Best Laptop - Lenovo T430

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Some of you may not know this, but my daily driver for the past six years has been a refurbished Thinkpad T430 that I bought for $200 when I was in middle school. It's lasted through two school changes, countless road trips, and it's soldiered through with only minor damage. Today, I want to go over why I absolutely love this laptop, and why it's sold me on Thinkpads.

First things first, the design. Like most Thinkpads, the majority of the laptop is flat black. The particular T430 that I have still has the older keyboard, so it's extremely satisfying to type code or blog posts. The chassis feels very sturdy, even though the screen likes to flop down if you shake it too much.

With enough equipment, I can fit three full hard drives in this laptop without expanding the chassis. First, there's the standard drive bay behind the left USB ports and the mini-DisplayPort. This is held in by one screw1, and I've upgraded this drive twice while I've owned this laptop. Then, there's a slot for an mSATA SSD beneath the RAM inside the chassis. Finally, and this is the most wild thing I've ever seen on a laptop, the whole CDROM drive can be removed and replaced with a whole number of things - but most importantly, a full 2.5" SSD bay can be inserted.

This really cuts to the core of why I love this laptop so much. It's so easy to pull it apart and fix or upgrade things. For example, even a laptop as durable as this can get damaged after six years of heavy use. First, the screen started to show lines down the left. I could work around this with clever tiling and resizing windows. Then, the battery wouldn't last longer than half an hour. That worked out fine, I just sat next to an outlet all the time. Finally, the battery and charger completely stopped working, and I caved and bought an X1 Carbon.

While that laptop was sleek and modern, it lacks the repairability of the T430. When I arrived at WPI and started earning money of my own, the first thing I bought was a new battery and charger for the T430 off of Amazon for ~$30. Swapped out the battery and plugged it in, and everything worked perfectly. The screen I held off on for a while, because I wanted to make sure it wasn't just a loose connector, but eventually I had to cave and I just ordered a newer LCD panel with a better resolution off of eBay. It arrives on Friday, and I'll update this post then with the outcome of the screen upgrade.

Try doing an LCD replacement on an X1, or any modern laptop. The laptop itself will cost upwards of $1k each, and if anything breaks, you're straight out of luck unless you still have a warranty. Every pain point that I've ever encountered with this laptop is something that I can fix. When it arrived, it had a 128GB SSD. I upgraded that without taking apart the whole chassis. Lenovo has published a whole guide on how to upgrade and replace components, and many of them can still be found on eBay for good prices.

In short, the Thinkpad T430 is one of if not the best laptop ever made. Even though it's seven (7!) years old, it can run any bit of software I throw at it (including "modern" games like KSP, and video editing suites), and if anything breaks there's enough documentation and materials for me to repair it myself. You won't find anything else like that for this price point. A cursory Amazon search shows that you can find refurbished T430s for around $300. For a laptop that lasts, and you can repair yourself, that's the deal of a lifetime.

  1. More on that later