On the Design of Laptops (and my new Lenovo G530 running Ubuntu Linux)

Over the last few months I’ve been shopping for a new/refurbished laptop. I had my mind set on a refurbished Thinkpad R61 or R500, but those were ranging between $600 and $700. At that price I was going to have to wait a while until I had more money set aside. In the meantime I have been looking at every laptop I come across just in case there’s something awesome out there that I have not yet seen.

Earlier this week I was at Best Buy for an unrelated computer project and, on my way out, I swung through the laptop section. After looking everything over it was apparent that anything that was under $500 was crap. However, NONE of the machines were very appealing to me. I know that for a computer I should just be concerned with the performance aspects, but I can’t help but be extremely interested in the overall design of the hardware.

Looking at all of those laptops was disappointing in that aspect. But for Apple and Lenovo, all of the computer manufacturers have apparently decided that all computers must look like some kind of pimped-out Honda Accord. All of them are very glossy plastic and generally covered in distracting ‘designer’ details. The new Dell Studio line is an improvement, but I was underwhelmed by the ‘feel’ of those devices. They felt cheap and bulky and were all priced at the high end. The Sonys look a little better, but not much and they are WAY over priced.

None of these machines resembled the regal designs of Apple or Thinkpad laptops. I know Thinkpads are often considered ugly and bland, but I don’t agree with that. The T-series especially are always very thin with hinges, buttons and levers that intuitively make sense. And the cases always feel very serious and rugged. The Thinkpad is actually better than any Apple laptop in my opinion since it doesn’t allow aesthetics to override functionality. There are plenty of buttons next to the trackpads. The display-latch is not some thin little button that you have to push with your fingernail (Titanium Powerbook).The arrow keys are not scaled down to fit into the overall rectangle of the keyboard.

Speaking of screwed up keyboards, just used a friend’s Dell-AlienWare laptop last night… why would a gamer or anyone that would spend that much money on a laptop want a keyboard that is compromised in any way? For example, the laptop was a 17″ display version with a full number pad but for some reason important keys like the arrow keys, the right-shift key and the question mark/slash key were all micro-sized to fit into a rectangular keyboard outline. It made the keyboard almost unusable. I kept hitting the Shift key instead of the slash-key while typing in URLs. Why would you do that to a premium laptop keyboard? These hardware designers have obviously lost touch with reality. Or maybe gamers really don’t use their computers for anything other than gaming.

After all of this frustration I ended up finding a good laptop at the unbelievable price of $378 on NewEgg.com’s daily specials. I did some quick research and decided to go with it as a compromise to save some money. When the machine arrived two days later I was mostly delighted. What’s the machine? A Lenovo G530. Never heard of it? Neither had I.

Lenoro G530

Apparently Lenovo’s Value Line isn’t very heavily promoted. Also, if you go to their site, the price isn’t much different from their IdeaPad line. The price on NewEgg was pretty spectacular. I knowingly made some compromises, but overall I’m very happy with this new laptop, how it runs and how it looks.

Once you carefully peal off the ‘Intel Dual Pentium Inside’ and ‘Built for Windows Vista’ decals the machine is all black with some subtle gray print and a few blue lights. The only real design misstep is the oversized Lenovo logo on the outside cover. It could have been half the size or maybe even a third. And it’s some kind of metal decal that’s inset into the cover, so you would probably do more  damage than good trying to remove it. Here’s a short list of gripes:

  • The display would be better if it had a latch that held it closed.
  • The oversized exterior Lenovo logo
  • It’s thicker than my Thinkpad T42
  • The exterior cover is a smooth black that shows finger smudges.
  • They could have saved time and forgotten about the touch-sensitive buttons.
  • A middle-button with the trackpad would have been nice.
  • Display is glossy

Here’s a list of nice features:

  • Very quiet
  • Very cool to touch even after long hours of use
  • Touchpad is as good and sensitive as a Thinkpad’s
  • Display is big, sharp and bright
  • Keyboard is great
  • Runs Ubuntu Linux as though it were its intended OS
  • Wireless turn-off switch is handy
  • Exterior looks great
  • Handling/moving laptop build feels strong and well-built
  • Video playback is excellent

And here are the specs:

  • Pentium Dual-Core T4200 — 2 GHz
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • 15″ display — 1280 x 800
  • 150 GB Hard Drive
  • DVD-RW Optical Drive
  • Built-in Webcam
  • Built-in a/b/g Wireless
  • 4 USB ports
  • VGA-out port
  • Ethernet port
  • Modem port
  • Multi-Card Reader
  • Line In jack
  • Headphone jack

This is a good system and great for running Linux. Some of the hardware needs proprietary drivers (wireless) but with Ubuntu getting drivers like that is fairly simple. A great budget machine that, in my opinion, is much better looking and less bulky than most of the ]more expensive models that are on the market currently. If you can find it at the price I got, this is an amazing machine compared to the much smaller and less powerful netbooks that are similarly priced.

2 thoughts on “On the Design of Laptops (and my new Lenovo G530 running Ubuntu Linux)”

  1. Looks like a nice little laptop. I had a similar experience walking through the computer section at Best Buy. I can’t believe how ugly everything is. I have toyed with the idea of building a hackintosh, maybe the Lenovo would be a good option for me, too.

  2. Adrian, I’d definitely give the Lenovo laptops a look. They have some great bargains on their outlet store. That’s where I was going to buy before I settled for this bargain laptop: http://outlet.lenovo.com

    As for it being a good candidate for a Hackintosh project, you would have to check the video specs. I believe it’s using embedded Intel video graphics so it might be a good candidate indeed.

    Also, wanted to note that I just discovered that there actually is a middle-button on the trackpad. It’s odd, since it’s just a little nub of clear/white plastic that sits in the gap between the two primary buttons. You have to actually sort-of-press both primary buttons to push it, but sure enough it’s there! Now I can summon the Compiz-exposé-ish window picker without reaching all the way over to the drop-down menu key to the right of the spacebar. Whew!

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