyboard forcing me to source a machine from outside of Switzerland.  In Switzerland only Apply allows you order for home delivery non Swiss keyboards.   Brownie points for Apple to be sure.

I searched eBay until I found what looked like a reliable supplier, paid US dollars for a lowspec model then shipped it to Switzerland, waited, paid import duty and then time to upgrade.

How is it today?
7 months later, it is still a wonderful laptop!

With my old-skool computer dinosaur brain I still get a kick out of it booting in about 10 seconds, meanwhile it's normally in a sleep state so it becomes less than 5 seconds from power button press to ready.

The Intel i5 processor is not state of the Art but compared with the old Chromebook, well there is no comparison.

At last I can Bitorrent whilst in Bed and whilst I am limited to that wireless download speed of /only/ 7MB/sec and not 40MB/sec like our Synology, that will do for now.