Ubuntu on the Lenovo Thinkpad x230

The packaging, with the laptop's serial number clearly exposed.

This is a review of my experience with Ubuntu GNU/Linux on the Lenovo Thinkpad x230 with Intel Ivy Bridge, but parts may also apply to the T430, T530, W530, and the x230t.

The laptop’s configuration:

Thinkpads are excellent laptops for college students, especially those in computer science. They are durable and have excellent compatibility with Linux.

Lenovo laptops come with Windows, and I have to say, using GNU/Linux really spoils you. Windows 7 was terribly slow. The first time you boot, it runs through the hardware performance tests which should have been completed at manufacturing. The taskbar is precustomized with a bulky battery icon and Lenovo’s suite of ThinkVantage tools for Windows. The wireless driver wouldn’t hold a stable connection.

I made a startup flash drive with the latest 12.04LTS Ubuntu ISO. The x230 does not have an optical drive, and installing operating systems via flash drive is less wasteful anyway.

Press Enter, then F12 to get a boot device selection screen, and your USB flash drive should appear as one of the choices.

Ubuntu bootable installation flash drive.

Make sure you are plugged into AC power (and that the battery is out) when you are installing. This operation generates a lot of CPU heat which could shorten the life of a battery.

I shrunk the Windows partition to 80G and divided the rest into a 0.5G swap, 100G system partition, and a 300G /home partition. I booted into the LiveCD (or LiveUSB?) before I ran the ubiquity installer, because it has historically given me more reliable results.

The home partition isn’t encrypted, because anything sensitive on my file system has per-file encryption anyway.

My observations of the x230 hardware:

Installing Ubuntu on the x230.

Ubuntu 12.04 comes with Linux Kernel 3.2.0-23-generic, which doesn’t have great support for the Intel HD4000 integrated graphics. If you put too much stress on the graphics system, it may freeze altogether. Ctrl+Alt+F1 doesn’t work. I grabbed the 3.4.0 stable kernel from kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline and the issues have disappeared. With new hardware like that in the X230, it’s always a good idea to grab the latest kernel.

The Intel Centrino 2200-N chip had a problem connecting using 802.11n to my wifi. I used a the 11n_disable=1 switch to disable the N capability, and now it’s stable. I’m not sure if this is a hardware or software problem, as Windows can’t use the N network at all. In Ubuntu, announced connection speed drops down to 1 Mbps occasionally.

The rest of the laptop worked out of the box with Ubuntu GNU/Linux. The mute, volume, and power buttons all work. The microphone mute, I haven’t tested yet. The 720p webcam is good for most purposes, and works out of the box. The wifi works, the battery and its associated sensors work.

Lithium-ion batteries like the X44+ in the Thinkpad x230 do not like deep-recharge cycles. Unlike alkaline batteries, lithium-based ones do not have a physical memory and do not lose their capacity if you don’t discharge them fully and recharge them all the way. Make sure you research battery-care before you start using any laptop.

I installed the Jupiter applet to manage battery life. It doesn’t tweak the x230′s screen brightness, but you can do that yourself with Fn+F8 and Fn+F9. It does tweak everything else, including powering down the audio input/output port when it’s not being used. I also installed powertop to monitor battery draw.

The exterior of the x230.

So, that’s the X230. I look forward to using it.