Lenovo ThinkPad T14 Gen 1 Review

Boen Wang

Chinese people have a special relationship with computers. Maybe because so many of us are in STEM. A friend (dad from rural Hubei, mom from Wuhan) once said that if someone’s telling you they’re having a really rough time, just struggling with everything, feeling hopeless and lost—you should tell them, “Well, why don’t you just become a software engineer?”

Which is good advice, because a cinephile software engineer I watch movies with (dad from Shandong, mom from Shanghai) works for Bloomberg and lives in Midtown. He went to Penn, where a high school classmate of mine (dad from Hong Kong, mom from Taiwan) is getting a PhD in bioinformatics after majoring in comp sci at Pitt. This classmate is one of two people I know who actually built his own gaming PC back in high school so that he could do 360 no-scope headshots in COD4 multiplayer. The other is my partner’s college friend (white dad, Hunanese mom who speaks Chinese with a thick country twang her daughter inherited), who works as a chemist at Pepsi and painted her custom PC case a beautiful 青花 porcelain design and stamped it with a stone seal with her Chinese name on it ($20 on Etsy), the GPU whirring as she plays The Witcher 3 at a smooth 60 frames a second.

I never understood computers like them. I switched majors from engineering to English after two years. I got a B- in C++, my lowest grade in college. But I grew up around computers, and around people who knew them. My dad (Henan) used a Unix machine at work, when I visited his office I saw him putzing around in the command line, and at home he installed Ubuntu on our family desktop. He’s the handiest guy I know, digitally and IRL, patiently troubleshooting our computer problems and remodeling the basement for my mom (Inner Mongolia).

I inherited the first kind of handiness, but not the latter. I can use a VPN to pirate Adobe Audition from a weird Russian forum. I can mess around in regedit to get rid of the new right-click menu in Windows 11. I can set up a Minecraft server so that my friend (and now partner (white)) and I could play together during the pandemic, annoying their older sister (white) as we loudly chatted over the phone, building a virtual home that in retrospect was practice for decorating our first shared apartment.

It was my dad who bought me my first computer at the beginning of college as an early Christmas present, an absolute unit of a Lenovo IdeaPad Y400 gaming laptop. My family supports the motherland. Both my parents have Lenovos, and my sister has a Huawei phone (banned in the US, but available in Europe where she lives). Maybe we’re less paranoid about technological infiltration from The Party. Maybe we just accept it, my parents having grown up during the Cultural Revolution and witnessed the classic scenes of counter-revolutionaries paraded in front of angry mobs, screamed at and beaten and pelted with rocks.

Or maybe we just don’t care, because I loved that laptop, a chunky boy with a 1TB HDD you could hear spin up wherever you opened a big file, a DVD player, a clicky clacky keyboard backlit in gAmEr red, and a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics card I used to play Portal and Portal 2 and Half-Life 2 and Half Life 2: Episode 1 and Half Life 2: Episode 2 and Kane & Lynch 2 (highly underrated) and Gone Home and Firewatch and Tacoma and The Beginner’s Guide and The Stanley Parable and all the other games I wished I could play as a kid, all the shooters I read about but never had the right PC to play, all the indie games that made me feel like a sophisticate, this magic feeling of having access to a world I always peeked into through a window but finally received an invitation to.

Which is to say I spent a lot of time alone. I lived in a single dorm. I found a bunch of USGS maps from the Earth and Mineral Sciences building. I taped them up in my room, covering every square inch of wall. I bought a white Pixar-style reading lamp from the State College Goodwill and installed a blindingly bright LED bulb I used to read books with. I browsed the huge collection of DVDs on the second floor of the Penn State library, feeling the spines of all the Criterion releases, borrowing Tsai Ming-Liang films that I popped into the DVD drive and seemed to speak to a very specific, very Chinese kind of loneliness that drove me to watch everything he ever made.

I felt like a Tsai character after graduating college, eating barbecued meat on a skewer from a food stall in Changsha, sitting on newspapers I spread over a set of concrete steps. I worked as an ESL teacher in a tiny village in Hunan, far from the neon-lit skyscrapers of the provincial capital. All I packed were normal clothes, nicer teaching clothes, and my Lenovo. I guess it was a sort of homecoming for the both of us.

But not really, because it turns out living in China when you’re ethnically Chinese but can’t speak Chinese is kind of a nightmare, everyone wondering why this grown-ass man speaks Mandarin like a kindergartener.

I felt lonely with an intensity I didn’t know was possible. I became depressed. I left. I lived with my parents in Philly and then left for another job, which I was fired from after two months. Long story. Mental illness. I went home again. Christmas approached and I asked my dad for a new laptop, the chunky boy had served me well for five years. At first I asked for a Pixelbook, which was stupid, and which I returned for another Lenovo I brought with me when I moved across the state to Pittsburgh for grad school.

An IdeaPad 720s, sleek and silver and thin and light, i7 processor and GeForce GT MX150 GPU, but only a 256GB SSD and no DVD drive. My sense of design improved—I stuck two stickers from the Chinese-Canadian comic artist gg to the front, who makes short graphic novels about that specific kind of Chinese loneliness. I lived with two roommates in a rowhouse in Greenfield. I bought a frame from Target and hung a single map of Pennsylvania above my bed, rather than wallpapering my room with them.

I made friends and art and talked about art with friends. We lived on $21k stipends and university health insurance. We taught writing to undergrads and exchanged notes and commiserated. We hung out at a dive bar in Squirrel Hill at the corner of Forbes and Murray, where they made fun of me for drinking Yuengling. I met my partner. We fell in love. We spent hours at the Carnegie Library, my Lenovo next to their Macbook, typing away beneath the vaulted ceiling and trying to figure out how the hell to make a living from writing.

I felt light. I had a great therapist. I stopped playing games. In class, whether as a student or teacher, I would pop my laptop out of my backpack and toss it and catch it with both hands, flipping it open and powering it up. I dropped it sometimes. Eventually the bottom right corner cracked open. A repair guy told me the plastic hinge had snapped apart, there was nothing he could do. They didn’t make them like they used to.

But it still worked. You just had to ignore the fact that it didn’t lay flat. I took it with me to Brooklyn, where my partner and I moved after graduating, our desks maybe ten feet apart as we work our work-from-home jobs. Their company sent them a work laptop, a 15-inch Lenovo ThinkBook they absolutely hate for a job they absolutely tolerate. They use their Macbook Air for everything else.

“Just get a Mac,” they told me when I started looking for a new laptop. Wirecutter and CNET and PCMag and The Verge agreed. I held their rose gold Macbook in my hands, thin as a pencil and quiet as a mouse, filled with their poetry and essays and collage art and family photos, the sum digital total of their life.

So for the third time, I asked my dad to buy me a laptop for Christmas. A Lenovo ThinkPad T14 Gen 1 with a six-core AMD Ryzen 5 processor, an SSD with 1 terabyte of storage, 32 gigs of RAM, USB-A and -C and HDMI and ethernet and microSD and all the other ports that Macbooks are wiped clean of, so you don’t have to cough up extra money for adapters—and apparently it passes US Military Standard durability tests, so it better not break this time around.

God bless him, my dad. When I unboxed the very laptop I’m using to write this essay, I felt a wave of gratitude and recognition of my privilege—the son of immigrants who came to this country for their STEM PhDs and got those lucrative STEM jobs they were able to pay off a mortgage and send their two kids to college with.

Two kids who came to a fork in the road, one taking the STEM path (my sister, statistics major, now a data analyst) and the other the humanities path (me, English major and MFA in creative writing, now an audio producer). And amazingly, I work a job I enjoy, in an apartment filled with plants, with a person I love.

But the magic is gone. A new laptop, a new phase of my life, where I have to once again use a VPN to pirate Adobe Audition from a weird Russian forum, mess around in regedit to get rid of the new right-click menu in Windows 11, set Chrome as my default browser against the pitiful protests of Microsoft Edge, download all my Dropbox files, log into all my work accounts, transfer all my files from my old laptop to this new one.

I have to get to work.

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