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2016-03-12My review: Lenovo Yoga 300-11IBY laptop and taming updates in W10


Tags All Personal Tech

I rather like this despite it objectively being one of the more shit laptops I've bought over the years.

Normally I go for old ThinkPads (spares easy to get, originally good spec, etc) but there are some things to like about the Yoga 300: it's very light, has HDMI out so it's useful for hotel TVs and a reasonable number of USB ports. The keyboard and screen resolution are decent enough to do a bit of work on. The hinges are solid, as they're designed to move 180 degrees, and it's a touchscreen so you can easily reach over and pause a video however you've got it set up. The metal parts feel premium.

However, for something that makes a selling point of being adjustable the screen viewing angle is really quite terrible and like something from ten years ago. The spec shows in the low price these now go for, coming with a Celeron N2840, 2GB of RAM and (this is the kicker) a 32GB eMMC. The processor is fine and allows for a fanless build and the RAM is bearable but I've apparently been away from hardware purchases long enough to not have noticed that manufacturers are cutting corners in low-end machines enough to not even have small SSDs in them but rather a more limited form of solid-state storage usually found in phones. Lenovo have cut another crucial corner with the storage too, which we'll get onto in a minute.

When I got opportunity to crack it open and look at addressing this, Jason Bayton's article on replacing a hard drive with an SSD was a useful source of photos of the inside of the model, as was Lenovo's hardware manual which suggests the following parts: (a) HDD Bracket B Flex3-1120 Part-Nr.: 5B40J08368; (b) HDD Cable B Flex3-1120 Part-Nr.: 5C10J0842.4 -- but the bracket you can do without. The case already has internal padding strips and the space it's in is confined enough that electrical tape will keep an SSD from moving around. It's the SATA cable adapter that's the problem, as it seems to be a proprietary part no longer in production. They're consequently not cheap or readily available, although I didn't have any difficulty getting one from a French seller. This is necessary because Lenovo haven't bothered to include a regular SATA port.

I considered running with the 32GB storage at first, even after allowing Windows 8.1 to upgrade to 10 (which wiped out the useless restore partition and required use of a separate flash drive as temp space)... but after pulling updates down, Windows 10 ate the remaining few gigabytes of storage. Compressing everything on the drive cancelled this out, but I'm sure it'd only have reached the same point again within months. Windows today is bloated crapware, and no tricks can make it play nicely with some of the hardware it's being sold for.

After chucking in a 120GB SSD the eMMC is still in there, its machine spirit apparently quiescent but the SATA adapter overriding so that the motherboard only sees the SSD. I should probably also mention that Windows became unbootable and it was necessary to use the tiny inset Novo button to get into Safe Mode so that the OS could pick up necessary drivers. These are the least of the reasons the laptop case has a Mechanicus car sticker on it. For those who've never read fiction set in the Warhammer 40K universe, I highly recommend the essay Why Everything is so Grimdark (NSFW) as a summary of why its occupants are wary of technology.

Dealing with Microsoft products feels like 40K: the company releases constant updates to fix critical flaws that weren't identified when software was being written, and has now moved to a model of forcing those updates onto the average home user and rebooting computers whenever they damn well feel like to accomplish it. Because they haven't bothered to figure out a way of patching Windows without reboots, they've instead opted to turn the PC into a malignant entity that actively fights their customers -- which you're probably familiar with if you've ever had someone turn up with a laptop but not be able to use it when they need to because it gets stuck applying updates and rebooting. It's no wonder more people are opting to buy non-Windows devices.

Interface-wise, a dark grey for title bars and ClassicShell allowing lighter taskbar colours and providing a few other tweaks gives an almost acceptable classic theme replacement.

As far as control over updates is concerned, I haven't yet seen any software that will automatically set all wi-fi connections as metered and therefore prevent Windows from latching onto the available bandwidth like a junkie. The policy and registry settings available in other version of Windows 10 don't work with Home. So as a simpler approach, I'm only running the Windows Update service when it's convenient to do so.

The AutoHotKey script below creates a tray icon with a menu option to toggle the service, and double-clicking will open the appropriate Settings page. I've saved it as wumgmt.ahk and run at startup.

Windows Defender isn't automating scheduled scans either, which required rooting around in Task Scheduler. Like with updates, you can see why Microsoft wants to take control away from home users by default... but the level of disregard for users and potential for people to come back to restarted PCs and to have lost work is thoroughly disgusting.

Update 15/03/2016: Microsoft seems to have moved to pushing Windows 10 as a "recommended" update which means a lot more people are becoming collateral damage. In addition to the other problems, there are many reports of software no longer working because it isn't compatible with 10. GWX Control Panel is worth looking at whilst we wait to see if any of the legal threats against Microsoft get organised enough to provoke backtracking.

Update 14/04/2016: small script tweak to disable/enable the service as well as stop/start. Potestas Omnissiah.


Tags All Personal Tech