Thinkpad T430s and Samsung 830
The newest addition to my stable of laptops, the Thinkpad T430s. I replaced the factory hard drive with a Samsung 830 SSD, 256GB, so I’ll review that too.
This post is all about the hardware and Windows. I have since installed an m4 msata drive and OpenBSD as well.
The first thing that should be mentioned is the keyboard. This is the new Thinkpad keyboard, island chiclet style or whatever you want to call it. I was a little scared, because I’ve really come to love the standard Thinkpad keyboard, but the future is here and there’s no going back. The good news is it’s just as easy to type on as previous models. It’s not the same, true, but I don’t feel hampered by it at all. The arrow keys are still bigger than the half size keys most laptops ship with, and include pgup and pgdn keys in the cluster. On the downside, they have messed with the function keys. There’s now just a single row of keys up top. What’s missing are page up/down keys in the top cluster. I prefer reaching up there when scrolling through a long document, the ones by the arrow keys are too close for long term use (on previous models, I remapped the page next/prev keys to up/down, but used them infrequently). I have the backlit keyboard too. It’s much nicer than using the thinklight, except for one design flaw. The top row of function keys is offset a little and there’s a gap through which an annoying amount of light leaks through. Unless you are staring straight down at the keyboard, there’s enough glare it gets very distracting. Also, strangest decision ever: replacing the menu key between right alt and ctrl with print screen! No numlock or virtual numpad either. For a pro line laptop, I think the missing keys are weird. Another complaint: No capslock indicator light. There’s an on screen overlay instead, like with the brightness or volume controls, but no physical light. Along those lines, the battery and power lights are only on the outside of the lid, no more lights on the user side.
The touchpad supports a couple gestures, though two finger scrolling is about all I’d recommend. Pinch and zoom work sometimes, but there’s not quite enough surface area to do it reliably. There are physical buttons as before, so you’re not liable to miss clicks like on some of the all in one click pads. The wrist detector is pretty aggressive. Any time you press a key, the trackpad is disabled for one second. Makes playing games that require both keyboard and mouse double impossible. Turns out this is configurable under the UltraNav panel in mouse settings. After dialing it back, life is much better.
Performance wise, it’s fast. And a half. AMD is going to have trouble keeping it’s APU graphics advantage with the way Intel is improving things. The i5 is a close match to the A4 in my HP laptop gaming wise. Not quite as fast, but the A4 doesn’t let me turn up the settings any higher. It’s just a little smoother at the medium 720p setting. CPU performance wise, the i5 crushes the A4 of course. Having used the system for a little while, I think one of my favorite features is the hardware AES support. Disk encryption is completely transparent, even large transfers perform at full speed.
The screen resolution is 1600x900. Would much rather have stuck with 1400x1050 if it were available. Mailtanium looks particularly weird, I will have to redesign it with a wide interface now. The viewing angles are just as poor as they are on my T60. More than about ten vertical degrees off center and the film negative effect takes over. It’s bad enough that if the screen is adjusted for sitting at a table and typing, and you sit back to relax, the screen will be mostly unreadable. Really, Lenovo, get an IPS panel. Or e-IPS or whatever.
Battery life seems good. I have the bay battery to replace the DVD drive. It seems about nine hours of regular use is possible. Suspend and resume are super fast. Open the lid, there’s the password prompt. With the SSD, it boots in about nine seconds. Shutdown and startup are generally faster than hibernate, in fact.
On the software side, Norton Internet Security is the only notable crapware. Deleted that as fast as possible. The disk image is several months old though, so expect to spend several hours downloading and rebooting updates. I don’t see why they can’t update the factory image with new Windows updates every month or so. Every single user is going to install them first thing they do, so if the updates aren’t validated or something, they’re going to be hosed no matter what. It also needed about a gigabyte of wireless and graphics drivers updates. Lenovo also includes some kind of TapPoint app launcher and links to an app store. The interface seems designed for touch, though, and it seems useless on a regular laptop.
I also aftermarket upgraded the 4GB RAM to 8GB for no particular reason, as 4GB did not appear to be a limit. I removed the 4GB DIMM entirely, since the replacement is 1.3V vs the 1.5V that shipped (yeah power savings! Actually, without motherboard support, pretty sure it’s still running at 1.5V). I think the only noticeable effect may be to make hibernate slower, but I’m not sure. Shortly after that I realized I’m only running one DIMM in a dual channel capable system. Matching the already existing upgrade means I now have a completely ludicrous 16GB installed. In hindsight, purchasing a single 4GB DIMM would have been the smart upgrade.
Another upgrade was internal wifi. I ordered mine with the Intel 2200 BGN wireless, which I realized just a little too late is 2.4GHz only. It’s not a big deal, but while changing the RAM I noticed there are three antennas wired up, with only two connected. Thinkpads are fussy about unapproved devices, but special Lenovo wifi cards can be found on ebay for cheap. $19.79 later I had a three antenna, dual band, top of the line Centrino 6300 AGN adapter coming my way from China. Easy enough replacement, though the micro coaxial connectors get a little feisty when being reconnected. That was in fact cheaper than Lenovo charges for upgrading ($40), though the hassle isn’t worth the savings. I was being careless, not frugal. Again, no noticeable effect, but should I encounter a 5GHz network in the wild, I think I’m ready for it. (A few months later I did get a 5GHz access point. Performance wise, no difference, but it reduces interference with my wireless headphones, which was considerable if streaming video.)
I never mentioned the weight. After a week of use, I was beginning to think the T430s wasn’t as light as I thought. Then I picked up my T60 yesterday. oof. This thing is a lot lighter, but still heavy enough to notice it in your bag.
Minor annoyances. The keyboard backlight doesn’t come back on after resume. I’ve gotten more than a little used to it, to the point where I miss it when using the T60, and turning it back on after every resume just feels like something I shouldn’t need to do. After running down the battery yesterday, then suspending and recharging, when it came back on later, it was in “battery stretch” mode, with everything responding super sluggishly and with aero effects turned off. Then they just came back on their own. Sometimes the USB port I have my hub plugged into doesn’t work at the Windows login screen after a resume, so I have to type my password on the laptop keyboard before switching to the external one. Only seems to affect the USB 2 port. I use the USB 3 port, but then I can’t type my boot password. The volume buttons don’t appear to work if a program has grabbed the keyboard. Who to blame for any of these annoyances, I dunno.
I went with Samsung because they have a rep for a reliable and performant drive. All the new Intel drives use the Sandforce controller, which I’m ok with for some systems, but since I plan on encrypting the hard drive, all the compression magic it does is useless. I’d rather have a drive that didn’t rely on firmware tricks. Also, the Samsung is 7mm in height, a requirement for the T430s. (My Intel X-25M drive could be 7mm, but is 9.5mm with the spacer. And the screws holding the spacer on hold the case together. When I removed the spacer to test it in the T430s, the whole thing came apart. No damage done.)
The AnandTech benchmarks for the 830 are quite impressive. The only area where it comes up short is in active use power draw. When it’s idle, the power used is very low, but reading and writing makes it draw several more watts than competitors. I decided I was fine with this. I won’t be downloading or copying large files in battery I suspect.
Samsung includes a copy of Norton Ghost, but I figured that was probably going to be trouble, so I started out with the Windows backup tools. Create a system image, save to USB hard drive, create a rescue disk, swap drives, reboot. Rescue CD finds the system image, is about to install it, then announces this option isn’t available because I need to login first. Login to where? There’s no login option, just a reboot button. Best part: It tells me to contact my system administrator for help. That just makes the useless error message doubly infuriating. Good thing my hard drive didn’t really crash and need replacement, there’s no way to restore a thing.
Replace original drive, we’ll do things the Norton way. What a piece of crap this thing is. All the options in the program are set up to ask me about making a backup. No, I don’t want a backup. I want to put this hard drive on that hard drive. OK, there’s the copy drive option. Except it can’t backup the recovery partition. And I have to copy the Windows system and c: partitions separately. WTF kind of migration tool is this? Make this drive look like that drive. That’s all I want. Anyway, I do the Ghost thing, swap drives, and computer won’t boot from it. MBR or something has not been copied. Windows rescue disk repairs the damage. To no avail. Still won’t boot.
Fuck it, we’ll do things the hard way. Get out my Windows 7 Home DVD, start a new install. Boom, done, working. Now I just need to download a gigabyte of drivers. Again. And two gigs of updates. Again. Thankfully, Lenovo has a well organized driver page that makes it pretty easy to download everything. I was able to Anytime Upgrade back to Win 7 Pro by entering the key that came with the Lenovo, but it required calling the 800 number to finish activation. Internet activation wouldn’t work.
Verdict on the drive: It’s fast. Real fast.
That settled, things are looking good. The T430s splits the difference between my T60 and X200s. Losing a couple pounds makes it easy to work propped on my lap, and the battery life and performance are both uncompromising. The missteps with the keyboard are something I’ll adapt to. (Mostly have. The light leaking from the top row of keys is much less bothersome.) At the very least, I no longer have to deal with the intolerably slow hard drive of the HP laptop to play games.
Moving my OpenBSD VM to this machine was a piece of cake. Makes me consider if I should install another copy of Windows in a VM for general work, and only use the real computer for performance sensitive things like games. Would make future migrations much simpler.