My 6 year old Lenovo T400 finally gave up the ghost. It didn’t totally die (it probably never will, thank you IBM), but the screen was starting to flicker and it reliably rebooted itself whenever I was doing something useful. Very annoying.
I went though the standard 5 stages of grief:
- Denial: All T400’s do this.
- Anger: “Damn it, why does this thing keep crashing? I’m sick of this sh*t!”.
- Bargaining: Maybe if I update to 14.04 it will stop doing this.
- Depression: “This sucks!”
- Acceptance: OK, time to buy a new laptop.
I’m fine now, but that was a rough 30 minutes!
I’m not going to detail all of my system requirements or decision making process, but here’s a high level outline:
- I primarily need a Ubuntu development machine. My T400 is a dual boot 12.04/XP. In recent years I’ve rarely used Windows, but there are some tools that are nice to have around (e.g. Visual Studio).
- I looked hard at the MacBook Pro but at the end of the day I just couldn’t bring myself to go that route. Besides the higher hardware cost/performance ratio re: the alternatives, I guess I’m just not a Mac person.
- I really wanted to get an Ultrabook form factor. Not only for the portability, but I’m not ashamed to say that the ‘cool factor’ played a part in the decision.
- I looked at all of the standard Ultrabook offerings: Lenovo, ASUS, Dell, System76, Acer, etc. No touch, no ‘convertible’ (if you need a tablet, buy a tablet), no Windows 8. The deciding factor for me was reliability. Besides the T400, I have a T60 in the closet that still runs fine.
- So Lenovo it is. The history of the X1 Carbon (see The 2014 Lenovo X1 Carbon: Lenovo Giveth, And Lenovo Taketh Away and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2014 review) goes back to 2011. The latest version (2014, or Carbon 2) has taken a lot of heat over the keyboard, function keys, and trackpad changes. I’m sure these opinions have merit, but I just want a fast machine that works!
Buying Experience (not good!)
Beware of the Lenovo Outlet. I purchased a ‘ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2 – New':
Here’s the condition definition (my highlight):
Products that are discontinued, overstocked, or returned unopened. These items are in their original factory sealed packaging and have never been used or opened.
Boy was I disappointed when the package arrived! First, the only thing in the box was the laptop. No AC power adapter, no docs, no nothing. To my amazement, the machine was in suspend mode. When I opened the lid it came out of hibernation to a Win7 user password prompt! I didn’t even try to guess a password. I couldn’t believe it!
The machine was in pretty good shape physically, a little dirty and missing a foot pad, but no dents or scratches. Certainly opened and used! At least the BIOS confirmed that I got the correct hardware (i7, 8G RAM, 256G SSD).
After many calls to multiple Lenovo service centers I got nowhere. No return, no exchange. Maybe I should write a letter to The Haggler, but even then I probably wouldn’t return the machine anyway. I got a great price (much better than what I could find on eBay) and the Lenovo Outlet no longer has any i7 X1 Carbon’s listed. Also, I’m a techie so disk partitioning and re-installed OS’s is not a problem.
I’m thinking now that Lenovo might have screwed up a repair shipment and I ended up wiping some poor schmuck’s SSD. Oh well.
Anyway, as unpleasant as this was, I now have a development laptop that should meet my needs for many years to come.
- Dual boot. Here’s the right way: WindowsDualBoot, but because I installed Ubuntu first (mistake) here’s what I did:
- Used GParted to partition the disk to my liking. Don’t forget to add a Linux swap partition (8G for me). The Ubuntu installer will complain if it’s not there and find it automatically if it is.
- Created a Ubuntu 14.04 bootable USB stick: How to create a bootable USB stick on Windows. Install Ubuntu on the ext4 partition.
- Created a bootable Windows 7 USB stick. The Universal USB Installer above works fine for this. Install Windows 7 on the Windows partition.
- After Step #3 the system will only boot Windows. Use Boot-Repair (option #2) to re-install GRUB.
- Ubuntu 14.04 seems to work flawlessly on the X1. There were only two hardware compatibility issues that I read about:
- Not waking up from suspend mode. This is resolved by updating the BIOS firmware. Upgrading from v1.09 to v1.15 fixed it for me. The Lenovo firmware only comes as a CD image (.iso) or a Windows update application. Because the X1 does not have a CDROM drive the only reasonable way to upgrade is via Windows. People have upgraded the firmware via USB (see BIOS Upgrade/X Series), but it’s really ugly.
- Fingerprint reader. Haven’t tried to use it, and probably won’t.
Happy Ending (I hope)
Like most things in life, nothing is ever perfect. This experience was no exception.
I have a JRuby/Rails project with some Rspec tests that take 80 seconds to complete on the T400 and 20 seconds on the X1. I can live with that improvement.
Hopefully the X1 will last as long the T400 did.