pig-monkey.com

You are currently viewing all posts tagged with hardware.

USB Type-C Multi-Cables

I started carrying the Anker PowerLine II 3-in-1 Cable in the latest iteration of my Electronic Support Package a couple years ago. It has a USB Type-A connector on one end, Micro USB on the other, with a USB Type-C and Apple Lightning adapter that pop on to the Micro USB connector. It makes for a nice little multi-cable to charge all my gadgets and transfer small bits of data around.

As I began to acquire more devices that supported USB Type-C, I found that I desired a multi-cable that was Type-C native. A quick survey of the market offered some options, but nothing that struck my fancy. However, during that search I happened to discover that Cozy (the same company that makes those USB Type-A covers I use on my bike lights) offered something they called LightningCozy which would allow me to put together my own multi-cables. So that’s what I did.

USB Type-C Multi-Cables

I have one model built around the Cable Matters USB-C Cable, 60 watt, 3.3 ft. On one end it has a Satechi Type-A to Type-C Adapter attached via a LightningCozy. On the other end it has a JXMOX USB C to Micro USB Adapter attached via another LightningCozy. It is bundled with a Ringke Silicon Cable Tie.

This creates the perfect package for my needs. I can use it to charge all my USB-chargeable things, including the Thinkpad X270. (I have no Apple devices in my life, so I don’t need the Apple Lightning adapter, but could easily add that if I find the need.) The cable doesn’t provide the fastest possible data transfer, but it is more svelte than a fast data cable, and is perfectly acceptable for my incidental data use. It doesn’t do video, but as of yet I have no USB Type-C monitors in my life, so I don’t care. One of these multi-cables is my EDC in the Electronic Support Package.

My second model of multi-cable is built around the Cable Matters USB-C Cable, 100 watt, 6.6 ft. On one end it has a Base Sailor USB C Female to USB Male Adapter attached via a LightningCozy. On the other end it has the same JXMOX adapter as the previous cable, attached via a LightningCozy. It also has a USB-C to Lenovo Slim Tip power adapter I bought a few years ago on AliExpress, attached via electrical tape and a piece of Type 1 Paracord. The cable is bundled with another Ringke Silicon Cable Tie.

I keep this second model in my laptop kit, along with a HyperJuice 66W GaN USB-C Charger. (I also have a Satechi 72W Type-C PD Car Charger I can throw into the kit if I’m going on a trip and think I might be spending a while in a car.) I don’t carry this kit unless I’m also carrying my laptop. This cable allows me to power either of my Thinkpads, or anything else USB-compatible, and gives me more reach than the short EDC cable. Both the X260 and X270 only want 45 watts, so the 100 watt cable is overkill, but it is occasionally useful to have the capacity to deliver more juice to other devices. As with the previous cable, this one doesn’t transfer data at blazing speeds, nor does it do video. I have no need of those capabilities, so I stick with thinner cables.

This post was published on . It was tagged with gear, edc, hardware.

X260 LCD Panel Replacement

I replaced the LCD panel in my Thinkpad X260 last month. The original panel had developed some scuffs from its years of service. They were never noticeable inside, but became mildly annoying when using the machine outdoors in direct sunlight. Since I’ve been working outdoors more often over the past year, I decided a replacement would be a worthwhile idea. The internet makes it look easy, as long as one purchases the right panel.

I was told that the X260 originally shipped with three different LCD panels, so my first stop was Lenovo’s parts lookup tool where I input my serial number and received in exchange a complete parts list. This told me that my original panel was an AUO B125HAN02.2 (FRU 00HN883).

A seller on eBay claimed to sell this exact model for $80. I placed an order, waited a couple weeks for shipping from Shenzhen, and opened the package to discover an IVO M125NWF4 R0. This wasn’t a complete surprise. I had heard that sellers often ship compatible products, rather than the exact product they sold. The panel looked almost identical, so I decided to try it.

Thinkpad X260 LCD Panel Replacement

Replacing the panel took about five minutes. The new panel does appear to function identically to the original – resolution, brightness, and colors all look the same to me. The only difference I can discern is that the new IVO panel looks a little less matte than the original AUO panel. (In the photo, the new panel is the one sitting to the side of the laptop. It still has the protective covering on it – evidenced by the red pull tab – which makes it look like it has Apple-level glossiness. I can happily report that the actual panel surface looks nothing like that.) If I shine a direct light on both panels, the edge of the light is a bit more diffuse on the AUO panel. I’ve noticed no practical difference due to this indoors. I’ve worked with the new panel outside a couple times now, and so far it seems to work great in that environment as well. And since it has no marks, it is definitely a net improvement over the current state of the original panel when outdoors.

Pandemic Office

According to Lenovo’s parts lookup tool, my backup X270 uses the exact same AUO panel as what was originally in the X260. So I now have 2 new LCD panels that are swappable between the two computers. This sort of redundancy makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I’ve also placed the old panel into storage as another backup. It remains perfectly usable outside of direct sunlight.

I first noticed the marks appearing on the old panel a couple years into its service life. It was clear these were caused by the LCD contacting the keyboard when the laptop was closed – more specifically, I assume that the problem is whatever grease or oil gets transferred to the keyboard from my fingers. To solve this I started covering the keyboard with a microfiber cloth before closing the laptop. Since I started doing this a few years ago, I have noticed no new marks appear on the panel. Now that I have a new panel, my expectation is that this technique will keep it in good condition for years to come.

There seems to be no shortage of sellers offering microfiber “keyboard covers”. I assume they’re mostly all interchangeable. The one I went with was Clean Screen Wizard for 12” Laptops. The actual dimensions of these cloths are about 10.5” by 6.75”. This is not large enough to cover the entire base of the laptop, but it is large enough to cover just the keyboard, which is all I wanted to accomplish. I was worried that if I bought a cloth large enough to cover the whole base (as they show the cloths doing in their product photos), I’d have to worry about lining the edges up just so before closing the laptop. The cloth intended for 12” laptops gives me enough wiggle room that I can just throw it on blindly.

I’ve since bought half a dozen of these same cloths and use them everywhere one uses microfiber cloths. The larger size, compared to typical eyeglass microfiber cloths, is convenient for cleaning optical and camera lenses.

This post was published on . It was tagged with hardware.

Peak Laptop

My ThinkPad X260 is entering its sixth year of service. Last year I preemptively replaced the SSD. A few months later I replaced the keyboard after noticing that the space bar would sometimes fail to register. I’ve had no other problems with the machine.

Last month I bought a used-but-basically new ThinkPad X270 for a ridiculously low price on eBay. The X270 was released in 2017, a year after the X260. Both models are basically identical but for the addition of a USB-C port on the X270. The presence or absence of USB-C has no practical impact on my life today, but it seems like a thing that I may grow to appreciate in the future.1

My plan for the X270 is to put it in storage with my old ThinkPad T430s. I’m excited to have a backup machine that is almost identical to my daily driver. If the X260 ever develops a problem, I can pop the SSD out of it, move it to the X270, and continue on with my life. While the T430s is still a great machine that is perfectly capable of doing everything I need a computer to do, switching back to it would be much more disruptive due to its different form factor and power setup. The T430s is now a backup to my backup.

The X260 and X270 both represent Peak Laptop to me. Not because I can’t imagine ways to make them better, but because, since their release, no laptop manufacturer (including Lenovo) seems to have been able to release anything as good, much less better. These machines are everything I need a laptop to be, and I’ve yet to feel limited by their performance. While the X260 shows no signs of its age, I’m happy to have the X270 staged for transition if it ever becomes necessary. Perhaps in another five or ten years the industry will have figured out how to improve on these machines and I’ll feel a desire to upgrade. Until then I’m done buying new laptops.

Peak Laptop

The X270 came with two 6-cell batteries. Combined with my existing batteries, I believe my collection is now complete. The original battery from 2016 is still healthy, which I think can be largely attributed to TLP’s battery charge thresholds.

Notes

  1. A couple years ago I purchased a USB-C to Slim Power Tip adapter on eBay, thinking it might be nice to charge the X260 via USB-C. I've yet to do anything with it. The ThinkPad Power Bridge battery setup is great, and none of the new USB-C wall wart chargers seem to be better than my old FINsix Dart charger.

This post was published on . It was tagged with hardware.

New Year, New Drive

My first solid state drive was a Samsung 850 Pro 1TB purchased in 2015. Originally I installed it in my T430s. The following year it migrated to my new X260, where it has served admirably ever since. It still seems healthy, as best as I can tell. Sometime ago I found a script for measuring the health of Samsung SSDs. It reports:

------------------------------
 SSD Status:   /dev/sda
------------------------------
 On time:      17,277 hr
------------------------------
 Data written:
           MB: 47,420,539.560
           GB: 46,309.120
           TB: 45.223
------------------------------
 Mean write rate:
        MB/hr: 2,744.720
------------------------------
 Drive health: 98 %
------------------------------

The 1 terabyte of storage has begun to feel tight over the past couple of years. I’m not sure where it all goes, but I regularly only have about 100GB free, which is not much of a buffer. I’ve had my eye on a Samsung 860 Evo 2TB as a replacement. Last November my price monitoring tool notified me of a significant price drop for this new drive, so I snatched one up. This weekend I finally got around to installing it.

The health script reports that my new drive is, in fact, both new and healthy:

------------------------------
 SSD Status:   /dev/sda
------------------------------
 On time:      17 hr
------------------------------
 Data written:
           MB: 872,835.635
           GB: 852.378
           TB: .832
------------------------------
 Mean write rate:
        MB/hr: 51,343.272
------------------------------
 Drive health: 100 %
------------------------------

When migrating to a new drive, the simple solution is to just copy the complete contents of the old drive. I usually do not take this approach. Instead I prefer to imagine that the old drive is lost, and use the migration as an exercise to ensure that my excessive backup strategies and OS provisioning system are both fully operational. Successfully rebuilding my laptop like this, with a minimum expenditure of time and effort – and no data loss – makes me feel good about my backup and recovery tooling.

This post was published on . It was tagged with backups, hardware.

The Kindle is a terrible device for reading comics.

It’s the wrong size. The E Ink display is greyscale. Zooming and panning are disruptive. A tablet probably works great, but I don’t know – I’ve never owned one. I solved the problem a while back when I discovered that I could simply rotate my laptop’s display via xrandr.

$ xrandr --output eDP-1 --rotate right --pos 0x0

Adding an autorandr profile for this makes it easy to jump to portrait mode. This is useful for reading any long-form content on the X260. Typing (or mousing) on the rotated device is difficult, so I’ll sometimes plug in my external keyboard if I want to do more than just page through a document.

X260 Portrait Mode

Elevating My Balls

Last October I bought an Elecom HUGE trackball for use at home. I liked it enough that a month later I bought a second one to replace my CST LaserTRAC at work. Elecom is a Japanese company which has a reputation for making nice trackballs that tend to be a little too small for typical Western-sized hands. The HUGE is their answer to that. It’s a well-sized trackball with a smooth operation and a nice selection of buttons, all of which are supported by the Linux kernel.

The HUGE can be made even more comfortable by tilting it. This elevates the ball, leaves the wrist in a slightly more natural position, and also helps to address the position of the scroll wheel, which is otherwise slightly too far back. Some people have printed stands to hold the trackball at an angle. About a month ago I saw someone tilt the HUGE using aluminum keyboard feet. I thought that looked like a great idea and easier than trying to get something printed, so I went to AliExpress and ordered a pair of black feet from one seller and a pair of red feet from another.

When the feet arrived I attached them with hook and loop squares so that I could expriment with different positions and take them off if I didn’t like them. The position that I’ve settled on provides a comfortable angle, and the trackball still remains stable during use. I think it’s a great improvement. If you own a HUGE, it’s worth picking up a couple feet to elevate your ball.

Battle Station

  • Feet Placement
  • Tilted HUGE

This post was published on . It was tagged with hardware.

I treat myself to a new laptop every three or four years.

A few weeks ago I bought a Lenovo Thinkpad X260, replacing the T430s that has been my daily driver since 2012. I’m a big fan of the simplicity, ruggedness and modularity of Thinkpads. It used to be that one of the only downsides to Thinkpads were the terrible screens, but that has been addressed by the X260’s FHD display. The high resolution let me move from the 14” display of the T430s to the 12.5” display of the X260 without feeling like I’ve lost anything, but with an obvious gain in portability. The X260 is a great machine to put Linux on, which Spark helps me to do with no effort and a minimum expenditure of time.

Thinkpad X260