My computer setup (testing notes)

I am testing various pieces of equipment on behalf of the IT dept. at the Norwegian School of Management, and this post is a second report on how it is working (the first one is here, in Norwegian.)

X61 Tablet with two 22'' widescreens

My new setup (as pictured) is what I think ought to be the new standard for faculty: A decent laptop for travel and a good setup (with large screens) for office work. The technology components here are: Lenovo X61 Tablet, docking station, keyboard and mouse (with cable, I really don’t like wireless keyboards and mice) and two Samsung SyncMaster225bw 22” screens, held together with a Matrox DualHead2Go Digital Edition. This gives me a 3360×1050 screen (16 bit color, 60Hz).

All in all, a pretty good setup, though I am still ironing out a few kinks. Some details follow:

Some notes on the screen setup:

  • the screens work, but only with 16 bit color, an artifact, I believe, of the graphics adapter in the laptop. Setting it up took some fiddling (until I switched from 32 to 16 bit color) with a  not very helpful installation program.
  • undocking does not work well (you get an error message and it stops) unless you exit the Matrox screen manager application. On the other hand, it looks like I don’t need to run that once the screens are setup – the 3360×1050 screen setup works fine without it.
  • Others have commented on the Matrox’ inability to adjust the screen when you are running DVI. I would tend to agree that this is a drawback – the colors are a little washed out, and the screens actually looked better when I was using (just one of them) with VGA and could manually adjust.
  • Two screens side-by-side is good (and much cheaper than a single 30-incher) but I wonder if the optimal setup for people that work with documents isn’t two screens in portrait mode. These screens are not tiltable, but I assume I could undo the screws that connect them to the foot and turn them 90 degrees. Landscape mode induces much swiveling of head….
  • This screen setup introduces some trouble when you take the laptop with you to do a presentation on an external screen (I use the tablet function to make drawings, so I carry my own laptop rather than a memory stick with a presentation.) Looks like I will have to restart the machine to get a standard 1400×1050 external screen feed.
  • no discernible hit in performance due to the big screens.
  • Matrox has good management of how you want the screens to operate – where dialog boxes should appear, for instance. Drop-down menus on an extended win desktop sometimes appear in the master window rather than the window it is supposed to appear in, but I have not had that problem at all.

Notes on the X61 laptop

  • there is no DVI port, that would have been nice
  • when the machine is docked, you can only use one of the externalVGA ports (would have been nice to be able to run to external screens from the docking station VGA port and the laptop’s VGA port.) On a number of other Lenovo laptops, there is a DVI port in the docking station, meaning you can attach to external screens without buying other hardware
  • occasionally, the machine refuses to go into standby mode when closing the lid. It is possible this is a hardware error – if I soft-switch to standby, it always work.
  • I like it that the screen orientation switch is on the keyboard (right Alt button + an arrow key). I am running Tablet XP, this feature is standard in Vista, not sure about standard XP.
  • The laptop has three on/off switches, which must be some sort of record. Useful, though.
  • the coating of the screen makes it difficult to clean – even with dedicated screen wipes, it looks dirty all the time.
  • The X61 comes with a regular power adapter, which requires 90W. This is more than you can get out of an airplane socket, so if you are planning on doing any traveling at all, get the travel power supply unit. This is great in that it can take any kind of power, including airplane sockets and car cigarette lighter sockets, and it comes in a nice little bag. The downside is that it is rather heavy and bulky. (Correction: there are two versions. Get the slim one, only problem with that one is that the power cable is rather short, but that is easy to fix.)
  • I have not been able to get FolderShare to work on this computer, though everything else does. No idea why, but it is safe to say that it is probably not a hardware issue….  (seems to have something to do with Firewall setup, investigating….)

Addedum May 24: I have been having some problems with switching the computer between various screen modes – in particular, when I used it with two external screens, I can’t get it to play nicely in presentation mode (i.e., with 1400×1050 on both laptop and external port. Turns out that you have to exit the Matrox PowerDesk SE program (which manages certain aspects of dual screenage, such as where the dialog boxes pop up) before you undock, and before going into presentation mode. I assume this can be fixed by defining some hardware profiles, either in the screen management mode or in Windows System, but that would require a restart. Not a big problem, but it took some time to figure out.

Addendum June 24: Last Friday, the X61 crashed hard (my guess: motherboard short) just when I was about to present. Sent back to IBM to be fixed. They will look at another problem as well: Sometimes when I shut the lid, the computer does not go into standby mode, but starts to beep incessantly. Apparently this is a physical switch problem, also experienced by another faculty member.

Addendum July 1: Now fixed, after IBM put in a new motherboard, then had to take it back once more because it could not recognize the hard disk. In the mean time I got to borrow a regular X61, which is a nice little machine with rather poor (1024×768) screen resolution.

4 thoughts on “My computer setup (testing notes)

  1. Tormod

    Would it not be better to use the internal screen of the laptop in addition to _one_ 22-incher? You would then eliminate the driver issues, which might be a PITA for some of your lesser computer fluent colleagues.
    How often do you use two large documents side-by-side? I find running Outlook and a few small programs on the laptop, and my main document(s) on the big screen, is satisfactory.
    Also, I prefer to type on the laptop keyboard. External keyboards are usually not suited to my typing style (too long keypress length). Less clutter on the desk.

  2. Espen

    Well, people’s needs differ. I tend to use the right screen for email, twitter, notes etc. and perhaps student papers. Reading and writing on the left one.
    As for keyboards – some laptops are good, but I type much faster and with fewer errors on a “real” keyboard.

  3. Espen

    And, incidentally, once the Matrox thing is set up, it works pretty well. I am sure the IT dept can solidify it for a standard image.

  4. Espen

    Note on using laptop screen: The screen on the X61 is a 12 inch with 1400×1050 resolution, which is pretty tiny compared to the external screen. It is also fairly weak in brightness, due to the tablet layer. The refocusing between that screen and the externals is hard on the eyes – hence, two external screens.

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