For my new job I chose a Thinkpad computer. Like everyone else, I prefer Macs. I have to use Windows because, alas, it is the only platform that my CAD software runs on. The computer was supposed to come with Windows Vista but I bought the Windows XP “downgrade” because I found some damning statistics: my main applications would run 20–30% slower under Vista.

I have had this computer for two weeks now. It acts strangely and crashes regularly. Where to begin?

Sometimes, when I return and wake the computer after it sits idle, my programs will re-appear but immediately the OS will start shutting down. I lose all of my work. My first theory was that I was accidentally invoking a Windows-key shortcut (like Windows-S). So I hacked the registry to disable the Windows key. No dice.

Often, upon restarting, the laptop will connect to the wireless network, only to lose its connection. The next 3 to 5 attempts to manually re-connect will fail. Eventually it will succeed with no explanation of what was wrong. The signal strength is fine.

The system arrived full of Thinkpad-branded ClutterWare. This software includes a number of utilities that duplicate functionality already present in Windows (like choosing a wireless network or changing power-saving settings) with a variety of inconsistent user interfaces. Maybe some of these programs are causing me trouble.

Earlier this week I got my first blue screen of death. The video driver caused an illegal operation, prompting Windows to dump all 2 GB of memory to a file and restart. When it booted back up, a helpful utility appeared and offered to report the crash to Microsoft, but in doing so, it too crashed. A welcome touch of irony!

To try to fix the BSoD problem, I downloaded an updated video driver from the ATI Web page, but the driver refused to install itself. Turns out that when drivers from ATI encounter graphics hardware branded “ATI Mobility Radeon,” they are designed to abort because OEMs like Lenovo contract to be the sole provider of graphics drivers. For this reason the official drivers from Lenovo are perpetually out-of-date. I found a very sketchy tool online which “unlocks” the drivers from the ATI Web site so they can actually be installed. Works great… but how would the average computer user ever figure this stuff out?

It’s frustrating to think that this kind of experience is considered normal.