Lenovo U300s and SSDs

A couple of times recently, my Lenovo U300s Ideapad has thrown hard drive errors. The first one happened when I suspended the machine and then left it in my bag for three days, during which the battery clearly ran out. We leave aside that this shouldn’t happen because the machine ought to have turned that sleep into a hibernate when the battery ran down, because I don’t know whether Ubuntu supports doing that on this hardware. I don’t mind that I lost my session. However, I do mind that when I started the machine up again (with power plugged in), it wouldn’t even boot. Horrible grub error.

That’s not a good sign. I had to go and find another laptop from my laptop graveyard, use it to download an Ubuntu ISO, find a USB stick, create an Ubuntu USB stick with the Startup Disk Manager, boot my U300s off the USB stick, go into the live session, mount the existing drive, fix it, and restart. I didn’t know how to do half of this stuff, and I didn’t know a bunch of things like “how do I know which format the drive is formatted in“; thank you to the #ubuntu-uk IRC crew for helping me out there. (You can read my terrible thrashing-about and their attempts to help at http://irclogs.ubuntu.com/2013/11/20/%23ubuntu-uk.html#t10:48.) Anyway, that got fixed eventually, but I was sternly informed that Disk Failure Is A Warning Sign and I should think about replacing the drive.

Speed forward a few weeks, and… I discover that I can’t save anything. Looking in the system log, the drive had thrown some sort of error and Ubuntu, rescuing me from screwing things up, had remounted the drive read-only. So I crossed my fingers and rebooted and everything came back up OK, and I haven’t had any problems since.

But. Once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action. That’s twice the drive has done something weird. So clearly I should look at replacing it. New drives are not all that expensive, and that sounds a worthwhile investment. So, I thought: it’ll just be some sort of nice standard SSD, and I’ll just buy a replacement from Crucial or something.

It is not. The SSD in the Lenovo U300s (note: not the U300, which is different) is a non-standard SSD…similar to a bubble gum stick, like on the X1 Carbon, and it doesn’t even look like a standard SSD. So, you can’t replace it with some random SSD you buy: you have to buy the replacement from Lenovo. That’s fine, thought I. Off to the Lenovo website. Which does not mention this stuff at all. The Lenovo support line don’t deal with the Ideapad line in the UK; you have to ring the special Lenovo Ideapad support line, at 13p a minute. When you ring them, they tell you to go to lenovo-serviceshop.com, which just redirects to the Medion website. What it should do is redirect to medion.com/lenovoserviceshop/welcome, which is where Lenovo seem to have outsourced parts replacement to Medion. Then, once you’ve changed both language and country to England rather than Germany, you can search for your U300s’s serial number and find a list of parts, including “Various boards: Flash board, SSD 128 GB” which seems to be the replacement. Only €46, too. It is available “on demand”… so you have to create an account, fill in a form, get an email (in German) saying they’re looking for it, then wait two weeks, and get another email (in German) saying “yeah, we don’t have one of those”.

Lenovo: this is appalling, dreadful customer service. I bought this machine, your flagship Ultrabook, less than two years ago, I had to run a complicated obstacle course to even find where new parts are sold from, and once I got there I discovered that I now can’t buy a fixed drive for it. You all ought to grovel in apology for this hysterical failure. I have no problem with you using non-standard parts — the laptop’s very thin, and that’s one of the reasons I bought it, and doing that requires compromise — but if you decide to use non-standard parts which only you sell, it is incumbent on you to make sure they’re still on sale 24 months later! I am properly, psychotically annoyed by this. I deliberately went for a Lenovo because they’re a big company who are not supposed to do this sort of thing. (Also see: supplying the machine with 4GB when it is rated for…4GB. So I can’t upgrade the memory either.)

There will be some of you out there saying “should have bought a Thinkpad!”. Your argument there seems to be “Lenovo are such an unreliable company that buying one of their flagship machines will lead to you being screwed two years later… so be sure and reward them by buying a different line.” Apparently, as you’ll have read above, the X1 Carbon (which is the Thinkpad I would have bought) uses a similar “bubblegum stick”-style SSD. Perhaps the Thinkpad support line is better and they keep parts around. But I am entirely uninspired to try. Besides, I hate Thinkpads. Stop recommending them to me. You go ahead and use them; I won’t judge you.

Current mood: looking at the System76 14.1” Galago UltraPro, which is ~~aluminium~~magnesium, doesn’t have pointless extra mouse buttons, has an HD screen, is thinner than their “Ultra Thin” Darter, has HDMI and miniDP, and is just generally rather lovely. And wondering where I’m going to find a spare grand, and whether I really need to spend that. Is it laptop time again…?

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