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A31p - a decade later (LONG)

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A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#1 Post by ajkula66 » Sat Jun 01, 2013 11:47 pm

ThinkPad A31p – A Decade Later

Those of you who read my posts on TPF – even on most infrequent basis – are well aware of yours truly’s infatuation with the model in question. It is – and will always remain – my favourite ThinkPad ever.

By the end of this year (2013), the youngest of A31p machines will be a decade old, which is an extremely long period of time for any computing device, yet quite a few of them remain in service, albeit on “light duty”.

So, how well – or how bad – has IBM’s premium workstation model aged over the past decade? Let’s find out.

Then:

Back in those dim, dead days, A31p was a high-spec’d offering with a price tag to match. The first one that we’ve ever owned cost a just a pinch under $4,000 including a three-year onsite warranty and NY State tax…

It also sported a wireless card, BlueTooth, amazingly fast Pentium 4M processor running at 1.7 GHz with 512Kb cache and 1GB of RAM divided between two slots. The hard disk drive – courtesy of Hitachi – was a 60GB/5400rpm, 12.5mm unit. The laptop came pre-loaded with a pre-SP1 version of then fresh Windows XP.

A plethora of ports – including the most unusual S-Video IN – was also at one’s disposal. Serial, Parallel, VGA, FireWire and two USB 1.1 were all there to ensure that this “space model” would meet every requirement of its new owners.

As a sign of times, the wireless was “b” only, combined with a 56K modem in the same card. LAN was 10/100 – no Gigabit. BlueTooth (“what on Earth am I going to use that for?” as my wife said back then) was still largely an unchartered territory for most people.

However, two biggest deals for me personally were the two swappable bays and the screen. Coming from an A22p – which, by any standards had a very good TN UXGA panel – I expected the new LCD to be along the same lines.

Boy oh boy was I mistaken and then some. These screens – namely early versions of DBU/ID Tech FlexViews – remain my favourites to this day. It’s a darn shame that they haven’t been available for years now. They were just a joy to look at right out of the box, no tweaking of the GPU settings or separate LCD calibration required.

I giggled at first when I saw the “web keys” on the left side of the otherwise conventional ThinkPad keyboard, but got used to it really fast. I’d venture a guess that most other folks just giggled and that’s why we never got to see this “enhancement” on another ThinkPad ever again.

Compared to the aforementioned A22p, the newcomer felt both fast and heavy. It was instantly obvious that lugging it around for any significant amount of time was going to be quite a chore…

Looking back, it was the screen that sealed the deal for both of us, though.

We were soon to find out that it was not all roses with our new friend…and that quite a few thorns were involved.

Onsite warranty – in a middle of nowhere known as Upstate New York – has proven to be an excellent investment when the first motherboard died within a year, from something that I describe as STDS - Sudden ThinkPad Death Syndrome. The laptop was put to sleep but refused to wake up regardless of all the tricks that got pulled out of my hat. The replacement planar succumbed to now infamous GPU desoldering issue ten months later. A co-worker of mine who bought an A31p as a “daily driver” for his photography side business (“man that screen is really something else” he used to say) had the same type of planar failure also within the first year of ownership.

At that point in the game I realized that there must have been a serious design fault, a lack of QC, or both adversely affecting these rather expensive machines, and I wasn’t happy about it to say the least. However, I had no second thoughts about hanging on to this ThinkPad: the LCD was gorgeous, the laptop was very comfortable to write on, and very fast.

To re-create some of the “fast” feeling from a decade ago while I was writing this piece, I wiped my hard drive – which is slightly newer/faster than the original one – and installed the XP from the original restore disks. I also downgraded the RAM to the original 1GB.

Heck, this thing still feels fast. The problem is, pre-SP1 XP is downright useless today. Good luck finding an anti-virus program that will install properly, let alone browse the web…



Over the next decade I’ve owned hundreds of A31p units, customized many, destroyed a few and rebuilt far more than I could ever count. They became my “signature” machine, one that I could never be without unless I wanted to bring bad karma upon myself.

Oh the fun that was had, throwing in faster CPUs, newer wireless and Bluetooth cards and whatever else became available at one point in time or another. What a learning process, but thankfully these machines were fabulously easy to pull apart and work on.

Let’s not talk about failing GPUs, IPS screens turning red/pink, cracking plastics over the UltraBays, broken-off USB ports or unsoldered RAM slots. They were a lot less fun, but hey – these are the things that allow me to comfortably state that I’ve never seen a perfect laptop.


But how does IBM’s flagship workstation deal with the realities of A.D. 2013?

Now:

There are two ways to look at this:

In one respect, it’s nothing short of amazing that these machines can still be used nowadays. Most of their competitors-when-new have been recycled years ago.

From the other standpoint, they’re not doing that well at all. As much as I positively hate to admit it, A31p feels pretty sluggish today. Mine is heavily upgraded in most respects, but its P4M CPU does not play well with Flash, and hits 100% usage mark within seconds. Running a newer browser like the current FireFox is outright painful. Thankfully, light browsers like Kmeleon are around to help the oldtimer with the ardent tasks of today.

In the long run, though, this aspect is the most dating one: it doesn’t really matter whether the CPU is 1.8 or 2.6. its ’01 architecture and 512Kb cache find themselves seriously overwhelmed by web browsing requirements of 2013, and the fact that they’re not getting any help from GPU is what bogs the machine down to the point of near-uselessness.

One can get around problems with USB 1.1 ports by installing a PCMCIA USB 2.0 card. Upgraded wireless (my A31p sports a generic Atheros-chipped “N” card that runs at 300Mbps) and Bluetooth cards are just a hack away. Dual UltraBays can still accommodate pretty much any combination of devices – short of a Blue Ray player – that one could ask for on a laptop.

One area where A31p still outshines any newer ThinkPad is the sound quality. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that the designers couldn’t keep up with this standard. T43p and Z61m both sound like tin cans when placed next to an A31p, and their newer cousins fare even worse. A lot worse.

The original FlexView screen is still the easiest one on eyes out of all the laptop LCDs I’ve ever used, while admittedly not bright enough to meet today’s standards.

I’ll also admit to being an utterly weird duck and preferring the A3x keyboard to the ones seen on 600 series and T4x/R5x palette, unlike most of the ThinkPad buffs.

Many people have asked me what the successor to A31p was, and I always shrugged my shoulders and said that there really wasn’t one.

While IBM kept the FlexView screens for the 15” R5*/T4* range, many ports were gone when compared to A31p, as were dual bays. By the time the new owners of the ThinkPad brand introduced the T61/p range, IPS was gone as an option altogether.

Lenovo, to its credit, came pretty close to a “modern day” A31p with its W70* range, which has not been as successful as originally anticipated and got discontinued much sooner than I would’ve liked to see it happen…but while it was one of their strongest design statements ever in my opinion, hot seller it was not.

Speaking of “hot sellers”…I’ve never managed to find out how many A31p units were originally sold, but the number must’ve been quite high…

Fact of the matter is, there is no laptop quite like A31p, and there most likely won’t ever be again. That statement alone stands as a testimony to a uniqueness of a machine that some of us managed to use for a full decade. A design that was not rivaled when new by any of IBM’s competitors at the time has proved to be too much for IBM – or Lenovo – to creatively build upon.

I’ll keep on using my A31p on daily basis until the support for XP ends in 2014. After that it will enjoy semi-retirement as a Linux box and a typewriter with the best screen that the world has ever seen.

Did I ever tell you how much I love these bulky, somewhat-awkward-looking, outdated machines?
Last edited by ajkula66 on Thu Jun 06, 2013 10:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Cheers,

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#2 Post by RealBlackStuff » Sun Jun 02, 2013 4:41 am

After my old home computers PET 2001 and Commodore 64, my first personal IBM machine was the 5150, back in the 1980s.
I'd already been working on IBM (mainframe) machines since 1968, starting with the 1401, followed by S/320, S/360, S/390 and zSeries.
I also strayed for a few years during the Eighties working on Sperry/Univac/Unisys 1100 and 2200 machines.
I was back for good on IBM (mainframe) machines again in 1990, and stayed there until I retired.
The mainframe brands as such were not that important to me, since I was a programmer, not a technician.
My very first laptop was a 14" IBM A22m, bought used in 2004. Next came a T23, then T30, etc. etc.
I have used only IBM/Lenovo laptops since. :mrgreen:

That was quite a story you produced here about your A31p!
Question: have you considered installing Windows XP-FLP instead?
XP-FLP-SP3 for it is also available.
For some more FLP info, see: http://www.dandandin.net/windows-fundam ... y-pcs.aspx
(FLP = Fundamentals for Legacy PCs)

I wonder if NASA's Space Station A31p machines also had next business day on-site service? :twisted:
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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#3 Post by jronald » Sun Jun 02, 2013 5:31 am

As you have seen in the TP Trader forum, Uby killed off his LCD (not really but that's a different story).
So in the week or so of trying to get down to the real problem he has not had is Z60m. He has a X30, and a T30 that are both usable.....no go in his words, "not right".
So I take him to the closet of partial parts, these are working partial machines some missing just 1 part, some missing significant portions.....nothing is right for him.
He goes to his mom and asks "where is your big old machine" to which she looks at me and re-states the same thing. Im confused as a duck on a frozen pond. Then is dawns on me, once upon a time I built a well speced A31p for her, we drag the thing out of long term storage where its been for at least a year, plug it in, it fires up and the boy is happy......geez. As far as I know the machine is older than the kid.....he is happy though so Im not telling him.

Ron
I see in my son's eyes, each day, the wonders I have squandered fortunes to possess and have sought my entire lifetime to attain. jrr 09/2011


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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#4 Post by Tasurinchi » Sun Jun 02, 2013 6:13 am

Great flashback George! :thumbs-UP:

Maybe Linux will keep that beauty more usable? My A31 runs Lubuntu pretty decently with "just" 768MB RAM, of course you need to avoid Youtube and alike, but I guess with 1GB or 2GB they will run much better than mine.
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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#5 Post by fleming164 » Sun Jun 02, 2013 6:37 am

My A31p (bought from ajkula66) is very happy running Thunderbird and a few other light applications while sat on my port replicator next to my desktop.

Even with a 2.4Ghz P4-m and 2GB RAM she's still a little sluggish under web browsing but that gorgeous screen more than makes up for it, and I will often find myself using it over my desktop to browse.

The last laptop that sat in the port replicator on my desk was my first ever ThinkPad, my T30, which with my help (lack of soldering experience) died and due to the rarity of replacement motherboards, has been stored until further notice.

The jump from 14.1" XGA to 15" UXGA blew my mind. I've always used XGA, right from my very first computer, up until last year when I bought a 22" 1080p display for my desktop, so UXGA at 15" still amazes me when I go to check some mail.

That being said, I'm still aware that it won't be long until it too will have to be retired to Linux, (probably a very light Arch install as my netbook [biggest mistake of any purchase] got last year) and a new "email laptop" will have to be found. A T43p will probably turn out to be it's replacement unless I suddenly come into some money and opt for a T601 frankie!
T440s - 1080p i5 12GB 120GB SSD
T420 - i5-2520M 6GB 120GB mSATA
X200 - P8400 6GB 120GB SSD
T61 - T9300 4GB 120GB SSD
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UXGA(!) A31p - 2.4Ghz 2GB 100GB SATA (Ultrabay)

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#6 Post by dr_st » Sun Jun 02, 2013 7:23 am

I too am one of the happy campers who have had the pleasure to order a custom-built A31p from George.

You can read about it here:
http://www.thinkpads.com/forum/viewtopi ... 1&t=100340

I can say with confidence, that it is precisely George's infatuation with this model that inspired my own curiosity. As ridiculous as it may be from an economic point of view to buy a 2002 system in 2011, I do not regret for one second having done so, just for the privilege of owning this truly unique piece of laptop history. :)

I have to say that I agree with most of George's assessments regarding modern day usability. The internet has gotten much more heavy, as did the browsers. Even the allegedly optimized Pale Moon build feels a bit sluggish. I will have to try this Kmeleon browser, or some very old version of Firefox to see if things are any better.
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Retired: X61 7673-V2V, T60 1952-F76, A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#7 Post by pianowizard » Sun Jun 02, 2013 1:23 pm

George, thanks for the nice story. Congratulations on having found a laptop that you have loved for over a decade. I still haven't come across such a laptop, and the longest I've held on to a laptop was only about 3.5 years. At any given time, I usually like my current laptops very much, but eventually I get tired of them and crave for something different. I think that's also the reason why I am still not married (LOL!).
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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#8 Post by rkawakami » Sun Jun 02, 2013 3:13 pm

As many of you here probably know, the T23 has been my favorite Thinkpad. Most of the (working) ones I own are of the SXGA+ with wireless variety (types 2647-HNU, 9NU, 9LU, 5SU). All were obtained on eBay and most of them came with known, but easily fixable problems (missing/loose inductor(s), bad modem/WiFi cards). However, for the past year and a half, I've switched over to using an A31p at home and replaced the T23 in the laptop bag that I take to work with a wireless A31p. I made the change because I needed the extra screen real estate provided by the larger 15" UXGA display when running LabView, a program that usually requires many, many windows to be open at once. It's also much easier to navigate some web pages when everything fits on one screen and you don't have to scroll around.

A few months ago I stopped using LabView but I still continued to use both A31p systems. As George notes, while the performance with Windows XP SP3 is just barely acceptable, staring at the display makes me forget about the occasional hiccups. The 1.7Ghz, 2GB system at home is mostly used for web browsing (Firefox 14 at the moment), email, viewing my DVR security system videos, editing/uploading my web pages, editing photos, watching cute cat YouTube clips, VPN and web proxy servers. The work unit runs Firefox 21, Notepad++ and a C++ compiler, nothing very seriously taxing for the P4M. The first work A31p (the ex-NASA machine I've mentioned before) was retired a few months back when the backlight finally failed. Near the end, the display was getting dimmer and had the typical pink hue on startup. While I could have gone back to a T23, I replaced it with another A31p.

I sometimes do miss "modern" conveniences such as USB 2.0 but I rarely need to transfer large amounts of data via thumb drives. It's nice being able to mount a large capacity SATA drive in the left Ultrabay, while still using the DVD writer in the right.

I do not believe that I've EVER used the web navigation keys :) .
Ray Kawakami
X22 X24 X31 X41 X41T X60 X60s X61 X61s X200 X200s X300 X301 Z60m Z61t Z61p 560 560Z 600 600E 600X T21 T22 T23 T41 T60p T410 T420 T520 W500 W520 R50 A21p A22p A31 A31p
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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#9 Post by pianowizard » Sun Jun 02, 2013 4:17 pm

rkawakami wrote:I made the change because I needed the extra screen real estate provided by the larger 15" UXGA display when running LabView, a program that usually requires many, many windows to be open at once.
At some point, you should get a 17" 1920x1200 laptop. I've seen people run LabView and 1920x1200 is actually still not enough, though it's much better than UXGA. I would never travel with my 7.95lb Gateway NX860X 17" WUXGA laptop, but when I just want to work in a different room or on a different desk, this is the laptop that I usually grab. In fact I am typing this post on this Gateway right now. 17" WUXGA has the same pixel density as 15" UXGA, and many 17-inchers are actually lighter than the A31p. If you want IPS, Dell and HP have 17" business laptops with IPS WUXGA panels, though these weigh more than the A31p.
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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#10 Post by RealBlackStuff » Sun Jun 02, 2013 5:50 pm

@rkawakami:

Ray, if you want/need to replace the CCFL on that A31p (almost certainly from IDTech),
you should check my post HOW TO replace a CCFL/Backlight in your LCD.
Its for exactly that screen.
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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#11 Post by rkawakami » Sun Jun 02, 2013 7:48 pm

@RBS: Thanks for the link. I recall seeing it some time ago but didn't think to bookmark it. I have at least two A31p screens in need of new backlights so one of these days I'll get around to it....
Ray Kawakami
X22 X24 X31 X41 X41T X60 X60s X61 X61s X200 X200s X300 X301 Z60m Z61t Z61p 560 560Z 600 600E 600X T21 T22 T23 T41 T60p T410 T420 T520 W500 W520 R50 A21p A22p A31 A31p
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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#12 Post by ganon11000 » Mon Jun 03, 2013 3:12 am

I still use a A31 as my main laptop and it does an amazing job! Mine only has 0.7gb of ram and runs 360p YouTube and Facebook and eBay on COMODO dragon and Avast! Internet security with little lag although I prefer the Facebook desktop app as the hard drive is really slow at loading apps!

But I have sorra retired it to a portable spotify box with an android remote app, since those speakers are unbeatable and my desktops are 10000000x faster and my X41 is quicker with it's SSD.
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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#13 Post by PowerPC » Mon Jun 03, 2013 3:28 pm

I do not own an A31p now. I intend to buy one in the next six months, but other things are higher on my priority list.

There's a software called Classic Shell that allows you to make Windows 7 look like Windows XP with the classic interface. If the interface is the heavy part, that would solve the problem of the support ending for XP for some time; Windows 7 will be supported until 2020. Perhaps with some extra tuning, Windows 7 may work with acceptable performance in an A31p; however, I don't have one to test this.

ThinkWiki - at http://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Unofficia ... mory_specs - says that with certain RAM modules, in model 2653-R8U it is possible to install 2GB of RAM. This would be highly recommended.

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#14 Post by ajkula66 » Thu Jun 06, 2013 9:57 am

RealBlackStuff wrote: Question: have you considered installing Windows XP-FLP instead?
XP-FLP-SP3 for it is also available.
For some more FLP info, see: http://www.dandandin.net/windows-fundam ... y-pcs.aspx
(FLP = Fundamentals for Legacy PCs)
That's what I wiped prior to installing the XP from recovery disks. Great OS, but doesn't help with the Flash nonsense...
I wonder if NASA's Space Station A31p machines also had next business day on-site service? :twisted:
Weren't you the one in charge of it... :banana:

pianowizard wrote:
Congratulations on having found a laptop that you have loved for over a decade. I still haven't come across such a laptop, and the longest I've held on to a laptop was only about 3.5 years. At any given time, I usually like my current laptops very much, but eventually I get tired of them and crave for something different. I think that's also the reason why I am still not married (LOL!).
Historically, I tend to hang on to stuff that works for me...in most areas of life. I've got no problem exploring all the options available, but once I've found something that satisfies my needs in the particular area, that's pretty much it.

PowerPC
wrote:
There's a software called Classic Shell that allows you to make Windows 7 look like Windows XP with the classic interface. If the interface is the heavy part, that would solve the problem of the support ending for XP for some time; Windows 7 will be supported until 2020. Perhaps with some extra tuning, Windows 7 may work with acceptable performance in an A31p; however, I don't have one to test this.

ThinkWiki - at http://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Unofficia ... mory_specs - says that with certain RAM modules, in model 2653-R8U it is possible to install 2GB of RAM. This would be highly recommended.
Most of us have been running 2GB of RAM on these machines for years now. As for the Classic Shell, A31p is a slug in W7 mostly due to a lack of proper graphics driver. What I'm upset about is the fact that I was able to tweak the driver and get it to run well in RC, but once the final version of W7 came out it was a no-go. Duh.

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. Much appreciated.
...Knowledge is a deadly friend when no one sets the rules...(King Crimson)

Cheers,

George (your grouchy retired FlexView farmer)

AARP club members:A31p, T42, T43pSF

Abused daily: T61p

PMs requesting personal tech support will be ignored.

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#15 Post by Unknown_K » Sat Jun 08, 2013 6:32 pm

The A31P is one of my favorites as well, but I don't have to drag it around town.

I also think the A30P was also a cool machine (too bad I just have normal A30's). The Pentium III is one of my favorites in a laptop.
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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#16 Post by ajkula66 » Sat Jun 08, 2013 6:36 pm

Unknown_K wrote:
I also think the A30P was also a cool machine (too bad I just have normal A30's). The Pentium III is one of my favorites in a laptop.
Most certainly. These were the first ThinkPads ever to sport a FlexView LCD.

For some reason, however, a higher-end A30p in working condition is next to impossible to find nowadays.
...Knowledge is a deadly friend when no one sets the rules...(King Crimson)

Cheers,

George (your grouchy retired FlexView farmer)

AARP club members:A31p, T42, T43pSF

Abused daily: T61p

PMs requesting personal tech support will be ignored.

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#17 Post by ajkula66 » Sat Jun 29, 2013 10:39 pm

I'm currently in the process of downloading and testing out several Linux distros in hopes of finding one that will play nicely with A31p in today's day and age...will report back in a few days...
...Knowledge is a deadly friend when no one sets the rules...(King Crimson)

Cheers,

George (your grouchy retired FlexView farmer)

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#18 Post by Nycto » Fri Jul 19, 2013 4:36 pm

A buddy of mine rescued an A31p from our work. He's in ITS, and found it lying around - it had never been sent to salvage. He asked the boss if he could take it, since all the machines had already been written off, to which the boss responded affirmatively. A little while later, my friend gave it to me, knowing how much I love these little guys. Frankly, I don't think it ever got used much. Looks like someone forgot about it in a corner or something - its cosmetically the nicest one I have ever owned. If the laptop on my desk wasn't a Core i7 system, this A31p would probably be there.
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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#19 Post by tbartold » Sat Dec 28, 2013 10:43 pm

I've been using an a13p as my only home computer for years now, and I've been quite happy with it.

Sure I keep it plugged in (I've given up on replacing the batteries), and there's lots of plastic stuff that's broken off, but it's still my main and only computer at home. Heck, it's still a better screen than the 'new' one I have at work (sales people get better displays than software developers).

One of my Kingston 1GB ram modules died, and my hard drive was corrupted because of it. So I switched to using my primary backup a31p (I have 3 total), which has only 1GB total. Firefox and Chrome sure lag now, but everything else seems to work fine.

I'm currently waiting for a 'new' 1GB module that I found still available (and put in an RMA to Kingston... I'm curious to see what they do), but found out I could mix the RAM, so my backup (2.4GHz) now has 1.5GB of RAM. I've tried reinstalling XP on the main 2.6GHz machine, but it's complaining about MS activation, and since I've never figured out how to fix the 'svchost.exe 99% CPU' problem in XP permanently, and since XP is EOL, I figure it's not worth the hassle. Instead, I'm now trying Ubuntu. Sadly Ubuntu 13.10 sucks on this machine; it's slower than anything I've seen before. Everything seemed to configure OK, but it's horribly slow. Folks say Lubuntu should be better, so that's my next step.

In any case, I just want to say that the a31p is not leaving my desktop any time soon.
A31p 2653-H3U 512MB 60GB/7200RPM (WinXP) +Intel2915
A31p 2653-N5U 2.4Ghz 1.5GB 60GB/7200RPM (WinXP) UJ-850S multiburner + 320GB/5400RPM
A31p 2653-R9U 2.6Ghz 1GB 60GB/7200RPM (Ubuntu?) TS-L632M multiburner + 320GB/5400RPM

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#20 Post by ajkula66 » Sat Dec 28, 2013 11:03 pm

@tbartold:

Good to see that you're still around, and hoarding A31p units... :)

May I suggest giving CentOS a shot?
...Knowledge is a deadly friend when no one sets the rules...(King Crimson)

Cheers,

George (your grouchy retired FlexView farmer)

AARP club members:A31p, T42, T43pSF

Abused daily: T61p

PMs requesting personal tech support will be ignored.

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#21 Post by rkawakami » Sun Dec 29, 2013 5:25 am

tbartold wrote:So I switched to using my primary backup a31p (I have 3 total)
ajkula66 wrote:<snip>... and hoarding A31p units... :)
Hey! That sounds like me. I got at least three operational A31p systems (and hopefully a fourth on the way). The work A31p has been operating flawlessly for some time. It gets woken up out of hibernation every weekday, actively used for a few hours during the day and then put back into hibernate mode. Can't say the same about this home unit :( . It's on 24/7 connected to a port replicator. Never put into sleep or hibernate; just the screen turned off via Fn+F7 when I'm not using it. Every so often I find that it has spontaneously rebooted itself. A little while ago I was getting system freezes then video resolution downgrade to 16-color VGA mode :eek: . So far that problem has gone away since I changed the color depth from 32-bit to 16-bit. So given those things, I'm probably looking at the beginnings of a permanent GPU failure. Also the screen is starting to turn on a little pinkish. Not too bad for a system that I got almost 5 years ago next week for $41 (no memory or HD)
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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#22 Post by MAKAW » Sun Dec 29, 2013 5:08 pm

After casually watching the holiday sales with the intention of replacing my A31, I'm just not sure I'm ready to give it up. I have one that I bought new in 2002 and acquired 2 others along the way. All are in working condition.

So I added RAM to GET ME to 1GB and am now looking for any suggestions to optimize what I have.

I run MS XP Professional and Office 2010 Professional I've been running CHROME as my browser of choice and after reading this thread, will check out K-Meleon. I'm running AVAST for AV. I primarily use the machine for Internet Access and Excel Spreadsheets. I can watch You Tube videos but not streaming video.

The machine has become very slow surfing and very slow to power up. I don't have the disks from the original build or the XP OS disks so haven't been able to blow it out and rebuild. I'm reading for ways to clean up my machine and optimize performance.

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#23 Post by A31 » Thu Jan 02, 2014 8:48 am

Nice write up!

I used to own an A31 (not an A31p though) and an R40. I got them both used (for free) from somebody who was going to throw them out. I assume he bought them brand new in about 2002 (A31) or 2003 (R40). I got them at the very end of 2009, so that's got to be at least 6 or 7 years from when he potentially bought them.

I'll just say that they were both write offs hence why they were due to be dumped, but Dad saved them and bought them home for me.

The R40 died a day or two after I got it and the A31 died in March 2010, so that's a couple of months after I got it. I enjoyed using them for the short time I owned them - but remember they had already had years of abuse by the time I got them. That A31 lasted potentially 8 years before it was completely dead and unusable (motherboard failure - the R40 had a board failure too). 8 years is a good long old life for a laptop.

I remember the screen on mine was quite a high res (1400x something or rather) and it actually ran quite well with XP Pro. I upgraded the RAM from 768MB (which I got it with) to 1.5GB by replacing the 256MB chip with a 1GB chip and leaving in the 512MB chip. I probably would have upgraded it to 2GB by now had I kept it. I remember the speakers were quite good but not really amazing. Mind you, in comparison to some modern laptops I've tried, they were good.

Even the R40, which apparently was not as well built as the A31, lasted around 6 or 7 years before its death in December 2009.

They were just well-built machines. I'm hopefully buying an L440 at some point this year. Having never owned, or even used, a Lenovo ThinkPad, it'll be interesting to see how it compares and what I think.
Lenovo ThinkPad T440s Touch | Core i7 4600U | 12GB 1600MHz RAM | 1080p IPS Touch Display | Samsung 850 EVO 500GB | 720p Webcam | 68+ 6 Cell Battery | Windows 10 Pro x64

Past: Lenovo ThinkPad L540 | IBM ThinkPad A31, R40

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#24 Post by Insulator_King » Sat Mar 15, 2014 10:37 pm

I have a couple A31's, but they are not P's though. I would like to get one sometime.

But My daily user is still an X24 which I am typing on right this moment. It is slow, but then I only have 30 tabs in Firefox open right now. Love the X series.

I'm gonna have to get several of my half dozen parts X series put together, and then look at an A31P.

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#25 Post by Harryc » Sun Mar 16, 2014 6:18 pm

Hey George, long time no talk. Some things never change :). The A31P is a classic that I also knew well.

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#26 Post by ajkula66 » Sun Mar 16, 2014 6:41 pm

Harryc wrote:Hey George, long time no talk. Some things never change :). The A31P is a classic that I also knew well.
Good to see you back, even for a split second, Harry...hope all is well.

And yes, you certainly do know those machines well...remember the forum project? Those were the days...
...Knowledge is a deadly friend when no one sets the rules...(King Crimson)

Cheers,

George (your grouchy retired FlexView farmer)

AARP club members:A31p, T42, T43pSF

Abused daily: T61p

PMs requesting personal tech support will be ignored.

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#27 Post by mediasponge » Tue Mar 18, 2014 1:15 am

I still have my A31p. It was part of a contract deal I took on when the company I was in went belly up in 2004. I really loved it back then. Later on, it was nice as a "backup" machine when some other laptop was in for repairs. I have an X41 to fill that need now. I do not use the A31p regularly. It still has XP-SP3 on it. I know it runs Linux fairly well, but I'd rather leave it the way it is. It's been acting up lately. I may have to ask George for more parts, lol. I did the CCFL myself, with good results a while back, but now I think the display cable is getting flaky.

The Good: The screen is still amazing. The keyboard is excellent, though the letters do rub off with regular use. Already replaced it once. Upgraded the cpu, memory and WiFi card. Upgraded the HDD once, but that unit died, so I rolled back. I have a DVD/RW that works in it. It's amazing as a museum piece.

The Bad: It weighs a ton. The PCMCIA USB 2.0 hub I have crashes Windows, but works fine offline for drive archiving. The 4:3 aspect ratio just looks "quaint" these days. Yes, it has more vertical pixels than any laptop under $3000, but...

The Ugly: The impending death knell of XP makes this unit even more useless as you can't go forward on the Windoze train. Yes, I know I can run Linux on it, I have done that. Nobody else in the house will touch it if I do that. What I believe is that it isn't the raw clock speed that makes these things slow, it's the fact that it only has one core. These days, you have to have at least 2 cores so that the AV can protect you with one core while you browse with the other. Or, so when you land on that Flash site, you have one core for the browser and one for the flash. The old adage of "It's good enough for the web" doesn't fly anymore. The net is so full of Web Waste (TM), you really can't use an old computer for anything unless you have the patience of Job.

Sorry to diss everyone's favorite Thinkpad, it's my favorite too, but it is seriously past it's use-by date.

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#28 Post by dr_st » Tue Mar 18, 2014 2:40 am

I agree with most of your assessments. If you think it weighs a ton as it is, try it with a ultrabay numpad in one bay and a optical in the other. :) The numpad weight 400 grams, compared to the 320 grams of the optical. The floppy only weighs 190 grams.

I have a Via 2-port flush USB2.0 Cardbus adapter in my A31p, and haven't had issues with it. However, it does seem to have an annoying feature where it insists on putting the laptop to sleep every time you try to remove an Ultrabay device, essentially making it not hot-swappable. I wonder why it is, but I never investigated it enough, because I simply don't care enough. :)

I certainly don't mind the 4:3 screen ratio, especially with a screen this size, and with so high a resolution. In my opinion, 4:3 is the ideal for screen sizes between 14" and 20", giving more usable space than widescreens. Under 14" however you will be running out of horizontal space on a 4:3, though, and over 20" they just get too tall (probably that's why nobody generally makes them so big).

I believe your assessments about performance is spot-on. While it is true that clock-for-clock, a Pentium 4 is one of the slowest CPUs (losing even to a Pentium-III, not to mention all the later Pentium M / Core architectures), I do think that multi-core makes a bigger difference.

Some applications/drivers are written in a way that every once in a while they just start hogging the CPU for all they can get, and they usually do it on a single core. At this point, the OS scheduler's feeble attempts to try to get something else to run in between are ineffective, and the system quickly becomes unresponsive. With a second core, at least certain things can still run.

At this point, even the Pentium Ms (T4x/X3x) are struggling to remain useful doing basic browsing. The only single core CPU system I have that still feels somewhat responsive on the net is a P4-3GHz desktop with Hyper-Threading. And I suspect that it's the Hyper-threading (which is not true multi-core, but at least something that partially simulates it), and not the clock speed (which is basically equivalent to a Pentium-M @1.8-2GHz) that makes the difference. Maybe one of these days I ought to turn HT off in the BIOS and see if there is an effect on performance and responsiveness.

As it is, my cute collectible A31p is slowly becoming no more than a museum piece. Not only is it too slow to be a real workhorse these days, but it recently started to succumb to old age, showing various "impending doom" LCD/motherboard symptoms. As it is all but impossible getting replacement parts on this side of the globe, and as the economic feasibility of resurrecting such a machine is totally negative, it looks like it may have to retire soon... :(
Current: Thinkpad 25 (20K7), Yoga 14 (20FY), X220 4291-4BG, T410 2537-R46, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G
Collectibles: T430s (IPS FHD + Classic Keyboard), X32 (IPS Screen)
Retired: X61 7673-V2V, T60 1952-F76, A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG)

#29 Post by TRS-80 » Sat Jun 14, 2014 7:27 am

mediasponge wrote:Yes, I know I can run Linux on it, I have done that. Nobody else in the house will touch it if I do that.
I don't see a problem here. XD
Maintning and upgrading a few aT4x/R5x on the cheap! :) They are truck mounted in my landscape company. I have some PCs and Android devices as well.

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Re: A31p - a decade later (LONG) -- more than a decade!

#30 Post by friedrich-eugen » Sat Aug 30, 2014 4:59 am

Well,

it is more than a decade by now... for four of them

My wife and I used two A31P upgraded to 2,6Ghz Pentium IVM and 2GB of Memory, upgraded WLAN, with a Maximum of HD-capapcity, updated DVD, docked and just on our ways for more than 12 years, my machine orginally beeing a leased one, my wifes an early second Hand one.

As our twins grew yearly older (tend to do) I bought two other ones, upgraded them to 2.5Ghz and 2GB, the rest pretty much the same, just using AVM-Fritz-sticks (These work perfectly and they get/got perfect Support by AVM) für WLAN.

While my wife and I stopped using our A31P 2012/2013, my kinds did so 2013. Our two A31Ps obviously were disappointed to the Point, that both stopped working last year, after beeing unused for a longer time...

My kidds ones are now up for sale at ebay, completely installed, still XPSP3, still protected by AV-freeware, still Office Pro 2007 and OpenOffice 4.1.1. I think younger kidds may still use them to learn how to use a Computer...

... And I still have lots of lots of spare parts, CPU, ...., I never used...

I do strongly agree: These NB were so much top of the line, that it was practically impossible to top them.
While there were famous structural insufficiencies ( sudden death, heat Problems, unsoldering...) they still remain an exceptionally fine piece of Technology and an example of the state of compunting about 2000.

I hope, I'll find a functional systemboard to reawake my personal A31P and try Windows 7 on it. May be it works, at least not worse than XPSP3...
__friedrich-eugen__
started with IBM-XT(80186) and AST-Ascentias NB (910N) in the 90ties, relying on Thinkpads (770X, A31P, T60-61P Frankenpads) until 2017,
now using TP W530 FHD (i7 Nvida2GB, 32GB, 256GB SSD & 500GB HDD) and X201/X230T (i7 8/16GB/500GB) Windows10 and a small Yoga 3-11(i7/8GB/512GbSSD)

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