If you’re not in my particular niche communities, you might not know about the community that exists around old ThinkPad laptops. But I’m going to tell you about it, because I think it’s awesome!

ThinkPad laptops from years ago are enduringly popular, because they have great support from free software, and they’re extremely repairable.

Not only are new or used parts extremely easy to come by, people are even designing new parts for these old machines, so you can upgrade rather than replace!

People will combine parts from different laptops to create a “FrankenPad” that’s their favourite combination of different things.

I love this so much because rather than wait for some capitalists to deliver on their greenwashed promise of “modular” computing if we first buy their totally custom thing and hope they don’t go out of business, we’ve de facto standardised on computers that ALREADY exist, and can be obtained fairly cheaply.

Additionally, there’s a social benefit beyond the environmental one — these computers are not luxury hardware at this point. Since a lot of the users of these computers are software developers, they’re much less likely to develop software that only works on the latest premium hardware most people don’t have access to. It’s a stark difference to the new MacBook Pros a lot of us were using previously.

Any upgrade you might want to do has almost certainly been documented online. There’s a community available to help you with it, even if you don’t know anything about what’s inside a computer!

Don’t buy new laptops! Buy old ThinkPads, and never buy a whole new computer again.

Things I can upgrade/customise one at a time in my laptop, relatively cheaply:

• Screen
• Memory
• Keyboard
• Battery
• Motherboard / processor
• Case

Hell, you can gradually work your way to a whole different computer, Ship of Theseus style. But you don’t _have_ to. You can change only the bits that matter to you, and the parts that you’re done with will be useful to somebody else!

• Wireless card
• Cellular modem
• Bluetooth card

The other day I was sitting in the Edinburgh Hacklab watching a friend out together a working computer out of two broken ones that would probably otherwise have been landfilled.

A note: don’t take this enthusiasm as any sort of endorsement of modern ThinkPads. They’re garbage, like every other modern laptop. The point at which this happened is debatable, but barely none of the parts of the latest ones are replaceable without replacing the whole computer.

@qyliss
adjacent question:

does *anyone* make a semi-modular smaller-than-a-desktop computer these days?

Tablet, handheld, laptop...earpiece...anything?

@eryn
@qyliss

I think System76 does, but I can't attest to the repairability or anything of these:
system76.com/laptops

also @mntmn is working on version two of the fully free Reform laptop.

@s_ol @eryn @qyliss @mntmn I've used system76 laptops. They're whitelabel Clevos with the price bumped up a shit ton, and their stock cooling is garbage. legit blew out a fan a month just browsing the internet. used thinkpads/dells will give equally good performance with a better price and the only reason S76 boxes have such good Linux support is that they run Intel modules for absolutely everything.

@hackervoice
huh, was not aware of that. Thanks for the correction.

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