Disclaimer: Please don't try this at home!
What happens when you push a device to its limits?
In this guest blog by Brian Madsen, we learn more about his personal story as well as the story of how he exposed his X1 Yoga to the elements and the thinking behind his Tougher Than You Challenge.
For nearly the past two decades I’ve been living with the stigma that “I’m just heavy handed and tough on my computers” – my wife frequently comments on how rough I am on my machines. My interpretation is simply that I use the gear to the maximum. I am a Consulting Manager at byBrick, a small dedicated IT consultancy in Stockholm, and laptops/computers are tools to me. Not using the resources available on the device is wasting time and effort and I need to ensure that I have gear that can handle what I put them through.
"I’ve been living with the stigma that “I’m just heavy handed and tough on my computers” – my wife frequently comments on how rough I am on my machines."
With as many machines as I’ve gone through, I have found ThinkPads to be just about the only one that can really stand up to what I do to them. I can safely say that there are very few things that programmers, consultants or IT Pros find any more frustrating than a machine that keeps breaking down. Since I was handed my first IBM ThinkPad, back in 2001, I was sold. It was solid, performed impeccably and I never once worried that it would fail on me – I was a fan.
I moved from Perth, Western Australia, in late January 2016, to Stockholm, Sweden and it’s safe to say that the temperatures are vastly different. When I was looking back at the first winter we went through, it came to me that I’d never actually pushed a device to its limits in these freezing conditions.
So, when I got my hands on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga I decided that I would push that a bit further.
The ThinkPads are rated mil-spec and there are a ton of tests these machines go through before they can qualify for that rating. One of them is operating in extreme temperatures and environmental conditions. With that in mind I decided to test my laptop and I had just the right environment to do that in.
Enter the “Tougher Than You” challenge.
Call it morbid curiosity. Call it geeky inspiration or call it crazy. I’ve had many responses and comments on my little test since I started. But honestly, although I haven’t done this before, I was a little worried.
As the temperatures started to drop, with nothing happening to the laptop, I was getting more concerned that I wouldn’t be able to pull through myself. Having lived in Australia for nearly two decades, I wasn’t really used to this cold.
My backup plan was to use my X1 Carbon if the Yoga failed. The Carbon is a 2nd gen though and nowhere near as awesome as the X1 Yoga. And, if that also failed, then I was going to be using my P50.
To be honest, I wasn't really thinking the X1 Yoga would fail. ThinkPads are fantastic machines of really high quality that are built to withstand a lot more than what I threw at it.
It’s a glass encased balcony, so it’s mostly shielded from rain and snow, but has no insulation which makes the temperatures rather low. And snow does indeed come through the glass partitions on the balcony.
Rather than work off the weather forecast, I decided to simply measure the temperature on the balcony itself. We’re higher up than most of the surrounding buildings and get the brunt of the wind thrown our way. Even with the glass it’s not proof against the chill itself, both snow and wind penetrates and it can truly be freezing conditions out there. Which the temperatures measured showed. On the coldest day, temperatures reached -9c/-18c (max/min). Other days it would range between 0c and -10c.
Most of my tests started around 10 PM and ended around 7 AM. I didn’t leave the laptop coddled up, but continued to use it on a daily basis. I figured there wouldn’t really be any reason not to. Either the laptop would perform or it wouldn’t.
During the beginning of the evening I would check email, do a bit of surfing, install updates/drivers etc. just as I normally would, whilst sitting next to the laptop in the cold – good thing I was packing Helly-Hansen thermal underwear as it was mostly unpleasantly freezing. Winter in Stockholm runs from around November till April (officially that is) and weather varies; but ultimately it is cold and dark…and cold.
"Good thing I was packing Helly-Hansen thermal underwear as it was mostly unpleasantly freezing. Winter in Stockholm runs from around November till April (officially that is) and weather varies; but ultimately it is cold and dark…and cold."
The X1 Yoga was placed on a small table on the balcony and I would vary between it running on battery and on charger. Some days I would let the laptop run nearly, or completely, empty on the battery whilst doing the tests. Other days I would leave it plugged in all night long. I wanted to mimic normal usage, even while it was stationed on the balcony, to see if the shift in temperature, humidity, air moisture would break or cause significant issues.
During the coldest night we had, I spent the whole night working. Ok, I did go inside quote frequently as it was -18c at the lowest. I honestly wasn’t enjoying this, especially since it had been decades since I had last had freezing temperatures. The X1 Yoga stayed put though. I might have chickened out on occasion to warm up, but no such relief was going to be rewarded to my laptop.
I basically just did what I normally would do…started with a windows update, and then proceeded to write code, email colleagues, read articles, check out social media and listen to music. I ran a diagnostic tool and logged the temperatures throughout the night, then had a look at it a couple of days later (I didn’t sleep the entire night so needed to catch up with some shuteye).
The ambient temperature started at -10c when I kicked off the Windows Update. It was a large update (I participated in the Windows Insider program so updates were frequent and sometimes rather large).
The CPU temperature spiked up to about 6.5c during the Windows Update install, but afterwards it dropped dramatically.
All of these tests started in November 2016 and we are now nearing the end of the Swedish winter. I’ve been seriously impressed with how well the X1 Yoga has held up. It outlasted me as I mostly ran my tests remotely after that one night. Why I didn’t think about that to start with is beyond me – maybe the cold affected my thinking, but at least I know I can rely on my gear in whatever conditions I should happen to be shipped into.
"It outlasted me as I mostly ran my tests remotely after that one night. Why I didn’t think about that to start with is beyond me – maybe the cold affected my thinking, but at least I know I can rely on my gear in whatever conditions I should happen to be shipped into."
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