Review: Lenovo ThinkPad X230


I know, I know. A review of 2012 laptop in 2017? Ludicrous!

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A slab of granite? Or the best laptop ever made??!?

So I marked the end on 2016 by crossing another entry off my bucket list, which is to own an IBM/lenovo ThinkPad. I never intended to buy them new, because a new T or X series ThinkPads, which to me, are the only ThinkPad models worth buying nowadays, are notably expensive, like Asus ROG or Dell XPS expensive.

Now, as a background, I’m currently rocking a custom i7-6700 tower for my lab and gaming needs, as well as a Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p with a beefy i7-4700MQ as my mobile workstation. While I love my Y510p, it’s not exactly the most portable laptop in the world. Carrying the Y510p with a set of DSLR on a backpack is a bit too masochistic  even for me. Also, aside from that, having a Microsoft (Boo!!) Azure means that now I can have access to high powered VMs anywhere and anytime I want, without lugging them around with my Y510p. Thus I was considering an Intel Core i5 equipped of either the compact X220, X230, or X240 to compliment my existing machines, as a traveling notebook for coding, blogging, and terminal to my Azure VMs

Why those three you ask? For starter, in Jakarta, depending on wear and tear, these laptops can be had for around USD 220 to 350 used, which is exactly within my price range. The X250 and newer models would cost me at least USD500. Both the X230 and X240 are Ubuntu certified. What about older models? I would love to go with the X201, which has complete set of trackpad and trackpoint mouse buttons, but they are way too old, and I would rather avoid dealing with broken components on old, used laptops because they are not easy to fix or replace.

Readme first!

If you’re considering older hardware for media use, please be informed that while there might only be slight performance increase between processor generations in general use case, hardware support for codecs makes a lot of difference. For example, Intel baked hardware level support for decoding H.265/HEVC files to the Skylake processor family, allowing even a lowly Celeron G3920 to vastly outperform an Ivybridge i5 in this area.

Now, for some pros and cons:

X220
Pros:

  • The last of the X series to wield the classic-style keyboard, which arguably, is the best keyboard ever built for a notebook.
  • Separate, dedicated mouse buttons for the trackpoint.
  • Compatible with 3rd party replacement batteries

Cons:

  • The oldest of the three X models, the battery might no longer able to store charge for more than an hour or two
  • Intel Sandy Bridge is a bit more power hungry compared to later architectures
  • X220’s i5 variant is not equipped with USB 3.0 port. To get USB 3.0 you need to buy the i7 model

X230
Pros:

  • Physical, dedicated mouse buttons for the trackpoint
  • Intel Ivy Bridge is notably more power-efficient compared to Sandy Bridge
  • Somewhat newer battery, probably 3 to 4 years old
  • It’s only USD10-15 more expensive than the X220
  • USB 3.0!
  • the Core i5-3320M scores better in Geekbench and CPUMark compared to the i5-4200U and i5-4300U that are typically equipped on the X240
  • Significantly better iGPU compared to X220

Cons:

  • The first of X series to use island-style keyboard. While it still miles ahead in comfort to the likes of HP and Dell, it’s still pale in comparison to the older, classic-style ThinkPad keyboard
  • While definitely better than Sandy Bridge i5, an i5-3320M uses 35W, which is more than twice the 15W that X240’s i5-4300u draws.
  • Equipped with a mechanism to id 3rd party batteries and prevent them to be fully charged

X240
Pros:

  • The Haswell  architecture power requirements is less than half of the Ivy Bridge parts, providing  better battery life compared to older architecture although at the cost of raw performance
  • Newer parts and and probably less used battery
  • USB 3.0!

Cons:

  • Costs a hefty  USD150-180 more from a well kept X230
  • No dedicated, physical buttons for the trackpoint. The buttons on the X240 are integrated into the top of  touchpad. Due to demand, Lenovo added these buttons back to X250
  • Halving the power consumption of the i5-4300u apparently translates to a slightly weaker performance to the older i5-3320M
  • Equipped with a mechanism to id 3rd party batteries and prevent them to be fully charged

Based on the list above, I decided to go with X230. I think additional USD15 is an acceptable cost for gaining newer components, better architecture, USB 3.0, and battery life. The loss of classic-style keyboard is something that I can deal with, as they keyboard on X230 is actually quite good.

The unit that I got costs me USD240 and seems to be used to belong to someone who was quite meticulous with his or her hardware. The only thing that show sign of use are a slight shininess in the spacebar and a couple of other keys.

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The hated island-style keyboard

The trackpoint mouse buttons are almost like new, it seems the previous owner preferred the touchpad or use a mouse. I know, I know, ludicrous!

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Better together: The trackpoint dedicated mouse buttons

The Thinklight is working too.

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Thinklight!

Oh, one thing to note, and one of the reason that made me decided to go with the X230 is that it is the last X series to have the ThinkPad logo oriented to the user when the lid is closed , meaning it will be shown upside down to someone in front of you when the lid is opened. This is how things used to be, until Apple decided that some stranger in front of you should be able to tell who made your laptop.

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Upside down ThinkPad logo

My X230 comes with Windows 8 Pro license, but with Windows 7 Pro installed, which is actually not uncommon in business environment. Anyway, I wiped the drive clean, and it’s now happily running Ubuntu 16.10 in UEFI mode, with Gnome Shell 3.22 slapped on top.

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Ubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak

I’m happy to report that everything that I have tested works, including hibernating. I haven’t tested the mini DisplayPort yet, since I don’t have the cable and dongle. The included battery lasted a bit more than 4 hours, which is already better than the 3 hours I got from the overly powerful Y510p. My next plan is to replace the 320GB HDD with an SSD, probably a 250GB Samsung 850EVO, and add as much RAM as possible.

Verdict: 49586798738475/5

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