I switched to a T61

I hadn't mentioned it here, but I ended up switching to a T61 a few weeks ago. Readers familiar with this topic will note that I had outlined my manifesto list of demands for my next machine in an earlier post. I had described my ideal work notebook as having all of the following features:

  • 14" regular aspect (4:3) ratio display
  • 2GB memory / 1GB Turbo Memory
  • 160GB 7200 rpm HDD
  • Verizon WWAN
  • Atheros a/b/g Wi-Fi
  • Integrated graphics

Since I couldn't get what I wanted at the time, I decided to upgrade to Vista on my then current T60. To be polite, I was underwhelmed with Vista on a T60. Nothing seemed to work properly, from battery life loss, to strange errors and hardware that would randomly stop working. And yes, I did use our official preload. Computing life sucked, and I knew I had to change machines. But what to do? I started weighing my options. I had in my possession two T61 14" 4:3 machines that I use for customer demonstration purposes. One had Verizon WWAN, but had an XGA display and average configuration specs. The other had an SXGA+ display, and overall better specs – faster processor, etc., but no WWAN. Both had Intel Wi-Fi and nVIDIA graphics. It was time for some surgery. If Lenovo configure to order couldn't provide what I needed, then by golly, I was going to be my own configuration center. The most obvious route would have been to swap the display screens from one to the other. I quickly dismissed that idea because I once tried doing that on an old T23 with a cracked display. I should have sent that machine to EasyServ and been done with it, but I decided the process couldn't be THAT hard. Four frustrated hours and the help of three colleagues later after struggling to get the 802.11b cabling routed correctly behind the bezel, I gave up and made the call of shame to ask for the brown EasyServ box. The memory of how horrible the experience was still haunts me to this day. On this machine, I decided that the best way was to leave the display intact and just swap the WWAN card. My life would have been much easier if all of our models were WWAN ready, meaning that the correct antenna assembly was in every system, but they aren't. WWAN systems have different antenna assemblies, so it was up to me to swap them out. I cleared my morning of meetings, downloaded the hardware maintenance manual for the machines, and got to work.

From looking at the manual, I knew this was going to be a multi-step process involving lots of tiny screws. I wanted to be as intelligent as possible (as if opening your own system to swap WWAN antennae is intelligent), so I also grabbed a pile of Post It notes and some tape and labeled as I went along.

Most of the process went pretty smoothly as I progressed through removing the bezel, outer cover, and so forth. The documentation is clear, but it does take a bit of time. Below you can see the system stripped down to its Display Roll Cage. Note how the wires get routed down specially designed channels from the top and side antenna mounts.

After swapping everything over, my biggest problem was getting the cable routing right. The wires come down the channels in the Roll Cage and then come together in a bundle at the base of the system where they enter the main system case through a hollow left hinge. It was no problem getting them to the hinge, but as I could not get the cable guide to fit properly inside the hinge without crimping the wires. It took me a good 20 minutes of fiddling, tightening and subsequently unscrewing the hinge screws before it finally worked as it should. Once the cables were inside the system, it was no big deal to route them to the correct location. While I was inside, I swapped the Intel 802.11n card for an Atheros 802.11 a/b/g card, because in my opinion, the Atheros card is a much better performer and has better drivers. I also added a second DIMM to bring total memory to 2GB. Since my Verizon card was already activated in my old system, I thought it would be easiest to move it. Yes, I would be using older Rev 0 technology instead of Rev A technology, but it seemed like it would avoid hassle of having to ask Verizon to transfer the service. The problem was that once I booted the system, it gave me an "unauthorized network card" error. @#$#&! From reading various forum posts, I know this is a point of frustration with other users too. I know that there is a business reason for us locking down the system to only accept certain cards, but it isn't like I was trying to put a 3rd party card in. It was an authorized ThinkPad card (sigh). I opened the system back up, and put the correct card in. Meanwhile, I had managed to find a 100GB 7200 rpm HDD and some recovery CDs. The system fired up without a hitch, and I let them go to work and then began the laborious process of loading all of my applications. To those who chastised me for not using System Migration Assistant last time, I DID use it this time. It helped some. The real productivity drain is the "Load an application. Reboot. Repeat ad infinitum." Life is good with this machine. I got back the one hour of battery life I lost by going to Vista on my T60. The preload is much more stable, and the system is much more responsive – at least as responsive as a Vista system can be. I didn't get my integrated graphics, which I think would have helped battery life even more, but I'm overall pretty happy with nVIDIA graphics. They are much more stable than any ATI card I've ever used. Overall I'd call this a success. I'm hanging onto this one until at least April, maybe May.