Background: Before embarking into my review it is probably best to give a bit of context as to the decision I made to jump ship from the world of Apple (iMac, MacBook Pro, Airport Extreme, and iPad) to that of the PC (more correctly, Lenovo ThinkPad and ThinkCentre). Around 4-5 months ago I finally moved out on my own with a work mate and what had really bugged me for around 2-3 years was the almost ignoring of the traditional Mac by Apple but then equally the lack of progress when it came to gaming (I’m not a hard core game just that I’d like to be able to play SimCity 4, Civilization without ‘issues’ because Apple can’t be figged getting the drivers sorted out or their OpenGL stack optimised so it delivers comparable performance to what one observes on Windows). I’ve addressed this in prior posts (Apple is going in one direction and I’m going in the opposite. I don’t see anything negative about their decision because at the end of the day they’re a business and they’ll make decisions that make the most sense and comments.) but long story short Windows 7 made the PC a lot more attractive and the positive experience I’ve had with Windows 8 pretty much sealed the deal.
The choices were slim at best: I avoid Dell like the plague, had nothing but bad luck with HP, Toshiba has gone down hill since the ‘good old days’ many years ago, Acer well lets just say that it speaks for itself and Sony are over priced for what they deliver and their quality certainly don’t justify the price attached. In the end after much research regarding what was out there I decided to take the plunge and decided to settle with Lenovo with purchasing a ThinkPad (3444-4YM) directly off a local reseller (Ascent) and purchase a ThinkCentre directly off Lenovo with some customisation (upgraded to 8GB memory, restoration media, a screen and so on). The ThinkPad came immediately due to it being a pre-configured and stocked item where as the desktop took 10 working days due to it being a custom build thus coming directly from China off the production line.
Just before I jump into the review I’ll make this quick note, I will be reviewing it from the position of having installed Windows 8 Professional 64bit rather than the default software but I will cover briefly what the experience was like with the default configuration was like when I first received the machine. The reason for this focus on Windows 8 Pro 64bit is primarily because that is the operating system that’ll be shipping with it and for those who are sitting on the fence deciding whether the upgrade is worth it I can make reference to at least two machines that have been built with Windows 8 Pro 64bit in mind. Whilst Windows Vista was a massive revolution that was hugely disruptive for end users one can observe that Windows 8 like Windows 7 is a refinement with some additions but no major changes. What Windows Vista provided was strong underpinnings for Windows to keep developing into the future so if there were those who had been sucked into the hype of Windows 8 Pro 64bit some how being revolutionary then I’m sorry to be the deliverer of the bad news that you’ve sadly misinformed.
ThinkCentre: i7-3770 3.4Ghz, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD, Radeon HD 7450 with 1GB VRAM, Intel Wireless 6205, ThinkVision LT2323p 23-inch Wide LCD Monitor.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon: i5-3427U(1.80GHz) ,4GB RAM, 128GB SSD,14in 1600×900 LCD, Intel HD Graphics, Intel Wireless 6205, Ericsson 3G, Bluetooth, Secure Chip, UltraNav, Fingerprint reader, 4c Battery.
Additional Hardware: Western Digital Passport 1TB, Netgear D6300, Samsung Portable DB Writer SE-506AB
Additional Software: Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010, Adobe Creative Suite 6 ‘Master Collection’
Neither computer include an optical drive as I already have a Samsung BluRay burner/player which attaches to the USB port – does it make any sense getting a optical drive installed when one might only use it once/twice each year?
Presentation and Setting Up: The ThinkCentre arrived in two boxes. The first box contained the computer, keyboard, mouse, and restoration DVD’s (which I requested with the computer for an extra NZ$5 or so) with the second box containing the screen. Both of them contained minimal fluff which made unboxing a whole lot easier. The monitor for some reason came with a cool material like bag with a Lenovo logo on it – I assume so that you can use it to carry things like groceries? The ThinkPad on the other hand came in a single box from Ascent and arrived over night along with the external hard disk and Samsung Portable DB Writer SE-506AB.
Both computers came preloaded with Windows 7 Pro 64bit and with the ThinkPad and ThinkCentre I had the option of creating a 3 DVD recovery restoration media which I promptly did just in case ‘the shit hit the fan’. Regarding the pre-installed software, I know I’ve griped about crapware in the past but I’m going to separate crapware from helpfulware. Crapware to me is trialware which quite frankly have no use to be what so ever – either give me to the full version of the application or don’t waste my time. Helpfulware is software that seems to be crapware but installed by OEM’s to make life easier for the end user – for you and me it might be crapware but for many end users such software is a real time saver for them when they have the ability to open up their laptop and hit the ground running.
Both the ThinkCentre and ThinkPad came with minimal crapware installed which I give them high marks for – the crapware they did have installed was Norton Anti-Virus which although a pain is actually easily uninstallable and the uninstaller actually removes all the files rather than it being something of moving heaven and earth with all the files seemly vomited around the hard disk and left to rot after the uninstaller has finished. Although I’d love to rally against such crapware I think the best I can hope for realistically is a reduction and good uninstallers for the software included but equally in the future one can only hope that maybe there will be more vendors willing to install a ‘vanilla installation’ of Windows so restoration at a later time allows one to avoid the modifications and crapware.
What kind of helpfulware was included? Adobe Flash and Acrobat, and a variety of Lenovo applications including an update tool that allows you to keep your drivers updated along with special updates for Windows relating specifically to your hardware – for example, updates which Microsoft has made specifically for that particular vendor addressing very much a vendor specific issue.
Unfortunately my experience with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon was severely butchered installation which resulted in a cycle of failed ‘Windows Update’ installation. I rebooted and ran the Lenovo updater then tried the Windows Update once again with the same error happening – the installation goes through, reboots and then on reboot Windows backs out of the updates. Although I was going to replace it with a clean installation of Windows 7 the main point that needs to be noted is how the average person is going to react when they’re trying to do the ‘right thing’ only to find that in the process of doing so the butchered installation screws things up. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against customisation along the lines of OEM branded backgrounds/themes or even an application which allows for greater access to power saving configuration but I do have issue with OEM’s who quite frankly screw around with low level parts of the operating system simply to shave off a few seconds from the booting process. Prior to upgrading to Windows 8 I ran Lenovo updating tool installing updates but failed to download and install the firmware update required for the Intel Management chip to bring it up to 8.1 or the firmware update for Ericsson 3G device which was required for the new Windows 8 driver.
On the ThinkCentre the tweaking was a lot less obvious and thus I didn’t face any issues when running Windows Update with all the updates installing without any problems and the Lenovo updating tool installing updates which worked out well without any problems with no errors showing up.
Regarding the default settings, both the ThinkCentre and ThinkPad are not setup by default in UEFI mode and the Windows installation is setup for the old BIOS settings so if you do wish to change the setting in the firmware over to UEFI you’ll be required to re-install Windows. Within the firmware settings the one thing never to fiddle with is the CSM option – don’t for the love of Pete turn it off because it is needed, yes put UEFI only but keep CSM enabled as it is required because otherwise the computer will not boot thus requiring you to open up the case, reset the firmware using a jumper ‘prong’ which restored back the old settings.
I did a clean install of Windows 7 pro 64bit and downloaded all the drivers with everything well supported without any problems but the focus will mainly be on Windows 8 Pro 64bit. When you purchase a copy, unless you purchase the system builder edition you’re required to purchase an upgrade which sucks in that you can’t do a clean install without having to do some registry poking around. I obtained this information off another website so I thought it would be prudent to post it here:
Open regedit by pressing Windows-q, entering regedit and selecting the result from the list of hits.
Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Setup/OOBE/
Change MediaBootInstall from 1 to 0
Go back to the start screen and enter cmd there.
Right-click Command Prompt and select to run it as administrator.
Type slmgr /rearm on the command line and hit enter.
Reboot Windows now.
Run the activation utility afterwards, enter your product key to activate Windows.
For me, I legitimately own a copy of Windows 7 for both my machines and thus I don’t see why my right to do a clean install should be screwed up because of Microsoft’s paranoia that maybe someone somewhere is using an upgrade edition on a clean drive and they haven’t bought Windows. Prior to installing it I went over to the Lenovo driver matrix to download all the required drivers I needed for Windows 8 which had been promptly updated gradually over the months prior to Windows 8 release which meant that when it did arrive it was possible for people like me to make the plunge without too many problems.
On the ThinkCentre I had a curious problem in that I couldn’t boot off the Samsung Portable DB Writer SE-506AB so instead I decided to create a USB key via the download/installation tool that Microsoft provided which worked out good as it enabled an installation that was a lot quicker than if I used an optical disk installation. The installation was very fast, I completely cleared off the contents of both computer drivers, set the firmware to UEFI and allowed the partition tool to set things up automatically. The installation took less than 1/2 hour with the bulk of the time spent setting up my local account and installing drivers.
With the installation and configuration of Windows 8, if you’re connected to a network then it assumes by default that you want to use their cloud service thus they create an account on your computer which uses your Microsoft Online Account as the settings for logging in - for some that is a great idea but for others such as myself I’d prefer to keep my online account and computer account completely separate from each other thus I decided to setup what is known as a ‘local account’.