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I own an IBM Think Pad 390 series laptop, which I was fortunate enough to be given as part of the Computers for Teachers initiative. As ICT Manager for the school, I argued the case for me having one to test CD-Roms, write policies, etc. I use it in the same way as I would a PC, it is not exactly now portable as I have more peripherals on it than you can shake a stick at – 3D speakers, roller mouse, headphones, microphone, scanner, printer and digital camera. Also, of course, I leave the laptop on a virtually permanent internet connection. My wife always complains as she never gets to “play” on it – she prefers to play “Minesweeper” or “Patience” than to use anything more complicated. As we are both primary school teachers, this is the time of year when reports have to be written. Nowadays, the emphasis is on computer-typed reports, rather than the old fashioned (though reliable) hand-written approach. Therefore, I gave Jo a quick lesson, prepared a blank document for her reports, even filled in all her children’s names in and created them each a file, and left her to it. I came back after work one day last week and came to write my reports on my trusty laptop. I opened up the machine in the usual way, only to be greeted by a message “You must restart your computer” I did a “Ctrl-Alt-Delete”, as you do, only to be now greeted by a black screen of death! The internal fan and hard drive were making the usual buzzing noise, but as yet, no picture on the screen. The air naturally turned blue and automatic blame was put on Jo – her track record for computers is not exactly brilliant, she has even made a TV fall off a stand in school whilst wheeling it along a corridor. After half an hour of sweating, twiddling and exploring the laptop for any hidden reset switches, I had almost resigned myself to the fact that our 3 days report-writing had
come to nothing. I then decided to flick through an old “PC Format” magazine, to see whether there was any IBM Helpline numbers advertised. I only found a general freephone number, which was probably more to do with sales, but I decided to ring it anyway. As usual these days, I was greeted by an answering machine with a choice of options as it was outside normal office hours. I selected one of these, and got through to another menu, I selected another option, and another and even another! Eventually, I heard a human voice, to which I explained my predicament, to be transferred to another human being. Several transfers later, I heard a voice “Hi, my names Shaun from IBM International, how can I help you?” Now, I know an American accent when I hear one and before I could say anything else, he asked me for my phone number. The plot thickens, as he didn’t recognize the number. I decided to take the bull by the horns and said “Now, that’s an American accent, isn’t it – are you an American working for IBM in England, or are you actually in the States?” Now that confused the poor guy even more, yes, somehow, by ringing the UK Freephone IBM Sales number, I had been directed straight through to the US of A! Anyway, I must say, the American guy was far more helpful and polite on the phone than any helpline I have ever experienced. After about 10 minutes, he had diagnosed the problem and taught me a “neat little trick” to reset the laptop, to cut a long story short, you have to hold the “On” button on for about 1 minute and go through a reset routine. Of course, it mentions nothing about this in the User manual. Needless to say, the American guy left thinking that the British public ARE completely bonkers, but I left with my reports still intact and a saved marriage!!
At first this looks like quite a good invention, you get a docking station with a cdrom drive and a disk drive in it which is detachable. At first I also thought I could plug all my cables into it therefore I could just detach my laptop and go very easily without removing, external mouse, keyboard, palm pilot hot sync cable, external disk drvies etc. but no only the power cable can be plugged into the docking station and left connected. Hence I don't really see the point of having it. The docking station makes the whole thing rather heavy which means when travelling I still take my external disk drive and leave the docking station behind. Also if the laptop is turned on when you attach it to the docking station, mine always recongises it as new hardware and insists on being rebooted to finish the setup of the new hardware. You can ignore this but it just keeps reappearing. Also sometimes when attached to the docking station it flips from power supply to battery, this can be solved by pressing the laptop harder into the docking station provided you notice otherwise your battery runs low. So after thinking about this for a while I can't help asking WHY? Why is there this docking station, I see a potential there but more has to be done with it before I'd recommend it. Moving away from the dreaded docking station I could rant about it for hours. The laptop itself is fine, the screen is a reasonable size, the keyboard has quite a large section at the front to rest your wrists on when typing which is definitely needed especially when the docking station is attached as the keys are then quite high from the desk. My only other real problem is my hate of the trackpoint cover, this red slightly prickly, slightly fury, dirt attracting thing!