1. 44
  1. 21

    But where are the alligator clips for the multimeter? How am I supposed to find cable breaks using time domain reflectometry with this toy?

    1. 12

      I like laptops with a smaller footprint, and there are some neat ideas (integrated KVM), but it reminds me a little too much of the Homer. (Or the xkcd Phone.)

      1. 11

        I really like the tremendous amount of I/O and ports on this little beasty, but like I can’t help but wonder if this is more targeting a decker in a Shadowrun game than somebody who does admin work for a (mostly legitimate) living.

        1. 5

          It looks to me like a tool for someone who has to crawl around annoying places and deal with a gigantic array of old, weird, semi-obsolete hardware, often outdoors or in weird cramped network closets. I imagine telecom and carrier net admins do that more than most datacenter-y net admins, where you can design from the ground up to (mostly) have convenient hardware.

          Everyone has nuances; I will never again need a VGA port or DB-12 connector, but would die with that few USB-A ports.

          1. 3

            I work mostly with fixing systems that people already have, rather than installing new ones, so legacy ports are my cheese and dongle. Albeit I don’t think I’d need 3x TRS audio jacks :D

          2. 8

            I’m sorry, but I don’t understand the need for the SATA and VGA connections (and four audio ports; because a sysadmin is going to have such heavy, sophisticated needs in the sound department 😒). You have to carry around cables for the things anyway, so I’m not sure what the advantage of having dedicated ports and carrying around the cables is over having more USB-C ports and carrying around adapters. And the SATA and VGA ports take up so much surface area on the side and so much depth area inside the case that the whole thing is kind of a PITA (to the point where there are skeptics on the site surrounding whether the ports’ layout is actually possible).

            And I’m speaking as someone who would LOVE the peripheral-mode on my laptop so I can use it as the keyboard and monitor for a rack server temporarily. That shouldn’t be hard with just USB-C ports on the device itself, though.

            Personally, I’d rather have a laptop with twenty USB-C ports and appropriate adapter-cables in the box. And a much bigger screen, but that’s because my eyesight sucks.

            1. 3

              Interesting how much this is down to personal taste. I assumed without even thinking about it that literally nobody apart from Apple accountants and designers liked the trend of forcing customers to buy and carry adaptors around, so as to streamline their manufacturing processes/slash their costs/increase their margins even further, as well as progress ever faster to the design nirvana of total simplicity (i.e. there’s nothing there).

              Personally I really dislike it. It’s the main reason I’m still with my 2013 Macbook Pro, even more than the daft keyboards and missing escape keys etc. Setting aside the extra cost (on top of the fact that the computer price never seems to go down even though they stripped out all those devices in favour of just a USB bus), having to use more adaptors is just more baggage and more stuff, with more scope to go wrong and more expensive to replace, than just cables. It reminds me of computer music days with loads of outboard - I’d often avoid buying things with wall-wart power adaptors because why not just give me a kettle cable like every other piece of kit does?

              So on a computer, yep, I want proper display outputs, proper ethernet, SD card, basic audio I/O and USB, at a minimum. Anything else is just making more hassle and more time & financial cost for me. Apple did it pretty much perfectly on the MBP with HDMI & Thunderbolt; subsequent iterations seem to be just to keep the unit-shift churn going, and all the other companies follow suit, partly because Apple designs are of course beautiful, and partly because “wait, you mean we can get away without all those expensive components too? SWEET”.

              1. 2

                I was specifically talking about VGA, SATA, and the audio ports. You have to carry the VGA cable anyway, since you’re not leaving the servers hooked up to monitors. You might as well just screw the puck to one end and leave it there. It’s one less end where I have to mess with those stupid twist-things. It’s the same deal with SATA; unless you plan to dig the other end of the cable out of the machine’s motherboard, you want to carry around a spare, which you can again just leave the adapter attached to. And as for audio… give me one system administrator use case for line-in.

                Yeah, I would like the SD card slot. Just sticking the card into your laptop is obviously better than carrying around a reader. I can also appreciate Ethernet in a data center setting, since you probably pull the plug off of one non-USB-C device and stick it into your machine, and Ethernet plugs aren’t enormous.

                And USB-A and headphones tend to have the cable baked into the peripheral itself, so it’s useful to accept those directly. Now that I think about it, amend my suggestion to: five USB-C, five USB-A, an SD card reader, a headphone jack, and Ethernet. And please don’t stick all of the A’s or C’s on one side.

                1. 1

                  I’m fully down with that amendment :-)

              2. 1

                Dongles mean you need to plan ahead. Accepting any wires means the people you are helping probably already have the needed cable

              3. 8

                Oh, I love this sort of thing! My thoughts:

                The case of the adminbook is made of mithril aluminum. It’s a lightweight, durable metal with good thermal conductivity.

                Aluminum does have those properties, but it’s not actually a good laptop case material. It’s brittle, and the thermal conductivity is a liability in a thing you’re going to lay your hands on; it will either be too cold (because it’s a giant heatsink attached to your hands) or too hot (because it’s a giant heatsink attached to your processor). Also, I will never credit Apple with good thermal engineering, but they demonstrate conclusively that “case as heatsink” is not a cheap ticket to manageable temperatures; so since you need real thermal management anyway, probably better not to dispose of it into the user.

                This is possible if the keys are normal size and in their typical positions. But the adminbook is too small for that.

                The author should compromise on case size, not keyboard layout. IBM perfected the compact keyboard layout (and made it as small as it can possibly get) with the Thinkpad X40 way back in 2004; no laptop can be smaller than that and maintain a usable keyboard. (The brief late-2000s netbook fad produced tons of painfully tiny keyboards if you want to experience this for yourself.)

                Also, let’s just get this out of the way: I will never purchase or willingly use a chiclet keyboard. Not going to happen. Put a bevel on those keycaps so you fingers can recenter if they drift.

                To hit the buttons faster, different key colors are used.

                I like the concept, but as before, IBM did it better. There’s too much color here, and it turns into chaos; a handful of highlights (for instance—purely hypothetically, mind you—grey function keys and a blue enter) will work better than a noisy spray of blue, black and grey.

                Also, the lack of key spacing makes this keyboard much worse. Give yourself enough room to strategically add gaps (between function key groupings, for instance) and whole bunches of keys will suddenly become usable without looking.

                Where? Where, I ask, is the context menu key that I use every day?

                I will bash on new Thinkpads as much as literally anyone else I’ve ever met, but I have never in my life intentionally pressed that key.

                The backlight here is similar to the ThinkPad ThinkLight. That is, it’s an LED above the display, illuminating the keyboard from the top.

                That’s a frontlight, of course. And it is indeed much better than a backlight, though it doesn’t make for dramatic advertising photos.

                the trackpoint is used as the positioning device

                I’m obviously totally on board with this. ;)

                ports

                This is a little excessive, and obviously the ideal loadout will be highly personal. (per @tedu: oscilloscope probes?) I probably want miniDP (passively convertible to full-size), ethernet, power, a headphone port (correctly placed on the left side) and a handful of USB-A. I certainly don’t grudge the author their ideal collection of ports, but if they actually want this thing to exist ever, they should come up with a way to customize it or scale back to a more conservative, general-purpose set.

                Also, as long as we’re dreaming, dust covers are cool, and they keep dust out of things.

                Emulation of external drives

                USB OTG is common in phones these days. I could see finding it handy on occasion in my laptop. (Probably fairly frequently if I were a many-hats sysadmin.)

                Infrared remote control

                I had a laptop with this once (A Dell XPS M1530). After confirming that it worked, I literally never used it. (It would have been easy, too—it generated regular media key events, so no actual configuration was required for it to work. But it turns out when playing media on a laptop, you’re generally close enough to just reach the keyboard.)

                What’s inside

                I suspect an ARM core will work better by most metrics than x86. Depends on your needs. If the author is unfortunate enough in their role to need to run a variety of proprietary software, that obviously wouldn’t work for them.

                Power supply

                I suspect the author will find that packing essentially a bench power supply into their power brick will prove (a) expensive, (b) difficult, and (c) unportable. And again on the topic of actually making the thing, almost nobody will use any of those capabilities (other than actually powering the laptop).


                All that said—I’m really glad the author is thinking about this. (I’m really glad anyone is thinking about this. Right now, it’s looking like I’ll be using my X62 to the grave.) I appreciate that they’ve thought about usability rather than simply aping whatever shiny thing is currently trendy on the mass market, and I wish them the best of luck if they do try to move forward with it.

                1. 6

                  To each their own, but to me, that keyboard is a nightmare. He lists out reasons for the color scheme and such, but I feel like it doesn’t work like he describes it. For example, he says

                  NumLock is mapped to the “6” key, colored black to stand out.

                  Half of the keyboard is black. The “6” key in no way sticks out because it’s black. Not to mention, just before that he says

                  the numeric row is specifically colored gray to visually separate it from the QWERTY row

                  So that was a lie.

                  1. 6

                    Yeah, they’ve clearly put a lot of thought into the rest of the device, but this was really poorly-thought out. Who puts a caps lock key on a keyboard? The numpad is numlock-based instead of fn-based, which is an obvious mistake, and it’s placed too high; the home row position should be on 4 5 6 instead of 1 2 3. If you fix that you can get rid of the number row entirely, or at least the function keys could get moved to the fn layer.

                  2. 6

                    Possible impossibilities aside, I enjoyed this way more than I thought I would.

                    1. 4

                      Interesting as he mentions x200 being ‘too big’.

                      After doing system administration for many years I would NEVER change that X200 7-row ThinkPad keyboard to that caricature of keyboard …

                      I will stick to my T420s/x220 for YEARS … until used ThinkPad 25 will get a reasonable price for used unit.

                      1. 4

                        As someone who uses a newer ThinkPad’s keyboard daily, (X230 Tablet) I honestly have little to no complaints about it. The keys are loud and tactile; the layout is different, but I’ve gotten used to it quickly. Of the ThinkPads I have (701cs, T42, X61 Tablet, X201) I find the X61T’s to be best, but the X201 and X230T are fine as well. (The T42 and 701cs keyboards, on the other hand, are horrid. the T42 feels numb and the 701cs get stiff and otherwise age like milk.)

                        I find the hysterics X220 owners go through over the keyboard to be hilarious because it’s so overblown. The X220 and X230 are basically identical otherwise, and both are the nadir of ThinkPad build quality - my X230T definitely feels cheap compared to the X201, and some T420s I’ve tried feel the same. (From what I’ve heard, since xx40 and on, they got better build quality wise, though they’re even more controversial design wise. I suspect that to be a non-problem as well.) In retrospect, I kinda wish I got a Let’s Note, MacBook, or Surface instead of a lot of the ThinkPads I’ve bought, but used ThinkPads are both cheap and a known quantity, so that’s what I often ended up with.

                        And I do find my X201 and X230T to be a bit on the big side. I like smaller machines, but they’re hard to come by in the West.

                        1. 2

                          I modded my X230 to use a X220 keyboard. Best of both worlds.

                          1. 1

                            Any ‘howto’ on that? :)

                            1. 1

                              I followed this guide: http://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Install_Classic_Keyboard_on_xx30_Series_ThinkPads

                              There’s a project for building a modified EC firmware too that gets almost all the keys working as expected. If you don’t do the EC mod, most keys will still function properly. There’s a table on the wiki page that compares the two approaches.

                              1. 1

                                Thank you very much for that.

                          2. 1

                            I have used ThinkPad W530 with the ‘new’ ThinkPad layout for about 3 years daily. Still not got used entirely to the HOME END INS DEL layout … after that I got ThinkPad T520 with 7-row classic ThinkPad keyboard and finally felt like at home again, its just so natural to have the INS/DEL HOME/END PGUP/PGDOWN setup, especially if you also use large external keyboard daily.

                            I also used Macbook for about a year but their layout also not suited me at all.

                        2. 2

                          This is one of those things… it’d be really cool for certain classes of users to have all of that clever custom gear and functionality in one little box. Unfortunately, I would think the small number of likely customers, the difference in the exact port loadout that every customer like this would want, and the high cost of engineering all of this cleverness and making it work 100% in every situation would make this thing so insanely expensive that the intended customers would probably never actually buy it.