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If you’re not in my particular niche communities, you might not know about the community that exists around old ThinkPad laptops. But I’m going to tell you about it, because I think it’s awesome!

ThinkPad laptops from years ago are enduringly popular, because they have great support from free software, and they’re extremely repairable.

Not only are new or used parts extremely easy to come by, people are even designing new parts for these old machines, so you can upgrade rather than replace!

People will combine parts from different laptops to create a “FrankenPad” that’s their favourite combination of different things.

I love this so much because rather than wait for some capitalists to deliver on their greenwashed promise of “modular” computing if we first buy their totally custom thing and hope they don’t go out of business, we’ve de facto standardised on computers that ALREADY exist, and can be obtained fairly cheaply.

Additionally, there’s a social benefit beyond the environmental one — these computers are not luxury hardware at this point. Since a lot of the users of these computers are software developers, they’re much less likely to develop software that only works on the latest premium hardware most people don’t have access to. It’s a stark difference to the new MacBook Pros a lot of us were using previously.

Any upgrade you might want to do has almost certainly been documented online. There’s a community available to help you with it, even if you don’t know anything about what’s inside a computer!

Don’t buy new laptops! Buy old ThinkPads, and never buy a whole new computer again.

Things I can upgrade/customise one at a time in my laptop, relatively cheaply:

• Screen
• Memory
• Keyboard
• Battery
• Motherboard / processor
• Case

Hell, you can gradually work your way to a whole different computer, Ship of Theseus style. But you don’t _have_ to. You can change only the bits that matter to you, and the parts that you’re done with will be useful to somebody else!

The other day I was sitting in the Edinburgh Hacklab watching a friend out together a working computer out of two broken ones that would probably otherwise have been landfilled.

A note: don’t take this enthusiasm as any sort of endorsement of modern ThinkPads. They’re garbage, like every other modern laptop. The point at which this happened is debatable, but barely none of the parts of the latest ones are replaceable without replacing the whole computer.

@qyliss
adjacent question:

does *anyone* make a semi-modular smaller-than-a-desktop computer these days?

Tablet, handheld, laptop...earpiece...anything?

@qyliss
...huh.

That seems intentional on the part of the rent-seeking planned-obsolescence sector of capitalism...

...but it could also just be incompetence?

:scowl:

@eryn I think it’s the former. Nobody wants to sell you the last laptop you’ll ever need.

@qyliss which is a financially ridiculous stance, because with a decent module spec, you can sell upgrades for 20+ years on the original item.

But there's this massive push (in corporate/manufacturing world) for more/higher profit now, ignoring the fact that people stop buying stuff that breaks three months outside warranty...

...ugh.

I could make a raspberry pi laptop for half the cost of an entry level internet machine, and be happy.

Realistically I have enough computers, and mostly just wish there was something to point my tech-unsavvy friend/relative/etc peeps at as a "this will last you until the internet stops being a thing" option.

A light use notebook with all-day battery life (or even two days?) is possible (based on my back of the napkin maths), and current tech levels make it possible with off the shelf parts, but selling units is the mainstream measure of how successful it is...

...time for bespoke modular computers with an open source module interface spec?

@eryn Raspberry Pi is getting close. There is also an impressive array of small form-factor systems floating around. Whether or not these let you cobble together a bits'n'pieces modular mobile system I'm not yet sure. But it's pretty dang near.

CPU, disk/storage, networking, power, keyboard, screen. No real need to stick it all in one box.

@qyliss

@eryn
@qyliss

I think System76 does, but I can't attest to the repairability or anything of these:
system76.com/laptops

also @mntmn is working on version two of the fully free Reform laptop.

@s_ol @eryn @qyliss @mntmn I've used system76 laptops. They're whitelabel Clevos with the price bumped up a shit ton, and their stock cooling is garbage. legit blew out a fan a month just browsing the internet. used thinkpads/dells will give equally good performance with a better price and the only reason S76 boxes have such good Linux support is that they run Intel modules for absolutely everything.

@hackervoice
huh, was not aware of that. Thanks for the correction.

@eryn @qyliss

Parenthetically, Macbooks (at least pre-2018) are remarkably repairable (*despite* Apple's intentions). They have relatively few hardware designs with lots of units sold, so economies of scale kick in. Tools, spare parts and howtos are probably available for any specific Macbook.

(Post 2018 is another story; the "security" chip means replacement parts won't work without proprietary cryptographic keys.)

@qyliss how compatible is a T410i with this approach? I know I can add memory. Can I replace the CPU with a faster one, or would the motherboard bus speed hold me back? I haven't done hardware mods since my desktop that ran NT 4, so I'm very out of touch and uncertain where to begin with the newer gear.

@FASA_Andrew_1879 don’t know about that one I’m afraid, but I’m sure there’ll be info online. It sounds old enough.

@qyliss

Do you have any links to websites for this community? Entry points?

@qyliss this is exciting to hear. I've been wondering about getting an old 'pad.
What era / model would you suggest that I look for to start with?

@M0YNG @qyliss I got a thinkpad T420 for around $250 a couple of years ago off Amazon. Or rather my inlaws bought it for me for Christmas. I love it.

@qyliss i run a rebuilt t430. been using it for years. cost me about $200 when it was new to me. runs everything but modern games pretty great. i can play ps2 games in the emulator if i want to game
@kawaiipunk i use retroarch. I'd have to check the core when i het home

@polymerwitch oh nice! thanks. the front end confuses the heck out of me 🤔

@qyliss what counts as "modern"? I think my thinkpad is from like 2015, it cost $150 off newegg, and it works great

@Dayglochainsaw it’s a sliding scale. They just got worse over time. I don’t know about what you have, but you can find out by doing a web search for upgrades or modifications to it!
But if it’s working for you right now, that’s great no matter what. Stick with it!

@qyliss the battery was somewhat shit when I bought it, so I just popped it out and bought a new one. It seems pretty moddable, from what I can tell.

@qyliss Dang, that’s amazing! Where does one get started? What’s the best/most portable Thinkpad to start hacking on?

@gueorgui X200 X220 X230 are good ones that have a lot of interchangeable parts. X200 is cool because you can run Libreboot and have a completely free boot process. The other two are maybe a little more moddable, and are more powerful.

I think the T400 and X61 are probably also good, but don’t know much about those.

@qyliss Thank you! The X2x0 series looks great, and quite affordable nowadays it seems. I'll start researching!

@qyliss wow, I have an old T410 that I stopped using bc the battery doesn't hold a charge anymore. i'm gonna look into getting a replacement/upgrade, thanks for the thread!

@qyliss yet several years I'm dreaming to replace broken uxga 1600x1200 matrix for my T42p. but it's unavailable. :/ nevertheless, I still can use it as a headless machine. :)

@qyliss Fully agreed. I haven't purchased a new computer in like 7 years.

@qyliss I was big into ThinkPads for quite a while, but I'm on the comedown now. Intel ME/AMD PSP and spectre/meltdown kind of made me lose faith in x86 as a platform, so now I've started selling my ThinkPads and I'm itching to get on something else ASAP. Probably ARM for now, and then hopefully RISC-V someday in the future. You might be interested in the MNT Reform[0], it's an open and hackable laptop being developed. ARM CPU, mechanical programmable keyboard, the battery is just a bunch of 18650s you can replace as desired. I'm pretty excited about it. The pic on the front page is old, btw, they've redesigned the trackball area and it'll have like 5 buttons instead of 2 now. There's also talks of having an option to order one with an ortholinear keyboard, which is extremely cool.
[0] https://mntre.com/reform/

@qyliss Anecdotally, they're also sturdy AF, so great for people in workplaces where more delicate models are likely to end up broken in a very short time. (Or people like me who somehow manage to destroy anything destroy-able within a few months despite not doing anything actively towards that.)

I keep looking into one, but I'd need a super lightweight model (or one where it's possible to have minimal unit weight with some mods). Thinkpads always look very heavy to me.

@qyliss I have just put ram and SSD from another machine into an old T410 and made my own hd rails from cardboard can I be in the niche

@qyliss I absolutely love the modularity. I have a sticky note and ebay alerts for part numbers (graciously provided by the incredibly in-depth manual) to give my stock X230 mobile broadband capability, a better screen, and a fingerprint reader. And that's without getting into community efforts.

@qyliss if I DO get into community efforts, I could unlock the BIOS' hardware whitelist and stuff gigabit wireless modems, extra storage, and the means to connect an external graphics card to it. Or get a third-party PCB that a community member sells at cost to swap a 1080p screen in. And 51nb's work is just something else entirely, super impressive.

@qyliss For sure. I love my old ThinkPads for those reasons. And: I think the bumps and scratches on them give them character.

@qyliss at some point there will be enough new replacement parts to make a new computer and we will finally have the first open computer hardware (?)

@qyliss I have an old X61s from maybe 10 years ago that I am still using. I recently added some more memory because it was running slowly, and now it is okay for the basic things I do on it - mainly web browsing and email. I am using standard Ubuntu.

@highfellow @qyliss
I've had Ubuntu MATE on my T420s for a couple of years, but recently installed MX Linux on it and it runs waaay faster than with Ubuntu. I think the MX team have really optimized for older hardware.

@GuerillaOntologist @qyliss that's interesting to know. I am getting a new laptop soon, so maybe I will put MX on the old one and sell it on as a web browsing device.

@qyliss so, I have a t60p that is 32 bit. It still runs well, but 32 bit support is all but gone. Any links or hints to where I can find a way to upgrade it? I love my thinkpad, but at this point, it is unuseable because 32 bit distros really suck now.

@d4klutz @qyliss
A friend recently put MX linux on his old 32-bit laptop and revived it from the dead. He's much more techy than I am (like he writes C++ and shit) and he was really impressed with how optimized for old hardware it is.

@qyliss And ThinkPads of the **30 vintage and earlier can either be Libreboot'ed (e.g. X200) or Coreboot'ed+me_clean'ed (e.g. X230).

@qyliss how awesome! I have an old Lenovo ThinkPad yoga with terrible ghosting... You know of some place where I could get a replacement...? Perchance?

@qyliss Case in point, my brother has upgraded his with a 3rd-party high capacity battery from China that lasts about 50% longer than the official one.

@qyliss

I'm a big fan of the old thinkpads too. I'm currently using an x200 as a daily driver, and I'm hoping to libreboot it sometime soon.

wow! Amazing. I bought a second hand thinkpad T420 and its doing fine for 4 years with only minor problems! I try to encourage others to buy second hand also.

@qyliss changing a keyboard in an older Thinkpad is so intentionally modular that it is mind-blowing if you are used to something like HP or Dell...

@qyliss I adore my big-ass T520, a 15" from maybe 2011. I recently upgraded it to 16GB RAM even though Lenovo claims it only goes to 8. I might get an SSD for it as a 10th birthday present. ;-)

At work I develop on a 6+ year old T430s (my favorite model) and I have a spare T420 I bought refurbished, just in case.

The only problem on the T520 is that in warmer weather, once every few weeks, it goes "bip!" and reboots. Might want to try a new processor at some point.

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