Laptops suck! – and that’s why they’re great (or the story of my first laptop)

Before explaining why laptops suck, and therefore are so great, I need to start with a personal story. That being said I would like to say that I like computers, especially old computers with their gray industrial utilitarian design. If you were trendy you could even get them in black. As a kid in the 90’s I always admired people with a black computer. Their choice of color – in my mind – showed an impeccable sense of professionality and taste in design. Like this guy is with it and can in no time tell the difference between a floppy disk and a CD.

One day I remember my dad coming home with a new laptop from work. It was black; it had a chassis with a rubbery feeling to it. The keys were of high quality. As a matter of fact the computer oozed high quality – this unspeakable fact was clearly manifested by the black color. When opening it up it had a red dot in the middle and three letters in the lower right corner. The letters spelled out the iconic name IBM.

Yes, this was an IBM ThinkPad 600 laptop and it was the most beautiful laptop I’d ever seen. Little did I know that all of them were black and that was kind of IBM’s thing with laptops since the start of the ThinkPad series. To this day, even though the series has been produced by Hong Kong based Lenovo since 2005; the computers are black with a red TrackPoint device in the middle of the keyboard. It is their staple winning design and at this point it is hard to imagine them any other way.

When it was time for my dad to upgrade the ThinkPad 600 he had the option from his company to buy it out. I got it for Christmas that same year, maybe 2001, and I was overwhelmingly happy. It had a Pentium II processor with 233 Mhz, 64 MB of RAM, 3.2GB hard drive, a docking station, CD and floppy drives, a 13” display capable of 1024×768 resolution. I immediately installed Red Alert on it, one of my all-time favorite games, on it – started it – and got a nasty error message telling me it wasn’t compatible. I tried another game – SimTower, and nope – same thing here. The fourteen year old me was confused – why wouldn’t it work?

It was now I learned the difference between DOS and NT based operating systems. Because it was a business machine it ran Windows 2000 Professional – an NT based system on which I could not play the games I knew and loved. Because I was a purist and arguably somewhat of an idiot it never occurred to me I would re-format the computer and make it run Windows 98. This would also counteract how incredibly slow the machine ran under Windows 2000 Professional. But I liked the aesthetics of the NT environment and ended up using the machine as a portable homework machine and later on as an mIRC client running more or less 24/7.

With time it came to run slower and slower. The 3.2GB hard drive didn’t take me very far either. I ended up upgrading the RAM to a whopping 128MB, something that revitalized the computer for a while. I remember this experience being similar to my 80 year old grandma drinking a shot of vodka. All of a sudden it sparked to life and was full of energy only to download the latest Windows 2000 Professional service pack and act like a donkey with a ton of rocks around its neck once again.

This laptop brought me a lot of joy but I ended up selling it around 2006 for way less than I should have. Throughout my ownership of that laptop it also taught me a valuable lesson. Laptops suck! Yes they do, they completely suck and are a complete pain to repair, upgrade, or do anything useful with what so ever. Part is because it is its own completely contained system and is meant to function independently without any external interference. This also means that components are prone to overheating due to how densely packed the electronics are, and underperforming in every sense of the word.

I guess this is why I love antique laptops though. It’s a love-hate relationship at its very best. Laptops offer a self-contained glimpse of the past and will give you snapshot of the world’s technological development at the time of its creation. You don’t need to search for time typical CRT monitors, keyboards that are long gone and destroyed, and other types of hardware. Laptops are very limited in the sense what you can upgrade which is why they are so good at functioning as a time capsule. At the most people only upgrade the memory modules and perhaps also the hard drive. But laptops are so particular in what they can accept that those upgrades are minuscule. Buy a 1998 laptop today and you’ll get everything in one package.

Laptops suck – and that’s why we love them.

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