The Laptop That Won’t Die

My $200, 12-year-old Thinkpad has outlasted two high-end Macbooks

Clive Thompson

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A laptop sitting on a wooden table, with a large green electronic chipboard to its right. The laptop is open and displays a Medium essay written by the author of this blog post. The laptop is thick and chunky
My 2011 T420 Thinkpad

That laptop above?

It’s the most indestructible, nonstop, won’t-die computer I’ve ever owned.

Full. Stop.

I’m going to write a whole damn post about it but the tl;dr is …

If you want a modern, sexy, lightweight, high-powered laptop? Go get something pricey from Apple or Microsoft.

But if you want something that’ll cost almost no money and keep working until the sun explodes?

Get an old, used Thinkpad.

Allow me to unpack this …

My hardware tale begins a week ago when I was working on my Macbook Pro.

It’s my main laptop, which I bought in 2017. I needed a machine that a) could run Logic Pro (the finest music-editing software available to humanity), b) had a high-resolution screen for my lousy eyesight, and c) had a 1-terabyte hard drive. It was the only machine that fit the bill.

It was super expensive, but my goal with laptops is to buy something with sufficiently excellent build-quality that it’ll last for years. I also hate e-waste, so I try to fix my laptops to keep them going as long as I can. I bought my first-ever Macbook Pro in 2010, and I got seven years out of it — including replacing a fried motherboard (thankfully just before the three-year warranty ended, so: It was covered! Woo)

This newer, 2017 Macbook Pro? I’d also had it fixed a few times before. It had gotten water damage in an accident, which required some internal work. I’d had the loathsomely awful “butterfly” keyboard replaced when it died. I’d replaced the battery twice.

But after six years, it was still chugging along!

Until last week, when out of nowhere it went kaput.

I was working on the Macbook, and closed the lid to have lunch. When I opened it again 15 minutes later, the machine had shut down. Nothing I did could coax it back to life.

So I jumped on my bike and brought it to a local laptop repair place. A few hours later, the technician texted me to explain what had gone kablooey. Apparently there was an electrical…

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Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net