Sunday, April 08, 2007


A low-tech solution to a high-tech problem

Several months ago, I got a new ThinkPad at work, a T60p. Nice machine, and it's still branded as “IBM”, though I suspect we'll start seeing “Lenovo” computers at the office soon. I had to order a docking station for it, and I couldn't do that until January — year-end budget freeze, of course. By and by, January arrived, the money was released, my order was automatically processed (How nice that it all happened by magic, without my having to do anything!), and I soon got my docking station. Dock computer. Everything works. Cool.

Now, my normal way of operating is to put the computer into standby mode, undock it, and take it where I'm going. Standby is a mode wherein the computer shuts most of its processing down but uses enough power to maintain its state and keep everything in memory so it can be ready to use again in a few seconds. I have the power button set to put it into standby mode. When I get back to the office, I re-dock it in standby mode and press the power button again... and it comes out of standby, leaving me right where I was before. I tried it. It worked as expected.

Then one morning I came into the office, docked the computer, pressed the power button... and watched it start up from scratch, as though it had not been in standby mode, but powered off entirely. Odd. And yes, maybe I did notice something funny happening with the status lights when I docked it. But I wasn't completely sure. Hm. After it started, I un-docked, re-docked, un-docked, re-docked. Looks OK. [Shrug.]

And the next day, or maybe the one after, it happened again. This time I was sure I saw the status lights switch from indicating standby to indicating powered-off state, just as the laptop hit the docking station. WTF?

Before I had a chance to look into it, a colleague who'd gotten a T60p shortly before I did came and told me about it. It seems there's a problem with static electric discharge causing the machine to power off. And, of course, January's the time of year in the northeast when you get shocked every time you move (my cat is not terribly happy about that either, but at least he doesn't power off). For a while I tried doing an interesting dance, holding the laptop and touching the docking station and touching a grounded object, all at the same time before docking. And it usually worked. But not always, and when it didn't it was very annoying: I often leave the computer with a bunch of programs running, things in a particular setup, and it's disruptive to have to start over. So I enabled hibernation mode as a workaround. In hibernation mode, the computer dumps all its memory and operating state to the hard drive and powers off completely. When you press the power button again, it reads everything back in and resumes exactly where you were, just as though it had come out of standby... except that it uses about 2 GB of hard disk space, and it takes maybe 30 seconds instead of 2 seconds. That's not terrible, but it ought to be unnecessary.

And then last week my colleague sent a note telling me that there's an official fix for the situation. Check it out:

Lenovo has determined that the reason for the system powering off is due to an electrostatic discharge between the system and the docking station or port replicator. We have developed a field kit that consists of two conductive rubber caps. These caps, when correctly applied to the dock, provide a safe path for the electrostatic discharge.
A “field kit”, indeed. Little, tiny, itsy-bitsy, dunce-cap–shaped rubbers that you stick on two of the metal protrusions on the docking station. But they work great. I put them on a week ago Thursday, and docking has been a joy since. Ya gotta love it.

1 comment:

The Ridger, FCD said...

Tangentially related - for 18 years I owned a half-Siamese cat whose lack of undercoat meant she never did the static-shock thing. After she died, I eventually acquired an abandoned young silver tabby ... and when winter rolled around next I had to get used to that all over again. It's funny what you forget when it's not happening...

Glad you got the docking problem sorted, though.