This post is a short accompanying piece to the recent video I released on the channel

In that video, David Hill shared with me the design concept that Richard Sapper put together to create a rugged or hardened ThinkPad. ThinkPads were already known for being more durable than the competition, but what if that was taken to the next level. Originally, when we were working on the video, there was only one photograph known to exist of the model that Sapper built that David posted on his Instagram years ago. No other images existed.

An AI upscaled version of the photo originally posted by David Hill.

Until now.

Thanks to David, we now have several images of the concept that Sapper built. Brian Leonard, the current VP of Design at Lenovo was kind enough to go into the archives and take some photographs of the model to help tell the story. They appeared in the video, but I have put them below for archival purposes.

The Hardened ThinkPad Concept, closed.
The Hardened ThinkPad Concept, left side.
The Hardened ThinkPad Concept, left side with port door open.
The Hardened ThinkPad Concept, right side with port door open.
The Hardened ThinkPad Concept, right side with port door open.

Chris Harjadi is a sophomore student studying cognitive science. The focus of his studies includes how computer science and psychology connect via virtual reality/”metaverse” applications, as well as learning about the philosophy and linguistics of computer systems. In the article below, Chris shares his thoughts on the relationship between making computers intuitive to use, thinness and repairability. Feel free to reach out to Chris via email.

Would you like to contribute an article as a Guest Writer? Feel free to get in touch via the Contact button.


TL;DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read): More and more nontechnical users are using laptops; they would prefer sending them to a repair shop over DIY repair, and the market share of DIYers in both corporate and consumer buyers is dwindling. 

So far, I would say that IT businesses have shifted mostly from individuals who repaired laptops on an individual basis (ex, laptop repair much like the “do it yourself” ethos of PC builders) to being outsourced to bigger repair shops (ex, Staples,  Office Depot, Insight, etc) in the corporate world, leading for businesses not to really care about the repairability of the machines they are manufacturing. After all, a broken laptop, in an employee’s eyes, is broken and will often be repaired by the “tech guy.”

Since computer manufacturers want to give the consumer what they want, a computer that is easy to repair is not often a priority. If their customers don’t care about the repairability of the device, then it means the manufacturer doesn’t normally either. This gives laptop manufacturers a stronger incentive to “lock up” their computers and make them less repairable because it isn’t as important as it used to be. On the design side, larger manufacturers over the years including Lenovo, Apple, HP, Dell and more, want to outdo each other in providing what the consumer wants. This often means thinner and lighter devices (what is valued) at the cost of repairability (not as valued). 

I think it could be due to manufacturers targeting non-technical users by giving them a seamless and intuitive user interface/hardware interface. This marketing has been pushed rather strongly by Apple compared to the Microsoft/Windows laptop market. Over the years Apple made several ads showing the ease with which a computer could be used and Microsoft felt the pressure to create a similar experience for its users. This means the overall skill ceiling to use a computer becomes lower and accessibility is greater. These are both good things, but they come with a price.

Since the number of non-technical users has increased over the years, the DIY ethos has less and less of a market share, leading to manufacturers to cut costs, first soldering chips to the motherboard, then soldering the RAM later on. Even mainline ThinkPads, like the ThinkPad T490 and later, only have one user-replaceable RAM slot. Interestingly enough, this feature now appears on the L series, which is geared towards smaller business consumers that might need to make their machines work for longer periods of time in between upgrades, making this feature more desirable at this price point. This leads to a cycle where non-technical employees and consumers enjoy slimmer and slimmer laptops, while sacrificing tech-friendly features like maintenance hatches and easy to replace RAM. David Hill said it well in an interview segment featured on Laptop Retrospective:

“It’s not as utilitarian as it once was but some of the need for some of that stuff is not so great. It used to be really, really important to swap out batteries, the hardfile [hard drive] and all this stuff. It’s a slightly different world now and to make a computer like that would make it thicker, more expensive, more complicated, layers upon layers upon layers of materials. I think that kind of thing, that time has somewhat passed. There may be a market for some of that but it’s a smaller market.”

Businesses buy these laptops because they are in demand and the computer technicians can fix them quickly by swapping larger components wasting less time on diagnosis. When they run out of warranty, the hard-to-repair laptops flood the refurbished market every 2-3 years. Many computer enthusiasts prefer to buy used hardware because they have the skill and knowledge to have them run good as new. Interestingly, HP and Dell have kept many of these features in their business-class laptops, yet they have also had to put internal batteries in laptops. 

On the ground, I see that most tech enthusiasts and people who like to tinker tend to talk about the right to repair (which is an important movement), while other non-technical users will get outside help. In the end, it mainly impacts people who buy refurbished units or old laptops on eBay or other retailers, while businesses and employees tend to be generally happy with using their work laptops. Though the Framework laptop has helped revive the right to repair discussion for laptops, its features are only appreciated by technology enthusiasts. In short, repairable features of laptops are only appreciated by tech enthusiasts, which are making up a smaller and smaller share of the laptop market.


Thanks again to Chris for putting this together. If you’d like to read more about this subject, you might be interested in the articles below.

Dec
28

Repairability, Realism and the Rise of Repairables

Like a few articles on this website, this was inspired by a tweet by a friend of mine Dave Kennedy.  Dave is right. ThinkPads have been sporting modular, repairable and swappable parts as part of their original bento-box style design. To see one of the finest examples of this, see the video below. There has […]

While I’ve never personally experienced a folding screen device yet, the behemoth 17″ ASUS Zenbook 17 Fold gives me pause. When it is folded up, it is essentially the size of a 12″ laptop and that to me is very close to the perfect size for me. But a device that folds out entirely to something 17″ in size seems a bit unwieldy. I remember avoiding the Surface Book 2 15″ for that very reason.

While it might be huge, it does allow for a respectable amount of room for some good specifications. A few to note are:

  • Intel® Core™ i7-1250U Processor 1.1 GHz (12M Cache, up to 4.7 GHz, 2P+8E cores)
  • 17.3-inch, 2560 x 1920 FOLED 4:3 aspect ratio
  • 16GB LPDDR5 onboard
  • 1TB M.2 NVMe™ PCIe® 4.0 Performance SSD
  • 2x Thunderbolt™ 4 supports display/power delivery
  • 1x 3.5mm Combo Audio Jack
  • 5.0M camera with IR function to support Windows Hello
  • Wi-Fi 6E(802.11ax)+Bluetooth 5.2 (Dual band) 2*2
  • 75Whr Battery
The Zenbook 17 Fold in its various configurations.

Now looking at this device and its US MIL-STD 810H military-grade standard testing being passed, the comparisons against the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold that was announced last year are immediately drawn. In fact, seeing photos of the Zenbook 17 Fold closed makes it look like the X1 Fold’s big brother.

While I had mixed feelings about the launch of the first-generation device, I think the size and form factor of the X1 Fold makes a bit more sense. In short, I can imagine far more easily the person that would use an X1 Fold than I can imagine the person that would use the Zenbook 17 Fold. The X1 Fold has a 50Whr battery to drive its modest screen whereas the Zenbook 17 Fold has a lot more computer to drive with only a slightly larger 75Whr battery. The X1 Fold has a keyboard as well but also has the option for a pen. We don’t yet know if the keyboard on the Zenbook 17 Fold will be included.

The other matter of interest is the hinge mechanism which is rated for 30,000 folds according to ASUS and looking at the design of the hinge, it even looks somewhat similar when compared to the competition. It almost makes you wonder if ASUS has some kind of deal with Lenovo to share some design secrets. If nothing else, it would be hard to deny that somebody at ASUS was inspired by what Lenovo was doing last year.

A close-up of the hinge mechanism in the Zenbook 17 Fold is found on the product website.

Pricing and availability of the new foldable have yet to be released but ASUS is saying later this year.

In a not at all surprising twist, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is getting another round of updates that should keep it the king of the pack in terms of ultraportable. Some  notable updates to this generation of X1 Carbon include:

  • Up to 12th generation Intel® Core™ i7 vPro® U and P Series processors, up to 14-core
  • Up to Windows 11 Pro, Linux Ubuntu, or Fedora
  • FHD Webcamera now standard in a new Communications Bar
  • Up to 32GB LPDDR5
  • Up to 2TB Gen 4 performance PCIe NVMe SSD
  • 57 Whr battery
  • Intel® Wi-Fi 6E (requires Windows 11)
  • Bluetooth® 5.2
  • NFC
  • New screen options, see below for details
A breakdown showing the new FHD webcamera setup. A much needed upgrade.

Ports include:

  • 2x Thunderbolt™ 4
  • 2x USB 3.2 Type-A Gen 1
  • 1x HDMI 2.0b
  • 1x Audio (Headphone and Microphone Combo Jack)
  • 1x Nano SIM
A new range of impressive screens are not available.

More screen options than you can shake a stick at listed below:

  • 14” WUXGA 16:10 (1920×1200) IPS LP AG
    (400nit, 100%sRGB, Eyesafe)
  • 14” WUXGA 16:10 (1920×1200) IPS LP AG Touch
    (400nit, 100%sRGB, Eyesafe)
  • 14” WUXGA 16:10 (1920×1200) IPS LP AG Touch with Privacy Guard
    (500nit, 100%sRGB, TUV ePrivacy Cert)
  • 14” 2.2K 16:10 (2240×1400) IPS AG
    (300nit, 100% sRGB)
  • 14” 2.8K 16:10 (2880×1800) OLED AGARAS
    (400nit, 100% DCI-P3, Eyesafe)
  • 14” WQUXGA 16:10 (3840×2400) IPS LP Glare
    (500nit, 100% DCI-P3, HDR400, Dolby® Vision™, Eyesafe)
  • 14” WQUXGA 16:10 (3840×2400) IPS LP AOFT Touch AGAR

Overall this appears to be a great machine and would likely give me pause if I were buying a new laptop today. If I had the choice between a ThinkPad X1 Carbon or an X1 Nano, I think I’d go with this now that it has the nicer display options.

Lenovo has announced the next generation of ThinkPad X1 Nano with some tasteful updates:

  • Intel vPro® with 12th Gen Intel® Core™ i7 processors
  • up to 32GB LPDDR5 memory
  • a larger capacity 49.6 Whr battery
  • Up to Windows 11 Pro, Fedora, and Ubuntu Linux
  • FHD webcam now standard
  • Up to 2TB PCIe SSD
  • Intel® Wi-Fi 6E (requires Windows 11)
Note the redesigned Communications Bar.

The rest remains unchanged and that is fine by me as I still enjoy my Gen 1 device. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. This should also do some interesting things to the prices of the X1 Nano Gen 1 which is still a fantastic device. I’m happy to see that this line continues as I think more people will appreciate this exceptional thin and light laptop.

Lenovo is bringing back the ThinkPad Z series this year at CES 2022.

Back in the day, the ThinkPad Z series was the first of the ThinkPad line to use the 16:10 screen which was adopted on every other line afterwards. It was also the first time a ThinkPad featured the use of titanium. If you want to learn more about the Z series, see the two videos below where I take a look at the Z61t and hear about the creation from the project manager, Rob Herman.

Aug
19

Rob Herman Interview (Product Manager of i , A, R, Z, P Series and the X tablet)

If you haven’t seen the interview I did with Rob Herman, I will link in directly below. If you’d like to just listen to the interview, here is an mp3 of our talk.   It was really great to speak with Rob and learn about his unique perspective in the creative process. Every person that […]

The original ThinkPad Z series had a slew of multimedia-centric features and it looks like the new generation is following in its footsteps. The ThinkPad Z series is returning in two flavours in a slim 14mm chassis, the Z13 and Z16. Images also show a leather-like cover very similar to the Reserve Edition that was available for the 15th Anniversary. Both new machines feature a bump at the top (called the Communications Bar) that houses the cameras (regular and IR) which are now FHD and include a microphone array. 

The  Z13 will offer a 13.3″ 16:10 setup with two display options. (WUXGA IPS 400nit Low Power (touch option) or WQXGA OLED 400nit, Touch, Dolby Vision, Low Blue Light) The Z13 will house a 50Whr battery. 2x USB-C (4.0) ports and a audio jack are present.

The  Z16 will offer a 16″ 16:10 setup with two display options. (WUXGA IPS 400nit Low Power (touch option) or WQXGA OLED 400nit, Touch, Dolby Vision, Low Blue Light) The Z16 will house a 70Whr battery. 3x USB-C (4.0) ports and a audio jack are present. The Z16 is the only model with an SD Card slot.

These laptops will come in the following colour options:

  • Z13: Black Recycled Vegan Leather/Bronze AL, Arctic Grey Recycled AL, Black Recycled AL
  • Z16: Arctic Grey Recycled AL

Other important features include AMD Ryzen Pro 6000 series CPUs (with an exclusive Ryzen 7 Pro 6760Z) with no Intel option currently announced. The Z16 can also be configured with the AMD Radeon™ RX 6500M discrete graphics card. Memory will be Up to 32GB LPDDR5

Z13 is powered by AMD Ryzen PRO U-Series processors with integrated AMD Radeon graphics plus Microsoft Pluton security processor. Z13 is also available with an exclusive AMD Ryzen PRO 6860Z processor

Z16 is powered by AMD Ryzen PRO H-Series processors with integrated AMD Radeon graphics or optional AMD Radeon RX 6500M discrete graphics, and include the Microsoft Pluton security processor

AMD Ryzen PRO 6000 Series processors with Qualcomm® FastConnect 6900 offer advanced manageability and industry leading Wi-Fi connectivity on Z13 and Z16. Additionally, Qualcomm® 4-stream Dual Band Simultaneousi (DBS) on AMD Ryzen™ PRO 6000 Series processors enables sustained low latency potential of Wi-Fi Dual Station, natively supported on Windows 11

Haptic ForcePad and fingerprint reader on the Z16. The Z13 has a keyboard that goes right to the edge and has a different speaker configuration.

The eagle-eyed users will note a TrackPoint but no dedicated buttons and be concerned. However, this laptop features a similar haptic feedback pad that was released on the X1 Titanium last year. Speaking of the TrackPoint, it can now be double-tapped to access a Communications menu for common microphone and camera settings. This isn’t the first time that tapping the TrackPoint had a function and this is a welcomed return.

ThinkPad Z13 will be available from May 2022, starting from $1549
ThinkPad Z16 will be available from May 2022, starting from $2099

For more information, see the following launch video from Lenovo.

The TrackPoint is a polarizing way to interact with your computer. You either love it or hate it. Several journalists and technology writers have said that it seems out of place on a modern computer with TrackPads now being the norm. However, the TrackPad is not always as useful as the TrackPoint, especially in certain circumstances. As you might know from a previous article on this website, I like TrackPoints.

Jul
22

TrackPoint Keyboards

If you are looking for a greater, in-depth article, please consider checking out this fantastic summary of several of the keyboards below here. PS/2 Era or Earlier IBM Model M13 A classic with Buckling springs. Very rare with no active listings on eBay. For more information on this beauty, check out LGR’s episode where he […]

So as I was doing some digging around for patent drawings and such, I found some really cool documents and photos. These were found on a Microsoft Research website archive called the Buxton Collection and I am uploading them below just in case the page is ever removed. This article will also serve as a companion piece to a video that I am currently editing that is related to this subject, but wouldn’t really focus on some of these neat little details.

IBM T. J. Watson Research Paper TrackPoint IBM

TrackPoint Interact 90

Buxton Collection Story(PDF of website above)

The following images below come from an issue of Interactions, September-October 1997 “A Conversation with Ted Selker” and give some insight to ideas they had for TrackPoint’s future.

For more information on the TrackPoint Mouse, check out the following links to the G1, G2 and G3 variants. I’m not sure if any of these three examples exist in the wild, but ScrollPoint technology was developed and released to the general public which is similar but not identical. The ScrollPoint II and onward series has the most in common with the G3 type which featured a different cap/interface. The ScrollPoint I more closely resembles the G1 and G2.

As an added bonus, here is a launch video for the TrackPoint. This promotional video by IBM features Ted Selker introducing the TrackPoint in its early stages before it would make its most memorable appearance on the ThinkPad 700C.

If you follow me on Twitter, consider posting your favourite TrackPoint photo on this thread:

Like a few articles on this website, this was inspired by a tweet by a friend of mine Dave Kennedy. 

Dave is right. ThinkPads have been sporting modular, repairable and swappable parts as part of their original bento-box style design. To see one of the finest examples of this, see the video below.

There has been a big change in how society views computers. They have gone from specialized hardware to an appliance. Appliances are disposable and do not require background knowledge to use. For example, you don’t need to know how your microwave or fridge works to operate it. In the early days of computing, not knowing how a computer worked meant it was difficult to use. This has led to them being more disposable. Mobile computers are especially prone to being disposable.

A modern mobile computer that is disposable cannot realistically be repaired outside of large component swaps. We are talking about everything being soldered onto a board. Due to this and a variety of other factors, you often see people replacing their mobile devices every three years or sooner, which coincidently is when the extended warranties also run out. Few companies are left that offer warranties beyond this point and this is an unattractive prospect for business customers that cannot go without. One might say that repairability is the answer, but it isn’t so simple. This is compounded further as business customers and the average consumer aren’t interested so much in repairability anymore as a feature. Other items like build materials, thinness, ports and power are more important. Few are concerned with making room for servicing. It also doesn’t help that definitions vary between groups. When I followed up with Dave about this article, he had this to say:

From a business perspective “serviceable” means more than fixable to many. Upgradeable to increase longevity, security where data on sensitive components can be removed and physically destroyed without killing the entire device. – Dave Kennedy

There are awesome channels out there that do a great job of documenting this process like Louis Rossmann who has become synonymous with the Right to Repair movement. He needs are unique in the sense he wants schematics and access to parts that companies like Apple are keeping from entering any kind of public supply chain. Make no mistake, this has a direct impact on the owner of electronic devices because it opens up choice for where you can get your device repaired, the level of repair and of course, the cost. Currently, many manufacturers will not do component repair and will only offer to swap out the board or larger parts that house that component. Right to Repair would give third-party repair the option to offer component repair to more devices.

Now that is a very quick and dirty summary of a very complex and ongoing issue and that brings me back to laptops. It is well known in tech circles that the least repairable devices are from Apple and any other company that prefers adhesive and soldered components. Many Surface devices from Microsoft are no better. Recently, there has been a resurgence of repairable laptops like the one offered from Framework which I’ve discussed on this site before.

May
09

Framework Laptop- What we know so far

Since I first posted about the Framework Laptop, many details have been released. Here is everything we know so far about this laptop. Currently, Framework is preparing for pre-orders. You can find out more information in their article here. 1. 1080 Webcam The Framework Laptop will have a 1080P 60fps camera. Produced by Partron  in […]

This is really cool to see a company building a computer that is ‘completely’ user serviceable. But how much of an advantage do you really have over other laptops?

Now full disclosure, I have yet to have the opportunity to look at the Framework Laptop (I hope one day to do so), so this is not based on my personal time with it, but let us talk about the basic components that make up a laptop:

  • Case
  • Display
  • CPU
  • Cooling solution
  • Battery/Charging system
  • RAM
  • Motherboard
  • dGPU (if present)
  • Keyboard
  • Ports
  • Mouse/Pointing device
  • WiFi, LTE/5G
  • Storage
  • Speakers
  • Microphone
  • Camera

Thanks to Intel and AMD, you cannot get a socketed CPU anymore in a laptop after the 4th generation of Intel. This is a pain point for a lot of older users that remember the days of swapping out a CPU and getting better performance. This is one of the factors that make the ThinkPad W540/541 and other machines of that era still desirable. It has a socketed CPU, four RAM slots along with nearly everything else being removable and user serviceable. While not “modern”, it has even more serviceable components than newer laptops that advertise a highly repairable device.

Since a socketed CPU is out, that only really leaves RAM, WiFi, LTE/5G and storage for upgrades. Framework is planning on possibly having motherboards/CPUs that you can swap out with the same screw points to reduce the need for you to buy a whole new PC; we will see how this works once the company has been around long enough to release another board revision. Beyond these components, most manufacturers have similar levels of repairability with the only distinguishing factor being how easy it is to access parts. Another benefit of course is a company that encourages you to tinker, upgrade and modify your device and is actively supporting third party development of expansion modules. One other item that doesn’t get a lot of discussion is ports wearing out that are soldered onto the mainboard of laptops and the Framework is currently no exception to that. The only really way around that is to make the ports socketed on the board itself or put them in smaller boards that connect to the main board. The expansion card system does potentially mitigate this, but only if you aren’t constantly swapping modules.

All that being said, I remain cautiously optimistic that this will be a return to more easily swappable, repairable components, but it could also be very possible the that industry has moved on from this being desirable (people willing to pay for these features or sacrifice other features) and this could just be a new niche or a passing moment. David Hill, the person that led ThinkPad design for decades in a Think Design Short Stories segment had this to say:

It’s not as utilitarian as it once was but some of the need for some of that stuff is not so great. It used to be really, really important to swap out batteries, the hardfile and all this stuff. It’s a slightly different world now and to make a computer like that would make it thicker, more expensive, more complicated, layers upon layers upon layers of materials. I think that kind of thing, that time has somewhat passed. There may be a market for some of that but it’s a smaller market.

Nobody really looses when a machine is easier to repair, except maybe the sale of a brand new machine which has a higher profit margin but at the same time, supporting older machines means a steady stream of sale of replacement parts as well. Perhaps we will see each major manufacturers sell a highly repairable and serviceable line for those customers that desire it just like those customers that desire other specific experiences. Time will tell and maybe we will find out as early as CES 2022. 

Perhaps 2022 will the be year of the “repairables” category.

Ahead of CES this year, LG is breaking into the gaming laptop market. The UltraGear series laptop is supposed to be a thin laptop that boasts significant performance. Here is an excerpt from the press briefing:

LG’s take-anywhere gaming rig features an 11th Gen Intel® Tiger Lake H processor, NVIDIA GeForceTM RTX 3080 Max-Q graphics card, dual-channel memory and an ultra-fast dual SSD setup. In addition to a 17-inch IPS panel with a 1 millisecond response time and a 300Hz refresh rate, the LG UltraGear gaming laptop ensures immersive, fluid gameplay for even the most graphically demanding PC games thanks to the latest top-of-the-line hardware. Also, LG’s cooling system with vapor chamber keeps the laptop running cool, even when pushed to the limits.

When it comes to this much performance in a thinner chassis (o.84 inches), cooling is ultimately the problem. Modern laptops are essentially guaranteed to throttle at some point given that it is an acceptable outcome nowadays. It will be interesting to see how this laptop benchmarks under load. Vapor chamber technology has been used before to cool all sorts of setups and seeing how it can handle cooling a modern Intel CPU and NVIDIA GPU will be worth watching closely.

Pricing has not yet been announced but given the specs listed below, it will likely be a premium priced device. Given the continuing GPU shortage however, the 3080 might be attractive enough to give this device a try.

LG UltraGear 17G90Q

Display Size

17.3-inch

LCD

FHD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS 1ms, 300Hz,
sRGB 99 percent

Aspect Ratio

16:9

Weight

2.64kg (5.82lbs)

Size

400 x 271.6 x 20.9 ~ 21.4mm

(15.75 x 10.69 x 0.82~0.84 inches)

Battery

93Wh

CPU

11th Gen Intel® Core™ Processor Intel Tiger Lake – H

GPU

NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Max-Q Graphics 

Memory

16/32GB

Dual Slots

(DDR4)

Storage

Up to 1TB

M.2 Dual SSD slots (NVMeTM)

Color

Purple Gray

Keyboard

Per-key RGB backlit gaming keyboard

I/O Port

USB 4 Gen 3×2 Type C (x1, USB PD-out & TBT4),
USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 Type C (x1, USB PD-out & DP),
USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 (x2), HP-Out (4-Pole Headset, US
type), HDMI, RJ45, DC-In, microSD/UFS

USP

IPS 1ms response time & 300Hz refresh rate,
Fingerprint Reader on Power button,
FHD webcam with Dual Mic, IR Camera,
Wi-Fi 6E & Intel® Killer Wireless,
2 Way speaker (2.0W x 4) with DTS X Ultra,
Cooling System with Vapor Chamber,
gaming UI (UltraGear Studio)

If you haven’t seen the interview I did with Rob Herman, I will link in directly below.

If you’d like to just listen to the interview, here is an mp3 of our talk.

 

It was really great to speak with Rob and learn about his unique perspective in the creative process. Every person that makes up the team that gives us a machine has a part to play and it was very interesting to hear his thoughts on some of the classic and upcoming ThinkPads that have been released. It has certainly brought a newfound appreciation for the process and all the steps involved.