Forget It Jack, It’s Chinatown: Lenovo IdeaPad Y900

Ugh, this one burns. I can’t remember the last time I sent this kind of money to mainland China. It was bad enough when I bought two Haro reissue bikes, but at least they are made in Taiwan, The Land That Chabuduo Mostly Forgot. This is Straight Outta China, bro.


My personal ThinkPad journey is actually a pretty good synecdoche for how laptop pricing, production, and design has “evolved”. Way back in 1999, I bought one of the infamous ThinkPad 701 “butterfly laptops” and set out to make it run Debian GNU/Linux. The 701 had debuted several years before as the most powerful, most expensive miniature laptop on the planet. Engineered and built in the United States, the 701C retailed for nearly $10,000. (I bought mine used, for a fraction of that.)

I honestly think you could use a 701C as a chock for a Boeing 747… it was tiny but it was built to aerospace standards. And for what I did with it — mostly remote xterm sessions to more powerful and capable systems — it was faultless. But I wanted more power and more graphics and I wanted to be able to run XEmacs at a reasonable speed, so in 2000 I spent the $2799 to get a ThinkPad 600X.

The 600X was the Ferrari 355 of laptops; gorgeous, sleek, and more than powerful enough. It was designed head-to-toe by IBM in the USA and assembled in Mexico. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as satisfied with a computer as I was with that 600X. Everything worked under Linux and the graphics were just stunning. I used it for nearly five years.

Around that time, I started traveling more and writing more instead of coding, so I went through a series of relatively cheap but powerful 17″ Dell laptops. They were all utter junk, and they underperformed their listed specs to almost hilarious levels. The last one was a Core i7 with 8GB of memory that would struggle render the (admittedly garbage) TTAC website and run my GMail at the same time. God help me when it was time to do the Weekly Roundups because it would freeze solid for 10-15 seconds at a time if it had to run multiple Firefox windows.

So now I have a pair of Lenovos. I have a “Yoga” laptop/tablet thing for travel. It has a Celeron and a SSD so it’s okay enough for short work in LibreOffice. And now I have this massive IdeaPad Y900. It’s a “top end gaming laptop” with both an SSD and a traditional hard drive. A mechanical keyboard. A massive, blinding-bright display. It appears to have very few practical limits in terms of the things it can do at the same time. I work much faster on it. Between the mechanical keyboard and the lack of waiting for things to happen, I’ve dropped my time to produce written work by something a third. It will pay for itself in just a few months.

With that said, I absolutely despise the fact that IBM sold off the ThinkPad business to Lenovo. When I was younger, IBM was the bee’s knees, tha shiznit. Fifteen years ago, I got a $5,000 check from IBM for some consulting work. I had it blown up and framed. Working with IBM meant that you were one of the best. They didn’t do anything by half measures. And they built stunning technological masterpieces from the ThinkPads to their xServers to the mighty copper-core z-mainframes.

What does IBM do now? Well, as far as I can tell they still have some impressive R&D. By and large. however, they sell “services”. Which means that they hire a bunch of know-nothings at the lowest rate possible, many of them H1-Bs fresh from six-month technical degrees at mystery-meat educational facilities of dubious standing, and they incompetently deliver on vaguely-scoped products for prices that are calculated to bleed the client just short of bankruptcy.

Twice in the past twelve years I’ve been personally “replaced” by IBM Global Services. In the first case, I’d written a point-of-sale system from scratch for a mid-sized retailer. We used Tcl/Tk on the front end and PostgreSQL on the back end. Soup to nuts I think I charged them well under $100,000. However it was unglamorous and boring-looking so the company owners fell for a sales pitch from IBM. Five years later, they were out of business and they still owed IBM money. The new system never worked despite costing several multiples of what I’d charged them for something that did work.

The next time was when Honda decided to go with IBM in 2012 for all of their tech and system management. Those of us who were there at the time could see what a disaster it was going to be. IBM’s bright idea was to outsource 95% of the support to their Indian facilities, with just a couple of local H1-Bs to interface with the plant managers. About six months after I left Honda, they called me and asked me to come back to help fix the problems that IBM had caused, but by then I was working a much better and more interesting gig.

It’s pathetic, seeing the company that invented the Selectric and the Model M and the best mainframe computer in history turn into a services reseller. Think of Jaco Pastorius begging for spare change outside of Birdland, then make it fifty times worse. And then look at me typing this up on the descendant of IBM’s intellectual property, abandoned by a bunch of moronic market-watchers who didn’t understand that greatness only comes from creation, not sales or marketing.

I hope that some day the United States will regain the kind of skills and support networks required to engineer something like this monstrous IdeaPad from scratch. When that happens, I’ll be first in line with my money. Until then, I’ll be writing about USA-made products on a Chinese laptop. Again. But I’ll say this for the people at Lenovo: they have a sense of humor. The IdeaPad Y900 has an actual “turbo button” that temporarily overclocks the i7 and video card for maximum game performance. Just like the old 286-based, American-made IBM clones. What do you call a “clone” when the people who made the original have given up, anyway?

63 Replies to “Forget It Jack, It’s Chinatown: Lenovo IdeaPad Y900”

  1. Dirty Dingus McGee

    I had to upgrade laptops recently. My old(2011 vintage) Toshiba was having issues with the screen staying lit. I had received in trade about 4 years ago an older ThinkPad that I kept as a backup “just in case”. When I started having issues, I had the hard drive wiped(it had been issued to an employee at Cisco). When I fired it up, I found it was slow, compared to current offerings. It was also running Windows XP, and didn’t have the capacity to upgrade to 10(at least according to Microsoft). Ended up getting another Toshiba, made in China, as it’s adequate for what I need. I suppose I could have upgraded the ThinkPad, but what would the point be? I ended up giving it, complete with docking station, to a friend who had lost his computer in a house fire. As he only uses it for email, and occasional Mapquest, or Google search, it was more than adequate for him.

    Do wish I could find a laptop made in the US? Of course. But I might as well wish for a money tree in my back yard.

    Reply
  2. Mike

    Commodity PC hardware is hardly cutting edge innovative technology. The reason IBM sold the business to Lenovo in the first place is because margins for (once again, commodity PC hardware) are razor thin. The money from the high value component (that is, the processor and core chips) is still made by Intel. The only company that still makes real money in that business, soup to nuts, is Apple.

    You are right though, instead of trying to innovate their way out of such malaise, IBM resorted to outsourcing and financial engineering.

    Reply
  3. wlitten

    Jack,
    What’s your opinion on Lotus Computers? The components are from overseas but the assembly and support is all in the US.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I’m going to give them a shot in the near future for a travel laptop. I’ve read good things.

      Reply
  4. MrGreenMan

    I had a ThinkPad once. I have forgotten the model number; I know I had it at least a before the sale. I remember being extremely pleased with it. I don’t buy Lenovo now; I don’t have a problem buying Taurus, but I never owned a Beretta.

    Reply
  5. MrGreenMan

    @Mike

    Well, IBM was still making Power processors when they sold off the laptop line; Apple was still selling the G3 and G4 in 2014 and then G5 in 2016, and Apple bought them from either IBM or Motorola. So, if processors are the high margin item, they could have tried to make a Unix (remember, AIX was *amazing*) productivity laptop for engineers with Power processors made by IBM. It would have at least been interesting.

    There was a lot of noise about trying to escape from x86 back then. Everybody wanted a RISC instruction set – or at least everybody who was in the know. Itanium failed, but that was because they wanted to tie it to Windows NT server.

    Reply
  6. niclas

    I’ve had several T-series thinkpads and thought they were brilliant, but got a macbook pro a couple of years ago. Indirectly because Nokia screwed up their mobile phones so I ended up getting an iphone, and then came windows 8 which drove me nuts so i installed OSX on my desktop PC just for shits and giggles, but it ended up doing everything but gaming better than windows. Said PC was about 5 years old at the time and getting a bit slow anyway, as was the thinkpad, so I just got a macbook pro to replace both instead of building another “Hackintosh”.

    Reply
  7. viper32cm

    IdeaPad Y510P (MY2013) user here. Actually, we’re a three Lenovo family. I bought this computer so I’d have a gaming laptop back when I was dumb enough to think I’d have time for such. I still consider mine to be powerful, Core i7, dual GeForce GT 750Ms, but it’s probably no match for the current crop of games, not that I have time to play anything anyway. It’s the best laptop I’ve ever owned, but that’s not saying much since I always went for the cheapest piece of shit I could find. It developed a power supply fault almost immediately after I bought it (it’s unable to use the smart charging system), followed quickly by a broken speaker cable. An RMA fixed the speaker cable, but not the power supply fault. Since getting it back in early-2014, it has been relatively reliable, but, now, approximately 3.5 years after purchase, the battery can barely hold a charge and one of the body screws has detached near a hinge. Nonetheless, it gets nearly daily use, albeit never far from a power outlet. Hopefully yours will treat you better, but, despite all its faults, I’m not sure I could have purchased a more powerful laptop for the money.

    My wife has a Yoga for work. I think it’s worked well for her, but she’s nowhere near as hard on devices as I am. My work ThinkPad is rarely carried, but, somehow, despite its sedentary lifestyle, the optical drive is visually misaligned and has problems reading discs.

    I was told in 2013 that Lenovo didn’t put as much effort in the build quality of the IdeaPad line, but I don’t think their build quality for anything is anywhere near what it was when IBM ran the show.

    Reply
  8. ltcftc

    IBM sold to Lenovo because they believed that nobody could make money from the PC business, Apple proved them wrong.

    I spent over a decade at IBM from the mid-90s, travelled the world, worked with plenty of good people. Your story of the IBM check resonates, at the time they had enormous influence over industry, any industry that relied heavily on technology. Today they are a dinosaur that is slowly dying.

    My take on having lived it is that company was taken over by the accountants and auditors, and it lost sight of what it made it great, its engineering capability. It was as if the company never recovered from its near death experience, and slowly the bean counters took control of the decision making across all parts of the organisation. Y2K helped to accelerate this, as everything got audited and recorded, and processes were put in place to thwarted anything that might be innovative due to the amount of paperwork and committees. Gerstner himself was unable to halt the tide towards becoming a Services company. Process ruled, and documentation always trumped relationships. It was a sad slide from a company which was once notorious for putting customers and employees first.

    IBM is no longer an engineering company, it’s a financially engineered company. They’re the Watson company, but a simple speech or natural language test against what Google has to offer will show you how far behind they are.

    I went through a line of 11 Thinkpads, I refused to use anything else. I certainly couldn’t have brought myself to use a dirty Dell. These days, I’m happy with my Macbook and a Chrome book.

    Reply
    • Ronnie Schreiber

      That reminds me a bit of my time at DuPont. Teflon, Imron, Tyvek, Nomex, Kapton, the list of their technological home runs is long but hardly anything from the past 20 years.

      You could see the culture of the company changing, engineers were still mostly in charge, but they were engineers with MBAs.

      Reply
      • hank chinaski

        Every big corp is polluted by financialization.

        IANAE, but work in STEM. Many of the engineers I went to college with planned on pursuing MBAs to ensure an upward career path. A joke from the old, indie, time travel film ‘Primer’ (copypasta from imdb):

        Clean Room Technician: You know what they do with engineers when they turn forty?
        [to Aaron, who shakes his head]
        Clean Room Technician: They take them out and shoot them.

        I’ve always loathed laptops (or for that matter, prebuilts), but I don’t travel.

        Reply
        • Djarum

          As someone who is an engineer, I’d never considering getting my Masters in Electrical Engineering or Computer engineering. The only reason anyone really should get a Masters in Engineering is to get a Doctorate. If a Masters is the last stop, I’d be getting an MBA. DOD Contractors love engineers with MBAs.

          Reply
  9. SIV

    I like ThinkPads and have owned a T-series and 2 X-series. I’d never buy one of those “consumer” Lenovos because they don’t have a TrackPoint. I’ve never got the hang of using a touch pad (my first portable was a Fujitsu P2120 with a pointer stick).

    Reply
    • niclas

      The clitmouse is one of the reasons I really liked ThinkPads, worked better than any trackpad i had used up until i tried a G4 powerbook. HP also had the clits on some more expensive business models, but apart from that they were inferior to thinkpads in every way. Had one of the from work for a while, 2500e computer felt like a 299e bargain special and the keyboard was terrible.

      Both my parents have “consumer” Lenovos, and they seem reasonably happy with them. One is a “Yoga” touchy pointy of some sort and the other is an ideapad.

      Reply
  10. Shocktastic

    The Thinkpad Lenovos seem made of sterner stuff even post-Chinga. Family laptop purchased in 2008 runs fine for email, office & homework. Battery management software tool has managed to keep us with only 2 battery replacements in nearly 9 years for a laptop that is often unplugged. Libre Office is terrific & I love being able to swap between my Lubuntu goof-around machine & my work-related Wintel machines.

    Reply
  11. Manic King of Corinthia

    Wow, Jack. Trolling? I think You do know that there are THINKpads for pros (traveling sales people, enterprise customers etc.) and IDEApads/Yogas etc. for home use, students and so on. Why compare IdeaPad anything to proper ThinkPad, like, say, your 600X? I’ve been using TP-s lately (X240, T420, T410 before that) and they are OK in comparison to ThinkPads of IBM age, like T41. They feel sturdy, have good hinges and keyboards and work OK. Basic graphics though, not for gaming. Maybe there still are some American ex-IBM laptop people who create these?
    Consumer crap like the ones you have? Pfff. Buy refurb. T or X series. Apples to apples, oranges to oranges comparisons please. Same thing with Dell, HP, Toshiba, Fujitsu btw. – business class models vs supermarket crap. But I’m sure You know that.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      If you look at the specs for this particular IdeaPad you will see that it is meant to punch high in the marketplace. It’s more expensive than all but a couple of Thinks.

      Reply
      • Manic King of Corinthia

        I think (and maybe I’m optimist here) that different people are designing consumer and business class products, applying different know-how and trying to keep those different user groups happy. Of course then there’s also bean counters. The final price maybe is not the important thing here, buying product which is made for heavier pro-use is.
        Big co. which rents hundreds of business laptops for 4 years and then replaces these again, has still realistically only T or X Thinkpads, Dell and HP or maybe also more exotic Fujitsu and Toshiba on the table to choose from. And Thinkpads still are OK choice from this list, IMO.

        Reply
    • equ

      Even though I differ politically with Jack, what a great article… I wanted a thinkpad badly for many years. I finally bought myself one, a T410 if I remember correctly, in 2009. What a piece of junk… Not mechanically so much, but system & board and corruption… Also the crap lenovo layer on top of already crappy windows. Never again. My girlfriend at the time bought a basic macbook, the white, not the pro. Other than a battery replacement and memory that I upgraded, that computer is still going, serving family duty 8 years on. The lenovo hit the garbage bin in less than 2.

      Also great response by ex-IBM’er. Indeed they have become a consulting company, selling second rate AI-ish products. On the flip side, US gov’t loves them over many other smarter competitors and lavishes money on IBM still.

      Reply
  12. MichaelPhelps

    I like the idea of buying quality items, and having fewer of them. I’ve got 5 pairs of Allen Edmunds shoes, and this gets the job done for me. Re-sole them once or twice, and they are a relative bargain.

    However, when it comes to electronics, I dont adhere to this philosophy. It’s all made in china, and i find that the operating systems go stale or get infested by malware well before the hardware breaks down anyway. So I just buy low to medium end laptops and expect to replace every couple of years.

    Funniest way I was ever rewarded by this cheap computer philosophy when I looked over at my 2 year old daughter wearing nothing but a diaper and jumping up and down on my low end laptop. I also I cooked a lap top on the back patio in the summer. It’s rare I get more than 2 years out of one.

    Reply
  13. Liquid

    I used to regually use a X130e. It was the typical modern Lenovo thinkpad, but considering a bunch of kids were always playing with it it held up. All the X131e’s and X120e’s the school had quickly fell apart. But those weren’t private laptops like mine. All the clitmouses were stolen off of them too, not that I would know anything about how that happened.

    Been in the market for a T series laptop. I was paying attention to used T420’s in my area but the /g/ thinkpad general thread pointed me towards the T430 as it was better suited to my needs. Now I just have to find one that isn’t a T430S with its glorious two hour battery life, I’ve never seen the one used at my work not plugged in.

    Before I got into the trades and cars and was still a computer hardware nerd my dream job was anything to do with building/maintaining servers for IBM. Used to drive past a IBM building in Toronto and smile, now it just makes me sad.

    Reply
  14. WheeTwelve

    I hear what you say about ThinkPads in the ’90s. Robust, solid performers. I never thought I would actually get to own one.

    From ’93 until late ’05, my primary computing platform was a Linux desktop. From the beginning, I kept waiting for the Linux desktop to “get there.” First with the fvwm95. Then with the KDE, and then GTK+/Gnome. But instead of “getting there,” Linux desktop kept getting fragmented. “A complete re-write!” “A fork of the version A.B.C!” Additionally, in a hope to differentiate themselves, the distributions kept moving things around. So, if you were installing a new version of the distribution you were currently running, you’d first have to spend several days trying to figure out what they did with the startup sequence. The config files? Oh yeah, they are back in ////. No wonder upgrades didn’t work. It’s why I still do clean installs only, and never upgrade between distro versions.

    I finally got fed up, and got a PowerBook G4 in the fall 2005. And I haven’t looked back.

    In mid-2010, I got a fresh MacBook Pro, configured to the hilt. Just a few weeks ago I put in a new battery, a fresh SSD, and the latest copy of macOS. I’m typing on it now. Apart from a few light scuffs on the bottom cover, it looks like I unpacked it earlier today. Some websites can make the fan get busy, so I don’t stay on those websites for very long. There are benefits to using the old hardware. Oh yes.

    A few months after I got that mid-2010 MBP, I get a “special offer” in the mail, for the Lenovo ThinkPad T420 (4170CTO, if I must). After some configuring, I was able to make the spec sheet look very close to the MPB, and I did need a traveling Linux system. Plus that offer really was special. So I took the bait. Worst. Computing. Purchase. Ever!

    The keyboard flexes when you press a key, and generally feels beyond cheap. My A500 keyboard is *way* better. The disk I/O is slow (yes I’ve replaced the disk, obviously, since it originally only came with the 5400RPM asthmatics). Display is … I’m trying to remember — does it have a display? If you use the nVidia graphics (ah yes, it must have a display), you’ll be lucky to get 30 minutes out of the battery. Oh, and the CPU cooling is so terrible, the CPU constantly gets throttled back on performance due to overheating.
    It’s been idling on Linux without X, sitting in a corner, in case I ever need to … I don’t know, transfer some floppy images over serial cable to my Amiga 500. At least it has a battery, so it doesn’t require a power backup system. A former co-worker enlightened me to the term “sTinkPad,” and in this case it is *very* appropriate. I must say, if someone had forced me to run an insult (Windows) on top of this injury, I would have maimed myself a long time ago. On purpose. Multiple times.

    A friend of mine recently got one of those yoga pants Lenovos, and he likes it very much, Windows 10 and all. For those of us who don’t swap them out every six months to match our outfits, computers are tools. And as such, different ones fit different purposes. I’m actually glad you like your pair of Lenovos, because I think it’s good to have a choice, even if it’s manufactured in China. For contrast, try to get a non-black interior in a sub-$50k car with a manual, and you’ll see what I mean. Yes, Mazda does offer it. Does anyone else? Is it a vehicle I would *want* to own?

    Anyway, I would be shocked if Lenovo had continued making sTinkPads like the one I have, and remained in business. So I think it’s good that my friend likes his Lenovo, and that you like yours. I just wish I could like mine even a little.

    Apologies for the long post.

    Reply
  15. Rod Jones

    I bought a Lenovo V570 Ideapad back in 2011 and it has been indestructible. Once I was up in the attic with it troubleshooting a connectivity problem when on the way down I dropped it from eight feet off the floor. I was amazed when it started right up again with no ill effects. I doubt that a Apple, Sony, Dell, or Toshiba would have survived a fall like that unscathed.

    Reply
  16. James

    How far back do you want to go? American companies have been getting rich off IBM’s missteps for 35 years. You could say that IBM should not have signed contracts with Microsoft and Intel, but then the money would just have gone to Apple and Motorola, instead.

    History repeats itself in echoes, and there was a moment–which this post (and the comments!) have captured very well–when IBM had (a) a viable microprocessor and (b) a viable computer product–the PowerPC chip and the ThinkPad. (No more PCjr, PS/2, or PS/1 crap!) But the component was never part of the whole–the ThinkPad used an x86 chip, made by Intel, using Intel IP. Apple owns their OS (and some of their chips).

    A world in which IBM tried to be an OEM, rather than an integrated computing company, would have been interesting–where IBM could devote its resources to producing better keyboards and better laptops, rather than better AS/400s. Maybe IBM would have ended up more like Samsung than Accenture?

    Reply
  17. zzrist

    My first heart attack will occur during a conference call over a shitty crackly phone line with several dumb non-English speaking fucks working for IBM Bangalore. More than 50% of my job stress is purely IBM-related. I wish Pakistan would run a targeted op specifically to rid me of the “experts” I’m forced by my company to use because some asshole VP enjoyed all the hookers and blow he received while signing the dumbest support contract in the history of computing. IBM is a goddam disgrace and the Lenovo deal should have been quashed under some kind of House Un-American Activities Committee revival.

    Reply
    • Ken

      Indeed. Jack’s outsourcing articles hit way too close to home. I’m an IT Project Manger who came from web design & coding. I literally know local guys and firms that would come on sight and do it better, cheaper, and quicker. But for “support & testing” purposes we stick with either Cognizant or TCS, so they too get the development. My most recent project was a database migration from a legacy database (lotus + oracle) to SQL and some front end ASP revisions. It was $1.2M AND that didn’t include table rationalization!!. It was just one glorified giant copy and paste. The local firms told me between $100-150k for work that included rationalization. That’s for 3 local, American guys on-site for 6 months. And I know they can do it for that time and cost because I came from one of those firms. The offshore vendor got it done for that 1.2M and it took them close to a year. The database design is terrible and accounts for all kinds of slowdowns in production.

      How this makes any sense is beyond me. Its incredibly frustrating. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

      Reply
      • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

        It makes sense because American business has become addicted to a model where the actual cost of the product is a tiny slice of the pie, with the meat of it devoted to marketing, sales, customer relations, and all the other “soft skills” jobs that are held by Ivy Leaguers who can’t change a tire.

        There was maybe $50k of labor in what your contractor did overseas. That ratio — 24 to 1 — is almost exactly what Nike expects to see with its shoes, which frequently arrive on shore in the USA with a total cost of under five dollars.

        Reply
        • James

          Nike tried making hard goods. They couldn’t do it; dropped out of the market within the last year, I believe.

          Reply
          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            That’s certainly so, but it ain’t like we’re pushing the envelope of that here in the United States.

      • Ronnie Schreiber

        I suppose that the second level of IT hell would involve IBM and ATT. When I think about Western Electric and Bell Labs and all the great tech they developed and what ATT is today it makes me shake my head in disgust.

        I’m no CIS engineer but I was a LAN manager for a DuPont site with about 800 PCs and Macs and also did first and second level desktop support. I’m pretty sure that I can spot a network outage when neither my browser, nor email, nor my ftp client can reach their intended targets on a variety of servers. When that happens I end up wasting about 45 minute of my time trying to get some fellow to divert from the script and actually report the network outage to an engineer in the U.S. that has enough authority to actually do something besides reading a script.

        This sounds like an Alan King rant about airlines but this is a true story. A couple of weeks ago the UPS the ATT makes me use to power their fiber optic modem (the drop is maybe 600 feet from my house so I theoretically should get decent service) started acting up. The second time it stopped working the indicator light said “change battery”. When I called ATT I got Bangalore and a script reader that kept asking me about shit I’d already done. I got frustrated and asked for a supervisor whose own script only let her connect me with someone in the U.S. who then told me that she was in billing and couldn’t help me with my battery.

        In the meantime I power cycled everything and it started working but I figured I should still replace the battery so I called ATT again. This time I was informed that I had to contact Belkin because it was their UPS and battery.

        The mediocrity abounds.

        Reply
    • Djarum

      I’ve dealt with the same frustrations, only it was Texas Instruments. And trust me, these folks weren’t in Texas.

      Reply
  18. Paul M.

    Good stuff Jack. In early 1990s I worked for IBM in Atlanta as a contractor. What I remember after working there for three years, is things moved at a slow pace. At the time they were working on an answer to compete with DOS which Microsoft was selling and improving. That answer was OS/2 version 1.0 on PS/2 architecture which was different than what DOS was run on. It was buggy. We worked on fixing it, and came out with version 1.1 and then later 2.0 which was much better and solid. It ran applications in background (multi-tasked) so much better than DOS and windows 3.1 or 3.1.1. This was pre Windows 95 time. It was all IBM proprietary. Not much different than Apple stuff.

    The problem/difference with IBM was they were hooked on that mainframe sales model. Huge margins. They were not willing to stay with PS/2 and OS/2 if they couldn’t dominate. As we all know Microsoft windows/DOS was cheaper on cheaper hardware. So after investing so much money on PS/2-OS/2, IBM left the field, and became a me too company (in personal computers) making Microsoft compatible machines.

    More recently when they have let so many people go, and had no shame by offering American employees positions in India

    http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2009/0326/for-laid-off-ibm-workers-a-job-in-india

    And now with Trump they are trying to cozy up to new administration and offering some US based jobs. IBM became an Indian company a while back. Not because of lack of good US based employees, but because it became bloated, and was not willing to hang in with businesses with narrower margins than what they were used to. When I developed routines that did things more efficiently, they had to have three layers of code review, finally with an adviser, because the regular employees didn’t understand how the could run more efficiently. But it would take for ever to have those reviews.

    For those of us following automobile business, it resonates with similar themes as what has happened with GM and Saturn, or GM and their first electric car, or GM and so many other ventures they started and then sold (EDS, Hughes Helicopters, ,,,).

    It is all about corporate greed.

    Reply
    • James

      I think this is right. IBM started by making business machines, then discovered the mainframe. Then Intel and Motorola developed the microprocessor. IBM hasn’t found another market that suits its corporate culture, and mainframes have been a dead-end for 35 years–“legacy hardware,” no point in investing much in R&D. And there’s no margin in selling Selectrics.

      Apple could no longer compete in the PC market, so they started making cell phones. That business has gone well for them. I don’t have any ideas for IBM–becoming a zombie company that trades on a reputation long divorced from reality is probably their best bet. It worked through the 1990s, at least, as multiple commenters have pointed out! OS/2 and the PS/2 were dead products from the moment they were conceived.

      Reply
      • dkleinh

        Apple got out of the general computing market, because they realized they could totally control all aspects of the small device market. Notice how closed IOS is compared with semi-open MacOS. You can’t even give away your IOS app without going through Apple.

        Reply
  19. Frank Galvin

    My dad worked for Digital Equipment Corporation till the bitter end, and then for the entity that bought his division. The stories he had after Ken Olsen was sacked. Ugh.

    Reply
    • VoGo

      Interesting. I worked for the consulting team that advised Palmer on divestitures and final sale to CPQ. I’ve never met so many brilliant people, so insulated from market realities.

      Reply
      • Frank Galvin

        Combining the Massachusetts sense of entitlement and the DEC cult was a recipe for disaster in the face of the early 90’s recession. It made promises to its employees that it could never deliver on, and then proceeded to piss off the wrong people in power. Insulated is a good word to describe it, and DEC’s hiring mimicked the nepotism found in MA state and local government. The joke was that if a family member had a job at DEC, so could you. You didn’t need to be the brightest bulb, as they never outsourced anything: they had their own transportation fleet, and were making their own cables in state.

        No one was willing to admit that the Rt. 95 / 128 corridor was not the end all – be all of the tech world. They all fell within a short time of each other: Wang, Data General, Prime, DEC, etc. You might as well throw in Dukasis as well. All of these out of state players moved in for the scraps.

        I think by the time that Slick Rick Palmer and the Board were ready to sell most of the bloodletting had already occurred. If I’m not mistaken, Compaq was wanted the enterprise division and the service contracts.

        Its been odd to see the succession of signage on former DEC premier properties: DEC -> Compaq -> HP.

        Reply
        • VoGo

          Well said. You forgot one of the signs – it went from DEC to ‘Digital’ as they tried to re-brand them selves for a new era of computing, which they helped invent, but could not control.

          Reply
          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            The sad irony is that the VAX came from that same vertically-integrated mindset and it was brilliant. We all owe more to VMS than we will admit.

          • Frank Galvin

            Oh, I remember that vividly. They dropped the blue for the maroon digital (small case). Then they gave employees a shitload of golf shirts and embroidered bags with the logo, right around the same time that they eliminated bonuses (c-suite exempted). Yeah, my dad’s all wound up at the St. Vincents box.

            Jack – I can’t remember the name of the last Vax product, “Alpha” maybe? Intel ounced on that in the end. I remember playing around on a desktop version and was blown away by the product. They had a core group of people that came out of the Navy, MIT and the MIT Lincoln Labs that were bloody brilliant in engineering and services.

          • VoGo

            Yes, Frank, the last VAX had Alpha chips – which DEC made as part of their complete vertical integration. DEC had a 3-4 year lead on the competition (Intel mainly by this point) in that Alpha was a true 64-bit chip, meaning it could address what at the time seemed like a crazy amount of memory.

            But that vertical integration is what killed DEC, because they could not invest enough to dominate any horizontal domain. So the best designed chips on earth were fabricated in a downmarket fab, and the yield was terrible, driving up cost beyond their value.

            You might even remember that DEC renamed their version of UNIX ‘Tru64’ to trumpet Alpha’s superiority.

  20. link3721

    I got a ThinkPad just before going to college (2004 not looking after Lenovo took over) and it did a decent job. However I found that my now wife’s Dell held up better. The ThinkPad was trashed after graduating while the wife’s Dell was only replaced a couple years ago with, yup, another Dell. Now I’m finding Windows is almost more trouble than it’s worth, may do an Android installation in the future…

    So why’d you stick with the Chinese instead of going elsewhere?

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Going elsewhere is the challenge.

      I’m not aware of any laptop where the bulk of the component parts are manufactured anywhere BUT in China.

      Reply
      • link3721

        True, but I was thinking along the lines of supporting an American owned company like Dell or Hewlett Packard. A least that way you’d be supporting the US designers and engineers.

        Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          You’ve raised a truly valid point.

          The question is whether there’s any actual engineering going on the United States. I haven’t seen anything during my past decade working with HP and Dell to make me think that they are doing anything besides serving as sales and marketing front ends for Chinese OEMs.

          Reply
  21. Matt

    IBM has Watson and does fascinating work with it. A friend of mine (who is of Indian origin but is a US Citizen) works for IBM at NIH in Bethesda, applying Watson to cancer research. It’s utterly fascinating and cutting edge work they are doing that bears nearly unlimited potential for developments in genetic research and fighting cancer. So IBM still does great work. And my friend is incredibly intelligent; not some low-rent H-1B like Jack likes to describe.

    Shortly after the war, my grandfather was looking for his next gig after serving in naval signals intelligence. Some co-workers asked him to come work for their company, which ended up becoming IBM. Instead, he got a graduate degree in nuclear physics from U. Chicago and became a fusion researcher in Los Alamos. He had a fascinating career, but I always wonder what would have happened to our family if he had gone the IBM route.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      “And my friend is incredibly intelligent; not some low-rent H-1B like Jack likes to describe.”

      I think you and I have had a discussion like this before. There are a billion people in India. India has made some of the most important contributions to science in nearly every field you can imagine. But the run-of-the-mill H1-B is not that guy. Their shared heritage is approximately as relevant as the fact that I’m not that genetically far away from Werner von Braun. The only rocket I’ve ever launched was an Estes kit.

      Reply
      • Matt

        Agreed, Jack. I just wanted to clarify that this dude isn’t a low-rent foreigner/substitute, and that IBM is still engaged in some cool stuff. Doesn’t mean that your experiences aren’t also valid.

        Reply
    • Yamahog

      It’s not clear – but if your friend is on an H1B then god bless, that’s the sort of person who’s supposed to be on an H1B. But the reality is that H1Bs are allocated poorly and the majority of H1Bs aren’t the people who the program was supposed to catch.

      Watson and some quantum computing research are the gems in IBM’s R&D crown. But how the mighty have fallen, IBM used to have much more future technology than just one or two neat things that may or may not pan out in the next 10 years.

      I work with A.I and machine learning and the neatest results are coming out of deep mind. A.I isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans until the systems become more information efficient.

      Reply
  22. Dan R.

    I am a Macbook defector, 2 months into owning a Thinkpad T460. It has replaced my 2010 Macbook Pro 15-inch w/antiglare screen — I had been holding out, waiting for the new Macbook Pro’s to roll out, and was unimpressed when they did.

    I’m very pleased and impressed with the Thinkpad’s build quality and performance. To be fair i have fairly modest performance needs: run Word and lots of tabs in Chrome, and that’s about it. It’s early days of course, but so far I find the keyboard, screen, fit-and- finish, and overall quality outstanding. TL;DR give the newer Thinkpads a whirl; you might be surprised

    Reply
    • dal20402

      I have a 2016 T460s provided by work and a 2011 MacBook Pro that is (still, although it’s getting clunky) my personal machine.

      The T460s mostly solves the two worst problems with my previous 2013 T440s: the godawful trackpad and the screen that had a color gamut running from bluish white through bluish red through bluish black. The trackpad is entirely tolerable and the 1920×1200 IPS screen is pretty good for a low-res screen. The keyboard is quite good, as usual with ThinkPads. With an SSD and 8 GB of RAM the machine is quick as long as I don’t ask it to do anything more challenging than Typical Lawyer Stuff. The case feels flimsy, but is quite lightweight and has survived being bounced around in my bag so far.

      But the MacBook is still better built despite its age, and the Apple trackpad is in another league. Apple’s implementation of high resolution also continues to work better than that of Windows when third-party apps are involved. If I had to buy a new personal laptop today it would be one of the new MBPs. Most of my personal computer usage, though, happens sitting at my iMac in my den these days. (That machine is a glorious 27″ 5K screen attached to a passable computer.)

      Reply
      • Dan R.

        Yeah, I can’t disagree re: the trackpad, the MBP’s trackpad really was outstanding. BUT I have to admit I’ve grown to really like the eraser-tip trackpoint thing of the Thinkpad- I find it ergonomically superior to *any* trackpad in many instances. As for build quality, I also must concede there; it’s gonna be hard to beat the Mac’s aluminum unibody construction. But as far as plastics go, I’m impressed and likeing the lower heat conductivity compared to aluminium. Finally, re: screen resolution, anti-glare/matte is a requirement, and as Apple has abandoned these, I figure these 1920×1000 IPS ones are as good as I can hope for. Also, re: build quality overall, I didn’t get the chance to check out T460s vs. my plain T460 – but I do wonder if build quality would differ between the two?

        Reply
  23. DirtRoads

    I recall one company having me use a ThinkPad, with the knobby red track nubbin in the middle of the keyboard. The coolest feature of that Wintel machine.

    I recently related a story about a mechanical typewriter, as opposed to a Selectric, that I took to college. The professor asked me, after receiving my first typewritten paper, if I knew about the computer lab in the basement of the engineering building. No, I didn’t, but I went there posthaste.

    They had IBMs with Windows 3 installed (holy shit!), and I grew up in a DOS environment so that was pretty cool. My first wife was a computer programmer who did Mandelbrot random generators in DOS back in the day, so that was pretty cool, too. I programmed in COBOL, or was it Fortran, for a quarter in college. Hated it. Got caught in a do loop that still runs somewhere on the UW computer system to this day, I am sure.

    Then I found a Mac. And I have had Macs ever since.

    Other than much of he electronics in the world that are made in China, I prefer not to buy from China these days. But there are some markets so saturated that it’s damned near impossible. Even though the ideas come from “here” (i.e. not China), they take them and make them cheaply to sell back to us.

    Years ago Al Cosentino of Abarth fame said of the Lancia engine builders, something to the effect of sure, take a Fiat engine someone else designed and built (Lampredi), tear it down to tweak it and anyone can make it better. Which is what Lancia did. And what China, to some extent, also does. Al’s point (and mine) was that the idea has to come first. Which you can surely infer what I mean, but I’ll be PC here and not be blatantly obvious.

    *sigh* I’m off my meds and rambling again. How did a computer thread get a comment about Lancia engines anyway?

    Reply
  24. CanuckGreg

    I feel like this article was written just for me.

    As my previous life as an IBM Global Services employee I was regularly deployed onto projects that were a complete mismatch for my skill set. “The dishwasher is broken? Send the accountant over to fix it, he’s not busy” was their business model.

    I’ve been a Thinkpad user for 20ish years, mostly T series models and they’ve all served me very well. Only 1 hardware failure (a HDD that shat itself after I knocked the Thinkpad off a desk). My current one (a Lenovo) is 5 years old and stills works perfectly. And yeah – at this point I can’t use a machine that doesn’t have a clit mouse. That touch pad bullshit is, well, bullshit.

    Reply

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