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Oldest Viable Laptop

What’s the oldest laptop you could reasonably do your job with? 3 years old? 5 years? 10? And if asked the same question 10 years ago, would your number be higher or lower? Thanks to a failing battery in my 12” MacBook, I discovered my answer.

For the 10 days it took to repair my MacBook, I had to use my backup laptop:

ThinkPad X61s

This is a ThinkPad X61s. Despite being made in 2007, it’s been fine for work. Yes, everything about it is worse than my MacBook. It’s slower and heavier. It lacks a trackpad. The screen is a mere 1024×768, causing some websites to show their mobile layout.1 Still, the experience has been significantly better than I predicted. The only major hardware drawback is the lack of video camera. The main sources of frustration have been software. Ubuntu 16.04 doesn’t have a built-in dictionary or thesaurus. The default calendar app is a joke. And Thunderbird doesn’t have a unified inbox view. (Edit: It does. Thanks To Brendan Long for pointing this out.)

Had a similar circumstance happened 10 years ago, my oldest viable laptop would not be so old. That is to say: There’s no way that in 2007, I’d be able to get by with a laptop from 1997. The performance issues would be insurmountable.

Growing up, I never thought I’d be able to use decade-old hardware without issue. Either laptop improvements are well into diminishing returns, or progress in hardware has stagnated, or both.

Update: It’s been two weeks since I got my MacBook back, and I still tend to use my ThinkPad more. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with it, but there’s something about this machine that causes me to favor it.

Update (6 months later): I bought a Thinkpad X62, which is an X61 with modern internals.

Update (2 years later): I’ve upgraded to an X210, which is an X201s with better specs than the X62.

  1. My terminal and editor windows had plenty of space thanks to pixel-perfect programming fonts

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