Apple, Dell, Fujitsu, IBM: A Tale of Four Old Laptops

This week, Apple is expected to announce its new tablet computer. Will it be the iSlate? The iPad? With it include built-in 3G or WiFi? Beats me, Jack. As I write this, it’s a week before the announcement. So, let’s talk about something else.

While everyone is guessing about the newest gizmo, let’s talk about some old ones. Specifically, that’s four old laptops that I prepared for staff use at the forthcoming SharePoint Technology Conference (Feb. 10-12).

These four laptops – from Apple, Dell, Fujitsu and IBM – have been kicking around BZ Media for ages, and long since taken out of everyday service. They haven’t been even turned on, I think, since spring 2009. What impressed me is that all four were brought up to speed with just a little cleaning and a bunch of downloaded software updates and security patches.

The Apple laptop is a 12-inch iBook G3, with a 900MHz PowerPC G3 processor. It was upgraded to run Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger” with its maximum of 640MB RAM. The machine, which we bought in early 2003, runs like a champ, even with the latest Safari and Firefox updates. Sure, it’s a little pokey, and its battery doesn’t last more than an hour, but that’s okay. It’s also slightly frustrating that the iBook’s built-in wireless only works with 802.11b — an obsolescent standard — and that it only works with USB 1.1 devices. But for Web surfing or editing Microsoft Word documents, it’s a never-fail champ.

At least the iBook has built-in WiFi; the IBM ThinkPad R31 doesn’t. Instead, the notebook, which we bought in early 2002, uses an PC-card WiFi card from Linksys. The ThinkPad came through with Windows 98 or Windows 2000, I think, but now has Windows XP. It’s definitely underpowered – with a 1.13GHz Mobile Pentium III processor, browsing is annoyingly slow. On the plus side, the ThinkPad’s 14-inch 1024×768 screen is by far the easiest to read, and it also has the absolute best keyboard. Given that it’s eight years old – and still runs off its original batteries – we truly got our money’s worth.

The fastest machine is a Dell Latitude D610, which we acquired in early 2005. It’s the biggest and heaviest laptop of the four, but also the most powerful, with a 2.0GHz Pentium M, and a big, bright, 14-inch display with 1400×1050 resolution. That’s really a machine that takes a licking and keeps on ticking; the Latitude is the laptop everyone prefers to use.

The final is a tiny Fujitsu LifeBook T4010 tablet computer running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. We never used it much as a tablet – no killer apps, to be honest. Now it’s turned into just one of our conference laptops and occasional loaner. The tablet, dating from late 2004, has a 1.8GHz processor and a 12-inch screen that somehow seems smaller than the one on the old Apple iBook. It also has a funky keyboard that nobody seems to like, but it gets the job done.

Having spent a few days leisurely setting up and using these old machines, I was impressed to find that, old or not, they are still workhorses. Sure, they don’t have WiFi-N, or built-in Webcams, or solid-state disks or 3G cellular data modems. But while the whole world goes ga-ga for the latest toys, it’s great to know that computers running obsolescent software and hardware — Windows XP or Mac OS X “Tiger,” with old Pentium or PowerPC G3 processors — are perfectly fine, and get the job done in style.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick