Oldest Viable Laptop


What’s the oldest laptop you could reasonably do your job with? 3 years old? 5 years? 10? And if asked the same question 10 years ago, would your number be higher or lower? Thanks to a failing battery in my 12” MacBook, I discovered my answer.

For the 10 days it took to repair my MacBook, I had to use my backup laptop:

ThinkPad X61s

This is a ThinkPad X61s. Despite being made in 2007, it’s been fine for work. Yes, everything about it is worse than my MacBook. It’s slower and heavier. It lacks a trackpad. The screen is a mere 1024x768, causing some websites to show their mobile layout.1 Still, the experience has been significantly better than I predicted. The only major hardware drawback is the lack of video camera. The main sources of frustration have been software. Ubuntu 16.04 doesn’t have a built-in dictionary or thesaurus. The default calendar app is a joke. And Thunderbird doesn’t have a unified inbox view. (Edit: It does. Thanks To Brendan Long for pointing this out.)

Had a similar circumstance happened 10 years ago, my oldest viable laptop would not be so old. That is to say: There’s no way that in 2007, I’d be able to get by with a laptop from 1997. The performance issues would be insurmountable.

Growing up, I never thought I’d be able to use decade-old hardware without issue. Either laptop improvements are well into diminishing returns, or progress in hardware has stagnated, or both.

Update: It’s been two weeks since I got my MacBook back, and I still tend to use my ThinkPad more. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with it, but there’s something about this machine that causes me to favor it.