Laptops, tablets, raspberries

2020-04-22 @Technology


Until last year I primarily used a laptop. And short of employer provided machines, I’ve strictly purchased Lenovo models. They’ve proven mighty reliable both at the software and hardware levels, far surpassing the expected lifespan.

In fact, of these Lenovos, since 2007 I’ve only purchased three, each factory refurbished.

The first, rather bulky 15.4-inch T61 model endured until 2014. It would’ve further thrived had it not become victim to a massive electrical overload as I toyed with electricity in my then laboratory. A used replacement motherboard granted it another year lifespan until it firmly refused to power on.

I’d purchased a small 11-inch X120e model for travel in 2011. A light, compact and enduring gadget, ‘the machine of a dream’ followed me through Asia and beyond.

This one likewise resisted the decrepitudes of time until 2015, when I’d poured coffee on it. It turned out less receptive to the beverage than I’d hoped. In a similar style to the predecessor, I replaced the guts with a used motherboard to see it give another year.

Like the few otherwise reliable cars I’d owned in a previous lifetime to either crash or let severely decay, these possessions of mine seem to only extinguish once exposed to severe stressors in the form of direct physical abuse.

In 2015/2016 I purchased an X140e that I still own, a successor model to the X120. The display also at 11 inches, this one packs disproportionally more weight for the otherwise small frame, although for due reason.

The educational model was designed to endure falls, violent crashes, sledgehammer thrusts, and other physical abuse in classrooms of capricious misfits. So much fortitude inside and out, theoretically even resilient to caffeinated, alcoholic (and perhaps fermented) beverages, it glimmers in a kind of brute elegance.

The crimson red casing, the silicon outer rim, the incredibly smooth lid aperture, the classic Lenovo keyboard construction, it allures like a retroactive 80s gadget.

Resilient as ancient Rome, yet this empire of brass and metal proves too heavy for my preferred lightweight travel.

Concerning these laptops, I also attribute their resilience to the choice of the Linux OS. Consider it a topic of stigma, but I find it less taxing on even the hardware: nearly always stable and operational, rarely in need of a reboot, lower CPU and memory footprint, more conservative secondary-storage utilization. Granted, my use cases have much to contribute.

Nonetheless, I’ve increasingly found laptops too over-engineered for personal needs:

Naturally, I describe the types of equipment I’d owned. The sorts of laptops now on the market have acquired a notably compacter shape, but the price tag also follows course. On the other hand, all the Lenovo models I’d care for can be had for under $100 USD on the secondary market.


Since last year I’d begun to use a 7-inch Nexus 7 tablet for travel and effectively all computing, a gadget I’d owned since about 2015. Along with a slim Bluetooth keyboard, the setup compares to a paperback novel in compactness. This kind of a tablet can often be acquired for under USD$50 used.

Despite the 2013 date of manufacture, the device specs easily facilitate my modest operation, which mostly involves Termux, a Linux emulated layer configured on top of the stock Android OS.

The benefits:

The pitfalls:

Tablets are regretfully monolithic. Beyond the external keyboard and perhaps the battery, a mainstream tablet is an all in-one, mostly irreplaceable bulk of mass. I don’t even mention the inflexibility in choice of the core OS.

Neither does a laptop give too much way. While more facilitating for certain component interchangeability, the bulkiest components: the keyboard, the display and the motherboard are effectively fused together in one shipwreck-bound vessel.

Raspberry PI

I’ve again considered adapting a Raspberry PI as a primary computer.

It solves the modularity problem among system components: a credit-card sized system board, a memory card for all secondary storage, a keyboard, a display, an optional battery unit, an optional camera; all separate and interchangeable.

With the native Linux OS support from among the many possible variants (including embedded Arch), it almost makes a dream setup for my needs.

The potential issues:

  1. The initial equipment cost.

    The system board carries a very modest USD $30-40 price tag. Yet for a fully stand-alone setup, provided at least a 7-inch display, a keyboard, a camera module, a battery pack, a power adapter of sufficient current, and cases/enclosings for all relevant components, the full cost can range anywhere in the USD $100-200 range.

    But that’s the initial investment. From then on, all the mentioned components are separately maintainable and replaceable.

    [Rereading this, I become fully aware that many pay in the range of USD $1000-1500 for a laptop. But here, the relativity bias is not our business model. I’ve never paid over a few hundred for such equipment, and as time progresses, not only do the same powerful specs fall in price, but so do my computational needs.]

  2. The mobility.

    Despite the small system board, the modular components require some DIY ingenuity to house in a way that facilitates easy transport.

    For by default, the major parts connect via external wires: the PI to the display, to the camera module and to the keyboard (if USB).

    Now I’ve seen display models (or enclosures) that enable mounting the PI to the rear. And even so this setup challenges transport due to the unnatural form factor: wires and chips semi-exposed, difficult to house in a convenient case in spirit of a tablet that you seamlessly unfold and engage.

I continue to ponder this kind of a permanent setup. My decision will likely resort to the mobile convenience.

Questions, comments? Connect.