Where Laptop OEMs Truly Add Value
OK, I admit it. I am a big fan of ThinkPad laptops. Right now, I own 5 of them and have 2 more on long-term loan from the company. One of the reasons I like their gear so much is because they carefully engineer, publish and manage driver and firmware updates for their devices. The latest update management tool for ThinkPads is called Lenovo Vantage (which comes pre-installed on newer Lenovo devices, but is also available for download to older ones).
Thus, for example, on my 2012 vintage Lenovo X220 Tablet, that utility works perfectly. And, as you can see from the lead-graphic for this story, it has provided audio and touchpad driver updates on that now-ancient machine as recently as April 2020. On my newer (2018 vintage) X380 Yogas, in fact, I just installed a new Intel Management Engine (IME) firmware update this morning. On those newer machines, I see 12 updates over the past 12- month period, including numerous firmware updates (Thunderbolt, NVMe, and the aforementioned IME), multiple UEFI/BIOS updates, and device drivers for Intel sensors, hotkey features, Intel HD graphics, and the touchpad.
A Time vs. Stability/Reliability Tradeoff
Because Lenovo tests and vets drivers before releasing them to Lenovo Vantage (and for download through their support pages), it does take longer for updates to trickle down to users. But — and this is a huge BUT — once they are made available for download and installation they are rock-solid. In my ten-plus years of using Lenovo laptops and devices I have never once had a driver, firmware, or BIOS download cause a single problem, post-installation. I do confess to turning to other sources than Lenovo for some drivers (networking, USB, and Bluetooth) but they all come from the same source (Intel) and are usually pretty reliable in their own right.
Over the past two-and-a-half decades I’ve owned laptops from Microsoft, Dell, HP, Fujitsu, MSI, Toshiba, and Acer, among others. By and large, my results in obtaining drivers from those vendors’ support pages have been 90-plus percent positive. But so far, Lenovo is the ONLY such OEM that keeps up its support and utilities for older makes and models for as long as 9 years (the longest I’ve ever owned any laptop, BTW). For all of these vendors except Lenovo, Dell, HP and Microsoft, support tends to fall by the wayside around the time their devices hit their third birthdays (or rather, when the initial release of such devices falls three years ago). Of those other vendors, I’ve had the best luck with Microsoft and Dell in keeping older machines alive and obtaining current drivers for them for up to 6 years (my Surface Pro 3 will be 6 next month and I can still get all its drivers through the Surface support pages; I’ve kept Dells for 5-6 years with equally good results).
But nobody else in my experience keeps their support going as long as Lenovo does. It’s another reason why I am now of the opinion that, if I’m spending family money to buy a PC or laptop, I will consider a Lenovo first and foremost. I may end buying something else (usually because I find a deal that’s too good to pass up) but they’re always on my radar when I start planning out PC or laptop purchases.
As somebody who’s built dozens of homebrew PCs, I’ve learned the hard way that all the big motherboard makers (including Asus, Gigabyte, Asrock, MSI, Jetway, and others — all of which I’ve bought over the years) stop supporting their wares between 2 and 3 years after the boards make their debuts (sooner if intel or AMD push more generations of CPUs in the meantime, later if the frequency is not quite so furious).
I definitely know how to keep PCs up-to-date on my own, but I do appreciate a little help every now and then. I give Lenovo credit for helping longer and better than most in that department. If you have a different story to tell, or another maker or OEM to recommend, please post a comment here. Thanks in advance!
Author: Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.