I've been holding off on purchasing a new laptop until IBM/Lenovo had a Linux-compatible ThinkPad T61p with the Merom (“Core 2 Duo”) CPU installed. “End of October” is the latest estimate, but knowing how long Real Soon Now can get to be, I elected to pick up a bench spare laptop Just In Case. My primary machine (“Lucky”) had a dead LCD, fried USB ports and a flaky wireless card. My older beater laptops have about bit the dust. I shopped around the BigBox stores and they were selling consumer junk. I looked at the Apples; they're sweet machines, but the software's still proprietary. If I was going to go for an Apple, I'd want to pick up a monster machine, and the budget doesn't allow that. So, for a while I was stumped. Finally, Laura suggested I look at a lower-model ThinkPad to tide me over.
IBM/Lenovo has a site for refurbished machines. I shopped over a couple of days. Keep an eye on the site, as inventory is changing often. I finally selected a T40, Pentium-M 1.5GHz, 256 Mb RAM (with a free upgrade to 512), 40 Gb HDD, WinXPPro, 1024×768 and CD-RW/DVD for just under USD $700.
With UPS ground shipping, it took less than a week to get here. The Out of Box Experience was perfect. Clean and well-packaged, the machine looked new. Other than a couple scratches on the serial number label, you'd think this thing had been vacuum-packed since it was manufactured in June of 2003. The HDD was a clean install of WinXP, and the “preinstallation” process took about an hour to install XP, forty million patches, IBM custom tools and drivers. A couple onerous registration forms (Yes, I want to register, no, I don't want you to have your “partners” send me mail) and I was up and running. First, a trip to Windows Update. A “new version” of Windows Update (the dreaded Windows Genuine Advantage check — I passed! Whew!) and I was up to date. I was surprised to find that Windows Firewall was not running — I had forgotten is was off by default, and was glad I was within a reasonable safe network as I raised the shields.
Next, a backup before I broke things. Booting onto a Knoppix CD, I followed the same process I used in July to upgrade Laura's hard drive: with the machine off, plug in an external drive and Knoppix, boot, Ctrl-F2 to a root console,
mkdir /media/target mount /dev/sda1 /media/target partimage
and in eleven and a half minutes, the 4.5 Gb is backed up. Magick!
I was suprised to see that the recovery partition isn't a partion at all, according to the machine, but unpartitioned space at the end of the drive. That makes it a bit more difficult to make a backup copy for the inevitable hard disk drive failure. IBM's help file tries to explain how this is a feature to keep you from mis-laying a Recovery CD (You'll have to order one from IBM when the hdd fails, it explains. Of course, it will be a little difficult to read the help file on the hdd to discover this once it's failed.) Google, of course, will point you to solutions that can work around pretty much any “feature” the vendor throws in there.
Overall, I'm pretty pleased with the machine, and it will work great as a stopgap between Lucky and the next machine, and at a good price. Now, off to tinker some more…