What is a durable laptop targeting a 10 year lifetime?

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It seems these days people (and thus laptop manufacturers) don't care about how long a laptop lasts for, since I guess they don't care how wasteful it is to buy a new one every year or two.

Well, I do. I realise that depending on my buying choices, I could spend about the same amount of money getting cheap laptops every three years rather than a durable laptop every ten years. This isn't about money. This is about reducing my ecological footprint and my electronic waste. (Actually, it would be about money if the hidden environmental costs of manufacturing an extra two laptops per person every ten years were properly accounted for by our governments through regulation. But they aren't. So, I'll have to do the accounting myself.)

An honest person will admit that high-powered games notwithstanding, laptops have been doing largely the same thing for about ten years and there actually hasn't been a real need to increase performance for a long while, in spite of what the laptop manufacturers and microsoft may say. That's why I think ten years is a fair target to set for my next laptop's lifetime. Is there any laptop with a warranty that comes close to that? What's the best there is right now? Are there some older (2 years maybe) laptops that, though their warranty may not cover continued use, have withstood the test of time and are known for their durability?

My current one—an IBM Thinkpad X40—is actually about that old now. Though it still works amazingly well, due to the general sloppiness of the people writing the more mainstream software I have to run a lightweight Linux distribution (archlinux) on it to get reasonably good performance. This is becoming increasingly annoying. Hence this search for a replacement.

So, in summary,

  • Durable. ~10 year lifetime. With warranty would be preferred, but I realise that is just about impossible in this industry at the moment. Without a warranty, the lowest 2-year failure rate possible will have to suffice. Anecdotal first-hand experience suffers from survivorship bias (just think Apple fanboy effect), so such advice isn't reliable.
  • Suitable for general use, i.e. WWW with javascript, HTML5 and video, which is about the hardest thing this laptop would ever have to do. Any new high-powered games are completely unnecessary, and probably impossible in any case, since I'd be running Linux.
  • Capable of running Linux. This one is virtually guaranteed, though, so don't discount a certain machine you have in mind because you're not sure about this.

There are other things that make a good laptop—good battery life, low price, nice and light, etc. All this is nice, but strictly optional, especially since many compete directly with reliability and durability, especially price and weight.

enigmaticPhysicist

Posted 2015-10-06T03:59:11.570

Reputation: 186

Hi enigmatic, while this is a fantastic question, what you're looking for is still a little vague. Could you list out some more specs you'd like in the laptop you're looking for?Adam 2015-10-06T04:10:47.767

Just to echo Adam's point. If you can bullet point some specific requirements, that really can help us answer your question.ArtOfCode 2015-10-06T07:47:42.857

2Why do you need a 10-year laptop? What is causing you to want this (vs for example a lower priced laptop you could easily replace in 5 years)?enderland 2015-10-06T16:25:05.373

@Adam, added the spec list you wanted. You were right about that.enigmaticPhysicist 2015-10-06T17:37:29.303

@enderland, added more rationale as to why I want a laptop that will last for so long. A fair question to ask.enigmaticPhysicist 2015-10-06T17:37:56.317

Any recommendation of a laptop which is known to be durable enough to last for 10 years would necessarily mean a laptop which has been for sale 10 or more years ago. It is unlikely any such laptop is still on sale today. Even if the manufacturer still produce a laptop with the same specs there is no guarantee it is made of the same components. Additionally any recommendations about durability would suffer from survivorship bias.kasperd 2015-10-07T00:13:12.013

Recommendations based on 2-year rates of failure would not suffer from bias. I am assuming a laptop with a low 2-year rate of failure will have a low 10+ year rate of failure—often true. You are right, though. No laptop has been in continuous production for 10 years. Maybe some day...enigmaticPhysicist 2015-10-19T20:30:01.293

Answers

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I would recommend Lenovo Thinkpad W520. As you probably know, Lenovo purchased the IBM personal computer business and the ThinkPad brand in 2005. T43/p & T60 were one of the last IBM-designed units.

Note: I own this laptop and it is just my personal view. I faced with a similar choice - solid workstation that will last for years. I bought it as an off-lease laptop for $400. In my humble opinion, it would be very difficult to get something better for this money. This laptop is 4 years old now. Answer is based on a 4284XXX model.

Specification (for versions: 4284W85, 4284E57, 4284B26, 4284A35):

  • Processor: Intel i7-2820QM with quad-core
  • Graphics: Nvidia Quadro 2000M, HD 3000
  • Memory: 8 GB DDR3-1333/PC3-10600 (maximum memory: 32 GB)
  • Maximum Battery Run Time: up to 10.80 hours (9-cell) or up to 21.6 hours (9-cell plus Slice battery)
  • HDD: 320 GB (Serial ATA/300, 7200 RPM)
  • Screen size: 15.6" (Active Matrix TFT Color LCD, 1920x1080, anti-glare display)

What distinguishes this model from the typical consumer laptop:

  • palm rest does not bend in too easily under pressure
  • solid hinges
  • you can open the display up to 180 degrees

Classical Thinkpad keyboard may be a plus for you. Check the difference here.

Unboxing video

Product gallery

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belford

Posted 2015-10-06T03:59:11.570

Reputation: 1 082

Very interesting. How does one buy a laptop off-lease?enigmaticPhysicist 2015-10-06T17:31:21.967

You can find them even on ebay. Just read the description - many companies use this kind of mobile workstation and that's why there's a lot of refurbished ones etc... I bought many Thinkpads this way - every one was second-hand and I replaced an HDD only. You can buy it even without a hard disk and then buy an SSD and install your favourite OS.
If you don't care about a graphics card, then you can choose T520 which is cheaper: http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-Lenovo-Thinkpad-T520-Notebook.51596.0.html

belford 2015-10-06T17:51:16.890

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Thinkpads are pretty much your best choice here. I'd go for a basic, mainstream series like T series (over the X series or the W series), since they're a bit more reasonably priced. I'd go with a model without nvida graphics, simply cause a simpler model has less things to fail. I've run R series (the old 'cheaper' version of the T series) for years, and the build quality's generally been fine. Avoid the E series, they don't have many of the awesome features a proper thinkpad has.

I've got 3, one old one, one even older one that I essentially inherited, and one more that's relatively recent, and all run fine. I do believe I also have one that's certainly over 10 years that ought to be usable up if the HDD isn't dead.

A 10 year laptop isn't going to be without minor issues. You're probably going to want the option to upgrade it, and/or replace parts over time. Thinkpads are essentially designed such that many/most parts that could fail over the lifetime of the system are replaceable easily. Thinkpads are about the most maintainable latops on the market.

My R61's almost at 10 years Its pretty much stock, though I'm pondering replacing the drive with a SSD. With a thinkpad, you can upgrade or replace ram as needed without tearing the whole box apart. (my r61 could use a little more ram, I've only got 1gb.). I've upgraded it from XP to windows 7 to windows 10, and it runs fine, and very usably (I'm just spoiled by my newer systems). The old girl has legs

There's a few parts however that might be tricky. Batteries last about 2-3 years. Lenovo seems to use fairly standard external battery packs and a quick check on google suggests they're available online. If your laptop's a desktop diva its another story. The yellow charging ports on pre USB 3.0 models tended to break for me. I ended up supergluing it back on and its been fine since. The usb 3.0 models ought to be fine, since they replace the charging port with a USB 3.0 port, and they don't use the crappy plastic of d00m.

No matter what you get, a proper thinkpad's going to be a mechanically solid, troublefree unit.

Journeyman Geek

Posted 2015-10-06T03:59:11.570

Reputation: 3 206

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No specific laptop model recommendations, but heres a few tips. If you want the laptop to be able to run most programs made 10 years down the road, you'll want to pick up a newer model than a ThinkPad(Assuming you're running Windows). So..

  1. Pick a model with newish hardware(specs).
  2. Commercial-grade laptops with anti-theft features will more often be constructed very sturdily. They often have a very sturdy central structural point for attaching a security cable to (for securing to a location in public or anywhere it is likely to be stolen). This structural point is always solid steel and often extends around the internal components so that a firm yank on the cable connection won't severely damage the laptop.
  3. Stray away from models that are designed around being "thin".
  4. A machine that allows overclocking will also allow underclocking, which can drastically improve component life-time.
  5. Try to shop within any given manufacturer's high-end. Their low and mid-grade products are often intentionally faulty.
  6. Get a laptop with a glass or acrylic screen. (As opposed to the poke-for-a-rainbow LCD screens.) Aside from being easier to clean, the solid screen surface helps avoid the slight bending that happens when opening the "lid". Also, a lid that opens smoothly with a constant heavier resistance to it usually holds the weight of the screen better. You don't want a laptop that tries to fold back flat whenever you set it down.
  7. Try out the keys on the keyboard, if pressing one side of a key causes the other side to lift, it is a flimsy keyboard with lots of uneven pressure being applied to the internal contact. These can eventually require pressing very hard to function, and then break in half, and may urge you to fist-a-bomb the whole board in frustration.
  8. Avoid anything with touch-activated buttons. That is, buttons that sense a finger and lack an actual button mechanism. These eventually fail all the time.
  9. Make sure there is at least one fan for the CPU. Fanless laptops run slow or run hot.
  10. Heavier usually means greater physical durability. Look for models that have metal trim around all the edges, and high quality plastic elsewhere.
  11. If at all possible, avoid a large central touchpad. This is becoming less of an issue as touchpad design improves, but constant rubbing of the palms on a touchpad will wear it down. Test the touchpad left and right mouse buttons just as you tested the keyboard.
  12. Lastly, no matter what you choose to buy, you'll need to take good care of it.

    • Letting a laptop sit on an uneven surface for a long time will cause the body to warp.
    • Using the computer with the screen facing the Sun all the time will cause display issues such as fading and discoloration.

    • Overclocking can reduce CPU/GPU life, especially over 10 years.

    • Applying shear force to a USB thumb-drive sticking out of your laptop can seriously damage the USB port(usually more damage to the drive).
    • Running the laptop while plugged into AC power for long periods of time while the battery is at full charge will kill the battery(i.e., reduce the battery capacity to less than an hour). This can be tedious to avoid and can happen regardless due to a number of factors, so I would count on replacing the battery once or twice during those 10 years if battery life is important to you.
    • Allowing the fan intake to become blocked(often by clothing or furniture, eventually by dust) will cause the CPU to run hot and eventually shut itself off. While most laptops can survive this happening quite often, I'm not sure it's going to help achieve a 10 year lifetime.
    • Maybe once a year, open the laptop up and blow or vacuum out all the dust. Be sure to use a plastic tool to pop plastic snaps and clips. Use correctly sized screwdrivers(no wiggle) to avoid stripping screw heads. Don't over-tighten screws, they only need to be tight enough that they don't wiggle loose. READ the user manual, or better yet a service manual specific to the laptop model. Each laptop model offers a brand new disassembly/reassembly experience, and following the manufacturer's directions will help to avoid breaking something.

If you want something really durable, look for field laptops or military/law enforcement laptops which are often armored, and have a solid frame. Some even have their void spaces filled with foam for shock-resistance so they keep on working despite being dropped, tossed around, run over... shot, etc

Ricky Marshall

Posted 2015-10-06T03:59:11.570

Reputation: 21

You do realise that current gen ThinkPads exist right (with a mighty 20% increase in CPU performance and... pretty much the same size RAM)? And OP did specify Linux.Alpha3031 2017-09-30T02:36:24.170

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I have no specific brand to recommend, but I have a comment on laptop component failure..

One of the main causes of laptop death is the eventual failure of the video cable that passes from the lower case body into the upper lid.

In most laptops this is a tiny cable approximately 1-2mm in diameter with about 20 individual hair-sized conductors crammed inside it, that passes through the middle of one of the hinges.

Every time you open or close the lid, you axially twist these conductors, and after twisting and untwisting about 300-500 times they are going break. The screen will now intermittently flicker on and off as the broken wires occasionally touch or separate.

If you want long life for a laptop, you will seek out this replacement video hinge cable when the laptop is new and buy about four of them for future use, to be installed every 3 years or so, when the cable wears out and the tiny wires break.

,

Getting ahold of this cable as a spare part may be rather difficult, as it may not be available unless you directly contact an authorized warranty repair center that can obtain these repair parts direct from the manufacturer.

I have tried in the past to do this with some of the higher end gaming laptops as these have potential future lifespans measured in decades, and the failure to be able to buy video hinge cable spares ended my interest in that gaming laptop brand.

When the laptop is 4+ years old and out of production you will definitely not find this part new anywhere because it is custom for every laptop and there is no generic-fit replacement. But perhaps you might find it used, with some 200 flexes already in it, and a short remaining life ahead.

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There is an exception to this which I saw in the IBM Thinkpad z60M laptop, where instead of the tiny hairlike hidden-hinge cable, IBM instead used a flat flexible yellow-orange ribbon cable about 30cm wide, from the body to the lid.

This ribbon cable is exceptionally durable, and the laptops reached 10+ years of age with none of the display ribbon cables ever failing to my knowledge.

I do not know if this flat orange ribbon video cable design has been carried forward to any of the Lenovo brand Thinkpads.

Dale Mahalko

Posted 2015-10-06T03:59:11.570

Reputation: 141