Sometimes I think I spend too much time on ebay. I’m still using my Thinkpad R60 as a home server; running with Scientific Linux 6.2, using it as a media server plus KVM VM hosting. But I’m always on the lookout for something (cheap) to replace it, as it only goes to 3GB of ram … which is a pain when you start to run a few VMs on it. So for reasons unknown I recently bid on a Thinkpad T410 on ebay, thinking that surely I would be outbid, and that I really didn’t want one anyway (;-)… but somehow I now have a Thinkpad T410.
The auction was a bit of a lucky dip, as the guy selling it seemed to omit the specifics of which T410 it was (again, a bit of madness on my part for bidding without bothering to ask). But I ended up with a i5-560M model with 4GB of RAM, 160GB 7200rpm drive, 1280x800LCD. $350 for that was OK I thought. Given brand new laptops are so cheap these days, you might think I overspent, but there are some key things I was looking for that are sadly missing on a lot of brand new ‘low end’ laptops;
- A CPU with EPT support. My latest interest is ‘Nested Virtualisation’. All VMware’s base products (ESXi, Workstation, Player, Fusion) now support nesting, but you have to have a CPU that does EPT. All my other systems at home are core2duo or older and there is no core2duo with EPT support. It’s only in some Xeon’s and most of the i3/i5/i7 stuff.
- Can expand up to 16GB of ram. I actually got this one wrong as a T410 really only goes up to 8GB , hence why I felt like an idiot when I won the auction. But 8GB is OK. I can jam a few VMs into that, and shoving an SSD in the T410 partially compensates for the inability to go to 16GB
- Lots of disk expansion options. A key one is jamming a hard drive into the DVD bay. Sadly, the Ultrabay’s that I have that work on the R60 and my old T42 don’t work in the T410. But it is about $10 on ebay to get a ‘Ultrabay Slim’ that does work in the T410. The T410 also has Firewire 400 (which I do actually use) and an esata port, and a 34mm expresscard slot plus the obligatory USB 2.0 ports. So there’s some options there so far as adding more disks.
So far I’ve swapped out the 160GB drive with a Intel 330 120GB drive. It really flies. A quick ‘hdparm -tT’ on the drive hits about 240MB/s (the T410 is only SATA II) which is plenty good for me. I’ve put Fedora 17 on it for now (and made sure I am not using GNome 3 or KDE!), and just playing around with some KVM VMs on it. Originally I was trying to use thin volumes for each VM, but I kept on hitting 100% on my thin pool which then ends up with a few thousand ‘requested block’ errors in /var/log/messages. So, until I can figure out how to do auto extension on a thin pool, I’ve been using VMs on an ext4 fs using qcow2 images. They work pretty well these days. You can do ‘instant’ disk level qcow2 snapshots now so long as you pick to use ‘external’ snapshots. However, you still can’t expire or rollback these external snapshots easily.
So I am liking the T410 for the most part. Quick pros/cons after having it for a few weeks;
- Great keyboard (but never as good as older Thinkpads)
- Lots of disk expansion options
- Reasonably easy to get Linux running OK on it (the main things for me are; the fan is generally quiet, the graphics chipset can be configured OK, and I can suspend/resume)
- The palm rest area is a little too warm for my liking. Definitely walmer than most macbooks I’ve used.
- The Intel HD graphics requires a bit of effort to set up properly
- Only goes to 8GB of ram.
- battery life is pretty average
I still use my 2008 Penryn white Macbook as my day to day laptop, but I am still on OSX Snow Leopard on it as I am pretty disillusioned with where Apple is going with OSX. Lion just seemed worse than Snow Leopard, and Mountain Lion even worse (and I’d have to buy a new Mac just to run Mountain Lion). Snow Leopard is great for my needs. I really like it. I always say, for my main day to day computing system I need a “portable unix workstation that does not suck”. When I bought the Macbook, I had previously spent a year or so trying to use a linux based laptop for everyday home and business use …. and well I eventually gave up as it was too hard. Macbook plus Leopard was great in comparison. Macbook plus Snow Leopard was a little better. But these new OSXs are for some other target market.
But could I use Linux on a laptop again in a day to day basis? I’m not sure. In some ways, some of the new stuff in many linux distros is just as odd as the direction OSX is taking. eg. Gnome 3? Having to download some additional software to change the font size on the desktop is just silly. And KDE just looks a bit too weird for me. So far I just have a minimal X setup on Fedora 17. I don’t even use gdm or similar. I just log in on the console, and type ‘startx’ to start a fluxbox session. I don’t even like fluxbox, but its easy to install on Fedora and is not as painful as Gnome or KDE.