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Like you, I’ve been looking in vain for a light, modern laptop with a high-quality keyboard. Because I use a desktop PC most of the time, I can survive with the good isolated keyboards on (for example) some Apple, Asus and Sony laptops. But I can understand the challenge of continuous fast typing in time-constrained, high-pressure situations.IBM ThinkPads have been the corporate laptop standard-bearers since 1992 – and nothing looks more professional, so that’s one problem solved. ThinkPads also have some of the best laptop keyboards. They have declined along with everybody else’s, but we can pinpoint the shift: the ThinkPad X220 sported the last of the more traditional keyboard designs, while the X230 had the new flatter design. (See last year’s answer: Which ThinkPad laptops have the best keyboards?)The ThinkPad X220 received good reviews in 2011, with Trusted Reviews concluding: “It might not be sleek and sexy, but [it] has it where it counts: a rugged chassis, amazing keyboard … and – the icing on the cake – amazing battery life. If you can live with its chunky dimensions … and can afford its asking price, the X220 is still one of the best small laptops available.”Well, it might have seemed a bit chunky, but the X220 is light and sleek compared to a Tecra A9.
It’s only about 35mm thick but tapered, the weight starts at around 1.25kg, and the charger only weighs 360g.The ThinkPad X220 came in a range of models from about £800 to £1,600, but go for one with a Core-i5 or Core-i7 processor and 4GB or 8GB of memory. Even the low-end 2.5GHz Core i5-2520M is as fast as today’s Core i5-5200U. (The difference is that the Core i5-5200U runs at 15W instead of 35W. You need cooler-running, lower-power chips for thinner laptops.) Also aim for the version with an IPS screen, if possible.Refurbished ThinkPad X220s cost around £200 to £400, depending on specification and grade, with a Grade A refurb being almost as good as new. Buy a new spare battery as well, so you can swap them over when the first one runs out, doubling your battery life. There’s also an optional 10-hour battery slice.Amazon, Tier 1 and Morgan are possible sources for refurbs. Shyamtronics sells new old-fashioned IBM ThinkPads on Tottenham Court Road in London. If you can visit the shop, you can try the keyboards.You can solve the problem of bad laptop keyboards by using an external keyboard. Yes, you will have two keyboards taking up valuable desk space, but you can solve that problem by buying a tablet such as a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (or forthcoming Surface 3),
Dell Venue Pro, or something similar. Then you’ll only have one keyboard.With this solution, you can change the keyboard without changing the tablet, or vice versa. You can use any USB keyboard you like, from a big desktop model to a really small mobile keyboard, either wired or wireless (Bluetooth). You could even use an ergonomic split keyboard such as the Kinesis Freestyle 2 or Kin-FS2-01, though these might be a bit too noisy for your purposes.The obvious drawback is that you will have to carry two items instead of one. However, tablets are light, so you should still save some weight. You will also gain robustness (laptop hinges break), and a lot more flexibility when positioning your keyboard and screen.The good news is that you will have a huge range of keyboards to choose from. The bad news is that mobile keyboards have also moved to flat designs. I popped into Maplin’s to look at the 20 or so keyboards they had in stock (there were no Microsoft models), and didn’t find a mobile keyboard I could recommend for your purposes. Perhaps you will. If not, the Keyboard Company has more than 60 alternatives, including the Matias Mini Quiet Pro.The Ergostars Saturnus must also be worth a look. I don’t think you’re going to find a laptop with a better keyboard, and at 318 x 214 x 34mm, it would fit in a laptop bag with a 0.8kg Surface Pro 3 (292 x 201 x 9mm) or similar tablet. A Truly Ergonomic “soft tactile” keyboard (325 x 170mm) would be a larger, luxury option.I was given a Packard-Bell EasyNote R1938 to repair. It should now work, but when I press the On button, it asks for an HDD password, sits for about a minute, then shuts off.
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Laptops often have BIOS passwords (set in the ROM chip) and some have HDD hard drive passwords. In the latter case, the password may be held in the hard drive's firmware and on a secure part (a Host Protected Area) of the hard drive.In fact, a hard drive can have at least two passwords: a master password, set in the factory, and a user password. You need the user password to access the data on the drive. However, it seems that if you have the master password, you can erase all the data on the drive, leaving you with an unlocked but empty drive.You could contact Packard-Bell (which is now owned by Acer) to see if you can get a master password. You can probably do this by entering the serial number on the support site at http://support.packardbell.com/uk/. I think some PC manufacturers can also erase and reset a drive if you return it. However, I'd just try replacing the hard drive in the laptop with a compatible model. It doesn't have to be a new one.Unfortunately I'm not sure if this will work because the password may have been set in the BIOS chip. Packard-Bell laptops typically use a Phoenix BIOS that has options for setting four passwords: Supervisor Password, User Password, HDD Password and HDD Master ID. If this is the case, try entering the backdoor password, which is phoenix. For more details, see the Password Crackers, Inc site at http://www.pwcrack.com/bios.shtmlEven trickier problems arise if the hard drive contains data that has not been backed up, because there's no obvious way to access it. You could, for example, try to read the data stream as the HDD firmware communicates with the Host Protected Area then try to extract the user's password.
Or you could take the hard drive apart in a clean room and try to read the data directly, which is a job for a specialised data recovery company. The cost would be far more than the laptop is worth.There are a few programs you could try, such as HDD Unlock Wizard and Repair Station. These cost money, but you can download trial versions to find out if they will work.The drawbacks with HDD Unlock Wizard are that it only works with 32-bit Windows, and you must have a working operating system with an admin account. As far as I can see, this would only work if you could boot the laptop from a CD-ROM or whatever, or if you moved the hard drive to a different computer and accessed it as a secondary drive. Also, HDD Unlock Wizard will only allow you to erase/re-use the drive, not access existing data.By contrast, the blurb for Repair Station says: Repair Station has the ability to access the Firmware Area and reset the password, thus making your hard drive unlocked. Unlocking process is done automatically and takes just a few minutes. Since Repair Station does not alter partitions or file systems, it is absolutely safe to your data. I think it only works on ATA hard drives, but that's what the EasyNote should have, according to Packard-Bell's spec sheet.The last resort in such cases is to send the drive to an expert data recovery company. Vogon International, in Oxfordshire, has been top of my list for more than a decade, but its site now redirects to the highly-reputable Kroll Ontrack, in Surrey.
The cliched advice with so many computer problems is to turn the machine off and then on again; the laptop that offended the Israeli border police has certainly been turned off but is very unlikely ever to fire up again.The laptop belonged to an American student, Lily Sussman, who had been travelling widely in the Middle East and, a fortnight ago, was crossing into Israel at Taba after a stay in Cairo.According to her blog the security guards spent two hours questioning her, hand-checking every single item in her luggage, and questioning her about whether she had an Arab, Palestinian or Egyptian boyfriend. They checked images on her camera – which included anti-Israeli graffiti – and asked about the map of Jerusalem drawn for her by a friend.She then heard an announcement along the lines of 'do not to be alarmed by gunshots because the Israeli security needs to blow up suspicious passenger luggage.'She rushed to check her unattended luggage, left where she had been instructed, and was relieved to find it untouched.
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Moments later a man came outside and introduced himself as the manager on duty. And then, 'I'm sorry but we had to blow up your laptop.'The laptop had not so much been blown up as executed by firing squad, its screen shattered by three bullets.According to the Haaretz newspaper, the Israeli airport authorities responded: A check performed on the lady's luggage signalled the need for security personnel to follow procedure.The hard disk survived, and Sussman hopes to win compensation. However, many comments on her blog post were startlingly hostile. Mike Hunt wrote: To hell with this pathetic wretch and her ventilated Macbook, she is a whiny little wannabe who should go back to Egypt get a netbook and have a nice day sympathising for the poooooor Palestinians. Others suggested it was her own fault for using a Mac instead of a PC.It's now official that Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's founding president, and an International Criminal Court's suspect, is the fourth president of Kenya.Kenyatta was sworn in on Tuesday afternoon at the Moi International Sports Center, Kasarani, in Nairobi, closing the chapter on the tense and vigorous electoral process that left the country more divided than ever before in spite of the absence of violence.
Amid the pomp and ceremony, Kenyatta promised to take Kenya forward socially, politically and economically. He said that he would work closely with all Kenyans, including those who did not vote for him.Our nation has now successfully navigated the most complex general election in our history. Our journey began three years ago, with the promulgation of a new constitution, and ended 11 days ago, with a landmark Supreme Court decision. Ours has been an unusual story. An unconventional path. We have been praised and criticised in turn – depending on who was telling our story, Kenyatta said.Global Development - The Guardian Is child labour always wrong? The view from Bolivia – podcast
Kary Stewart looks at why 850,000 children work in Bolivia, and whether the numbers can be vindicated by the country’s unique cultural context