A Week Without the MacBook

Last week I was provided with a relatively new (to me) Lenovo notebook from which I was expected to do all my day-job related work from. Almost immediately the machine was imaged and wiped, allowing for a clean installation of Ubuntu Linux 18.101. On Monday morning I booted the machine and got right down to business, working with databases, code, and Microsoft Office. One of the things I wanted to do was see just how long I could go without reaching over to the MacBook that has been the main machine for three years. Would the different keyboard feel alright? Would the different screen resolution be decent? Would the battery life when mobile be enough?

While it's hard to believe, I actually prefer the feel of the ThinkPad over the MacBook Pro. Aside from the position of the "Print Screen", "Page Up" and "Page Down" keys, Lenovo's machine just feels more natural than the more expensive Apple device. The fact that the machine is also lighter and faster than the Mac doesn't hurt, either. Ultimately this is great news, as it means a couple of things right off the bat:

  1. I can dedicate my personal machine to personal projects only
  2. when the time comes to replace the MacBook with something else, I won't have to worry that a ThinkPad might not be the right option

Both of these points are quite important as I've long wanted to have a clear separation between work and personal hardware. For the last few years everything has blended together, making it hard to enjoy working on my own projects during my own time when, in the back of my mind, I would be tempted to do "just one little thing" for the day job. Because I've proven to myself that having different devices for different purposes is perfectly workable, I can now safely remove the work VPN connection and several dozen gigabytes of work files from my machine. Bye bye pointless guilt!2 It's also good to know that the ThinkPad line is still built very well and is a worthy replacement for the MacBook Pro. The X1 Carbon that I've been assigned shipped with just 8GB RAM, which is proving to be insufficient, but this just confirms that I'll likely want a minimum of 16 in any future machine I try to acquire3.

As one would expect, the move did involve a couple of surprises. First is the incomplete driver support for the ThinkPad. The fingerprint sensor and CPU fans do not have a compatible driver, so cannot be controlled via the software. Fortunately the fans are controlled via the BIOS, but it would be nice to see the spin-rate stats. There are some people who have posted ways to resolve the fan speed sensor, but I've yet to get this working on Ubuntu 18.10. Another surprise is the sheer speed of the NVMe SSD drive. I've been spoiled with my current SSDs which generally transfer data at several hundred megabytes per second. The NVMe drive in the Lenovo moves data 6x faster than my best SSD. It's a night and day difference. If I am ever required to downgrade to a spinning disk agian, I'll insist on going full old-school and installing DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.11 for Workgroups just to relive the days when a traditional hard drive could be considered "fast".

Was there anything that I missed about the MacBook? Yes. The colour intensity on the Lenovo cannot hold a candle to an Apple device. Even with a damaged panel, the MacBook Pro has a far better screen than any ThinkPad I've ever seen. The lack of a full-sized SD card reader on the ThinkPad also bit me, as I tend to take a lot of photos of the night sky with a DSLR. While I can just hook the camera up to the computer with a USB cable to get the pictures, I'd really much rather just use an SD card.

All in all, the corporate demand to end BYOD has worked out quite well in my favour. Not only could I receive a machine that is not a Dell, but I could receive a machine that could meet and in some cases exceed my expectations. The MacBook will see less daily usage while also taking on a more personal role. It will continue to be the only device used for 10Centuries development in the near future. Now let's see if I can actually stick to keeping the purposes of the machines distinct from each other.

  1. Yes, a non-LTS. It's not often I go this route with mission-critical hardware but, considering how the MacBook Pro is running Ubuntu MATE 18.04 LTS just like the Lenovo W541 that acts as a server, going with something different seemed like a good idea. It's proven to be an excellent release.
  2. I'll probably still feel bothered for some reason, but less so.
  3. The X1 Carbon Extreme will support up to 64GB and it uses actual slots, meaning the RAM can be upgraded well after purchase. I like this. That said, the Extreme does ship with a 15.6" monitor. That's quite a bit larger than the 14.0" that comes with the more mobile version.