Installing Windows 10 on an old, slow ThinkPad: success, mostly

I asked for trouble Thursday night and didn’t get it: I installed Windows 10 without first backing up the PC, then I blithely accepted every default setting during the setup, and things pretty much worked out.

Windows 10 desktop with notificationsThe machine in question was the ThinkPad X120e I bought in the spring of 2011. It got me through my first year of freelancing, but I’ve since relegated it to fact-checking duties when I cover a Windows topic. Its cut-rate AMD processor is too slow, and the SSD I put in place of its original hard drive–mostly as a research project–is short on space after I reserved a partition for a Linux install I have yet to undertake.

(I should have spent extra on a more robust configuration. In my defense, I was unemployed at the time.)

But even a slow, wheezing laptop running Windows 10 had to be an upgrade over a slow, wheezing laptop running Windows 8. So after waiting a day for Microsoft to deliver the free Win 10 upgrade I’d reserved, I used Whitson Gordon’s tip at Lifehacker to download it myself. The Get Windows 10 app had already confirmed my ThinkPad was compatible, leaving my only required pre-install chore clearing out room on the SSD. The disk-cleanup wizard got maybe a quarter of the job done, and I took care of the rest by moving out some old videos.

After the installer checked for and downloaded some updates, I went ahead with the installation at 10:36 p.m. Here’s my log of what happened next:

• Step one: yet another round of checking for updates.
• Actual install, in which I went with the default of keeping personal files and apps, began 10:42.
• 11:16: First reboot.
• 11:18: “Upgrading Windows: Your PC will restart several times. Sit back and relax.”
• After being seemingly stuck at 88% of the copying-files stage, another reboot at 12:04 a.m. put me at 30% complete overall and in the “Installing features and drivers” phase.
• 12:22: One more reboot.
• 12:36: After another reboot, the machine welcomed by name and asked if I wanted to use Microsoft’s “Express Settings.” Sure, why not?
• 12:39: “Hi. We’re setting things up for you. This won’t take long.”
• My one moment of anxiety: “It’s taking a bit longer than usual, but it should be ready soon.” Below it, in smaller type: “Don’t turn off your PC.”
• 12:47: Voila, the computer booted into the Windows 10 desktop!

Windows 10 storage settingsThis was nothing like my nightmarish experiences loading the preview version of Windows 8 and the insanely prolonged installation of the final build–I feel tired just reading my notes about that ordeal. This upgrade also went by faster than Windows 8.1’s installation, which somehow dragged on for two hours and 35 minutes.

Two days later, the ThinkPad seems to be running fine and is unquestionably more pleasant to be around than when it ran Win 8. The only real issue I’ve seen is that Cortana is slow to respond and hasn’t talked me to except when I was adjusting a few of her settings. I don’t know why that is but am not inclined to work too hard to fix it, since this laptop is overdue for an upgrade anyway.

On the other hand, I only see a few Windows 10 laptops with USB-C power inputs. (Have I mentioned I don’t like proprietary AC adapters?) So maybe I’ll be spending a little more seeing how Windows 10 runs on this old thing. I suppose this also means I should finally pick a Linux distribution to put on that spare partition.

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All of my aging gadgets

As I’ve been plugging away at my taxes this year, one thing’s become blindingly clear: I’m not doing my share to prop up the electronics industry. My Schedule C will show only one gadget purchase for all of 2014, a $35 Google Chromecast.

Old laptop and phoneEvery other device I use for work is older, sometimes a lot older. I have my reasons for not upgrading, and some of them may even be valid… while others probably just testify to my own persnicketiness.

The oldest one of the bunch is my late-2009 iMac. I really should replace it–trying to edit a RAW image file taken with a friend’s camera made it painfully apparent how its processor has aged.

But buying a new iMac or Mac mini would require me to get an external optical drive, as if it’s 1997 all over again. (Doing without is not an option: Have you seen the lifespan of a DVD in the hands of a toddler?) One thing’s for sure: Whenever I do purchase a new Mac, there’s almost no chance I’ll pay Apple’s elevated price for an external DVD burner.

My 2011 ThinkPad X120E has not held its value nearly as well–the AMD processor inside was never that fast to begin with, and these days I only run it to test things in Windows 8. What I should do is replace it with a convertible laptop like one of Lenovo’s Yoga series–that’s a kind of device I can’t buy from Apple at any price. Maybe once Windows 10 ships?

The 2012 MacBook Air I’m typing this on shows its age on the outside–I’ve let this laptop pick up so many scuff marks that it’s unclear whether I even deserve a MacBook. But while its battery life has faded a little bit, it remains a great travel companion overall. I suspect I’ll wait to upgrade this one until I can get a new model with that charges via USB-C.

The upgrade calculus is simplest with my first-generation iPad mini. When I can buy a replacement that has not just the Touch ID sensor of the latest iPad mini but the better camera of the current full-sized iPad (or something close to it) and, ideally, a default storage allocation bigger than 16 gigabytes–boom, I’ll be throwing down my credit card.

On the other hand, I’m seriously anxious about how I’m going to replace my Nexus 4. This phone has aged remarkably well, not least since Android 5.0 Lollipop seems to have stretched out its battery life (I’ll write more on that separately). And I’ve somehow only dropped it onto an unyielding surface once, with the damage confined to a small crack on the back that I fixed in place with a bead of Krazy Glue.

But the Nexus 4’s camera remains mediocre in most situations, and the phone doesn’t have enough storage. Unfortunately, I can’t replace it with a newer Nexus model–the Nexus 6 is almost offensively enormous if you value one-handed use. So are most of the other high-end Android phones. If I shattered the screen on my generally-beloved phone tomorrow, I guess I’d buy the second-generation Moto X… which itself no longer ranks as new.

Finally, there’s my Canon 330 HS camera. I bought that bargain-priced model because the Wirecutter liked it at the time–and because the larger-sensor point-and-shoot models I initially coveted all required trade-offs. As far as I know, that’s still the case with the two leading candidates: Sony’s pricey RX100, now in its third generation, still can’t geotag photos from Sony’s smartphone app, and Canon’s S120 and newer G7X can’t take panoramic photos.

Now that I’ve described my intentional technological backwardness at length, I’m sure some of you would like to explain why I’m mistaken or which new gadgets I should be considering instead of the potential upgrades I listed above. Please have at it in the comments.

Post-CES travel tech recap, 2012 edition

One of the things I try to do after each CES–catch up on sleep, do laundry and cook for myself for the first time in a week–is note how the technology I took with me to the show worked out.

I did that in 2008, 2009 and 2010 for the Post, but apparently I was too wiped out after CES and the Verizon iPhone circus too repeat the exercise last year. This time around, I had a lot of new hardware on hand, and I was also able to switch out some of the software I’d used in previous years.

My laptop at this year’s show was the Lenovo ThinkPad X120E I bought in April. I continue to enjoy its light weight (3.3 lbs.) and extended battery life (four hours of nonstop work is no problem), and at a wireless-hostile show like CES it’s handy to have a laptop with a conventional Ethernet port.

But this ThinkPad is not a fast machine. At all. I’ve been planning to replace its hard drive with a solid-state drive, which should help a bit; in the meantime, it’s not a bad computer for writing and simple photo editing. And, hey, it only cost $500 or so.

About photos: After ditching Google’s Picasa a while back–it was too much work getting at edited photos from inside other programs–I usually alternate between Microsoft’s Windows Live Photo Gallery and Paint.Net. I used the latter app almost exclusively at CES for a reason irrelevant to most of you: Discovery News’s blog format requires specific photo sizes, and Paint.Net makes it easy to crop a photo to a set proportion.

The best photos I took came from the oldest hardware in the image above, the Canon A570 IS camera I’ve had since 2007. Once I got home, I used Apple’s iPhoto to upload everything to a Flickr set.

I carried my own phone, the battered HTC model at the bottom left of the photo, but used it much less often than the two review models above it, also Android-based: a Samsung Galaxy Nexus on Verizon and an LG Nitro HD on AT&T. I’ll save my full evaluation of both for later, but I will say I’m not the biggest fan of the Nexus for its battery drain, the two freeze-ups I could only cure by removing its battery, and its maddening failure to save a timestamp on several photos. The Nitro, in turn, suffered from LG’s puzzling and unnecessary alterations to the standard Android interface.

I took most of my notes on Twitter, which was terrific for real-time sharing but inconvenient afterwards. As noted before here, Storify is useless as an archiving tool, since I’d have to drag and drop 300 or so tweets one at a time; I may try TweetBackup instead. I didn’t use Evernote as much as in prior years, and this time around its utility was undercut when the app crashed a couple of times, taking my most recent input with it in each case. That raises a question: Why does its Android version have a “Save” button at all when the Windows and Mac editions save every keystroke automatically?

I took along one extra item, a Belkin travel surge protector. Being able to turn one outlet into three–plus two powered USB ports–simplified recharging everything in my hotel room. It was also an enormous help (and a good conversation piece) in crowded press rooms.

The luggage you see underneath is a messenger bag called an Airbeltbag that I got as a Christmas gift. Yes, that’s a real airline seat-belt buckle you see latching it closed. The TSA guy at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas and a publicist for the Tripit travel-planning app got a kick out of that, but I also appreciated that this bag will not accidentally open once you insert the metal fitting into the buckle. I just wish the zippered pocket on the outside had some pouches on its inside for pens and business cards.

If you have questions about any of this gear–or, more importantly, my coverage of the show, including the wrap-up I did for the Consumer Electronics Association this week–you can ask me in real time at tomorrow’s Web chat. It runs from noon to 1 or so at CEA’s blog. This will be my first live Q&A since my finale at the Post back in April, so I’m looking forward to it. Talk to you all then?