Joe’s Computers: Fujitsu T-730

Last week, I talked about my Primary Laptop, and alluded to how it’s note-taking job has been outsourced to a new computer.  Today, we’re taking a look at my dedicated notes laptop, my 2010 Fujitsu Lifebook T-730.

“Now hold up, why do you have another computer?  Didn’t you just say that you should use your stuff as long as you can?”
– You, maybe

Well, yeah.  The difference is this is a rescue laptop.  Much like a dog saved from an abusive home, I saved this laptop from certain doom, nursed it back to health, and welcomed it into my family.1And as a regular volunteer at the local Animal Shelter, consider adopting your next pet from a shelter!

Ok, that was a bit melodramatic, but not too far from the truth.  Before we get to the story, here’s there hardware.

Hardware Specs:

Model: 2010 Fujitsu LifeBook T-730
CPU: Intel Core i3 350m
RAM: 8GB (upgraded from 4GB)
Storage: 120GB SSD (upgraded from a failing HDD)
GPU: none
Screen: 1280×800
OS: Originally Windows 7 Pro, Currently Windows 10 Pro
Extra Features: Convertible Tablet, Pen Input, Docking Station, Fingerprint Reader

My work building has a recycling room for cardboard and electronics.  Every once in a while I check the pile of discarded electronics for parts that I can use for other projects.  You know, things that everyone needs, like Power supplies, extra RAM, old sound cards, etc.  Well one day, I happened to see a laptop that looked remarkably similar to the one I was considering buying instead of my VAIO.  Next to it was it’s charging cable and a docking station.  I plugged it in and it seemed to take a charge, and the screen looked uncharacteristically non-smashed. To my surprise, it booted into Windows!  Slowly, sure, but having a computer boot up after being in the trash is a big deal.  This was the beginning of a new project.

Hardware diagnostics showed that the Hard Drive was functional, but showed signs of imminent failure.  Following my own advice, I decided to replace it with a $30 Craigslist SSD and do a clean install of Windows 10.  I also broke into my collection of salvaged RAM2see, told you it’d be handy and replaced the original 4GB with a much more reasonable 8GB.  Then, I completely disassembled the computer to clean the exterior casing with soap and water, dust out the interior, and re-apply the thermal paste on the CPU.  Here, I was met with another pleasant surprise: the CPU was socketed!  Usually Laptop CPUs are soldered to their motherboard to save space.  My VAIO is no exception.  But this once could be non-destructively removed!  Between the component upgrades and the physical cleaning, I took a literal piece of garbage to a perfectly functional note taking and web browsing machine for the cost of two dinners out.

Even after my SSD and RAM upgrades, the computer is still fairly slow.  Granted, not like unusably slow, but slower than I’d like.  Remember how I mentioned that the CPU was socketed?  Well, that means I can buy a used i7 of the same generation off Ebay for like $50, and have a much better performing computer.  I’m considering the upgrade, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure if it’s worth the $50.  After all, I have a desktop for most of my work and my VAIO for anything on the go.

Pros:

The Touchscreen. Is. Awesome.  Most of the time, I say that touchscreens are a waste of money.  But that’s because most of the time, the touchscreen doesn’t fold around and can’t be drawn on, which seems pretty useless to me.  My Fujitsu, however, is actually useful.  Screen flips around, take the pen out of it’s holder, and suddenly you can write equations right on the screen!  It makes note-taking a breeze, and lets me do some drawings for this blog on occasion.  If you’re a student in STEM3Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and want to take notes on a computer, getting one of these convertible tablets with a pen is great.  Plus, have you ever seen those Khan Academy math videos where someone writes on a screen while they explain what they’re doing?  Well with my tablet, I can do that whenever my sister needs some engineering help.  It’s so much easier and clearer than trying to describe math in words over a phone.

Fujitsu isn’t a particularly famous brand, but they do have one claim to fame, being one of the first companies to offer convertible tablet PCs for professional environments.  I remember my doctor had one of these and was able to fill out digital charts and search my medical history in an instant.  The result?  All the sturdy construction and easy access to internals that I love about professional computers.

The keyboard is actually pretty nice, much nicer than my VAIO.  I’ll still pick my Mechanical desktop keyboards over it, but I don’t mind it to edit reports on the go.

Cons:

While my VAIO’s 6 year old i5 can still crunch research numbers, the Fujitsu’s 8 year old i3 can’t really handle anything more advanced than regular use.  Even after a fresh install of Windows, a SSD upgrade, and double the RAM, it’s noticeably slower than my VAIO even in everyday tasks.  I have MATLAB installed on it, but it’s only there if I need to make an emergency figure before a presentation.  I’ll take the time to bike back to my office or personal desktops if I need to do actual work.  That said, the 8GB RAM upgrade lets me routinely have a number of “normal” programs open at once, including OneNote for notes, Outlook for email, Spotify for music, and a dozen Firefox tabs.  Perfectly capable for an everyday computer!

It’s also fairly heavy and much thicker compared to my VAIO.  The thickness isn’t really in issue since I have a computer as a tool, not as a fashion statement.  I would have definitely hated the extra weight carrying it around in Undergrad, but today I can still carry it to and from work on my bike without issue, so whatever.

The screen resolution is … lacking.  8 years ago it would have been barely acceptable, and today, it’s pretty bad.  It’s impossible to have two things side by side.  This is the main reason I don’t see the Fujitsu replacing my VAIO.  Even if I upgraded the CPU to make it faster, I’d still be limited in how much work I could actually do.

tl;dr

For $30, a little technical know-how, and a few hours of my weekend, I was able to get a decent tablet PC that makes note taking and presentations a breeze.

More importantly, this is why, in my mind, spending extra on durable hardware is more important than faster components.  With proper maintenance and a few inexpensive upgrades,4If you want to buy it new, ~$50 worth of RAM, ~$30 currently for a 120GB SSD.  That’s way less than buying a new laptop, even a terrible one! an 8 year old laptop with low-to-midrange hardware is perfectly capable of everyday web browsing, document editing, and email sending.

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